HOW TO HIRE ARTISTS 101
I've put together this (hopefully) comprehensive but simple guideline on how to hire an artist for your board game (or similar) project. For all of you that are developing a game in your spare time and you're dealing with this for a first time ever, this is for you. And for others, I hope that you'll find at least some of this helpful, as there's some miscellaneous tips often overlooked or not spoken about. Before we get started, little bit about me: I'm a full time freelance character artist and illustrator. Lately I am focused on epic fantasy settings and board games. I'm completely self taught and I've been painting professionally for only 6 years, so, take my advice with a grain of salt.
1. DON'T TRY TO SAVE MONEY ON ART
Might sound sketchy, coming from an artist, but hear me out. ART IS IMPORTANT. It doesn't matter how fun your game is, and how revolutionary your mechanics are, if the game doesn't attract attention on shelves and thumbnails, no one is picking it up.
Strong artwork suggests the time and money it was invested in the project, and overall quality of it. It is no wonder why bad art is number 1 reason to turn down a game for so many people. I'd go as far as calling it the most important thing to do right, and by that, besides quality, I mean:
- right art style attracts exactly your target audience,
- right art is marketing in itself,
- and right art style enhances the mood/atmosphere your game is trying to convey through its story (and mechanics, if they're good).
Oh, and if you plan on crowdfunding, then it is by far the most important thing, as your audience will only see your game, and almost no one is going to play it.
2. WHERE TO FIND YOUR ARTIST
LOCAL VS. REMOTE:
Working with someone local has its benefits. It can feel safer and communication in person (or in the same time zone) may be easier. However, finding local artist that fits your project, style, quality, budget, availability, etc. will be so hard, it probably isn't even worth trying. So, internet:
Deviantart - the biggest online artist community. The amount of artists and artworks there is so huge, it might feel overwhelming. You'll find many college students and generally amateurs there.
Artstation - professional version of Deviantart. When artists learn their craft, they level up from it to here. Literally all top of the line artists are here (and those in the making).
Behance - not so easy to navigate and reach out to artists. But it is nice, and big.
Freelancer.com - Biggest freelancer website out there. You will find LITERALLY everything there, and just like Deviant, it brings some (and same) problems. There will be many freelancers armed with software for automatic bidding/messaging for your project's ad. Their offers will be very cheap, and almost all the time the artwork will be bad, or worse: stolen. A LOT OF ART is being stolen and recycled (slightly edited) all the time. That can get you in real trouble. So, unless you think you can see through scams and spams, stay away from there. I started my career there, and I still work on that site, it is actually great when you know your way around.
Upwork - this website is growing, and it might reach freelancer.com some day. It is more streamlined, safer, and for a lot of people, simply better. On average, the project's budget there is bigger, and amount of people bidding lower, too. That's due to few things, most notably even bidding on that site costs money. While we're on that subject, expect that Upwork will take 20% cut from every transaction from the artist (double, compared to freelancer.com). I work there, too, but I prefer Freelancer.
Fiverr - Fiverr's name is based on the concept that you could go there and get any service for a 5$. Literally everyone I ever encountered thinks that's all there is to say about this website. But there's little bit more to it. Here's what I've learned from being both a freelancer and a customer on it for about a year: Fiverr puts serious effort into looking good and it is heavily oriented in customers' satisfaction, but it is possible to get decent work done there. You'll just have to be ready for situation WAY worse than on freelancer.com. People blatantly steal artworks and scam on daily basis.
Other options: Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, forums. Best things about these are they're free and you're already using some of them. Also, might be the easiest way to get a quick reply from an artist.
My winners: Artstation & Facebook. Between these two you'll have access to world's best and upcoming artists, a website literally made for hosting portfolios and another one for simple communication. There's no hidden costs on both ends and finding someone who's already looking for work is statistically better for you.
However, note that you won't have the protection ("money back guaranteed" systems and similar) of freelance sites this way. Be careful who you send money to. Draw up contracts if you'd like, and communicate all details well before starting.
