Agent or no agent. How to get work and what's your dayjob



  • I'm in the process of moving to London and will go there to join my longdistance boyfriend in January. At the moment i have no job as i have quit my architecture job in my homecountry and have to packa nd organize the move and all and ideally i would love to do children's books and editorial illustration and pretty much work as a freelancing illustrator. However London is very expensive (duh) and i am quite stressed about how to approach things from now on. I've recently completed a children's book that is in the process of being published in my country Romania by one of the biggest publishers here and i already have a portfolio of things i'm reasonably proud about. I will work on getting a better presence online and make better pieces and make a portfolio site (i'm on behance and facebook and instagram and i still have to update all of them) but i am terrorised of the prospect of having to work in architecture again as i know it doesn't leave me time to work on illustration work and i expect it to be the same in London. However i don't find illustrator jobs i feel qualified for (i am not a concept artist etc) and i'm not feeling qualified to do real quality graphic design either. In all honesty i feel semi comfortable doing architecture because that's what i reasonably know how to do. (i know i also sound terribly insecure which i feel very much because of this move. It feels like London is this huge pedestal full of competition where you have to be brilliant to succed in anything which is making me very blocked. My reason for coming here was love and it was very quick so it's not really very planned)

    Those of you having an agent, do you recommend getting one? is it worth it?

    Also, what dayjobs to you have if i can ask and how do you balance (unless you are freelance) doing illustration work with your day to day job and other things (family etc).

    If you are freelance (especially in London or the UK but anywhere really) how did you start?

    After getting to London i will have to start earning money right away not just to not burden my boyfriend and contribute to the household but also because of Brexit looming and not knowing what the future holds in that regard foe expats either

    I was also thinking of maybe doing a easier dayjob (even working in a bookshop or coffeshop maybe) so i can have more time and brainpower to focus on getting illustration jobs and building my career.

    Also, how would you advise i could get my published book to publishers in the uk? (i'm not completely happy with it but that's another story and i can't afford to focus on it not being Bologna material)

    Sorry this is so all over the place but i'm starting to get a little panicked haha.



  • @irina Hi Irina 🙂 Gosh I feel like you are me from 6 months ago!

    I've lived through pretty much almost that same thing this year. My long-distance boyfriend and I moved in together, he came in from Bulgaria and I'm from the French part of Canada, so we decided to both move to the English part of Canada where he would feel more comfortable. I had a good permanent job in video game illustration which I had to leave behind, and when his visa got approved I had just about 3 months to find myself a new job and get moving! Where we moved is a smaller city, and I didn't find any studio work there. During that time, I grew so anxious that I would break down crying almost everyday and even loud sounds on the streets would drive me into panic. It lasted long enough that I thought I'd never feel like me again, that this would be the new me. Eventually, I found a studio that could hire me part-time, I would work from home and get about 10-15 hours a week of work from them. I took it, and then looked for more freelance work to fill in the rest of my schedule. I found some small commissions at first, then bigger ones. I continually improved my portfolio and kept sending it to publishers, companies and agents. After a couple months, I had enough work to start dropping the lower paying contracts. I got my first book deal. Then an agent I had emailed contacted me back and signed me. Just last week I received my first contract from the agency. I dropped that very first studio job I had because I no longer have time for it. I kind of fell into this freelance illustration thing and it worked out, and now I'm happier than ever! I'm so glad I didn't get a studio job when I so desperately wanted one...

    I just want to give you a huge hug and tell you everything will be okay! First of all, your work is GORGEOUS! I know you feel a bit unsettled and unconfident because of all the stress in your life (trust me I get it!), but you're ready for this 🙂 There's no time to second-guess yourself, just send your portfolio everywhere. Publishers and agents both. You are so talented and someone will write you back for sure! But it can take weeks or months to get a response back, so start as soon as possible! I see you're on Behance, so you could even start with just an Adobe Portfolio, they look pretty nice and are easier to do than a custom website. That's what I did at first, then when I had the time I made my own website.

    About agents, I find they're a really nice way to get you contracts without you having to do the legwork! You don't need one to succeed, I'm proof that you can find contracts by yourself but it's a lot of work. I still find most jobs by myself since I just got signed, but this month they send me a job so that means I have half a month's worth of salary taken care of and I have less hustling to do to find jobs.. That's really nice!

    You can do this, Irina 🙂 And I will cheer you on every step of the way. You can always contact me if you want to ask questions or just to talk, okay? 🙂 I wish you the best of luck!



  • London I believe is a great hub for illustration, I'm from Ireland and a lot of illustrators I know would seek work in the UK.

