Monday, 4 May 2015

Hiring An Illustrator: Where To Find The Best Illustrators For My Project?


Where To Find The Best Illustrators For My Project?

In my last article I’ve discussed the cost and process of illustration. I have also shared with you what you can do to make your illustrator’s job easier and keep to your budget. If you have not read the article, you may find it here.

Now, that you know a bit about the business of illustration, you may feel ready to hire an illustrator, but where to begin?

There are millions of illustrators all around the world; how do you find and choose the one that’s perfect for your project?

I am fortunate enough to be an animator, artist, illustrator, and writer. I have published Animals In My Hair all by myself. Last year at international and local fairs, I have proven that Animals In My Hair can stand with, or even surpass trade publications. Being this fortunate, I sometimes take my knowledge of art for granted and I forget that there are brilliant writers out there who cannot draw a stick figure.

As a trained artist, I can look at art and judge it for its quality in seconds; but, I ask myself, how can someone who has no training recognize quality artwork? Art is so subjective. It truly depends on individual taste. There are illustrations some people adore, yet I simply don't care for them. Does that mean that those illustrations have no merit? Absolutely not. My taste is my taste and your taste is your taste. 

The trouble with finding an artist to illustrate your work is that you are not catering to your taste, but to the taste of your audience. 

Therefore, before considering hiring an illustrator you should ask yourself: who will buy my book and what do I want to accomplish with my book*?

Illustrations from adult non-fiction books usually vary greatly from those found in children's picture books. Will your book be a guide to professionals, or something readers will use to escape reality?

If you have written a number of children’s short stories that you want to publish as individual picture books as quickly as possible, a simple illustration style of Ruth Ohi may be preferable to the detailed style of Graeme Base. Remember: the more detail an illustration has, the longer it will take to create. Ask yourself: do I really need those “Disney-style, full colour” illustrations?

Before looking for your illustrator, I recommend—scratch that—I INSIST that you visit your local book store. If there are no book stores in your area, you can also visit a library, or** 

At the book store, while looking at a wall of books in your genre, choose one. The moment you pick it up, ask yourself: why did I choose this book?

The book you picked has caught your eye out of dozens. What makes it special? Is it the subject matter? The artwork? Colour?

To the designer who created that book cover, you are his/her perfect audience. That book cover has done its job and done it well.

Look at other books. Which stand out and which do not? Look at their illustrations. Why do you like them more than other illustrations?

Take note of the staff picks and best sellers, maybe even ask staff members which books they like and why.

Repeat this process through several book stores until you see an emerging pattern: what makes these books great when it comes to illustration?

Armed with this newfound knowledge, the next thing you need to consider is your budget. In my experience authors often feel that illustrators are expensive. If you read my previous article, and have a sense of the work involved, you will know what constitutes a fair price for your project.

NOTE: NEVER ask illustrators to send you a few test drawings of your characters for free. If you cannot afford sketches evaluate them based on their portfolio. 

Remember: the more detailed an image, the more time it takes to create, the more expensive it will be.

Now, you are ready to find your illustrator.

What makes an illustrator great?

Skill. Your illustrator can be professionally trained or not, but he/she must be able to draw what you need. 

If your project calls for a lot of diverse human characters, as you are looking through portfolios pay particular attention to faces, hands, and feet. Are the characters conveying emotion? Are they diverse? Do they have different body types, or are they all the same? Can you easily tell what’s going on in the image, or are you confused? Do the characters look like they are in motion and alive, or are they stiff? Look for illustrators who have a sense of layout, because you may be able to avoid hiring a designer to arrange illustrations and text.

This is an older drawing of mine when my drawing skills were not as good as they are today.
I drew this in 2014. You can see how my skills have improved when drawing a human figure.
Style. Look for the style (i.e., the way something looks) you believe should be used for your book. 

Most illustrators have a certain look to their work, a signature way of drawing. If you feel that their look is something you want replicated, get in touch with them. You may get lucky and have the artist start working for you right away, but be prepared to be placed onto a waiting list. There are also a few illustrators (I fall into this category) that work in multiple styles. In forums, some have suggested that you should not trust these illustrators, because they may not be able to produce the look you want repeatedly. To that, I say: “Poppycock.” I can recreate any style that I have ever created. Animators are trained to do this, otherwise artists who worked on Disney’s The Lion King would have been out of jobs once Hercules came across their desk. The reason I choose to switch up my styles from time to time is because I’ve worked on different projects. Illustrating for the National Geographic is different than illustrating a picture book for a toddler. Personally, I feel that working on different projects and in different styles keeps my work vibrant.

"Emperor Trajan"
"Animals In My Hair" Cover
"Dancing Grandma" 
Horsing Around: "Dream, Little Dreamer"
Award Winning "Fox"
"Warriors of Virtue"
"Warriors of Virtue"
"Elle Burton and the Reflective Portals" Front Cover
Marvel's Agen Carter
Diversity. Would the illustrator’s work stand out from the wall of books at your local store, or would it blend in? 

Remember all the research you have done at your local book store? This should give you the idea whether the illustrator you are considering would be the perfect fit for your project. If his/her work is too similar to books already at the store, you may wish to find another illustrator.

Dedication. Is the illustrator excited about your project, or is it only a job? 

