How to Find & Work Effectively With An Illustrator For Your Project

So, you have a project of some sort that you’d like to get done. You’re going to need an Illustrator for a particular image(s) that you have in mind. Where do you start? Are there packs of feral Illustrators running the streets? Maybe you can rent one from Hertz? Basically, you need to know where to start and you need to know fast. Don’t worry, it’s really not that hard once you know how to go about it and we’re going to walk you through it. If your lucky (and you are today) we might just throw in some tips to boot!

Determine exactly what you need (and write it down)

The first thing to do is grab a pen, pad, your favorite beverage and write down your art needs for your particular project. Be clear. Be concise. Why do this? So you don’t sound like a raving insane person when you contact a professional artist. Now, you may be thinking, I’m educated, I can speak, heck, I’m a business owner! Here’s the thing, you’re about to try to communicate what you need to someone who’s works in a completely different industry that you have no experience in. That requires that you order your thought and do a little research. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten calls in the middle of a busy work day that go like this:

Phone rings.

Me: Hello, Lawrence Christmas Illustration. Can I help you?

First Time Art Buyer: I hope so. Tell you the truth, I’m not really sure how this goes.

Me: Ok. You need some art done I assume.

First Time Art Buyer: Yes! I’ve written a children’s book and I need pictures!

Me: Oh, okay, I can do that for you!

First Time Art Buyer: Great! How does this work?

Me: Well, how about you tell me about the book, Page count, are you going to shop it to a publisher or self publish?

First Time Art Buyer: Uh…

See what I mean? Don’t get me wrong, I love walking people through the process and explaining how to go about things but a little googling before hand will save us all a bunch of time. It will also help protect you from possibly being taken advantage of in terms of things like pricing and copyright. So determine what you need and spend a day or two researching that. If you need images for greeting cards that you want to produce, fire up Mr. Google and learn a bit about the process. Jot down what you find and have that in front of you when you contact an Illustrator. You’ll still need to ask questions, but you’ll be armed with a basic understanding of the process and be able to ask the right ones. Trust me, it’ll streamline the whole process and give you an insight into what’s ahead for your project.

Can I do it myself? I took art in high sch… No (or why you should use a professional and not a student or your cousin that sometimes draws Thor)

I’ve been an art professional for over 25 years and been a part of and seen thousands of commercial art endeavors. If you’re serious and your goal is to start a business, do like the big boys do and hire a professional to produce the images you need. If there’s one thing that I hate it’s seeing a brilliant concept ruined by horrible execution. Now, if you’re doing some crafting for your family and friends, getting your cousin Herbert to draw something for you because “he’s good at drawing Bugs Bunny” is perfectly fine. In fact it’s encouraged!

However, if your intentions are more serious, do a little spying on your competition. For example, if you want to do some t-shirts for kids take a trip to the mall and look at what Disney, Warner Brothers and Nickelodeon brands are doing. Can cousin Herbert really draw at that level? I know you love him but be honest with yourself or your going to end up out of business with a garage full of shirts you couldn’t sell.

The same thing goes for yourself. Can you really execute what’s in your head at a pro level? If you must go ahead and give it a try. Once you’re done compare it to what’s out there. Get opinions from others. Preferably folks you don’t know because 9 time out of 10 your Mom will tell you it’s great and hang it on her refrigerator. Is it really up to snuff? If it is, great! If not give it up and keep reading. Save yourself the headache.

What not to do if you have friend who is an artist (and you want him to work on your project)

Maybe you have a friend that’s a professional artist. Sounds good right? It is! You’ve got a definite advantage that a lot of people don’t. Best part is you’ve known this guy for years! Now, hold on there cowboy (or cowgirl)! I know he’s your friend and all but this is business. Say your buddy owns a McDonald’s which he’s using to earn a living and feed his family. Would you go in there every day asking for free burgers and fries? Well, you would if you were a terrible friend. Most likely you wouldn’t. If he offered you a freebie every once in a while you’d take it but you shouldn’t expect that every time you walk through those golden arches. It’s the mans livelihood. Same thing with your pro artist friend. He’s literally using his skills to survive. Respect them. Approach him and offer him payment for his services like you would anyone else. If he offers to do something for free or at a reduced rate count yourself lucky. You have a good friend. If you want to keep him (or her) continue to have that respect for his (or her) profession. Offer him the going rate anyway.

