It’s like hunting for one exotic bird in a jungle full of exotic birds…

Which one is real and which one is wearing borrowed plumage? (Am I stretching a metaphor too far?)

The Finding:

There are freelancing sites galore that showcase thousands of illustrators and prices that range from very low to very high…but how do you choose one that is right for you?

Look at their portfolio

This is the best way to get a feel for their creativity. Ask yourself, does this portfolio match my project? Is it professional? Is it complete? DO I LIKE IT? You don’t have to be an artist yourself to spot work that is well done and work that is sloppy.

What is ‘sloppy work’? Some styles are meant to look a little bit (or quite a bit) random, sketchy or alternative. The point to look out for is consistency. If you see areas in a picture where the style is not consistent or seems out of place, take it as a warning sign.

Look at their feedback

Most freelancing sites have feedback and you can find out a lot about a freelancer by reading what other employers have written.

If there are consistent negative reviews, then you need to be wary and possibly look somewhere else. If there is, however, just one or two negative reviews and the rest are positive, read that review carefully. Read the freelancers reply to the negative review. That will show you a lot about them. Sometimes, I’m sorry to say, we freelancers come across an employer who is just ‘difficult’ and nothing we do pleases them.

Make Contact

Once you have found an illustrator who has a style you like it is now time to contact them. Tell them you are interested hiring and ask them if they are available for (insert project description here). Their speed of reply tells a lot about how quickly they will respond to you in the future. If they do not respond within a day and a half, they are either busy with other projects, or they are not good communicators. While you are looking for an illustrator, not a writer, if their reply is carefully written and clear, then that indicates that they took time to think about your questions and will take good care of your project. But if their reply has numerous spelling mistakes and no punctuation or is written in a careless manner, it may be a warning sign.

Before you start a project make sure you and your freelancer have agreed on these main points:

  • Price and Milestones
  • How many revisions?
  • Deadline

What Price?

So, you have a tight budget. In this unstable economy, it’s easy to settle for the freelancer who bids the lowest.  This is a mistake that many honest employers make.

“Ah HA!” You cry, “You are biased! You just want to be paid more!” and you are absolutely right. I don’t want to work for the absolute minimum wage. No one does. When I am contacted by an employer who really wants to work with me but can only pay the bare minimum I SOMETIMES agree to do so. I use my simplest style, and make something for him that is quick and good. But when they ask for another one, I usually decline to do so.

Trying hard to bring the price down to the minimum may work some times, but it won’t inspire your freelancer to new heights of creativity on your behalf.  A freelancer who is willing to work for the lowest price is probably working on more than 10 projects at once to make up for it. A drop in quality is bound to occur.

Pay your illustrator well, and they will be grateful and try their hardest to make your project a stand-out success.

The Keeping:

If you have found an illustrator that is thorough, professional and good at communication, you have found your exotic bird! So how do you keep them from flying away?

  1. Tell your illustrator that you will hire again at xxx time and keep your word. Knowing that there is work lined up for months to come is a comfort to freelancers everywhere. But only schedule in advance if you are sure. I have cleared my schedule for a job in the past and then had the job canceled…it was not pleasant to have to scrounge for work to fill up the gap.
  2.  Let them do their work. Nothing annoys an illustrator more than having an employer who hovers and questions their creative decisions.  This is a fine line and has a lot to do with the grey area of personal opinion. If you have hired an illustrator on the strength of their portfolio, once you have told them what you want, you need to trust that they know what they are doing. This is what they have trained years for.  Sometimes, you just can’t see eye-to-eye creatively and nobody’s at fault.  So find an illustrator whose creativity compliments your own. Saying things like, “I showed this to my friend at work and he said that this should be changed…” can feel like a slap in the face to a hard working illustrator.
  3. Clear Communication and Punctual Payments. Your freelancer wants to know exactly what you want. So send them reference pictures, send them your stick-figure sketches. TMI in this case is better than not enough.  Vague instructions can yield vague results. “Make it beautiful” or “Make it cool” or “Make it edgy” are instructions that are too subjective and the result could be hit-and-miss.

The final 3 words that will keep your illustrator loyal to you are: Pay On Time.