Best Practices for Working With an Illustrator

For many people, purchasing illustrations or hiring an artist to create a unique image is a new experience. Because each artist is different and the client-artist relationship is critical to success, it’s helpful to have a few basic tips to refer to when you want to hire an illustrator.

Posting the Job

It is important to provide as much information as possible when posting any type of job on Elance, especially an illustration job. This is because the deliverable for an illustration job isn’t a static product, rather, an illustration is a manifestation of ideas and concepts that help tell a story in a dynamic and visual way.

Below are a few items to include in your job description. Keep these points in mind to make your job more attractive to potential artists:

Use Examples

Point to a clear example of the types of illustrations you’re looking for, and mention specific style examples in your job posting. Giving the provider more information up front will help eliminate confusion down the road and give a more accurate representation of the work you want completed.

Define Quantity, Frequency and Medium

Give the provider an idea of the number of illustrations needed and consider how frequently the final images will be used. Typically the more exposures your final image receives, the more the illustrator will expect to be compensated for their work. Be sure to also communicate where the images will be displayed – whether on the web, in print, or some other medium.

Define Ownership

Consider whether you’re buying a single use of the illustration or if you plan to retain all the rights of the image. If you are buying a single instance, the illustrator is free to resell the image for other applications. Buying exclusive rights to an image may result in a higher bid from the artist.

Communicate a Clear Timeline

Allow enough time for the illustrator to provide comps, revisions and final art. If you are leaving the creative interpretation to your illustrator, it’s best to provide additional time for multiple rounds of comps and revisions to ensure both buyer and provider are on the same page before the final art project begins. Making changes after the final art phase begins can be frustrating for both parties.

Set the Budget

When setting the budget for your project, consider all the factors involved in getting an illustration completed. Your illustrator will provide you with time, creativity, skill, and professionalism. If your budget is small, that’s not a problem, just be sure to clearly communicate the work you want completed.

Non-Disclosure Agreement

If you will require the artist to work under a Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA) or Confidentiality Agreement, it’s a good idea to state this in the job posting.

Reviewing Proposals

After posting the job, you are ready to receive and review proposals. Be sure to take some extra time to choose the artist – this is critical to getting the right illustration.

The illustrator’s portfolio, along with the communication you initiate during the proposal review process, should provide enough detailed information about an illustrator’s skills to allow you to make an informed decision about their abilities to complete your project.

Below are a few elements that will help you evaluate proposals:

Identify Style and Technique

When you begin to see proposals come in for your project, take some time to study the portfolio of work for each illustrator. Learn to look beyond the subject of the images to see if the style or technique you require is represented. Remember that some illustrators specialize in one unique style that they have refined and perfected, while others may have a variety of styles they produce.

Browse the Portfolio

A good portfolio will showcase an artist’s top work. This could be a full gallery of work or simply a few select pieces that brilliantly showcase the illustrator’s refined style. A good illustrator will frequently update their portfolio to keep it current.

Review Feedback

Review prior buyer feedback on each provider profile and let it help you learn more about the experience of previous customers.

Establish Business Terms

When you’ve narrowed your list down to one provider, be sure to discuss the business terms to reflect your deadlines and scheduled payments to the illustrator. This will help eliminate any confusion about money and timelines once you’ve started the project.


After you have chosen the provider that is right for your project, it’s time to start collaborating.

Make Contact

Once you have chosen a service provider and awarded the project, make contact with the illustrator as soon as possible. At this phase, it’s also a good idea to establish your preferred method of communication for the project and any key milestones. Will you meet via phone, IM or collaborate via PMB and email?

Exchange Information

At this point, you can provide additional reference items for the illustrator such as photos and web links, as well as the NDA or confidentiality documents. Some illustrators may also require a contract outlining the specific use of the illustration.

Provide Additional Specific Direction

Allow the artist to provide comps or sketches based on your initial conversations. Walkthrough the details to provide specific direction and requests. The more information you can provide your illustrator, the smoother the project will go.

Give and Get Feedback

Make comments and give honest feedback during the comp stage. Work out all the details to ensure all project needs are met before giving the approval to move into the final art stage. At this point, the illustrator will take the feedback and refine the art to meet the client’s needs. Typically, approval of comps and moving to final art is a key milestone where an artist would expect the release of a portion of the overall project budget.

Final Art

Now that you are nearing completion of the project, it’s time to take delivery of your final art. Once the project has moved into final art, most illustrators will limit revisions to one major change. The flexibility on the number or revisions, whether major or minor, will depend on the artist and the terms agreed upon in the proposal.

There are a variety of ways to have your illustration delivered. Most artists will be able to provide you with a recommendation for the best presentation method. If the work is digital and you have purchased all the rights, you should expect all the original working files. Generally, final payment for the work is due upon the delivery of final art.