It seems impossibly hard and only the absolute very best, who also got disproportionately lucky, make it to a comfortable living (which is probably still very humble compared to other much less competitive careers).
The only people who I know of that make a good self-employed living off of their art are character designers and book cover illustrators. I think I would wrap collectible card game illustrators in that category as well. Keep in mind that this is largely due to a selection bias I have based on the people I know and where I meet fellow artists. Everyone else that I know who makes a living off of doing 2D art are concept artists or animators for studios (both TV and feature).
But there is another group of people that make good money. I know a lot of people who call themselves graphic designers but are also great illustrators. There’s so much overlap between illustration and graphic design (especially nowadays), that the people who get the best gigs are well-rounded artist-designer hybrids: Renaissance Men. There’s a good demand for graphic designers who can actually draw. Too many designers don’t know how to draw something with pushed proportions and appealing design. Instead they resort to tracing photos off of Google Image Search, leading to stale logos, apparel designs that no one will wear, boring websites, and uninspired brand identities.
So I guess it depends on what you want to get into. The answer to your question, “Can you really make a self-employed living with 2D art?” Sure, it just might be in an industry you haven’t heard of before. But whatever industry you want to get into, you’ll always need to be the best, no matter what.
I can tell you right now, if you’re making top quality work then you will get job opportunities and freelance work. If you do good work and market yourself well then you can make a living for sure.
But ‘good work’ means looking at the most popular artists online and matching or bettering their quality, not what your friends think is good.
Depending on which country you live in, things will be easier too. If you make 1500USD for a few days work and you’re living in India or Southeast Asia you can probably live off that for like 2 months quite comfortably. In Australia or Singapore it might only last a week or 2 after taxes and expenses. So that can play an important role too.
This is very true, almost no graphic designers can draw or paint, or illustrate. This is because the market is flooded with people who download photoshop, go to youtube, find out how to make some gradients and market themselves as graphic designers, there is nothing wrong with not knowing how to draw, but if you know how to do a lot, then you’ll always stay ahead of the crowd.
Matte Painting and Concept art are incredible careers, and I’m pretty sure you can make a career out of anything with enough drive, passion and hustle. Nothing replaces those and there’s no shortcut. Also, its a lot easier to move to a self employed position after putting in your time at a studio and building up those client relationships and trust.
Ive been working as an illustrator the last 15 years. Seems like no matter what I do, go into the industry, moving to advertisement etc. I always end up getting the illustration gigs. I guess that is a bit of a luxurious problem. But yes, it is quite reasonable to make a living as a 2D artist. But it doesn’t hurt to have a deeper knowledge of your field, for instance, animation or games or graphic design/layout.
Yes, I make around 100k a year a freelance artist and art instructor.
When I worked for graphic design companies, I made enough to live on I guess. I think it is more about finding something you love doing for a living.
See this question a lot.
My motto: hobbies don’t make good side jobs. Art is a hobby for millions. Go to freelancer.com and ask for a bid for a character illustration, or anything of your choice; you’ll have 30 within a few moments, for prices only reasonable to the third-world countries they come from using pirated software they can never be held accounted for.
Start a career. Work in the industry of your choice and get beat up for a while; let the art directors spew their ego all over you for as long as you can take it while building relationships…then expand those relationships, use your experience, and try to go on your own. Most people don’t start a business until 15-20 years in a job, until they really understand the nuts and bolts, and think they can do a better job. You’ll never be competitive unless you know what you’re competing against.
I lived off illustration work for about 3 years, I did both graphic design and illustration for a few more. How you define how to make a decent living depends on both where you live and where your clients are, for example if you’re earning USD and living in Berlin life is a lot easier than earning RMB and living in NYC.
In my experience illustrators don’t earn much, and frankly, neither do graphic designers. Of all the good graphic designers I know in large cities (London, NYC, Berlin, etc.) the only ones that I would consider earning a good salary own their own offices. The difference IMO between trying to get ahead as a designer vs an illustrator is that it’s much easier for an illustrator to have a uniquely recognizable product and identity, but by that token it’s also harder for illustrators to adapt their style convincingly if their look goes out of favor. Graphic designers can copy the work of other designers easily but it’s usually much harder for illustrators to adapt to the market when it shifts under them. It’s for that reason I think the be most valuable quality in an illustrator for career longevity is the ability to reinvent, even over raw talent. The 70s/80s/90s, are full of examples of amazing artists whose careers bombed once the market changed direction.
As far as I know, logo design and advertising can be quite profitable. But this is not always the most artistic of employment opportunities. So working part-time for money and drawing for fun and occasional profit can be more satisfying.