Dos and don’ts of working with an illustrator.

  • Business
  • Lots of smiley faces with a few sneaky saddies in there - working with an illustrator. good client relationships.

    In this guide I’ll talk you through 10 dos and don’ts when working with an illustrator. By taking a little time to do some research, you’ll be setting yourself up for a fruitful and enjoyable process for the both of you.


    1. Provide as much clear information as possible when reaching out to an illustrator.

    In your initial contact, give the illustrator as much information as you have available to you. If you don’t have all the details right away, that’s okay, but it’s helpful for us to at least have a good overview of the project to get started. We then have something to base our follow-up questions on, and it saves us all time.

    Illustration is sold on a license basis, which takes into account several factors, including; how long will you use the work for, where it will be used, how it will be used, and who will be using it. It’s worth giving each of these factors a thought before reaching out so that you have all the information you need to hand.

    I recommend reading more detailed information about licensing here.

    2. Be familiar with the illustrator’s portfolio and style.

    Take some time to explore the illustrator’s portfolio and pull out some examples of work that drew you to them. It’s really helpful for artists to see why you chose to hire them and which direction the project should go in. Finding a few examples and giving some context as to why you enjoy them goes a long way in the briefing process, and will make working with an illustrator much smoother.

    3. If you have a budget, please share it.

    We understand the hesitancy from your side, but we’re here to provide you with the most value that we can. We are genuinely passionate creatives and take pride in our work, and therefore endeavour to ensure you’re spending your money in a way that will benefit you the most. Giving us a picture of your budget helps us to work out what is achievable, saving time and setting realistic expectations.

    4. Be open, honest and clear with us.

    We’re nice people, I promise, and kindness will get you a lot further than being defensive or cagey with details. We’re not interested in playing games, so holding your cards close to your chest will only raise red flags. Being honest in your communications and clear about your expectations and goals will mean that both parties are on the same page and working towards the same outcome.

    5. Offer actionable, concise and constructive feedback.

    When it comes time to review artwork and provide your feedback, ensure that you are clear and focused. Try to keep overly personal opinions out (unless relevant) and keep the purpose of the project in mind. Make sure that the comments you make provide clear direction that the illustrator can act upon, rather than being too vague or abstract. Less ‘that part isn’t saying what we need it to’, and more ‘we need this part to be more child-focused. Keep in mind that feedback is a discussion and not a one-way street, and your illustrator has lots of experience in their niche with a valuable perspective.

    6. Bring changes or concerns up as early as you can.

    Whether it’s changes to the project’s scope, tweaks to the artwork, or worries about the professional relationship, try to raise those concerns at the earliest opportunity. I’m sure you can relate to the frustration of having the goalposts moved after the fact, and it can save everyone time and resources to know of any requested changes as soon as possible. Changes to scope or deliverables can have a wider impact to consider, but most artists will be happy to work out a solution with you that works for everyone.

    7. Share your positive experiences of working with an illustrator.

    If you’ve had a great experience working with an illustrator, why not provide them with a testimonial that they can share on their platforms? The vast majority of illustrators are freelancers, so being able to provide evidence of successful working relationships goes a really long way. It also helps them to promote the project, and you too!

    8. Give your illustrator credit.

    Wherever reasonable, it’s hugely appreciated if you can give a credit to the artist. This could be as simple as ‘Artwork by [Illustrator’s name]’ on the packaging of the product, for example. If you’re able to accommodate a longer credit, a website or social handles would also be greatly welcome.

    9. Be prepared to pay a deposit.

    Not everyone asks for one, but it’s something you should be prepared for if required. In my experience, this may be especially true if you’re commissioning an illustrator who is in a different country to you. It may feel like you’re paying even though no work has been undertaken, but it’s a payment to secure the artist’s time, who will likely reject or push back other projects to accommodate yours. I once heard it put this way, which I really like: if you pay an up-front deposit of 50%, then both parties are equally invested in the smooth and successful completion of the project!

    You may also be asked to pay progress instalments, depending on the size of the project, which is also completely normal.

    10. Ask your illustrator questions!

    We don’t expect (or even want) you to be an expert in the illustration industry. That’s why you’ve hired us! If you’re feeling unsure about anything happening in the process, don’t hesitate to ask us to provide some insight. We’d hate for you to feel anxious or uncertain about whether the outcome of the project is going to work for the outcome you need. Illustrators have a wealth of experience in their niches, and we want to ensure you feel confident in our understanding of your needs.


    1. Ask an illustrator to work for free.

    You’re not working for free, so neither should we. Freelancers have a lot of overheads, and so much of our time goes towards work and admin that isn’t directly earning money, so we really don’t have the time or resources for free client work. I’m positive that you can understand why it’s unfair to ask people to provide their ideas and expertise with no guarantee of securing the project.

