Again, instead of my post this week, I thought I’d write a little in my Development Blog.
Very recently, I’ve been working to find an artist for a graphic novel I’m working on in the Consortium Universe. At 100 pages, it’s a lot of work, a lot of cash in someone’s pocket. This is not a new experience for me – I’ve had similar experiences multiple times on every book I’ve made with one exception – with Era: Lyres, I used an artist I already knew and therefore I knew could do the work well.
So I thought I’d give you a little insight into the sorts of messages, traps and verbal abuse you receive as someone who’s offering to pay a large amount of money to someone else to create artwork for you (and, note: this is hiring artists. This is nothing to do with the horrors which can happen when you’ve hired them and made an agreement! Well, I might add a little of that.).
So, where to go? I’ve found DeviantArt is the best place to find genuinely good artists and even writers as well. The Job Offers forum there is pretty much guaranteed to get you some hits, no matter what it is you want. So make sure, when you post, that you explain what it is you want, post a link to an example style you like, give an idea of the budget you’re looking for and an indication the amount of work you’re offering (because nearly everyone will give you a discount for a large amount of work – freelancers have to live between jobs, which is why they charge a lot for individual pieces).
Then, you sit back and wait for the replies. Comments like “That’s a stupid project” doesn’t really happen too often, you don’t need to worry about that sort of thing on any practical level. Personally, I ask people to E-mail me (and provide my E-mail address) so, inevitably, half a dozen people post on the forum thread or message me on DA. I follow those up as I feel necessary, but don’t feel obliged to reply, personally, as they didn’t bother to follow my request for contact: usually a very good first indication.
Those that do E-mail you will range from the low-priced and amateur to the massively high-priced and genuinely impossible. Obviously, you’re looking for something in the middle.
With comics more than illustrations, you’re likely to get offers from people who want to do just the pencils or inks (watch out for the inks only in particular – it may be me, but I sometimes find it hard to tell when they are offering just inks from most initial attempts at contact). That can make it very hard to judge their portfolios (again, particularly if they are just inks – how good was the inking on that page of Green Lantern’s Blackest Night? And how do you judge the inking without judging the pencils?). Personally, I’ve found it a lot safer and that I get better results with someone who does pencils, inks and colours – the whole job.
With illustrations, if you post a fair bit, you’ll find the same people apply and apply even after you have told them that you’re very sorry, but their style doesn’t fit what you’re looking for: there are certainly spammers on the forum.
So, you start getting responses and going through them. When I first started, I had an artist that helped me with a few things, and he told me “If this artist can do this, then he can definitely do [whatever I was looking for], it’s much easier…”. I found there was no bigger mistake than to make that assumption. It’s my strong recommendation that you don’t hire anyone who doesn’t have a piece of work similar to what you’re looking for in their portfolio – most people who claim to be able to do any style are not being totally straight with you.
Watch out for copied work from photos – people who copy from photos and post it all over their portfolio seldom have the skills to do anything else, anything creative with a pose. Using references is one thing (and something all artists should do, really), but you’ll fall foul if you get someone with apparently great work that can only copy photos.
Also check for consistency – some people do one piece of good work and never seem to be able to match up to it again – that’s a problem I’ve had a few times in the past, particularly with Consortium Illustrations.
Check their English (or French, or whatever language you speak). A lot of people use a copied and pasted post written by someone else, which can hide real problems with communication. Nothing is worse than trying to direct people how to fix what they’ve done when they can’t understand the words you’re using because Google Translate doesn’t really handle that particular word well. Communication is very key with an artist to realise your vision.
And, inevitably, you’ll get some who you’d love to have but one look at what they are asking for, money-wise, makes it very obvious you can’t afford it.
I had a similar encounter with someone today – they wished to charge almost 3 times the budget I’d set aside for my 100 page graphic novel. So, I politely replied to their E-mail that I was sorry, I could not afford that, that I’d thought that his price would be lower when I first contacted him, considering the volume of work here (and, you know, the fact I’d put a guide budget…?). What followed was a massive tirade about how I was expecting all artists to live in ditches and eat… well, you can imagine, I’m sure. I was quite taken aback, to be totally honest (something that sort of surprises me – I’ve experienced this quite a few times now), but I tried to retain my professional composure. I replied that I would just have to accept some lower quality work that possibly took less time, in that case. The response was equally unpleasant.
Should I have not replied? Probably. Everyone knows conversations can get out of control much more easily on the internet. However, maintaining good relations with the artistic community is very important when you commission a lot of work, so I usually try to explain my reasoning, and I try to reply to every offer rather than just deleting them from my inbox and ignoring the people who took the time to apply.
Everyone wants to talk to you when they think you’re going to give them thousands of dollars for their work. That’s not surprising. What I find surprising is how many artists – they run a business, after all, they are creating artwork for money – become offensive when you tell them that you’re sorry but they aren’t what you are looking for (whether it be because of money, style, whatever). The fact you can’t afford an artist right now doesn’t mean you will never be able to, doesn’t mean you want to sever all ties and never consider working with them again. As time goes on, most people who order lots of artwork up their quality targets (and budgets) to improve – that’s only natural! Someone who’s out of your league today might be the very person you want next year. I recommend trying to keep that in mind when you interact with artists… just a thought!
How do you get the best results from freelance artists? Sadly, the only answer I have is “Get a good one”. Sometimes, doing concept artwork can help you find someone who will actually work that little bit harder for you when it’s needed. Being fair with money can really help as well – but don’t get fooled into large (like 50%) non-refundable deposits for artists who you haven’t worked with before: that way lies a lot of wasted money.
Finally, watch out for studios. I’ve never had a good experience with an art studio… though I still hope I might one day. Many of the ones on DeviantArt use their most experienced artist to win the contracts and then assign a junior artist to the project, because they have the money now, relying on you to be honest. And, anyway, they’ve usually taken at least 50% by then.
Now, I’ve said a lot of bad things about hiring artists. I have been working with Sofia over 4 separate projects over about 3 years, the time I spent working with Victor Minguez on Consortium was fantastic and Keith Draws is a great bloke with a brilliant work ethic. There have been a couple of others as well; enough for me to be still looking in the same place. But for every one of them, there have been 50 applicants and 10 total failures that I’ve worked with. My best advice is to know that going in, expect it, and allow for it, along with some wasted money.
Well, I hope I’ve been informative or helpful in some ways to anyone looking for artists.
Of course, there’s one way that’s even easier to find artists for RPGs… ask me! I have a collection of solid, reliable artists who I work with frequently.
Until next time!