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Neil Carr
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I've stepped onto the path of being an amateur RPG publisher via Kickstarter. I want to see how far I can travel from zero-to-hero and I'm looking for help along the way. These series of posts are in part just me thinking aloud, but also asking specific questions as I put the pieces together to achieve rpg publishing victory.

Art is vital to an RPG product. The products whole goal is to evoke imaginative responses from the user, and while one could effectively do that through writing, users aren't there to read a novel. Instead they want a tool for creativity and artwork acts like a springboard or guidepost to quickly travel into their own imagined worlds.

Artwork also has a practical use in organizing information in an RPG books. In general they are primarily used as reference material, getting picked up and flipped through to find a rule or world detail. Having artwork break up the blocks of texts and tables helps a user navigate the book more quickly, both because the art can act like an icon pointing out a specific section (pictures of equipment in the equipment section) but it also acts as a mnemonic device, creating mental bookmarks for the user to break up the books contents into their own unique memory storage system.

Where to find artists?

Where to find artists to work for your project? There are websites such as Deviant Art which hosts a huge number of artist portfolios, so much so that it might be a bit overwhelming, particularly if you're trying to find a specific tone or style.

What I have found the most helpful so far has been the freelancing forum over at RPG.net. Here publishers can make open calls for work, and freelance artists can post their pictures and link to their websites to attract commissions. From what I see publishers make open calls there for a project and then after just a few days post again saying the submission response was great and they were closing the open call to make a decision. So it seems like that forum alone might just handle the entire process.

Still, you're stuck with just those artists who happen to be paying attention to that website and forum. Another medium I found very helpful in delivering up a concentrated dose of artists that fit within the geeky comic/fantasy/sci-fi/horror genre that is a staple of RPGs is the magazine ImagineFX. It's a magazine who's focus is on digital artists in the geeky realms and shows off a healthy spread of artists each issue. The magazines are pricey though, costing around $15 per issue. The magazine's website forums is a good place to look for people posting their artwork, though I haven't found an area to make publisher open calls.

How much does art cost?

How much does art cost? From what I've read it costs from $25 to $300 for the kind of needs of an RPG product. $300 would be nice cover art, while $25 is a quarter page illustration. Prices can go higher or lower depending on the artist. Established RPG artists might command much more for their work, meanwhile there is also a lot of amateur artists out there willing to work for free to get exposure, but those kind of variables are beyond what I want to do.

Another angle is to go with stock art. Zip over to DrivethruRPG and you'll find plenty of stock art albums for sale, and the prices are far far less than for commissioned pieces. I also found illodeli.com which specializes in one time use stock art licenses.

How much art to get?

Another big variable, but from what I've read the average is about one piece per four pages of a book, plus the cover and ideally something on the back cover.

What about licenses?

There is a whole legal dimension to buying intellectual property which might not be immediately obvious. Unless it is specified in the purchase, the artist still has all of their rights for the work they created. So when you buy art from an artist, the time, expense and skill the artist uses isn't the only commodity be factored into the price, but also the legal rights the artist has to their work.

How the rights are negotiated really depends on the needs of publisher. For myself I'd want either complete rights, or something people have called “game industry rights” which is a broad set of usage for the purposes of the gaming industry. I'd want this so that I can reuse the artwork however I need for the product I'm making and future products. Ideally you'd be able to take that piece of art and use it on your website, in banner ads, in trade dress at conventions, in future products that you publish, etc. If in my zero-to-hero quest leads me to epic levels, and I'm a publishing juggernaut in 15 years, then I'd want the very first piece commissioned to still be usable even then for whatever business needs I had.

On the flip side, I'd want the artist to be able to capitalize on their own work. It seems as if I'm not the only amateur in the field. The artists are also just trying to do something creative and be compensated fairly for it. They ought to be able to display their work in online portfolios and perhaps even be able to sell prints of their work if it was unrelated to what your own product is doing in the marketplace. In the end it's supposed to be about creative people working together to make compelling material.

Unfortunately the pricing of licensing seems to be utterly opaque and mercurial from my own research. It's just a bunch of eyeballing based on the specifics of the publisher and artist and where they happen to be professionally in life. It would be great if there was some kind of industry standards, with x percentage being tacked on for specific degrees of rights being granted, but it seems in the end it's whatever gets agreed upon between the two sides.

