You have a game, it’s an awesome game, but unless it’s Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity, you’re gonna need some art. Especially if you are going to do a Kickstarter campaign, you need to show the funders WHY they want to be a part of your business model. So let’s go over some basics, in getting art for your game and how it should relate to your Kickstarter campaign.

1. Good Art. Good Artist.

Use a professional.

What that means is someone who understands what a deadline is. Someone who knows that their reputation is built upon completing projects to their customer’s sastifaction. You might have friends who are artists, they might be good artists, but don’t get caught up in the “friend or freelancer” drama that can occur. They need to be artists FIRST and foremost and keep the work on a professional basis. Excuses are like the end of your colon tube, everybody has one… and artists who miss deadlines because of excuses are useless to you. When you scout for artists, ask for a history of past projects they have done for other people… samples of this work is nice, too.

2. Selecting the Artist.

Where do you find the Wild Artist?

There are many sites artists show off their work, my fave is I show my stuff there and as a community, you have a wide variety of artistic levels from absolute beginners to Marvel/DC/Dark Horse/Image/etc professionals. You can see samples and contact them personally about their availability and rates. What is also nice is that you are not restricted to local artists but have access to a worldwide network of them. Also, if you like their work, you can trust them to do something good for you. Don’t over direct them and they will bring to the project their talented viewpoint.

Example: I met a professional artist at a con recently whom I admire greatly. He was open to doing an alternate cover for my comic book. All I asked him was to do a cover with a certain character seated with two other characters lounging at his feet. That’s it. I gave him reference of the characters (a copy of my past issues for concept/feel of the book.) and told him to do whatever he wanted. I know that if you let the artist tell HIS story with your concept, you will get a much better piece of art. If you are too specific (Example: I want the character sitting on a throne in the middle of a swamp with 2 alligator type man behind him wielding 2 headed war axes made of bronze and quartz…blah blah blah) they won’t have any fun with it. And that IS important to an artist. They know what they know and like to show it off. Let them.

3. Paying the Artist.

Yes. Paying the artist.

Quite a concept. Many people like to pull the “You’re going to get exposure!” or “I’ll pay you on spec!” schemes. Forget it. With the advent of the internet, artists have as much exposure as they want to have, based upon their efforts. And as for paying on speculation-“If I make any money, you will get some, too.” is ridiculous. You wouldn’t do it, don’t make yourself look like a colon tube end by considering as a realistic offer.

When to pay is very important, and all artists, like everyone else, need incentive. If you pay all up front, chances are you MIGHT get the work done in time, but more often than not, you might get it late or not at all! A good rule of thumb is to do it in stages. My personal schedule is (If I don’t know the artist personally/their habits) tertiary:

  • Upon them signing a contract with me (YES, A CONTRACT IS IMPERITIVE with any artist.) I pay 1/4 of the total price agreed upon.
  • Upon finished pencils/inks, another 1/4.
  • Upon finished art sent to me, the final 1/2.
  • You might even considering a 10% bonus if the work is done a couple of weeks before your deadline.

Whatever works for you.

If you are going to Kickstart and you haven’t had all of the art done, pay for a couple of key pieces beforehand so you can show the funders how great your game is going to look. But if you can, get all of the art done ahead of time, it cuts down on the fear factor of deadlines not being met. Freaked out artists don’t usually draw better under pressure.

The smoother your project goes, the more inclined the artist will work with you again… they even know other artists and will recommend you to them. I know I do. Or better still, they won’t because they want you all to themselves. I like it when they fight over me.

Go get some coffee…

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Dan Smith

Artist/Designer at Smif Games

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  1. Christina Major on March 7, 2014

    Excellent article and very well-rounded advice! As an artist, I can say I would GLADLY work with anyone who treated me with Dan’s level of professionalism.

    • Dan Smith on March 7, 2014

      Thanks, Christina. Having an art director who has worked as an artist, while rare, is a blessing. They have been there and knows what it’s like. When I hire artists for my projects, I promote them and if the work allows, like card art for my upcoming games, I put a link address on the cards to their work online to help them gain new fans. It’s what I would want for me. πŸ™‚

  2. Dan Smith on March 7, 2014

    I recently received the above mentioned art example and it was fantastic. He did the work I hoped for and much more! Go here to see it

  3. Jeff on March 7, 2014

    What would you say about licensing an already completed work from an artist? When we first were deciding on art for Stones of Fate, we had two options we could take – get all new art created for the game (takes $$ and time), or look into licensing already existing work (cheaper but doesn’t give your game uniqueness).

    In the end, since it was our first game and we were working on a limited budget we went with the licensing approach. A lot of this same advice applies, however we didn’t have to deal with timeliness issues since the work was already done. I think what did help us also was that the work we were licensing was in a completely different genre (tarot decks not games) so there was no overlap. Therefore the non-uniqueness really didn’t play a factor. It actually has helped us bring some tarot enthusiasts to the project.

