How to work with an illustrator

At long last, you’ve nailed the final draft of your new book. Now for the bit, you’re excited for – bringing it to life with illustrations!

If you’re self-publishing, you’ll have to track down your perfect illustrator to get the work done. But what’s the process once you’ve found them?

Read on to find out how to work with an illustrator.

1. Finding your illustrator

Not everyone will be jumping for joy at the chance to illustrate your book, but not everyone is the right fit anyway. Before you get in contact with any illustrators, you need to bear a few things in mind:


Professional illustration isn’t a hobby.

You might think $500 is a fortune but you’ll likely be laughed out of the door if you try and pay that. On top of that, cheap illustrations probably won’t do your book justice. You have to pay for quality.

There are things you can do to bring costs down – for example, you can have more white space, a smaller book or use black and white illustrations rather than color. Money is time and all these things make the illustration process quicker.

The Graphic Artists Guild has a Handbook that’s regularly updated to reflect current market prices. It’s the “industry Bible” so it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re serious about finding an illustrator. In 2013, they estimated that a 32 page picture book would be anywhere between $3000-$60,000 USD. You’ll also have to pay royalties as it’s their creative work too.


Check out the illustrator’s portfolio to see if their art style is what you pictured. If you have no idea what you want, the illustrator is definitely the authority to speak to. Ask them what art they think would complement your writing.

However, don’t ask for work on spec because you’re indecisive about style. If you want test illustrations from different artists, expect to pay them for their time. Otherwise, you’ll just have to use their existing portfolio to make the decision.

Decide if you want ‘tight’ or ‘loose’ art. ‘Loose’ illustrations are a bit sketchier and less polished, which can work really well for some picture books or graphic novels. They tend to be cheaper. ‘Tight’ illustrations are more detailed and take longer, so cost more. You don’t have to stick to one either.

For a graphic novel, it can be really stylistically interesting to have minor panels done loosely but then have tight artwork for climactic moments.

The scope of the work

Before you speak to an illustrator, have information about the physical book on hand. This includes things like the physical size of the book, as well as the number of pages. Be prepared to send over a full manuscript so they can get an idea themselves and also know if it’s something they’d be interested in.

This chart shows the traditional book sizes and formats used in English-speaking countries.
Traditional book sizes and formats used in English-speaking countries.

Know what you want for the illustrations themselves too. Is each page fully illustrated or will the art be less expansive than that? Is the artwork in color or black and white?

Most artists nowadays work digitally, but do you want it to emulate more traditional art styles – e.g digital watercolor paintings are a thing now.

Have a time frame in mind, but don’t expect miracles. Good illustration takes time and there will be many rounds of designs and revisions involved – so it’s not going to happen in a week.

In fact, most picture books take about a year to be fully completed.

Okay, but where do I find them?

You can find illustrators all over the place.

For instance, you can find them through their personal websites, LinkedIn, or an online freelance marketplace.

If you’ve got a clear idea of what you need, it’ll simplify this process.

2. Contracts

Once you’ve found your dream illustrator, get the project terms down in writing. We can’t emphasize this enough. It provides security for both you and the illustrator. These are the things you’ll want to cover:

Basic contact details

This is easy enough, but also easy to forget when you’re wrestling with the legal side of things.


Project details and scope.

Outline explicitly the deliverables of the project. “32 x full-colour half-page illustrations” is way better than “book illustrations.”


When does the work need to be finished? Are there milestone stages?

Intellectual property

Intellectual property can be tricky to negotiate when working on a creative illustration project. Although you’re paying you probably won’t own the sole rights to the final illustration and the illustrator will want to showcase the work in their own portfolio.

If you’re not happy with this, you need to discuss this upfront and spell it out in the contract.

Payment terms

Your illustrator will likely want some sort of deposit upfront, most likely a third or a half of the full amount. This works as illustrators will generally charge on a per-project basis (as opposed to setting an hourly rate). You might then have milestone payments – for instance, when they finish the initial sketches.

Or you might just pay the rest on completion. Occasionally, you might be asked to pay the full amount upfront but this is pretty uncommon.

But, regardless of the terms, the important thing is to WRITE THEM DOWN (and to stick to the contract…)

3. The Actual Work

Once your contract’s set in stone, your illustrator can get working. There are quite a few stages to this – they don’t just cobble together a drawing and color it in.


You can’t just send illustrator descriptions of the specific scenes you want to be drawn, as they’ll be missing out on vital terms. If you haven’t already, send over the full manuscript or at the very least a detailed outline.

A lot of the planning will have been covered in the initial negotiations, but you’ll probably want to discuss the individual illustrations in more depth at this point. Depending on how much control you want, you can add art notes to the relevant pages (describing the illustration).

Or, you can leave art direction in the illustrator’s hands and just give feedback on the finished drawings.

Character Design

Your characters are likely to be at the heart of the book. Before actual scenes get started, your illustrator will draw up ideas for your central characters.

This can take a bit of time – they’ll want to draw from different angles, and some even make models for reference. There’ll probably be a few rounds of revisions at this stage before the character design is finalized.


This is where the illustrator figures out what’s going on in each of the illustrations – e.g scenery, expressions, actions, etc. Naturally, they’re not going to waste time on full artwork for every possible iteration of a scene – so this will be rough work.

They’ll also work on things like page layout. You should bear this in mind when reviewing the art too. You don’t want key images getting sucked into the ‘gutter’ (that’s illustration lingo for the gap between pages in a two-page spread!)

Again, this will take a few rounds of revisions before you’re both happy with the end result.

Finished art

Once the sketches have been approved, your illustrator will be ready to start on the final, polished art. That’ll be where you see your creation in its full glory! If the sketching process has gone well, you won’t have to suggest too many changes at this point.

Once you’re happy with this and you’ve approved everything, they’ll send over the finished art and you’ll be ready to go to print! Time to crack out the champagne!



Becca is the Marketing Executive at Twine. She loves literature, music, film and make-up. She spends a lot of time complaining about the mismatched angles of her winged eyeliner and stalking drag queens on Instagram. Otherwise, she’s helping Joe by writing blog posts and keeping Twine’s social media running.