I was recently asked about how I went about the whole publishing process of my game by a friend. While by no means an expert on the subject, I have some experience and am a
cheap frugal person, so hopefully, my experiences might be of some insight.
When finding art for your game, you have basically two options- commission it, or find it.
Commisioning art involves finding an artist to draw a specific picture for your game. This is useful if you have a very specific scene in mind, like “two zeppelins crashing into each other over an exploding volcano, and also there’s a robot riding a dragon,” for example. You are probably not going to just stumble upon something like this searching the internet, so you need someone to draw it for you.
(That’s technically called finding an Illustrator. You might commission an artist because you know their work is awesome, and just tell them to draw whatever they want.)
Commisioning is going to cost you money, more likely than not. Since you want to spend as little money as possible on your first game, you’re probably only going to get friends to work for free. And they won’t be terribly reliable.
Finding art involves looking at Deviant Art portfolio sites, or public domain files. For Awesome Adventures, I got in contact with a number of Madison based artists, and Zach introduced me to Caroline Berg, and I had a number of already made art to pick and choose from. Someone is more likely to let you use their art for free if it doesn’t involve any effort to them, and you let them keep the rights and ownership. (Also, Caroline was awesome enough to draw some art to specs.) The downside to all of this is that you’re working with other people’s visions- they might not be drawing the sorts of things you want, but if you have a sufficiently broad vision for what sorts of art you might want, you can figure out what might work.
Public domain art is another good source, but you may find yourself restricted. There isn’t terribly much public domain fantasy or sci-fi art, but if you are writing a historical game, there’s a wealth of options out there. John Harper used this to good effect in Agon. I might look into this for art for Warriors from the Mystic Mountain, but I’ll probably be commisioning quite a bit of art too.
There’s one final way to get cheap art, but not everyone can do it: draw it yourself. Vincent Baker drew some of the pieces in Dogs in the Vineyard. You know your vision is going to be there, but not everyone is an artist, and professional quality art may make your game more attractive.