3 Simple Steps to Learn If Your Art Is Good Enough for Kickstarter

1 February 2016 | 42 Comments

tmpphpjb3pc2-rose-tinted-glassesTo this day, one of the most common mistakes crowdfunders make is to commission and display subpar art on their project page. Even if you just have a few illustrations to show, they will play a huge role in swaying–or dissuading–potential backers.

How does poor art end up on Kickstarter projects? I think it’s because creators see the art they selected through rose-tinted glasses. You’re too biased about your own work to see that you picked the wrong artist. Or maybe you are the artist–it’s even harder then to realize you’re not good enough.

I’m using terms like “subpar” and “not good enough,” but art is highly subjective. Who am I to say your art sucks?

You’re right–I’m not the one to judge your art. The key, though, is that you are also not the right person to judge whether or not your art is good enough to compel potential backers to support your project. Neither is anyone close to the project–not the artist, not your friends, and definitely not your family.

If you really want to know if your project’s art is good enough before you launch, you need to ask complete strangers. Because that’s who the vast majority of your backers will be. Here’s how to do it in 3 easy steps:

  1. Get some art: If you already have a few illustrations, that’s great. If not, you could commission a few from your artist of choice. Or, even easier, you could select a few pieces of existing art from the artist’s portfolio to sample–just make sure to credit them properly and that you’ve contacted the artist to see if they’re available to work on your project. You could also compare two or three artists’ work side-by-side. Here are some ways to find artists.
  2. Decide if you’re willing to change: If you’ve already commissioned some art, take a good, hard look in the mirror and ask yourself, “If people tell me the art isn’t good enough, am I truly willing to listen to them and find a new artist?” If the answer is yes, proceed to step 2. If the answer is no, don’t waste anyone’s time by asking for advice you’re not going to consider. Here’s more on that subject.
  3. Post the samples on this Facebook group: Post the sample art with an open-ended question about if people think it’s good enough on the Art & Graphic Design for Tabletop Games group on Facebook (credit to Kim Brebach and Aaron Lim for telling me about it). If people don’t answer the way you hoped they wouldn’t, don’t get defensive. In fact, pretty much your only response should be to thank people for the feedback–show them that it’s a safe space to be honest. Here’s another group to use if your project isn’t in the games category.

That’s it. Those 3 steps can save you substantial amounts of time and money, and the end result can significantly increase your chances of reaching your funding goal.

I would recommend doing this for graphic design as well, though separately from the art (they’re interconnected, but they’re often–and most wisely–done by two different people).

If you have any thoughts to share about this topic from your experience, I’d love to hear them!

Also read this excellent post about why aesthetics matter (different website than this).

42 Comments on “3 Simple Steps to Learn If Your Art Is Good Enough for Kickstarter

  1. These are great times. I know, more than once, I’ve not backed a campaign because I didn’t like the art. It usually looked amateurish, poorly done, or in the end, just didn’t appeal to me.

    If i’m going to spend countless hours looking at a game, I want to enjoy the visual aspect. I think that’s one of the reasons Scythe did so well. The art is amazing. It is probably one of the reasons Karmaka is surging through Kickstarter right now. Art can make or break a campaign.

  2. Solid advice, even for repeat creators! It can be easy to focus on illustration up front, but I do find it incredibly reassuring to see good graphic design on a project page. To me, it says that the creator is in the details, which instills trust in their ability to deliver a strong final product.

  3. Great post, something we talked about on our panel at PAX South this weekend as well. I have a list of things that I think are *most* important in a KS campaign:

    1) Pre-existing audience for your content
    2) Art and graphic design of your game
    3) Art and graphic design of your campaign page
    4) Clarity of your pledge levels
    5) Cost of your pledge levels

    So, yeah – being willing to think critically about your art (for game and page) is, I think, the most important thing that is completely under your control.

  4. Thank you! This is the biggest mistake we made for the Campaign Trail kickstarter and one of the biggest things we are changing in preparing for the relaunch.

  5. I think that when you see really nice art used in a project, there’s a tendency to feel that significant effort was put into it – and therefore it might be worthwhile considering backing. Having said that, there have been many times I’ve seen a project and may not have necessarily found the art to be appealing, but I’ve still been able to recognise that time and effort has been spent on it, and so I give it some attention.

