How to work with illustrators? Budgets, briefs, commissions

Ella Hagi, 4 November 2020

We’ve all been there. You’ve been tasked with a new project, and while it looks pretty straightforward as an idea, you don’t have a clue about any of the actual steps needed to reach the goal. Of course, these seemingly obvious things don’t often get their Wiki How articles but that’s exactly where we step in.

If you’re about to work with an illustrator, here’s what you need to know.

First, let’s talk about budgets

It’s the thing no one wants to talk about. There just isn’t a one size fits all answer here. Prices vary, as do pricing models. Some illustrators might charge you by the hour, some will charge per project; the latter of which generally comes with two rounds of revisions, so making adjustments won’t come at an extra. Handy.

There are so many variables that can and will affect the pricing, but a single illustration will probably cost you a minimum of £300. This is a starting point only and many things can increase it; whether it be the complexity of the work, the experience of the illustrator, the usage of the work or even how big the company commissioning the work is.

Being big on Insta doesn’t always mean a mark-up on their rates but £100 is not enough, even if someone does say yes to it.

Next up, the brief

Know what you want. Be sure of the concept and clear on what you are trying to achieve. Also, where will it sit? Will it be print or digital? What will it be printed on? A magazine page, or a t-shirt or a beer can? Where will it be seen? How long will it be seen for? What are the dimensions? All of this will have an impact on the deliverables (and the price).

Don’t be afraid to be obvious with any of this.

Are there any brand guidelines to keep in mind? Do you have to use specific colours or refrain from certain ones? Are there any logos or icons that need to be included within the artwork? Are there any themes that absolutely do not belong in an illustration representing your brand? Spell it out.

Provide visual references if you already have an idea in your head. It’ll be a waste of time to let an illustrator run wild, only to deliver something that doesn’t align with your vision of it. Visual references save time! But, if you trust the artist and want to let them do their thing, be clear on the concept, send them brand guidelines et voila.

This applies to feedback, too. Be clear about the changes you want.

Now, about the timeline

When do you need this finished by? Set the deadline a day or two before this to account for whatever may happen, but allow the artist time to work on it. A good rule of thumb is to have at least three days to allow for feedback and revisions, but speak to the illustrator and work out a timeline that suits you both.

Good work won’t be boshed out in an afternoon.

Let’s skip back to the very beginning now and find an illustrator

Honestly, the AOI provides a really great database of UK illustrators. You’ll likely be able to find your match there and be done with it.

But, if you want to dig deeper, Instagram can be a handy resource. You might find someone from your explore feed who ticks all the right boxes, or you can delve into hashtag challenges to find a 20-year-old who lives across the world, has 800 followers and whose work hits all the right spots. The similar accounts button is also a godsend!

Do you have any favourite magazines? I owe it to It’s Nice That for introducing me to many cool creatives but I come across talented people sometimes even when reading the morning news. What about the walls of your favourite shops, bars and cafes? Art is everywhere and Google’s reverse image search is your friend.

This may sound obvious but be sure to pick someone whose style aligns with what you have in mind. You might be inclined to work with a friend who happens to be an illustrator but it’ll be a drag for everyone if they have to reinvent their whole aesthetic just to fulfil your brief.

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