Whether it’s for cards, book illustration, box art, or even concept art for miniatures, every game needs art. You might be able to do a lot of it yourself if you’re so inclined, but even smaller games require a surprising amount of artwork, and it can be easy to become overwhelmed. And if you’re not good at drawing, painting, sculpting, or whatever type of art it is you require, you’re going to have to hire someone to help you. Which brings me to the point of this blog entry: working with artists.
There are lots of ways to find quality artists. You may know someone you went to school with, or work with. You can comb through sites like Deviant Art, Art Station, Concept Art, or several others. Regardless of how you find your artists, here are some of my experiences that have worked well for me so far.
Ask them if they have a standard contract they use. If not, you should have a contract that you’ve had drafted for you by someone with the expertise to do so. The exact terms of the contract will vary according to your needs, but you should make sure that the terms of the contract are clear for both you and any prospective artists before you ask them for any work, or send them any money.
Politely ask for their rates. Do not ask them to do work for you for the “exposure.” You most likely won’t work for free, so asking or expecting anyone else to do so is highly insulting. Professional artists are exactly that: professional. Just like any other kind of job, they put in time and effort, and should be properly compensated. Once again, discuss and agree upon rate structures before you ask them for any work. Don’t be surprised, either, if the rates aren’t “cheap;” you need to think about how many hours the artist may spend on a typical work, and realize that more often than not, they’re charging less than minimum wage if they were working on an hourly basis. Add this to the fact that typically contracted work such as this doesn’t have benefits such as insurance, or even paying the employer’s portion of Social Security and Medicare tax, and it’s even lower. Everyone deserves a living wage, and all too often the “starving artist” cliché is more real than it should be. Don’t perpetuate it.
Be explicit with what you need the artwork for. If the artist knows what the art will eventually be used for, it will make it easier for them to give you what you actually need, versus what they think you might possibly need.
Also, be constructive with any feedback and criticism you may have. Most of the time, artists will send sketches for approval or other “works in progress.” You can, and should, take those opportunities to offer guidance to help ensure their on the right track and that you will get what you want (and are paying for). When you do so, though, you don’t have to be a jerk about it; be clear, polite, and professional. Likewise, you don’t have to love everything they do, and any truly professional artist will expect you to critique their sketches and ask you for clarifications on the direction, style, etc.
Finally, try to build a lasting relationship with your artists. Even if you’re only needing a couple of pieces right now, if you’re successful you will need more art in the future. If you had a good working relationship (you were clear with your expectations, contracts, and you paid them on time), it’s much more likely that artist will be glad to work with you in the future. Also, believe it or not, many artists actually talk to other artists, so if you develop a bad reputation, it could hurt your future endeavors, as word of mouth will spread.
Hopefully this rambling was at least a little useful. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave comments below!