Every t-shirt design begins with an artist. Perhaps you have an internal art team, or you decide to bring on a freelancer. Maybe you have the opportunity to partner with a professional artist in the field. No matter, there are some good practices to make the process go smoother, and your designs better. Today we speak with Mitch Heiman, who has worked with a variety of artists throughout his career and shares some tips when it comes to working with artists.
Some universal advice
“Whether you’re working with an in-house artist, freelance or professional, communication is key,” Mitch says, “the more information, the better!” For him, one of the most important things is making sure you’re both on the same page. Discuss who you plan to target with the design, the number of inks and screens you expect to be using, along with garment styles and colors. When it comes to the artwork itself, Mitch emphasizes making sure you’re in agreement on what the key elements of the art should be, and the style. And of course, one of the most important pieces of information to have formalized with your artist: the timeline and due date.
When working with your own in-house artist(s), it’s important to be sensitive to their creative vision and intentions to build better relationships. “If revisions are needed, be mindful with how you approach the artist. Be sure that you aren’t just picking apart their work; it’s good to give the specific reasoning behind [why you need] the revisions,” Mitch advises. Their art is often very thoughtfully put together, so understanding the why behind edits can help constructive criticism land more kindly. Moreover, Mitch recommends that “if time allows, ask for a couple of options. If you like them both, ask the artist what they prefer, which gives them more input with the project.”
With freelance artists, the same principles about clear communication and sensitivity also apply, but there’s an added challenge of them being outside your business. Since freelance artists often work on a mixed bag of projects, Mitch strongly recommends confirming they are familiar with the printwear and garment industry before entering a contract: “They need to be able to design graphics for the garment medium, and have a familiarity with screen print or the decoration technique they’re working with.” It may seem obvious, but many artists may want to work with you without really understanding the principles and limitations of garment design and process.
“Also with freelancers,” Mitch adds, “it’s so important to have a clear contract. You need to know a few things. First of all, the payment: is it going to be a flat fee or an hourly rate? Does their rate include revisions, or is that additional? The contract should also include the timeline and due date [allowing for revisions] so you’re both agreed on the length of the project. Make sure you are the exclusive owner of the art you are purchasing, along with how final art files will be formatted. Have something [in there] to cover you for intellectual property right concerns that indemnifies you… at the very least, they should provide some information that shows they’ve done their trademark/copyright infringement research.” Contracts are a bit more delicate when working with external staff, so be sure to have everything in writing to help the process go smoother and face fewer complications.
Partnering with a professional artist
Sometimes, you might get the chance to collaborate with an artist from a different creative field as a client. Whether they are a big name or newly-established, it often takes a bit of extra planning to be able to translate their art onto a garment. “You want to be sure you know what the vision is for their art when you translate it to screen print — not just in the graphics, but also in the [blank] garments,” Mitch tells us, “Once you understand their vision, be very clear on the limitations that might come up and what you can and can’t do.” As Mitch recounts from his own experience, artists from other fields may not be able to achieve in screen print what they’re used to in their preferred medium, such as the same colors or level of detail.
Mitch also recommends producing and showing the artist samples when they’re the client. “You want them to see physical samples they can touch and see. Pre-production samples may add to the timeline, as well as the project cost, so be sure to factor that in!” Although sampling can make the creative process longer, it really helps to achieve a final product both you and the artist will be satisfied with.
All in all, Mitch has thoroughly enjoyed working with artists of all kinds. So whether you’re working with one of your dedicated in-house team or a new artsy client, embrace the experiences and eclectic designs that may spring forth.