Jul 1, 2016

Advice for Working with Freelance Artists

Over the past four years as a writer I have worked with several concept artists to bring my ideas to life through illustration. In all honesty working with artists is probably my favorite part of my projects, I get to work with people who can produce amazing art and collaborate to make my ideas better than they ever could be with just me alone. A lot of this advice can apply to any freelance work, but I am framing it as working with concept artists as this is where most of my experience comes from. 

I will be using this time to offer some advice for working with concept artists to hopefully help you get the most out of working together. When working with anyone in any setting, respect is hugely important for the work to function properly, but the way people feel respected differs across environments, roles, cultures, and individuals. The best work you can do is taking the time to explore how people feel respected, because it may differ from how you feel respected or may differ from your expectations.

Classic I know, but the only way to make sure everyone's expectations are satisfied is if everyone involved makes it clear what their expectations are at the very beginning. Everyone has had different teachings and experiences, so do not take it for granted that the person you are working with are on the same page about everything without talking about it first. If you would like some guidance on what you should be nailing down, there are many freelance artist contract templates available online which cover the essential parts of everyone's obligations. Of course circumstances change and issues come up, but the only way to move past them is to keep talking and be open. Remember, if someone feels disrespected or mistreated, word can travel quickly and can hurt your future chances of finding people to work with.

Make sure you are being respectful of the artist's time. Remember they probably keep normal business hours and are not available to communicate 24/7 so patience is key even if it is difficult. If you have specific expectations around when and how your artist should be available for communication just make sure you outline what you need at the beginning of the relationship. When it comes to time issues, many of them can be addressed with compensation. If you need something rushed, need something revised, or need a long phone call, then it is fair and respectful to pay for that time you are asking for.

Grab plenty of reference from the internet and any sources you can. Deviant Art is a great starting point and you can easily build a picture collection on the website itself and share that collection. Be clear about which parts of which illustrations you are interested in, which illustrations are closer to what you want or further away from what you have in mind. Be clear about if you included an illustration because you liked the style, the colors, the mood, the composition, whatever made you grab it share that information. Also tell your artist about your inspirations and influences, and if it will help feel free to even do a quick rough sketch yourself. Don't be afraid to do whatever you think will help both of you see the same goal, while again being respectful of the artist's time.

The best artists I have worked with have always asked about the world the illustration takes place in, they will ask what materials are available (leather, metal, cloth) what technology is present (electricity, steam, clockwork) how magic works (fixed to objects, available to only few people, used as an energy source), because they know the answers to these questions will help them build the world the illustration takes place in to make it practical and therefore more immersive. This is even more important if your artist is doing multiple illustrations for you as there needs to be a consistent world built across the art. If your artist does not ask these kinds of questions feel free to initiate these discussions yourself, you may even discover something about your world you had not considered before!

In my experience, artists are generally okay with redoing art or changing art if it is not exactly what you had in mind or if alterations need to be made, but always lead the discussion with "how much would you charge to..." Maybe you will be very lucky and your artist will do the extra work for free, but do not presume they will as this is disrespectful of their time and energy. It is probably no one's fault that the art is not exactly what you wanted the first time around, so do not presume that the artist is the only party who needs to take on the responsibility of progressing it (your financial responsibility is part of it too).

Pay your artist. Move Heaven and Earth to pay your artist. As per communication earlier you must pin down before work begins how much is to be paid and when, and you must do everything you can to fulfill that obligation. Having a basic freelancer contract beforehand will help keep you accountable for your responsibilities, but even without one you must fulfill your end of the deal. In my personal opinion, if for some reason you are unable to pay your artist on time, I would recommend using a credit card or loan to do so, because ethically I believe it is better for you to be in debt than the artist who fulfilled their end of the deal.  


Gratitude is a huge element in working relationships, especially creative ones in which people put so much of themselves into the work. Payment is the absolute minimum one should consider a show of gratitude, but the great news is that there are many way in which you can do a little extra. For example, you can write short and sweet reference for the artist which will help them acquire future work. You can also make sure to praise them publicly on social media. You can even pay them a little bit extra than what you agreed, if you feel comfortable doing so.

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