How to Meet Your Characters Face to Face

Even though all my life I have hired freelancers for journals and books, when it came to hiring an artist for myself, I wound up spinning my wheels.  I put it off.  It would cost too much. I wasn’t confident I could voice what I wanted.  What if I didn’t like it?  I didn’t need to worry, the process was much easier than I thought it would be, thanks to a good artist who knew what she was doing, Liiga Smilshkalne.  I want to share my experience with the process so, after interviewing Liiga, I assembled a checklist to walk you through it.

1. Research. Crawl the internet for drawings and photos. Deviant Art and Elfwood are good places to start for genre art, but I’ve had friends find interesting pictures on stock image sites and Google Images.  Look for pictures that move you or remind you of something in your story.   Sometimes it can be just a feeling or mood from a picture.  That’s what got me about Sunlight—the way the woman in the portrait seems to have transcended the moment.  That reminded me of Teara.  She retreats to the gardens where she can be alone with the sunshine, the birds, and the flowers and trees.  There she can transcend to steal moments of peace.  I wanted that kind of emotion in the portrait of Falion, too.

2. Create an Art Log. Start an art log file, real, digital, or both.  You can use screen capture to grab photos, but remember, these are not yours.  Don’t post them online without seeking permission or following attribution requirements.  Don’t forget to include notes in your log: where you got it (the Web site) and who it was done by (or any other info that will help you when you go to find the artist).

3. Find the Artist. Wherever you found your picture, look around for info on the artist. Art sites often offer ways to contact the artist.  If you found the art on a site that wasn’t as diligent as it should have been in attribution, try an image search on Google. With any luck, that will lead you to a name and a Web site with contact information.

4. Take a Virtual Stroll through the Art Gallery. Before you reach out to the artist, review as best you can the body of the artist’s work. This is easier on some sights like Deviant Art or Elfwood. Do you like what you see? Does the gallery represent the type of work you would like to hire?  I even ordered a print of the artist’s work to see how it held up (you can do this on Deviant Art if the artist allows prints).

5. RTFWS.  Read up on the artist on his or her Web site.  Try to find a FAQ or info from the artist.  I got the impression after reading a few of these they get the same questions over and over.  If you are serious, show them.  Take the time to read what they have online.

6. Make Contact.  Email the artist and ask about commission work.  Include a little info but not too much; you just want to see if they are available, within your budget, and do the type of work you are interested in.  The artist should have experience with the specific type of art you are looking for.  I told Liiga that I was looking for a character portrait to hang in my home.  Whether you are looking for a book cover, a portrait, or line art, establish that the artist is experienced with the type of you want.

7. Establish Expectations. If you both decide to proceed, iron out the details in advance.  Find out the artists approach to concept sketches, including a begin date.  Establish the terms and points (or dates) of payment, and the final format and delivery details. For example, will it be soft copy? A print?  What size file? What size and type of print? Talk about schedule.  Do you have a deadline you need to meet?  Get that out front.  I did not. I was more interested in getting what I wanted from whom I wanted, so I was patient.  We established up front this commission would be slow and open ended, so I said I would contact her monthly.  She always responded diligently and with the current version. The whole process took about six months. It worked out well.

8. Ask about Rights. Don’t be afraid to ask about rights.  I didn’t do this up front (I know, I’m in publishing and NEVER would have overlooked that at work).  Luckily I wound up dealing with a professional.  I got the rights to use my character portrait any way I wished for my own personal use, but not for leasing to third parties (make’s sense; images for business use cost more, as I knew from my corporate work).

9. Create You Picture’s Dossier. Now the fun part.  Write up a brief to reasonable-length paragraph about what you want and what is important. For the overall physicality, I cut and pasted a few movie characters I liked into a file.  I included a few lines on looks.  I cut a few paragraphs from a scene in my novel, In a Mortal Shadow, to give a feel of the character’s angst. I wanted her to know his internal landscape as well as his visual one.  It was as important to me to achieve a feeling as a look.  I didn’t want a pretty boy, I wanted someone world-weary and battered around the edges.  So while most elves look eternally youthful, Falion had his hard life etched on his face. In her interview, Liiga advises that clients make this dossier concise and not overloaded with detail, especially visual references.  Too many of those can make it hard to include any in a meaningful way. I also emphasized to the artist that I was buying her talent and that I wanted her to incorporate her magic.  I have found in the past that micromanaging the artistic process results in mediocre results. If you hire an artist, let them be an artist.

10. The Hard Part—Wait.  This was hardest right after I got update proofs.  I took my frustration out on my book…I dived back in and started writing furiously. From the point where you start getting proofs, you should contact the artist to inquire about your work either on the agreed upon schedule or if the artist has fallen behind established dates.

11. Provide Feedback. Throughout the process, the artist should be supplying you with proofs of the work for feedback. I use Adobe Pro to draw feedback directly on the image, an editorial habit from working with artists remotely for work. If you have no access to a program that will do this, make a list of your comments. Be clear where in the picture you are talking about, either by reference point or quadrant.  Remember, it never hurts to be complimentary.  It always makes me feel good to get positive feedback on my work. Besides, if the artist knows what you like, it offers as much guidance as knowing what you don’t.

12. Delivery Day!  When you finally get your file, you may have to get it printed.  Since Liiga was oversees, it would have  been too expensive to have her send it.  You can get high quality art prints printed online.  I chose a giclee print, but you can also print on canvas to look more like a painting.  Finerworks is a good place to start because they explain all the options nicely.    

That’s all there is to it. I hope you give it a try. There is very little like the feeling of opening up a file and coming face to face with someone you’ve lived with intimately for a long time—for the first time. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had around my unpublished novel’s very long life. 

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