As I waited to hear back from agents, I strongly considered the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to have an agent fall in love with your story, and, plain and simple, I may end up with zero offers of representation. Because of this, self-publishing my story was always an option. I strongly feel that if you (the author) do the things for your book that a traditional publisher will do if they signed you, as in hiring professionals to edit, format, design / illustrate your cover, and market your book, then self-publishing can be an equally satisfying route for your work. And, knowing these things can take time, I didn’t hesitate to get started.
So, after researching several illustrators that seemed to match what I was looking for, I came across the wonderful and remarkably talented Kim Herbst. Her portfolio blew me away! She had illustrations of video game and movie characters, famous athletes, previous works on other book covers / album covers / magazine covers, and a variety of fantasy-based artwork. I had no doubt that, if she was available, this was the artist that could create the illustration that would not only bring the imagery of my story to life but capture the eyes of potential readers. And so we began discussing my project.
Needless to say, I had a wonderful experience working with Kim. She has such a unique style and, when combined with her skill and creativity, the sky isn’t the limit. It’s only the baseline.
*As many of you know, I recently signed with literary agent Cyle Young. My book is currently being reviewed by publishers and, if one of them makes an offer, I most likely won’t have too much say over the cover. Thus, Kim’s beautiful illustration of the dragon and boy may remain a personal token that I get to share with all of you.
A little bit about Kim Herbst and her clients
Kim Herbst is a freelance illustrator located in San Francisco, CA. She spent time living in Taipei, Tokyo, New Jersey, Baltimore, and Brooklyn.
She attended the Maryland Institute College of Art and graduated with a BFA in Illustration.
She contracts with Kongregate for mobile games and shares a studio with her husband and a cat named Pixel, even though she’s allergic to cats.
Kim’s work has been featured in magazines, album covers, gallery shows, and children’s educational books. She’d love to collaborate with you on a new project! Contact her via kmh [at ] kimherbst.com
Google, National Geographic, BOOM! Studios Comics, Colorado Springs Independent, Willamette Week, Karmin, Isthmus, Flaunt Magazine, Rhode Island Monthly Magazine, Oxford University Press, Games TM Magazine, SciFi Now Magazine, Pearson Publishing, Boston’s Weekly Dig, Bitch Magazine, Scholastic, Digital Artist Magazine
Below is the short interview I had with Kim. Though she’s an artist and I’m a writer, there’re numerous parallels between the two fields. After all, creating is an artform in itself!
1. What information should a potential client have at the ready before contacting you? Anything specific for book cover illustrations?
Illustrators love authors that have done their research on hiring an illustrator! If someone is contacting me, the usual bases to cover are: What is your project? Summarize your needs succinctly to try to get the illustrator interested in the project (say it’s a fantasy story, or sci-fi, etc etc). If you know your budget, give a rough estimate so the illustrator can see if it works within their rates or afford to take on the project. If an author has no idea what budget to pay, Hire An Illustrator had a blog post a few years back specifically for Children’s Book illustrations (think, 32 pages of colored illustrations). https://www.hireanillustrator.com/i/blog/1033/hiring-a-childrens-book-illustrator/ that can give a good idea. The Graphic Artist’s Guild Pricing & Ethical Guidelines book also gives good brackets for how much to pay illustrators. You can also ask the illustrator what their rates are, so long as you provide them with more information such as, if you’re working with a publisher or self-publishing. If you plan to give the illustrator royalties, if the illustrator will retain the rights to the image or hand over the rights to the publisher/author. Another great piece of information is if the author has a specific deadline in mind. Illustrators need to know if they can fit a new project into their schedule; I always want to make sure I can personally give my full attention to someone’s project, and ensure that my illustration is of great quality to the client. So in short: what is the project, if you’re working with a publisher or self publishing (for books), what’s your budget, and what’s your deadline.
2. When creating art for someone else’s vision, what is your process for generating ideas and inspiration? Do you prefer a very strict visual guideline from your client, or do like it when he or she leaves room for your creativity?
