How to find a cheap/free boardgame artist
September 3, 2011 2:21 AM   Subscribe

How do I find an artist or Graphic Designer to do some pieces for a boardgame I am designing for cheap or free. Or am I doomed?

So I am finally getting on with designing my awesome boardgame (card game) I will be launching in to kick starter when I can, but before I get very far I will need the help of an artist or graphic designer: ideally an Art Major / University Student.

Problem: I have no to little money. Ideally the artwork for the cards and the box cover would be for a portfolio piece for the respective student. But I Do Not want to "get one over" someone and take for free what should be fairly paid for.

What do I do in respect to finding a willing artist that would happily work for little money or free without being a bastard - or is my quest doomed?
posted by Cogentesque to Media & Arts (17 answers total)
Maybe you should offer them a share of any future proceeds or a delayed fee or something. Asking someone to 'happily' work for you 'for their portfolio' when it's something you, presumably, hope to profit from might be frowned upon.
posted by joannemullen at 2:28 AM on September 3, 2011 [10 favorites]

Perhaps you can pay an artist for a mockup or subset of some game materiel, using that on Kickstarter to help your proposal get funding to complete the work.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:33 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

You need to offer points or some sort of option for future payout. Working for free when this is not a volunteer effort from your perspective isn't cool.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:52 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Think about it this way: what if an artist presented you with some artwork, and asked you to create a game around it... for your portfolio?

Everyone who does creative work is always being asked to do things for free, "for their portfolio." Pay something, with an agreement for higher payments if you get funded. You don't need all the game pieces or a whole package design now – just enough to spark interest.

I'm not great at this stuff, but I've always look at people's shoes when they ask me to do something for free. Most of the time, they've paid more for their shoes than they want to pay me to spend hours/days/weeks to do something for "my portfolio."
posted by taz at 3:56 AM on September 3, 2011 [20 favorites]

You don't need to even think about art until after you've designed the game, and spent many iterations improving it and playtesting it with friends, etc. But at the same time, keep looking for someone who likes the game and might be interested in collaborating with you on it (however, if you have no money, it can't be your baby - they'll probably want some creative freedom and input). Also, being able to show an artist "This shit be real!" rather than risk sounding like "I've got this idea... and I'll probably, y'know, finish it some day, but in the meantime, can you do a shitload of work on it for me?"

In the meantime, instead of art, build your prototype boardgame out of random interesting shit. Get a hot-melt glue gun, and make your counters/board/cards out of busted bits of jewellery and marbles and twigs and feathers and coins and cork and stuff. So the part are fun, distinctive, encourage curiosity, and people will want to play with them. And they're free.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:26 AM on September 3, 2011 [7 favorites]

'future payouts,' 'points,' 'shares,' are as much of a turn off as just simply asking artists to do free work.
posted by tremspeed at 6:41 AM on September 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Step 1: Scrape together some money. Take a credit-card advance, whatever. This is your baby, and you're not going to get away with this without taking on some risk.
Step 2: Pay an artist to create artwork for 2-3 cards for the purpose of demoing in your kickstarter.
Step 3: Price your kickstarter high enough to cover paying the artist to produce the full run of art.
Step 4: Launch your kickstarter.
Step 5: ???
Step 6: Profit! And you pay the artist to produce the full run of art.
posted by adamrice at 7:04 AM on September 3, 2011

I Do Not want to "get one over" someone and take for free what should be fairly paid for

Find a different way. Trade a service you can do instead of money.

There is an artistic/entrepreneurial rule that if you believe in your game making a profit or that you really believe in it, you'll pay to have the work done. If not, then you're wasting your time (and the prospective artists.)

Perhaps, look at elance or some of the freelance possibilities that involve other countries.
posted by filmgeek at 7:05 AM on September 3, 2011

That's tricky. I was a coordinator of a non-profit organization that helped a disenfranchised population and I wanted to get a website started. The organization is very grassroots and we didn't have any money (other than the fundraising money we were using to pay for 2 evenings a week to rent a room in a building to operate out of). I emailed the local college and university's respective computer departments and asked if they could circulate an email asking if any of their students wanted to volunteer their time to help us make a very basic website. I had more than 20 students respond who wanted the experience and didn't mind helping if I didn't mind that their school came first and they'd do it in spare moments.