Professional illustrators draw constantly. Eventually, the projects they encounter may lack novelty and appear repetitive. Even when jaded, professionals would produce excellent work. However, if you can get them excited about the project, then their soul, joy, and passion will be captured in the artwork. For example, recently I illustrated the cover for Peggy M. McAloon’s Elle Burton and the Reflective Portals. I love this book; I love Peggy’s idea and what she wants to achieve with her book; I love fantasy; and I love drawing people. I was given free reign to create. As a result, the project was pure joy and I could hardly wait to work on the illustrations every day. Now, if someone asked me to draw a bunch of FBI guys leaping out of a helicopter, guns drawn, fighting with machines… I could create a strong, action-packed illustration, but I would not enjoy it. I do not like drawing machines, buildings, and weapons (unless they are medieval). The only bit from that project I may like drawing are the people, but these people would also have the same body type and clothing—boring! Bottom line, if an illustrator is excited about your work, everything about the process will rock! 

ProfessionalismIf an artist gives you a deadline, they should produce the work by that deadline.

Sometimes the unpredictable happens; such as my computer dying the first time I decided to create an all-digital illustration. However, the artist should inform you immediately of circumstances that may cause delays. There should at least be a simple agreement between you and the illustrator, outlining what you can expect to receive and when. Pay special attention to revisions. In order to maintain focus and keep the project moving swiftly, I give my clients only one or two free revisions. Bottom line, working with a great illustrator will result in a professional collaboration.

HOOTs Of Wisdom

Where to find your illustrator?

No budget. Your only hope is a family friend with lots of time on their hands. 

Approaching an illustrator with a promise to give him/her a percentage of future proceeds (the stars and the moon) if they illustrate your book for free will always result in a: NO. Illustrators are professionals and they do not work for free. Self-published books from unknown authors are useless or illustrators' credibility and portfolios. The only time an illustrator may work for free is if you are a major celebrity and they know there are millions of people awaiting your book. For example, if Neil Gaiman asked me to illustrate his cover for free in exchange for 20% of his income from the book, I would say: “OMG, it’s Neil Gaiman!!!... I mean: Yes, Master.”

Low Budget. I have sometimes seen authors get excited, because they can get an illustration for five dollars on Fiver, or they cut and paste images with a computer program to create their own illustrations. To this, all I can say is: you get what you pay for. 

As a self-published author your work must at least match trade publications, if not surpass them, if you want your book to succeed. 

If you cannot afford a professional illustrator, I suggest you save up until you can. Even someone who is a good artist, may not be a good illustrator. If your story is that great, try to raise money through Kickstarter or find investors.

If you do not want to wait, visit schools that train illustrators/artists. The students will soon be professionals and they will likely be able to create excellent work for a smaller fee than an already established illustrator. The first professional illustration job I got was in my first year of college when I won the contest to illustrate a poster for Bone Wellness’ Osteoporosis Galla. I painted two dressed up skeletons dancing and my clients got the poster, original painting, as well as the copyright for $500. If I charged them as a professional illustrator for that project, I would have given them the poster for $1000, but kept the original painting and copyright. If they wanted the painting, I would have charged an additional $500. For everything I would have charged $3000.

Professional Budget. From the previous article you may be able to calculate what a professional illustrator would charge. If you have a professional budget, you can find thousands of illustrators online.

My advice is to search trough DeviantArt. I’m not sure, but I think this is the largest database of artists in the world. You can search the site by genre, subject, etc. In the profile section, you’ll be able to to read about the artist. In the comments you can see how the person reacts to criticism, what others think of him/her,... There are a lot of amateur artists, but you can also find famous professionals. Then, there are a lot of artists who are professionals, but are not yet famous. Here you will strike gold. If you hire an artist to illustrate your book before they become famous… Sky is the limit. 

A new database of professional artists is ArtStation. I have not explored this site as much, but you may wish to try it out. 

You can discover further artists on Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook,…

You can meet them in LinkedIn Groups. I belong to several illustration and publishing groups. 

You can always Google “illustrators database” and add the word for what kind of illustration you are looking for. Example: I searched for “children’s illustrators database” and got the following websites: 

And there you have it; the latest HOOTs of Wisdom! 

As always, if you have any questions do not hesitate to contact me. If you would like to hire me, I’m sincerely flattered, but currently I’m not looking for additional projects. However, I will be interested in illustrating and designing book covers for fiction chapter books: fantasy, romance, young adult, and mystery. To get yourself on the waiting list, please send me an email describing your work and what you would like me to illustrate, samples of book covers you like, and any other information you think would help me decide that I am your perfect illustrator.

Wishing you only the best!


*It can be any illustration project, but let’s pretend in this case it's a book.
**If your book is to be digital only, make sure you research, and whatever other platform you intend to sell your book through.


Mili Fay, a Toronto-based artist, classical animator, illustrator, writer, and singer, is an award winning graduate of Sheridan College and Art Instruction Schools. In November of 2011 she created Mili Fay Art determined to support the world one artwork at a time.

Her latest published work is Animals In My Hair; a story about a boy who goes for his first haircut only to find endangered animals falling out of his hair.

Currently, Mili is working on her first ever illustrated Fantasy novel, Warriors of Virtue, about a reluctant princess who must prevent a war with the dragon-people, while keeping her mission a secret from her over-protective mother.

Join Mili Fay Art Fan Club to stay in touch with Mili Fay and to be the first to find out of her upcoming books and artworks.

Mili Fay Art: “Together we support the world one artwork at a time.”