The Seven Deadly Website Sins for Freelance Illustrators

This is a list of the things that illustrators sometimes do that they really shouldn’t – or in some cases that they don’t do. Generally, it’s the really simple stuff that tends to be overlooked and for the life of me I have no idea how it happens half of the time. What freelancers sometimes forget is that they’re running a business and they need to present themselves as such. Uploading your artwork to the internet for your own satisfaction is a far cry from landing the client you’ve always wanted or being hired for a private commission. For a viewer to become a client, they need to get from A to Z with as few obstacles as possible. Shall we begin…

  1. Not having a personal website with a custom domain name. Building a custom website is fun and can enable you to really show off your work and talent, but if that’s not for you, it’s OK to use a platform that uses templates where you just insert your own content. All of those systems allow you to have a custom domain name, whether you buy it through them or a 3rd party, so there’s no excuse not to have one. In the digital world, it’s the difference between having a business card or scribbling your contact details on a napkin . Show you’re a professional by having a custom domain name for your portfolio. It can take as little as 5 minutes to set one up and cost less than a couple caffè macchiatos each year.
  2. Not having your name on your website or using too many different names. Or using a business name, but not telling the client the name of the person to address their email to. This one is a pet hate! It’s less common these days, but there was a trend for a while for illustrators’ websites not to display the artist’s name, full stop. I don’t know if this was an oversight or not in some cases, but if you ever had to get in contact with any of these illustrators and their name wasn’t in their URL or email address, you could feel the annoyance in their reply when you’ve addressed them with just ‘Hey’. Tell people what your name is! Don’t make the client feel uncomfortable before they’ve even got in contact with you.
  3. Not showing your email address or any alternative contact method. You’ve created a beautiful website to showcase your amazing artwork and then you reveal no way for a client to contact you. Why?!
  4. Keeping your social networks more up-to-date than your own website. Social networks may be easier to update, but this just looks lazy and like you don’t actually care about your personal brand. You’re only as strong as your weakest link.
  5. Having broken links to your social pages on your website where the URLs have changed when you’ve faffed around with your usernames. It’s like moving home; make sure a redirection is in place and everyone knows about your new address including your website. If you don’t, users are going to get lost and become irritated. It’s the little things like that which can put clients off when they’re on the fence as to whether to approach you for a quote or not.
  6. Showing work of varying quality: either be crap or amazing, not both! You need to make sure you’re showing your best work and the quality of your portfolio isn’t being dragged down by including work that isn’t your best. Sometimes it’s better to show too little work than bulking it out with older work or pieces that should have been archived in a private corner of your hard drive and become a distant memory. Be proud of everything you produce, but also be aware of what works and what doesn’t. Quality over quantity and don’t listen to your mum.
  7. Not having a consistent style or not showing a degree of separation between your different styles. This one has some similarities to number six. If you’re a jack of all trades and you’re approached by a client, there will always be a concern in the back of their head as to what to expect from you when you deliver an illustration. If you have more than one style, you want the client to be able to say before they commission you that they like your children’s illustration, or your pointillism artwork, or your horror pieces. But you need to have shown these in their own sections on your website and the styles need to have not cross-pollinated between the sections. Don’t make it difficult for the client to tell you want they want based on what you do. Keep it simple! Get them from A to Z as quickly and effortlessly as possible.

There are many more things an illustrator should do to optimise their operations and workflow than the list above, but we just wanted to highlight the most common mistakes we’ve seen in the wild over the years in relation to illustrators’ websites. Please feel free to leave your pet hates and advice in the comments below. We’ll add the best ones to the article.

Archangel illustration image credit: Brian Allen

More advice…
Professional conduct for freelance illustrators
To agent, or not to agent: that is the question

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.

To agent, or not to agent: that is the question

Star Monster by Jason Heglund

Image credit: Jason Heglund

Following a conversation about illustration agencies with one of our lovely members, we’ve decided to publish and share the advice we offered. This is a subject that gets brought up a lot with illustrators, new and old, and we thought it was about time we did a post on the subject.

