Sketch & Feedback Phases


Working Successfully with Clients: A Class for Illustrators and Designers


Lesson Info

Sketch & Feedback Phases

So then, once you got all the basic information you get to work. And the sketch phase is the first phase. In 90% of the cases, you'll have to submit sketches first. There are exception to that, but in most design and illustration jobs, there's a phase where you're just floating around ideas or concepts. So a sketch, which is called a rough in many cases is a simple, bare bones drawing or rendering of an idea or concept. For illustrators, it's often a pencil, pen, or digital sketch. For designers, it might be a wire frame or rough layout of something. Typically, there are three and no more than four rounds of changes to the sketch phase. And again, I'd stipulate that in the contract so that you're not going back and forth making changes over and over and over and over and over. The sketch phase is often the longest in the process. Really important phase because it's where you're sort of working out with the client, sort of getting to the... It's a way to make your work so that you're no...

t investing a ton of time into finalizing something that's not quite right. So you're not spending a ton of time. That's why they're called roughs. You want to make it, obviously, legible. (laughs) But, you're spending a lot of time in this phase just going back and forth with a client. Is this what you're looking for? Here's another idea. This is one that looks like this. This is one that looks like this. And usually the contract will say how many sketches they want. And another thing I wanted to talk about is... As I said, this is a phase that gives you and the client the opportunity to work together to get the illustration or design where the client wants it without the labor of final rendering. Sometimes, clients will ask for just one sketch and sometimes for more than one idea. And we'll talk about that in a second. The idea is that you are not spending a ton of time on the drawings until you get closer to the final, approved concept. And that can take a while sometimes. A limited number of rounds of sketches forces the art director or client to give you really specific, well-thought out direction from the very beginning. Yes. Have you ever had a situation where they don't have enough parameters and they just say, "We just really love what you do"? Yes. And, and Okay. How did you handle... Yeah. So remember earlier when I was talking about getting clear on the art direction before you sign a contract? This is part of what you're gonna be looking for is this sort of like, "We're gonna leave it up to you. "I don't like to give my artists too much direction." So if that's the case and you're cool with that then that's fine. Some people really like working without a lot of direction. I am somebody who actually likes to know what's expected of me. Of course, I like to have creative liberties and I like to know that an artist is... I'm sorry that an art director likes my work and is happy whatever I make. But at the same time, I kinda wanna know what my boundaries are. If you're one of those people, you need to push for those before you sign a contract or most definitely in the onboarding phase. Like I said, I said that Heather said earlier clients who don't know what they want from you and can't give you a clear articulation are more likely than not to be confused or unhappy with what you deliver. Because a lot of times they'll say that, and then you make something and they're like, "No, I don't like that." And you don't want to get into the habit of or this pattern of trying to please the client when the client's not giving you any direction. So that's something you want to deal with before. I just have a follow-up comment. And love how illustration and photography just cross over. (Lisa laughs) I actually put in my contract so when I get a request for work and the client doesn't give me specific checklist and they want me to do my own interpretation, I put in the contract that I will use my expertise and give them the results. And they have to be okay with that unless they give me a checklist and give me specific shots they want. So that makes it clear whether I'm using my expertise or they have specific photos in mind. Yeah, I think that's great especially for photographers. Because it's a little looser in the world of photography for sure. I think that's a great, great, great, suggestion. So, you wanna have enough direction that you have an idea about what you're supposed to do. And if you're somebody who's comfortable doing your own thing, then that's also you want to establish upfront because I have been in situations where the art director literally handed me their own sketch and said, "Draw this." So that is one end of the extreme. It was actually my first book cover illustration job. I had literally been with my agent for two seconds. And I get this job from a major publisher and I was so excited. One of my first jobs was a book cover for a novel for preteens. And, the art director said, "Here this is what I want you to draw." So I literally copied her drawing, and I thought that was normal. I was so naive. I had no idea. If I could do that all over again, and it's not something I would've drawn. It's not a style I would've done, and I would've pushed back because I think somewhere in the middle of that is great. Like, here a potential concept and to see where the artist takes that. That's why you're here in artist, right? Another extreme is what you're talking about, which is like we think you're amazing, we're not gonna give you one bit of art direction. You just go. And I think there are people in the world who are that experienced and that good that they can do that and that's actually why art directors want to work with them. They're that kind of designer or illustrator, and those artists are very comfortable doing that kind of work. I'm sort of in the middle. I like to be told what to do and that they understand that I have a clear understanding of what they want, but I also want to have some creative freedom. I want to be able to surprise them a little bit. So here's an important note about sketching. Often, it's also concepting. So, we've been talking about sketching and so in some cases like I said, they'll be like, this is the concept for the illustration. We want a young girl sitting in a chair, eating her breakfast, and her dog is sitting on the floor. Make it look like she's in a kitchen. And that sort of like one level. Where they're telling you, they give you the concept, they just want you to illustrate it. Maybe you can add your own whimsy or whatever. And then the other extreme is read the magazine article and come up with three concepts. We don't want them to be literal. We want them to be sort of conceptual. So you're actually concepting and your sketches are based on your own ideas because you read the manuscript or the article or whatever it is you're illustrating. Or you're coming up with a design for packaging like smell the fragrance and design something that is based on the fragrance. Usually it's somewhere in the middle. They'll give you some ideas, you can ask some questions, and you're doing a little bit of concepting and some sketching. But know that in the world of design and illustration, there's a whole spectrum of the amount of direction you're gonna be given. Sometimes you're sketching a