I have been illustrating fashion full-time now for five years. Every once in a while I like to revisit the subject of how to hire a fashion illustrator. I often work with fashion designers, more than editorial clients, so as a guide this reflects that, though much of this information will be useful to any type of client for any type of creative work.
“I need a fashion illustrator to draw my ideas!”
Cool! Wait, do you really? I get a lot of inquiries from people who want to be fashion designers and assume the first step is to hire someone to draw their ideas professionally. The truth is, a lot of established fashion designers do what they do with the roughest sketches you can imagine. Illustration is not a necessity, and in the early stages of a business it can be yet another liability. Hiring an illustrator before you’ve done anything else is a red flag that you don’t know what you’re doing and won’t be a reliable client.
I always refer these types of inquiries to Fashion-Incubator and Kathleen Fasanella’s book The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing. This is required reading for any wannabe fashion designer. Often fresh designers don’t really understand the scope of what they’re attempting to accomplish – this textbook lays it all out in plain language.
Ok, so you’ve read the book and you’re on your way. When do you need a fashion illustrator to draw your ideas? Here’s a few common scenarios:
- You are making a persuasive business presentation or creating a sales document like a line sheet. Whether you’re selling to an investor or a buyer, if you’re in fashion you know that great images sell. Sometimes those images need to be illustrations.
- You are communicating very specific design ideas to patternmakers, sample makers, and production. Sometimes language barriers and oceanic distances are involved, so very accurate, precise drawings are required to reduce the number of iterations involved in developing a finished design. This can save you money in the long run.
- Your products require instructions for the consumer. Drawings have a simplicity and clarity that works well for instructional use, often better than photography and easier to reproduce, especially in black and white.
- You want to use illustrations in your branding. Again, great imagery sells. So if it suits your brand, the right type of illustrations can lift your website, printed materials, and PR content to the next level.
How do you find the right fashion illustrator?
Look at their portfolio! When hiring a creative, a lot of people rely on their social network – they look for a friend of a friend who is an illustrator or a photographer or whatever. This is a terrible way to get the results you want – creativity isn’t a commodity. Two different illustrators working to the same brief can produce completely different illustrations. You want to make sure that the illustrator you’re hiring has the ability to nail your vision. So checking out their portfolio is critical. Here’s what to look for.
- You love their style. Their past work will be a good indication of their future work – so check out as many examples as you can. If you like certain images, bookmark them to refer the illustrator to later when you present the brief. Sometimes potential clients will send examples of work by other illustrators for reference material – my feeling as an illustrator when presented with this is “why didn’t you just hire that illustrator?” Being asked to imitate the work of another illustrator can feel borderline insulting/unethical. That doesn’t mean you should never use illustrations as reference, but if you do please make it clear that you understand the illustrator will interpret that material through the lens of their own style.
- Their skills suit your project. If you’re looking for a technical fashion illustrator, you need to be working with someone who understands how clothing is constructed. If you’re doing children’s wear, you want to be working with someone who demonstrates flair at illustrating children. If you need an illustration that will be used as a logo, find an illustrator who understands the practical principles of graphic design. And so on.
So you’ve found the illustrator – or maybe several – you might want to work with. How do you approach a fashion illustrator with your project brief?
You do you have a project brief, right? A great project brief is a short document that has the following information:
- A brief but detailed description of the scope of the project. What type of drawings do you need, and how many of them? What are they of? Do they need to be in colour or just line art? Front views only or back views too? Including a couple examples of reference images can be really helpful – the illustrator needs to know if the content they’re rendering is simple or complex.
- An explanation of where and how the illustrations will be used. This will give the illustrator a sense of how visible or important the project is, which will help them accurately assess the value of the project.
- A due date or timeline. When do you need the finished work by? Remember that rush jobs are very expensive – the more lead time you can offer, the better the rate will be.
This is the basic information an illustrator needs in order to develop an estimate. How much does a fashion illustration cost? It depends on these factors. So knowing that…
“Budget is totally an issue! How can I get the best deal?”
- Let the illustrator set the schedule. As freelancers, our schedules vary wildly. If you give us the ability to fit your project in between other priorities, we can be more flexible with the rates.
- Rethink the scope of the project. It would be great if you could afford 10 illustrations, but maybe you can get by with one. Perhaps you don’t need back views of every style. Perhaps line art is sufficient and you can forget about colour (cheaper to print, too).
- Work with emerging talent. Working with students or recent graduates can be tricky as they won’t necessarily have a good sense of what they can do best and how long it takes. However, if you can give a promising young person a modestly paid opportunity you will benefit in good karma – and often excellent work – at a fraction of the price of a more experienced professional.
You’ve hired a fashion illustrator – awesome! What can you do as a client to help the project run smoothly?
- Take the time to assemble and organize all your reference material. This is especially important for designer clients – create a folder for the project and subfolders for each specific style. Include as much information as you can to get your ideas across, both written and visual. Make sure your file names and your style numbers are all in order – it will make communicating about your project much simpler.
- Respond clearly to correspondence. Good email hygiene goes a long way. When the illustrator gives you a rough sketch to review, take enough time to compile all your comments into one email, and understand that the project can’t move forward until you send them. Try not to send constant, ongoing updates or changes, especially by IM or other social networks. Keep all of the project-related correspondence in one place, keep it concise, and use appropriate subject lines.
- Limit revisions. There is a statute of limitations on revisions before the illustrator starts adding them to the invoice. The first two points go a long way to reducing the amount of correspondence and iteration it takes to reach the finished work. The essence is all about knowing exactly what you want and communicating that clearly, sooner rather than later. Being aware of this saves you time and money, not only on illustration but in all aspects of life.
- Pay promptly. A conscientious client makes an illustrator want to go the extra mile. If you pay the agreed amount at the agreed time, you’re a model client that the illustrator would want to work with again – and the work you receive will reflect that good will.
Any questions, is there anything I missed? Are you an illustrator yourself, do you have any comments to add?