Wednesday, March 18, 2015

My Experience with Illustration Agencies

Because I got a fair share of questions and comments about joining an agency, I thought it would be good to post my experience here in a more prominent place so that lots of people can read it and ask more questions.

This was a huge learning experience for me, and there's more learning to come. I have been very fortunate in that I got work within the first weeks of signing and it's been fairly steady ever since. There will be times of feast and famine with any market, but I am incredibly grateful to be where I am right now. But here's how I got to where I am.

To start, I talked to some of my friends and peers who were already working with agencies to find out how that was working for them. All in all, their experiences have been positive, so I decided to look more into it and ask myself some questions:

1.) What does an agency do?

Well, as I understand it, an agency does a lot of networking, advertising and marketing for you, the artist! Agencies often have access to jobs and projects that are not publicly announced, and can negotiate good rates for you, though it varies. Of course, this comes at a cost - an agent will take an average commission of 30% - 40% from the work they find for you. Bear in mind that you will *also* be paying 30% of your earnings to Uncle Sam in taxes (if you live in the States), so at the end of the day you might only pocket 30% of the original commission. Ouch.

Some agencies will also charge you a percentage of the advertising costs they spend on you annually. Only you can decide if that's worth it to you; in the end, I was happy to pay to be represented in trade shows and annuals that I had no access to any other way.

It's rough, but the folks at the agency gotta eat too, and the idea is that you get enough work at good enough rates to make this viable for yourself. It takes time to establish regular clients, so be sure to have a plan B or some savings while this is happening. I cannot stress enough how important this laSt part is. Publishing often works at a snail's pace, and even after you get work with an agency, payment can take 30 - 60 days to process after invoicing. There is no shame in being a barista or moonlighting as a circus clown in the interim.

2.) What do I want to do?

This probably seems like an obvious question, but it's important to be clear on the type of artwork you want to do, because every agency's body of work is different. Some agencies focus on editorial illustration, some on sci-fi, some concept design, some children's media and some are exclusively children's books.

While my heart is still in vis dev for animation, I've been really curious about doing children's books, greeting cards, stationery, wrapping paper, fabric patterns... so, being that I don't have many connections in these fields, going through an agent would be a great way to break the ice and see how that all fits. I researched lots of kid-friendly agencies online and selected the ones that had the most variety in the projects and clients they worked with.

It really is crucial that you do your research before contacting any agency; if I just submitted my stuff to an agency that specializes in, say, medical illustration, it would be obvious that I didn't take any time or consideration in choosing them, and that would reflect very poorly on me.

3.) How will this agency represent me?

My goal was not to be represented exclusively by an agent; that is, I wanted to open myself up to new clients and markets in addition to the ones I had already been working with, without the agency getting a cut from my existing, regular clients. This is a very important distinction to make, as some agencies prefer to take you on exclusively and all work, past and present, must be brought through them.

This arrangement works out well for some established illustrators who are specialized in their field, and I suspect that artists who choose to be exclusive might get top billing in the agency (but don't quote me on that, it's my own speculation). For me, however, this wouldn't work well. I live in one of the most expensive cities in the country and I have some very much beloved clients that I've worked with over a decade, so I didn't want to risk losing my existing income to commissions.

4.) How does this agency treat its artists?

I was lucky and recognized a few artists who were already represented by some of the agencies I was interested in, so I contacted those artists and asked about their experiences. How much was their agency's commission? How often were they getting work inquiries? How fast was payment? How aggressive are they with clients who do not pay? How was communication with the artist? What was it like if the artist could not accept work at the time? How high pressure was it?

If you don't recognize anyone with an agency that catches your eye, take a good, long look at the agency's website. Does it look professional? Is it current? How often is it updated? How readily available is each artists' work and contact info? An agency should be working hard for you, so that, in turn, you can work hard for it.

5.) What kind of work should I submit?

I touched on this before, but really take the time to see what kind of work will have the most appeal to an agency and what format/how many images they have requested. Often times these guidelines are posted on the submissions page/form of the website. Every agency is different, even the ones that represent the same types of illustration.