Where to find Professional (not amateurs)

Ok, you’ve done your research, you know what questions to ask. You’re ready to hire someone to produce art for your project. Now what Mr. Smarty Artist? Well, If you want to catch a fish, you generally go to a location where fish congregate right? A lake or a stream (maybe the moon. I don’t fish). So where do Illustrators congregate? Don’t worry, we’ve made a list of places that you can go to find actual professional. Check out our list below.

These places are like markets only instead of produce and canned goods they stock the shelves with Illustrators. You can browse their work and contact them. Pay close attention to their credits and what they’ve worked on in the past. Pull that pen and pad out again and jot down the ones that have the art style and work experience you think will be right for your project. Make a list of at least 5 or more. Some may be busy, out of your price range, or just not reachable. If you have a list you can just move on to the next one.

Social Media

You can search social media for any kind of artist you’re in the market for. For instance, you need an Illustrator for a line of apparel that you’re creating. You would search for “artist for t-shirts” or “artist for print on demand leggings”. Be specific with your search terms. You’ll have more results than you know what to do with. The major social media sites that you’ll most likely be dealing with are Instagram, Facebook and Behance for Illustrators. I’d stick with Instagram personally. Artist usually post their latest work there and provide a link to their online portfolios in their profiles.

Portfolio Sites

A number of paid portfolio sites have popped up in recent year where Illustrators post their portfolios. These sites are great because everything is catalogued and made searchable for your convenience. Need a picture of a skunk? Just search for that and a thousand results will pop up with a link to the artist who did that particular piece of work. You’ll be able to read their bios, see a list of their clients, their portfolios and contact info all in one place. Here’s a list of the best ones (in my humble opinion) below:

These are guys are just what they sound like. Agents that manage the careers of Illustrators. Perfect right! They all have searchable websites that you can browse that contain a ton of artists portfolios. Find one you like and contact the agency. Explain who you are, your project needs, and which artist you’re interested in for the job. Easy right? Now, there are a ton of these agencies. Way too many to list in this article but here’s a link on the Directory of Illustration that lists many of them. You’ll find links to their websites and a sampling of their work!

Freelance Sites – etc.

Now, this last resource is hit or miss. That’s not to discount them. Heck I’ve found some work through these websites myself but you’ll find a lot of mixed offerings in them. These sites are for freelancers of all sorts and open themselves up to a worldwide pool of talent. You’ll most likely sign up and look at some of the prices and think to yourself “Man, I’ve hit the jack pot!” Let me explain the reason for this. Say you’re creating a children’s book. You post your project and get 20 artist who respond to your query. You’ll get some offers to do a 32 page children’s book for $200. Usually this is because the person is from somewhere like India or another 3rd world country where $200 will sustain them for a month or two. Great right?! Not so great.

You’ll find that the work is at best amateurish (Not to say there aren’t great artists in these countries) and there are some actually some folks who post artwork that isn’t theirs to lure you in. The results that you get back are usually nothing like you expected. Now, I’m not saying every one is like that but there are a ton. If you don’t know what you’re doing it’s easy to get sucked down into a rabbit hole and get taken advantage of. I would suggest you use these sites once you get more experience and learn how to sift through all the listing and weed out the legit artists from the less than stellar ones. For safety and quality sake I’d stick to artists based in the U.S. If you can find one in your city that you can meet with face to face (after this pandemic is over) even better. For now, stick with the other resources mentioned in this article but if your determined to brave the waters of freelance sites for illustration services, here’s a list of them:

How to approach a professional Artist (and not sound like a con man)

Well, if you’ve read through all the previous steps congrats! Now you know what you want, you’ve researched your needs and you’re ready to hire a professional! You’ve found one who has the right experience and style to fit your project. This is it! You’re going to contact this guy or gal and get your project off the ground!

First be up front. If you’re not a member of the Rockefeller family don’t pretend to be. Explain your situation to the artist. You don’t have to get personal but let them know the details of what you’re trying to do. Let them know about your budget and ask what you can get done for that amount. We’ll talk about budget in the next section but you get the idea. If you let your potential artist knows what’s going on they may decide to work with you or not. If they simply can’t work within your budget don’t get angry or upset. It’s not personal, it’s a business decision. Simply thank them for their time and move on to the next name on the list.

