The vast majority of commercial artists work a standard workday and a forty-hour week, but overtime for deadlines or large projects is not uncommon, particularly for artists in Hollywood or in the news. As full-time employees, commercial artists enjoy health insurance, retirement plans, sick leave, and vacation, as well as guaranteed work. However, not all people working in the field of commercial art are full-time employees. Some of them are contract employees who work for the duration of a job. Often referred to as freelancers, these people get a lot more control over the circumstances of their work, their schedules, and what work they choose, but they don't enjoy the benefits and reliability that full-time workers have.
Freelancers are able to work from locations at a great distance from their employers, allowing artists all over the world to take advantage of their skills without having to move to a major urban center. They may face unreliable work schedules and additional tax burdens over those paid by people in full-time jobs. However, they also work without many of the difficulties. There are a lot of different types of art under the commercial art umbrella. These include character design, illustration, matte painting, graphic design, makeup, prop and scene design, music video design, animation, fashion design, interior design, and many others.
While most types of commercial art were once done by people trained in traditional art techniques, they are more and more frequently involving the computer. Even stop-motion figurine sculptors are using computer design tools to make their jobs more efficient. In general, commercial art is different from fine art in that it is generally reproduced, and in most cases, it is done to specification. Fine art, on the other hand, is usually done according to the artist's preferences. Fine artists who take commissions are in something of a gray area between ordinary fine art and commercial work. In some cases, fine artists may denigrate commercial art as being uninspired. Commercial artists are likely to have similarly negative opinions of fine artists, in that their art is not useful for a practical purpose, such as promoting a product. This can lead to one or the other being promoted as better in art programs. Artists interested in pursuing a commercial art career should take care to choose a school that is encouraging of this field.
Workers in the field of commercial art remain in reasonably high demand, though competition in the field is stiff. To pursue a career in commercial art, high levels of creativity and good basic training are required, as well as good interpersonal skills and an eye for detail. Many artists have some combination of these skills but not all of them. People who want to rise above the competition in their field should take the time to identify the areas where they are weakest and address them. Attaining the training needed for a given field of commercial art is usually done at an art school or a university program, though associate's degrees are appropriate for some areas and jobs. Generally, a higher level of education will lead to better pay and a better chance of getting a good job. It's important for people looking for a job in the field of commercial art to be patient and persevere. This is an often stressful field that can have a fast pace and high demands. Of course, the specific pace and work load will depend on the person and the field in which he or she is currently working. Working for a large New York publishing house is likely to be a more routinely stressful job than producing graphic design for a small business in a smaller city, for example.
Freelance workers will be able to set their own schedules, but are well known for going through periods of “feast or famine” where work is readily available but on a tight deadline or non-stressful but difficult to obtain. If you're interested in becoming a professional commercial artist, there are lots of opportunities out there. You should also understand that there is a great deal of competition. This can be an extremely rewarding and creative position to work in, so make sure that you're extremely well versed in your field before you start putting in applications, and remember the advantages of working as a freelancer. That'll help you get the commercial art position that you've been hoping for.