For the most part I submitted PDFs of my work from my self-published books, some older personal work and some professional work that I had full permission to use. Never, ever submit work that is NDA protected, even if you think no one will notice. That is how bridges get burned and why lawyers get paid.

Though most of my work is animal-centric these days, I made sure to include the rare human that I've drawn from time to time. It's good to have some versatility to show, but try not to be all over the map stylistically. Just because I *can* do clean UI vector art, doesn't mean I need to show it to an agency that favors painterly cartoon animals. ...besides, I hate doing UI with a passion. ;)

So I submitted to about a dozen well-researched agencies, and I waited.

About a month later, I got my first reply, which was a rejection and was chided for not having a cleaner-looking website. Oof! Of course, they were right about my website being a mess, so a good rule of thumb is to have your website updated and clean, because those art directors look at art websites all day, every day, which leads to burn-out. They don't want to have to dig around to get a clear idea of your body of work, and you shouldn't make them.

A month after that, I still hadn't heard from 8 agencies, got 1 more rejection and finally I heard from 2 more agencies, who were selecting their new artists at the end of the year. It so happened that both of these agencies do quarterly reviews for new artists, so maybe that's a common thing.

Anyway, yet another month passed and I kept in touch with the agencies while they sorted things out, and then singled out 1 of the 2 agencies, by virtue of my admiration of their artists and that they were great communicators, down to earth and very nice people all around.

When they came around with an offer, I was thrilled and confident in choosing them, having talked with one of their artists personally about their experience, and by building a relationship with their staff via email exchange. We negotiated an agreement, and here I am!


I hope this helps some of you who are thinking of going down this road. It's all new and wonderful for me right now and I really hope to make some fantastic work for new, wonderful people in this part of my journey.

Hibernation is Still Over - Full Speed Ahead!

Hey everyone! It's been a really long time since I've been active on here, or really on any of my social accounts, so thank you for your patience and all of the kind messages I've had waiting for me!

So where have I been all this time? Well, the reality of being an independent adult has set in over the last year, complicated by the fact that I've decided to make my living as an independent artist... I guess what I am saying is "Hooo boy, am I in debt from a crappy year of freelancing!" While it gave me enough spare time to get Snorffles & Meeps 3 done, it's taken its toll on my savings account, and I've had to really focus on getting some solid, paid work. No easy feat in this economy, and with the entertainment industry being what it is right now, it's been very stressful and uncertain.

Luckily, I've had a whole new world opened up to me by signing with The Bright Agency this past January. I currently have 3 picture books in the works with major publishers (one of which is a series you all grew up with! EEEEE!) and I am being kept very busy with smaller book titles and hopefully children's licensing. It's ended up being a real challenge but also much more fun and freeing than my work in the gaming industry has been in all of 7 years, so I am very grateful to be in this position right now. 

On top of this, I am still doing vis dev work for animation and toy design, so I get to keep my favorite bits and pieces of the design world. Things are starting to look up!

It does mean that there is less time for personal artwork, and really even getting a single new piece done for Emerald City Comic Con has been nearly impossible and it may not even happen. But the overlap of my professional work and personal work had blurred significantly, so I am feeling satisfied with what I am doing these days - the bummer is that I can't talk about it or show anything for at least a year. Boo! 

Speaking of ECCC, this is where I will be! I will be selling the last copies for Snorffles & Meeps! Vol. 3, tons of prints, greeting cards and hopefully that new piece!

On the rodent front, it's been a tough year already. I lost Al to the ripe old age of 3 and his companion, Doodle, to cancer. I haven't been able to do a piece for Doodle just yet, but here is one of Al reuniting with his 2 beloved partners in rattie crime.

Finally, I will be posting a breakdown on working with agencies and how to go about finding one. Seems a lot of my friends and colleagues are considering this route, so I hope people will find  my experience helpful. Hang tight!

Thursday, January 08, 2015

WAKE UP! It's 2015!!

Looks like it's the Year of the Frump. I am not awake. At. All. But thanks to Pixie, I have some caffeine to help with the post-vacation blues.

Sorry for the lapse since September. As you might have gleaned from my facebook page, things got a little out of control with the book and shipments and shows and all the things, but I did manage to get something nice done for a gallery show in the chaos.

