Friday, 3 May 2013

Looking for an illustrator? How to find the best artist for you - a guide!

As an illustrator who specialises in children's illustrations, I often get emails from new authors or self publishers looking for artwork for their books but don't know where to start.
Any new venture can be daunting, but hopefully this post will give you some tips and advice so your adventure will be exciting as the story in your book!

So where do you begin? Let's say you've written a story for your son or daughter, and you think it's too good not to share with the world. You know you want to self publish but you can't draw the pictures yourself. There are certain things you should consider before going out into the world to find your ideal illustrator;
1. Who is your target audience?
If you say 'this book will appeal to all ages!' then think again. Illustrations styles vary depending on the audience they're intended for and books will rarely work for teens as well as they do for babies. It's essential to know who you're writing for, and don't worry about catering for the niche markets! Some examples would be;
3-5 year olds
Young teens
Children with same sex parents
Children of an ethnic minority
Adopted children

2. How many pages will your book be? How many illustrations do you need?
If you're not sure yet, consider your options. Will you have a front and back cover? Will you have a dedication page or an 'about me' in your book? Out of the pages, how many of them will be illustrated? Remember to think about page binding and book size - some printers need a minimum number of pages per book. Do you have too many pages or too little? Will your text be separate from the illustrations? At this point it's good to consider the sizes of the illustrations too, are you going for 8 x 5" book? Or 5 x 8" ?!
3. What is your budget?
The first mistake new authors make is not remembering the golden rule of business… YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.
You may come across the odd student or new artist who happens to be a master of illustration yet not established enough to charge a lot, but you should be aware that there are aspects of the job that they may be a stranger to just as you are - and hiring these types may be risky, amateurish and cost you more in the long run. Illustration is not just about drawing! (Although that helps…) If they don't know how to work with bleed pages, templates or popular formats and programs then your book quality will suffer.

You can work on a small budget - and there are ways of saving money. Using one of the inner page illustrations as the front cover is a popular method. 
Don't be afraid to tell the illustrator your budget, and negotiate prices with them! If they really want to work with you, they may give you a discount or offer some sort of deal, such as taking a percentage of the royalties from sales as well as a one-off fee.
Now you know what information to give to your artist, you have to find them! 
Finding your dream illustrator
Everybody's first port of call is the all powerful Google search.

There is nothing wrong with this, except you will notice the search is dominated by Agencies. Agencies are companies that have a number of artists working under their name. There are pros and cons to using agencies to find your illustrator. 
A lot of (but not all!) agencies are strict with the artists they employ to work in their name, and so the quality should be to a higher standard. 
The agency will do a lot of the hard work, asking the right questions and getting the work done with their experience.
The agency will have artists that work in various styles and you can browse their work to find the one that suits you.
You lose the personal connection between the writer (you) and the artist. 
Adding a middle man means the cost is usually higher

Some examples of well known and reputable agencies are;

Another path to take would be the 'outsourcing' communities such as Elance, Odesk and so on. These sites work on a 'bid' system, where artists can apply for your job and you pick the candidate you like the most based on their credentials and feedback.
A quick search on the internet will find a never-ending argument between the fans of these sites, and the critics. However they can be helpful and certainly cheap for the self publisher. These sites must be used with care - be sure to follow their rules and you may just find the illustrator of your dreams at a price you'll love!

Just remember anyone can sign up to these sites. Be sure to check the artist's background and portfolio before jumping into an agreement, and beware of scams.
Searching for that special someone may take time, but the search is worth it. Don't jump into bed with the first artist whose work you like; narrow it down to a select few and choose wisely. The are some important factors to take into account at this point.

If the artist doesn't have doesn't have some sort of portfolio, then they're not worth your time. Portfolios can be in any form, a website, a blog, a PDF, a folder full of paintings, and so on. 

