Hiring an Illustrator or Artist?

Hiring a professional illustrator

You need to hire an Artist, Illustrator or Designer

Now What? How to proceed.

Many indie publishers and small businesses recognize the value of art, illustration and graphic design when it comes time for marketing. A disconnect seems to happen between the recognition and looking for professionals. Part of this disconnect may have something to do with the fact that almost everyone knows someone who can draw or paint. Because an artist draws, paints, or spends a lot of time on a computer does not make them a professional illustrator, artist or graphic designer. It makes them a person with an interest in the arts or computers.

To begin with, when starting the hunt for artists, illustrators and graphic designers or other creatives there are some things to avoid. In almost all circumstances some or all of the following things will arise. To start off there are a number of common misconceptions about what artists want to hear when you approach them. Much of these arise from some magic plug being pulled from the wall disconnecting the idea of ‘professional’ and ‘artist’.

We’ll be helping you ‘Get your name out there’

This is possibly THE most commonly used phrase by someone who needs professional graphics and will be refusing to pay. If your budget is tight, just say so. Many freelancers have bits and pieces that are unpublished, or possibly they need to pay the rent and will be willing cut price if you can accept minimal revisions or some other concession.

An artist, illustrator or graphic designer produces media and marketing, their name is already out there. You are approaching them to produce media for you so that YOU can get YOUR name out there. An artist doesn’t need you for marketing, logos, graphics and illustration that sells an idea. The idea that you can get a creative to work for less or free because you will ‘help get their name out there’ is insulting and only proves to make you sound like your bag is full of foul winds. Most freelance illustrators recognize this phrase as the beginning of a rocky relationship. If you say this phrase to a professional, expect to be looking at a working contract, at least from any that have experience.

The illustrator, artist, graphic designer or creative is providing you with a professional service. If you expect your deadlines to be met, revisions to be made, and end products to be handled in a professional manner, get your brain in the professional mindset before you make any contact. This is no different than hiring a writer, a book binder, CPA or other professional. There is just not likely not many suits involved.

You get to draw and get paid for it!

This is quite possibly the second most common line either said out loud, or held in the mind of the person looking for art, illustration or graphic design. It was spoken to me when I worked in an office banging out CSS and HTML when the boss needed a logo design. Begrudgingly I accepted what was requested at an unacceptable rate for logo creation.

Yes, we get paid to draw, paint and design websites. It is a source of income. It is a career and it has value. If it didn’t you wouldn’t be standing before us trying to convince us to do this job while simultaneously trying to diminish it so you don’t have to pay a fair price. Kids play with crayons and draw, they also play with toy robots, but that doesn’t qualify them to be a robotics engineer. If this thought is in your head when looking for an artist you have already left the realm of hiring a professional. Do not say or think this phrase and expect to find a creative who will provide you with professional work. If someone gets excited about the phrases ‘You get to draw and get paid for it’ or ‘We will help get your name out there’.  You are likely about to hire an inexperienced creative who is about to learn a hard lesson about their field, and doesn’t understand yours at all. It is ok to hire inexperienced creatives, in fact someone has to take a chance to help the creative break into the field. Do yourself and the artist a favor by building a professional relationship and treating it that way.

What’s your hourly rate?

This is where sometimes there comes a divide between hiring and illustrator or artist and a web designer or photographer. I will answer this as a professional working illustrator. It doesn’t matter, and it’s not your business.

The problem an illustrator faces when they give someone an hourly rate is that the client immediately starts guessing how long it will take the illustrator to create various pieces of work. “I need just some quick line art here of a hand holding up an orchid. That should take you about a half hour right?” “hrm… what if the hand was just holding a ball, we could get that down to 15 minutes.” So if an artist quotes $30 an hour, the client will ALWAYS find a way to get to 15 minute intervals an go to print with twenty $7.50 drawings.

Your product will suffer, and the illustrators reputation suffers. An illustrator, designer, or artist will quote you for a job. It can be one image, 20, or an entire project. Different people conduct business different ways. Trying to push a creative into an hourly rate will not get anyone a fair end result. Don’t do it. Eventually your inexperienced artist will catch on, and after the first few images, you will notice that they start to take incrementally more time to produce.

‘Well my nephew will do this job for $x if you don’t want to do it.’

Yes, yes they will. This tactic is similar to ‘You get to draw and get paid for it’. When things like this are said to a working professional what they will, or should, hear is that you are demeaning, devaluing and degrading them and their profession so you can bully them into a cheapskate price zone. Some will fall for it, and when the job is done, you may never see that creative again. Your nephew may very well be willing to do it for a quarter of the quote in front of you. You will also get unprofessional work, missed deadlines, recourse of family when you ask for revisions.

Contract? I just need some artwork!