Being upfront about what you want

Due to all of this variance, I'm persuaded from what I have seen that from the publishing side what you really need to do is be upfront about the scope of your project and then let the artist respond. Say what you're budget is for the work you want and the kind of rights you desire and then let the artist do their own calculations on what they see is doable. The key thing though is to get all of this in writing upfront so that if a dispute arises down the road everyone is clear on what is expected.

Questions

Are there other good forums on the webs to find artists and broadcast open calls?

Any general advice people have on buying art for RPGs?

Are there boilerplate contracts that people are willing to share that they use with this whole process?

What kind of file formats should you be expecting from an artist to ensure quality printing?

Are there pitfalls that I haven't anticipated that ought to be?
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Anthony Friedman
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echoota wrote:
Are there other good forums on the webs to find artists and broadcast open calls?
http://jobs.conceptart.org/

You can post contract jobs (less than $500/$500+) or even seek collaborative or volunteer work.
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Eloy Lasanta
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Quote:
Are there other good forums on the webs to find artists and broadcast open calls?


I don't go to a lot of forums looking for art, though I have hit up the freelance area of rpg.net once or twice. My main place is deviantart.com. You get bombarded with different styles and artists and it's a great site. Then, if you see something you like, just contact the artist directly. Some will say yes and some will say no, but I often go there just to get inspiration.

Quote:
Any general advice people have on buying art for RPGs?


Be upfront with your compensation. Don't insult the artist either. Some will jump at the chance to work with you, others will pass if they don't get enough money. Everyone has an idea of how much their art is worth monetarily, so be respectful of that.

Quote:
Are there boilerplate contracts that people are willing to share that they use with this whole process?


I use a pretty standard contract that gives me ownership of the art in question, since it depicts my world and my characters. At the same time, I give the artist permission to use it in portfolio and sell prints at cons if they have interest. I own it officially, but it is still part of their body of work.

Quote:
What kind of file formats should you be expecting from an artist to ensure quality printing?


I usually go with them submitting TIFFs at least 300 dpi. When putting them into InDesign, I often end up changing them to PNG files, but I want to be the one to make the change.

Quote:
Are there pitfalls that I haven't anticipated that ought to be?


I usually try to throw a "let's see what we get out of working together" practice piece at an artist before i throw a bunch of work at them. If we work well, then its worth it. If not, you've only lost the cost of one commission.

Hope any of that helped!

-Eloy
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Yes, art is vital, and that's why we broke down and actually paid an artist for the reprint of Starship Command.

As to finding artists, we did it through here! (well, the board game side). We also used our contacts via the Strategicon game conventions.

As to cost, your numbers look in the ballpark. Just realize an RPG needs a lot of art! So does a card game! It's all negotiable. As to how much to get, your call. I've never put together a serious RPG book (I've done a few non-serious ones though).

Licensing: Up to you. In general, get the rights to use the art in conjunction with the publication you're going to use it in for all purposes. Beyond that, it's up to you and the artist. In general, the more the artist can do with the art, the less it will cost you.

Format: TIF. Something non lossy. You may not use them in the publication that way, but all the original files should start that way. Gives you more options.
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echoota wrote:


Where to find artists?


Three other places to look for artists are your RPG books, conventions and other designers.

Look through your RPG books to find art that conveys the tone or style of what you're looking for. Determine who the artist is. Granted, that's not always easy. Contact the artist. See if they're interested in more work.

A lot of artists who like working in the RPG market frequent conventions. Head to conventions and see who has booths. Talk to them. I've had the most luck finding artists at comic book conventions. Imagine that.

Talk to other designers to see if there are artists they can recommend. There's a big difference between getting tons of artists responding to an open call and having one person say, "this artist is really good and they hit their deadlines. You don't need to worry about them holding up your project."


echoota wrote:

How much does art cost?


You're pretty much spot on with your prices. But one other thing to consider is asking an artist if he'll cut you a break on the price if you commission more than one piece. He might tell you that he'll do the cover for $300. But if you tell him you also need interior art, he might do the cover and two pieces of interior art for $300. It never hurts to ask.

echoota wrote:

How much art to get?


You need cover and back cover art. I've always used the guideline of a 1/4 page image every ~2500 words and a 1/2 page every ~7,000 words. However, the big determining factor will be your budget. I'd get the best art you can for your budget instead of lesser quality art just because you can get more of it.

echoota wrote:

What about licenses?


