Commissioning SciArt Illustrations? Know what you want and what you can spend. (Using Images-A Best Practices Primer, Part 6)

This article is the sixth in a series aimed at helping you enhance your #scicommand #sciart by avoiding #visualplagiarism. It will do so by laying out some best practices for dealing with images (which are, by their nature) visual intellectual property protected by copyrights.

NOTE: I am not a lawyer, and no part of this article or series should be construed as legal advice. 

Please chime in, in the comments or by contacting me, if you have suggestions for how to enhance this article or the series.

2013_bison summer sketches (36)_Lepidoptera_clean_sig_cr
Knowing what you want can make commissioning illustrations way more efficient and enjoyable. This entails planning ahead, being decisive, making lots of choices, and balancing budget vs. other constraints. (Lepidoptera sketches from Saskatchewan, Canada; ©2017)

PLAN AHEAD, SO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WANT AND WHAT YOU CAN SPEND.

In the last article, we discussed contract considerations, which are the core of any commissioned illustration project.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some other important elements of planning an illustration project. To increase efficiency (which usually helps with budgeting), do what you can to know what you want and how much you can spend before you approach an illustrator and ask if they are interested in working with you.

This means you’ll need to do your homework.

1. Do preliminary research to find likely illustrators.

Verify that the illustrator(s) you intend to approach do the kind of illustration work that you want.

For example, it’s not a great idea to ask someone to do digital animation if they have never done it before. Even if they agree, there will be a huge learning curve on their end, which means a lot of waiting on your end, plus no guarantee the final image will be as polished as you hoped.

If you are not certain about someone’s experience or professionalism, you could ask them if they are willing to provide examples of past work, or to put you in touch with previous clients. Don’t expect them to do this, though, as most illustrators will have the information they are able or willing to share already posted on their professional websites.

2. Have at least a rough idea of what you need illustrated.

Do some thinking about your illustration needs in advance.

If possible, have ready a list of the exact illustrations you need, or a detailed description of the material you need illustrated if you are going to collaborate with the illustrator to develop the illustration list.

If possible, pull together some examples of illustrations you like, or of projects like the one you have in mind. Know what you do and don’t like about these examples, and be ready to explain that. This will save time, as the illustrator will not have to guess from a blank slate what it is that you have in mind. Know, however, that some kinds of projects, like logos, will involve several-to-many iterations as you and the illustrator together refine your ideas into something visible. You should expect to budget for this.

Additionally, try to have reference images in mind for your specific illustrations, or even better, have them ready (in a folder, in a document, or somewhere easy to share). Be sure these reference images are ones you have taken or have permission to reproduce or make derivative images from. See the first article in this series for more information on how to assess this.

If you do not have reference images ready, you should anticipate that the illustrator will charge you for the time necessary to identify or take reference images themselves.

3. Know your time line.

To reiterate, know your time line, and be candid about it from the outset. There’s the old adage about “good, fast, and cheap” – in illustration it is certainly true that you cannot have all three.

If you’re on a tight deadline, anticipate paying more for your illustrations, and also consider that you may need to agree on less detail, less color, etc., in order for the illustrator to produce quality images within your time constraints.

Similarly, the tighter your deadline, the more responsive you should plan on being to any questions, concerns, and drafts that the illustrator sends your way. Certainly, delays on your part should not be held against the illustrator.

4. Know how you will use the illustrations.

Most of the time, you’ll only need reproduction licenses (see the first article in this series for clarification of licensing).

In essence, though, this means, you’ll be paying for the right to use the illustration in particular ways. These uses might be in a publication, on a website, in an educational display, or on a t-shirt.

Knowing upfront how you intend to reproduce the images is an essential part of how the illustrator prices their work.

For example, if you are Nike and you will be reproducing the illustration in an ad in The New York Times, then, that illustration is worth a lot of money to both the illustrator and Nike. Nike should be prepared to spend plenty on it.

Similarly, you should be prepared to spend considerably more money if you want exclusive rights (no one else, including the illustrator can reproduce the image) or full copyrights (rights to the image and the idea of it.) For a full copyrights buy-out, for example, you could spend double or more than what you would just for reproduction licenses.

5. Know how flexible you can be.

Be candid about this, too.

Perhaps you are in a position to help a new illustrator gain experience. Maybe you’ll take on a graphic design intern through a collaboration with the art department, for example.

But, be sure you weigh whether you can afford to help that person gain that experience.

You’ll need to be patient and extremely communicative if you decide to work with a novice illustrator. Detailed project agreements are particularly important in these cases.

And, it is also important that you still plan to compensate the illustrator fairly. As can be said of hypothermia victims and most creative professionals: “We can die from exposure.” Just getting one’s name on a website, or a new portfolio piece, is usually not fair compensation. You can get creative, of course, but don’t take advantage of novice illustrators.

6. Know how much you can spend.

Be candid about your budget as soon as possible.

Talking about money is one of the least pleasant aspects of being an illustrator, and it is not because we never have enough or we’re trying to take all of yours. It is because we often work with people who have never before commissioned this kind of work, and are therefore unfamiliar and uncomfortable with how to budget for and talk about how much illustration costs.

Here are some tips that will help facilitate a more productive conversation.

a) If you aren’t the final word on the budget, at least make sure you’re authorized to solicit an estimate.

b) Know that any entrepreneur (self-employed, freelance, etc.) person in any field, needs to make roughly $65.00/hour in order to account for all the benefits and expenses and taxes that are usually rolled up into payroll if working as an employee. So, you can see that illustration can and should be an investment on your part if it is to be fair to the illustrator.

c) Knowing how much you can spend on illustrations is invaluable for an illustrator preparing a project estimate for you, because it enables the illustrator to be candid and realistic about what is possible within your budget.

For example, if you tell an illustrator you only have $500.00 to spend, and you detail your project, she can tell you how much of that project, or at what level of complexity, she can agree to complete.

If you tell her you have $10,000.00, you will likely have a similar conversation, but you will likely get a lot more detail, color, number of drawings, possibly more generous licensing terms, and/or drawings done more quickly, etc.

If you cannot tell an illustrator how much you can spend, she must take your project description, draft an estimate, and then hope she doesn’t scare you off with a fair and realistic projection of time, anticipated revisions, creative input, and therefore, total estimated project costs.

It is much easier for an illustrator to help you figure out what is feasible if she knows what kind of budget you’re dealing with.

Bottom line:

Illustrations can definitely be worth the effort! Of course, I’m an image creator, so you might think it’s easy for me to say so.

But, hopefully, this article (and the previous one about contracts) have also shown you that being on the illustrator side of things is complicated, potentially risky, and plenty of work – just like it is for the people hiring illustrators.

Of course, as we’ve discussed, if we commit to mutually beneficial project terms, we have the potential to create powerfully compelling visuals that help you communicate your message. And that is my favorite part of being an illustrator – knowing that my skills can help make important ideas and and information more accessible. Illustrators are practiced problem-solvers, and we don’t want to run you off! Knowing what you want and how much you can spend helps us collaborate with you to create an illustration project that does just what you need it to. We’re in this together.

This series will conclude next week, with a wrap-up of the whole series – Using Images, A Best Practices Primer.

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