Hello World 2.0: How to contact an illustrator

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Most illustrators, if not all, display enough of their work online for a client to make an informed decision as to whether they’d like to work with them or not. I’m not talking about how much an illustrator will quote on a job or whether they’re affordable, but whether an illustrator’s style matches what the client is looking for. When those elements line up, it’s time for the client to get in contact and this is where things can sometimes go wrong or trip up a commission before it’s even got started.

The way the messaging system at Hire an Illustrator works is that you hit the “Message Illustrator” button on an illustrator’s portfolio page and this will email them the message you want to send. Simple, right? Most of the time, yes, but not all of the time.

When composing your message to an illustrator you should include the following information:

  • A short summary of what you’re actually after.
  • How and for what you intend to use the illustration.
  • Your deadline for completion, especially if it’s soon.
  • And, if you’ve worked with an illustrator before, your budget.

We don’t specify exactly what you should be emailing our illustrators, as everyone works in different ways and we’re all grown ups. But you wouldn’t call up a plumber if you didn’t know what you wanted them to fix or have enough money to pay them. Just telling a plumber to come to your house isn’t enough information. It’s the same for an illustrator; just telling them that you like their work or that you want to work with them isn’t enough. They need to know what you want them to work on and you need to be specific.

The initial message doesn’t really need to be more than two or three sentences. Once you’ve sent it off to the illustrator, they’ll probably get back to you with several standard questions that they send to all potential new clients. Each illustrator has their own set of questions, but they’ll all be in a similar vein and it’ll allow them to work up a preliminary quote. If the illustrator doesn’t reply to a client, it’ll either be because the client’s message made no sense (which happens more than you think) or the client didn’t even bother looking at the illustrator’s portfolio (which also happens a lot). Illustrators tend to work in the same specific style as seen in their previous pieces, so although you’ll be hiring them for a new custom piece, it will reflect their established style and that’s the reason an illustrator is normally hired. You shouldn’t be asking an illustrator to work up free samples of the image you’re after just to see if they’re the right person, because if you can’t see whether they’re right for a job from their current portfolio, you need to hire an art director to work with them on your behalf. Plus, no one should be working for free in a profit driven industry.

The length of time it takes for an illustrator to reply to an email can vary; some may reply within 10 minutes, others can take a week. A digital artist, for example, might see your message pop up as soon as you send it. One of our more traditional illustrators, who works in a studio with oils, might only check their emails once a week. You just need to be patient and take a guess at a reasonable length of time to give them before following up. Email is also a fickle thing, so if you feel you’ve given it a reasonable length of time for a reply and (as far as you’re aware) your message made sense and wasn’t confusing, send us an email and we can check in on the illustrator on your behalf. You never know, their email might be down or their spam filter might be being overzealous. Patience is a virtue, persistence gets things done!

Fees vary drastically from illustrator to illustrator depending on their style and their experience. Some might have a very labour-intensive style, or something that’s more niche. The thing is, until you’ve worked out what you want and a number of details have been pinned down, the illustrator can’t actually give you a quote. So if you’ve not even got the initial contact points mentioned above, you’re not ready to contact an illustrator. If you can’t fathom or work out those details yourself, as mentioned before, hire an art director or an illustrator who also has experience doing their own art direction, which many have. You just need to be prepared to be very hands-off when it comes to the direction and choices they make with regards to the illustrations. You’re paying them to do what they do best, so trust them and let them do it.

Now, once you’ve said your hellos and both parties know what the situation is and are on the same page, it’s time to talk about money and contracts. This ground work should be established before the creativity starts:

  • How much is the illustrator being paid?
  • What are the terms of the license?
  • Is there a kill fee and upfront deposit?
  • When is the deadline and when will the invoice be paid?
  • Have the contracts been signed?
  • Are revisions included in the fee, if so how many?

After that, you’re good to go! Follow the project, hit your targets and let the magic happen.


The accompanying illustration (2013) was created by Tom Holme for Creative England. We’re pretty sure Tom would love to hear from you if you’d like something similar.