3. HOW TO FIND YOUR ARTIST
Don't rush it. Look through many portfolios, and then some more. Don't stop on first good enough artist, as likely he won't even be available/respond. Receiving no replies seems to be more often than you'd think (even if they reached out on your ad). I've had a lot of clients tell me (even praise me) for being so responsive in chats before and during the project. Send some messages (better yet, briefs) and see who replies the quickest. Leave some info out of the brief so you have something to go over additionally. See if they're into your project, how quickly they get back to you and if their language is good enough (btw, sorry for any errors, English is not my first language). Of course, there's a notion that they're not currently responsive because the project hasn't started/they're working on something else. But there's another side. Vast majority of the artists are self-employed freelancers working from home. That can easily mean the person is unorganized and without routine. And you don't want that.
The brief - be it a big direct message, neat PDF, or Facebook page post, make sure to roughly specify scale, time frame and theme/setting. You don't have to mention budget, but it can't hurt (usually).
Now this is important: post an artwork or artworks that you like and that you're trying to get. A picture is worth a thousand words. This will be THE MOST important thing, it is so key that you could almost get away with doing only that.
ANOTHER IMPORTANT TIP: I've been given descriptions as short as "a werewolf, and make it awesome" and as long as literal novel sent on home address to read and get to know the characters myself. Both is okay, especially if you're hiring a professional. But understand that there's a fine balance between giving enough details so it matches your vision and overwhelming your artist to the point of crippling limitations. You know your idea the best, but let the artist do their job. Leave a healthy dose of artistic freedom, let them make decisions, if you pushed too far - ask for their honest opinion. Best way to go about this: make a clear distinction between your "must-have" elements, and your "would-be-nice-to-have,-but-not-a-requirement" elements.
You've got some replies back or some offers. Now what? Sadly, there's no rule of thumb for this kind of thing, especially when you think worldwide. Standards and prices of living vary a lot. You might end up bargaining for it, but understand that the artist might accept something below his usual rate, and at which point you'll be getting below their usual quality. You're not bargaining for an already finished product. Understand that. You'll have to figure this out on your own, but here's a few tips:
- pay per piece, not per hour,
- pay something upfront,
- know the difference between revisions because of your fault, and because of artist's fault, and extend the budget accordingly,
- don't expect ANY kind of free sample or revisions. Also, work "for exposure" might work only if you're Disney or WotC, but you're not.
- offering % almost never works, especially if this is your first project. While I understand the lack of money to set a side for pursuing a wild dream is often a harsh reality, this is often a full time job for the artist, who has to eat and pay bills. If you really have to stick to partnership, do a mix of upront payment and % of income. However, also be aware that offering collaboration instead of money may immediately close some doors, as it could be read as "I don't believe in my own project". So why should they?
5. TIME FRAME
There's a lot of difference between artists in how efficiently they work. Also know that style is a great factor: realism is incomparably more time demanding than clean and cute anime. If your game is big, you should consider hiring multiple artists. On a game I worked on (Dwellings of Eldervale), we had an artist per element. There's eight elements/factions in that game. It can definitely work out well if your game has that kind of division in it. But it might be worth considering hiring an art director to keep your artists (and your game) as one concise whole.
In fact, if your budget allows it, think about it even if your team is smaller, as there's still things to keep in unity: your graphic design and your artwork (also, your KS page and marketing).
But once this has been decided, try to keep the agreed deadline by keeping your artist(s) in check and asking for frequent updates. This is also recommended in case they go off the trail with something. Fixing an error in early stages will save you money, time and a few headaches.
Art director - it doesn't have to be written in the person's CV (and you definitely shouldn't be looking for appropriate degree), it can be someone who's obviously more skilled and involved in the project. You can offer that chosen artist (at least slightly) extended budget and name on the box.