That's going to vary from artist to artist. Many artists do "work for hire" which means the publisher owns the rights to the artwork when it's all said and done. However, the RPG industry being such a small niche business, most publishers turn a blind eye to artists capitalizing on the art work. It wouldn't be worth the cost or bad press to enforce the letter of the contract.


echoota wrote:

Being upfront about what you want


Yes. Be upfront. Tell the artist everything salient and let them decide. Then get everything in writing. For the most part, you probably won't enforce the contract if things go south, but just the mere presence of a contract can help everybody fell they're operating from a level playing field.

echoota wrote:

Are there other good forums on the webs to find artists and broadcast open calls?


See above.

echoota wrote:

Any general advice people have on buying art for RPGs?


Be honest about your needs and deadlines. Remember that artists are people too and that in reality you're working together, not in a boss/employee construct. I like to pay an artist on acceptance versus on publication. It keeps them motivated.

echoota wrote:

Are there boilerplate contracts that people are willing to share that they use with this whole process?


I've never seen a boiler plate contract. If I can dig up a contract I'll pass it along.

echoota wrote:

What kind of file formats should you be expecting from an artist to ensure quality printing?


I prefer .TIFF

echoota wrote:

Are there pitfalls that I haven't anticipated that ought to be?


Remember that artists are people and sometimes an artist will quit a project before it's over. This isn't directed at artists specifically. I've seen writers, editors, proof readers, and play testers all disappear with no word, regardless of the presence of a contract or not. Always have a backup artist in mind.

Remember that if you have an artist do a lot of the work for a single book, they will be setting the visual tone for a book. If you do a follow-up book, try to have the same artist do the art for that book so you can maintain the visual feel for what is now not just a book, but a line.
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If there's a webcomic out there that matches the style you want, you could always reach out to those creators. I'm sure many would be interested to be involved in a 'paid gig', as it were.
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I can't believe that I forgot to mention this, but if you're doing a sci-fi game, check out NASA's picture archives. Being images taken by a government agency, they're copyright free.

If you're doing a modern day game, check out other government agencies, including the branches of the military for photos.
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echoota wrote:
Another angle is to go with stock art. Zip over to DrivethruRPG and you'll find plenty of stock art albums for sale, and the prices are far far less than for commissioned pieces. I also found illodeli.com which specializes in one time use stock art licenses.

Stock art is often very recognizable, especially by those who buy a lot of RPGs. I'd hesitate in using it for a Kickstarter, especially if you talk about wanting to raise money to cover the art.

Quote:
Any general advice people have on buying art for RPGs?

Do not buy any art until you are done with the writing and are ready to layout the book - you're very likely to discover you've changed your idea of what you want or what you need during layout and it's really easy to waste a lot of money on art this way.

Quote:
What kind of file formats should you be expecting from an artist to ensure quality printing?

TIFF is probably best but they're huge files and usually overkill. JPEG works fine as long as the original settings were 300 dpi and set to maximum quality.
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cjbowser wrote:
Be honest about your needs and deadlines. Remember that artists are people too and that in reality you're working together, not in a boss/employee construct. I like to pay an artist on acceptance versus on publication. It keeps them motivated.


That's a good point and one of the questions I forgot to include in the OP.

So what does acceptance mean?

What generally is the process of payment and when it happens? Is there an advance? Do you wait until the piece is complete?
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Quote:
So what does acceptance mean?


Paying the artist once you receive finished art, as opposed to after publication (which could be months).

Quote:
What generally is the process of payment and when it happens? Is there an advance? Do you wait until the piece is complete?


I have only met one artist that wasn't set up to take a paypal payment. Paypal is a publishers friend until something better comes along.

-Eloy
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cjbowser wrote:
I can't believe that I forgot to mention this, but if you're doing a sci-fi game, check out NASA's picture archives. Being images taken by a government agency, they're copyright free.

I would be careful with this - many of the photos in the NASA archives are in fact copyrighted, though all are clearly labeled as such and so it's easy to avoid those as long as you pay attention to the photo captions.
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echoota wrote:
Where to find artists?

What, you didn't see
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? She's standing right over there, dude. How could you miss her?



As a feature request posing as a more general answer to the question, it would be nice to be able to have some kind of query where you could look up Artists and limit to only those who are also users of RPGGeek. I can't think of any way to do that off-hand, but it could be a quick way to contact an artist.
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This is all incredibly useful information, and I'd like to thank everyone who has responded so far (and the OP, of course).