Happily, he has found a new home and my hard work has paid off! It was a two-pronged art assault on wool, both needle felting and knitting. He took forever to make, but I really enjoyed it, and hope I have an excuse to make another one this year.

And of course, there was the usual deluge of rodent art!

Things are rather nebulous for projects in 2015. While I can confirm that there will not be a Snorffles & Meeps! Volume 4 this year (though that's not to say there won't be one next year!), I am toying with ideas on doing an illustrated book on dog breeds and I have a couple of cool gallery shows in the pipeline, so there will be updates coming soon on that. I'll probably be as surprised as you are in terms of what gets posted on here!

Friday, September 12, 2014

It's Snorffle-riffic Friday!

When it rains, it pours! I will be doing a proper update on Kickstarter shortly, but for now I wanted to share the bevy of rewards and book progress that has all come to a head in the last few days! This is the fun part of working on a lot of things at once; it pays off all at once too!

First of all, I received the advanced copy of the book in the mail today! I can tell you, it will be worth the wait. The colors are vibrant, the paper stock is nice and thick and it's just a joy to be holding it in my hands. 

This copy will be on display at APE in a few weeksshould you like to hold it in your hands whilst considering throwing down for a pre-sale at the show. Shipping will be free, and you can take your exclusive tiger print home with you that day. Just sayin'.  If you've already supported us via Kickstarter and have a book ordered, then please stop by our table if you can. You can pick up all of your other Kickstarter swag, including the Totes Mah Goats tote! 

Did I mention I have a metric crap-ton of greeting cards debuting at APE too? 5'' x 7'' this time! I am waiting on a few more designs to come back from the printer, then they will be assembled into assorted theme packs (Ocean Life, Pocket Pets and For the Birds). I will have cards for sale individually at APE as well, not sure about selling singles online just yet. Flat rate shipping makes it kind of pointless. 

Things are starting to come together, despite the bumps in the road. I am really excited to be putting all of these goodies into the hands of wonderful people. I am sure I will have another update very soon - I still have to show you guys the ferret pillows, the stickers, and maybe a new piece or two!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

You Are Who You Choose To Be.

So  much has happened since my last update! First off, here are less than stellar photos of my piece for The Iron Giant Mini Tribute at A Little Known Shop in Anaheim! Show is September 13th and ONE NIGHT ONLY! 

Housed in a 16” x 4” x 4” case, I cut out archival quality inkjet prints of a piece I originally painted digitally and arranged them carefully among circuits and wires. My lovely partner Rez designed the circuit board for me so that the blue bulb on the bolt blinks! I wish I had a gif :( 

Anyway, I learned a ton about circuits and soldering and how not to breath in fumes from molten lead. I’ve never had the patience for the elaborate, gorgeous paper cuts that I see at shows, so I decided to keep the paper elements simple and let the LEDs be the “wow” factor here :)

Also, we have been confirmed for a table at APE 2014! It's at a new venue, one of my favorites in the area actually, so I am very excited about this fresh start. Here is where you can find Jeannine and I - an EASY walk-in from the entrance!

Now for some less than happy news. At the moment there have been some snags with Snorffles & Meeps! Vol. 3. The books are still being made and everyone who pledged the proper amounts during the kickstarter will still get their copies, albeit a little later than anticipated, so it's nothing catastrophic. The worst that is going to happen is that we are missing our initial shipping deadline, which was in the beginning of October - unfortunately this is out of our control as the factory we are using to make these books has slipped the deadline and we can't recover the lost time. We are rather unhappy about that, but since neither Jeannine nor I have perfected time travel, we gotta deal.

In addition to setting back the book's ship date by a few weeks, this means we will not have copies to sell in-person at APE this year. This is the toughest blow for us, since it would have saved us shipping costs to be able to give these to kickstarter pledgers locally and also have given us a chance to reach a wider audience at the show. Not to mention we were looking forward to seeing people react to the book in-person! Having books at APE was the primary reason why we set our initial shipping deadline in early October, however, we will be offering pre-sales for the book on-site at APE, with free shipping, and you can take home a 5'' x 7'' signed tiger print when you pay for the pre-order in full. All of our kickstarter goodies, such as the tote bags, the cards, pillows and pins are on schedule to be ready before October, so we can also give out those goodies in-person to pledgers.

