The illustrator's guide to getting an agent

Get to know your worth

Negotiating the finer details of contracts is something that not all illustrators are comfortable with, as Doeksen reflects: "In the past I have done big projects for fees that were next to nothing just because I thought it sounded fun: totally forgetting about the rent I have to pay."

Managing fees is one area where the expertise of your agent is invaluable. "We're highly involved in the negotiation, maintenance, and production of a project," says Jennifer Marie Gonzalez, director of US agency Hugo & Marie. "We're committed to overseeing a process that results in a happy client and a happy creative. We believe in the creative."

Agency director Jennifer Marie Gonzalez of Hugo & Marie says fee management is an important area covered by agencies (illustration above by Hisham Akira Bharoocha)

Experience and knowledge of the industry certainly helps you avoid common mistakes, especially where fees are concerned, as GWAW observed recently. "We received a payment for work being reused, which was a considerable sum of money, and money that we never have seen had it not been for our agent's astute contract negotiations."

"Pricing can be a minefield for freelance illustrators," says Agency Rush director Helen Rush. "We take great care to ensure the best possible fee we can for our creatives."

Based in Brighton since 2006, Agency Rush have built a reputation as a leading creative consultancy, representing 26 leading creatives across illustration and graphic art. "It's a long term commitment – a bit like joining a family," she says. "Our ethos and principles have remained the same. We're very hands on with both clients and artists, and have always had a boutique feel to the work we represent in both size and content."

Priding themselves on their personable approach, Agency Rush carefully work with their artists to put together a portfolio that is cohesive and commercial. "We like to have an open, honest and communicative relationship with our team," she says. "This is key to having a productive relationship."

Nurturing relationships is essential to assuring the long-term success of any agent and illustrator partnership, perfectly illustrated by agency Hugo & Marie, who have remained relatively small over the last six years, with just 12 core creative on their books. "We strive to carve out a small group that we feel a personal connection to and passion for their work," explains Gonzalez.

Getting your work seen

Promotion is key to securing clients, and for Hugo & Marie, a personal touch can go a long way. "Our team is big on special, handcrafted gifting for clients and friends – we create custom artist beach towels sent with hand written notes, or rolls of artist wrapping paper sent with hot chocolate during the holidays." Hugo & Marie host a team-wide exhibition once a year, and keep abreast of industry developments through regular engagement activities: "We host traditional portfolio breakfasts at agencies, and attend many events, conferences, parties, and presentations around the world."

For illustration duo GWAW, having agencies on different sides of the Atlantic is assuring: "We've found that each agency takes a similar approach when it comes to promoting our work; whether it be online websites, books, fairs and taking regular meetings with prospective clients."

illustrator Ville Savimaa has found agency work a bit stressful but very worthwhile

Finnish illustrator Ville Savimaa has been represented by Agent Pekka since 2008, and has found it to be a very positive experience: "It's a good thing, but it can be a bit stressful. I've had to push myself to get better. I'm represented alongside a lot of talents and I don't want to be the worst guy in the group." Since joining the agency, Savimaa has also gained more publicity for this work: "I was amazed by the renewed interest (in my work). Through representation I have got bigger clients. For me, having an agent works."

Stay proactive

When it comes to having an agent, it's essential to remain level headed, and manage your expectations. "The industry ebbs and flows in terms of style preference and some creatives are busier than others throughout the year," explains Gonzalez.

Indeed, a common misconception amongst newly signed illustrators is that the work will simply roll in. "We were very naive in the beginning that it would lead to a steady flow of well-paid work, but it can be inconsistent. We still have to promote ourselves and work very hard to earn a living," says Bolton, who warns against complacency. "For us, representation continues to only be a part of our pursuit of work."

Having worked in illustration, publishing, advertising, branding and much more throughout his incredibly varied 32 year career, designer and artist Mike Perry is represented internationally, but doesn't take his success for granted. "This is a lifestyle not a job. It keeps me on my toes. I have three agents, but that doesn't mean that I can kick back and let them handle everything."

Managing each aspect of your creative business can be a challenge, and having an agent doesn't necessarily mean that these issues disappear, as Perry is quick to add: "Anyone who thinks having an agent means you get to sit back is in for a rude awakening."

Sue Doeksen agrees. "I think as an illustrator it is perhaps a good idea to not be totally dependent on your agency. Because you don't know what the future will bring."

Words: Lisa Hassell

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