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How to brief an illustrator.

Jon - Handsome Frank, Thought Piece

A quick guide to the dos and don'ts of commissioning artwork.

Paul Blow illustration of girl with pencil

First of all, it's worth saying that no two jobs are the same, and as a result, no two briefs are the same. We believe that a brief should be bespoke for the commission and as such, we don't provide templates or forms for you to fill in. That said, we've seen a lot of briefs over the past decade and we have an eye for what makes a good brief and what makes a bad brief.

Great work, starts with a great brief. The following tips should make your brief better, help the illustrator you're working with and ultimately lead to better work and a smoother process.

Let's Write This Down

Phone calls, video calls, meetings, we love them. It's good to talk and we're very open to discussing projects in person, but experience has taught us that a written brief is essential. Having a well written brief at the start of the project helps everyone. A written record of what's been requested and something to refer back to at any point of the process.

Again, emails are fine, but for briefs we find it's easier to have everything in one place. So rather than a brief, broken up and split across half a dozen emails, we prefer one document (preferably a PDF), that everyone can have a copy of. Once we have that, we're happy to jump on a call and talk it over.

The Deliverables

You might be thinking, what the hell is a deliverable? Very simply, it's a word that is often used in the illustration world to describe what the illustrator is actually going to deliver at the end of the project. It's very important that everyone in the process is aligned as to exactly what is required and expected. We insist on having a list of deliverables clearly set out in your brief. This should cover not only a tally of the assets, but a description of each to briefly outline the subject matter and complexity of each illustration.

It would be really useful to see some examples from the artist's portfolio that particularly caught your eye. If you could include some specific examples in the brief that are of a similar level of complexity as to what you're after that would be very helpful.

Structure with Freedom

This might sound like a contradiction, but we believe that the perfect brief has the right balance of structure and freedom.

Structure: be clear about what you want, what you need. Let's be explicit about the do's and don'ts, if there are elements that absolutely have to be included then tell us. If there are things that we absolutely can't include, make this clear. This part of the brief is about setting metaphorical boundaries, creating the space for where the creativity can exist.

Freedom: once we've defined the essentials, let the artist know if there's room for their ideas and creative input. When you hire an illustrator you're hiring an expert. Whilst you need to direct and guide them, especially when it comes to your brand, you should listen to them too. Illustrator's are not just purveyors of pretty pictures. They're thinkers, visual communicators, problem solvers. Remember you've hired an expert. Listen to their ideas and trust them.

Tech Specs & Dimensions

All of our artists work in different ways and have different processes. It's super important for us to agree up front, exactly what file formats we'll be delivering. Equally whilst some formats can scale up and down effortlessly (vector), other formats don't, so we need to know dimensions from the start of the project and the maximum size an artwork will be used. There's nearly always a way to make it work, but we need to be aware from the start.

The same can also be said for layered artwork. If for any reason you required layered artworks, let's discuss this and agree what layers will be supplied at the start of the process. The same goes for colour. Let us know if you need artwork delivered as RGB or CMYK and if your brand has specific Pantone colours that must be used in the artwork, please make us aware.

Timings & Deadlines

Things move fast in our industry and we're very used to working to tight deadlines. That said, if we feel your timings aren't viable, we'll tell you and suggest a more realistic schedule.

At the start of the project we'll want to agree a schedule which both parties should try and stick to. Not only will this state when the illustrator will deliver each round of work, but it will set out when the client has to provide feedback by. In our experience, the biggest reason that projects overrun is because of delays in client feedback, so let's agree realistic and achievable dates and try to stick to them.

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