What makes a great collaboration between an Art Director and an Illustrator?
That’s the question Justin Perricone and I wanted to explore on behalf of art directors and illustrators when we began putting together a panel discussion for June 27, 2012. The event, titled The Art Director/Illustrator Relationship was co-sponsored by AIGA Boston, MassArt Office of Alumni Affairs and Rhode Island School of Design’s Alumni Relations.
A successful collaboration can make all the difference for the final product. It can win acclaim or, better still, create a final product that is relatable, balanced and beautiful to those who behold it.
But, much like a marriage, there’s a give and take involved where each creative must understand how the other functions best and allow them the space and feedback to create.
With the help of freelance designer and art director Jillfrances Gray, we created a laundry list of topics and questions to get the conversation going about the give and take in the relationship.
Scott Magoon: Illustrator & Art Director
First, we started with a wonderful children’s book illustrator, Scott Magoon, who also just so happens to be an art director at a large publishing house, Houghton Mifflin. Scott is the illustrator and writer/illustrator of a growing number of kid’s books and his style is both playful and engaging. Scott agreed to join our panel to represent both sides of the coin.
Ann Stott: Art Director
Ann joined us next. She is an art director at Candlewick Press and has collaborated on a number of award-winning kid’s books including the Caldecott Honor book, Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein and The New York Times Best Seller, I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, as well as the Judy Moody series by Megan McDonald.
George Restrepo: Art Director
George is a freelance graphic designer and art director and in this capacity has worked with a number of clients for whom he has collaborated with an even greater number of illustrators. He previously was an art director for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and the Improper Bostonian before moving on to a full-time freelance career.
Rob Dubé: Art Director
Rob is a senior art director at Hasbro, where he leads a team of art directors, graphic designers and freelance designers tasked with developing visual brand executions for Hasbro Games. He has led teams working on such brands as G.I. Joe, Star Wars, Nerf, Mighty Muggs, and Beyblade.
Ed Shems: Illustrator & Moderator
I’ve been a freelance illustrator for 21 years, having worked with art directors in a large variety of industries from books to magazines, comic books to board games and small restaurants to major brands.
But even after all that, I still have questions about how it should all work.
• What are an art director’s expectations of an illustrator and vice versa?
• How do Art Directors and Illustrators find each other?
• How should they communicate and exchange necessary information?
• What if an illustrator does not meet his/her deadline? What contingencies are put in place?
• Without naming names, what disastrous collaborations can you recount and what made them so bad?
• What do aspiring art directors need to know?
To start off the night, introductions were made and then the questions began- first from me, then from the audience and a couple from the panelists themselves. You’re probably reading this article because you’re interested in the conversation that unfolded and the answers provided by the panelists, so without any further ado, this is some of what was talked about:
• Some art directors find illustrators through self-promo mailers and some online. Some check out agent websites. Some companies have art resource coordinators (or a similar title) to whom an illustrator should send samples.
• Ann said something interesting that stuck: ADs will come across you on Facebook and they’ll know pretty quickly if you’re not a nice person based on what you say online. So beware! (And be nice!)
• If you’re even thinking about kinda-sorta-maybe working freelance for Hasbro, you should first register as a vendor here: http://vendors.hasbro.com/. Hasbro art directors cannot use a vendor who has not been registered. Anyone can register and you only need to do it once. However, you can update your “listing’s” three portfolio pieces whenever you want.
• Deadlines: Often an AD will buffer the deadlines in case the illustrator is late. On occasion (and this is a rarity among ADs), Rob will commission the same work to two illustrators if he’s working with a newbie. This is just to insure that the work will be done on time.
• How hands-on an art director will be depends on a few factors but ultimately; If there is a previous relationship (proven trust) between the AD and the illustrator.
• At this point, with the web connecting us all, it doesn’t matter where the illustrator is located. It may work to your advantage (or disadvantage) to work with someone in a different time zone. If you’re ahead of them, it buys you an extra couple of hours. If you’re on the west coast with a New York deadline today, you’ve got 3 fewer hours…
• Best way to build your relationship with an art director is to hit your deadlines.
• How should aspiring art directors rack up some experience? Spend some time working for an AD and take on as much responsibilities as you can. Get used to dealing constructively with problems. Work as a designer and get used to the give and take when collaborating. Learn and grow from the experience.
• How does a freelance AD get new work? Network on social media (Facebook and Linked-In are George’s top recommendations). Makes it easier to contact people.
• Get a membership in a design organization (and attend events) to surround yourself with other like-minded creative people. Look for mentors/mentoring opportunities.
• How do you get work through Facebook? George uses his photo buckets as a portfolio. He uses his personal FB page (which is turning into more of a business page) and his work sparks conversations.
• Do you need to get permission from clients to post/promote the work you do? Yes. Call the art director and ask. You have to be especially cognizant when it’s a job that doesn’t see print/web for 6 months (or more!). You cannot show that work until it’s out in public in most cases.
• Art Directors appreciate it when someone is easy to work with and that is one thing that makes them return with new projects. Getting your files right is also helpful as well as keeping to a deadline. Stay in constant contact- even if you fall behind in the work- remember that you’re collaborating.
• Illustrators: “Be a delight to work with!” (Jokingly stated by Scott Magoon- but a very true statement.) Be open to AD’s suggestions- try what they suggest (unless you detest it! Or perhaps, even still). Maybe it’ll work out great, but if nothing else the AD appreciates that you tried. You’ll be building good will while building a good relationship.
• Rob says it’s ok to be a “pain in the ass” as long as there’s a ‘but’. “He’s a pain in the ass BUT he always hits his dates.” This is not true for many (most?) ADs.
• Leave your ego at the door.
• George said it’s important to be a fearless problem-solver.
• ADs don’t mind working with a rep although they recognize it ends up costing more. But often it’s good to have someone else on your side trying to get the artist to hit his deadlines.
• Scott shared a story: An artist representative pointed out to a rep-less Scott that book publishers have a whole crew behind them while illustrators often have only themselves. So a rep is a good person to help you watch your back and look over your contracts. That person became Scott’s rep.
• Generally, Art Directors don’t want you to call them to follow up from a promotion. If the piece is right, then you’ll get a call. Of course, it’s all about timing and a piece might be passed over one day and “just what we’re looking for!” the next because it happens to show up when a job requiring that style is at the top of the queue.
The panel discussion was tremendously helpful to all those who attended and we are thankful to Scott, Ann, George and Rob who so graciously agreed to relate their experiences and offer advice.
Please leave a comment or question.
You can see photos from this event on Flickr