Working with Illustrators

Working with Illustrators

by Vaughn L. Treude

Treude illustrations

As a writer, I have lots of ideas, some of which get me into trouble. For example, when I joined a playwriting group a few years ago, I decided to write a musical comedy, which forced me to dust off my long-dormant musical skills. Even worse was my idea to augment the steampunk novels my wife and I write with illustrations at the start of each chapter. I’ve always been terrible at art, and Arlys isn’t much better. We knew we’d need to hire an illustrator.

Finding the appropriate illustrator and working with him/her was more difficult than we expected. In the beginning, we commissioned some really good work from family and friends, but they’re not always available. It’s also hard to get tough with them if they run late.  We had a tight deadline for our latest book, so we decided to try Fiverr, the freelance services website. I’d previously gone there to hire a woman from Ireland to proofread several manuscripts and was quite happy with her work.

Choosing an artist wasn’t nearly as easy. Fiverr has hundreds of them from all over the world. They post portfolios so you can see their work, and their customers rate them on promptness, quality, etc. What was difficult to judge was their creativity. Some artists with great technical skill need to work from detailed photographs and aren’t good at improvisation. Our ideal choice would be someone who could understand our requests and add their own creative touch.

The ideal would be to have the illustrator read the book before drawing, but that’s rarely practical. The writer can also do a written description or a rough sketch. The problem with that is (a) we’re very specific about what we want and (b) our sketches are mostly stick figures. For some of the illustrations, we’ve done photographs. Arlys has a real knack for creating period costumes and getting friends and family members to model them for us. Sadly, we can’t always get the settings or the models we need. For example, we set our latest novel in London’s Crystal Palace, which doesn’t even exist anymore. As for people, we could hire a professional, but we’re operating on a shoestring budget.

Technology came to our rescue. For scenes we couldn’t reproduce, I’d find stock art and photos on the Internet and use Photoshop to assemble them into collages. There’d be no issue with copyright because these collages were just examples; the artist would modify them according to our instructions.

After reviewing dozens of prospects on Fiverr, we finally found a good candidate, a fellow named Jose Cardeñas in Venezuela. His bids were quite reasonable. He was also very professional, returning the sketches before our deadlines and adding his own creative touch. The attached illustrations show two of our favorites. The first, from our book Professor Ione D. and the Epicurean Incident, shows Chef MacTavish arriving with Angus, his bagpipe-playing culinary robot. The second is the cover illustration for the urban fantasy story “Love at Stake,” about a lonely vampire who tries online dating. We were more than satisfied with Jose’s work.

If you need artwork for a book project and lack the talent to do it yourself, the freelance website Fiverr is a great resource. Choose carefully, however, as the sellers have a broad range of styles and skill levels. You also need an effective way to convey your ideas to the artist. In my case, Photoshop turned out to be the magic bullet.


Vaughn Treude grew up on a farm in North Dakota where the isolation of his home made books a welcome escape. He has been reading sci-fi and fantasy as long as he can remember. In 2012, he published his first novel,  Centrifugal Force, a near-future sci-fi about a hacker rebellion. Since then he has concentrated on steampunk, writing Fidelio’s Automata and co-authoring the “Professor Ione D.” series with his wife Arlys Holloway. See Vaughn’s blog at



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