Army Multimedia Illustrator

An illustrator working on an illustration
Nicola Tree/Getty Images

“I want to be an artist” is one of those lofty aspirations that can simultaneously fill us with pride and dread. How do you learn? How do you find direction, let alone a career? And how do you keep from starving in the meantime?

Fear not: The Army has opportunities to learn more than just mechanical and computer skills. Art and illustration have occupied a unique place in our nation’s military for a long time.

As a long-time comic book enthusiast, I’m happy to point out that PS Magazine, a comic book, is one of the oldest instructional publications in the Army. The magazine owes its origins to legendary comic book pioneer (and Army veteran) Will Eisner.

While PS is now contracted out to civilians (and illustrated by comics veteran Joe Kubert) illustration remains a viable –- and unique -- job for enlisted soldiers.


To qualify for placement as a Multimedia Illustrator, you’ll need your high school diploma and scores of 93 on the Electronics and 91 on the Skilled Technical sections of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Yup, that’s it – no portfolio, no special interview, not even one of those mail-order tests you see on TV asking you to copy a drawing of a dog or a teddy bear.

This is good news for those with an interest in art but no formalized training. In many civilian schools, you either need to demonstrate your potential with a portfolio of your work, or pay your way through enough prerequisites to develop that portfolio and advance to the school’s upper-level program.

Illustrator enlistees who finish basic training attend the 66-day Basic Multimedia Illustrator Course at the Defense Information School, a joint-service academy for public affairs and visual media personnel located at Fort Meade, Maryland. Through lecture and practical application, the course starts from the ground up, introducing the basics of drawing and layout before moving on to the use of computers, audio, video, and basic website design.

After graduation and assignment to the operating forces, the key is developing one’s art and design skills further and developing a comprehensive portfolio. Army’s Credentialing Opportunities On Line suggests a number of certifications that boost promotion potential within the Army and civilian job prospects, including Adobe and Apple certifications, as well as Certified Graphic Communication Manager. (As far as I’m concerned, the more times you can throw “management” on your resume after you leave the military, the better.)

Duties and Responsibilities

Here’s how sums up the job:

  • Create illustrations, layouts, map overlays, posters, graphs, ​and charts
  • Produce computer-generated graphics
  • Draw cartoons for filmstrips and animation for films
  • Work with television and film producers to design backdrops and props for film sets

An Army illustrator, as you can see, can work on a large variety of projects. From anything as innocent as on-base advertising for next week’s square dancing competition at the community center to something as high-end as artwork and layout in Department of Defense media releases, someone has to create the artwork with a trained eye for design, composition, and quality.

Career Outlook

The drawback here is that Multimedia Illustrators might face some rearrangements within the Army’s personnel structure. On “Ask a Soldier” (an official Army message board that connects recruits with real soldiers) one Multimedia Illustrator mentioned as recently as June 2012 that there’s movement underway to consolidate the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) with other visual specialties like Combat Photography.

This sounds a lot like what happened to the Marine Corps’ Combat Illustrator MOS, which by 2011 disappeared from their official list of occupations (and in practice, the field was reduced to just one talented Sergeant.) Although I can’t confirm the same thing will happen in the Army -- even rumors among those working in the military can result as much from hearsay as from inside scoops -- take it as fair warning that in the military, change is the only constant.

Despite all this, as long as multimedia illustration remains on the Defense Information School’s curriculum and the Army’s recruiting website, I call it a safe bet for those with the desire to enter the world of commercial art. Though the MOS may be subject to change in the future, I doubt artists will lose their place in the military entirely.