You need to be looking for quality and style in the portfolios. Don't get wrapped up in the shiny, special effects of a website if the work on there is mediocre. Do the images look professional? Is there a style there that suits your book? What is the subject matter? There is no point asking an artist to illustrate your cute book about baby bears if their portfolio only shows dinosaurs fighting robots. Their work might be good, but if it's not for you then move on. 
What to look for;
Work that has been done for previous clients. Does the artist have any published work? Any books they have completed? Have they worked for any big name brands?
Work that has been done recently. Does the artist's portfolio seem old and stale? Or is it constantly updated with new work?
Passion. Does the artist love what they do? Are they happy with their work? Do they seem to enjoy it? Are they proud of it? Does this show in their work?
What to avoid;
Work of a less than professional quality. Is the work clean and clear? Or is it a photo of a scribble in a scrapbook? Are the images dark and hard to see?
Deviant art portfolios, photo bucket, etc. While these sites are fine for social networking, if the artist's portfolio is not available elsewhere this is a bad sign. If the artist is serious they should have their own domain, or at least a website exclusively for their work. Artists with blogs, involvement in the community and those who are signed up to illustrator websites show their dedication to their trade.

Hurrah! After all that searching you've finally found the perfect illustrator for you! Their portfolio looks great, they're passionate about their work, they fit into your budget and they're available for your project! But there are still some more hurdles to jump before you reach that finish line… ready?

Write a clear and reasonable contract which both of you sign.
You don't need to be a lawyer to do this, just a simple outline of what you want and how much you will pay. Make sure you are both 100% happy with what work you want, the deadlines, who owns the work and copyright, and when the payment will be sent. It protects the artist and you. If you're unsure your illustrator will usually guide you through this, but here is an example of the contract that I use - feel free to steal it and adapt it for you own needs!

Up front payment.
Each illustrator will work in their own way regarding payment. Personally I would never ask a client to pay the full amount up front, and you should be wary of anyone who asks you to do this. On the other hand, you should not expect an artist to dedicate their time and effort to you on the promise of receiving money at the end of a long project, they have mouths to feed too you know!
I find it acceptable to pay no more than 25% as an up-front fee. You can work out milestones with your artist and pay in stages if you like, talk to them and see what system will be best for you. Don't forget to write this in your contract!
Ask to see progress.
It's fun and essential to the project outcome. Your artist should provide sketches and progress shots along the way, so you can review and amend anything, provide feedback and make sure your artist is on track regarding deadlines.

Finally! The creativity can begin! After all your hard work and dedication, you'll see your ideas come to life and your vision take form!
To get the best results from your artist, remember these points!
Art takes time.
It's surprising the amount of people who underestimate the work that goes into illustrating. Books are made in months, not days and if you want the best result, don't make unreasonable deadlines for your artist.
Be clear and concise with your instructions.
There is nothing worse then a client being vague and uninterested in their  project outline, only to mention an essential piece of information after all the work has been finished! Give the illustrator as much information as possible, they won't mind, in fact they'll appreciate it! You can send them work you have already seen by other artists, photos you've taken, crude sketches you tried yourself, colour samples, links, anything you like! Don't assume the artist will pick up on obvious information; if you haven't said it, the artist will not draw it. So if your main character always has a red wooly hat on - you must say so!
Bad example 
Draw Tom watering a plant.
Good example 
Draw Tom, a 5 year old hispanic boy wearing dungarees, watering a small seed in the back of a flower-filled garden. We must see a cottage in the background, and a bird in a bush nearby. It is sunny, and Tom is happy.
Don't be afraid to say 'I don't like it.'
You should have the chance to make any amendments to the sketches before they are finalised. You may not want to offend your artist, but any good illustrator will know that it takes a few attempts to perfect your vision. If you think something is not working, be polite and clear and tell your artist!
Listen to your artist's opinions.
Don't let them take over your project, after all, this is your dream not theirs. However your illustrator is a professional in their field. They might be aware of certain things that you are not, such as image repetition, colour clashes, misinterpretations in the illustrations and more. Listen to their feedback and concerns and work with them and you'll find you have a much better working relationship that leads to a better result!

So that's it. Hopefully you'll end up with a beautiful book with fantastic illustrations to be proud of. Don't forget to tell everybody about your fab illustrator - a lot of work is through word of mouth!
Be sure to remember them when you are the next J K Rowling, or Roald Dahl. 
And good luck!

Last but not least, I am, of course, available for hire. You can contact me by emailing - but don't take my word for it! Shop around, look at my portfolio and ask as many questions as you like!

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