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How To Work With Clients And Still Stay True To Your Creative Vision

Last year, writer and critic Samantha Culp drew our attention to a question that had been circulating throughout the art world for quite some time: “What if Nike is the new Medicis?” Initially started as a joke, the question points to the shifting role of brands and corporations in the contemporary art scene. Where once affluent collectors and patrons invested in emerging artists, major companies have since stepped in to foster and fund new talent.

Alexis Taïeb, aka Tyrsa, is one artist who’s helping to reshape the way brands collaborate with creatives. After having made his mark as a graffiti artist, Taïeb launched his career as a freelance typographer, completing ambitious assignments for leading brands. In many ways, he represents a new generation of artists, defined by the ability to cater to individual clients while also staying true to their vision.

A successful brand collaboration doesn’t silence the voice or perspective of the artist; instead, it amplifies it on a massive scale. We asked illustrators, designers, typographers, and mixed media designers from around the world to tell us how they balance their artistic vision with the creative brief at hand. Read on for their top tips for working with brands.

Understand your worth.

“If I could go back in time, I’d learn to ask for more money,” calligrapher and lettering artist Michael Moodie says. “Don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth. Generally, brands will come to you with a budget in mind, and it may not align to the costs associated. If you’re buying supplies, shipping, or hiring external help like a filmmaker, ask for the brand to pay those costs.” If a brand doesn’t see your worth, it’s not worth your time.

Develop a ‘signature.’

If you’re intentional about the work you put out into the world, you’ll attract companies who respect your point of view. “I always give the same advice,” animator Xaviera López says. “Do what you want to do, and do it on your own first. That’s what I did, over and over again, until eventually, I was asked to do it professionally. Usually, brands contact me because they’ve already seen my work online, so my artistic vision is not compromised.”

Ask a lot of questions.

“It’s best to know that you and the client are on the same page when it comes to what they are after in the final artwork,” illustrator Scott Balmer explains. “I know that people may think that asking questions may make the client think they are dumb or something, but it is more to double-check on what needs to be done and what options you may have when putting the artwork together.”

Communicate clearly and frequently.

“I’ve learned that it’s helpful if I guide a client through my process, and remove the mystery behind how my work is developed,” creative director Darren Booth says. “This results in a better experience and collaboration.” Stay in touch throughout the process, and let the client know if you have any questions or concerns. Give them a few options early on, and check in regularly to see if they’d like to make any changes.

Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion.

“I wish I could’ve told my younger self to be more confident,” Booth continues. “I’d tell myself that I’m more than just a pair of hands because I also have other skills–especially soft skills–that are valuable to clients. Near the start of my career, I didn’t have the confidence to share some of my ideas and insight or to raise any concerns. I was selling myself short because I felt like my age and lack of experience were working against me.”

Know when to stop and listen.

“Read the brief thoroughly and listen very carefully to what problem the client wants solved,” illustrator Rune Fisker advises. “For a minute, push aside the creative voice that starts pumping out crazy ideas like: ‘What if instead of the billboard they want me to design, I’ll convince them to get it printed on the side of the moon?’ That was something that I could find myself doing in the beginning of my career, and it’s not very helpful because that’s not what the client asked for.”

Be selective about the jobs you accept.

“Always make sure the companies you choose to work with and the collaborations you take on are in line with the level of your work,” multidisciplinary artist Eva Magill-Oliver advises. “Make sure you are elevating each other and the experience and outcome are something that you are mutually proud of. Only get involved with projects that enhance who you are as an artist.”

In addition to seeking out opportunities that will challenge you to grow and evolve, only accept commissions that make sense within your larger body of work. “I first look at what the assignment is and judge whether this fits my style,” collage artist Irie Wata explains. “If it’s too different from what I do, I don’t like to have my name on it.”

Maintain your integrity.

“I really make an effort to find projects with companies that focus on fairtrade and sustainability,” illustrator Stephan Brusche tells us. “I’ve also said ‘no’ to opportunities that didn’t align with my personal values, like cigarette companies. It really helps if you have a clear idea about your own values. If those values match the company’s values, then there is a higher chance of a successful collaboration.”

Read the fine print. It might seem obvious, but a few of the artists we spoke with underscored the importance of going over your contract several times. You’ll want to look out for and flag any concerns or potential pitfalls, like a non-compete clause that could keep you from pursuing other projects.

Set boundaries.

“Usually when a piece falls flat, it’s because it was committee’d to death,” artist Christina Mrozik tells us. “By that, I mean multiple people with multiple goals are trying to assert a little more of this, less of that, only these colors, add this pattern here, etc. to match their own requirements. There are too many ideas happening all at once, rather than one clear and powerful idea.”

The solution? “It’s okay to ask a brand to trust you, to say, ‘Hey, you hired me because you like my work, and I really care about this project. I want to help it to become its best self, and I’m worried A, B, or C might take that feeling away. Doing it this way will help the piece reach the audience you’re hoping to connect with,’” Mrozik continues. “When artists are hired because they have a clear voice and are allowed to fully take the reins, everyone who sees the piece feels the difference.”

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