Cartoonist vs Graphic Designer
While in school, some studies touch on the elements and principles of graphic design, and much of this training is presented in theory. There is some study in defining or designing for different target audiences. But no training is directly related to target audiences and illustration styles, that knowledge comes from years of practice by a seasoned professional who is a graphic designer AND an illustrator. And from the artists’ efforts to continually collect knowledge through their client’s experiences across a variety of industries.
Most artists that are strictly cartoonists rarely consider the target audience, because they are primarily focused on the illustration itself. It is graphic designers that are taught to consider target audience when designing a marketing piece.
So it stands to reason that if you want a cartoon illustration to use in your business advertising, finding a talented cartoonist or illustrator that is ALSO a great graphic designer is probably your better choice. One way to know is that if you talk with a cartoonist and they don’t ask you questions about how you plan to use the illustration, or more specifically questions about your target audience, they probably know nothing about designing and illustrating in a style that your target audience could relate to.
The main test for any business promotional piece, business advertising, or business mascot is whether the illustration or character helps you reach your marketing goals. And clearly that is influenced by whether or not your target audience relates to your marketing messages and its illustrated delivery.
Compare Apples to Apples
The potential client that I mentioned earlier with the sketchy-drawn cartooned map had asked me and two other cartoonists for an estimate. Now let’s first examine the scene he wanted; drawn in a unique perspective, a hotel in the center with lots of people carrying suitcases around it, a car with people hanging out of the windows and waving, a boat with lots of people holding suitcases and waving, a plane with lots of people hanging out of the windows, a train full of people hanging out of the windows and still more people (some running, some walking, some carrying suitcases) all heading toward the hotel. Whew! I’m exhausted just explaining the amount of things going on in the drawing he wanted.
The two other cartoonists both gave estimates of $200. Did I miss something here? If the two cartoonists could do the entire scene with all the detail mentioned above (sketching, line art, color blocking, and shading) in 4 hours, they would be making a pretty good hourly rate (4 hours at $50/hour = $200). But that was not the case. The potential client was convinced that the two quotes he received from two amateur cartoonists was “the going rate” as he put it.
I mean no disrespect by using that term “amateur” because everyone starts out as an amateur. I remember in my very early career years jumping at a chance to make $200 for my work! Back then it was more about someone valuing my work enough to pay me, not the amount they paid.
Not all cartoonists are created equal. Some cartoonists cannot illustrate in styles other than their own style. And there are some cartoonists that simply do not consider or understand the differences in designing for target audiences. Some cartoonists may not be able to draw ethnicity without being insulting. And some may not be able to draw specific age-related characters. All these skill factors are affected by the amount of study and practice the illustrator has focused on.
So keep in mind when requesting estimates that you are comparing apples to apples. Don’t expect a similar quote from different levels of artists unless they can prove they do similar work. And you have been very specific by showing reference examples for the style and the contents of the illustration you want.
What to Expect from Creative Professionals
The best cartoonists to hire are the ones that can create the cartoon style that works for your business, product or service AND your target audience. Also they should demonstrate a very professional attitude and willingness to accept your critique and feedback.
If they advise you one way and you choose to take a different path, they should accept your choice and do their best with the choices you given them. They can politely reiterate their point of view, but ultimately you are the client and you should be happy with the results.
The artist should be organized and focused. There are artist stereotypes depicted in Hollywood that some people actually believe. If an artist acts wacky, emotional, egotistical, or flamboyant, they must be a talented artist. As an artist, I can state with absolute certainty that these are not traits that define talent.
The bottom line is this; you should NOT expect any LESS professionalism from artists or other creative types than you would expect from a doctor or school teacher. Working in any creative industry is NOT a license for prima donnas, bad behavior, or bad practices!
Copyright vs Rights to Use
Copyrights like drawing styles come in many different forms. To own all rights to the artist’s work, you would need a transfer of copyright if you plan on registering it with the US copyright office. To own all rights to the image usually costs a little more than other possible options.
One option to save money would be for the artist to retain the copyright and give you the rights to use the illustration. Usage rights are usually very specific. They can vary in many different ways; by geographic regions, industries, duration of use, or the type or number of appearances on products, and even online versus print. The usage rights variations depend on what is agreed to by the artist and yourself.
About the Author
Malane Newman is a fulltime freelance graphic designer, illustrator and cartoonist. Her lifelong career spans decades. Prior to starting her graphic design business in 2001, she worked in different art departments as a Lead Illustrator and Lead Graphic Designer. And in later years, as the Visual Communications Director for Accenture Corporation (previously named Andersen Consulting). She has supervised both artist employees and freelance contractors, and has worked with management and project management personnel, and large business and fortune 500 clients. She holds a CA teaching credential and has taught both privately and standup instruction in local Art Schools in cartooning styles among other creative and technical subjects.