How to hire a fashion illustrator

I’ve never had to hire an illustrator, I couldn’t afford it. I mention that as I’m not an authority on this topic. Still, I figure the process that I went through will be valuable information for all of you. There are things you need to know.

I was very pleased with the final result. While you may not like it, this met my needs perfectly. You might be pickier or have other goals. You may have liked a further iteration. Some interesting things cropped up in the process. I am used to having to discuss design details with people who don’t know all the technical names for things but because Danielle is familiar with the process, we didn’t have those typical problems and it was refreshing!

Danielle knew -as you all must- that once we make a sample, the design will change and she’ll have to do another one anyway so it’s best to not get a final sketch of the design before you’ve cut a sample. In fact, most of you won’t or shouldn’t hire an illustrator for your first set of basic sketches. Still, it wouldn’t hurt -and if you could afford it- to have technical sketches (also called “black and whites” or “flats”) made for contractors or for down the line, sales reps and retailers. They like flats in addition to fashion illustrations. Technical sketches are good for the product development process.

For me, it was cool to work with someone who already knew that once you have a good sample, then you have the final illustration done, preferably from the garment itself. Another thing that was really cool was that she understood my instructions. We shared the same language and I didn’t have to fret we weren’t communicating. I didn’t have to go back and forth explaining what I meant by an “a-line four gore, as full as I can get it”. The other thing is, you have to know pattern making to know what the dress would really look like. You’d have to have an idea of what the pieces could look like; the limits of fullness, in order to draw it. I’d never thought of it before but a fashion illustrator who could make patterns, would be a better illustrator than one who could not. I think I’m going to add Danielle in my sidebar under illustrators. A new category, all for her. She’s just graduating and looking for a job if anybody’s interested in hiring her to freelance or illustrate.

I’m presenting this article in the way in which it was done, via email. Danielle’s comments are in purple.
Hi Danielle
I’m writing to take you up on your offer :). Here is a pattern I bought this weekend, I haven’t gotten it yet. I’m going to make this up but shorter and with an overskirt (4 gore, as full as I can get it) falling to above the knee. I do realize the skirt will have to be modified for the underlap portion. I’ll also be pulling off the cap sleeve going to a regular armhole (bias tape finish), probably scooping out the front neck a bit (rounder). It will also have to have a bust dart for my bust adjustment. Interested? If not or you’re busy, that’s totally okay.

Just for grins and for the education of readers and me, it’d be great if you’d include a price quote of what you’d charge for something like this. That way, maybe you’d get some work out of it from the readers?
I was just doodling up these pencil sketches. Hopefully it’s sort of what you were looking for. If you have any changes let me know so I can revise before I ink it up.

It occured to me as I was scanning them that I wasn’t exactly treating it as a proper job. I don’t have much experience and I’m sure I never charged or got what I should have. Zoe told me that illustrations are “fresh out of school – by the piece $125-$175 but honestly I don’t even know if a front and back view counts as one piece or two. I’m pretty sure that if we want an accurate idea of what illustrations are worth we should either ask Zoe or maybe I could do an interview with my old illustration teacher. So I would say for myself, I would charge $150 for a finished sketch (inked, coloured on photoshop), front and back views. This is based on my existing knowledge, I think it seems pretty fair.

[Danielle cites what we’ve done wrong thus far]
See, according to how to do this properly we should have established what format you were looking for (technical or figure sketches – you just said sketch, so I just assumed). We would have negotiated and agreed on a price, and drafted up a contract.

[Danielle sends me the sketches but there’s a problem with conflicting file formats. Software and file formats need to be addressed at the outset. My response to her may be typical of others]
What’s the file format? I can’t get anything I have to open them. I don’t have any artist type software. Oh wait, I do have photoshop (old version) but the extent of my skills with that is starting the program :(. It doesn’t open in that either. Wait, I think I have illustrator too but I couldn’t use that if my life depended on it.

Woops, sorry about that, it’s because I tried to load it straight from the scanner, my bad. These should show up in the body.

[Now that Danielle’s given me a visual sample, we can work off of those]
beeeoootiful. just what I had in mind! I’d just shorten the darts a little in front but yes, they’re french darts as you drew them. cute. or at least I like it. do you?
[another plus, as a pattern maker/designer she knew -in the absence of information- that french darts would be most appropriate rather than a hard bust dart or a dart in the princess line]

I could see people with independent pattern companies really going for something like this [hiring an illustrator]. It’s the sketch that really sells the pattern in that market.

I do like it. I would certainly wear it. I love things that wrap and tie, as you may know!

what size are you? you look little. if mine comes out, I’ll send you a tracing [of the pattern].

