Illustration Ltd.’s Harry Lyon-Smith estimates that there are over 1000 illustration commissions each week in the United Kingdom.
With so many illustrators working on so many projects and any given time, it is clear that there is a big demand for representation out there. Illustration agents, like any agent, are the linchpin in the relationship between artists and the commissioning clients.
That might not explain what the agency does, and why freelancers need them but like any agency, there are certain tasks the agents will do to make it far easier for the freelancer excel in their career. As Caroline Thomson of Arena Illustration agency put it, “An agent is your support, quality control, sounding board and mentor.”
So, here are five practical every-day tasks that we can help you with...
We find and Nurture New Talent
There are many undiscovered artists out there, and there is always a call for new talent. Young artists can bring fresh ideas, but sometimes need nurturing and guidance. Agents have the industry expertise to go in search of new artists, and know what clients are looking for. We will attend degree shows, check forums, social media sites and blogs to see the type of work others are delivering.
Some agencies have clients in specific fields like publishing or fashion, and some look for illustrators that are more flexible in their approach or style, or who work in a style that is different form their current roster of artists.
From there, we work with you to nurture your talent. We help you understand the industry and help you build on current skills.
We help you promote your portfolio and match your work with client briefs
Illustration agents work with a variety of talents, skills and interests. This helps us find someone suitable for all types of work. If someone needs a specific piece of art in a specific style, the agent will know the best illustrator for the job.
Likewise, an agent will be able to promote your portfolio and put you forward for the most suitable brief. This helps you get your work in front of more eyes, and more importantly the right client, in the hope that you can begin to build a lasting working relationship with them.
We help you interpret briefs
Not all the briefs are going to be clear for an illustrator to understand. It can be difficult for clients to express their needs and wants. At the same time, illustrators need a certain amount of hand-holding to help them best interpret the clients’ needs. Getting it wrong can cause huge problems between illustrator and client, miscommunication can happen very easily, and when this happens it is costly and time consuming to correct.
Illustration agents are able to interpret briefs, and have lots of experience in working with a variety of clients. We understand target audiences and can therefore approach clients directly with a tailored portfolio. Agents also help clients put their ideas and needs into words, are detail-focused and instrumental in communicating between illustrator and client. The project runs much smoother and the illustrator is more likely to be hired again.
Agents communicate and negotiate with the client on your behalf
Negotiation and communication are skills that all businesspeople need to have. Most illustrators often just want to get on with the task they’re being hired for, creating art is what you do best, but you may not have the business knowledge or ability to negotiate your fees. You may also not know the best way to communicate concerns, questions or problems. Agents can guide you through the on-boarding process, and advise you on contracts and fees.
Negotiation is one of the most important tasks an agent can perform when it comes to working with clients. After all, it is also in the agent’s interest to secure you the best rate. On top of that, an agent will work as the go-between for the illustrator and client. If there is an issue on either end, the agent can liaise between you to get the best outcome for all.
We chase payments after they’re due
In a perfect world, every client would pay on time but it doesn’t always happen. Sadly many freelancers need to chase for payments. If you’re working alone, you will have to do all of this yourself. It can lead to taking time off your other paid work to contact slow paying clients, and even then there is no guarantee the money will be paid. It’s a steep and painful learning curve when you realise that the project you worked on doesn’t actually bring you with the financial reward it promised. A good binding contract means that you will never se this happen.
Illustration agents often also have dedicated departments within their companies to do this task, as well as the legal team to work on anyone who refuses to make a payment. Not only does it save time for illustrators, but it means payments are more likely to be made.
Hiring an agent may seem like an extra cost for an illustrator, but there are enormous benefits. Illustration agents don’t just help to chase payments and work with clients, although this is a big part of the process. We can help nurture new talent, as well as help match you with the perfect client. A good agent is someone you will have a lasting relationship with, we’re your mentor and professional advisor, your accountant, lawyer and most importantly, someone who will find you the most suitable work and look out for your best interests, leaving you to get on with honing your creative skills. A happy and prosperous illustrator is a productive illustrator.
If you'd like to get in touch with our member agents, head to the SAA members' page and follow the links to their websites.