If you’ve reached that point where you’re ready to birth a new creative project, like a kids book, card deck or anything else needing some artistic input, it might be time for you to hire an illustrator. Before you think about asking anyone to help bring your inspired dream to life, there should be some key questions to ask yourself.

Through running a design business over the last twelve years I’ve gained a fairly unique perspective on this, and would love to share it. On one side I have been hired to do lots of illustration work over the years for a variety of clients, it’s a huge part of what I do. But I also occasionally draft in some help from other experts, organising them, prioritising tasks and making sure the relationship works.

Finding and trusting someone to make what you want is a big deal, so it’s worth asking a few questions and making sure you’re knowledgeable on the subject, what’s involved, and clear on your own vision and expectations first.

Here are a few questions to explore:

1) Do I need an illustrator?

If you’re planning to send your book to publishers’ it’s likely that they will want to pair you with one of their own illustrators, so spending time and money  sourcing your own illustrations could be a waste. If you are planning to self publish your book, however, and you don’t have the skillset or desire to create your own illustrations, then yes it’s likely that you need an illustrator.

2) How do I choose the right person?

It’s so important that you find an illustrator who feels right to you – in terms of their energy and working practices, and most importantly the illustrations themselves. Browse, browse, browse. Look at their work and see what most appeals to you and feels like it would suit your vision and your style of writing. Trust your intuition. Then of course it’s important to communicate with potential illustrators to make sure they can see and share your vision and that there are no communication barriers.

Take time to communicate with potential illustrators before you make a choice – remember, this is your baby and you want to place it in the right hands. Always look at their previous work and read reviews from previous clients if they are available, or ask for testimonials.

When you think you have identified the right illustrator, it’s not unreasonable to ask for a sample illustration of one of your pages so you can see how their style translates into their art – but be fair, and pay them for their work, even if it’s just a sample.

3) What will it cost?

You get what you pay for in life, and that is true of illustrations too. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of time, energy, and passion that goes into creating illustrations, and when you take into account that you are usually looking for a whole books worth, the project price can be significant and is worth investing in. It will depend on the illustrator, the style of their work, and their experience, but expect it to be in the thousands to illustrate an entire book. It’s worth it to have a book that you are in love with, and that reflects your story perfectly, rather than one that you feel slightly disappointed in and a bit embarrassed to share.

Always agree on the project price or price per illustration before work begins. Expect to pay a deposit upfront and at various milestones throughout the project – or per illustration as agreed in advance.

4) How long will it take?

Again, this is something that can vary wildly depending on the illustrators workload and style of illustrations. For an average length children’s book you can expect it to take a minimum of 3 months and sometimes even up to 12 months.

Here are some common stages of a book illustration project, though not necessarily in this order – and after the pagination of text, the rest can apply to each illustration one at a time, with you approving each stage:

  • Pagination of the text
  • Thumbnail sketches of each double-page spread
  • Character design and development
  • Full sketches for each spread or illustration
  • Color studies
  • Final artwork

5) What about revisions?

Every illustrator will have their own policy on providing revisions of artwork and it’s good to be clear on that before you begin. It is usual for illustrators to provide at least one free revision. However if you work in such a way as outlined in the previous section, whereby you are approving the illustration at each stage of the process, it’s unlikely that you’ll need more than minor revisions to the final artwork.

6) What size should the artwork be?

It’s very important that you know the size of illustrations you require and convey that to the illustrator before they begin to create your illustrations. This means choosing a book shape and size before you begin the illustration process. To make this choice, you need to have decided on a printer and find out the sizes they offer. Remember to also tell your illustrator if a ‘bleed’ is required (extra space around the edges of the illustration to allow for precision cutting of pages).

You absolutely do not want to pay for a beautiful set of illustrations, only to discover that they don’t fit the size or shape of the book you desire to print – if they are too small you would have to have them recreated in a larger size, if they are the wrong shape they would need ot be redesigned altogether.

7) What about copyright?

This is a huge field and I can’t fully cover it in this post, but it’s very important that before you start working with an illustrator, you understand copyright as it relates to illustrations and make sure that you are fully aware of your illustrators terms.

In some cases, the illustrator may retain the copyright to their illustrations and grant you their usage for certain purposes and for a certain period of time. It is usual when an illustrator is creating a illustrations for a book for you, however, for them to sign over all copyright of those illustrations and characters to you, with you agreeing that they may use them for their own portfolios or self promotional purposes.

Make sure everything is outlined in a contract and signed by both parties to avoid misunderstandings – cost, timescale, delivery format, copyright.

Ready to go and find your illustrator? Check out these 5 Top Places To Hire An Illustrator

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