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How to write perfect illustration briefs when commissioning illustrators

A guide for first timers.

Have you authored a children’s book? Are you looking for a special illustrator to match the style of your story? Perhaps you’re looking to commission an artist privately, for something you’d like to have in your home or workplace.

As illustrators' agents, we receive a great deal of enquiries for this particular area, and whilst we understand most people are generally interested in the bottom line, and what the job will cost, in order for us to provide you with an accurate quote there is a series of information we require to do so. In addition, having this guide will provide everyone working on the project with clarity and understanding, which is vital when communicating creatively.

The following questions, although pertinent to publishing clients, are similar to those required for most illustration briefs.

How to write perfect illustration briefs when commissioning illustrators

How to write perfect illustration briefs when commissioning illustrators

Questions about images

How many illustrations do you need?
This is very important as I’m sure you can imagine. Whether it’s one large image that’s going onto a wall or 25 pictures to illustrate a story, we need to know.

Do you as yet know what the image/s will be (of)?
Have a clear brief of what is required for each image. This indicates the complexity of the picture and since every illustrator has a different method of working, that can affect the time a project will take.

What resolution and size will the final work/s be reproduced?
Is it an A3 print you’re looking for? A wall-sized mural? Perhaps you are publishing an eBook and therefore you have the specifications already. This information is essential to know from the beginning of the project so that no time is wasted on incorrect formats.

Do you have any current layout or other visuals to help the illustrator?
Are the images full page with text or just pictures on half pages? Perhaps you already have a skeleton layout of your book, a reference photograph, mood boards or rough sketches. These are all extremely helpful ways to convey your ideas and greatly aid the illustrator in their understanding of the overall brief.

Which images from the illustrator’s portfolio/s are in the style you’re looking for?
Not every artist has a single style. Is there a particular image that you find inspiring from their portfolio? Provide us with a link to their images and we’ll be able to inform the illustrator specifically, again allowing us to accurately predict the time required for your project.

Illustration briefs - advice from illustration agents

Illustration briefs - advice from illustration agents

Questions about timing

When would you like to see preliminary sketches?
All of our illustrators work by creating sketches or ‘pencils’. This is a rough outline of what they intend the final image to be. These are the first stage of the process, and if you have an idea of when you need to see this, it should be indicated.

What is your deadline for final artwork?
Once you have approved the draft artwork, our illustrators will work towards providing you with the final images by your stated due date. Minor changes can be made at this time depending on the agreement. It is worth noting that ‘rush work’ can attract a higher fee.

Every artist works in different ways. Some styles are quick allowing for several artworks to be created a day, where others may require many days for a single image. The detail and complexity of the work gives an indication, however since it is a creative process with many variables, we must respect the artist’s process and accommodate as necessary.

Questions about usage

This is where we discuss the “three t’s” ; territory, timing and types of media. (OK I know I stretched it on the last one). How the images are being used, where they are being seen and for how long is an important part of the commissioning agreement and cost.

Where will the image/s be used?
Are you only going to be using the images in the book to be published, or will you also be creating merchandise? Will you be advertising the book? Will you be creating a specific online presence to support the book, using the illustrations?

Where will the images be seen?
If the book is being printed, in what territories will it be distributed? An electronic book available online for download will be visible globally, whereas the physical form may only be sold in your own country.

How long will you be using the images for?
This question is often perplexing for some, however it’s important to cover especially when it comes to cost. If you wish to have use of the images ‘forever’, that can be arranged. It is worth noting however that copyright of images always remains with the illustrator, regardless of the origin of the ideas behind them. Exclusive ongoing use however works as essentially the same thing. If this is your first book, and you’re keeping costs down, you might consider a shorter term of use to get the ball rolling, which you can renew when the time comes, based on it’s success.

Questions about budget

How much funding have you allocated for the illustrations?
Providing us with the details of your budget from the outset gives us a clear idea of your financial boundaries, and allows us to negotiate with illustrators to work within those means where possible. If no budget is provided, we will quote industry standards.

As a general rule artist rates range between £200-£1000 per day depending on the popularity of the artist, style and complexity of the work. Furthermore as mentioned, usage is another factor when considering costs, and if the sale of the original physical artworks is required.

Please note unless you are J.K. Rowling, or equally successful already, we are not in a position to arrange a royalty only payment.

Other useful questions...

Is there anything else we need to consider for this job?
Is your book or project controversial in any way? Does it cover a sensitive topic? Giving us as much detail as you can about your project, how you work and what you’re looking for only helps.

Submission to publishers

Quite often with publishers, we have found that they will have their own idea of what style will work for a title. If you plan to approach a publisher, we highly recommend commission a cover artwork and a double page spread to provide publishers with a strong indication of your artistic vision.

Of course if you need any assistance at all, or have any questions that aren’t covered here, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our agents who will happily help.

Our thanks to Angela D'Alton at Illustration Ltd for writing this article.


Top image by Alexis Anne McKenzie

Bottom image by Maguma

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