I’m curious to talk to someone about getting portfolio advice and what to look for when seeking out an agency to represent my illustrations.

If you’re looking for an agent, first of all you need to look around and make a list of agents who represent illustrators with a similar style to yours, but not too similar. You also need to search online for forum posts and comments where illustrators are talking about their agents and their experiences with them; it’ll be very telling as to whether an agent is worth signing up with or not. There’s such a mixed bag of agents about these days that you really only want to sign up with one who has a good reputation, rather than having an agent for the sake of it. Signing with just “anyone” who’ll take you is a sure way to be taken advantage of. Agents who represent illustrators are as varied as the illustrators themselves in terms of business prowess and that’s not even taking into account potential personality clashes.

Here is a link to get you going… http://www.thelittlechimpsociety.com/agents/

Note to HAI members: Every so often we’ll send a list of illustrators who’re looking for representation to a selection of agents who we trust. So, make sure you’ve marked that you’re looking for an agent in your profile if you want to be included in those lists.

Ideally, representation sounds best for me as I’m not 100% sure of how to bring in projects. A rep will have contacts and be able to find good matches for me. Also, my assumption is that being represented would make the work more steady.

I hate to scupper your plans, but you’ll probably find that until you have steady work coming in, you’re not going to find an agent willing to take you on. It’s a bit of a catch 22 situation. I’m not saying an agent won’t take you on, but they’re more likely to when you’re more established (unless they’re generally unestablished themselves). Don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions, but this is normally what I see happen in the industry if you’re looking for a top notch agent. There are some agencies that take on large numbers of illustrators for the sake of quantity rather than focusing on quality. If going with an agent is the path you really want to take, then this may be a compromise you’re willing to make. However, you may find there is a small group within the agency who get all the jobs and the rest will get the odd scrap.

As there are so many illustrators who represent themselves these days, it’s not necessarily a case of an agent opening doors anymore, it’s all down to marketing and time management. Normally an agent takes people on when they’re pretty sure the illustrator is going to bring in lots of work and when the illustrator is happy to hand over their 15-40%, as it means they’ve got someone handling the contracts and billing for them and they can focus on the creative side. Some agents are good at marketing their illustrators, others aren’t. It never does any harm to ask illustrators what they think of their agents before you agree to join the agency.

Things to note: Agents tend not to take people on who produce stock illustrations as it devalues the illustrator’s style. Agents tend to take people on who already have lots of work coming in or if they think someone is going to be the next big thing. The other reason an agent might take an illustrator on is that they already have an illustrator on their books that gets requested more than they can handle and you have a similar style to them. If an agent can recommend another illustrator on their books so they don’t miss out on a job, they will do. If you do sign up with an agent, make sure you’re happy with the contract you sign with them, as some of them can put you in a very tricky situation if things don’t work out as planned. Cover your bases and ask questions before you put pen to paper and sign away your first born. In the same way you can negotiate terms with a client, you can negotiate a contract with an agent.

My long term goal is to primarily illustrate and write my own picture books while still illustrating books for other people. I’d also like to manage and grow my own brand. Do agencies help artists develop with these goals in mind?

Agents will only tend to help you develop the aspects of your brand they can control and take a cut of. Generally, helping you to become independent isn’t in their interest as they want people to see the agency as the one fulfilling the client’s brief, not the illustrator. Some agents are really good and will support the illustrator and their growth as much as they can, but the agency still needs to make money and build their own reputation. As far as they’re concerned, illustrators will come and go and it’s the agency that’s important, not the illustrator’s growth. Agents are supposed to work for their illustrators, but in reality a good number of agents will treat their illustrators as if they are employees. A nice balance is when it becomes a partnership between the two. Just remember that in the same way there’s a huge variety of illustrators, agents are just as varied.

