Working through an agency can mean a higher profile, more business, and more time spent actually creating work rather than generating it, but many illustrators are nervous of signing on the dotted line. Digit explores how to choose the best representation.

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There are two categories of freelance creatives – those with representation, and those without. The question is, which fares better, financially and professionally?
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Do you need an agent in order to prosper, or might you be better advised running your own affairs, and keeping the 30 per cent of your fee that most agencies levy? 
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Ulla Puggaard is a well established illustrator who’s better placed than most to answer this, as she’s represented by three agencies – Central Illustration Agency (<a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.centralillustration.com" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">www.centralillustration.com</a>) in the UK, Kate Larkworthy (<a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.larkworthy.com" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">www.larkworthy.com</a>) in the US, and an outfit in her native Denmark. 
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“It’s a big jungle out there,” she says, “and to have time collating work and finding clients can be really exhausting, and then there’s a whole lot of practical things, such as negotiating fees, sending invoices, and tracking money when it doesn’t show up.”
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Besides this, the London design scene was also alien to Puggaard, so she opted to find an agent because “they’ll know that market inside out and it’s much more likely they’re going to find you good work”. 
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Another for whom geography was a key factor in sourcing an agent was Jonny Hannah, a Southampton-based illustrator who is with the Heart agency (<a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.heartagency.com" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">www.heartagency.com</a>). 
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“The truth is you don’t actually need an agency to get work,” says Hannah. “One of the reasons I’ve got one is I live in Southampton, which isn’t far from London, but far enough to mean I’m removed from the scene. 
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“It’s nice to have someone representing me in the city where illustration is commissioned, and it’s also handy when it comes to getting jobs that are bigger and that earn more money.” 
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Paul McNally is currently unrepresented, but in the new year the South London-based designer, illustrator and art director will be joining soon-to-be-launched Debut Art Directions, an agency whose roster will offer everything from print and packaging design, installation work, interiors and even curating. 
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Like Puggaard, McNally is finding it tough juggling creativity with housekeeping. “Having representation may mean you have to hand over a percentage of your money, but it means you can just get on with the creativity and not worry about any of the other stuff.” 
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Once a designer or artist has decided representation is the way ahead, the challenge is not just finding an agency, but finding the right agency. Puggaard’s advice to creatives is to do your research. 
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“This is important, because one agent might be good for one kind of work and another good for another sort. For illustrators, you can get a feel for this by going to the Association of Illustrators (<a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.theaoi.com" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">www.theaoi.com</a>), and there are many index books where lots of agents show different artists, such as the Art Book (<a rel="nofollow" href="http://tinyurl.com/yfdczt" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://tinyurl.com/yfdczt</a>). 
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“The Internet is brilliant for research, too. If you see an illustrator’s work in a magazine you can search for that person and find his or her agent.” 
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<h2>Slim pickings</h2>
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