Friday, November 8, 2013

Working with an Artist (A guide for people who do not draw and want to find someone who can.) Part I

Hi. My name is Ayu, and I work with artists. (Crowd: Hi, Ayuuuu.) For a bit of context (in case you are new here), I run a group called sakevisual. We make visual novels. At the moment, we're best known for the Jisei series (Jisei, Kansei, Yousei, etc.) and Backstage Pass. I also write a comic on the side called Ties That Bind.

I do a lot of things for sakevisual. I write, code, direct voice actors, and fill in all the bits and bobs that need to be done. However, I do not draw. I have chosen to work with artists instead, and I've had a lot of people ask me how to "find" artists, or what it takes to get a talented artist to work with you. This was initially going to be a single post, but it turns out there's a lot I want to write. So here's the first installment: Payment.


Should I pay my artist?
I know, I know. The first installment in the series, and we're already tackling the most uncomfortable part: money. Awkwaaard. But hey, why not?

So, should you pay your artist? If you plan to be making money off of your project in any way, yes. Whether you're selling it, selling merchandise, or just putting ads on your site, yes you should pay your artist. If you plan to be making money, the people who help you get there should be making money too. If your project is not making money in ANY way, you still should probably pay your artist. But we'll talk on that later. Right now, I'm going to share a little story!
The first job I ever applied for was a waitress gig at my favorite little bistro down the street from where I lived. I polished up what little resume I could, wore my nicest shirt, and went in for an interview. The interview went well at first. The owner of the restaurant said that I had a good presence and my knowledge of his menu was impressive. After a few minutes of talking, he smiled and said "You're hired!"
"Great!" I said, "If it's not too impertinent to ask, what's my hourly rate?"
The owner arched an eyebrow, as if I had just asked the world's dumbest question. "Oh, you're not getting PAID for this."
I was dumbfounded "What? Why not?"
"I can't afford to! I don't make that much money off of this. We're not like some big chain of fast food places with tons of money to just throw around! This is a small business!" He put a reassuring hand on my shoulder, "But don't worry. Our reviews online are great. People come from all over to eat here. I'm sure one of the patrons will see what a good waitress you are. Your work here could lead to paying work somewhere else. Owning my own restaurant is my dream! Don't you want to be a part of that?"
I sighed and nodded. "I understand. That sounds fair to me. When do I start?"

I'm going to stop here and point out that the above story is a complete fabrication, but I assume you've already figured that out, because I'd have been an idiot to accept that job. Exposure is not payment. Being part of someone else's dream is not payment. The fact that you don't have much money is not an excuse. If you're making money off of this, pay your artist.

Okay, how do I pay my artist?
Thanks for sticking with me! I assume if you're reading this you didn't leave in an angry huff ready to write your rebuttal post about why you shouldn't have to pay artists. There are several ways to work out payment, and it will change depending on which artist you work with, the nature of the project, and the nature of your relationship. The following are all methods of payment I have employed over the years:

-Per Piece: You pay your artist for each finished piece created. For instance, $40 for each sprite. $100 for each CG. A good idea for beginners or people on a lower budget, especially if this is your first time working with the artist. The best part is that you know exactly how much money you're going to spend. If you have two sprites and a CG, you know from the start that you'll need $180 for your project. Easy.

-Per Hour: You pay your artist for every hour spent working on your project, regardless of the number of final pieces you've called for. Good for people who have worked together a bit already. I've found that artists tend to take longer if they're working on a hourly rate - not because they're stretching their pay, but because they have more freedom to do the best work they can. Hourly pay tends to produce things with more care, thought, and detail. And yes, I am well aware there are artists more than happy to scam a deal like this by reporting inflated hours, which is exactly why I suggested this arrangement for people who have already spent time working together and building trust.

-Royalties/Profit Split: The artist receives a percentage of the sales of the final product. Very rare and generally not recommended, especially for a first-timer. It can be appealing to not have to pay anything up front, but no artist is going to want to draw a hundred pieces for a game that might only sell two copies. If you are already well-known and have high sales, then you should have enough money to pay someone. The only exception I personally make is in the case of a partnership. As in, the writer and artist are a creative team, and developed the entire story together (as opposed to a writer hiring an artist to illustrate the writer's story).

