Lazarus is an artist, writer, educator, and former Creative Director and Art Department Head for numerous ad agencies, design firms, and internal art departments. His clients include Fortune 500s and Mom-and-Pops. A life-long gamer, he and his illustrious wife Echo Chernik have had one foot in the TTRPG and board game industry for decades. He has credits for both art and writing for TTRPGs. Because the TTRPG and Board Games industry is small and can’t afford to hire someone with his experiencee, he offers free advice to both artists and publishers. He judges illustration competitions and gives free workshops to illustrators on how to run their businesses.
How to engage with your artists and graphic designers
If you are inexperienced with art & design and how to work with illustrators and graphic designers, you may be surprised to learn that your artists think a lot about the project and how to create art using fixed and objective rules, in order to make your project work.
This means that opinions that do not consider all of their decisions, and the knowledge that led them to those decisions, undermine the process and will always lead to poor quality.
This doesn’t mean artists are always right – quite the contrary. You might see something that bothers you and you don’t understand why or how to express it. But there is a proper way to engage with your artist to ensure the process moves forward instead of backward, and the project is improved upon and not simply “done” (which always means “done badly”).
Step #1: Express Initial Understanding. If you understand any decisions the artist made, tell them in a positive way. If you do not understand those decisions, then wait until later. Do not begin any conversation with something negative, especially out of ignorance.
Step #2: Listen. Ask “What information about the project did you consider most important and least important to make the artwork?” Your artist made decisions based on the information you provided them and what they already know about design and production. They may have had incomplete, incorrect, or out-of-date information.
They may have prioritized information differently than you considered. They may have misunderstood information. Ask yourself, did they begin with the right information? Did you withhold anything? Did they know things you did not consider? Is their list of priorities more or less effective compared to yours?
Step #3: Follow their logic. Ask “How does this artwork fit the project better than other solutions?” Decision-making is hard, but it’s not about making mistakes. There are thousands of correct solutions to any problem. Ask yourself, are those decisions valid based on everything that they knew?
Step #4: Express Understanding Part 2. Identify and explain what information they have is valid. Tell them what decisions they made you agree with. Be positive. Do not, under any circumstances, insult or dismiss them before moving on. Accept that 99% of all problems stem from you not providing enough direction in the first place. Forgive yourself for that as well, because, without experience, it is extremely difficult to know everything the artist needs to know. That’s why communication is so important.
"...communication is so important"
Step #5: Fill in the blanks. Explain missing information. Correct misunderstood information. Work together to agree on the priority of information (e.g., production considerations vs creative vs budget). And if you admit your own mistakes that need changing, you are more likely to encourage the artist to make changes.
Step #6: Discuss their decision-making process. The creative process is about making decisions – especially when all results are close to equal. An artist’s “style” is based upon their collective preference of decisions.
Asking an artist to make different decisions than they desire breaks their spirit. Instead, point out where the “now correct” information should lead to different decisions. That becomes a new artistic challenge for them and they should tackle it with renewed effectiveness. Imagine they were a warehouse worker who stacks all the boxes in the wrong building. You shouldn’t berate their mistake because it probably wasn’t one. You may not have said the right building or didn’t warm them of perishables, or any number of options. Just telling them “move it” will earn you the finger. Explaining how the new building is better will get the job done. And remember that, if all results are relatively equal, you hired that artist for their “style” and that’s what you should use.
"Bad decisions are almost always because of bad information."
That’s it. Despite how long this post was, it’s a pretty simple process to communicate effectively with your artist. It should also save you time and money.
Bad decisions are almost always because of bad information. There will be times when neither of you has the best information. Maybe the artist is too inexperienced to know all the rules of design that you don’t know either. Maybe the artist knows too many languages to be completely fluent in yours. Maybe the artist has a different cultural understanding of art elements than you. So many things happen – but if you stick to this friendly process and work together, your results should be amazing.
Thank you to Lazarus, who agreed to share his thoughts on commissioning artists and graphic designers. We’re excited to have him feature here on the blog, due to his fantastic talent and extensive experience in the field. Find him at Echo-X.com
I hope you enjoyed reading! If you have something to say that will help the community, make sure to drop Jamie a line so you can post it here on our blog. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep making great games!
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