The illustrator's guide to getting an agent

Lisa Hassell speaks to illustrators and agencies to discover exactly what is the role of the agent, and how to get the most out of them.

Prestigious clients, ambitious projects and a much-needed boost to your profile; the coveted spot on an agency's roster is one that many illustrators aspire to. Understanding the market, knowing your worth and commanding higher fees are all part of being a freelancer, and getting to grips with the business side can take time. In this competitive industry, only the strongest survive – and finding an agent to share the load is an attractive prospect.

Whether you're a recent graduate or a professional with several years of experience under your belt, the thought of getting representation will no doubt cross your mind – but how do you know if it's right for you? The relationship between an agent and an illustrator is a relatively simple one, but as we discover it is not a guarantee of overnight success.

Taking the first step

For illustrators Louise Chappell and Becky Bolton, who forged a creative partnership as Good Wives and Warriors back in 2007, the early freelance days were tough. "In the beginning, we actively pursued work, usually for no money, to try to build up our portfolio," Bolton tells us. "Winning the Young Illustrators Award meant that our work was seen by Swatch and we were commissioned for our first 'big' job."

Becky Bolton of GWAW, creators of this illustration for Lee Jeans, had tough decisions to make regarding agents

Australian agency Jacky Winter signed them up in Melbourne where Bolton was living at the time. "We thought that as our portfolio was starting to look more professional, agents might be interested in representing us," says Bolton. With that in mind, on their return to the UK the pair contacted several UK agencies before signing on the dotted line. "It was actually a really difficult decision deciding which one we wanted to go with," she recalls.

With the addition of agents in Germany and the US in recent years, GWAW have worked on commercial jobs for clients such as Absolut Vodka, Lee Jeans, and TicTac amongst others. "I think having got representation from one agent, it made it a lot easier to get representation in other countries," says Bolton, who recommends a proactive approach. "We reached out to all our agents, sending them portfolios and emails - there were many who didn't contact us back."

Develop your style

Attracting interest from agents directly is rare, but not impossible, as Dutch illustrator Sue Doeksen discovered. Investing time building a portfolio of vibrant self initiated projects, Doeksen attracted the attention of London YCN and Swedish agency WOO early on in her career. "Expressing myself and having the feeling of total creative freedom is very important," she explains.

Sue Doeksen attracted the attention of agencies, which is a rare occurrance but not an unachievable goal

Known for her playful and colourful character designs, Doeksen graduated in 2006, earning her freelance stripes as part of art collective Zesbaans. For her, one of the most valuable assets to having an agent is the freedom to focus on being creative, in order to "develop personal thoughts and ideas, creative thinking and using more kinds of media".

With the responsibility resting solely on the shoulders of your agent, you can enjoy a certain amount of freedom and breathing space from the day to day aspects of running a business: "Agencies have nice networks, good input, they are inspiring and professional and it is really great to have someone take care of things like time schedules and fees," she smiles. "In that way all I have to do is focus on bringing the idea's to life."

Next page: how to make the most of your agent