I'm in the same boat as the OP right now; I have a project that is nearly finished in terms of writing and I am ready to start considering my Kickstarter options, but art is my biggest hang-up at this point. These are all questions that I've had myself in recent weeks, so I find this post quite timely.

While most of my questions have been answered already, I did want to ask:

When working with multiple artists, what is the best way to ensure an even feel throughout the product? Do you asign one artist to weapons, one artist to humanoids, one artist to environment, etc.?
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Chad Bowser
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Munkwunk wrote:


When working with multiple artists, what is the best way to ensure an even feel throughout the product? Do you asign one artist to weapons, one artist to humanoids, one artist to environment, etc.?


I generally have one artist do most of the work (75%+) and the other artists do the remainder. I've found that having one artist have a piece in all the major sections works well enough to create a consistent tone.
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skalchemist wrote:
As a feature request posing as a more general answer to the question, it would be nice to be able to have some kind of query where you could look up Artists and limit to only those who are also users of RPGGeek. I can't think of any way to do that off-hand, but it could be a quick way to contact an artist.
There's at least a partial way to do so.

Just look up all the owners of this microbadge mb. They will only be users and only be RPG artists.
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cjbowser wrote:
Munkwunk wrote:


When working with multiple artists, what is the best way to ensure an even feel throughout the product? Do you asign one artist to weapons, one artist to humanoids, one artist to environment, etc.?


I generally have one artist do most of the work (75%+) and the other artists do the remainder. I've found that having one artist have a piece in all the major sections works well enough to create a consistent tone.


Depending on the nature of your project, you can assign a different artist to each section. For example, each mythos in Deities & Demigods featured a different artist.

If it's not something that can be easily broken down that way, I'd go for what Chad mentioned above and lean heavily towards one artist to help provide consistency.
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skalchemist wrote:
echoota wrote:
Where to find artists?

What, you didn't see
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? She's standing right over there, dude. How could you miss her?



As a feature request posing as a more general answer to the question, it would be nice to be able to have some kind of query where you could look up Artists and limit to only those who are also users of RPGGeek. I can't think of any way to do that off-hand, but it could be a quick way to contact an artist.


I shyly de-lurk to say THANK YOU! RPG artist loves RPG art gigs!
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Hire Melissa! I do every opportunity I get! She's was my lead artist on Part-Time Gods http://www.thirdeyegames.net/part-time-gods and is the only artist I have on Mermaid Adventures http://kck.st/zDOhIg.

If I can get one artist to do a whole project, then that's wonderful, but I usually work in timeframes that make it hard for one person to pull off in a timely manner. So, I have a stable of artists that I evenly distribute. How do I ensure the same feel throughout the book? I only put artists on the book that can do that feel. Never feel ashamed to say "your style just doesn't fit this idea, but maybe the next one".

-Eloy
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One thing that I was thinking of doing was to invest a higher amount in cover art and then as a higher Kickstarter reward, say at least $100, perhaps more, that the backer would get a signed (maybe numbered) print of the cover art.

In general how responsive would artists be to that as part of the commission? Something like, "I'd like a fantastic cover, something worthy of framing, and so there would be the fee, but also this Kickstarter reward where for each print you'd get an additional $x."
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echoota wrote:
One thing that I was thinking of doing was to invest a higher amount in cover art and then as a higher Kickstarter reward, say at least $100, perhaps more, that the backer would get a signed (maybe numbered) print of the cover art.

In general how responsive would artists be to that as part of the commission? Something like, "I'd like a fantastic cover, something worthy of framing, and so there would be the fee, but also this Kickstarter reward where for each print you'd get an additional $x."

A lot of this may depend on the license you get from the artist (and whether you're offering a percentage of profit as payment).

For example, if the artist gives you full rights to the art, then you can reuse it as many times as you want (as a cover, as a print, as a bath towel). If the artist gives you limited rights (perhaps limited in scope to its original use), then you'd have to negotiate a new contract/license to use the art as a print.
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Stix_Remix wrote:
echoota wrote:
One thing that I was thinking of doing was to invest a higher amount in cover art and then as a higher Kickstarter reward, say at least $100, perhaps more, that the backer would get a signed (maybe numbered) print of the cover art.

In general how responsive would artists be to that as part of the commission? Something like, "I'd like a fantastic cover, something worthy of framing, and so there would be the fee, but also this Kickstarter reward where for each print you'd get an additional $x."