  6. This speaks to something I found a little frustrating in my (currently running) Kickstarter. I’m running to raise the funding for additional professional artwork (everything else is done) and I wanted to be able to include samples of the art which I was looking to include.

    Unfortunately none of the artists were willing to let me use a credited example of the work which I was intending to purchase in the campaign, and after suggesting that I pay extra for web resolution images they didn’t give me any actual costs in a timely fashion.

    I had already invested in a professional cover which has been well received, but I had hoped that some of the other guys (not the cover artist btw) would have been more willing to work with me to raise the money to allow me to pay them for much more work!

    I’m still hoping that I can reach a useful agreement before I get to the last week of the campaign – which is here, if you are interested: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1283988566/starguild-space-opera-noir-tabletop-rpg

    Cheers

    1. While I can’t speak for other artists, it may help if you offered a contract that stated you are only using the images on Kickstarter and nowhere else. As an artist myself, having a contract like that is greater peace of mind and lends more credibility to your request. They are covered, legally. It may not work for all artists, but I’m sure it will help persuade some.

  7. Alex,

    I’m new to this but even I get the strong sense that many artists are a bit wary of ks projects. Maybe too many examples of ‘art now, pay later’ and then the ks cancels. Not the happiest method to rise from ‘starving artist’ status ;) With that, maybe even the mere mention of your project using crowdfunding may be a red flag for some. Any thoughts?

    Michael

  8. Alex: I’m not sure about the exact circumstances you’re describing, but it sounds like your artists had already completed some of the extra art (on their own accord) and they wouldn’t let you show backers that art in any other form but low-res. Is that correct? As barclaymotive indicated, I can understand why an artist would be hesitant to provide art that hasn’t been paid for.

  9. Kind of a tangent from what Alex was saying –

    As someone interested in running a campaign in the near future, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on how MUCH art should be completed. We’ve done some sample runs for the style & content concept, and we’re satisfied with the responses we’ve gotten, but we’re still unclear on how much art should be represented for a game to be taken seriously.

    My expectation is that we should have a few key pieces – box art and a representative sample of each of the different decks used in the game (Movement Deck, Action Cards, Map Tiles). Other people in on the project are worried that we may need to be completely art ready by the time the KS is ready.

    My problem with being completely art ready is that part of the point of the KS is to be able to afford the art in the first place. I’m hoping that backers will take into account that we’re a small studio that is already at the limits of what it can afford, especially after taking into account the seemingly necessary need to print and ship review copies (which is a whole other topic about how much art should be completed for that, but it seems like most reviewers understand art being incomplete).

    Anyway, would love any tips you may have on this topic in particular.

  10. Leslie: Thanks for your question. I talk about this a little more in the article I linked to on item #1 of the list, but in short, my recommendation is along the lines of what you said: At minimum, just have a few key, compelling pieces of art to feature. Then make sure you schedule accordingly for the completion of the rest of the art during and after the project (leave plenty of time in case the artist takes longer than you estimates).

  11. Jamey,

    I think one of the things I would underscore is “get SOME art” – having worked with quite a few designers now, some feel as though they have to break the bank to have all of the art completed, which is ludicrous…this is one of the reasons why people use Kickstarter.

    I personally belive, and I have no doubt this is shared by others, good to great art generally enhances a solid game, but no amount of good to great art cab salvage a poor game.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  12. @Barclaymotive – I’ve been in contact with them for some while, and I’m pretty sure that I communicated what was intended. I think that they are probably juggling a lot of different things and some other stuff (which was actual paying work rather than prospective paying work) naturally got the attention. I was working on a six month lead time, which in retrospect may have been *too* long… time for arrangements to be forgotten.

  13. @Jamie, the situation was that an artist was asking me to pay additionally for art to display on the kickstarter website as well as for art which was going in the book. That seemed a little rough to me.

  14. @Alex, do you have a contract with that artist that specifies what you can use the art for? Ours says that we can use the artwork for any promotional use we like, and honestly would have been a dealbreaker if they wanted to get paid more to use it as such.
    I would talk to your lawyer about what your options are. With or without a contract, you’ll have to be sure you are covered if you decide to use it during the campaign.

