Everything You Need to Know About Handling Art Commissions in a Pandemic

Are you a budding illustrator wondering about the commissioning process? Or, are you a seasoned designer struggling to manage your commission requests? In this post, Manon tells all about being an illustrator during the pandemic, and what it was like working on Portmanteau's Issue 1 cover design.

By now, you've probably seen Portmanteau's Issue 1 cover design, illustrated by the wonderful Manon Wright, posted across all of our social media platforms. If not, you can find us by searching @portmanteauldn across Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok, LinkedIn, and Pinterest (except on Facebook, where we are @PTMN.TEAU).

The conversation below is taken from the Portmanteau's Instagram Live session, where we discussed everything from small business ownership, publishing degrees, networking in the online publishing industry, and more. This segment details illustrator Manon Wright explaining the ins and outs of the commissioning process, and the inspiration behind Portmanteau's Issue 1 cover design (hint: it has something to do with a really strange fruit).

Persons in conversation:

R: Ruby Walker - Founder and Editor-in-Chief (@rubylizonwalker)

S: Shona Henderson - Marketing and Communications (@_shonahenderson)

M: Manon Wright - Illustrator for Issue 1 (@_ManonWright_)


R: Do you want to introduce yourself Manon?

M: Hello, I’m Manon. I did the design for the first cover of Portmanteau and I’ve been helping out with a couple of spot illustrations and design bits for the issue.

R: Yes, she’s been very good, and very helpful. That design that you’ve probably seen on our reels we posted a couple of days ago, all of that was Manon’s brain child and her creation, so all her.

Manon, do you want to tell us a little bit about your role with Portmanteau, how you came up with the design, and your previous history with design before this?

M: Yes! I saw that Ruby was doing Portmanteau and I thought it was such a fun project. I was quite inspired that straight out of university you wanted to take on such a big project, so I was happy to help and Ruby was very kindly like, “Oh, actually I’ll commission you to do this work.” So, it’s been a really good experience. I’ve previously done a few book covers for self-published books and I did the UCL Publishers’ Prize. I’ve done production and some graphic design in the past, but this brief was different because you gave me so much creative freedom to do pretty much whatever I wanted as it was the first issue. For this brief, I ended up illustrating this very strange fruit called a bizzaria, which is like a grafted chimera fruit that is a cross between a florentine citron and a sour orange. That came about because I was playing with the ideas of portmanteaus as they are kind of chimeras of words when you think about it - two words being put together. I was trying to think of different ways to present that and I like the plant idea more than the animals or the mythological route. I felt the mythological route would be too connected to a specific culture and the animal stuff is a little bit gnarly, whereas the plant has a nice association with growth, that this is a new thing, that we are developing this new publication. So, that’s the inspiration behind the piece.

R: It’s crazy how much thought goes behind every image that you do. It’s not like, “Oh, what would look nice? Oh, a fruit - I’ll draw a fruit.” And, you draw a fruit. There’s proper research that goes into it.

M: Yes, it’s like an iceberg with illustration. They always make you go off the wall with the design ideas, and then you have to real yourself back a little bit to the point where an audience member will actually understand what you’re trying to convey.

R: I guess we’ve covered what inspires the design, but in terms of experience working on small projects as an illustrator, how does that process work for you?

M: I think it’s different with each commissioner. Obviously with Portmanteau it was really relaxed because I know you and we are good at communicating, being able to talk about what we want out of the piece. So, it was a really fun, relaxed experience to make this piece of art. Whereas, I worked with someone who was all the way in Switzerland, and it was really great working with him, but it was a little bit harder to communicate. They have their work schedule, and you’ve got to send emails with briefs. You have to articulate what you want to do well, so that the commissioner understands - especially if you are working with someone who is not super design minded, so that they understand your ideas. I think that the biggest struggle is communication, and also, negotiating a price with people. It’s difficult when you are a freelancer to have a regular pricing situation. I think people don’t really understand the business side of illustration, that you have to actually be making a living off of it, that you’re not just doing it because you think it’s fun. So, people can end up trying to take advantage of you that way, but I’ve been quite lucky that most people that I’ve worked with have been quite understanding and good about the pricing.

S: I’m wondering how the process has differed since the pandemic started, has it changed at all?

M: Actually, I think a lot of illustrators and designers have made a joke that the pandemic hasn’t really changed that much because the illustrator life is sitting in your room or studio by yourself making art, and communicating through email with whoever is contracting you. That aspect hasn’t really changed because it’s not a very social career. Whereas, when you’re publishing a book you work in teams in an office. So, not much has changed.


If you have enjoyed reading Manon’s perspectives on illustration, you can find her work across the different social channels @_ManonWright_. Also, Manon has a website, where you can see her portfolio: www.manonwright.com. Do you have a question about anything that was discussed above? Leave a comment!

We will be posting more insights from our first Portmanteau Instagram Live session, so stay tuned!

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