Working With An Illustrator

So, you need an illustrator for a project. What do you do now? Below I'll map out some of the various stages of the relationship.
The first step is finding a source for illustrators. If you're reading this, you may have already solved that problem. The question to ask yourself is, what kind of art will solve my problem? After all, illustrators are visual problem solvers first and the technique they use is secondary. However you may have a particular style in mind to start with, like photo realism or impressionism, or you may want the look of a particular medium like watercolor, oils, digital. Ultimately you will need to see some samples of art that will solve your problem.

In choosing the illustrator you'll need to consider several factors. You'll want to see at least five or six samples in a particular style and/or medium. This will show you that the artist is proficient in that style and medium and that the one piece you saw was not an aberration. (The exception to this would be when you are using an artist you are already comfortable with.) The artist may show you work by sending you printed samples, or by pointing you to a website. Another aspect to consider is the comfort factor. You are depending on this person and they are trusting you, so feeling somewhat comfortable even in the first e-mails or the first phone call is important. This may mean spending a little time talking with each artist, even if you're just shopping around for pricing. Believe me, it pays off in the long run for both parties.

Pricing and usage are the next things to settle on. Prices in the illustration business are based on the complexity of the art, the amount of time the artist has to finish the job and how the illustration is going to be used. Usage works like this: Let's say you need a illustration for a project. You may decide that the art could work as well on a sales sheet, package, book or magazine, brochure, point of purchase display or even as an ad. Each time you use that art, you are increasing the exposure of your product, service or idea. Therefore the artist charges more for selling you the rights for those various uses. One common misconception that many new buyers of illustration have is thinking that when they buy the rights to an illustration, they also own the original art if it was done traditionaly. Remember that the reason you are buying the art is to solve your particular problem, so you're buying commercial usage to the art. Having something nice to hang on your wall is a separate transaction. Of course these days a lot of artists work partially or totally digitaly, which means there is no "original" any more. Most artist are willing to include a small inkjet print but many also sell larger limited editions that are signed and numbered and printed with archival materials. These are now the originals. You can ask artists to modify an existing image but you will pay something more for that extra work depending on how extensive it is.

So which rights should you buy? You can buy the rights to use an image for multiple uses right off, or you may decide to buy limited usage, and only purchase more rights later if you decide you need them. If you think you need a buy out, (buying all rights) be prepared to at least double the original price. If you decide on a buy out, you are buying all the reproduction rights, but not the copyright to the work.

Is art cheaper by the dozen? You'll be happy to hear that it usually is. The reason is that you are guaranteeing the artist work for a longer period of time, and that's valuable to the artist. Your responsibility in that case is to actually commission and buy that number of pieces. Most contracts will stipulate that if you are getting a lower price for a series of paintings, and the job gets stopped somewhere in the middle of the process, you will pay an undiscounted price for the ones already completed.

What are cancellation fees?If you stop a job before it's finished or you decide not to use the art once it has been done, (assuming the art was done to specifications) you are responsible for paying the artist a cancellation fee, otherwise known as a kill fee. You and the artist will decide on what percentage of the fee should be paid at various stages of the job. Typically you will pay a minimum of 25%-50% if it's stopped at the sketch stage, and 100% if the art has been finished.

Can I ask for changes? The short answer is yes. Some alterations you pay for and some you don't. For example, if you asked for an illustration of an elephant balancing a colored ball on it's trunk, and the finished art has no ball, you can ask them to add the ball. Or if the ball was not bright enough, it can be altered. However, if you decide to change the original directions and add another elephant or a person riding on that elephant, be prepared to pay for that change.

Last but not least. Two very important items. One, always have all these conditions written out and signed by both yourself and the artist. Two, if you tell an artist that you'll e-mail or call them with changes (or if you're waiting for approval from your client) call the artist and let them know what the status of the job is. Please appreciate that the artist is an independent contractor who may have turned down other work to be available for your job. In the end, having a good working relationship demands a little give and take from both sides. Good luck on your next job!
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