The art of commissioning
Artful commissioning is often the secret behind great art. Creative Director Victoria Talbot reveals how she commissions top illustrators to create delve’s beautiful weekly movie artworks.
In January, we launched a new weekly newsletter called delve. Its mission? To show people how movies can enrich your life, inspiring you to go to the cinema and then discover the world.
So when we decided to commission a weekly artwork to celebrate each of delve’s film recommendations, we knew we had to delve deeper than an alternative poster rework or straight-up character portrait.
Our inspiration came from the rich, beautiful Polish and Czech movie posters that began emerging in the 1940s. These stunning pieces of art captured the essence of a film without resorting to floating heads or film stills.
Of course, we knew it be challenging to deliver a striking piece of art every week - on top of our regular studio workload - so a carefully thought-out commissioning process was essential.
Creative thinking: idea first, artist second
Much like Poland’s bygone poster artists, we’re rarely able to see the film before we commission the art. Instead, we learn as much as we can from the trailer, stills and synopsis.
What are the driving themes of the story? What are the most powerful visual cues? What overarching colours or tones can we see?
We brainstorm these insights, carefully exploring them until we hit on a strongly expressive visual concept. Everything is built on this defining idea - reaching it is a demanding but hugely exciting part of the process.
We keep the following points firmly in the front of our minds:
- Does the idea truly capture the film's essence?
- Does the idea engage with the film's bigger themes?
- Is the idea visually arresting?
- Would someone want to have it on their wall?
Where art thou? The artist search
This idea-first approach is vital, both to creating great art and to keeping delve’s commissions running smoothly from week to week. Armed with our concept, we can now consider which artists have a signature style that could capture it successfully.
When I’m looking for illustrators, I go to one or more of the following sources:
- HAA’s creative team. Our creatives all have varied backgrounds and interests, and it’s great to be able to draw upon a mine of specific illustration style or film genre knowledge.
- Illustration agencies. Looking through the curated artist selections on agencies’ books can be a great eye-opener and time-saver. We have longstanding relationships with many agencies, and have already collaborated with EW Agency, MP Arts and Handsome Frank for delve.
- Pinterest, Behance and blogs. I keep track of any illustration picks with a Pinterest board, sorting my references with visual thumbnails. Behance’s discipline-specific filtering also really helps narrow down the search and I keep up with top illustration blog picks via the illustration/artwork threads on titles like It’s Nice That and grain edit.
- Exhibits and applications. Artists regularly get in touch to introduce their work to us – and we do look at them! We often visit shows in person to seek out new talent too. Graduate shows like New Blood can be a fantastic opportunity to hunt out fresh new creatives. I met Charlie Lewis, our artist for Love is Strange, at a New Blood portfolio workshop.
Not only does this help us put forward a selection of artists, but it can also lead us in surprising directions. Take, for example, Harriet Lee-Merrion’s artwork for ominous horror flick It Follows: while horror films are often shrouded in foreboding darkness, her inventive use of shadow against a light backdrop created a spine-chilling image using an entirely different visual language.
Clear communication: the commission
With any commission, clarity is the key. Misunderstandings can be costly, especially when the clock is ticking. When commissioning an artist, we work to the following guidelines:
1. Key information set out in clear subheads and bullet-points:
- Detailed notes on our desired creative approach (this is the deliverable)
- Double deadline (we like to set two: one for an interim rough and the second for the final artwork)
- File spec (dimensions, colour space, file type)
- Reference materials (film stills, trailer, synopsis)
2. Artist visuals:
- We often include examples of the artist’s work that struck a chord with us, bullet-pointing exactly what we liked and how we might like to see it used in the delve brief.
3. Concept comp:
- We might also include a very roughly comped concept visual for the artist to reference, but this varies from brief to brief.
Feedback, revision and finishing touches
After receiving a first draft from the illustrator, we give detailed feedback and usually arrive at a finished version via a couple more revisions. We work hard to navigate the artwork through small subtleties that always make a giant difference, ensuring it’s a piece of work that truly engages with and expresses the themes of film.
This stage of the commission can be sometimes be tricky, but the end result is always incredibly rewarding.
Once the artwork has been finalised, all that remains is to flow it into delve’s various weekly deliverables - the newsletter and the gallery - and create sharable versions for delve’s social platforms such as Instagram.
We’d love to know what you think!