The SAA are very pleased to be supporting the World Illustration Awards by sponsoring The SAA Agents Award for New Talent.

In conversation with Christine Isteed, MD at Artist Partners

This month we are quizzing Christine Isteed from agency Artist Partners about her career as an agent in one of the most established agency in the UK


Please give a short summary of your company history and provide a bit of information about yourself and how you got into the business?


Artist Partners was founded in 1951- by Donovan Candler, John Barker, Arthur Rix, Betty Luton White and Reginald Mount who was the artistic director of the company.

The office was in a stylish Georgian building in Mayfair - Representing British and Internationally famous artists and designers and photographers such as :

Saul Bass, George Him, Patrick Tilley, Tom Eckersley, Herbert Leupin, Savignac Topolski, Heinz Kurth and many other artists .AP also had a very strong group of fashion illustrators like Aubrey Rix, Beryl Hartland, Alistair Michie, and figurative artists Susan Einzeg and Harry Hants, Ken Wynn and Ben Ostrick who worked across all fields of publishing and advertising. Later to represent photographers too Zoltan Glass and Adrian Flowers just to name a few. All their work shows very much the valued quality and heritage of illustration.

This was an excellent era for creative people as post war markets had expanded and their skills were being recognised and creative talents were appreciated as tools to advance the economy. Many of the AP artists were being used in the 1951 Festival of Britain on the South Bank near to AP’s new home in Waterloo.


Brian Sanders illustration for Woman’s Magazine 1960’s

Later in the swinging 60’s AP moved to Soho where things were always done in style, drinks parties every Friday with clients and artists , and commissions consolidated at the Studio Club later in the evening.

It was as close to the TV series “ Mad Men “ in décor and ambiance and culture as you could get.

Brian Sanders (Sandy)  has always been an integral part of Artist Partners from the early days. When he was a runner and assistant to the photographer Adrian Flowers, Sandy also learnt a great deal from the artists around him. He became a highly respected illustrator in his own right, as well as a director of the company. He was also very integral in the early formation of the AOI and acted as an external assessor at various colleges.

Sandy was the representative of Artist’s on the board, and looked after the artists interests. At that time AP had artists working on the premises, artists from all over the world, all wanting to be part of this dynamic agency and renting desk space within!

Illustrators were the new rock stars in those days , driving around in sports cars and very seriously aspirational. I joined AP in the 70’s as a young girl friday and all rounder, it was supposed to be a temporary job before I was to enter Fashion College. I was dressed head to toe in Biba and without a clue of how prestigious the agency Artist Partners was , and how vibrant and strong illustration was at that time….. For more information about this time and the artists represented by AP please go to our history page at the AP site…..

Since those early days I have worked as a director at AP with Virgil Pomfret, Chris Candler, Tommy Candler and Dom Rodi – until I became MD some 12 years ago…


David Roberts illustration taken from his illustrated edition of The Wind in The Willows by Kenneth Graham and published by Oxford University Press


How would you describe your day-to-day role as an illustrators’ agent?

Gosh! where do I start ? Every day is different, servicing enquiries from clients, answering email queries, going through briefs and sourcing models and costumes for some artists. Social networking has to be posted with news, events etc, images to the websites to be updated. Contracts to be negotiated, orders to be perused, and paperwork and jobs to be inputted for each commission. Second rights which is a big part of our business as we do a substantial amount of publishing work, both children’s picture books and adult fiction, takes up a good deal of time licencing images to foreign publishers.

I am always researching for new clients, new niches in the marketplace to be aware of any advertising agencies, publishers and other client sources . Regular clients make up a good deal of our work, its nice to have repeat business so everyone gets used to dealing and working with one another. I used to be able to service my regular clients by personally visiting them on a regular basis with job specific folios or a general updates, but that doesn’t happen as much now due to time restraints on the commissioners. It’s a shame for our business which was so social, that we have lost the personal touch .