A lot of this may depend on the license you get from the artist (and whether you're offering a percentage of profit as payment).

For example, if the artist gives you full rights to the art, then you can reuse it as many times as you want (as a cover, as a print, as a bath towel). If the artist gives you limited rights (perhaps limited in scope to its original use), then you'd have to negotiate a new contract/license to use the art as a print.


Yes, to all of the above. It all depends on the artist, and the contract you work out with that artist. Some will go for profit-sharing, but most professionals will not, preferring contractually agreed-upon payment rather than speculative royalties. And then, as Stix said, there's the licensing to consider. If you want to use the artwork for t-shirts, prints, bath towels, or whatnot, be sure to spell that out in the contract. The artist will likely say yes, as long as you both explicitly agree up front.

A lot depends on the artist's personal experiences within the industry-- some have been burned by nonpayment, and often artists will ask for half their fee up front as earnest money, especially if they don't know you. I have been very lucky in that I have worked with awesome people who have always paid, so I am sometimes less cautious than is strictly advisable for me to be. As Eloy stated above, he has a policy of payment upon delivery of final artwork, and that is fine with me and his other artists, because he has a great reputation within the industry as being A Stand-Up Guy Who Pays. I never ask Eloy for money up front, because I know I don't need to. Once you get a rep for paying on time, your cred with artists will rise accordingly. But strictly speaking, an artist who is looking out for their interests properly will ask for a portion up front if they've never worked with you before.


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First Oni wrote:
Hire Melissa! I do every opportunity I get! She's was my lead artist on Part-Time Gods http://www.thirdeyegames.net/part-time-gods and is the only artist I have on Mermaid Adventures http://kck.st/zDOhIg.

If I can get one artist to do a whole project, then that's wonderful, but I usually work in timeframes that make it hard for one person to pull off in a timely manner. So, I have a stable of artists that I evenly distribute. How do I ensure the same feel throughout the book? I only put artists on the book that can do that feel. Never feel ashamed to say "your style just doesn't fit this idea, but maybe the next one".

-Eloy


Hee!!! You rule.
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Another technical question about cover art...

The layout of cover art can be, at least in the past, a bit different because usually the art or other graphics are going right to the edge the paper being printed. Because of this traditionally you have a "bleed" area of the art which extends the piece beyond where the page will be cut, thus ensuring a nice clean graphic edge.

I'm wondering if anything is different in this day of POD? If I'm commissioning cover art and the artist asks for the dimensions, should I be saying 8.5x11 inches, or should I be saying something like 9x11.5 inches and ask that the outer margin not be heavily detailed?
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Melissa Gay
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echoota wrote:
Another technical question about cover art...

The layout of cover art can be, at least in the past, a bit different because usually the art or other graphics are going right to the edge the paper being printed. Because of this traditionally you have a "bleed" area of the art which extends the piece beyond where the page will be cut, thus ensuring a nice clean graphic edge.

I'm wondering if anything is different in this day of POD? If I'm commissioning cover art and the artist asks for the dimensions, should I be saying 8.5x11 inches, or should I be saying something like 9x11.5 inches and ask that the outer margin not be heavily detailed?


Most artists nowadays know about bleed, but I would say be sure to ask your POD people what their bleed requirements are and then give that to the artist specifically.
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Hal Greenberg
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There is a lot of good information in here, as a former art director really read what everyone is saying.

Some artists you will need to pay on acceptance some will let you do 90 days etc. Prices for art are spot on, as for how many to use etc....I like a mix of artists but tended to stick to realistic work (not anime, unless the book needed it) and I liked to give people a collection of work, all evil monsters, all NPC's humanoid so there was a familiar feel, looking at your books is a nice way, back when I did it i did go to deviant and looked and looked and looked. if nothing else looking at deviant will give you an idea of what style you are looking for. Also a word of advice, ask artists, even famous ones, because you may be shocked at what the answer may be.

How did I get Todd Lockwood to do an interior piece for me on our first piece years ago...asked. Now I am happy to say we still talk at times and even tried to work on something this year but he is too backed up. You will always get a no if you never ask.

Cover art: Also do not forget to tell the artist where you need space for the title, logos etc.....if you have them done email them a low rez copy so they have an idea of how big it is.

One thing I always try to do for my artists and writers, give them enough direction to succeed but enough room to embrace the piece and make it their own, the more room they have to be creative the more likely you will get a great piece.

Take care and good luck.
Hal
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