My friends, colleagues and I have recently noticed that communication with illustrators is falling apart. We lament this new trend often. While there are still many art directors in the field who efficiently and effectively communicate with their artists, there are seemingly just as many who are entering the profession without having been instructed in how to properly assign work or manage projects. I do not blame these individuals - not one bit. I blame the educators who failed to send them out into the world with good communication skills. Or perhaps I blame the lack of on-the-job training at publications, where art directors are hired and fired at increasingly rapid rates. Whatever the reason, the problem persists.
Therefore, here is a guideline that will lead to improved communication, fewer revisions, better artwork, and fewer headaches for all involved.
1. Your first email to an illustrator should not read: “Hey, are you available for an assignment?”
This kind of email is a waste of everybody’s time, because all of the important information is missing: size and number of illustrations, context, timeline, and budget. In order to reduce the back-and-forth between the individual assigning the art, and the illustrator, simply take a moment to include the important information in the initial email request. For example: “Hello, John - we are publishing a story about the ongoing conflict between hedgehogs and walruses. We will need a cover, a full page, and two spot illustrations. The deadline for sketches is March 1st, and the finals will be due March 8th. Our budget is $3750. Are you available / interested in working with us on this assignment? Please let me know by 5pm today. Thank you.”
With one email, you have now given the artist all of the info needed for him/her to decide whether or not to accept the job. This used to be the standard introductory email for all assignments. I’m not sure what happened, but I, and many illustrators I know, rarely get emails like this any more. Let’s fix that.
2. Please do not expect illustrators to read minds.
Details are very important. When sending emails about your job, give as many relevant details as possible to an artist, if the assigned artwork has specific requirements. Illustrators are very capable of drawing anything you need, but we cannot guess what that might be if we are not told up front. For example, if you tell an illustrator to draw “a car on a street,” then the illustrator will assume the make and model of the car are not important. S/he will also assume the street can be any kind of street. Therefore, it is not fair to the artist to reject the final art because you expected a vintage Porsche on the Autobahn. Please be sure to communicate all required elements of the art in your earliest correspondence with your artist, and it will be smooth sailing for all.
Sometimes, very little direction is preferred, if the assignment calls for a lot of artistic freedom and interpretation. But, let us not confuse this with a lack of relevant information. For instance, the recent recipient of the Richard Gangel Art Director Award, SooJin Buzelli, is famous for giving her artists a lot of freedom. But let us note that when she assigns work, she actually has spent a good deal of time figuring out a way to distill a complex article down to its essential message or theme. She then sends this one or two sentence summary to a carefully selected illustrator, providing that individual with a perfect launchpad from which to create a unique visual solution. Concise and efficient.
3. Please write back. Please.
This is just common courtesy. I often get asked if I am available for an illustration and I then respond in the affirmative with some questions about the assignment or the budget or some other detail. Then, no reply ever comes. A week later, I will see another artist blog about completing the very same assignment that was initially emailed to me. While I understand that everybody is very busy, and emails are flying around at the speed of light, I urge you to please remember that it is unprofessional and quite rude to simply leave an artist hanging. We often will put other things on hold or rework our weekly schedule to accommodate a project that we think is moving forward. A simple email to let us know that you will be working with somebody else, the job is cancelled, the issue is on hold, etc. is all we need to move on and stay on top of our other jobs. Thank you.
Here’s a video I made in the early stages of pre-production for Over the Garden Wall to help to demonstrate some of the techniques for the background painters. It was intended as a supplement to this document:
Cósmica Y Sus Huevos is an editorial for La Monda magazine. This is Dani Aristizábal’s portrayal of the creation of the universe, which hatches from a primordial egg, in line with the viewpoint of some ancient cultures.