If you’re like me, you’re a writer, not a graphic designer. (Though if you can do both, good for you!) But we both know books need great book covers to sell to readers. So where do you find an illustrator? How do you select one? What do you provide to one?
Where to find illustrators:
- Freelance websites-This is a good option when you quickly want an illustration. Websites like Fiverr, Upwork etc are oriented to getting illustrators in front of you and your order requests in front of illustrators. This process is very fast because both sides are actively looking for work. These websites are optimized for offers, buying and selling.
- Deviantart-This is what I consider to be the natural home of illustrators. It’s literally a social media site dedicated to them and their art. You can browse portfolios from specific users, and you can still request commissions via the website’s forum. I like to think this is a good place to go to when you want a more grassroots approach. In other words, this is what I think is the true home of many artists and illustrators, so it is another good place to go to. You can chit chat with artists and browse user profiles very easily. Almost everyone on the site is a creative or an illustrator!
- Facebook-There are many Facebook groups you can join to view art and come across artists who are open to commissions. You can also post your commission request in some groups too. It’s harder to get a feel for each artist though, since Facebook doesn’t have much of a portfolio option. Still, Facebook is big and you can still chat with and request art here. It is not quite as art oriented as Deviantart, but has similar features otherwise.
- Instagram-This visually oriented social media platform is a natural home for illustrators too. I mean, the site is full of pictures. It’s very straightforward to view art, though searching for users can be more cumbersome and you can’t do an open call for commissions easily. I only really look at Instagram because many artists on other platforms use Instagram to promote their art and show it off. So as a portfolio tool only, it works. But it’s more cumbersome to request commissions and find prices and compare artists because Instagram is not currently designed to sell commissions.
- Artstation, Behance, etc-If you are super serious about finding an illustrator, websites like these are where artists show off their portfolios. I usually spot high end professionals on these sites, with large and super detailed art.
- Twitter-Illustrators hang out on Twitter too, though I find it hard to search for art styles and different illustrators. I would consider the community aspect to be like Deviantart, but more limited and one-to-one rather than group oriented.
How do you select an illustrator?
You need to decide your own parameters for several subjective items. Things like price, does the artist draw your desired art style, whether the artist has prior experience drawing the object you want drawn and do you like the way the artist draws in their original style…
Knowing these are very important and useful if you do any commission requests, so the correct artists respond based on price, art style, etc.
What do you provide to your selected illustrator?
Comically enough, most illustrators expect buyers to have visual references to help with the drawing. (They are probably visually oriented after all.) This is pretty easy for real life places and people. But for fantasy and fiction…not very easy. So you should do your best to locate similar or exact pictures or drawings of any aspect of your commission to help the illustrator. If you don’t have any, think of your favorite characters or books. Or, just google images that match the content or styke that you want.
Apart from visual references, I usually dump a 5-10 page word document to extensively explain my drawing with words. Usually the words are too much and little details get lost between the document and the drawing. So, nowadays, I front load the first page with a quick summary and then add details to flesh out the quick summary on subsequent pages.
Probably, ideally, most illustrators would prefer to be front loaded 3-5 visual references of what you want. They also want to know what art style you want, ideally a style from something they have previously drawn. Then front load a brief summary of the drawing you want in words, then provide 1-3 pages of additional details at the end or back. The only reason why I say don’t provide more details is because…there’s so many pages, the volume may be too overwhelming. No reason to make them read more than they have to; a TLDR is usually more efficient.
You also want to establish terms on commercial use, revisions, the level of art detail and what is being drawn in the drawing.
What if I get art I don’t like?
From my experience, most artists are willing to made edits and changes once they finish. However, obviously, providing precise, clear and easy to understand details at the beginning is best to avoid misunderstandings. Still, you may end up wanting the artist to edit or revise the final product. I really haven’t had issues getting the artist to tinker or redo aspects of the drawing to bring it in line with my vision. If you are very concerned about this, ask your illustrator how many revisions you get with your order. I think it is most important to provide great instructions with the order though, to minimize the need for revisions or totally redoing the art. You need to be clear and precise with how you convey your vision, in detail, via words and/or visual references in the beginning. If you don’t know what you want, how is the illustrator supposed to know? This is why I like to provide details, to make it as easy or complete as possible to mentally picture what I want, since brain telepathy isn’t currently a thing.
You can also request sketches from the illustrator to see the work in progress before it gets all filled in with color.
What if the scene or character doesn’t exactly look like what I pictured in my head?
Bear in mind, each illustrator is a different person with a different art style and interpretation of your vision, so ultimately whatever product you get will be a combination of your vision and his or her vision (perhaps 80% your vision and 20% theirs). It would be nearly impossible to get anyone to understand your vision in 100% the same way that you see it, any creative work is subject to interpretation, opinion and personal perspective.
You could try to get the illustration to be 100% your vision or 100% in line with your vision, but you will frankly likely end up needing 10 or more revisions, driving your illustrator insane. You as the writer asking the illustrator to draw is, after all, a collaboration.
If you still feel dissatisfied or disappointed after a few hours, this is when you would ask for revisions to edit the work.