This may sound a bit obvious, but the world of illustration is much bigger than you probably think.
The first thing that usually comes to most people’s minds when someone says the word “illustrator” is a person who draws the pictures for books or animated movies, and while those are certainly two valid occupations for a professional illustrator, they are by no means the only options.
In fact, those two specific forms of illustration are pretty small slices in the illustration pie these days. Think about your average day on the internet.
You probably come across thousands of digital thumbnails, icons, logos, cartoons, infographics, and much more each time you surf the web. And that’s just scratching the surface. There are tons of illustrations over all your favorite blogs that you probably don’t even notice.
All these pieces of design are the work of digital illustrators, who work alongside the digital designers that construct a blog’s basic look, architecture, and functionality.
At risk of sounding obvious again, the internet is becoming an increasingly important place. You, of course, knew that already, but maybe you didn’t know just how massive the internet is these days.
Consider the fact that enough information is consumed online every day to fill 168 million DVDs. And what’s more, iPhone sales currently outpace humankind’s population growth.
What all this means is, if you’re looking to sharpen up your company’s brand in order to make them stick out from the ever-growing crowd, people like digital illustrators will soon become some of your best friends.
Much illustration work can be farmed out via the standard agent-client system, much like in the other arts, but as the internet’s demand for illustration grows greater and greater, the freelance marketplace for hiring independent illustrators and other designers becomes more and more prevalent.
Here are seven features to look for when hiring the best digital illustrator for your project.
This is really rule number one when working with any freelancer, especially one in an artistic environment. The ideal illustrator is one who is constantly taking the initiative to keep you in the loop on his or her process throughout.
The worst case scenario for you is to not hear from your illustrator for a while and then have him or her send you some artwork that is nowhere near what you expected or wanted. Avoid that, and make sure your illustrator is one who will keep in touch through each step of the illustration process.
So, speaking of process, it’s very important for the digital illustrator you’re working with to have a meticulous and well-documented step-by-step illustration process. In the same way that communication is important for you and the designer to stay on the same page, having an illustrator with a well-documented process can be very beneficial to you creatively as well.
Say you liked where your project was going in one step but then the next step went a different direction than you were hoping. If your illustrator kept all his or her sketches and previous efforts, it’s very easy to go back to the drawing board (literally) and take it from the previous step. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of time going back and forth on what you wanted and how you saw the project progressing.
Odds are, if you’re looking to hire a freelance digital illustrator, it probably means you yourself are not a world-class artist. And that’s okay. You’re not alone. This probably means you don’t necessarily have all the technical jargon down. You might be able to describe visually what you’re looking for in your project, but beyond that, maybe you’re a bit at sea.
And that’s okay, too: ideally, you’ll find an illustrator who can take your (admittedly vague) ideas and turn them into real, artistic concepts. On top of that, you want an illustrator who doesn’t speak purely in technical terms, so he or she can keep you in the loop in a way you can easily understand.
Within that well-documented, thorough process, it’s good to see an illustrator who isn’t afraid to branch out and experiment with a broad range of artistic styles. Yes, you want consistency, but the consistency should be in the quality of the work, not necessarily in the stylistic tendencies of that illustrator.
Think about it: what if you and the illustrator you’re working with hit a roadblock in your project? You don’t want someone who will just keep rehashing the same ideas. That will get you nowhere. On the flipside, someone who has the artistic versatility to experiment stylistically can help mix it up and may even lead you to an illustration or design scheme you end up loving but never would have come up with yourself.
“While illustration is a predominantly artistic field, you are still commissioning work that has a marketing purpose”
The most important thing you’ll look over when interviewing candidates for your illustration project is the artist’s portfolio. Ideally, you want someone who has both a strong aesthetic trend across all his or her work, but one that can apply to a broad range of styles and formats, showing both consistency and versatility.
As we’ve established, experimentation is a very good thing, but make sure you don’t misunderstand that term. Experimentation does not necessarily mean throwing tons of bright colors and flashing lights and strong fonts all together on a screen. Often in the design and illustration world, less can be more. Be wary of illustrators who favor bold, bright, loud designs.
An illustrator who can exercise restraint and take an economical approach to the process is your best friend. Such a mindset shows that the illustrator really knows what goes into good illustration, and isn’t going for something purely eye-catching.
We’ve touched on this in a couple other places, and at this point it really goes without being said, but without a doubt, you want to make sure you hire an illustrator who is very intentional about every artistic decision he or she makes throughout the project.
The way you make sure of this is during the interview process. Make sure you pick out a piece from that illustrator’s portfolio and have that person walk you through the whole process behind that piece, making him or her explain the rationale behind each decision.
If you get answers that sound like, “I just thought it looked good,” then you might want to look for another candidate. There’s a whole realm of psychology that goes into the online illustration process, and you want to make sure the illustrator you work with has their finger on the pulse.
Along those same lines, keep in mind that while illustration is a predominantly artistic field, you are still commissioning work that has a marketing purpose, that is, getting potential users and consumers to be attracted to your site.
Therefore, a really good digital illustrator will have a sharp analytical mind, and will base his or her artistic decisions on things like case studies, psychology, and other facets of consumer analytics that will help drive traffic to your site. After all, that’s the main goal: if you have a really good looking website but no one comes to your page to see it, is it really all that good looking?