Don’t be afraid of a contract when you are hiring an illustrator, or other creative. Most contracts are fair and balanced for both parties involved. A contract will not only have your schedule and clearly defined requirements and payments, but the artist, illustrator, or graphic designer will be bound to deadlines, production schedules, and revisions. Frequently I have found that clients who are indeed ready to work and sincere about paying fairly for an illustrator are more than willing to review what’s in my contracts and get the ball rolling.

If you don’t want to be bothered with a contract, I can only suggest that you should expect to pay half before work begins and half when finished. The problem that will likely arise will be revisions. If you aren’t quite getting what you need and want some changes, this is usually anticipated by a contract. When you want numerous changes, without a contract containing revision clauses, friction can start quickly. The need for revisions can come from many places. Business changes, decision making, client not sure what they are looking for, artist not clear on what’s expected. Every time there is a revision, you are costing an artist their time, and at some point you will have exceeded the quoted price.

Verbal contracts or email / facebook conversations can put a buyer at risk. You have no promise or guarantee of a deadline. No recourse once the money goes out if you receive no work.

Submit a tailored portfolio

Unless you are representing a very large company, want to hire the artist on full time in-house, or have a very large project this is asking a lot, probably too much. If you ran a successful kickstarter and pulled in $5,000 great! This is not the right scale of project to start asking for tailored portfolios. Probably not even if you ran a kickstarter for $50K.

What you CAN and SHOULD ask a creative is to see some of the work they have completed. Ask if they have done any work similar to what you might need, if not try to imagine their style of work on your project. You will be hiring their style of work after all. An illustrator may point you to a number of websites including their own, and provide examples of work done in the past. Unless you are Hasbro or some such establish giant with a long line of in house creatives, don’t ask for an illustrator to create a number of images just for you so you can decide if you want to hire them. If this is still what you think you need, commission a few individual pieces then decide for the larger project.

How to do things right

You are hiring an illustrator or other creative. You are asking someone to provide you with courteous professional service in a timely manner. This service will produce I.P. for your company that will represent your company to the world. Marketing, design, illustration, photo manipulation, photography, if you  are going to print it, it will be a representation of your company. It will be the thing that gets seen before the text, it needs to be right.

It might help among your team or yourself to stop thinking of them in terms of ‘artist’ and start thinking of them in terms of visual marketer. If you like the term ‘artist’ remember that Mick Jagger is also an artist. Would you expect him to be in your commercial for free?

You need a professional. This professional wants you as a client. If you pay fairly, you can expect hard work on a project. a block of text will not get an image off a shelf and into the hands of your customers. It needs imagery and design.

Finding an illustrator

They are out there, but when you need one and start googling around, nothing is clear. There are a couple of ways to find a creative in your field.

  • Recommendation – Ask others who are producing products or projects similar to your own, and whose imagery you like. Chances are they will happily recommend or share their experiences with various creatives to produce their product.
  • Surfing the web – You may stumble upon a gem online who has imagery and design you find attractive. You can contact the creative professional directly and ask who they have worked for, and what else they have done.
  • Conventions and trade shows – Creatives attend them, and they are looking for work. Even for fun conventions like Role Playing games and Sci fi. It was showing up at one of these with my portfolio that got me started.

Be professional, ok What if the artist isn’t?

Then, Be professional. This is still a professional situation. If the artist you want is not willing to work on a deadline or consider your contract, then there might be a message there. Some artists, illustrators and graphic designers are very busy. They might not be able to provide you with a timeline for work that is what you expect or hope for. This may mean that they are also being responsible with their paying clients and existing contracts. a far off deadline is at least not a ‘no’.

some artists are hungry and eager. They don’t always understand the process or value of what they are producing. This  includes myself when I started this journey. It might be pretty exciting to find an artist who’s style you like and they are so hungry they are offering to do work for next to free. Maintain the professional approach, and pay fairly.

If the artist doesn’t understand the professional world of illustration and design yet, and you treat them fairly and professionally at the beginning, they will come to really appreciate what you have done when they learn the ropes and gain other clients. When the creative has hit their stride, expanded their career, and you need a favor on a project. Those early days of creating a professional air and fair treatment will be in their thoughts.

What is being professional?

Being professional with creatives is simply approaching the working relationship like you would with any independent contractor. If you need an electrician, plumber, programmer, landscaper, you start out calling them asking them to do something for you in exchange for a fair price. You value what they can do, and that you may not be able to do it satisfactorily yourself. After all, that’s why you hire someone to do the job. When you hire an artist, illustrator, or web / graphic designer, you are not giving your niece a dollar to color with crayons. You are paying a professional to reflect your business or product to the world. You should expect a service or product for a fair price.

Some demand better prices than others, this means their time is likely higher in demand as is any professional. If an artist can do a piece of art in 15 minutes, you are likely paying for a lifetime of experience, uncountable hours …. plus 15 minutes.

There are no magical gifts in the art or design world. These are skills developed with hours, weeks, years, decades of study and practice. You might be able to describe a face to the world, but you need a creative if you want to show that face to the world.

Appreciate the arts and the creatives.


~Lloyd Metcalf

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