Guide to Finding and Working with an Artist (Part 1)

Making Friends

This article will cover where to find an artist, what to know, and how to work with them. I put together a simple worksheet for someone hiring an artist for the first time at the end of the article. If you have any questions feel free to comment and I’ll respond ASAP. I try to be as thorough as possible which means I’ve broken this into two posts.

If you’ve stumbled across this blog ,Hello! I’m Joe Slucher and I have been a freelance illustrator for a decade and have worked as an art director for some roleplaying games and mobile games. So I have seen both sides of this business of commissioning art and being commissioned. I have seen and made (GASP!) mistakes on both sides that could be avoided.

Preparing

Before looking for an artist know what you are looking for and what you want.

What size will the image be published or displayed? Do you plan on merchandising this image? Do elements of the art need to be kept on separate layers? If it’s a book cover, will you be needing a full-wrap?Let the artist or designer know at the outset. Do you need graphic design elements like book title art as well? Does the artwork need to be kept secret until you reveal it (non-disclosure agreement)? Do you have a scene or imagery in mind or are you interested in putting that in the hands of the artist to determine? What tone or mood do you want the art to have? What audience do you want the artwork to target? If you know your target audience it is a good idea to do some market research to see what covers seem to be popular. Your gruesome scene done in a comic book style may give the book a pulp art or comedic feel rather than the serious and mature tone you hoped.

Templates

If you’re making a printed product then the printer or manufacturer likely has templates available which will let a designer/artist know what file type they prefer, dpi and crop and bleed lines. Have those ready to give your artist. An author’s spine width will change based on the page count so let the artist know if the spine may change in width. If you’re creating a digital product, have a template ready showing where any other graphics may cover up part of the image and know the various croppings that will occur. For instance maybe you want an image to work as a YouTube thumbnail which is a fat rectangle but you also want to use it as your YouTube banner image which is a really narrow slice of image. Those banners can be cropped in a variety of ways depending on where it’s seen so let the artist know those dimensions so that they can design the composition to work for you. If you’re planning to manufacture something like a game box, make sure that it will hold your game before sending the dimensions/template.

A flowchart that summarizes this entire article.

A flowchart that summarizes this entire article.

Finding an Artist

A style of art should become clear after researching your audience and what is popular in your market.

When a client insists on putting a star peg in any hole but a star one.

When a client insists on putting a star peg in any hole but a star one.

There aren’t a lot of artists that can paint in any style and enjoy painting in every style.

Asking an artist to paint in an unusual style(to them) is going to yield some unpredictable results and likely cause you to have an unenthusiastic artist on your project. So you should begin to look for artists with artwork in their portfolio that matches the style you are looking for. If you believe you have a poor eye for art then you could also take note of the artists working on similar products. Otherwise you can venture out and begin looking into the places where artists hide. Art communities are a dime a dozen but some of the most popular ones are ArtStation, DeviantArt,Instagram and some Facebook groups. Check hashtags like portfolioday on Twitter and you’ll uncover a whole treasure trove of artists and they even state the exact types of work they are looking for. If you want someone to play matchmaker then I highly recommend Hire An Illustrator. You can search through their artists manually or ask the webmaster for recommendations and he will serve you well. Hi Darren! Check magazines with appropriate art. Some have rising stars sections,etc. If you’re an author looking for a cover you can check author communities like Readsy and KBooks.

I have worked with some authors before that were looking for local artists so that they better knew who they would be working with. If you feel similarly then I would recommend going to local conventions that share the same audience your project has. Another option is to check for local artist groups. Locally we have the Cincinnati Illustrators Group which has a list of local illustrators that is great for matching up partnerships.

Estimating a Budget

In your opening e-mail you can ask an artist or designer their rate for your project and it’s perfectly acceptable. I would encourage you to not worry too much that they are out of your budget. If they are far out of your budget you can just move on. Do not assume an artist with a large company on their client list has a high pay rate.

If you’re saving up for your budget and want to do some research before inquiring there are a couple ways to estimate what it may cost.

Check everywhere on their website as they may actually have their commission rates posted making it really easy for you.

If not, most artists will site their clients so it’s really easy to know who artists are working for. From there it doesn’t take much GoogleFu to figure out how much the artists were likely paid for those pieces of art. You could also purchase or go by a library to look at the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook which will often break down typical pay rates for various industries and clients. Now you have a ballpark figure for how much they may charge. OR if none of their clients seem to turn up much of any results regarding rates and they seem like smaller companies then the pay rates were likely at the low end. If the artist has a Patreon check to see how much they are earning per image to see if it’s far more than you could ever pay. A low paying Patreon does not mean that they will do work for someone else at that rate. Also when you dip into the more student-level artwork expect rates to be really low to reflect their lack of experience and consistency. If somebody has no clients but is very popular online then it is likely that they do not need or want client work.

So with this research you can determine if you need to adjust your budget OR adjust your art expectations. With your newfound knowledge you have a bit more power when going into negotiating a rate with an artist.

Quick side note:You often get what you pay for. I worked as an art director with a low budget. I probably saw more scammer portfolios than legit ones. If you’re using what seems to be an incredibly cheap artist then there may well be something fishy. I’ve seen artists be hired for jobs and then hand the work off to their “apprentice”. I’ve seen that happen and the “apprentice” happened to trace someone else’s work. I’ve seen artists turn in work that was pre-existing that they didn’t own. I’ve been given a dozen portfolios with the REAL artist’s watermark still present on the bottom. I had an artist do an art test for a full time gig where he traced a Pokemon character. Every month there is somebody alerting the community about profiles on Fiver,etc stealing their artwork to try to get jobs on there. Even if you have no moral qualms with having 50 people compete for a $300 cover at least know that you may have to run that competition a couple times before you get something where the art is legit and the stocks and fonts are paid for and legal. Or even scarier is the possibility that you don’t even spot the art thief until after you’ve released the project and received a letter from someone’s lawyer.

Hiring an Artist Worksheet

Part 2 coming on Tuesday February 25th and covers contact,working process and some etiquette things.

Did you find this article helpful? If so feel free to tip your ranting artist. Thanks!

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