I could do another sketch, maybe a technical like on the original pattern envelope, showing the skirt lifted up and open so you can see the shorts underneath if you like.

[Excellent point, she’s more aware of my needs than I am -are you starting to see how invaluable a good illustrator is? A good one asks all the right questions]

oh that’d be very cool.

Does the shaping and the welt pockets at the front work for you as they are?

{In retrospect, it’s funny that she changed the lower front waist shaping. I didn’t like it on the original and she changed it exactly the way I would have asked her to do it, had I thought to ask her]
I’m not sure I like the welt pockets. Something isn’t working for me there. Should we go back to the patch pockets? The other option is side seam pockets. I have to have pockets tho. What do you think?

For the shorts, would you like them to be about the same length as the skirt or shorter?

Definitely shorter. I’d hate for the shorts to stick out easily. Looks kind of lame lol. But then,I’ve always been a dork.

What kind of fabric are you using, in terms of colour or pattern for when I render that?
[She needs this kind of information to know how to draw the flow of the garment]

I don’t know yet. I have this wild multicolored rayon. I love wild colors, primaries. You know, the color appreciation of a pre-schooler. If the sample comes out well, I’ll probably cut five or six of them and make it my summer uniform. In that case, I’ll definitely end up using some silk tie-dyes. I’m not real wild on contrasting colors but do what you will.

I think I’d prefer the welt pockets to the side seam pockets, but that’s just my own personal preference. Pick whatever you’d like!

[Deleted was a barter for services discussion. Barter may be an option for some of you; maybe clothes for sketches but you shouldn’t count on that.]

You see, I don’t think I really want to be a designer, especially not for my own company. The idea of having to invest in so many materials, equipment, people, stresses me out more than the idea of my name on a label excites me. I really just like drawing stuff and making stuff. I want to do it right, and there’s so much I don’t understand. Experience and knowledge are my true desires. I’m not in a hurry.
[The above comment doesn’t really pertain to the discussion but it’s a frequent topic of discussion. I left it here so you can see that hiring people who’s training you wish you had, is not a threat. Don’t assume that just because someone has an advantage, that they’ll actively choose to exploit it; everyone has different goals. Some of us are perfectly satisfied helping you, we don’t want to be you.]

Here’s the technicals of the back views, tied and untied, rendered in pencil and ink. Hopefully they make visual sense, it’s a lot of layers to organize!

I’ll wait on inking the illustrations until you give me some sort of direction for what kind of pockets you want. It’s your frock, pick whatever kind of pockets you like best!

That looks great Danielle. Keep the welt pockets for now. Sometimes those details change after one has made a sample (which is part of what our series on hiring an illustrator is all about). People need to realize these things are not static, there’s reiterations and they need to have reasonable expectations regarding the flow of work in this process, no?

So true! I’m constantly amazed at how much things migrate from the drawing through the design process.

Here’s the finished illustration, fabric rendering courtesy of If you would like any other adjustments, like rearranging the layout, or if you want me to colour it in full or scrap the fabrication, etc. let me know.

Danielle has done all she can do. At this point, I’d need to cut a pattern and sew it up. Once that were done, Danielle would need the sample garment for the best result. That said, I’m confident she could do a bang up job with just a couple of decent photos of the finished sample. I don’t know about you but I think this is quite lovely. Just my speed. You can compare Danielle’s sketch to the original here.

If you need to hire an illustrator, I’d encourage you to consider Danielle. You can find more samples of her illustrations on her blog and in the forum and you can email her too.

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  1. Beverly says:

    What a lovely adaptation of the original vintage pattern! Well done! It looks like it would be as comfortable to wear as it is easy to look at. I hope you make it up in some colourful fabric and show us the finished result.

  2. Julie Knox says:


    I wouldn’t have looked twice at the original pattern (I didn’t like the yoke shape either) although I think that’s partly because the illustration has that straight & droopy look of the 20’s.

    Danielle’s drawing looks curve-friendly! I would definitely wear that.

    And if I was rolling in cash I would hire Danielle to work on my line ;) (although I would want to see a more realistic figure for women in their 40s-50s-60s)

  3. Danielle says:

    I can do that Julie! I used to draw for a plus-sized designer, actually. And I’ve won awards for childrenswear. Oh, and I love drawing hot guys too ;)

  4. Lisa Laree says:

    Wow! What a cool look at the process! I love the dress/shorts…what would you call this??

    One question, though, from a practical standpoint…are the shorts attatched to the dress? Would one have to disrobe completely for necessary potty visits?

