How to get the best out of an illustrator

If you work with freelance illustrators regularly, you’ll know that their processes can vary quite a lot. And if you haven’t worked with an illustrator before, you might not have any idea what to expect. Having a conversation at the beginning of a project about the process can go a long way in preventing problems and ensuring a happy and productive collaboration.


For a freelance illustrator, there are countless ways of learning and working, so no two artists work in exactly the same way. This can be frustrating for a client if they have a preferred way of working that doesn’t fit with how the illustrator works best. We wanted to share some tips for you to get the best out of an illustrator, so you and the artist can work effectively together and have a productive and stress-free professional relationship. We asked a group of our busiest and most popular illustrators what they like about their interactions with clients and what they sometimes find frustrating. Each of these artists works in a different style, and each has different kinds of clients, but there are some clear common themes in their answers that we think will be really helpful in working with any illustrator in the most effective way.

Clear communication of the project

By far the most commented-on factor was about the illustration brief. Each of our artists told us that a clear, detailed, written brief at the start of the project was essential for them to do their best work. They need to know the exact details of the project at the start so they can plan their time, quote appropriately, and settle into the creative work quickly without having to spend too much time asking for the details they need to do the job. Sometimes the illustrator’s input is needed on the brief before the project can start, but once the decisions have been made and both parties are in agreement on the brief, that should be a fixed point to work from. Here are a few things that make an effective brief:

  • The brief should be in a written document. Relying on people’s memories of a Zoom call is unreliable, whoever it is.
  • A detailed description of the project with straightforward, pragmatic, and clear instructions.
  • A complete list of the deliverables.
  • Key dates are included (e.g., sketch date, deadline date, etc.).
  • Technical specifications (sizes, shapes, file types, resolutions, colour palettes) are included in the brief.
  • All the information the illustrator needs is in one place, whether that’s a Word document, a spreadsheet, or a PowerPoint. All the information is in one place that the illustrator can refer to. If information is scattered throughout 20 emails, something is bound to be missed.
  • Mood boards, inspirational images, or examples of the desired style are very useful for an illustrator to see.
  • Send examples of the illustrator’s existing work that you like. This gives the illustrators a good idea of how long things will take and how complex the image will be.

Projects often grow and evolve over time, but new additions and extra requests should be treated as such. New deliverables added to the brief should be paid for, and the illustrator should be given adequate time to add these new things in.


Respect for the illustrator’s time

Creative output requires uninterrupted periods of deep work. If the client wants to check in every day, comment on every part of the process, and send a lot of unnecessary notes and emails to the illustrator, this disrupts the process and slows it down. Check-in meetings or feedback rounds should be pre-agreed upon and stuck to.

We often find ourselves in a position where a client wants the illustrator to try things out to see how they look. This is understandable. Sometimes you can’t know if something is working until you see it, but asking a professional freelance illustrator to work by trial and error is neither efficient nor a good use of time. The reason we structure projects with rough sketches first is to get this ideation part out of the way. Once a sketched composition has been chosen, the illustrator moves on to the next part of the process. If the client wants to make changes to the composition at the end of the project once a coloured, textured illustration has been provided, that means a lot of backtracking for the illustrator and a lot of wasted time for everyone.

A well-considered brief means trial and error shouldn’t be necessary. If the client knows what they want from the start, we can follow that plan. If the client doesn’t know what they want, they have the option to choose at the sketch stage. Multiple sketches can be provided in this scenario. This is the part of the process that helps the client choose which direction they want to take.


An initial briefing meeting with an illustrator and a client is sometimes a great idea to explain the brief in more detail, invite questions, and exchange ideas. Many meetings are not useful, however. If a briefing meeting is to read out the written brief word by word, then it is unnecessary. Some illustrators aren’t all that comfortable on a video call, especially when it’s with the client’s whole design team or if they have to speak and listen in a second language. That time could be better spent reading the brief and diving into the creative work. Having everything written down in one place means it can’t be overlooked. Something mentioned in passing in an hour-long Zoom call can, and most likely will, be overlooked and forgotten.


Let the illustrator do what they do best

A full-time, professional freelance illustrator does this every day. They know what they are doing, they know what works, and they are experts at what they do. With any illustration project, there are things the client needs to include or needs to communicate. This is understood. Illustrators communicate what the client needs to be communicated. Illustrators also work hard to develop their own unique style and creative point of view. If the client wants to dictate every part of the image and not allow the illustrator to add anything of themselves to it, they won’t get the most out of the project. A great illustrator should be seen as someone who can take the client’s idea to the next level and make it truly unique. To do this, they need to be allowed some creative freedom.

Tell the illustrator what you absolutely must have and what you need the image to do, and then trust in the illustrator’s expertise to deliver something outstanding. Be open to the possibility that the illustrator can take it to the next level. Leave room for the illustrator’s creativity to shine, and consider their opinions seriously. You might be surprised at how much more they can offer than simply drawing what you tell them to.

Everybody has their preferred way of working

Every illustrator has their preferred way of working, and equally, every client will have theirs too. Communicate how you like to work in advance of a project and allow the artist to do the same. Be willing to compromise. If the client wants daily check-ins on a project but the artist wants to communicate only when there is a scheduled delivery, there is plenty of room to find an agreeable arrangement for both parties. If the client likes to chat on the phone but the illustrator doesn’t find calls useful, then calls aren’t necessarily going to help the illustrator’s process. However, the illustrator must understand that the client needs to be kept in the loop.

A corporate client and a creative professional are unlikely to work most effectively in the same way, but as long as each party respects the other’s preferred way of working, there shouldn’t be any problem in working together successfully. A great part of being a freelance professional is that you can pick your own hours and work when you are most effective. We work with a lot of early birds and a lot of night owls!


Use agents to your advantage

Whether you’re a client or an illustrator, make use of the agent throughout a project. Some clients are put off if an artist has an agent. They see artist with an agent as too expensive. That may be true in some cases, but that’s because a lot of the best, busiest, and most popular illustrators work with an agent. Even if they didn’t, those artists would still be expensive!

Many illustrators, of all levels, like to work with an agent because an agency offers them help in their day-to-day work. That might include reading contracts, organising their schedule, or handling all their email communication so they can concentrate on the creative work (what they are best at). If a creative person knows they aren’t interested in reading through paperwork and being chained to their email inbox all day, then they are making a great decision in getting someone else to do it. For some freelance illustrators, an agent can simply be a useful ally to have when work is mounting up and they need some moral support and guidance.

Some artists love speaking with clients and building professional relationships, but some prefer the agent to deal with that part. This can seem like a problem for some clients, but if the agent is handling the communication, the illustrator has more time to spend on the creative work.

However, the agent doesn’t only work for the artist. The client should make good use of the agent too.

  • The agent knows the illustrator well and can get the best results out of them.
  • The agent’s strengths are organisation and communication.
  • The agent can keep the illustrator on schedule and keep track of changes.
  • The agent can suggest the right artist for the project.
  • The agent can resolve any problems that arise during a project.


Illustrators work with clients in various fields, requiring them to be flexible and adapt to accommodate different client needs. However, clients can get the best results from illustrators by allowing them to work in their preferred manner. Having a conversation at the beginning of a project about the process can go a long way in preventing problems and ensuring a happy and productive collaboration.