But... I was doing a community non-profit project where as I'm guessing you're eventually looking for a profit. That's what makes it tricky. You could send off an email to the local university and colleges and ask if there's someone willing to donate their time to help you in exchange for their name getting to be put on something or their CV. See what happens.
posted by DorothySmith at 7:08 AM on September 3, 2011

People doing work should be paid for the work they do. Because they're doing work.
posted by Jon_Evil at 7:30 AM on September 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

To follow up on my answer, you might be able to get a good deal on the sub-project if you write a contract with the artist, stating that you will call upon that artist's services once again, should you get the funding you need to complete the larger project (whether from Kickstarter or elsewhere).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:31 AM on September 3, 2011

If the artwork is such an important part of your plan that you can't move forward without it, maybe you could offer a deferred fee that you would agree to pay off the top of the kick-starter funds. I'm not too familiar with how Kick Starter works, though. Frankly, it sounds like any investor excitement will be generated by the quality of the artwork, so you might have more luck taking on an artist as a collaborator. It sounds like you're expecting somebody to invent a bunch of characters for little or no money and then give up all future rights to those characters. Not much of a deal, eh? The only people who get away with this sort of thing are bigger studios that can afford to pay someone a reasonable fee up front and get them to sign a contract explicitly stating that it is work for hire and the artist relinquishes all rights, for all time, throughout the known universe and in any alternate quantum universes....

Illustrators (even as students) are creative people and don't need help coming up with portfolio ideas. I can remember a budding filmmaker offering to let me work (without pay) on a minute of animation for the opening credits of her short film. She genuinely thought that it would be a great experience for me and that I'd benefit hugely from the exposure.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:28 AM on September 3, 2011

Post a notice at your local college's art department. Either fund it with credit cards, Kickstarter or a personal loan. It won't cost you as much as you think.
posted by michaelh at 8:42 AM on September 3, 2011

To elaborate on a point -harlequin- makes, nobody likes putting in actual work on a project that never gets completed. You have to give them confidence that you will get the game finished.

If you haven't the confidence that you can pay them and make back the money later, that's already one strike against you. Do not let there be another strike against you because you don't have a playable prototype available to show them. Yes, the pieces can be pennies or scavenged from other games, the cards can be index cards drawn on with marker. But it needs to be playable, it needs to be fun, and you need to have played it enough to work out any obvious problems before you can expect anyone else to spend even one minute of their time on it.
posted by RobotHero at 11:56 AM on September 3, 2011

Are you self-publishing, or are you going to present it to companies in the hopes of getting it formally published? I know you said Kickstarter, but I've seen a lot of blurring of the lines there.

For the traditional publishing route: Artists only come on once you've sold the game to a publisher, and it's the publisher who picks them, pays them, and decides upon the art style. Companies expect neat board game prototypes, but that can mean multicolored card stock and some symbols drawn on just to give each card their own identity.

With that out of the way, if it's the self-publishing route, most designers who get good artists to work on their games already have a prior relationship with that artist (friends, former coworkers, met at a networking event). In these cases, the artist has agreed to do the art because they are personally invested in and interested in the game and feel like partners/collaborators rather than hired help.

If they aren't equal collaborators, it is doubly unfair to ask them to make art for you until after the game is completely designed. You need to know there won't be rework, and that certain cards won't be thrown out after the artwork is done, or that you won't suddenly need a dozen new cards with their own unique artwork. If you ask someone now for help, will you be able to give them the exact requirements - number of pieces, sizes, content, level of detail?

After all that, if you aren't willing to spend money... think about bartering. I've done this successfully several times, trading my skills (web design and financial planning) in exchange for their skills (sketches and graphic art). For example, can you build computers from scratch? It's cheaper than going the prebuilt way, and lots of artists need up-to-date computers and you could save them a couple hundred dollars. Artists also need online portfolio websites, but not all of them are inclined to learn how to set one up. If you have any friends who are artists, think about setting up a less formal bartering with them... I've traded homemade food, lent out my projector and game consoles, let another person store some furniture in my storage unit, and taught someone basic programming, all in exchange for their skills (building my computer, piano lessons, custom artwork, help moving furniture, etc.).

You are asking someone to make a major time investment in your work, so it's only fair that you see if you can make a major time investment in something that matters to them.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 2:38 PM on September 3, 2011

These are supposedly pictures of pre-Alpha playtest cards from Magic: the Gathering.

If your game is good, it will be good because of mechanics. Artwork, backstory, flavor text, genre of setting, names of concepts, characters etc are all subject to editing.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:31 AM on September 4, 2011

I'm an artist. There's a few games my various friends have put together that we've talked about me doing art for but nothing's ever come of it. I'd probably do it for cheap for them in exchange for a share of the profits, if any, and a chunk of stock to flog at my table when I go to cons, but we've never sat down and talked turkey about it.

If you want to try the Kickstarter idea mentioned above, persuade an artist to do just enough pretty pieces to make a good photo for the page so you can say "this is what it will look like IF the kickstarter comes off". Where persuasion equals whatever works for the artist in particular - future favors owed, a chunk of the profits, cold hard cash, trade for something you can do, blowjobs, whatever you work out with them.

Magic: The Gathering got most of its initial art on the "not very much money up front + a cut of any profits" deal. Obviously those artists ended up pretty damn happy they sunk some time into their buddy Richard's game.

Also you might have some luck posting in the "projects" section of DeviantArt's forums.
posted by egypturnash at 1:33 AM on September 4, 2011

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