concept that the client came up with. But a lot of times, you have to come up with a concept or several and sketch your own ideas. So, prepare to get creative. Part of your job as an illustrator or designer is not just to execute an idea, but to come up with the concept in the first place. And that's actually part of what's fun about what we do. We get to be creative and come up with ideas and often if you're over art-directed or the person is too sort of micromanaging your process too much it can take the joy out of it for you. Alright, then comes feedback. So the art director will take some time to look at whatever you've turned in and present them to his or her team. A lot of times this is not just that person getting to make a decision. They go to the editorial team. They go to their boss. They go to the editor. Whatever, they go to the design team. Or even the sales team. On rare occasions, once your sketches will be approved after one round and you move on to final artwork. That happens sometimes where you do turn something in and they're like love it, done. And you're like yes. I just saved myself four days of work. Doesn't happen very often, even when your work is really strong. Because most of the time after the first round there are still things that need to be tweaked. But in most cases the art director, even if they like what you've done, will give you feedback on the stuff they'd like you to change. That process typically goes on for two to four rounds. And again, you wanna stipulate in your contract no more than four rounds. That's sort of like I think the magic number. Some people say three. And again, that forces the art director and you to work really diligently together so that the process doesn't take too long or go through too many rounds of changes. You're not wasting too much time. So let's talk a little bit about getting feedback. Getting feedback on your work can feel really challenging. I'm so used to it now that I have completely, I would say... I wouldn't say completely but I would say compared to ten years ago I am like 95% detached from my work to the point where I turn something in and I get feedback that the client doesn't like it, I do not feel bad or take it personally. And I'm not saying that to say that I'm somehow evolved in some way that most people aren't. It's just because I've done this so many times that I've just gotten used to getting feedback and I realize it's not personal. The reason that client called me and hired me is because they like my work. So you always start with the premise that they hired you because they want to work with you. The reason they're giving feedback is because their job is to make the work or the illustration or the design as strong as possible. So, 95% of the time that's their motivation. And you have to come at it from that perspective as well. So like it or not, you signed up for a job to create something for the client that the client likes. That's what commercial work is. Working for a client. That's why a lot of people don't want to do commercial work. And I get it. But being open to feedback is part of having a strong and positive relationship with your client. The art director's job is to help you make the best work possible. I always like to tell a story of an assignment that I got pretty early in my career, probably the second year in and I just started doing a lot of hand lettering, and that's something I do all the time now. I've gotten really good at it but at the time I was sort of stumbling a little bit but I was trying to put more hand lettering in my work. And I was pretty sloppy still but I had gotten this job and the job included a lot of hand lettering and a lot of drawing. And I happened to get assigned to who I would describe as a very nit-picky art director. And she gave me very specific feedback and we went back and forth, it was still within three or four rounds of changes but every time I would turn something in she'd come back and say I want you to improve this, I want you to tweak this, I want you to do this. That T is not legible. And at the time I was like this is so annoying. And then I realized when the process was over even though I felt frustrated, and again I was doing the right thing by saying yes, thank you, thank you for that feedback. Yes, I'll get on it right away. I'll make those changes. If they didn't make sense to me I would of course ask, but I complied and at the end the work was so much better than it would have been otherwise. She helped me make the best work possible and if you can think of your relationship with an art director as working with a mentor, especially when you're first starting out, somebody who has been doing this longer than you, their job is to help you make the best work possible. And if you can treat the feedback cycle as a learning experience and a way, and approach it as a way to make your work better, you're going to have a better experience and you're also going to, I don't know, like it just sort of, I wouldn't say desensitizes you to feedback because you don't ever want to be desensitized but it sort of gets you normalizes feedback and normalizes the feedback loop. I never went to art school. I'm self-taught. So, this whole idea of having my work critiqued was very foreign to me when I first started out. And the process of illustration or the business of illustration got me immersed in the world of getting feedback on my work and being told how it can be better, and I value that so much now. Even though each individual experience of getting feedback was often difficult in the beginning. And it still is sometimes. But for the most part, I think it's super important to stay open. If you are resistant to feedback or too attached to your own ideas, the relationship can often break down. So you want to avoid getting getting defensive because the art director's job is to help you make the best possible creation. Not to criticize your art or demean you or your design skills.

Class Description

Establishing yourself as a professional illustrator or designer requires a lot of dedication to building skill, brand and visibility. Equally important, yet often underestimated, is the development of client interaction skills. Working with clients takes practice! It’s not easy and it’s not always intuitive. Knowing how to communicate with clients clearly and effectively is a skill that will ultimately set you apart as a professional illustrator.

Fine artist, illustrator and author Lisa Congdon has worked with over 75 clients around the world, including MoMA, REI Co-op, Harvard University, Martha Stewart Living, Chronicle Books, and Random House Publishing, among many others. In this class she will share the knowledge she has acquired during her successful career, highlighting time-proven strategies for working effectively with clients. She will also discuss common mistakes to avoid when dealing with clients.

Lisa will teach you the skills you need to enter into client relationships with clarity and confidence.

In this class you will learn:

  • How to communicate effectively and professionally with potential clients.
  • What questions to ask when being approached by a potential client
  • What to look for in a creative brief
  • How to consider phases and deliverables of a project
  • How to consider fee negotiation.
  • How to read through a contract.
  • How to address change of project scope with a client.
  • And so much more...