How to get even better work (when working with the best)

Posted on Wednesday, October 28th, 2015 at 4:29 pm

I’m blushing. An awesome illustrator flattered me with a post on his website recently. Here it is…

A very good friend of mine was in talks with an advertising and branding agency called Wishart to do a poster for Canadian sexual assault and rape crisis center Hope 24/7, but had a family issue that took him away from his work, so he recommended me to fill in for him.

John VanDuzer, President and Creative Director at Wishart, loved my stuff and engaged me to do this poster, which measures 17″ x 22″. It was a really good experience. Here are some steps John took (and YOU should copy!) to make it easy to give him and his client what they wanted.

  1. Know What You (and your client) Want- Because John and his clients at Hope 24/7 had thought through what they needed, following their direction to produce art they liked was pretty easy. There were maybe four stages of submission, critique and revision before we got to the finished piece, which is very good. Much too often, clients contact an artist without sufficiently knowing what their own clients want, but John (who is obviously a pro at directing artists) came with a concept that was 95% conceived, needing only a smart visual collaborator to birth the idea.
  2. Give the artist room to be awesome- John had worked out most of the concept, but there were areas he wasn’t 100% sure about. He would say “Your input here would be helpful” or “that part isn’t set in stone” to give clues where to contribute creative thinking to the piece.  In other areas he would say something like “The client really wants” or “make sure to include”… Those words jumped out as a hint: “make sure you don’t mess THAT part up!” This combination of flexibility and firm guidelines keeps an artist engaged and helps to avoid unnecessary mistakes.
  3. Show the Artist that they are PERFECT for the job! An important step John took was to attach and link to numbered examples from my previous work, and say, “I like what you did here, and here and here,” and “use the kind of coloring you did here” etc. This helps a lot, because most artists have more than one style or method they can employ.Being pointed to concrete examples from THEIR OWN past work helps an artist’s confidence. Not only will your artist know what you want, but he or she will be confident that they have the skills and tools to deliver it, because they have done similar work before.
  4. Have a budget and determine a good pay rate ahead of time- In the initial email to me, John told me the price he intended to pay me. And it was more than the what I was likely to ask. This is huge. We went into our working relationship without wasting time and emotional capital fussing about money. Most people start out by asking the artist what the artist’s rates are, because most artists are conditioned to undersell themselves. I interpret that question as a tactical one, even when it isn’t, because my rates are on my website. You are better off just determining your rates based on your budget and offering that rate to the artist. They will let you know if it is too low. You might end up paying a little more than they might have asked for, but in that case, they will love you for it. Especially if you convince them they are perfect for the job.
  5. Point out was done RIGHT along with what needs fixing- John always pointed out what the client liked along with what they didn’t like when asking for revisions. Too often, when giving a long list of revisions, artists will assume you didn’t like anything they did. As a result, we can often over-correct, wiping out stuff that the client actually loved, accidentally throwing out the baby with the bathwater. John always reiterated that both he and the client loved the direction of the work, even when lots of changes were needed. So even when many things needed fixing, the project felt much closer to the end than to starting over.

Doing the homework John did will make your artist love working with you, and get you the results you and your client can be happy with. These steps will reinforce your artists’ confidence, keep them from getting bored on your assignments, and help them from feeling overwhelmed by criticism. If John ever calls on me again, I will be excited to take the project on, because we are both confident in our collective ability to deliver a good end product.

I am definitely proud of how this poster turned out. I’m looking forward to receiving a copy of the poster once it’s printed.

Peace, -Samax

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