Clients and job requests at HAI

At Hire an Illustrator we have numerous clients of every description sending us their job briefs on a daily basis so we can help them find the right illustrator or artist for their projects. It’s a fun process and we love doing it, plus it’s nice to know that what we’re doing really works. Some days we may have as few as five requests, but most days it’s more like 20-30. It’s a time consuming job, but it’s one of the many things we do that make HAI special and membership worth while.

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Mad Men’s Don Draper by the amazing Michael Gambriel

What we do when a job request comes in is to analyse it and try to get an understanding of what the client is actually looking for. Sometimes we have to go back and forth with the client a few times with additional questions about style or budget, but normally the client knows what they want and we just need to point them in the right direction. It’s not an exact science and we sometimes throw in a wildcard with our recommendations to cover our bases. Other times, a job request may not have an obvious recommendation, so an executive decision is taken on who we put forward for the job. 99% of the time it works out nicely and one of our illustrators gets a new commission.

Working with our members day in, day out gives us an advantage over a casual viewer since we know which of our illustrators are good at which jobs. Plus, we have many years’ experience dealing with a variety of art projects and illustration briefs. In addition to that, we always try to make sure any potential clients who ask for our help know what to expect when it comes to working with an illustrator and commissioning a custom illustration, as well as what they might expect to pay.

Got a job for us? Submit one via our jobs submission form or if you’d like become a member of HAI check out our join us page.

Illustrators’ skills and such…

hire an illustrator – Search

Due to a simple change on the site (we changed the “Art Buyer” link to “Submit a Job”), we now have even more clients asking us to help them find an illustrator for their projects. To help us find the right people for each job even more efficiently, we’ve introduced a new section for our members to let us know about some of the many illustration-related skills they have. So for example, if a client needs someone who can do live drawing for a conference, convert an image into vectors, or use specific software, we’ll now be able to recommend members faster. This new information will be a big help to us in connecting the right illustrators with clients and overall improving the quality of our recommendations. Please note that the skills section is not currently viewable on our members’ portfolio pages. You can get in touch with us using the Submit a Job page.

We also thought it was time to introduce a few new portfolio categories and separate out a couple of the areas that were getting a bit big for their boots. For example, the children’s and young adult category has now been divided into two sections. You can see our updated categories on our advanced search.

Hopefully these changes will make it even easier for clients to use hire an illustrator to find the right illustrator for the job!

How our Art Buyer enquiry process works

Part of our job here at hai is to recommend members to clients who contact us directly looking for an illustrator. We get lots of enquiries each week from clients via our Art Buyer form on the site, by email and through social networks. Usually (if they haven’t already) we’ll ask the client to complete the Art Buyer form to give us the information we need to help them find the most suitable artist(s) for the job.

Enquiries come from a wide variety of individuals and businesses, including publishing houses, magazine art buyers, advertising agencies, self-publishing authors and corporate clients. The jobs can range from a private commission for a portrait to a global advertising campaign, but we’re always pleased to help out whatever the size of job.

We ask for as much information as possible about the commission and style of work the client wants, then once we have those details we go about recommending hai members who fit the bill. Most of the time the client will decide to directly contact the artist(s) they are interested in to discuss the job. Sometimes clients will ask us to get in touch with the illustrators they like first, to see if they would be available and interested in working with them. Either way, hopefully the end result is that one of our members gets the job!

It sounds pretty straightforward and it usually is! Sometimes there can be a lot of going back and forth with the client to work out the details, or when offering advice around the issue of cost. Likewise, if someone is new to working with illustrators they can have a lot of questions, and we’re always happy to help people understand how the wonderful world of illustration works.

And on that note, if you are a someone who is thinking of working with an illustrator and aren’t sure what is involved, there is the fantastic resource Learning How to Commission Illustration by Randy Gallegos, available to download free at http://www.hireanillustrator.com/how-to-commission-an-illustrator.pdf It’s a great place to start!

If you would like us to help you find an illustrator, don’t forget about our Art Buyer form!