Whether you’re an illustration veteran or just starting out, signing up with an agency can mean that vital step for ramping your career up a notch. Not only do you have someone fighting your corner for higher fees, but the likelihood is that it will have better access to those killer clients, plus a much bigger PR budget than you alone could muster. Also it frees up your time to stick to what you do best – illustration. But how do you get the most out of your relationship with an illustration agency?

Alicja McCarthy of Central Illustration Agency (centralillustration.com), suggests that one of the most important things is to research each agency before you approach them. Ensure your work is the right fit, the agency is providing the correct type of projects and it’s willing to make a long-term commitment to support your work.

“I cannot stress this enough: do your homework,” urges Alicja. “Always go through the who’s who of each agency, and look at the type of artists they represent. Blanket emails to all agents are a huge mistake, so tailor each email or approach individually.”

Consistency counts

Eoin Ryan’s The Restored Finnegans Wake cover for Penguin Modern Classics. He is represented by Agency Rush

As with winning a client, a strong consistent portfolio is vital for securing a slot on an agency’s books. “We often see portfolios that have a mishmash of styles in them, but what we’re really looking for is an artist to have a particular direction and style of their own,” explains Helen Rush, owner of Agency Rush (agencyrush.com). “We need to be able to see the commercial possibilities and a good variety of subject matter really helps here.”

What each agency is looking for from an illustrator will vary, but some qualities are universal. “We look for talent, skill and style and, very importantly, a ‘nice person’,” says Alicja. “Artists and agents have to work side by side, and if you don’t both gel then this may become an issue at some point of your career.”

A still from an animation by Shotopop. They are represented by CIA

“An illustrator needs to be articulate, have a cleverness about their work, and able to answer a brief,” Helen adds. “They’re all obvious things, but there are quite a few people out there that can create an engaging image, but are hopeless at working with an art director and working to brief. Also, accept other people’s opinions, it’s a great skill.”

Right: John Spencer for the International Herald Tribunes. He is represented by CIA

Most agencies will have a flat rate commission, but that doesn’t mean your earnings will stay static as you become more well-known and successful. Because agents know the market inside out at any given point, they will be able to advise you on what fees to charge when, and secure you a fair price for your work.

“Changing rates is a tricky thing to do as currently our climb out of the recession is a key factor,” explains Alicja. “Price hikes could throw you out of the market but cutting rates undermines the value of the work. Flexibility, client and talent-side, builds relationships which is hugely important.”

Max Ellis Titanic for Penguin Group USA. He is represented by CIA