Tuesday, May 5, 2009

issue: Agents, you know?

The word freelance in illustration seems a woolly term.

As a freelance illustrator, in my mind, you’re constantly calling people up, sending out a portfolio or cards, trying to get work however you can.

But it seems like you’d still be doing that if you were part of a collective or studio. Or at least someone there would be doing that. Maybe you split up the work load, in terms of calling people. Or you pool your resources and, Le Gun style, have one website related to your studio featuring work from all the resident designers, although I know they spend time calling up art directors trying to get work.

But everything we’ve been told this year has been that, basically, Art Directors are real hard asses to whom the idea of looking through a studio’s website to find an appropriate illustrator occupies the same area of consideration as having their family pets turned inside out (there’s a morbid sense of curiosity but probably they’ll choose not to, and anyway they’re too busy).

An alternative is agents.

I hate the idea of agents, basically. Or I did when I started thinking about this. Blood sucking money whores, right? Well I haven’t got any kind of conclusion just now, but I’m starting to figure all agents are different. They’re expensive, but it’s a balancing act. They should be getting you more work, so it might work out alright.

I guess it depends on how well you’re doing. It would be stupid for a student to get one in this late stage of our course – the D&AD exhibition might get our names out some (though probably not in my case – so I might have to start thinking about an agent after I’m done at the course). So now what I expected to be a crappy essay written with almost no thought at all has become a real bastard and is now something Serious to Think About.

Did a google search, got this website.

The person who wrote it is, seemingly, an agent (maybe “Anna Goodson”?) and they’re giving some advice on how to ask agents to hire you, as an illustrator, as well as briefly talking about what it is they do.

They talk about how they handle “the business end of the business”, and they mean that literally. Dealing with numbers, contracts etc. All that stuff that makes me feel dead inside when I think about it.

When I read that something clicked. No way can I handle that stuff myself, I will need an agent for all that horrendous crap but I won’t have the money to deal with the cost. The next few months after college are going to be turbulent for me, fiscally anyway. I need to get out of Stockport, need to find a place that living in doesn’t make me want to die. So an agent is more or less out of the question.

But again, with agents, I tend to only think of awful business stuff. On the positives: it is their job to get me jobs, after all. Maybe that’s exactly what I need when I’m trying to start out as an illustrator? I wouldn’t make too much money from illustrating, but my name might get out and this could have a snowball effect.

But maybe I can work hard enough to make it alone. Seeing those editors and things wasn’t that bad, I could definitely trick myself into enjoying it.

However I could exhaust myself doing that and I’ve already said I hate all the business side of illustration. I basically hate numbers and resent having to use them at all times. The idea of filing reports, doing numberish stuff, makes my blood run cold. That could quickly wear me down and is a big tick in the “get agent” column, for my money[1].

Hoping for more debate I’ve been reading the AOI agents forum, for the discussion of agents. One thing I’m consequently clear on is they should not be asking you for a joining fee, the bastards.

What could I do for self promotion without an agent? Well I remember Otto Dettmer saying he got obsessed with self promotion when he left uni, so I guess I do everything.

Making cards, making books, sending them to potential clients or art directors and selling them independently to shops. Manchester is a good place for this, with Oklahoma, Travelling Man and various other independent shops in the Northern Quarter taking in DIY products, such as books. I have friends always trying to put out zines and there are various zines, in all the cities of England, who want illustrations and love putting unknown illustrators into their publications. These aren’t going to pay the bills, but it is promotion.

[an image by Otto Dettmer like]

Then again Otto Dettmer said the best promotion is doing a job well. On the other hand I imagine a lot of agents have the same approach when it comes to putting your work out. If you do something a little different, creating a pop up book that you send an art director, or photos of an installation, something unique, that might go a long way to making an impression. You wouldn’t get lost in the sea of illustrators being hauled in by various agents.

It sounds like a lot of this (agents you’ve hired as well as clients you’re hoping will hire you) is about communication. You need to make sure your agent is doing their job and you need to understand the details of a commission/contract so they don’t screw you over. But if you’re quite open with them and have a good dynamic, that won’t be a problem. Likewise if you make a more personal connection with a client you seem more likely to get hired, to be seen as more than just “another illustrator”.

This connection comes from visits, calls, back and forth between you and the art director.

Finding a good agent, dealing with your agent or clients, it comes down to communication. Being honest, open and all that other lovely stuff.

I really like the idea of an agent that’s basically a buddy. Maybe I could trick someone I know into being my agent?

[1] Not a pun.

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