Final thought…

Make sure you’re only contacting agents who you think will take you on based on who they already represent, and only contact agents you actually want to be represented by. There’s no need to waste anyone’s time if you’re not a good fit! If you put no thought into your initial contact, they’ll put no thought into their reply (if they even send one).

The best way to get an agent’s attention is to start by making sure your website and portfolio is up to date. Don’t forget about your social pages, either – if an agent is savvy and serious about taking you on, they’ll check everything. Once your side of things is ready, visit the agent’s site, search for their submission criteria and make contact with them. Normally you’ll need to reach out to them; things won’t magically happen and don’t forget they’re probably receiving anything from ten to several hundred submissions from illustrators per day. Most of these submissions will have been done without any research and the illustrators are just getting in contact with every agent they can find. Be patient for a reply and make sure your email is crafted to the recipient and isn’t just a one-size-fits-all message… The less spammy, the better. Lastly, do try to look objectively at what you’re offering from the agent’s point of view. The opinions of family and friends don’t really count when it comes to business, so unless your mum works in the industry and is willing to tell you if your work isn’t a good fit with an agency or that you’re not established enough yet, ignore them and trust your gut.


If you’re an agent and would like to become a member of HAI like these guys, send us an email to get the ball rolling. Likewise if you’re an illustrator and would like to join our ranks, fill in an application. ❤️✏️ #loveillustration

Exclusive Member-Only Discounts

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We all love a good deal or bargain, and this is why HAI has teamed up with a number of reputable companies and organisations to bring our members some very nice discounts. On your behalf we’ve negotiated deals on screen printing, on and offline art-related educational courses, merchandise and hosting. All our members need to do is visit our discount page while logged into their account to reveal the discount codes.

http://www.hireanillustrator.com/i/discounts/

We’re always on the look out for new discounts and offers that we can arrange for our members, which means we’re going to be constantly updating the discount page as new partnerships are formed. So keep an eye on it and check back from time to time.

If you’re one of the companies or organisations offering us a discount on one of your products, thank you kindly.

Post-Showcase 100 normality

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So, it’s been a couple of weeks now since we were in London with the Little Chimp Society for the Showcase 100 exhibition. The dust has finally settled and we’re pretty much back to normal here now (or as normal as things ever get!) 🙂 We had a fab week and a really good night on the Thursday for the private view – it was wonderful to meet everyone and we’d like to thank you all again for coming. It was very busy and we certainly had a great time – we hope you did too!

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The Framer’s Gallery were wonderful yet again (the LCS held the last Mail Me Art show there) and it’s definitely our favourite venue in town for this kind of thing. It’s easy to get to, everyone there is so helpful and the space itself is perfect for arty events of all sizes.

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A number of the 100 prints were sold on the night, but the rest are now for sale in the LCS shop at £40, unframed. They are very high quality archival prints and there’s a wide range of subjects and styles, so there’s sure to be something to tickle your fancy. Can’t decide which one you want? Then why not buy the SC100 book and be able to peruse them all at your leisure? There are still some books available to buy here.

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We hope to make Showcase a two-yearly event, with the LCS continuing to run the project for HAI members. Being able to offer opportunities like this to our members is really important to us. It adds an extra dimension to our community and provides the chance to meet-up with people and celebrate the wonderful illustrations that they create.

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Finally, a special thank you is in order to the lovely Eleanor, who travelled down from the Midlands for some gallery experience and did a sterling job taking photos on the Thursday night!

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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.