You’ll find someone. I know you’re anxious to get your project started but this may take a little while. You want to find the right person for the job and contacting people (multiple people) is part of the process that even huge companies like Disney have to go through. Trust me you’re in good company in that regard.

The price you’re thinking you were going to pay is wrong!

Let me tell you a universal truth. If you are not used to buying professional art services the prices are going to freak you out. Up to this point you’re probably used to throwing cousin Herbert a few bucks to draw something for you to hang in your bedroom to go with your new drapes. Let’s face it, most of us who are not in the industry have been raised with that kind of attitude. Then there’s the societal stereotype that all artist are broke and will work for peanuts. Trust me that has been the bane of our existence.

The fact of the matter is that artist who are working professionally are generally well paid. Especially the ones that work for large companies and businesses that have large art budgets. We pay an arm and a leg when our cars break down without even thinking about it but somehow paying a seasoned art professional who has years of training and experience seems abhorrent to us. You’ll think to yourself “Art is not worth that kind of money!” Well it turns out it is when it will potentially generate cold hard cash for you and your project.

A good way to wrap your head around the subject is to think in terms of an hourly worker. Let’s say you offer an art project to someone and you think a fair price to pay him (or her) is $150. The job will take about a week to complete. Seems fair to you! “That’s a lot of money!”you say. Ok, Let’s break that down for the artist though. Time for a little math. Let’s divide $150 by 7(days). That comes out to roughly $21.42. Let’s break that down a little further. $21.42 divided by an 8 hour work day. That comes out to a whopping $2.68 an hour. Now ask yourself, could you live on that kind of money? Pay rent and utilities? Of course not! Why would you expect anyone else to? To get a good ballpark figure of what you can expect price wise, I recommend that you pick up a copy of a book called The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines.

I’ve linked to a copy on The Graphic Artist Guild is a professional organization for artists that has been around since 1967. They know their stuff. The book is not perfect but accurate for the most part. It’s broken down by category. Need a logo done? They’ve surveyed many, many Graphic Designers and figured out where the industry is on pricing. It’s a great jumping off point and will let you know what you’re in for so that you can budget appropriately. Pick up a copy. You won’t be sorry. If you’re committed to your business and plan to use artists regularly for years to come it’s a good thing to have.

Pay half up front – Yes Half!

The standard for working with an artist is to give them an up front fee when they start the job. This locks them in and makes sure that they can incur any expenses that arise from the job (supplies, copies, Uber costs if they have to travel for anything). Just do it. Your artist will thank you and your job will go all the smoother. It also has the added benefit of cushioning the blow of paying the final amount once the job is completed.

How to collaborate with an artist

You know what you want for your final project. You’ve been thinking about it for weeks or months, rolling it over in your brain again and again. I get it but here’s the thing, your artist is a visual professional. He (or she) has been making images for years and instinctively knows how to take your idea and make it look good. They have the training and experience, trust them. I had a client at one point who had the attitude that they knew better than anybody else. Drove everybody crazy around them. This person was a higher up at a company and made the worst creative choices you could possibly make. They had no art training, education or background to speak of but as people do in corporate America they failed up. If the sky was blue they wanted it green. You get the idea.

The projects suffered because of that attitude but what can you do? To make a long story short, leave your ego at the door. Let the artist do what they do. Admit that you don’t know what you think you do. Now, I’m not saying to accept work from someone that you aren’t satisfied with. What I am saying is that you hired a professional. Let them breath. Listen. Work together to make a project that you can be proud of. It’s the union of your concept and their skill that will make your project shine. I know you hired them but once you do you need look at it as a creative partnership. Trust me your project will thank you.

Know what your going to get (Ask for rough sketches first and pay for them for it!)

When you’re picking from a group of people to hire a good way to gauge which artist is right for the job is to ask each for a rough sketch. Offer a little something for the sketch. Never ask an artist to work for free as some type of audition! Anyway, once you get the sketches trust me, you’ll have a clear idea of who gets it and who doesn’t. Makes sense right? Obviously, You hire the artist that has the best grasp of your concept. It’s a win win for everyone involved. Everyone made a little money and didn’t expend a lot of effort doing so. You found the best person for the job and now your project is on track! Send each of the artist who was not picked a note saying how much you appreciated their hard work but you decided to go with another candidate. No bridges burned. Trust me it works.

