Collaborating With Artists For Your Books

In all my writing endeavors, I have co-created with glorious artists. While they are AH-mazing to work with, I’ve found that they work very differently from writers. They have their own timelines, visions and workflows. Many people have asked me what it was like to work with artists on my latest creations and here I shall enlighten you with my experiences. (Yes, they are all VERY positive, as the artists I have shared my time with are EXCEPTIONAL). Find your own! They are mine! Pressshhhiiioouussssss… Ahem, back to the point:

When dealing with artists remember that as you are explaining your story arc to them, they are doing their job. They are envisioning what it will look like within their style. Sometimes when we are entrusting our little creative babies to others, we can have a tendency to want to control everything. Much like a parent, we sometimes want to steer the car along the path we choose. This is not a good mindset to have when collaborating with another creative mind.  A great thing to remember – if you are looking to co-create with an artist – is that you picked that artist for a reason, right? I mean, you probably love their artistic style. You flock to the way they tell stories with pictures. You love how their sense of personality comes through everything they draw. So let that happen within your project together. Don’t try to tell them exactly what to draw and how to draw it or where to draw it. Not cool. Remember, there is a reason they call it co-llaborating. Most importantly, trust that your artist will create what you are looking for. With all that being said, don’t approach someone with your book idea whose art you don’t connect with. That will be a total waste of everyone’s time.

I’ll give you a personal example:

When I was writing Mr. Cool I had a vision of what I wanted that baby to look like. I had my little sketch pad, I drew all kinds of crazy stick figures doing crazy things and I had this whole spiel about what I wanted the book to end up looking like. I met with my artist and after I had this whole word-vomit session with her, she looked at me and said, “That’s awesome, Birdy! But I already know what it looks like.” She reassured me as I tried to pop my eyeballs back into my head. I mean, how did she know what I was envisioning? I took and deep breath and nodded slowly when she told me that she would send me some mock-ups in 3-4 weeks to see if I liked them. Then I said the best thing an author can say to a great artist: “Okay! I can’t wait to see what you’ve envisioned.”

After that, I was realllllllly excited because she presented me with an unknown. But I knew the unknown would be something that I loved, because I loved her work. Make sense? I hope so, because I’m not going to delve any deeper into that train of thought. (Hit play on Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”).

Here’s the thing: The artist has already tapped into your inner-most desires. (Well, if you picked someone you adore, they have.) They will take their artistic style that you love so much and apply it to your story. It’s like MAGIC.

Here’s one of the downsides of working with artists that I have experienced. Many of them do not give you accurate timelines. This is a little hard to deal with if you are a person who likes to strictly stick to deadlines (like myself). Three to four weeks to an artist could mean three to four months. There have been times that I thought many of the artists I worked with thought that “weeks” actually had the same definition as “months”.

However, sometimes you will find exceptions to that rule. Sometimes you will find an artist that will have artwork flying at your face so fast that you’ll get dizzy! (Or get Vertigo, *shudder).  I was fortunate to find someone like that on my last collaboration. He is a comic-strip artist and we worked together on an upcoming, top-secret project. He was so in-tune with what I needed that he was able to create some mind-blowing stuff in a matter of weeks…it was also because he happened to have the time.

This leads me to my next tip:

Do not hound your artists. It is okay to nudge them here and there, especially if a significant amount of time has passed (like that week-turning-into-a-month thing). But let them work their magic and remember they may not work the same way that you do.

I always have a round or two of edits I like to do once I receive the artwork. Be sure to be up front about that when you ask someone if they would be interested in collaborating with you. Some artists love to make edits, some absolutely do not. It depends on the person. I do not tend to work with artists that do not have a bend in their work because it is, in my humble opinion, essential that all creative work go through adjustments. Edits make everything better. Just sayin’.

Finally, the most rewarding feeling through this whole duo thing is when you finalize all the artwork and see it combined with your words on a real or digital page. In my experiences, my artists DID combine my initial archaic doodles into their final pieces. They just had a much better vision of what I was trying to communicate. Trust they will do that for you. It really is amazing what two creative minds can create together!


2 thoughts on “Collaborating With Artists For Your Books

  1. Good info to ponder. My question is – how do you find your artists? I know one you went to school with. I know craigs list exists but a lot of the people I’ve tried to work with have been unreliable. Any tips?

    • Great question! I have been very fortunate in my life to have met many artists through the college I went to (it was an art school). Also, an easy was to immerse yourself in that community is to go to art gallery openings. I’ve met many, many great people through art show openings and those events are usually promoted in your local newspaper!

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