    • Dan Smith on March 7, 2014

      Either route has merit. Original art melds to the project and becomes it’s visual lock to the populace. But licensed work is already known and could help in reaching an audience who already likes the art. Win/Win as you worked within your budget and the work was already completed so no delays based upon flaky artists. πŸ˜‰

  4. Steve DeBaun on March 7, 2014

    Another suggestion — look for an artist that has experience in making art for games!

    We actually made art for Ars Victor *twice*: the first time, I hired an awesome local comic book artist. While he made great art, it didn’t work terribly well as *game* art. Neither he nor I knew enough to avoid several mistakes.

    Our second artist, we recruited from Boardgamegeek, and he did an amazing job.

    • Dan Smith on March 7, 2014

      Good point. I have done both and understand what you mean. Game art is the exact moment, sequential art, not necessarily so.

  5. Norv Brooks on March 7, 2014

    Great article! I especially liked “Don’t over direct them and they will bring to the project their talented viewpoint. ” along with the advice accompanying the statement.

    • Dan Smith on March 7, 2014

      Thanks, Norv. A lot of designers know what they want, but don’t know how to say it without locking down the artist’s inspiration. It’s good to have the important stuff, but it’s really sastifying to see what another ‘s take on your material is. When I did work in the RPG industry, I was known for thinking “sideways” on what was needed. Especially on GURPS. When they wanted a gunfighter, I would pick a genre not normally a go-to and work up a gunfighter you wouldn’t expect (but would love to play!). I also was the first to really use a lot of non-white characters in my art to open up the thought processes to having a racial mix in player characters.

  6. Tom Jolly on March 7, 2014

    Good summary for dealing with artists! I’ve seen so many projects tank because of poor external graphics, even though the core (book or game) was fine.

    • Dan Smith on March 10, 2014

      Yeah, Jolly, not having your art needs locked down early (or even knowing what to expect) is going to bite you in the butt. Always making sure you have your KEY art (art you are going to use to sell the product) done is…well, key!
      In fact, all things being equal, the cover art MUST be great, while the interiors can have leeway in the good-bad art scale. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say art is not necessary in a game book… reinforces the above statement..

      • Tom Jolly on March 12, 2014

        Here’s a perfect example of bad art dooming a Kickstarter project; Note that there are 31 authors contributing to this book, and there have been only 27 backers. What does that tell me? The writers are so embarrassed about the production quality that they aren’t willing to tell their friends about it. A pity, too, since I promised a story for a different collection this guy is producing. This is likely the worst Kickstarter page I’ve ever seen:

        • Dan Smith on March 12, 2014

          He is so self depreciating and flippant in the risks section that I have no faith in his product. Because he doesn’t either… I trust him in that. Why did he even bother?

  7. Eric @ Devious Devices on March 8, 2014

    Dan: Great piece! We are closing in on the point where we will need to find and select and artist for our next prototype. This is a nice reminder of what to & not to do – especially with granting creative freedom.

    Steve: This is a really good point, and lesson learned from Epic Picnic. We had only minimal art done for the game (it didn’t need much), but between specificity and hiring non-game artists — it took us through almost five artists before we got what we wanted. Not a mistake we’ll make in the future.

    • Dan Smith on March 10, 2014

      Good art sells. Great art really sells. Bad art goes home.

  8. Christian Strain on March 9, 2014

    Great advice. I follow pretty much the same rules, but I tell them if they meet every deadline and the Kickstarter’d reaches funding, I’ll give them a 1K bonus. Not only do they want to meet that deadline, but they’ll help spread the word.

    • Dan Smith on March 10, 2014

      Oh, you are a motivation mad man, Chris! That’s how you make friends and influence people!!!

  9. Luke Laurie on March 12, 2014

    The synthesis of designers and artists in the League of Gamemakers and is truly inspiring! What if the entire League’s efforts went into a single game?

    • Peter Vaughan on March 12, 2014

      I would absolutely love that Luke. Mark and I actually have an idea about such a collaboration. I was waiting to see the League up and running, but I want to pitch it to you.

  10. Peter Vaughan on March 12, 2014

    Congrats Dan – great article and the #1 commented piece for League of Gamemakers! πŸ™‚

  11. Stacye Leanza on April 23, 2018

    I just came across this. Big THANKS, Dan Smith, for sticking up for us artists! I hope you don’t mind if I quote you.

  12. Peter de Wild on March 19, 2019

    First off, excellent article Dan πŸ™‚
    Even if it’s been a couple of years, I enjoyed reading it and will prob. take on your advice πŸ˜‰

    I have three supplement questions regarding copyright issues:
    1. Is the original artist owner of the art, even if he or she made this to order for a company he or she is working for?
    2. What if the original artist has died, does copyright of his or her artwork goes to the next of kin?
    3. What if the company that brought out a game doesn’t exists anymore?

    With kind regards, Peter

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