How to commission a scientific illustration?
September 20, 2014 11:35 AM   Subscribe

My co-authors and I recently got a paper accepted to a major scientific journal. If we can provide a striking illustration, I think we have a decent chance to make the cover. That would be really cool and might be worth paying an external illustrator for. I never commissioned any artwork before, so I have questions about how to proceed.

1) This is a physics paper. The results are not too abstract and we can show microscope images of the experimental sample. Still, I think we should use someone who has experience with scientific drawing, especially from physics or engineering. Where do I go look for someone with the right skills? Should I try to find someone in my geographical vicinity, so we can meet and discuss the work in person? Should I base a decision on anything in addition to portfolio and price?

2) Approximately how much should we expect to pay? Is it generally acceptable to decide on a basic amount just for getting the work on time, and more if it gets accepted by the journal?

3) Apart from looking at the covers from past issues, is there anything special I ought to ask the art department of the journal?
posted by Herr Zebrurka to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
That's awesome, congrats!!!!

I'm not sure about 1 & 2 (because I did the image myself in illustrator), but I can tell you that I recently had a cover for a fairly high tier journal, and the number one thing I did was look through the cover images for the past 6 years (it's published 4 times a year, so it wasn't that much really). This gave me a great idea of what typically ends up on there and was definitely a help in deciding how to arrange my image. I wish I had more advice but I do think this is important and if you go with having someone do this for you, make sure they look through older covers as well. Good luck!
posted by PinkPoodle at 12:00 PM on September 20, 2014

Johns Hopkins has a scientific/medical illustration program. Maybe contact them?
posted by yarly at 12:16 PM on September 20, 2014

AIGA is probably a good place to start. You can likely get good pricing guidelines from them as well as help locating an illustrator.
posted by SpecialSpaghettiBowl at 12:30 PM on September 20, 2014

Best answer: You have some good starting points for sourcing offered above. In your place, I think I might start by reviewing illustrator credits in recent issues of the journal in question. Find someone whose style matches what you have in mind and track them down. That could be the end of your search, or it might be your introduction to a professional contact who can talk more about the how/who/where of locating the kind of experience you need.

IME, finding someone geographically near you needn't be a top priority. It's much more important to find someone who shares your science vocabulary and understands your artistic goals. Today's communication makes it possible to achieve a meeting of the minds without being in the same room.

Cost is really tough to estimate without some idea of the size and complexity of the image you need. When I was buying medical illustration (which I think is a reasonable comparison to what you're describing), I expected to pay around $500-750 for a fairly simple, small diagram with minimal detail, often done digitally, and as much as $7K for a medically accurate, more conceptual or stylistic work rendered in traditional media (but scannable), suitable for a brochure or journal cover.

Realize that copyright for the art is typically retained by the artist, even for commissioned works. You will be buying the right to use it for a stated purpose, in a specific publication; to some extent, price may depend on the reach of that publication. If you want to own the final artwork and use it unrestricted in the future, expect to pay a premium of 200-500% of the cost of creation.
posted by peakcomm at 12:56 PM on September 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

I know a guy that maybe could help you. Memail me your email address as well as some inspirational examples and a price range, and I could maybe hook you up.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:36 PM on September 20, 2014

Does your university/institution have a PR or Media Services department? Even quite small institutions will have in-house designers etc. If you can persuade them this is 'promotion' they may do it as part of their normal remit.
posted by firesine at 11:26 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not really sure how to estimate cost without some more specific information about what you're looking for, but I'd say you could start by looking at past artists for the publication, as well as flipping through textbooks to find artists you like who already have the background you want. I think geographical proximity really doesn't matter, as I'm an illustrator, and I do 90% of my work purely by email. Since you're looking for a very specific niche, I'd say you'd be unlikely to find an artist in the style you want plus the expertise you want locally unless you're in a very large city. It's also unlikely that you'll get a cost break depending on whether or not it's accepted by the journal; that's not something the artist has any control over, and those wouldn't be terms I would accept from a client.

As to things to ask the art department of the journal, I would ask a) how much bleed/text space they typically need b) what resolution and file type they prefer to be delivered to them and c) if there's anyone they'd recommend using for your project, since they very likely already have some contacts they've used before.
posted by tautological at 9:09 AM on September 21, 2014

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