Guest Post: How to brief an illustrator

Wed 25 Jul 2012

Johnny and Angus are a creative team. They love Jelly. And when we asked them to write us a blog post, they got really excited and took their trousers off. Here’s what they wrote for us...

For a creative team in an ad agency, briefing an illustrator can be a tricky business. If you don’t get it right, you could end up with a beaver smoking a crack pipe when you actually wanted a frog sunbathing on a skateboard. Fortunately, we’ve faced exactly this situation in the past.

First up. You need your idea. You do this bit all the time; it’s dead easy. When you realise it needs to be illustrated, it can help to have a style in mind as you’re cracking out the first scamps. Though don’t hang your hat on this first inkling. Now, go to the pub for a well-deserved pint.

Make sure your creative director likes the idea and the vague style you’re going for. Get approval from everyone you need to – the account team, the CEO, all the planners (especially the ones who have nothing to do with the brief, project management, or the producer, or the art buyer or whoever you have filling that role, the tea lady… oh yeah, and the client.

Fight against any and all client amends with every ounce of your being, then give in when your resolve finally breaks. Make all their changes and compromise the idea. Go to the pub for a commiserating pint.

Once everyone’s approved the “idea”, you’re ready to start looking for your illustrator. There are squillions of them out there. A vast ocean of the pencil-toting bastards. They’re all different. And they’re all amazing. Jelly represents one or two. You might want to start there.

If you have an art buyer, have them narrow the search down for you. You’ll have to give them a vague idea of what you want – a sort of semi-formed proto-brief that will eventually become to the fully fledged he-man-brief you give to the illustrator. Go to the pub for a cheeky pint.

Choose your illustrator carefully. Make sure you ask yourself these 10 questions:
1) Can they draw?
2) Can they draw good?
3) Are they at least better at drawing than you?
4) Does their style fit the idea?
5) Are they worth what they’re charging?
6) Will they do free work for you on the side?
7) Are they attractive?
8) Will your parents like them?
9) Can they really do this or do you just fancy them?
10) Is this really what you wanted to do with your life?

Done all that? Great! Go to the pub for a celebratory pint.

You’re now ready to brief your illustrator

Working with an illustrator is different to working with a photographer, in that you can’t art direct the shoot. You have to do it all beforehand – and that’s what your brief should be.

Do it face to face if you can (conference calls are like screaming into an unwashed anus – best avoided). The most important thing to do is make sure they understand the idea. Excite them. Then let them augment it.

Remember, in this case, they’re the expert and you’re the stupid client.

DO NOT SAY, “you know that thing in your portfolio, can you just do that again”. Illustrators hate that. Imagine if someone said to you, “remember that ad you did last year, can you just do that again?” You’d defecate a block of ceramic material used in masonry construction.

If you have to send a written brief, keep it short (that’s what brief means after all). Try not to dictate too much, but make sure you highlight all the bits you absolutely need and make sure they understand the idea.

Finally, go for a pint. And perhaps a cigar.

If you follow these simple instructions, you’ll get a frog sunbathing on a skateboard instead of a beaver smoking a crack pipe, every time. It’s so easy!

a frog sunbathing on a skateboard