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The Real Poop

A doodle of a poodle. A poodle doodle. (Source)

You like to doodle, you say? Well...erm that's great but this is a public place.

(Oh wait, you mean drawing little pictures? Sorry we thought you meant...you know what? Let's start over.)

You like to doodle, you say? That's wonderful. The real question is, can you make a career out of your doodles? As a professional illustrator, you have to be a good enough doodler to doodle all the day, doing oodles of doodles and often making diddly squat.

The important thing is to understand what it means to be an illustrator in the world of touchscreens and online newspapers. Back in the "Golden Age of Illustration," you either made art-lite for magazines or you were just drawing pictures with captions like Mary Claire doth show too much ankle wot wot on the sides of outhouses (shame on you).

Today, there are quite a few more outlets for illustrators than there were back then. Illustrators help out with scenery design in video games or characters in animated films, or might even work for magazines or newspapers, imagining outlandish characters in repeated cartoons. 

The tidal wave of media we've started to consume in the age of the internet and smartphones creates plenty of opportunities for every shade of graphic artist.

And yet, for all the different career options as an illustrator, it's extremely tough to make money doing it. Pay rates are all over the map, and as usual it all depends on what you're drawing and where you're drawing it, location-wise. You might make a salary or you might work on a commission (per picture or per book, for instance). Some illustrators are independent cranks, while others are corporate shills. 

All of this variety paints a picture of a decent average, somewhere in the $40,000-$50,000 per year range—provided you actually get the job in the first place (source). 

Meanwhile Stan's just wowing millions of fans at conventions... (Source)

Drawing for a living would be an attractive option for any aspiring cartoonographer, and you may be interested in pursuing the craft because you feel you'd be happier making art than sitting in an office all day. That's just for some loser who gave up on their dreams of being the next Stan Lee, right? 

Maybe, but keep in mind that those losers in their loser offices actually make money. They get to live in nice loser houses, drive nice loser cars, and provide for their loser families to live comfortable lives.

You, on the other hand, may end up living in a tiny fifth floor studio, eating cheap Ramen, working picture-to-mouth to make ends meet. Winning...?

You'll probably end up working for a variety of employers. You could hook up with a greeting card company, do freelance work for marketing companies, or perhaps join forces with a children's author who loves your style and feels it's a perfect fit for his stories. 

You may be asked to create friendly, well-mannered spider-wizards instead of man-eating spiders (your preferred subject), but a paycheck is a paycheck and you might not really be in a position to turn things down.

It'll help if you don't limit yourself while illustrating. From comics and web design to stage design and forensics, use that raw artistic talent you have and diversify your skill set. If you have the ability to attack your market on more than a single front, you'll make it that much harder to ignore you. It'll keep things from getting stale, and it might increase your chances of becoming recognized as a legitimate artistic force.

Regardless of the avenue(s) you take to make your drawing-for-money scheme a reality, it's going to take a massive amount of dedication on your part. When you start out freelancing, you'll need to pound the pavement constantly, gathering up the initiative to seek out opportunities on your own. 

This includes knowing your business; nobody's going to give your anthropomorphic bunny their own three-frame daily if you can't be bothered to know what the magazine is called.

While it can be a difficult way to make ends meet, illustrating professionally can be an engaging, rewarding, and downright wonderful career path. You're just going to have to really like drawing if you want to make it work (and, frankly, be pretty good at it). Every new project will be a brand new challenge and your portfolio will grow as you expand your horizons.

We could give you an example to illustrate our point, but you're the illustrator, so we'll leave that up to you (use your doodlin' noodle).