  15. I think it is a factor of my inexperience in general and their inexperience in this particular market more than anything. I’m sure we are going to be working through things OK.

    To the wider issue of this blog post, and thinking constructively, I think it is important to get a clear, mutual, contractual understanding sorted out at as early a stage as is possible. There could be a helpful blog post in there somewhere, if you haven’t already covered it in your 160+ entries!

  16. As a designer working on brands every day, this is a topic that really hits home for me. I have another perspective I’d like to add to the mix if that’s OK.

    We have a saying in my company, “design is subservient to message.” What this means is that the content (images and words) are the tools used to convey story and communicate why something is uniquely valuable. When it comes to art, yes, it’s highly subjective as to what feels good and what doesn’t. What isn’t subjective is the relationship between the visual language and the buying experience. In other words, there needs to be rationale and thought behind the various treatments and approaches are used, both by graphic designers and illustrators.

    Seek talent with a style that enhances the ideals of your offering and avoid using styles that don’t–even if the art is jaw-dropping. Every element, no matter how small, is a reflection of how much you’ve put into the experience you are trying to share. I may be in the minority, but I don’t recommend asking people off the street about their opinions if they’re not qualified to speak intelligently about it. Ask other designers and illustrators who have put the time in. Ask seasoned industry folks who will be purchasing and enjoying the product. Anything less, and you run the risk of building your product’s visual language based on someone’s random subjectivity.

    Bottom line: personal associations get in the way of strong communication. Invest in talent that cares about the work beyond the dollars and immerse them in the story. Then you’ll both be happy in the end. I’m open to other thoughts on this!

  17. Marc: Thanks for sharing your perspective! It’s very well worded–I might need to have you back for a guest post sometime. :) I like the idea of talking to people who are qualified to give an answer. Like, you wouldn’t talk to me about whether or not your car needs a new transmission–you’d go to a mechanic for that. That said, do you think it hurts to get the perspective of potential backers? They’re the ones who will soon be making a decision involving their own money, opposed to an expert who has nothing at stake.

  18. To share the experience of a first-time designer, my partner and I are planning to launch our game in a few months, and after having read and heard in multiple places that art is a key factor for success decided to invest upfront in some art. We were planning to pay for part of the art upfront and have the rest be contingent on funding. Understandably, our artist wasn’t too keen on that idea, as he didn’t want any of the fee to be contingent. After talking further, we agreed to split the contract into two pieces. We paid upfront for sample art, logo, style guide, and some icons, and will begin a second contract with the artist after we have funding (or ideally during the campaign). That solution lets us avoid paying for art we won’t use, and guarantees him payment for work completed. Since this is our first time working with an artist it’s been a great learning experience.

    One other note, we found this artist directly through another project that we backed. That helped us avoid trying to convince an artist not familiar with tabletop or Kickstarter that we’re actually legit.

  19. Bwahahahahhahah. Don’t worry Jamey you haven’t suffered the misfortune of seeing my art, although one day I hope you will see my artist’s work (Jordan Danielsson’s of Lost Art). He’s doing an amazing job.
    I just thought I would attempt to inject some humour into the endless questions you receive.
    Keep up the inspiring work and thanks for the Scythe update :)

  20. Jamey: my reply button had an error…err…must be my darned iPad.

    To answer your question, no, the opinions of your target audience are of prime importance! They’re the ones you’re trying to woo. However, what if half of them think that your new medical prescription service logo should be green and blue, and the other half say black and red? There’s a ton of historical data to consider along with their predispositions, and I think you have to weigh both.

    A-B testing and polling is valuable in these instances and I think carefully considering the specific feedback you’re seeking (beforehand) is super important. You can give them what they want, or you can give them what they need, but the hope is that you will be able to give them both. And really, that’s what you *must* give them if you’re doing it well enough to be memorable.

  21. Hello Jamey! Thanks for this great post!
    I design my first game and soon we should start making some professional art, so we will looking for artist(s). Your post inspired me, and i have an idea, and im really curious what do you think about it. My itent is to pay (much) less for a thing what is not usable. It’s a kind of performance based paying.

