I sometimes get asked about how I got an illustration agent so I wanted to share my story with you. I’m by no means an expert this is just my own experience and what I’ve learnt along the way.
Steps I took:
- Looked online at agencies that I liked and thought my work would fit.
- Created a spreadsheet of these agencies with their contact details and submission guidelines and additional info like if they were connected with another agency or if they were particularly nice or approachable to me.
- Contacted the agencies according to their submission process. If I hadn’t heard anything I called the agencies a few weeks after to try and gain feedback.
- Made a date to resend portfolio in 3 months time to the agencies that seemed positive about my work.
Some of the responses I got were:
– Like my work, can’t offer representation at the moment
– Will make a concerted effort to look at my portfolio
– Don’t have any positions open for my style of work
– Only represent artists from that country
– Only get back to artists that they’re interested in
– They have already taken on new artists recently
During this time I was also creating new work for my portfolio, working on a new website and attending portfolio meetings with art buyers. I found people to contact through bikini lists, an online database of creative buyers from around the world. I saw each portfolio meeting as an opportunity to learn from the art directors and buyers and soak up as much information as possible. At the beginning in my eagerness to show my work to as many people as possible I sent out promotional campaigns to advertising agencies (something in hindsight I feel a bit silly for doing for two reasons 1. I had no experience in being commissioned for illustration or working with art directors and 2. If I had been commissioned for a job within an ad agency at such an early point in my career I think the pressure would have been immense. Not to say I don’t think I would have done it well…who knows…but I’d definitely recommend starting with contacting smaller publications to gain experience.) Having said all of that I definitely don’t regret visiting the agencies, I learnt so much from listening and talking to the art buyers about my work and the industry.
On one particular portfolio meeting I went into an advertising agency in London and had a meeting with two creative’s. They chatted through my portfolio and mentioned their senior art buyer would be interested to have a look but they thought she might be busy in meetings, they went off to find her and a couple of minutes later she returned to have a quick look. It was a fleeting moment but I was really grateful she took a few minutes to check out my work.
The next day I sent a few emails to thank the clients individually for their time and feedback. I sent an email to the senior art buyer thanking her for having a quick look at my book and asking her if she thought my work would be applicable to the campaigns they worked on and if she had any feedback. She replied quickly after saying that she’d been late for a meeting and when she popped back up to see me again I’d already gone. She was very complimentary of my work and asked me if I was looking for representation and that she might be able to help with an introduction on that score. We emailed back and forth for a few weeks and I was overwhelmed by her kindness – she contacted a couple of agencies and forwarded me their correspondence. The Artworks had just taken on their startworks artists for the year but they agreed to have a look at my website and give me some advice. A few weeks later I hadn’t heard anything so I called them and spoke to Alex. She was so lovely and friendly on the phone and took the time to answer my questions and advise me and promised to check out my site.
The next day Alex emailed me to say they’d had a look at my website and thought there were certain pieces that showed potential and invited me to come in with my portfolio to have a chat. I was so excited!
The day I went to visit Steph and Alex at The Artworks I was full of nervous excitement. I got to London early and went to Café Nero in Tottenham Court Road and sat drinking a peppermint tea and listing the things I loved about the agency and why I wanted to be a part of it. I think it’s important to establish why you like the agency you’re contacting and why you might need an agent, what they do and why they represent the illustrators they represent. The thing that drew me to The Artworks is the handmade quality of the work their illustrators produce and their supportive role in guiding and developing the work of graduates. After chatting to them and showing my portfolio and the new website I was working on (that was in development stages) and discovering more about what they do and how we could work together they offered me representation and I took it! I suppose most people would probably advise to take some time to think about your decision but I’m quite impulsive and led by heart, I just felt good about the situation and decision (and still do) so that’s how it went.
When accepting representation it’s crucial to ask questions. Some things to consider are: finding out about their promotional/marketing campaigns, how the client artist relationship works within their agency environment, are they willing to offer critique and feedback, their commission and artist payment scheme. You will get a contract that clearly details the most important aspects of these.Here are some things I learnt along the way:
- Research illustration agencies online that you like and think your work would be a good fit for. Create a list of agencies and be selective, this saves your time and theirs. It’s pointless to target agencies that don’t suit your aesthetic or business goals.
- Check to see the status of the agencies, do they only represent illustrators from their country of residence? Have they recently taken on new artists? If so consider contacting them in a few months.
- Keep a spreadsheet of communication and progress to remind you of when you contacted them, their feedback and when you could consider contacting them again.
- Follow up. Agencies are very busy places and emails can often be overlooked. If you’re really keen and you’ve left a certain period of time for a response and you haven’t had one, chase them (in a friendly way.) Just because there’s no response doesn’t mean there’s no hope and I found speaking to agents on the phone boosted me, even if they said no it was good to break the silence of not hearing anything. You have to be politely persistent.
- Share your portfolio constantly. As you read above I found representation through a recommendation after going to a portfolio meeting. See each meeting as an opportunity to learn and gain insight from industry professionals.
- Research and read. Illustration business books, blogs, articles, interviews. Some illustration business books I love are: Breaking into freelance illustration by Holly DeWolf, How to be an illustrator by Darrel Rees and Becoming a successful illustrator by Derek Brazell & Jo Davies.
I hope this may have been helpful for you if you’re currently thinking about gaining artist representation. Please feel free to leave me a comment if you have any further questions. Good luck!