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Working with Illustrators Remotely

Updated on December 23, 2015

How to work with an Illustrator remotely. Selecting an Illustrator

There seems to be a misconception when people request artwork or illustration. Some seem to expect that these materials will be delivered quickly and effortlessly; perfectly laid out, and exactly as it is perceived within the mind of the person requesting the work.

Only over time and with a good rapport can you expect a quick turn around like this.
Only over time and with a good rapport can you expect a quick turn around like this. | Source

Although this does occur, it isn’t as frequently as one would hope. Client’s will often look at the work with complete disappointment, and then dismiss the artist as being incapable of producing the exact materials they are specifically looking for. They then look elsewhere to have their requests fulfilled, leaving both parties feeling inadequately served.

Frustrations evolve from poor or misunderstood communications.
Frustrations evolve from poor or misunderstood communications. | Source

Often, clients don’t know what it is that want, but will “know it when they see it”. One method of hiring an artist is to request that the artist send them concept designs as part of the interview process. Doing this allows the client to freely pick and choose between all the different designs presented by the different designers. Although this is a very effective and quick method for the client, it can be very detrimental for the artist, leaving them vulnerable to the theft of their intellectual ideas. Graphic design - artwork and illustration - works by much the same method as writing a manuscript. A concept is developed, the idea sketched out, and then the storyline or idea is edited and reworked, often completely re-developed and re-written, until finally it becomes a concrete idea or image that neither the client nor the artist had originally envisioned, but is perfect for the part. It becomes an entity of it’s own, a solid, physical piece that speaks strongly and shows clearly what it’s creators were trying to convey.

A logo, for instance, requires a great deal of thought. What you are creating is an emblem to represent your brand. This emblem should be recognizable without the need of words, and it should convey a sense of what your brand represents.

Perhaps it is a brand that sells fishing tackle. “We want something simple.” they say. “Something easily recognizable that shows we are a leader in the tackle industry.” Sometimes, this is all the information an artist is given to work with.

Remotely, a person can interpret things much differently than expected.
Remotely, a person can interpret things much differently than expected. | Source

Information transmitted remotely is not always received in the way that you expect. For very simple instructions, there is a myriad of ways a person could develop a design idea. Yet in all honesty, the person making the request already has a vague idea tucked into the back of their mind. They are expecting the artist to take this idea and make it real for them quickly, almost as if the artist can see their thoughts intuitively. With technology, they may also believe that the artist only needs to pull up a pre-made base of ClipArt’s and simply select the best fit.

Having said, that, let’s go back to our client’s original request.

“We want something simple.” they said. “Something easily recognizable that shows we are a leader in the tackle industry.”

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The first step is to come up with some preliminary ideas which we usually present when we respond to a proposal. We might present a few ideas when we deliver our proposal to the client. Quite often the client will respond with, “Thank you, but we have decided to go in a different direction.”

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This is an inappropriate response to the artist in two ways.

One, it leaves the artist with no feedback and no room to negotiate. In all fairness, the artist could probably have gone in a different direction if they were given more information about the project, but instead of providing more information and constructive feedback, the interview is simply terminated by the client at this point.

Two, the artist has already delivered work as part of the interview process, and where a client can have an illustrator sign a confidentiality agreement upon hiring, it isn’t feasible for an artist to request that from a potential employer for every interview.

The initial rough sketches and ideas presented during the interview are, in fact, concept designs; the most important and hardest part of the work. The artist has pulled forth these visuals using their intelligence, education, and creative talent. Presenting them to a client in this fashion leaves them vulnerable; although a client may not hire the artist, the client can still take the ideas from the concepts the artist presented and continue to develop them from there. Perhaps the client never intended to do that, but what is seen cannot be unseen. Those concepts are now incorporated into the client’s memory and can be pulled forth at future concept design sessions. The concepts can then be presented to a different artist the client feels is “going in the right direction.”

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In all fairness, the artist does deserve some recompense if a client incorporates something they have designed into their final piece. If a client likes some portion of what they have come up with, but not all of it, the client should offer that artist more information and steer them into the direction they want them to go rather than brush them off while inadvertently utilizing the original concept idea that the artist, in fact, came up with.

To prevent this from happening, the client should research the illustrator, look at their profile and get a feel for their style, then hire them based on previous work. If a client prefers to select their artist by reviewing concept designs, the best thing to do would be to pay for the work created during the interview. All concept work that is obtained from various artists will legitimately belong to the client, and can be used at any future time as they see fit.

Although it is unlikely any lawsuits would arise from these issues, it’s best for all involved to maintain good business ethics.

How to work with an Illustrator remotely. Working relationship

It is very difficult to work remotely without visuals; simple text instructions can be easily misconstrued. For instance, a client may request a realistic drawing they intend to place on a shopping site. The artist may then spend a great deal of time preparing a drawing to be sold on the shopping site, when in reality, the client intends to use the drawing to advertise a product on that site. The artist may have taken an entirely different approach to creating the graphic if the instructions had been better understood. To avoid misconceptions, clients should attempt to write the request and explain the idea looking at it from three different view points. For instance, what the client wants, what the client’s customer is expected to see when they look at it, and how it should look in it’s final placement.

Understanding what the piece is going to be used for, where it’s going to be placed, and what kind of white space is around it is also important. The more visuals you can supply with the information, the better. When requesting an artist to create a piece, attach a few hand-drawn sketches to the request. No matter how vague the idea, try to sketch it out. This doesn’t need to be much more than squiggled lines or stick figures. There is no need to be embarrassed by the quality. No matter how vague the sketches may be, it will give the artist a better idea of the direction they should take.

Here is an example of a sketch that was created for writing this article.
Here is an example of a sketch that was created for writing this article. | Source

Creating a video to go with the request would also be an extremely valuable resource to your artist. The inflections in your tone while they watch you sketch out your idea conveys a lot more information than written words or sketches can do alone. The video need show nothing more than paper and hand, with an audio explanation of the examples as they are sketched out. Doing this can give a great deal of meaning to a single squiggly line.

A video of a chicken-scratch drawing can convey a lot more to an illustrator than a carefully detailed email of text instructions. Also, using on-line video conferencing can allow a client to confer with their illustrator one-on-one, helping to prevent any misconceptions from the start.

A completed concept developed from good collaboration.
A completed concept developed from good collaboration. | Source

Misconceptions can and will happen in any event, and there is time and risk involved on both sides when supplying information. But if a client truly requires a piece that distinguishes their unique brand, they cannot expect that to come from a quickly made, cookie-cutter ClipArt. They must be willing to invest the time, money, communication, and patience that is normally utilized in real-life working relationships within any brick-and-mortar workplace. Working remotely can make this difficult, but it is not impossible, and with practice and the building of rapport, it becomes easier over time.

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