Monday, August 13, 2012

Finding the right illustrator


Even though I have chosen to focus this entry on finding the right illustrator, the following tips and thoughts can be applied to adding almost anyone to your "team".  As your needs grow your team will need to grow.  So, understanding an efficient way in which to augment your team will prove to be useful, and hopefully shorten your learning curve and lead time.

For example, I worked with 3 different illustrators before finding one that was a great fit for my children's book and for me.  I worked with 3 very different types of artists and people.  My first illustrator is a very dear friends of mine and very talented painter specializing in oils.  The thought of us working on a project together showcasing our talents and passions sounded awesome to both of us!  A little bit into the project we realized that her style of painting was not the best fit for the kind of children's book we were trying to make.

The second person with whom I tried to work was recommended by an acquaintance and had published a children's book of his own.  We had, what I thought, was a nice meeting and then two weeks went by and I never heard anything back from him...still haven't :)

I couldn't afford to keep waiting so, I went looking on-line.  I found my third candidate for the illustrator position.  Someone in another state, but a published children's book illustrator and mother.  I thought...this is great.  She checked out, her samples were cute, and she was happy to meet my deadlines and work within my budget.  Sadly, after sending a 50% deposit out of state in the hopes she was everything she promised; I was let down time and time again, with missed deadlines and mediocre work.  I did get most of the deposit back when we parted ways, but fell almost 2 months behind on the book's completion schedule.  Be very sure about anyone to whom you will be sending money!  I got lucky!

I started thinking about all the things I wasn't getting with the people I had chosen or hoped to work with, and based on that I made a list of my needs:

  • Someone who specializes in children's books illustrations and has a skill set that would match up with the type of medium and style for which I was looking.  
  • A person that is communicative and sensitive to the fact that I am only one person trying to build a business and manage several different things at the same time.  Essentially, someone who would return my calls or emails, and let me know that my business matters to them.
  • Someone who is eager to work on a fun project with limited initial capital, but also has something to gain such as: experience, more info for their portfolio, making networking contacts, or reaping other potential intangibles.
  • Someone who is local and I could meet, get to know, and sit down with to go over concepts, expectations, revisions etc.  In doing this you will have a chance to read the person you will be so closely working with and to whom you will be writing checks. You will also cut down on repetitive communications and lead time.  Hopefully you find someone who you can sit down with over a cup of coffee and brainstorm about the book or project---don't forget, this is your team, and will ultimately serve as a reflection on you and your book.
  • Someone who has strong recommendations from a credible source means you know what you are getting.  Not unlike when we want to find a new doctor, vet or mechanic etc.  It is often times best to work off of a referral.  Or, read a couple on-line reviews and check references to know what to expect. Then you can better decide if that person is a good fit for you.  
I reviewed my list and finally got the idea to contact all the art colleges in the Greater Chicago Area.  I thought, surely a student at one of these schools would be able to meet the above requirements.  Just do a Google search to find schools near you and their contact information.  Go to each school's website and search for a job board on which you can post your project, call the head of the art department, or email them if you like.  I prefer to make contact via phone, the first time especially to: ensure I convey my message and needs properly, quickly get answers to my questions, find out everything I need to know for my post, and learn about any necessary paperwork to complete.

After about two weeks of filling out forms for schools, sifting through resumes, checking references, conducting phone interviews and looking at portfolios, I found the perfect illustrator for me and my book!  She met all of my needs and we were able to agree on expectations such as: payment, time lines, style, and communication type and frequency.  In fact, we had coffee this morning to review the project and brainstorm.  

Think about your needs, and your book's needs.  Seek your team members out according to that.  Make sure you lay all relevant party's expectations on the table at the very beginning to eliminate potential  "surprises" that might arise throughout the duration of the project. Utilize networking platforms, ask around your circle for recommendations, or go-online, but don't forget to follow up with your own research when looking for a team member.  Graduate and post graduate students and programs, communities, social networks, and inner circles can often provide just the team member for whom you are looking!  

Don't forget to--Write! Write! Write!