Are You Hiring an Illustrator or an Artist?

Are you hiring an artist or an illustrator? You may be reading that and thinking what’s the difference? This is a common problem that many artists fall into from their customers and it creates a challenge for the artist and the client usually resulting in a subpar project. Let’s start out with the difference between an artist and an illustrator and then I will walk you through why it is important for you as a potential customer to know the difference.

Both artists and illustrators can paint, draw, and create stunning work so this isn’t about talent. The differences are how they get to their finished project and how they are managed by the customer to completion of the project. When I was early on in my art career I began with drawing in pencil and pen. That has always been my thing but over the years I have graduated to painting with watercolours, acrylics, and now digital work. Now I focus on three types of art. I sketch using fine pens in black and white only. I draw caricatures at events with marker in black and white only. I complete illustration work in full colour digitally on my iPad. I have over the years totally removed the watercolour and acrylic work from my process, why? Because I don’t enjoy the painting process. I find paint messy and time consuming. I don’t enjoy painting on canvas, and I found it didn’t make the art process enjoyable. What I realized early in my career is that illustrators can use anything to get to a final project where artists kept to one or two mediums to get the completed painting. But that doesn’t really define an artist or an illustrator. What really defines the two are how the project is started and what changes are allowed in the process.

The Artist

When you are buying work from an artist whether through their studio, online, or through a gallery you are buying finished works of art. You see a painting you like and buy it. If you really like the style of that artist you may commission them to create a work of art based on your topic or request. They will then create the work in their style and give it to you completely finished. Done!

The Illustrator

Illustrators are similar to artists in that they will create art in their style but usually it is not for sale but to display their style and talent. For instance I usually show client work on my social profiles as examples of work that I have completed in hopes of getting more work, but those works aren’t for sale they have already been paid for.

When a client is hiring an illustrator they give them what we call a Brief. The brief outlines what they want in the picture and that determines the cost. The illustrator will create a sketch and send it for approval to the client. Once approved the drawing is refined and sent for approval, and so forth. This can have many levels of approval based on the complexity of the project. The difference is the client is involved in the process which is why most illustrators now work digitally so changes can be made based on client feedback. Artist painting on canvas or paper cannot make changes once the process has started for the most part.

Art or Illustration

Why should this matter to you as a customer?

Hiring an artist to create a painting and then trying to manage them through the process will have a bad result on the finished project and probably frustrate the artist. An illustrator will have a process built in to take client feedback so you are happy with the finished project. Know whether you want to be involved in the creation of the project and find the artist that fits that process. It will make a more successful process for everyone

About the Author

Bruce Outridge is a professional cartoonist and graphic recorder specializing in the art of caricature. He can be found working at all types of events from weddings to conferences. You can learn more about Bruce and his work at