Sunshine's Simon Holmes and illustrator Eve Lloyd-Knight drew on their experiences of working together to spotlight the best practices for commissioning illustration

Illustration is a seductive medium, which offers a powerful, emotive way to communicate. Practically, it can be more straightforward to organise than photography, and offers an abundance of talent with which to work. However, it can also be a difficult medium to get right: finding the right artist, convincing clients of their relevance, nailing the briefing process, giving clear feedback and then applying it across a variety of formats. They're all pitfalls on the way to a perfect ending.

As part of a series of events that seeks to draw learnings from past projects and successful partnerships, we invited Simon Holmes, Head of Art at creative agency Sunshine, and illustrator Eve Lloyd-Knight to join us in the Library on the evening of 20th September. Simon and Eve have both worked on a number of big illustrative projects, and collaborated on the recently completed Lifetime Movies campaign. On the night they shared examples of their work with us – explaining what went well, what didn't, and what they'd do differently next time – before opening the floor to those who came along. 

Here’s what we learned.

To kick things off Simon and Eve told us a little bit about themselves. Simon described Sunshine as an agency that seeks to help brands engage with their audiences in the modern media landscape, eschewing traditional models that rely heavily on advertising. After graduating from Kingston Eve set out to be an illustrator, but changed her mind to become a graphic designer; but it was being a graphic designer that eventually led Eve back to illustration. Unlikely paths was a common theme to the evening, with Simon and Eve giving insights that went against many assumptions made about commissioning creative work.

Honing in

Simon and Eve spent the main part of the evening discussing one project they had collaborated on to give a better idea of the ins and outs in commissioning illustration more generally, from the pitch straight through to refining the finished piece.

Sunshine was approached by Lifetime, an American lifestyle channel owned by A&E Networks, to help them make a coherent world out of their channels under the Lifetime brand. A big part of the brand is Lifetime Movies – made for television movies aimed at women that have gained a cult following in the States, not only for giving a platform for upcoming stars and scriptwriters but also for their often cheesy and irreverent titles. Notable films in Lifetime Movie’s rota include My Stepson, My Lover, Fifteen and Pregnant, Blue-Eyed Butcher and Stranger in My Bed. “Lifetime movies is renowned for being terrible,” says Simon, “but being terrible in a really brilliant way”.

But alongside these films, Lifetime is also a serious channel in its own right “made by women, for women,” having notably secured the viewing rights for National Women’s Soccer League. The challenge was how to bring Lifetime Movies back into the wider Lifetime fold.

Choosing illustrators

Simon’s first point of reference for Lifetime Movies was the promotional posters made for the films, which often felt too disjointed, not only from the Lifetime brand, but also each other. He wanted to redesign these posters and commission a new set of original illustrations to create a coherent visual language and a sense that these films belonged to something bigger.

The biggest question to arise from this was: how do you find the right illustrators to commission? For Simon it often falls down to luck more than we like to think: a combination of the right time and place, clicking on the right result that comes up on Google.

The feedback process

After commissioning Eve to illustrate one of the posters, a back-and-forth discussion with Lifetime Movies ensued and several versions of the illustration drawn up. Often the feedback to each version was direct and, when not rejected outright, involved minute changes to her work, but Eve was quick to emphasise that this kind of feedback was by no means a bad thing. “Instead of getting feedback that’s a bit watery, why don’t you just say it’s rubbish?” It’s when clients withhold what they really think about the work that leads to problems later on, and a lot of wasted time.

Simon asked Eve if she often gets direct input from her clients, as from his own experiences he finds “the people with power, especially those who come from a marketing instead of creative background, often look at things in a very different way. They can sometimes push the creative work to a point that makes it feel disjointed to the original purity of the project”.

Eve replied that it’s normally half and half, but how much she accepts these ideas depends on the level of give and take. If the client is not paying a lot for the project, it’s important for Eve to be given greater creative control over it to compensate. “Otherwise, if I can’t make something I’d want in my portfolio, there’s nothing in it for me”.

Money matters

Easing into the discussion of money, Simon and Eve spoke in a refreshingly candid manner about how much they charge and why – subjects often thought as taboo within the creative industry. Often, the agreed fee for an illustration revolves around usage and how much a brand wants ownership over it.

Although Lifetimes Movies have a small social media presence, they paid Eve a high price for her work to enable them to use it as they see fit. Simon noted that, even though an illustration commissioned for a national newspaper like The Observer could reach potentially millions of people, the fee for it would be lower as it would come under ‘editorial’ costs. Exposure plays a surprisingly smaller influence in gauging what price is right.

Keeping things fresh

The biggest theme in the closing discussion was how to keep things fresh, which Simon and Eve both agreed is the biggest challenge when commissioning new work. As the Internet has taken over a greater share of our time, our exposure to creative work has narrowed to a key number of websites like Pinterest and It’s Nice That. “That power of curation is probably one of the most dangerous things that we have,” says Simon. "There’s a large number of ideas you see around that are so similar because so many agencies, so many people are looking at the same sources. It’s a fight to keep things fresh. The Internet is great, but it’s no library, it’s no music shop."

If anything, Simon and Eve show that to keep things fresh can be more a state of mind than finding the right sources: by being open to change, by being open minded, and above all by allowing ourselves to make the most of good luck.

Photography is by Sam Bush

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