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A Guide to Artwork Commissioning

Commissioning the perfect illustration for your next project is not something that should be feared, but there are a few guidelines and considerations which our team at Wild Apple feel will help you through the process.

Artwork commissioning is a task that is sometimes invisible, but is essential for the smooth running of a project. Having worked with many artists and illustrators over the years, we’ve gained a wealth on knowledge when it comes to the commissioning process, the hidden pitfalls and hacks to make the whole process as smooth and efficient as possible.

We have previously touched on considerations when ‘costing an artwork’ and ‘elements needed in a good artwork brief’ in our social media posts this month, so please feel free to check those out.

Some projects can be asset rich. Story Central, for example - a project we designed for Macmillan Education involved 6 levels with over 9 chapters in each book with approx 400 separate illustrations. Across the whole scheme we managed 46 Illustrators (each with their own agency), writing briefs, overseeing roughs/amends, whilst also making sure the final artwork was to the standard required.

The Artwork Brief

The artwork brief is normally discussed in detail within a layout meeting, or separate asset meeting. Many considerations will be taken into account when compiling a list of the assets. An asset may be required to fill a page, be the back drop for text (storyboard style), accompany a piece of text, or embellish a realia or activity. The age of the reader and genre of publication will often dictate the style of illustration. A teen students book wouldn’t suit artwork from an artist with a whimsical fairytale style, for example.

Other considerations specific to individual artworks may include;

  1. Cultural sensitivities - religious symbols, clothing, customs and in-country considerations

  2. Character development - some books require the use of a recurring character or characters

  3. Artwork style - to suit the narrative and content of the publication.

  4. Add ons - some manuscripts may require the illustrations to have speech bubbles, labels or even captions added. We find it better to add these later, and keep them editable after the artwork has been commissioned and drafted, but the artist still needs to be aware of space requirements.

The Commissioning Process

Artist shortlist. We often provide a selection of illustrators to the client, normally sectioned according to the project. That way we can have a team of illustrators which can cover the needs of a project, for example; story pages, objects, and map artists. These artists can come from a variety of channels - through agencies, or individuals that we have discovered through online searches, people we have seen in other publications, book fairs or exhibitions. We are always on the look out for good talented illustrators!

The publishing team normally select a first and second choice. We then contact the artists to see if they are interested and discuss availability. Quite often the schedule dates move in a project, so we try to make sure we keep everyone updated. Another consideration arises, when it comes to availability, where the project involves several levels and multiple artwork briefs, especially if the artist is involved in more than one component.

Layouts. Once the project is at layout stage, we normally have a brief, a layout and size for the artwork required. The layout gives the context of the illustration so that the artist can see how it will fit with other design elements on the page, this is emailed as a PDF. It is important to name the artwork space, as named in the brief, so it corresponds and is clear to ‘what goes where’, for the benefit of artists and editors alike. It is also crucial to add dimensions, if the PDF is printed out and is rescaled it will affect the dimensions and you need to make sure that the final image is the size you are expecting! We have had cases of illustrators using the PDF as a guide and have therefore scaled it incorrectly.

Costing. At this point we would suggest a fee for the work and advise what kind of contract the client requires, costing the individual artworks based of size, complexity and style, etc. A key consideration is to ensure the budget is evenly distributed and the artworks correctly characterised to ensure all parties are happy.

Roughs. Once this package is ready, a date for roughs is agreed with the illustrator. A rough can be an outline or pencil sketch, as different illustrators work in different ways - some roughs can be very rough! Therefore we recommended that a clear outline and an indication of any strong colours, that are going to be used, is enough for a rough artwork, as this will be useful for checking purposes.

In-house checks. We always check the roughs against the brief and check fit, before sending to the client. If there are any glaring errors we try to amend these between the artist and ourselves before the artwork goes to the client for approval. The client then checks the rough for content and style, before signing it off. At this point there is the chance to add small amends or tweaks, any wholesale changes are normally classed as a re-brief and if that is the case we start the process again.

Finals. After the rough stage the process moves to the final artwork, the tweaks and amends are encompassed into the final colour artwork and this is placed in page for the client to sign off.

Tips for Art Editors, Illustrators and Editors

There are a few tips that will help keep your project running smoothly:

File naming. Asking your illustrators to adhere to the naming of files, as set out in the brief. Sometimes we work on multi-component and multi-level schemes, so naming a file “blue artwork” isn’t the most helpful file name, especially when we can be handling over 200 assets for one project. As designers it helps us to know exactly where the artwork is required, so we try and reflect that in the file naming.

Invoicing. Being clear and accurate on the admin/invoicing side, is another area where illustrators and editors can help your project management and ensure the smooth running of the commissioning process.

Feedback. Always give constructive clear feedback and give information on why you want something changed. Comments like “this looks odd’ does not adequately describe to us the problem. We need to know why it looks odd!

We hope these insights are useful. We manage projects that contain a lot of assets, so maintaining good records and keeping the commissioning process smooth is a necessity. Art editing is not always appreciated, in the flow of a project, but it is a crucial skill. Hopefully our experience in this area means that it feels like you have a ‘make book’ button!

If you need help with art editing on a project, please do get in contact with one of our Apples, we are here to help you.


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