(Extra tip: maybe not on box front, but you should offer writing all artists' names somewhere anyway. Putting their names on the product is not just nice thing to do for them, it might be nice for your audience that might even be interested in seeing who did it, but also you'll probably get better results. After all, they don't wanna draw subpar stuff - their name will be there! So, it is nice for everyone.)
6. TECHNICAL DETAILS
SIZE: be aware at what resolution/size/dpi your artwork should be and that should be part of the brief. DPI = dots per inch, means how precise the printer will be with detailing. Standard in printing for handheld things is 300dpi. Billboards go as low as 20-50dpi. Farther away something is, you can get away with fewer "dots". So your regular poker-sized card is 1050x750 resolution, at 300dpi. BUT, you should ask for higher resolution, as you might use some of that artwork elsewhere (rulebook, marketing, etc.), and also that artwork should be in...
LAYERS: ask for source file containing layers. At least ask for characters on their own separated from background. Note that this won't be asking for any extra work/effort. This is assuming your artwork is done digitally, and we're safe to assume that. Do not value traditional over digital (more on this below).
GRAPHIC DESIGN: being an illustrator and graphic designer are two different careers and require different skill sets. Illustrator illustrates, paints pretty paintings. Graphic designer designs text, icons, fonts, logos, borders, layouts of the information, makes sure things read well and are intuitive, etc.
There's some overlap here, and things that move from one side to other, like icons and your logo/title. Simple guideline is:
If they're made by mouse: it is graphic designing.
If they're made by pen: it is illustrating.
If you're going all in, hire a dedicated graphic designer for your project. Your average illustrator might know how to format text and can draw your icons, but is that enough for your game? (This is where art director comes into play again)
DIGITAL vs. TRADITIONAL: "Do not value traditional over digital" This obviously has to come down to personal taste (though you should remember that you're making a game for other people, too, not only for yourself. Finding out what your target audience enjoys mechanically but as well as visually is important.). But I still think I should say a few words about this, since I've had people disregard my work and skill just because I work digitally. Usually those are the ones that don't know how exactly digital art is made, what are drawing tablets and pens, or what Photoshop actually does. They might have heard only bad things about Photoshop like its usage in wrongfully portraying TV and magazine models. Also, there's an important reason I've put this in Technical Details. Let's see pros and cons of each:
+ Easily manipulated and revisioned
+ Has layers, which can be VERY useful for already mentioned things like marketing, re-using it in other parts of the game, video trailer, editing, etc.
+ Can be in a vast variety of styles (INCLUDING traditional, this is important, as that might be the biggest quality of traditional. And f you don't believe me, take a look at portfolios of Greg Rutkowski, Craig Mullins, or even my own)
+ Artists are a lot easier to find
+ Brainstorming/sketching can be done VERY quickly and with great detailing (especially with photobashing)
- As it is a lot easier to get into it, there will be many amateurs with missing fundamental knowledge that they easily hid, often by stealing/copying, and this ultimately puts digital in a bad light
+ Has that lovely distinct traditional style (included in digital)
+ Physical artwork is unique and that might appeal to someone
+ Harder to learn than digital, some may appreciate that (this connects to my previous observations, and the only negative from digital)
Actually, after looking at this list, it might be a good idea to value digital over traditional. Not saying that in a sense what should you respect or like, but in a way that it is more convenient in a lot of ways for your project, and you should be aware of that.
This should be it.
I hope you've enjoyed and learned something! I am sure I've missed some things, especially about websites where to find artists, as I only spoke about those I know of very well.
Remember, communication is the key, find someone who you really like, whose portfolio is wonderful, ask other people for opinions and don't skimp on art.
Saša's most recent artwork. "A caring mother with her children", based on Daenerys from Game of Thrones' earlier seasons, while dragons were still small, Dany just a Khaleesi, and the show pure excellence.
It was supposed to be the main attraction on the upcoming art exhibition, where its limited quantity prints would be sold, but the event is cancelled due to Corona. For more of his work: www.instagram.com/art_of_sasha_r