Board game development is a very individual process. Every single developer has different methods for creating their games. This article is the sixteenth of a 19-part suite on board game design and development.
One of the trickiest parts of self-publishing a board game can be finding good artists. It involves a mix of searching, managing, and writing good requirements. Because it can be difficult to do right, I’ve brought in Sean Fallon of Smunchy Games. He’s behind Rift Shifters and Paths. You may remember him from How To Design the Rules of Your Board Game and How To Play-Test the Rules of Your Board Game.
This guide comes in five parts:
- Sean & Artists
- Finding Artists
- Reaching Out to Artists
- Getting Started with an Artist
- Parting Advice
Below is a transcript of our conversation over Discord DMs. It has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.
Sean & Artists
Brandon: Thanks for coming back for another interview!
Brandon: Before we get started, what has been your experience so far with finding artists?
Sean: Thanks, Brandon! It’s great being back!
Sean: I have been working with artists for roughly 13 years now off and on in many different industries. From comics and graphic novels to books, video games, marketing, and now tabletop games.
Brandon: That’s a lot of different projects over a lot of different forms of media.
Brandon: What do you need to do before even looking for an artist at all?
Sean: The designer in me wants to say it depends, and the publisher side of me wants to say you need a well-developed game, money, specs, and a long-term plan. The reason why those two types of thoughts are different is that it really depends on how you’re approaching your game. If you’re a designer seeking a publisher, you will essentially need a solid prototype, a great sales sheet, and an awesome pitch.
Sean: However, if you are a publisher or publishing independently, you want to make sure your game is well-developed and have money, specs, and a long-term plan. The game doesn’t need to be finalized, but the basics should be pretty ironed out for what you’re trying to create.
Sean: Have I not followed this exactly in the past? It’s true. Sometimes I don’t even have the basics of a game ironed out, and there is a very specific reason for that. Your theme is that critical in order to nail down some concepts first, before diving into game mechanics.
Brandon: The closer to completion of the core game you are, the better. That said, I got an early start on Byways art, so maybe I don’t even follow my own advice 😉
Brandon: I’d say any time you’ve got good, stable specs that won’t change much is good.
Brandon: How do you go about finding artists?
Sean: Great question! I will usually start my search on DeviantArt in the job forums. There are many great undiscovered artists there, and those artists definitely deserve a chance to prove themselves. I will also use another website called ArtStation. Granted, ArtStation has a much better UI, but I typically won’t post there for jobs, unlike DeviantArt. On ArtStation I will message the artist directly, but finding an artist going one by one through profiles can be extremely time-consuming. Still, I feel it’s worth it in the end if you’ve found the right artist that fits your needs and is willing to work with you and your budget.
Brandon: How do you know which artists to reach out to?
Sean: The short answer is you don’t. Not exactly anyway.
Sean: The long answer to that question is you don’t know exactly which artist you should reach out to until you’ve contacted them. The reason for this is because you’re trying to gather as much information from them as you can, while you as the creator are also trying to provide them with as much information as you can about your project to make sure the artist is a good fit.
Sean: Something to consider is this: make sure first and foremost that their style matches the style needed in order to complete the game. Also, make sure that style can easily be replicated if that artist magically disappears where you longer have contact with them. These are two very critical pieces when knowing which artist you should contact.
Brandon: Those are two really important points. Art is tricky since there are so many styles. It’s really important to ask for a sample.
Brandon: And yeah, artists can disappear. Thank goodness that hasn’t happened to me yet. I work with James because he does great art and he’s reliable.
Reaching Out to Artists
Brandon: What do you say when you first make contact?
Sean: Sounds silly but I would definitely start with a greeting such as “hello!” Or “Hey there!” and sound friendly. No one really wants to be greeted with “Dear Mr. Jenkins” – though it’s formal, you need to sound like you’re still part of the gaming culture. This will definitely be recognized.
Sean: From there, I will say something like “Are you open for commissions? If you are open for commission, what are your rates?” I will leave it at that until I receive an answer back from them.
Brandon: Once you receive an affirmative response, how do you start discussing specs, money, and timelines?
Sean: That depends on the response for sure, but I will tell them a little bit about the project and what I’m trying to do. I will then explain my budget. My timeline is a very situational thing because I’m a long-term planner, so I will plan a project for a year or two out. The reason for this is because you have to understand that people are also human and get sick, or life issues come up. Although, I will typically give an artist 2 – 4 weeks to finish an art piece unless we have discussed otherwise, which I’ve been known to give much longer deadlines.
Brandon: So you start bringing it up relatively early just to give them a basic idea of what they’re getting into.
Brandon: I think this is important since the more communication, the better.
Getting Started with an Artist
Brandon: How do you formalize your working relationship with an artist? Do you use a contract? If so, what does that involve?
Sean: I definitely use a contract. You have to when it comes to property and rights, especially if these creations are part of your game. In my contracts, I detail that I own the works of the art, and I’m also able to do anything with them, including commercial use. I make it very clear that any art produced for the game is owned by me. I also allow the artist to put the work they do into their portfolio, as I know being an artist and a designer myself, that’s pretty important for freelance artists to have in order to attract other clients.
Sean: I also detail deadlines, grace periods, how the artist is paid, and pricing in which myself and the artist discussed. I will also detail workflow as most times I require a sketch up front. The reason I require a sketch up front is because even though photobashing is a great technique, it’s also something that artists will pass off as their own illustration. I have a problem with that. Throughout the process, I will request consistent updates and WIPs.
Quick Note from Google: Photobashing is a type of digital illustration in which photos/pieces of photos are manipulated together, sometimes along with digital painting, to create a final piece.
Sean: Now if an artist is photobashing to get down a perspective or something, that’s very different, but more often than not I’ve received images of environments where cars, roads, and modern homes were in images of a fantasy world where none of these existed. Photobashing is a well-respected art and is fantastic when done right.
Sean: However, with all of that said, I believe if photobashing is done right – it can be pretty incredible stuff if the artist has the correct knowledge of lighting, shapes, perspective, material – etc. and if you do happen to hire an artist that uses the photobashing technique and you have a unique material in your game, you should make sure you detail your descriptions and also be upfront with the artist about that because that could actually change their pricing and the contract in general.
Brandon: Yes, absolutely make a few things clear: rights, payment, and timelines are the most important. Then after that, deadlines, grace periods, and specifications. This is one area where you really, really, really need to be detail-oriented.
Brandon: You cannot shortcut this. Read the entire contract.
Brandon: That’s all the questions I’ve got! Anything else that you think creators should take into consideration before finding and hiring an artist?
Sean: When you’re looking for an artist, remember that building a relationship with them is very important. The thing here to consider is that sometimes artists may have incredible work, or may have impeccable delivery time, but remember that both of you are human. You want to hire someone that you can hire again in the future and really establish an awesome working relationship with.
Brandon: Completely agree. Having an artist you can rely on in the future will save you tons of time, effort, and frustration down the line.
As with many areas of board game development, finding artists can seem really difficult at first. By following the advice Sean has shared in this post, I hope that you will be able to find exactly what you’re looking for to finish your project.
Have any questions about finding artists? Let us know in the comments 🙂