How Do I Learn To Speak Artist?
November 29, 2012 1:03 PM   Subscribe

I will soon need cover art for a self-published book. I'd like to get something original rather than buying a stock photo. I am quite ignorant about the world of visual arts. Please teach me how to communicate what I want to an artist--and how to find one?

This will be a sci-fi novel (space opera-style). I've already been pretty successful with a self-pubbed urban fantasy book, but for that I was lucky and had a photographer friend volunteer to put together my cover. I'm not sure a photo would work for this book, given that it's all set In The Future and In Spaaaace and all that.

Good covers are vital in self-publishing, so I'd like to do this right... but I'm not independently wealthy, so of course cost is an issue. I don't want to short-change an artist, but at the same time I can't afford more than a $500-$600 at the absolute most. One artist friend said that's the minimum I could expect to pay a professional artist, and that sounded realistic to me, so...

What I want seems relatively uncomplicated to me, but again, I'm not an artist; I may not be the one to make that decision. The tl;dr description would just be "a banged-up futuristic helmet," but I could naturally be more descriptive once it's actually relevant.

How do I learn the vocabulary to express what I want? I hope to get something close to what one sees on the covers of sci-fi books on the shelves at bookstores. Do I just call that a "painting?" Are there terms for level of detail or quality? I want it to look sharp, rather than going something swirly or psychedelic with lots of pastels... but how do I actually say that without sounding like a moron?

Are there places to post ads for this online? Would I save any money by looking for an artist outside the US, or is that just shitty of me?
posted by scaryblackdeath to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Rather than trying to express everything that you want in words, find examples of art that you like and show those to the artists. I'd be surprised if you couldn't find someone suitable on Deviantart- there are loads of good sci-Fi and fantasy artists on there- have a browse and find some you like- either to use as examples or just to contact and see if you can commission them.
posted by KateViolet at 1:09 PM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would try Guru for posting ads. I've used it several times with really good results. You basically put your project up and wait for the bids to come in. It's awesome because you can set a price range so it saves the trouble of haggling/negotiating.

They also have a safepay option that allows you to hold funds so everything is safe and easy.
posted by cyml at 1:16 PM on November 29, 2012

If it were me, I'd shop around in the Black Book, for example and find an artist whose style I like. They don't necessarily have to be a science fiction artist. Look for a style that complements the style of your book or writing. Then give them the germ of an idea and see what they can give you for $500.

You don't necessarily want to direct their style or even their composition. The person you are looking for is an Illustrator and they do illustrations, whether it is digital or traditional media.
posted by JJ86 at 2:27 PM on November 29, 2012

Why not!

What you're looking for is an illustrator. It sounds like you want someone who does realism?

I personally think $500 is a bit low, but state upfront that this is your budget and let the illustrator make that judgement for themselves. Frankly, it's a buyers market right now in art and design, but highly skilled illustrators will come at higher prices.

Ask for bids, ask to see portfolios. Pick the portfolio who's style you like. Talk to him or her about what you liked in their portfolio and ask them to mimic that style for your helmet.

Be ready to point to examples of styles, book covers, examples of helmets. Pointing to images is probably more useful than using words, but make it clear you're not asking them to rip off someone's work.

And my last piece of advice is to be prepared for this to be work for you, as well as the illustrator. It's not as easy as "here you go, now make me something I like!". Be prepared to answer questions promptly, give feed back to sketches, and be decisive. Nothing is worse than an unresponsive, wishy-washy client.
posted by fontophilic at 2:33 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Learning how to commission illustration (pdf) might be helpful, not in terms of art-vocab but in terms of the hiring process and what to expect.

I do a tiny bit of work as an illustrator, and it's totally fine with me if clients don't know how all the "right" language to describe what they want. Sending along pictures of styles you like, or sending some words over that describe what they're looking for ("realistic" vs "stylized", "hip and young", "black and white with pops of colors") is really helpful.
posted by violetish at 3:34 PM on November 29, 2012

Go to Deviant art. Find either a piece you like or artist whose style you like. Use your on language. Ask for rough sketches first if it is important. I think your budget is adequate for a single piece.
posted by meinvt at 3:36 PM on November 29, 2012

I nth deviant art. And artists come in all price ranges all over the world. I recommend looking for one that has some experience in doing commercial art and/or graphic design, because great book covers aren't super painterly most of the time (unless you're going for retro fantasy...)
posted by Hawk V at 6:27 PM on November 29, 2012

And don't underestimate the power of typography. Find an artist that *knows* which fonts are suitable and how to display them.
posted by Hawk V at 6:29 PM on November 29, 2012

I know this guy. He has done some covers for his brother who is a sci fi author (self published). He is very experienced and 500-600 may be too low for him, but maybe not. I recommend you write to him and see what he says. He is very approachable, affable and he knows typography too.
posted by naplesyellow at 11:23 PM on November 29, 2012

I've been on both sides of the fence, having illustrated and commissioned illustration. You don't need to know a lot of jargon, ordinary descriptive language is fine. In my experience when describing what you want the best thing is to give all the details you feel you definitely need/want but after that don't be overly detailed or prescriptive to allow room for the illustrator do their work. If it's something that's part of a scene or otherwise described in your novel then you might want to send them the relevant section. As others has said visual examples of subject matter and style are good - and will help clarify your portfolio search.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:57 AM on November 30, 2012

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