Working with an Illustrator


I adore creating personalized holiday cards, and have had a grand time designing them for our family and friends over the years. More recently, I have moved away from the traditional family photographs for custom illustration. It becomes a win-win, because I get to work with amazing artists to make an artwork our family will keep for years to come (and through the holiday cards, I can also share that creation — combined with Studio Red’s design — with family and friends).

Over the past 2 years, I have worked with the talented artist/illustrator Jessica von Braun in Dallas, Texas. When looking for illustrators on Etsy, I stumbled upon Jessica’s work and immediately fell in love. She has been a joy to work with and took time to answer my questions on the custom illustration process; Jessica offers some great advice for working with illustrators like herself.

Illustration, like graphic design, has some similarities for a positive client relations. For the client, it is good to be familiar with the artist/designer’s work. Before work begins, agree on the scope of work (so their are no surprises for either the client or the creator) Clearly define what is a must in the final piece (usually want to respect current brand if not starting new) an what the timeline. And most importantly, let the process be fun!

What advice would you give a potential client on how to best work with an illustrator on a custom order?

I have a few points here

• Really familiarize yourself with the artists various styles and previous work, not all artists are gifted at all things, no matter how great they are. Some artists specialize in portrait work that’s very spot on, some more on representational works and so on, its not always a great idea to, for example, approach an artist who specializes in landscapes to paint a pet portrait for you, or visa versa. So be really comfortable with knowing who you are commissioning and what you are asking them to do.

• Agree ahead of time how many small edits are possible along the way, and if edits along the way are even a possibility. I like getting a clients feedback along the way, and as a client it’s helpful to point out what you like along with what you might like to see a change on. Try not to envision the end product too much and enjoy the process. It’s a collaborative process, the artist is interpreting your ideas and wishes, but its as much them as the client.

• It helps to list out any “musts” you have - special flowers, colors, etc - if you don’t see them in the sketch or progress shots after you have mentioned them before, say something, sometimes I let projects get away from me when I am on a roll with them and really in the groove so to speak, so sometimes i forget something that may have been really important, it’s better to correct it sooner than later because depending on the piece and the medium changes get harder and less possible along the way.

• Enjoy the process! No one else is getting what you are getting and it will be a lifetime memory!

What is your design/illustration process?

I’m going to talk about my watercolor/mixed media process here;

• Fist I’ll come up with a sketch based on the clients ideas and my own, I’ll typically message the sketch to the client and there are usually a few small alterations, changing some positioning, maybe tilt a head this way or that, I try not to detail this first sketch too heavily in case I have to make some major change.

• Once I get a sketch approved I go over the painting with an ink pen and then brush over it with water, it a sometimes unpredictable process and is fun to do because it usually sets the tone for the painting. After this there is usually another update for the client.

• I then go in with colors, this is usually a longer process as I wait for layers of paint to dry, it’s hard for me, I’m an impatient painter. Usually I force myself to set the piece aside and work on smaller pieces while waiting.

What is your ideal client?

"Enjoy the process! No one else is getting what you are getting and it will be a lifetime memory!"

An ideal client is someone who knows what they want, but also knows to let the artist have fun. The more artistic freedom the artist has and the happier they are, the better the final work will be. Hands down. I like knowing what I am drawing but still having some say in what will look best. the artist knows themselves well and if they know the client will work with them and their ideas they will be excited to work. Sometimes I have commissions that require different moods, so I don’t always work on them in order, I pick up the ones that fit how I am feeling, I try to stick to a schedule as best I can, but my best works aren’t linear. If you see an artist working on personal pieces in between commissions it helps for the client to understand that these pieces are just as important to your commission as the artwork you are waiting on, I often do warm ups of a personal nature before tackling commissions. Some days I’m right on it and other days I don’t have the right mindset to paint at all, so I reflect and look for inspiration.

What is has been your most nightmare illustration experience (no names!)?

This was a long time ago, and I’ll be vague, but in my early illustration career I would take on projects that would take hours upon hours for very little compensation, and I didn’t know how to say no, how to charge or where to draw the line. I had a client who wanted me to do a portrait for her, we agreed on a price (for one person) and then when I arrived to take reference photos of her she wanted it to be her and her four adult children as well, who were all there and ready for photos....and I was so overwhelmed and didn’t want to be rude I didn’t say it wasn’t what we had agreed on, painting five people is a lot harder than one, I ended up doing the piece but it was difficult and took much longer than anticipated. It was just as much my own fault for not speaking up, i ended up struggling throughout the project and not delivering my best work no matter how hard I tried.

Any other words/thoughts you would like to share?

Have fun! Enjoy the process! Enjoy your artwork that is your and yours alone! It’s a treasure!

Please check out this amazing artist/illustrator:

Jessica von Braun