Guest Post: How to Hire an Illustrator

Poke My Eye Out Portrait Art by Liz Amini-Holmes, Book IllustratorThe following is a guest post by Liz Amini-Holmes, a freelance illustrator. 

I’d like to start by saying there are days when I get an inquiry from a potential client that make me want to poke my drawing pencil into my eyeball. Why, you ask? Aren’t inquiries exactly what artists want as freelancers book illustrators? Well, that depends.

As I sip my morning tea and scan my emails, I excitedly open up an email inquiry from a potential client.

“Hello Artist/ My Name Spelled Wrong/Anonymous/No Name…

“I have a story, <inset any> painfully cute animals / sad, misunderstood clown lost in a supermarket/ hero fantasy starring yours truly/ avant-garde nursery rhyme written in Welsh. My children’s book is beyond amazing and I know this because <inset any or all if you like> my best friend/ professional snuggler/mother/ barista/cat behavior consultant, all LOVE it therefore I know it will be a best-seller.

I want all the art to be painted in a bright colored, digital, cartoony style, just like Pixar. Have you heard of PIXAR? You know the Animated Movie Company?

I have very specific ideas about the art and figured out all the pieces own my head so I just need you to execute it. And I want assurance that the artwork will look exactly like what I have in mind.

I have a small budget of coins, bobbins and lint from my desk drawer I can pay you in inconstant amounts over the course of the next five years. But I know as a freelancer you do this for the joy of it and you will to ride on my coattails of upcoming success. As I am sure this is hobby-job for you while your kids are at school you do not really need the money.

Also, I need to it done ASAP.”

When I read this, I have to walk away from my computer in frustration. But then as if the skies open up a new email request comes in…

Hi Liz,

My name is Jane Doe and I found your portfolio on the in the Dream Team section. I think your conceptual, jewel tone colored illustration style would be a perfect match for my story. I am looking for an artist to create a color cover and 24 full color interior illustrations for my self-published picture book about a little girl looking for her lost dog in a mysterious forest.

 Since I am new to the self-publishing market, I’m not sure what the budget for a picture book is and I want to make be assured I pay you at a fair competitive rate. My hope is to have all artwork to done by the end of the year. Is that is a reasonable amount of time? Can you please advise?

 If you are interested, I am happy to send you a copy of my manuscript to give you a more detailed idea of the story and character.

 Thanks for your time!


An email like this instantly lifts my mood. She understands the correct way to inquire about hiring a book illustrator. I want to hug her over email.

What went wrong in the first inquiry? Let’s break down why the first email put me over the edge.

Rule #1: Know My Name

This person does not know my name or does not use my name or makes other big errors like misspelling my name. It is very easy to find my name if you found my email address. Google me! I am all over the place. An accurate, personal address makes me think you are serious about your inquiry. Also, if there is no name attached, I will think you are sending out mass inquires trolling for responses and my interest in the project drops significantly.

Rule #2: Introduce Yourself

You did not introduce yourself. A quick “Hello my name is…” is a professional way to begin. You wouldn’t go into a face-to-face meeting and not introduce yourself; an email inquiry is a first time meeting between you (the author) and me (the artist) so put your best foot forward.

Rule #3: Let Your Work Speak for How Amazing You Are

It is healthy to have a good dose of self-confidence about your work, but it is easy to put off potential collaborators by sounding self-inflated. I understand you and your host of people who love your work and are excited to see it get noticed, but let the work speak for itself.

Rule #4: Know Your Project

If the description of your work is too vague, or it is complicated and unclear, I can’t give you an estimate. Be specific. Give me a project description, rough number of book pages, color or black and white, deadline and budget. These are the essential parts in order to get an accurate quote from a professional book illustrator. I will need the basic premise and a few details about your story for me to get an idea if it is something I feel suited for. I want to help you but I can only do that if I understand what your project is about.

Rule #5: Know My Work

Also, before you send an inquiry take some time to review my portfolio or web site to ensure I have a style that suits the project you have in mind. For example, I do not do cartoony, bright-colored work in the Pixar style. Most artists have their own style and shy away from requests to copy someone else’s. We know our work; we hope you know what works best for your particular project in the same way.

Rule #6: This is a Partnership

When a potential client informs me I am just to execute the art with no input, I’m not very excited to work on the project. As a creative person, I understand how you can have very specific ideas about your book. I am here to make your ideas come to fruition, but I am also here to add to the experience to make it the best it can be. Since we’re both creatives, we both want the chance to use our voices and flex our muscles where we’re strongest.

Rule #7: Know Your Budget

Don’t ever ask an illustrator to work for free. This is the profession I went to college for and received an art degree. I’ve worked for many years honing my skills. I have bills and a mortgage to pay just like you. The old cliché still holds: You’d never ask your lawyer, doctor, dentist, or mechanic to work for free. All good work comes at a price, and this includes artwork. Please research the costs before you hire an illustrator. A good place to start to look for pricing is the Graphics Artists Guild Guidelines or Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators website. Respect your own work enough to hire an artist that will make their work look the best it can be.

Rule #8: Initial Payment

Be prepared to place an initial payment on the illustration job. This secures my time on my schedule to complete your project. An initial payment also protects the book illustrator should the client unexpectedly cancel the project after the illustrator has started the work. This actually protects you and me.

Rule #9: Expect to Work With A Contract

We are talking about basic, good business practice. A contract protects you and me. You can expect such details included as the project schedule, the cost breakdown, specifics regarding the execution of the artwork, payment deliverable, all the details of what we both are obligated to do over the course of our working together. Sidenote: “ASAP” is not a proper schedule. The contract will also clearly define Rights Agreements specific to your project.

Rule #10 Follow Up

Please email me back of you are not interested. It takes a lot of my time to write up a proposal, schedule and estimate of cost. It is just the polite thing to do.

In closing, know that, as an artist, I want to bring to your work my heart and soul to make your story come alive. It is a partnership, each complimenting the other. Hiring a book illustrator is a big commitment, but it can be a fun and worthwhile experience.

To sum it up:

  • Be professional
  • Set realistic expectations
  • Understand a contract is needed
  • Plan on a reasonable deadline
  • Know ahead what a fair rate is for an artist’s time, location and
  • Treat artists with
  • We are in this together

Best of luck on your project!


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