How to Email an Illustrator

How to Email an Illustrator

My friends, colleagues and I have recently noticed that communication with illustrators is falling apart. We lament this new trend often. While there are still many art directors in the field who efficiently and effectively communicate with their artists, there are seemingly just as many who are entering the profession without having been instructed in how to properly assign work or manage projects. I do not blame these individuals – not one bit. I blame the educators who failed to send them out into the world with good communication skills. Or perhaps I blame the lack of on-the-job training at publications, where art directors are hired and fired at increasingly rapid rates. Whatever the reason, the problem persists.

Therefore, here is a guideline that will lead to improved communication, fewer revisions, better artwork, and fewer headaches for all involved.

1. Your first email to an illustrator should not read: “Hey, are you available for an assignment?”

This kind of email is a waste of everybody’s time, because all of the important information is missing: size and number of illustrations, context, timeline, and budget. In order to reduce the back-and-forth between the individual assigning the art, and the illustrator, simply take a moment to include the important information in the initial email request. For example: “Hello, John – we are publishing a story about the ongoing conflict between hedgehogs and walruses. We will need a cover, a full page, and two spot illustrations. The deadline for sketches is March 1st, and the finals will be due March 8th. Our budget is $3750. Are you available / interested in working with us on this assignment? Please let me know by 5pm today. Thank you.”

With one email, you have now given the artist all of the info needed for him/her to decide whether or not to accept the job. This used to be the standard introductory email for all assignments. I’m not sure what happened, but I, and many illustrators I know, rarely get emails like this any more. Let’s fix that.

2. Please do not expect illustrators to read minds.

Details are very important. When sending emails about your job, give as many relevant details as possible to an artist, if the assigned artwork has specific requirements. Illustrators are very capable of drawing anything you need, but we cannot guess what that might be if we are not told up front. For example, if you tell an illustrator to draw “a car on a street,” then the illustrator will assume the make and model of the car are not important. S/he will also assume the street can be any kind of street. Therefore, it is not fair to the artist to reject the final art because you expected a vintage Porsche on the Autobahn. Please be sure to communicate all required elements of the art in your earliest correspondence with your artist, and it will be smooth sailing for all.

Sometimes, very little direction is preferred, if the assignment calls for a lot of artistic freedom and interpretation. But, let us not confuse this with a lack of relevant information. For instance, the recent recipient of the Richard Gangel Art Director Award, SooJin Buzelli, is famous for giving her artists a lot of freedom. But let us note that when she assigns work, she actually has spent a good deal of time figuring out a way to distill a complex article down to its essential message or theme. She then sends this one or two sentence summary to a carefully selected illustrator, providing that individual with a perfect launchpad from which to create a unique visual solution. Concise and efficient.

3. Please write back. Please.

This is just common courtesy. I often get asked if I am available for an illustration and I then respond in the affirmative with some questions about the assignment or the budget or some other detail. Then, no reply ever comes. A week later, I will see another artist blog about completing the very same assignment that was initially emailed to me. While I understand that everybody is very busy, and emails are flying around at the speed of light, I urge you to please remember that it is unprofessional and quite rude to simply leave an artist hanging. We often will put other things on hold or rework our weekly schedule to accommodate a project that we think is moving forward. A simple email to let us know that you will be working with somebody else, the job is cancelled, the issue is on hold, etc. is all we need to move on and stay on top of our other jobs. Thank you.

– Kyle T. Webster


Tags: , , ,

Categories: Opinion

Author:Kyle T. Webster

Illustrator for The New Yorker, NY Times, The Atlantic, TIME, ESPN, Wall St. Journal, Washington Post, Scholastic, HMH, etc. // Mobile Game and App Developer with numerous games featured by Apple // Designer of over 100 logos for local, regional, and multi-national businesses // O.D.G.

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13 Comments on “How to Email an Illustrator”

  1. February 26, 2015 at 11:04 am #

    In regards to #3 I’m sure what happens is that simple generic email question gets blasted out to a list with no intention of following up with everyone. Lazy and unprofessional.

    I’ve thought about having a PDF template of a project request that I’d just send out, so they can fill in details themselves.

  2. February 26, 2015 at 2:55 pm #

    Such good advice. I have an introduction in my contract that reads: “Illustrators can not save lives, failing businesses or koala bears without first aid – nor read minds, tarot cards or futures”.
    I sometimes even get a verbal request with sketchy details and then a phone call a week later asking “Have you completed the art work yet?”…. I didn’t even know that I had been assigned the job!

  3. laurazstudios
    February 27, 2015 at 11:31 am #

    You definitely make good interesting points here. However as an “art director” (although I have never hired a freelance illustrator), in regards to #1, it seems like writing out a long email like that would be a huge waste of time for the art director if it turns out the illustrator isn’t available. You have to think about both sides of that.

    • scottdubar
      February 27, 2015 at 3:32 pm #

      You can also write up just such an email, and send it to multiple illustrators. Just make sure you are picking illustrators whose work you actually like and want to work with, and not just sending out a random e-blast.

      • laurazstudios
        March 1, 2015 at 6:30 am #

        Yes that’s what I thought of after I wrote that… I’m so sorry!

  4. Kyle T. Webster
    February 27, 2015 at 11:42 am #

    LauraZStudios – I would like to address your point with a counterpoint: illustrators cannot know whether or not they are ‘available’ for a project without the pertinent details. If an art director needs me for a quick spot illustration, and I’m in the middle of three other projects that are not due for two days, then I will jump on that spot illustration if I know I can knock it out in two hours. Asking ‘are you available?’ means absolutely nothing to us without more details. Sometimes I am available, even when I am busy. The scope and deadline for the project are necessary information in order for me to determine how I will answer that question. Does that make sense?

    • laurazstudios
      February 27, 2015 at 11:51 am #

      Yes totally does. Thank you.

  5. February 27, 2015 at 2:27 pm #

    Yes to all of this.

  6. February 27, 2015 at 11:39 pm #

    Reblogged this on SaumyaGovel.

  7. February 28, 2015 at 1:15 am #

    Brilliant job!

  8. March 4, 2015 at 1:44 pm #

    YES! This is a common occurance for me I get weekly emails from companies that don’t want to pay or commit so, I am reluctant to waste my time responding without having details upfront :) I don’t know if i can work on a project if i don’t know what is involved and i don’t want to waste my precious time going back and fourth prying out details.

    Loved this article!

  9. March 9, 2015 at 6:48 pm #

    Reblogged this on Editrice. Tradutrice. Et cetera..

  10. April 18, 2015 at 5:37 am #

    It is really great to go through such an informative post.


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