Right. So when do I pay my artist? (AKA: What if my artists flakes out on me?)
Hey potential artist hirers, I get it. You've tried before, and the artist has disappeared mid-project leaving you with a half completed piece and a hole in your wallet. I've got an entire folder of sprites, backgrounds, and other things that were supposed to be projects, then weren't because the artist disappeared. I've paid everything up front, and wound up with nothing. I've even had someone try to sell me a couple sprites he had commissioned in the hopes that he could recoup some of his costs.

But let it be known, that artists have had to deal with a lot of flake-outs as well. People "forget" to pay. People refuse to pay. There have been several notorious incidents of people paying, then contesting the pay on PayPal or credit card and getting all their money back. There are bad apples in every bunch, and as much as you're worried that some artist is going to gleefully skip away with your cash, some artist is worried that you're going to gleefully skip away with their hours of hard work.

Here are several payment schedules I've used, along with how I feel about them:

-The half and half (or the three way split). You pay half up front, then the second half after the final piece is delivered. Both parties share the risk, and lose less if one or the other drops out. Some artists I've seen split payment into thirds: a third up front, a third upon delivery of the sketch (and approval of the sketch), then the final third once the piece is completed. A good place to start for people who have never done anything together. This tends to work better for smaller jobs, single commissions, etc.

-As you go. Pay the artist as each piece is completed. For instance, $40 as soon as they finish a sprite. Or whatever you offered for their hourly rate. Better for larger projects, and easier to keep track of your money, plus the artist is compensated immediately.

-Regular installments: The artist gets an agreed upon amount every week/month/whatever until you've finished paying. This could be a fixed number (say, $50/week), or a variable (for instance, their hourly rate times the number of hours they worked last week). The fixed number is good if you have limited money but you know you can spare a certain amount each week. It's a little harder on the artist, unless you've proven you're trustworthy, but it still is less risky than the last two payment options.

-Upon Completion: The artist is paid after finishing all the work. Generally not recommended, as it keeps the artist waiting, and stacking up payments can rake you a much bigger bill than expected. It's better to spend $100 a week than show up at the end and realize you owe thousands of dollars.

-Up front: The artist is paid entirely up front. Again not recommended, as the artist can now disappear with your money. I've had terrible bad fortune with this one, and it shouldn't be a surprise as to why. There are some cases in which this is necessary, namely if you are hiring a large studio or group that needs to pay its employees on a regular basis. (But really, hiring a large studio isn't recommended for an indie project anyway, so...)


Wow, even after breaking up the post, this still wound up really long. Anyway guys, in closing I just want to say that there's no "best way" to do it. Everyone has a preferred method. This is just a summary of my experience thus far, and I hope it helps you figure out what works best for you.

In the next post, we'll talk about planning ahead and making an appealing recruitment post.


TheeForsakenOne said...

I know this is sort of tangential to the point of your post but I like a rant sometimes. :P

I have had people pitch profit share to me in the past for programming and I've always turned them down right away. The person might not be in a position to pay but I cannot afford to work for nothing.

It sounds ridiculous, but the best way to get money for a project is to get a job. You won't be able to work full-time on the project but on the other hand you should be able to save some money on the side to afford to fund a project.

It may end up at the end of that first project that you literally only make enough money to fund the next one. On the other hand you're getting exposure and, if the game wasn't junk, you should make more money next time.

Like all business you have to have some money to start making money. Visual Novels, and Indie Games in general, are a business just like any other. You can't expect people to work for free just because you're not making money during development nor does it give you the right to pressure people either but that's another story.

To cut a long story short, you need money if you're going to go commercial.

For free titles, I'd need to go into a whole blog post (If I haven't already) about that.

vale cecilia said...

As an artist i agree with you,what i personally prefer is a payment half and half, but you have to ask for some samples of the work before, maybe you are with a good artist, but they can't represent your characters as you want or they don't have experience drawing what you want.
So first the sketches, and if the two parts agree the first payment.
I'd had bad luck with some people i tried to work too, i even finished a job and never got paid, (and it was a huge company, but well that happens all the time when you're a beginner :/

Anonymous said...

I love the dramatization :D

But very good advice overall, will surely be helpful for many.

Devin Parker said...

Also speaking as an artist, I just wanted to say "THANK YOU!" for posting this.

Artists, like anybody else, like to get paid for their work. Especially when, like artwork, their efforts require a not-inconsiderable number of hours and often expensive tools to complete.

Thank you for being one of the Good Guys!

Anonymous said...

This is really informative!
I hope you do more (mini)guides for making VNs. This was good advice to me & my friends. Thanks! c: