Hiring an Artist – Comparing Marketplaces Upwork vs. Indeed

hiring an artist - prabath
Prabath has flawless faces and anatomy, insane detail and the ability to make things colorful but still super clear. This piece is perfect CCG art.

I’m old and I play a lot of indie games, both factors that foster a healthy tolerance for bad graphics. But for our game I care deeply about the aesthetics, and because I’m a particular person there are many styles I wouldn’t want. All that makes finding a talented artist as integral as the programmer and aside from the ad on the site and some targeted hunting of specific individuals I wanted to test out some artist marketplaces. For no particular reason I chose Upwork and Indeed first. Here’s how they compare.

Keep in mind it’s not really a fair comparison. Upwork is freelancer focused which means it’s also stronger specifically in the arts. Indeed staffs all positions, from artists to truck drivers and is intended for full time employment.

Posting your first ad

hiring an artist - simeon
Love Simeon’s environments and can see him totally going nuts with our city.

Indeed definitely has the more streamlined process, asking far fewer questions before making your ad visible. While this might sound like a point in Indeed’s favor, the results lead me to believe those extra fields are necessary. Regardless, it takes a few minutes for either service and after an email confirmation your ad goes live.

I did not particularly tailor my ads to the service, instead just copying and pasting the description from our own posting on the site.


hiring an artist - emily
Emily’s work caught my eye because of its perfect anatomy and gorgeous faces, which is where I find the biggest gap between good and great artists

Upwork makes all of its revenue after you hire someone. If you do, Upwork charges the employer 2.75% of the total contract (up to a maximum of $500). It also charges the employee on a sliding scale, based on the total charged to the client (20% of the first $500, 10% of the next $9500 and 5% of any amount over that). The postings are free and they obviously heavily discouraged trying to work out contracts outside the environment.

Indeed works more like buying twitter ads. There are free listings and sponsored listings. To sponsor you decide how many dollars you want to spend on your ad and based on other people doing the same the system decides how long your ad stays on the more prestigious “sponsored jobs” section. There’s also a pay per click component so after a certain number of applicants your ad will disappear from the sponsored listings. They give an estimate of what your results would be – in my case going completely free would bring 19 applicants per day. Going with the default of $9/day would bring it up to 72 so I went with $5 which should be good for around 50.

hiring an artist - igor
Igor’s work had a lovely gothic vibe to it. It’s also very painterly, which I like. Too much modern art looks soft and shiny and obviously CG. It has a sameness to it which I’m trying to avoid.

I initially hated Indeed’s pricing system. The language tries to spin it as somehow being a benefit but the reality is that it’s fuzzy, I have no idea what the prices mean and so I’m left to gamble. It’s also unclear how useful any of it is, since I presume someone looking for a job checks both boards daily and sees everything that’s new.

Now that I’m closer to finding an artist, Indeed’s pricing becomes vastly preferable. I’ve already paid my ad fees, there’s nothing left to pay. Upwork leeches percentages forever. If I hired someone for a full year, even at a modest $36K salary, the fees to me would cap at $500 but for the artist would total $2350. I could of course break the project down into smaller chunks and use Upwork for the first little bit and once I’m familiar with my artist do the rest off-site. That’s against their service agreement however and could result in account suspensions.

The Service Reps

Upwork assigns you with an online service rep (I got Cheryl) who you can chat or message. The rep also gets things going by recommending a few artists after reading your ad. I found the recommendations perfectly reasonable and shortlisted two of the four applicants Cheryl sent me. I also had some confusion around the verification process. If you give a credit card number, Upworks charges and reverses two small amounts which you must enter to prove you’re actually the card holder . Mine didn’t work, regardless of whether I used the $US or $CDN amounts. Cheryl sorted it out for me in a few minutes.

hiring an artist - joanna k
While I checked anatomy first (given the nature of our game), and Joanna has flawless figure drawings, her environments are spectacular.

Indeed didn’t immediately assign a specific rep, but a few hours after posting the ad I got a call from a friendly Canadian. I’m not sure if that’s great localization or just coincidence, but regardless, Jessica chatted with me about maple syrup and beavers and snow to establish rapport and then launched into a very soft hard-sell.