Agent search, submit your news and SC100 update

looking-agentWe’ve made a few recent changes and added a couple of things to hai in the last few weeks. The first one is that members can now tell us if they’re looking for an agent to represent them or not. We have always helped illustrators out if they’re looking for an agent, but we’ve now made the process simpler. There’s even a secret page for selected agents to browse for new talent.

gallery-sort-megOther changes are that there is now a reminder on the member’s news submission page to upload their new work to their gallery. And on the gallery ‘add image’ page there’s a reminder to submit new work as news. We have considered combining the gallery and news archives in the past, but we find it works best to still have the two as separate things. The galleries give the illustrators more control over what they’re showing potentials clients and the order they see the work in. Plus if they find their style of work changes over time they can adjust their gallery to reflect this.

Four boxes containing just over 100 black edged frames for the Showcase 100 artwork.

Four boxes containing just over 100 black edged frames for the Showcase 100 artwork.

With regards to the Showcase 100 project we’re running in conjunction with the LCS, all of the work from the final 100 artists is now in and the frames for artwork have arrived. Next on the LCS’s list is to get all the artwork printed up and the accompanying publication designed. You can find out more about the project at http://sc100.co.uk

Congratulations to the winners of SC100!

Showcase 100 - An Illustration Project, Exhibition & Book

The Little Chimp Society announced the final 100 illustrators who had been selected for the Showcase 100 project (which we’re the official partners of) a little while ago now. We just wanted to congratulate the winning illustrators on making it into the exhibition and book as they were up against some very tough competition with there being over 1,400 entries of high quality work submitted for only one hundred places.

At the moment, The LCS is busy creating a detailed publication to accompany the project and framing all the work for the show. As a project partner we would like to extend an invitation to the exhibition to all of our readers. If you’d like to join us in London (UK) next April you can find the details at sc100.co.uk or sign up to let us know you’re coming on the Facebook event page.

Evolution of the new hai background image

I’m please to announce that we have a new background image on hire an illustrator, created by the talented Jose Pardo. The new background wasn’t just a simple case of asking an illustrator whether they had a piece of work that could just be reused as-is on the site… What we wanted was something original that reflected the illustrator’s style, without being too dominating on the page, and I’m really happy with what Jose produced and how it turned out. As the hai website is all about the illustrators and illustration I’m going to share with you how we got to the final piece.

Here is the first sketch that Jose sent me a few weeks ago.

Following the first sketch, Jose started to flesh it out and it was only a short period of time before he sent me this next image.

After I had reviewed the above piece, I let Jose know how well things were proceeding and that the image looked great. I then left it in his capable hands to complete the image with no set deadline for delivery as the deadline was at his discretion.

The next thing I heard from him was that he was tweaking a few things and working on a dragon! Later the same day he emailed me the following image.


Click on the image for a larger preview, so you can see a bit more detail.

Now this would have been a fantastic place to leave the image alone and call it finished, but there are some rules that neeed to be followed if an image is going to work as a background image on a website. I asked Jose to email me a layered version of the artwork and a few minutes later that’s what he sent me. I then got to work on ruining his creation. 🙂

I then emailed him back this image…

I had dropped a lot of the small details, the land and changed the background colour to white. Jose and I discussed what I’d done and he said that he much preferred a blue background as the clouds had been illustrated to work with that. From my point of view I was also happy to go with blue as that’s the colour we tend to normally use on the site. So Jose then refined the images a bit and sent me a white and a blue option…

I did like the white one, but it felt more right to go with the blue one still. So I then took the blue one and got to work on the arrangement of the elements to make it fit with the website framework. At this point I actually uploaded what I had to the site and sent Jose a link to it, so it could be seen as a live preview. I had squeezed the floating castles into the top section and put a cloud behind the main large one to try and balance the overall look. The red from behind the hai logo was also removed.

After I sent Jose this version, being the perfectionist he is, he then re-did the layout and sent me another copy which became the final version which can now be seen on the site in all its glory.


Click on the image for a large preview or go to our main site to see it in action.

Jose (MoonVisionStudio) Pardo was brilliant and so easy to work with… You can see more of his work at: http://hireanillustrator.com/i/jose-pardo or http://moonvisionstudio.com/

A big thank you, Jose, for all your hard work!