Educating Your Clients About the Creative Process


Throughout your Illustration career, it is likely that you will be contracted by clients who have never worked with a creative professional before. Therefore it is important to be able to shed some light on the creative process. In fact, even when working with those who know how to work with an Illustrator, it is a valuable practice to educate them about your own personal process. As stated in the introduction, it always helps when everyone knows what is expected of them, as well as how the project might unfold.

How Do You Describe Your Creative Process?

A great way to do this right off the bat is at the point of your initial contact, which is often through your portfolio website. For more about this, read my article on the importance of including a Process page on your site.

In addition to this, I find value in outlining my approach when I first speak with them on the phone or via email. This lays the groundwork for the project and helps to instill confidence in the clients who are less familiar with how to proceed. Naturally, your personal style will dictate the way you tackle a given project, but in general it helps to explain such things as how you will gather information and produce concept art, as well as how your client might approach the revision process.

As a further measure, I like to reinforce this knowledge at each stage or milestone to make sure everyone stays on the same page.

Explaining Concept Art

In the beginning stages of a project, most Illustrators produce conceptual sketches that far from resemble the finished product, and this can be difficult for some clients to comprehend. After all, they’re paying you for something that doesn’t yet exist, and the quality of concept art is generally inferior to what they will eventually receive.

Therefore, it’s important to explain the way that they should look at the first work that you produce. Try to encourage them to look at the basic ideas that are being represented in the drawings, instead of the level of detail or rendering of form (or lack thereof). You may find yourself holding their hand much more through this stage, but doing your best to make your intentions clear from the start, and reminding them that the quality of work that they hired you for is still just around the corner, will help them to take the leap of faith necessary to see the bigger picture.

When you make the effort to educate your clients about the ways to interpret the initial concept art, you will decrease the amount of frustration that comes from an unsatisfactory response, or a request to improve small details in particular parts of the drawing that aren’t ready for that level of attention.

One way to get this point across might be to show the progressing stages from a previous project. This can help your client to see how your ideas develop over time, eventually surfacing as a compelling work of art.

Paving the Road

I encourage you to consider doing this extra work early on, as it will help your client to understand you and communicate with you about their needs. Anything you do to smooth the road ahead can be seen as an investment in a successful outcome that exceeds the expectations of your clients and makes your job more rewarding along the way.

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Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at
Thomas James

Posted by Thomas James on 11/02/15 under business
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