Room for creativity is always great! It’s quite hard to work in very strict guidelines – unfortunately I don’t have the technology to simply read someone’s mind and see precisely what someone else wants me to draw, so we really have to meet somewhere in the middle. Usually someone seeks out an illustrator because the client enjoys the particular style they’ve found in the illustrator’s portfolio. What you see in the illustrator’s portfolio should be what you expect to receive as a final product. It’s never a good sign if someone contacts an illustrator, who works in dark, gritty black and white line work with adult themes, to produce a very rendered, painterly, poppy-colorful children’s illustration. The illustrator won’t be comfortable working in such a distinctly different style, and it’s odd that the client would contact them for such an ill-fitting job. There are plenty of illustrators out there, and finding the right one is like finding a piece of clothing that fits you and your sense of fashion. When starting a project, I personally ask the client what sort of emotion or look/feel they’re attempting to evoke in their project. After hearing a project’s summary I ask for 3-5 descriptive words to get the big picture: Is it supposed to be Dark? Whimsical? Exciting? Hopeful? Despondent? I’ll also ask who the audience is, who would this book or article be aimed towards? And from there, I can get a good idea and start gathering references, researching, and then create layouts and composition sketches.
3. Assuming life doesn’t get in the way, typically how long does it take to finish an illustration for a client?
This can really vary! It all depends on what’s being asked for in the illustration. Drawing a single individual will take less time than say, filling an entire area with origami cranes or flowers. I know some colleagues that will get a phone call from a newspaper like the New York Times at 1pm, and they need to hand off a final illustration by 6pm the same day – it’s super intense. For things like articles and book covers, if I’m not working on anything else, and completely dedicated to the one project, it can be finished within a couple days. Also depending on how many revisions the client would like, this can bring the illustration time up to a week or more if the client isn’t happy with the direction. I like to try and nail the direction and details as early on as possible though.
4. What would you consider to be a “Dream Project” for you? Consider nothing out-of-bounds!
Honestly, simply being asked to draw in my specific style for projects was always a dream of mine! Maybe being asked to do a Google Doodle?? Or more published work in magazines in general. A giant, personal dream project keeps being put on the back burner, but I’d love to finish a slice-of-life graphic novel I’ve re-written abut 8x. Finally started on a few pages of that, and would love to continue work on it!
5. Over the course of your career, what are some of the projects that stand out in your mind?
One of the first big clients I worked with about a decade ago was Oxford University Press – it stands out to me because I wanted to do my very best, and had to accurately portray historical pirates, had to research actual pirates, their ships, their attire etc. I made them with cutlasses and revolvers because that’s what they had at the time, but ended up having to completely cut the weapons out because it was for young children. I kept thinking, if it’s supposed to be historically accurate, why would we censor the weapons pirates had?! They’re pirates! There was one image where a pirate had to walk the plank, and initially I’d had a knife being pointed at the man being forced to walk. Since the weapons were all cut out, the pirates threatening him were then changed to all be laughing and pointing at the poor guy. I somehow felt that imagery was even worse!
6. What are you working on currently?
A lot of my day is currently eaten up by a full-time job working for video games publisher, Kongregate, in San Francisco. I work as a Senior Artist, helping out on a variety of games in a variety of styles, from licensed characters, to pixel animations, and everything in between. I love it because I’m endlessly learning new techniques which I can bring back into my personal style. But on the freelance side, I’m currently working on an exciting poster series with a giant tech company, which I’m unfortunately not allowed to talk about just yet. Between all of that, I love working on personal illustrations to pass the time, just to get the creative juices flowing!
7. What is the biggest piece of advice you can share with aspiring artists?
If one decides to pursue a career in the creative field, rely on discipline over talent. It’s so easy to fall prey to the words of ‘you’re so talented,’ and you become complacent. I wasted a bunch of my early years believing I didn’t need to practice drawing, or working as hard at my craft because of the siren-song ‘you’re really talented!’ (and saying the dreaded cliché, “well that’s just my style!” when I received harsh criticism over things like funky anatomy). It’s motivation, but motivation is fickle and fleeting. As an illustrator, I can’t rely on motivation to get a job done. There are deadlines and edits to be made, and discipline steps up to the plate every time. Discipline gets you to sit down and crank out multiple concept sketches and layouts, even when you really, really don’t want to do it. Discipline is practicing your craft, even when you’re not currently at your job in the creative field. Drawing isn’t akin to riding a bicycle, it’s more like learning an instrument. If you stop drawing for awhile, you don’t just instantly pick it up again, you have to keep it up! Every. Day.
To find out more about Kim, her work, and to how best she can assist with your illustration needs, check out her website at http://www.kimherbst.com
Be sure to follow her on social media!