By Pamela Moeng
As a materials developer for several educational publishers, I had to learn to write good artwork briefs. Why bother, you might ask. Isn’t that what the illustrator is for? Learn how to develop a good artwork brief and you’ll be the darling of the artists the publisher contracts to illustrate your manuscript.
The biggest tip I can offer for beginners is learn to think in pictures. This is not as easy as it sounds, especially for those of us who find it natural to deal in words.
What I mean is when you ask the artist to draw a person, first think about how you see that person in your mind’s eye and how you see that drawing. Do you want a pencil sketch, a full-colour water colour or acrylic, a cartoon style or something highly realistic and detailed, almost like a photograph? Is the person you see in your mind old, young, male, female, tall, short, fat, thin, black, white, Chinese, Martian, fashionably dressed, dressed in rags, naked, in the middle of a city, a small town, a wilderness, barefoot, wearing shoes, boots, sandals, socks? Is the person’s hair short, long, black, blonde, curly, straight, full, thin, not there at all? Does the person wear spectacles and if so what do they look like? Are they modern, old fashioned wire rims, thick lens like cool drink bottle bottoms?
Think about the person’s personality. How would they talk? What is their fashion style? What are their favourite things and pet peeves. What is the level of their education? Who is their likely role model? All of these things may seem irrelevant but you’ll be surprised at how thinking about them will help you see that person in your mind and describe exactly what person you want for the artist.
If you ask for the artist to draw a place, say specifically whether it is urban, rural, suburban, peri urban, mountain, plains, meadow or veld, jungle, seaside, night, day, winter, summer, rain, snow, sleet, sun, flood, or drought.
If you ask for an object, like a cup or pot or chair, say whether it is pristine or damaged, modern, antique or just beaten up and old. Say what colour and style it is. Say what size and shape it is and whether it is fore grounded or in the background. Say what material it is made of too. Beware of using such descriptions as ‘a Coke bottle’, which may have copyright implications and in the case of Coke certainly does.
In addition to all of the above, make sure you provide the artwork numbers on a separate listing and also in the body of the manuscript with an indication of the size of the artwork, i.e. thumbnail, composite, ¼, ½, ¾ or full page or even double-page spread.
Make sure you indicate where the artwork should be placed. Say clearly what style the drawings should be: Cartoons? Highly detailed traditional? Photographic realism? Line drawings? Photographs? Black and white? Full colour? Spot colour?
Above all, provide references either as photocopies from books and magazines or online websites where the artist can get an idea of what you see in your mind.
In preparing your artwork brief, do make sure you follow the publishing house’s style and instructions so that you aren’t asked to redo it. Drafting the artwork brief can be as time consuming as drafting the manuscript it accompanies!
Follow these tips and you’ll get kudos from any artist or commissioning editor you work with.