  5. Liana says:

    I adore this! I have the original pattern too, and this is so much more wearable, simply because it’s updated, and I think the wrap skirt is much nicer than wrap pants.

    Danielle, I hope many of the independent designers see this and use you. I don’t understand how some of them are able to sell so many patterns with such rotten/unintelligible drawings or photos. It’s almost like they don’t really want you to be able to figure out what they’re doing sometimes. Maybe they’re afraid someone will take their idea? Whatever; this is really nice. I like your drawing style too!

    Kathleen, this was a wonderful collaboration and example, as well as a great design on your part!

  6. Josh says:

    150 bucks is a very reasonable price! It’s a genius adpation of that pattern Kathllen. And Danielle you are a very talented illustrator.

  7. Karen C. says:


    I’d definitely use your services! I probably won’t be contracting with you for about 60 days, as I’m still working on my prototype embellished tops. But I think your illustrations would be a good selling tool for my designs and definitely helpful in getting across my ideas to all concerned in the production process.

    Thanks, Kathleen, as always, for another great post. I guess I should stop buying books on drawing (not my strong suit) LOL.

  8. LeAnna says:

    Kathleen and Danielle- thank you both for doing this. I had thought I was going about things beackwards, but it turns out I’m not to far off.
    Danielle- your illustrations are really cool. I love what a unique style you have!

  9. Dave says:

    I immediately recognized the style of the illustration while I was searching for some info Zoe posted earlier this year; I know Danielle and I hope you’ve been well, your graduate collection of wardrobe pieces was beautiful.

    Thank you for hosting the wonderful information Kathleen.

  10. Cerebella says:

    While I don’t know about costs for fashion illustration, I have had professional drawings done for my patent applications. For simple drawings, a lot of the patent illustrators charge per page. I have paid in the range of $75 to $125 (US dollars) *per page*. Each page generaly has 3 or 4 drawings. So my guess is that you should expect to pay an average of $100 for 3 or 4 views/illustrations.

  11. I am a proffessional freelance fashion illustrator based in Brighton in the UK.

    Normally illustrators take into account several factors when deciding what to charge a client, these can include what the use is, what the coverage is and for how long the illustrations are going to be used for.

    Fashion Illustration these days is also gaining a whole new meaning with the introduction of new digital methods and its growing in popularity.

  12. Danielle says:

    Oh dear, this post is so out of date! Maybe we should do an update?

    Kathleen, even if we can’t update the post, please would it be possible to change the mailto: to my gmail address? It goes to my old hotmail address and I just became aware that I am missing out on some inquiries.

  13. Tammy says:

    I am so glad you have a place for fashion illustrators. I love it. I am not sure how to find work, yet but am just getting started. I am engrossed in this book! I am so glad that the “hole” in my fashion education is being filled. I always knew something was missing but I couldn’t figure it out. I went from SBA to SBA and expert to expert, but they were talking about and to other businesses, not fashion. Thank you!

    Note. In your tech sketches, you can show what is happening on the inside of garments or to enlarge small detailing. By drawing an inset sketch near the original, and labeling what you are trying to show, (say the inside -how the shorts are attached to the skirt). To show an enlargement of a detail, let’s say a hidden button to loop closure, draw a line from where it sits in the original sketch, a circle can be drawn and inside it you draw the button loop closure so that it can be seen well. This too must be labelled.

    Your tech sketch must contain as much information as possible to ensure that the garment, shoe, purse, hat or whatever you design is the one being fabricated, cut and sewn.

  14. Christina says:

    Kathleen, if you were wanting to raise additional funds for yourself, I would totally buy the pattern for this outfit from you. (And that illustration really does marvels for selling the outfit!) I love full skirts and outfits that wrap. But I have a feeling I am quite a bit larger than you. (I am 5′ 8 1/2″ [174 cm] and am proportionately larger around, as well.) Though I have a feeling you could whip out a properly graded pattern in no time flat, as compared to me floundering around.

  15. Mika says:

    Don’t know if anyone of you will read this… as it is a bit old, but I was recently asked to make about 10 different sketches for one of my mother’s customers who wants to do her own line of yoga wear. She only needs sketches and didn’t really ask me to color them. I have never done this sort of thing before, all I’ve done for others is a portrait and a couple of commission art pieces. I am not sure what one would charge for detailed sketches. I also don’t know if I should sign them. The designs after all are hers even though I am the one that brought them to life for her. Sorry if this isn’t the right place to ask but it is one of the only places I found that seemed to have some people that might have an answer.
    Please and thank you!

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