Finally, one way or another, we will have a sample copy of the book at our table for people to look through. We may be able to have an advance copy of the book straight from the factory, or we will mock something up via a made-to-order site.

When life gives you lemons, you make Snorffles. And Meeps.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Some progressively cooler palettes for some of my favorites from the book! Can you hear the sound of the candle burning at both ends? I can!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Getting my forest vibe on with some California Quails and White Tailed Deer!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Channeling my love for The Lion King on this one ;) 

And channeling my... well, I don't exactly love musk ox, but I don't not love them, but they do make for really good parents of the animal kingdom. 

And now a dose of color to balance out the palette of those musk ox.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Oh man, where do I even start? The kickstarter ended on Friday and all of my expectations were surpassed - we are not only funded but we passed our goal by $3000! As soon as the Totes McGoats stretch goal was revealed, everyone just knuckled down and got us there and beyond. Thank you all so, so much.

Here are some more additions of mine to the book: 

Our work is far from over. We have to finish the artwork and layout for the book, print hundreds of prints for the rewards, make a ton of pillows and paintings and order up the totes and cards and pins and all the things. Kickstarters are work, you guys. WORK! But so worth it in the end!

You'll be hearing from me again soon :)

Monday, June 02, 2014

So there's been big news over the weekend! Jeannine and I launched the kickstarter campaign for Snorffles n' Meeps! Volume 3 and we're so excited to show you what's in store and all of the rewards for backers!

The campaign has been very successful so far - we're just shy of halfway to our funding goal after only 3 days! We are so grateful to everyone who stepped up to pledge or shared the campaign to spread the word. We've gotten so much support, which is terribly reassuring when you spend hours and hours on something in which you have no idea if people will even want to see, let alone enjoy. Every pledge, share and reblog has helped replenish our energy and motivation and we're going to post brand new art as we reach various funding milestones.

But for now, I leave you with some African elephants, our exclusive tiger print (you only get it with the book purchase!) and good wishes for your week. Please spread the word about the kickstarter - this is the hardest part of the campaign! We promise to keep it fresh with new artwork and will give you something worth talking about :)

Friday, May 23, 2014

This week was all about ranchu goldfish, rockhopper penguins and a sneaky little ringtail lemur (with a side of kuhli loaches!) I am going to be caught up for the next week or so with work and last-minute preparations for something big, so keep an eye on here for the announcement. It might have something to do with all of the animal art I keep tossing up here >:)

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Ferrets, Pillows, Procrastination!

Whoah, that was a long, unplanned hiatus from this blog! A lot happened in the last bunch of weeks, ranging from bursts of work, a couple of medical scares and a convention here and there. Things are back to being steady for the time being, so I am hoping to be more productive again. 

One of the new things I've been up to is making pillows from my artwork! It started with a prototype of the little sweater ferret and so far the reception has been great!

I decided to do a pre-sale for 10 pillows, since there was enough demand. At the time of this writing we're down to 8 left! You can grab one here if you like!

I'm still drawing, I swear. I will be getting back in the saddle with more animal illustrations for the book, possibly meaning some new prints for the art sale at NightLife on the 15th. Locals, come on down! I might have a few pillows left to sell in-person too!

See you in a bit, most likely with some lemurs. Finally. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ferrets! Ferrets for the book! Because I promised ferrets! :D

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Three weeks from today I will be setting up shop in Seattle! Whereabouts, you say? 

Jeannine and I are doubling up on a fancy booth to sell our book, prints and new prints from our upcoming book. I will also bust my butt to get some gouache stuff done so that I can be one of the cool kids and get some originals out there! 

I also drew some manatees last night. I've never had the honor to meet one in-person, but I would like to some day. We seem like we have a lot in common, including but not limited to an aversion to exercise and a chronic algae problem. Well, maybe not the algae part.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Now sea here, you otter visit this kelp forest! Special guest appearance by Lenny the spiny lumpsucker!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Does anyone think oarfish are as awesome as I do? Sad that we really haven't seen any living ones up close, but it's also kind of cool that they're still so mysterious. Another illustration for the book! :)