Hiring and working with an illustrator

Looking to work with an illustrator on your project? Here’s a guide to the whole process, so you can know what to expect.


I must have worked on hundreds of illustration projects, from start to finish, by now. So, it’s sometimes easy for me to forget that not everyone is familiar with how an illustrator works and what the whole process of an illustration project involves. In order to shed light on that, this will be my guide to the illustration process, or at least it will be an explanation of how a typical project goes for me and the stages it goes through, from initial contact to end product.

I should note that most illustrators and artists have their own ways of doing things, so the process may differ slightly from person to person. But, a far as I’m aware most professional digital illustrators go through a job via fairly similar stages to those I go through.

Drawing in Adobe Photoshop

Drawing in Adobe Photoshop

Initial Contact

Usually, the first contact I’ll have with a client is when they get in touch with me via email. A lot of clients who come to me know a bit about me already, as I’ll have been recommended by another. Occasionally someone will get in touch who has only just found my details after searching for a local illustrator on Google, in situations like that the early email exchanges are an important stage for developing a client-artist trust.

When it comes to regular clients, we tend to just skip a lot of the early stages, as working with someone a few times you start to get a good idea of their likes and dislikes, and what kind of artwork they are usually in need of.

In the case of a completely new client, after making introductions, I’ll be looking to find out as much as I can about the project, what kind of final outcomes will be needed and the time frame it will be required. This info will allow me to tell you if this is something I think I’ll be suited to (If you want someone to draw Manga, or do a portrait of your baby, I’m probably not your man), how much time I’d need to complete the work, if I’ll be free to do so and if I will be able to meet the requested deadline.

Work in progress image

NHS Work in progress image

If all is good to go, then it’s usually my preference to organise a face-to-face meeting with the client. Obviously, I can’t do this in every case, if we’re in different countries, for example, a chat session or Skype call will probably do. But, if we’re not too distant then I don’t mind travelling a short journey in order to meet in person. It’s a great way of further building trust, and the more I get to know someone and get a feel for them, the more I’ll understand what the client to like or look for in an illustration (Plus, it’s always good to get out the house and meet new people).

At this point, we’ll begin to discuss costs and a payment schedule. If it’s a short project, I’m normally happy with being paid once I’ve done the work, but in instances where I’ll be working on something for a few weeks, or, longer it’s better for me to arrange a small percentage of the payment up front. If only to prevent me from living in poverty while working on a long project.

Final thing before I get started is to get as much written down about the project as can, it’s good to have a brief of sorts on paper. I’ll also ask for any, and as much, supporting material as possible. For example, reference pictures and photos of any people or characters I’ll need to include in the artwork, or if we’re working from a written text I’ll ask for a manuscript or at least a detailed description of settings, character and themes. It will depend on the details of the project, sometimes the need for supporting materials is more or less necessary, for some work I won’t need any at all.

Bust 2

Bust 2

Bust 2: Wasteland Ronin

For the purposes of this guide, I’ll use the work I did for the Card Shark Comic book Bust 2: Wasteland Ronin. It’s a project I began work on in late 2015, so the book is completed, printed and out there to buy in the shops, so it’s a good job to use to give an example of an illustration project from the earliest sketches to the book sitting on the shelves of Forbidden Planet. Plus, I don’t think Dave will mind me using his book.

Bust 2 Thumbnails

Bust 2 Thumbnails

The Thumbnailing Stage

Getting to work, I’ll normally begin by doing loads of sketching, getting down all my mental images of what the final product will look like down on paper (or digital paper, at least). With a fairly rough idea of the direction I want to take things in, I’ll try to immerse myself in as much of the relevant influences as I can. I’ll draw out a few variants of the best ideas, small thumbnail versions, quick rough drawings of how the final piece will look. The quality of the work at this point will essentially be of napkin doodle quality and not something that will be an indication of the quality of the quality of the end product.

Bust 2 Mock up Sketch

Bust 2 Mock-up Sketch

I’ll present the thumbnails and explain my ideas to the client at this point, and I’ll make my suggestions of which direction I think we should go in. We’ll discuss and the client will make the choice of which thumbnail we take forward.

The last stage before I get to work on the final piece is when I’ll create a mock-up. A small version of what the end artwork will look like. I’ll try to get across as much detail as I can at this stage to give the best impression I can of what I plan to do, and see if myself or the client can spot any problems or issues before getting starting on the final work.

Bust 2 Character Sketches

Bust 2 Character Sketches

Creating the Finished Illustration

With the mock-up approved, I will away to my home studio workspace to work away on the final illustration piece. I’ll begin by getting as much relevant reference material as I can, which can sometimes include building 3D-Models, or even dressing up and posing for reference photographs (which can be a lot of fun). Depending on how long the project time-scale is, the client might not hear from me for a little, not until I’ve reached the half-way point of the work.

Bust 2 Reference materials.

Bust 2 Reference materials.

At this point, I’ll show the client a work in progress shot of the artwork as it looks now. Usually, it’ll be around half way to seventy-five percent complete at this point, enough to give a good indication of how it’s going to look in the end, so it’s a good point to get some last minute client direction and feedback.

I’ll go back to work and finish up the illustration. Once it’s done, I’ll send a jpeg preview of the artwork to the client for approval. Ideally, the client will be pleased with the finished artwork right away, but I’m always willing to give a round of changes, additions or alterations as the client demands (within reason).

Production process

Production process


Artwork complete and approved, the only thing left is to deliver the final files to the client. When the project requires a printed outcome, I will send over full-size high-res PDFs optimised for print. These files sizes can often be quite large (too large to email at least), so I’ll host the files in a zip folder on Dropbox and send the download link to the client. The client themselves deals with the actual printing of the artwork, I always recommend getting prints from a professional print store to get the best end product out of the artwork.

When the project outcome is for web or screen presentation only, I’ll send over high-res jpegs optimised for the screen, and I’ll usually throw in the printable files too, just in case.

Final Printed Copy

Final Printed Copy

Project complete

And that’s pretty much it. If we didn’t already work it out in the early stages, we may have some discussion over the usage rights to the artwork. The standard deal is that the client, having paid for the artwork now owns the rights to it, I would ask for the client’s permission to be able to show the artwork in my folio or use it for promotional purposes. If the work involves an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), this will already have been worked out, and I wouldn’t use the artwork for folio, or promotional use until the agreement had expired.

Ideally, we’ll at this point have both a happy client and a happy illustrator. The client with the artwork they have to meet their needs, and me for having been paid.

I like to keep in touch with most of my clients once a job is finished, keep updated on their business and keep them updated on what I’m up to. Hopefully, the first time client becomes a regular client, and we build a good working relationship.

Thanks for reading. I hope this guide has been useful in some way, feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions on any of the points I’ve covered here, or if you just want to chat about art stuff.


Check out Card Shark Comics website for more on their comic series titles. cardsharkcomics.com