The gist was that the meager $5/day I put in is really useless, I might as well go with free. I should do at least $10 to see any noticeable difference and considering how competitive Toronto was, some people would go $50 or $500. She also mentioned the over 700 listings currently in Toronto for Illustrator. It was all very polite and non-pushy, but the goal was undoubtedly to increase my daily spend. I asked how many applicants I already got and when she said zero I grumbled and increased the daily spend to $10.

The Process

hiring an artist - chris
Chris’ work is exactly what I grew up on, reading primarily Conan comics. They were stark, violent and full of emotion. This older style feels fresh to me after viewing hundreds of images with smooth photoshop gradients.

It’s taxing going through submission after submission and anything that makes the process a little smoother is appreciated. In that respect Upworks is a lot more pleasant to use. The interface is slicker and finding the artist’s portfolios considerably easier, I suspect because they’re designed for artists and have organized fields. Upwork also does a great job of showing previous contracts, their completion rates and resulting work.

With Indeed you mostly get PDF resumes. I had to find the mention of their portfolio within, then copy and paste it into my browser like a savage. Upwork was always a click away and I’m sure I missed a few Indeed portfolios because I couldn’t find the link easily.

hiring an artist
I had a hard time choosing an image to show for Alexey. He’s very talented across multiple styles and has excellent backgrounds. But I love how stylish this image is.

Both use a yes/no/maybe system but Upwork is gentler about it. Rejections are really just archived whereas Indeed wants to send them a rejection letter immediately. It’s the professional thing to do but also sorta awkward and even though they provide sample language, sending a form letter seemed ruder so I just told the system to hold off on sending rejections for now.

Both let you message back and forth freely and keep running logs. Indeed has more functionality if the process requires more steps than just hire or not; it lets you schedule interviews within the system for example.

The Results

Most of the Upwork responses came within the first few days (65 total responses). Indeed gave steady applicants, at a rate of 10-20 per day, I’m guessing during those moments when my meager $10/day ad was displayed. As much as I hate the gambling payment scheme, when viewed as a fixed price, the results are fine. Getting about 40 local applicants for $30 feels reasonable. I should note though that the estimates they gave aren’t even close. I was expecting 79/day, they didn’t even match the free rate of 19/day.

hiring an artist - izzy
Izzy’s work was also a refreshing departure from the photoshop shine. Details are amazing and I love the atmosphere conveyed in each piece.

Keeping in mind that my ad was fairly specific about needing an illustrator, and I filled out all fields appropriately, Upwork’s results were both superior and better targeted except for one crucial difference. I was actually quite surprised at the ubiquity of talent at Upworks. Out of 65 submissions, almost all of which were pure illustrators, I shortlisted 20 artists. I’m very picky and that’s far more than I expected.

Indeed was all over the place in terms of applications, sending more graphic designers than illustrators and even a few odd applicants looking for sales work or shipping. Aside from wasting time, you do pay per submission and so every inappropriate applicant wastes your money. The ones who were illustrators weren’t nearly as strong. For one thing they seemed more generalist, with portfolios full of design and modeling work. For another they just didn’t draw as well. So although I got nearly as many submissions (40 Indeed vs. 65 Upwork), I shortlisted far fewer (5 Indeed vs. 20 Upwork).

The one place where Indeed was far superior was in restricting location. In both cases I tried to restrict applicants to Toronto as much as the system allowed. Upwork generally ignored that and all but three of the applicants were from other parts of the world, with most based outside North America. Indeed served up virtually all Torontonians.

There seems to be very little overlap between the two postings. I only got a single applicant applying to both.


hiring an artist -
Zhanga’s work is dripping with style and subversiveness. This piece is part of a series re-imagining classic fairy tales. Quite a bit more interesting than Disney’s take on Rapunzel.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising, but each service won in the area that it’s focused. If you want an artist and location is not a concern, Upwork serves up more high quality options. Their good artists tend to also be busy however and even though they cluster in countries with lower costs of living, their rates are not particularly low. You might also have trouble attracting one for full time work since they all have several freelance projects on the go.

If you’re looking for an employee as opposed to freelancer, and location is important, Upwork is nearly useless at least for Canada (and I suspect the US as well, I had very few american applicants). Indeed will make you screen many more resumes that don’t fit your requirements, and it’s a bit more fiddly to use, but it still had enough talent that I found four finalists without feeling like I’m compromising. They are as good as the top tier offered by Upwork, there are just fewer of them.

In the end I have more talent than I need. Four local finalists, eight international ones, any of whom can deliver brilliant art. That’s a great problem to have.






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