As a board game designer, I need to commission dozens of pieces of art per project, and often from multiple artists at the same time. I've learnt a few guidelines over the years, and wanted to give you a bit of insight into what I send to artists and why I put the Art Guides together like this. The example I'd like to use is the one I've sent to Barend Chamberlain (https://www.behance.net/MetGod ) for the Equetten Cavalry for Animal Empire. I have the final piece of art now too, so you'll find that at the end of this post:
If you have a look at the image here for the Equette, you'll notice the following key features: 1) a general description of what I'd like, 2) individual images I've gotten from google arranged about the place, 3) extra details like Heraldric Colours, 4) a description attached to each image that specifically outlines what I like about that image and would like incorporated into the final art piece I'm commissioning.
I put a lot of time and effort into collecting example images that let me communicate visually with my artist. I'm also being quite specific about what I like, but not to the extent of asking for an exact copy of what I want. One initial tip: don't ask for "pretty much this" when showing art, because artists do not want to just copy what other people have done. Taking bits and pieces is fine, but not wholesale copying of anyone else's art.
Years ago I had the privilege of working with Lauren Carney (http://dizzylittledotty.com/ ) on Goo Nebula PANIC! and she gave me some really good advice for working with artists. I've collected a bunch of other tips for anyone wanting to work with an artist, so here they are:
1) Discuss prices right away (a lot of artists - especially beginners - go through an art outline process with people they think will be clients, but then the client goes "oh wait I thought this would be free, for exposure". It's easier to do it up front and helps alleviate anxiety that you're just wanting free stuff)
2) Give as much information as possible about what you want, even if it feels excessive (its much less frustrating for an artist to have a giant list of things to include - like eye colour, armour style, pose, etc - rather than having to change things after they've made artistic decisions on their own because of a lack of information to start with)
3) Reference images beat text descriptions, every time. (I do the art guides in powerpoint, and as you can see they're not very sophisticated. But they've been the best thing for obtaining art. Sometimes they're exceptionally crude and Im not 100% sure what I'd like, but I let the artist know that, and they can often take the vague ideas I've tried to explain visually, and make something amazing)
4) Expect that there will be some artistic licence applied, and you may not get the EXACT image you had in your head, but what an artist produce will likely be better than what you were specifically thinking anyway
5) Keep hunting for an artist that is already creating art that is prettttty much what you want. Its difficult sometimes to find what you'd like, but ArtStation is really good for choosing an artist already specialising in the aesthetic you're aiming for. This also helps alleviate disappointment on either side. Pinterest, Instagram, etc. are really good for this.
6) Dont be afraid to message or reach out! (I've contacted lots of people whose art I thought would be wayyyyy out of my price range. But sometiems you get lucky and they can negotiate a discount for bulk orders, or a payment system that allows you to pay it off over time)
7) Be prepared in case an artist cannot work with you anymore, for some reason. Don't stop scouting artists just because you've found one. (I've had artists' computers break, find full time employment, become parents, move overseas, adjust their prices based on actual time spent on art, and a million other things. Be prepared that you may need to switch artists half-way through a project. It doesn't mean the end! But if you have an artist with a super unique style, it will have helped if you've kept your eye out for anyone that can do something similar, rather than starting the process over again. It's sometimes taken me like 6 months to find someone to finish a job, so believe me when I tell you this is almost my #1 rule now! If your artist/s are also at the start of their careers, you may need to keep this a bit more in mind as well. Don't be mad at them either - they're human, and we all have this kind of stuff come up.)
8) Edits are ok to ask for when you receive a draft image like the one below. But remember, the more specific you can be at the start, the better. That way your artist doesn't need to do the entire thing from scratch again, which will be annoying and by rights they should charge you all over again. Most artists will send you a line draft so you can make any little changes. For example, with Barend's line draft below for the Equette, it looked a little bit like they were stabbing themselves in the head. Beautiful art, but I thought maybe that would undermine the perception of their combat abilities. Easily fixed before colouring - but would've been far more challenging afterwards.
In general, treat your collaborator artists with respect and acknowledge that they deserve payment for their skills, and that they have a right to apply some of their own artistic licence to work they create. This is how you form good relationships and bonds as creatives, and will lead to a happy and productive working relationship.
Here's the final Equette Army art, and let me tell you I'm super happy with Barend's work :)
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