    So my idea is:
    I upload the image what is made by my artist to the Art & Graphic Design for Tabletop Games facebook group, and ask opinions.

    If
    1. at least 70% of the opinions are good, than i would pay full price for the work. And beside that, based on the comments i pay full price for the needed modifications.

    2. If 30-70% of the comments are good, than i dont know, maybe i would pay 50% of the full price.

    3. If less than 20-30% of the people think that art work is good enough than i would pay nothing (okay, maybe a small amount..) And i will look for another artist for sure.

    I dont know how it would work out. I guess if somebody is good he/she shouldnt be afraid of this. And i wouldnt pay for something what we cannot use at all.

    I would hear your opinion about it. Thank you! :)
    Balazs

    1. Thanks for sharing your idea! I like the idea of gathering opinions for art. But I really, really don’t like the idea of paying artists less than the value of their work. I don’t think that’s fair to them. If they do a job (e.g., paint you an illustration), you should pay them in full for that job.

      1. Thank you!
        “But I really, really don’t like the idea of paying artists less than the value of their work.”
        I think the same.
        I just thought the real value of their job could be based on the crowd’s wisdom. (because actually at the end this is what matters: how people like that art. Not me, but everybody out there.)
        But realy thank you again!

  22. Hello Jamey,

    I have been reading many of your KS lessons and have bought your crowdfunding book. I have just begun the book and have read the articles out of order. Sorry if the following questions are already addressed somewhere. Maybe you can point me in the right direction?

    Would it be possible to get a breakdown of the costs involved you paid leading up to the KS? I would like to know how much you invested in art and graphic design before launching the KS. Scythe only needed $33k to fund. Typical card games want around $30-40k. Scythe has a tone of components making it seem like the funding goal would need to be a lot higher. I have contacted many artist and graphic designers. The graphic designers want around $60 an hour and artist near $300 per piece of art. Their fee for the box cover art and rule book is $2500. The individuals I have contacted are well known throughout the industry. I believe in paying the artist what they are worth, but I don’t have that kind of cash sitting around.

    Since contacting the graphic designers I have taken it on myself to do the design. I have had college courses and previous jobs utilizing graphic design. YouTube has been instrumental in learning Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. I am definitely not the best, but I believe my work to better than many existing games.

    Your games seem to be made from better material than other Panda published games. Do you pay extra for the material and if so what types of premium components are you purchasing.

    Thanks!

    1. Timothy: Thanks for your questions. The closest I’ve posted to an expense breakdown was a while ago on this entry: https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-lesson-7-the-funding-goal/

      The reason for that is costs vary so broadly based on the game, components, artists, graphic designers, etc. $60/hour is a good rate for a good graphic designer. $300 per illustration is a lot for card art, though. And box art for $2500 is also quite a lot. However, if these are famous board game artists, they’re able to ask for higher fees than newer artists.

      As for doing the graphic design yourself, I would be really hesitant to do that. A great graphic designer is one of the best assets a company can have, not just for things like iconography, layout, and card frames, but also for preparing files in such a way that a manufacturer can actually use them.

      All of the Panda-manufactured games I’ve seen have had really high quality components. We use the same cardstock and wood as any other company that prints through them.

      1. Thank you for the quick reply. I did plan to get an actual graphic designer when the time comes. For the alpha/beta testing my work is enough. As for artists I will keep looking. The less established field will be the way to go.

  23. Hello Jamey,

    Do you think running a kickstarter specifically for the purpose of getting funds to create art for a board game would work?

  24. I’m looking at doing my own tabletop wargame and funding via Kickstarter and I’m about 6 months (I had to double check it had really been that long) and I’ve been struggling to find illustrators, and I’m in the process of finding graphic designers. I did, however, score myself an incredibly talented 3d modeller to design the figures. Could I, especially given the nature of tableop wargames, get away with using the sculpts(and photos of actual models) for kick starter or is art going to be far to necessary to get away with not having?

    1. Andrew: I think it’s helpful to have at least a few illustrations, both for the audience to understand the aesthetic and for you to know the artist’s pace (so you can accurate estimate how long all of the art will take to complete).

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