The work for hire agreement (what is it? and why you should have one)

When you’re working on a project and you commission work from a professional for business purpose you want to own that piece of art. It’s a business asset. Maybe you had a Unicorn created for a particular t-shirt design you thought up. Well, that Unicorn can also be placed on a backpack, notebook or socks! Think of all that future income! Tell you something that you don’t know. Once an idea is fixed to a piece of paper like our Unicorn it’s automatically copyrighted by the one who did so… and not by you!

“But Larry I paid for the thing!!!” Yes you did and what you really purchased is the right to use it for your particular application. However, that artist can go ahead and use it as well because he owns that copyright. Get it? So, as a business owner what do you do? Well, there’s an agreement called a Work For Hire Agreement that you should have your artist sign at the beginning of your project. It’s nothing nefarious. It just simply states that whatever the artist produces related to your project is owned by you. The good news is that you can get a really good work for hire agreement in that book that I mentioned earlier, the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines. It contains many useful contracts and agreements that you may need on your creative business journey. That book is a life saver. I pick it up every time a new edition comes out and so should you.

How you’ll actually receive the final artwork (digital or physical) DropBox, WeTransfer, etc.

It’s 2020. We’re in the future folks. The days of receiving a physical piece of artwork are pretty much over. Oh sure, there’s still some instances where you’ll need a piece of art that you can touch but those are few and far in-between. Most likely you’ll be receiving a digital file of some sort. However, most files, especially high resolution, ready to print files of finished illustration are going to be too big to be sent through standard email. So, how are you going to receive them? Not to worry your artist will most likely take care of that for you but you should be familiar with the services he (or she ) will be using to send your finished work to you. There are a number of different tools and techniques that your artist could employ to get you your final work. Let’s go over a few:

Standard Email

If your artist is working in vector the file sizes could be small enough to email them to you. You may want look for and artist who works entirely in vector. There are many advantages to this. Because your computer renders vector entirely with math, it is infinitely scalable. To put it simply, you could blow up or scale down a vector file as much as you want without it losing any resolution. It stays nice and crisp at any size. The video below will explain the difference between pixel based images (photos) and vector ones. It’s something you should watch. If you’re going to be in this business for the long hall you should know the difference.

Dopbox, Wetransfer, and GoogleDrive

Have you heard of your files being stored in” the cloud”? That’s what Dropbox and the other services mentioned above are. Basically, Dropbox and the all the others have computers sitting somewhere connected to the internet. These services rent space to individuals to store their files. Virtual drop boxes if you will. I have an account with Wetransfer myself. So, your artist can upload a fairly large file (your finished work) and send you a download link. Once you click that link the file will be downloaded to your computer. There are several different services that pretty much work the same way. Don’t worry, You don’t need an account for this to work, your artist does. You’ll usually just receive an email containing a download link once you project is done.

Your Artist’s Personal Website

Your artist could also upload your finish artwork onto his website. This is a technique I used before services like Wetransfer and Dropbox even existed ( boy, I’m showing my age here). It works basically the same way. Your artist would send you a private download link that would let you file be transferred to your computer when clicked.

How to handle corrections

So, you’ve received the final art work and it’s perfect! Except for the guy in the red shirt that should be in a blue shirt. Your art is ruined. Time to freak out! Wrong. You just need some corrections and 9 times out of 10 your artist is working digitally so whatever the problem is can be fixed. Simply drop your artist a nice email or text. Compliment him (or her) and thank them for all their hard work. After you’ve buttered them up (Ha!!!) simply write out a list of things that he (or she)may have missed and ask that they fix them. We’re used to this. Trust me. You’ve asked them nicely and this is part of our job. We’ll fix you right up. Remember we’re not getting that last payment until you’re satisfied! Usually at the start of the job you should negotiate how many revisions you get during the course of the assignment. I usually throw in 3 before I start charging for them.

We hope this helped demystify the process for you. Working with an Illustrator doesn’t need to be a complicated or scary thing. Just use a little common sense and be courteous and fair. We’re people too. People with pencils! Until next time.