Our accounts system is efficient, I have a book keeper who keeps everything ship shape, and manages the invoices, the chasing of the monies owed, and general admin specifically in the accounts area of the business. The artists get paid as promptly as possible and they have total transparency of our system and invoicing. What we try to do is take those headaches away from the illustrators, so they are able to concentrate on the creative process.


Illustration by Sophie Tilley – her new character Nanette for a series of books to be published by Bloomsbury Books


What are the commercial advantages for artists represented by your agency?

EXPERIENCE OF FORTY YEARS IN THE BUSINESS , giving as much time as I can to each and every artist, guiding them in their careers, and setting them sample piece briefs in order to widen their talents into specific niche areas of the business. Pushing the elements of their work that is unique to themselves, and giving them the confidence to own their very own style, keeping it fresh.

Informing artists of any changes in our business, affording them the knowledge of new quirks or trends they should be aware of…. Promotion and advertising with minimal expenditure, representation in the US , and we are looking actively to broaden our exposure in other territories too. Watch this space……


Front cover illustration by David Frankland – Penguin Books


What other benefits can an artist gain from being represented by you?

I try and take the pressure away from the artist and negotiate contracts, rights and usages to the best advantage of the artists we represent. I am constantly trying to improve fees, rights and the general working practice.

We are a small agency that runs things in a personal and friendly way, always trying to secure prestigious jobs, and giving the artists as much mentoring and guidance as possible.


Advertising for Playstation “God of War” by Steve Stone


What are the benefits of networking within the wider artistic community?

I think it's all about knowledge. The more you know the more prepared you are for most eventualities. Working together to make the Illustration industry a better place is good for all concerned. Avoiding bad contracts, and being aware of problems with clients is always helpful to know. Artist Partners are a particularly social agency, we do like to get involved where possible with the AOI and the SAA and other associations, and especially art colleges, where we like to help in any way we can.


Painting : Christina by Sharon Pinsker


How do you help your artists to recognise their market and help them adapt to new ones?

I try and work hand in hand with young artists to give them the courage to try new subjects, techniques etc. You have to understand each artist has a different way of working, the style and personality of the artist, the time it takes them to produce work, his or her strengths, in order to find a market place that is suitable . For the more established artists, it's finding them commissions perhaps in a new field or genre and exposing their work in other markets. Knowing what they enjoy doing most and trying to blend the two together. When an artist then unknown came to me with a fashion portfolio I immediately told him I wanted to see his work illustrating children’s books – since that day he’s never looked back and he has been continually busy since then and is now one of the world's leading illustrators.


Book cover : “Daylight War” UK edition published by Harper Collins – cover digital image by Larry Rostant


What do you consider is the main role and responsibilities of the illustrators you represent to help you to build their career?

It has to be a two way relationship. The illustrator should obviously be pro- active and create as much new work as possible. Producing new samples and constantly pushing the boundaries in order to divert into other genres of illustration is very important. The artist should be excited about what they are doing and enquire about new processes and programmes digitally, or experimente in traditional painting in different styles. It’s a constant learning process and the more the artists learn in this digital age the better equipped they will be.


Front cover illustration for book entitled: “Enders” published by Random Children’s Books Cover image by Bob Lea .


What advice would you give to an illustrator looking for an agent?

For any Artist Partners submissions I ask the artists to send approximately 6 printed images, representational of his/her work with a SAE by post. I am happy to see folios of work once I have seen the samples, I feel we, as agents are best placed to give a good critic of artists work which artists find beneficial.

It is important that the Agent you eventually decide to represent you, truly understands you, your ethos and more importantly your work! It needs to be someone who you can totally trust, and work with as a team to achieve your goals. To respect and like one another is essential, it’s a tough business, and you need to share a close loyalty and bond between you in what should be a very special relationship.


New Artist : Shobhna Patel - Packaging Designer and Papercutter


Next month The Art Market

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