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Working with Clients

In this tutorial I’ll be sharing with you my freelance illustration process where I take you through an actual art commission and what I consider when working with clients.

This tutorial will focus namely on how I aim to make the process as smooth as possible for my clients. The number one thing to remember besides making amazing art is that you need to maintain clear communication. If its a longer time frame project, just update your clients, especially smaller clients because larger ones typically don’t need the assurance and are managing multiple artists.

*This tutorial starts from the perspective that you have already landed the freelance job.

1. The Agreement/ Contract

Before any art begins first comes the Letter of Agreement/Contract. Having a letter of agreement is all about encouraging open clear communication & managing expectations, so everyone knows what to expect and when. I would strongly urge you to never take on work without one. I’ve done this three times in my early career and each time it leads to unpleasant circumstances. This same advice was shared with me too when I was a student, but in my young career I thought it would be okay given this particular situation; don’t do it. 

2. Sketches

With an agreement in place, I’ll gather needed reference and start thumbnailing to explore ideas. Once I have a few thumbnails I like I will then proceed to develop those thumbnails into rough sketches to submit to the client to choose between. The number of sketches I submit to a client is usually 1-3. The number of sketches is usually defined in the Agreement; the prominence of the illustration in the final product and budget for the commission are both factors in determining the number of sketches.

Makes sure the sketches you submit are clean enough that the client can understand what is going on but don’t spend so much time on it that you over render it and lose time rendering something that you won’t go further on since they will only pick one. For this piece, all the characters already had set designs so I did not need to detail them in the sketch, but more just show their posing in the compositions. I also included their type on the sketches to give them a better idea of what their planned type-treatment would look like in the compositions.

As you work with a client more and more you will get a feel for this. Only present a sketch to a client you would be happy to illustrate because they will always pick the one you least like X). Truth!

3. Color Comps

For client approval (may be necessary depending on the project scale/budget) this could also fall into the sketch phase if you do full-color sketches. For this piece in particular since I had worked with the client three times before he trusted my decisions. So,  I did not need to do a color comp approval, but I still did a few color comps to help me settle on a solid direction before investing much time in rendering.

4. Final Clean Drawing for Approval


Here was the final drawing for this illustration. I sent the client a clean version (no-text) and a version with the convention title on the drawing to show the client how the artwork would look with their type on it. You may notice that each stage of this process involves client approval. This is because my freelance process is all about having multiple stages of approval so that there are no surprises at the end for anyone when I deliver the final art. This greatly reduces the need for client revisions at the end. I would much rather make adjustments throughout the process as I work then have to go back and change a finished painting.

Often experiences clients and art directors will have great feedback and critiques so listen to their revisions carefully. After all, they want the art to be the best it possibly can be too since they or their company are paying you to create it. In this case, my client noticed that the Orc Paladin (front central figure) was a little too small in stature given she is a half-orc compared to the other characters. So I quickly adjusted her size in PS and the piece is so much better for it.


5. Final Approval

Between drawing and final illustration, there is not really a need for any approvals in my experience. So I take the illustration to finish and send it to my client. Thanks to all the approval stages built into my process the artwork was approved right away thankfully.

For this project once the art was approved I was also commissioned to do the basic initial graphic design work so here is the final art with the text & graphic elements making the final key image the convention will be using this year.

I hope this little delve into my freelance process is of some help to you.