Finding and Hiring an Artist for Your Game

I’ve put together this post because a reader commented on Designing for Fun, an older post outlining the game design process for FAZA. The reader had a few questions about finding and paying an illustrator. They asked:

  • How did you find an artist for your game?
  • How do you approach paying for the artist’s services if you have not yet published your game?
  • Was the art self funded or was an arrangement made to pay the artist at a later time or was there some sort of profit sharing agreement?

Finding the Artist

My brother-in-law Andrew, an amazing graphic designer, found Scott, an award winning cartoonist. Andrew and I discussed the overall style I had in mind and he provided a list of a few illustrators he thought matched the aesthetic. I then went through their portfolios, contacted them, and then negotiated a contract. Without Andrew’s help, I would have been pretty lost since I wasn’t steeped in this world to begin with. He also guided me with contract negotiation, since I had never hired an artist before.

Paying the Artist

The art was then paid for fully out of my pocket with money I’ve saved up from my day job. I feel uncomfortable offering profit shares or delayed payment for a few reasons:

  1. Since this is the first board game I’ve brought to this level of polish and development, I’m still figuring out how to market FAZA and the eventual payments that would trickle in from a profit share would have taken years before reaching the levels that would make sense for the illustrator. Essentially, the illustrator would have taken financial risk to do a profit share or delayed payment. I also tend to maintain humble expectations for the potential units that might initially be sold because I know it takes a long time to get any business going. As a point of reference, I’ve also been working on small business for about 5 years, and it has taken a significant amount of work and persistence to make it sustainable.
  2. If I do a profit share, I would be interested in a longer term relationship or partnership. So, our goals and timelines would have to align, which is a tough state to reach if the working relationship is new or non-existent. This also means I would use profit sharing as a way to motivate someone to work with me for a few years, if not longer, like a decade.
  3. Since I knew that marketing the game would be on the timescale of years, I had assumed that if I ever wanted to work with the artist again, he would be less likely to do more art if the profit share yielded unfruitful results and low sales.

Incorporating Art into Your Game in Phases

A useful approach I took to incorporating art, which I forgot to mention in the Designing for Fun post, is that the illustrations were completed in three rounds.

  1. The goal of the first round of art was to make FAZA presentable at game conventions so people would stop by and play. So I focused the art on the fewest amount of pieces that would make the game presentable and immersive, in this case it included the characters and the cover. This was a way for me to validate two things: if the general aesthetic I had in mind would meld with the game mechanics, and if the mechanics combined with the art resonated with people. This approach also reduced the financial risk for me.
  2. After I had tested the game with close to a hundred people and FAZA won The Game Crafter’s Big Box Challenge, I felt comfortable investing more into the game. So I went back to the same artist to do a second round of illustrations. This second go through added art to the remainder of the game, which includes terrain tiles and unique motherships.
  3. Finally, after taking the game to conventions and seeing how positively the general public reacted to the game, I began feeling more confident that FAZA’s combination of game mechanics, theme, and art was something unique and fun. At this point, I realized I needed to work with a Graphic Designer to further develop the retro sci-fi theme, to give the game a professional look, and to eventually get it ready for a kickstarter launch. Once I started working with Anthony, the Graphic Designer, we realized there were a few more pieces of art that would add small details to the various cards to make the game immersive and engaging.

Are you a Game Designer?

Are you a game designer? Have you gone through this process? I’m curious to know how other game designers approach this, since this is the first time I’ve had to worry about adding art to a game I’ve designed. I’d like to hear about your experience.

Questions or Comments?

If you have any questions or comments or want me to write another post going into further detail about any of the points I outlined above, leave a comment below.