    Here’s a great initiative to support, as an illustrator or a client!

    2. Request the copyright.

    Illustrators make their living by licensing their artwork, and owning copyright is absolutely essential to this. Understand that asking for copyright (which might seem like a technicality or small ask) means asking them to completely give up their hard work. Therefore, copyrights are very expensive to acquire and are very rarely necessary.

    Copyright laws protect artists from having their work misrepresented and misused in ways that they don’t agree to. You can find more information about copyright here.

    If you believe that copyright is something that you require, then speak to the illustrator openly about why you think you need it. We more than likely will be able to come to a solution that affords you all the uses you need without purchasing copyright.

    3. Expect to work with an illustrator without a contract in place.

    Asking an illustrator to work without a contract or licensing agreement is a red flag for them, regardless of your reasons. A contract means that expectations and requirements are set for both parties and everyone starts on the same page. It protects the illustrator against any breaches on your part, but it also protects you in equal measure! Make sure you read the contract carefully so you know what you’re agreeing to and discuss any concerns with the artist before signing. Don’t expect to begin working with an illustrator until the contract is formally signed and agreed.

    4. Try to haggle too much.

    The vast majority of illustrators are open to negotiation. It’s part of the job and, with so many variables, there’s room for movement. That said, there is a limit. If you are pushing too hard on the fee or other factors, it demonstrates that you don’t understand the value of the artist’s services. It also indicates that you may be inflexible, and therefore difficult to work with.

    5. Ask us to copy another illustrator’s style.

    If you want a certain artist’s work, please hire that artist. Asking an illustrator to replicate another’s style tells them that you don’t value their unique perspective. In addition to the obvious frustrations of having to work against your own style, it also raises potential copyright infringement issues, putting both you and the artist in hot water.

    6. Micro-manage while working with an illustrator.

    I’m sure you don’t like it in your job, and we’re no different. Being overbearing creates tension on both sides and doesn’t bode well for an exceptional outcome. You hired us for a reason, after all, so trust in our experience and process, and we will deliver great work.

    7. Reject an illustrator’s initial quote

    The initial contract proposed to you is just that, a first draft. Don’t baulk and immediately dismiss an artist because of price or terms. Everything is negotiable, and it’s unlikely that everything on your list is going to fall exactly on the budget you had in mind. There are several factors that go into a proposal and we’re more than happy to discuss which are fixed and which are flexible.

    8. Be rude or aggressive.

    There’s really just no need for it. We’re all just people trying to do our best work, and being unkind towards us is going to sour the relationship extremely fast. And why would you expect top-quality work from someone that you’ve caused upset? We’re professional, passionate individuals and want to be working with you, not against you.

    9. Avoid answering or ignore our questions.

    No one enjoys long drawn-out email chains where you’re struggling to get the detail that you need, and neither of us wants the relationship to begin with tension. Illustrators will ask any questions they need to in order to get a clear picture of the project. That way we can give accurate quotes and provide the best possible outcome.

    Additionally, if we ask you several questions and you only choose to answer one at a time or answer vaguely, it indicates to us that you are not a good communicator, and this will only cause issues later on.

    10. Ghost an illustrator.

    If you don’t want to work with us after discussing the project, that’s no problem. Just let us know, and we can take it. We understand you may be speaking to multiple artists, or the project isn’t working out on your end yet. But doing us the courtesy of sending us a ‘thanks but no thanks’ email means that we can reallocate any resources we’d earmarked for you, free up our schedule and fit in other projects. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way.

    I hope this was a useful guide to working with an illustrator

    It’s always daunting if you’re unfamiliar with a new process or procedure, so I hope this was helpful and gave you some insight into general expectations and etiquette! Happy commissioning!

    Related topics.

    How to set up postage for your online shop.

    When you first get started, setting up your online store postage can be really daunting. Over the years I’ve had to reassess and change this system several times, including when moving to a new website or marketplace. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the options available to you, and...

    Read Article

    Creating good relationships when working with clients.

    We’ve all been there. ‘This isn’t anything like what I asked for!’ ‘I’m not paying for this.’ ‘Why is it going to take so long?!’ Unfortunately, some clients just don’t get it. Things take time. Illustration costs money. I have bills to pay too. I do know what I’m doing. It’s...

    Read Article

    Let's chat!

    If you’d like to reach out to me to talk about a project, collaboration, have some Qs or want to say hi, drop me a message - I’d be happy to help!

    Get in Touch

    Let’s keep this good thing going.

    Be the first to know about new articles, products, and projects too.

    This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.