    I joined the Association of Illustrators which is based in the UK, it has great advice and you can email and ask advice on pricing and other things and they'll resond. It does cost to join maybe 180 sterling for a year. Even if you don't join you can purchase directories from them, https://theaoi.com/product/all-directories-aoi-member/ they have 3 (editorial, publishing and advertising) basically they are full of names of commissioners in the UK along with contact details the art directors names and a little write up about the type of illustration they comission.

    All the best with your new start in London, put yourself out there. Don't think about "having to be brilliant to succeed" Try stay positive, it will show in your work!

    I agree getting a part time job at like a book store or coffee shop would be a good way to help focus your career and give you a bit of security beginning your journey.

    I wish you the best of luck 🙂



  • @NessIllustration and @Phil-Cullen thank you so much for taking the time to reply and being so encouraging. ❤ ❤ ❤

    @nessillustration said in Agent or no agent. How to get work and what's your dayjob:

    During that time, I grew so anxious that I would break down crying almost everyday and even loud sounds on the streets would drive me into panic. It lasted long enough that I thought I'd never feel like me again, that this would be the new me.

    This sounds terrible. I'm so sorry. The panic though seems very familiar from my architecture work where the pressure and responsibility was always so high and the workload so unrelenting that i experienced things like that or would go to the bathroom to cry out of sheer stress. I guess this is also something is unsettling me because i know i might have to take on an architecture job to be able to pay the rent and so on. However i hope in the UK people have more security at work and don't work constant crazy hours and it wont get that bad again. We'll see 🙂

    I continually improved my portfolio and kept sending it to publishers, companies and agents. After a couple months, I had enough work to start dropping the lower paying contracts. I got my first book deal. Then an agent I had emailed contacted me back and signed me. Just last week I received my first contract from the agency. I dropped that very first studio job I had because I no longer have time for it. I kind of fell into this freelance illustration thing and it worked out, and now I'm happier than ever! I'm so glad I didn't get a studio job when I so desperately wanted one...

    Congratulations!!!! That is fabulous!! I really wish you all the best with that book. It's such a challenging and exciting and rewarding process. ❤ When you sent your portfolio did you send a link to an online portfolio or a pdf? And also, i researched agencies and is it customary to send a "to whom it may concern" or it's better to find out the exact name of an agent at the particular agency you want to work with and address it to them?

    You can do this, Irina 🙂 And I will cheer you on every step of the way. You can always contact me if you want to ask questions or just to talk, okay? 🙂 I wish you the best of luck!

    Thank you so much for all the encouragement and cheering, i really appreciate it 🙂 And yes i will come back with questions for sure. hugs

    @Phil-Cullen I was looking at AOI a few days ago and was thinking if it would be helpful so thank you for pointing it out again. I might join at least monthly for a while until i can afford the yearly payment. heh. Do you have the folio membership?

    I was thinking about the bookstore or coffeeshop job or something like that because it seems it would have easier hours, more flexible and less stress than an architecture job so i can come back from work withotu being completely exhausted and still have some time to work on my portfolio and marketing myself. Part time in architecture is rather hard and rare and it's a very taxing job in terms of brainpower and focus. Even though working in a cafe might be more taxing on the body actually. I'll have to think about it and run it past my boyfriend too so we are on the same page. Thank you so much for the encouragement and tips. It's also this whole stress with what brexit will bring for people like me (eu national, romanian) and if i will be able to stay in the uk after march if i don;t have a steady taxable income and so on. meh

    I will stay positive and strong and work my ass off 🙂 Thank you ❤



  • @irina About your agents questions, it really depends where you sending! They have websites with a submissions section that explains how they prefer to be submitted to 🙂 The Bright agency wanted a PDF showing your best work, the Beehive agency (who picked me up!) wanted simply for artists to upload 6 images on their online form. Some ask to send an email with a link to your website. Just follow their instructions and you'll be fine 🙂

    For you, the first agency that comes to my mind is the Cat Agency: http://www.catugeau.com/contact-us/

    They are AWESOME, I can't recommend them enough. I didn't fit the style they wanted, but they took the time to write me a long letter with personalized advice, so nice! And I think your style might actually fit exactly what they want



  • @NessIllustration I was actually looking at Bright as well though i'm quite scared of the breadth of talent i see. I am researching various agencies at the moment and maybe i can apply in a few months or so after brushing up my portfolio a little bit. Thank you so much for the suggestions and i am looking at the Cat Agency as well, they seem very nice

    @Phil-Cullen Does the AOI have a list of all illustration agencies for children's books in the UK as well?



  • @irina Honestly you have a very nice portfolio right now, if I may suggest I'd advise you to apply right away! It'll take them a few months to get back to you anyway. There's nothing stopping you from brushing up your portfolio while you wait, and if they didn't take you the first go around then applying again in a few months after you're done improving your portfolio. To my mind, you have nothing to lose and this would be the most efficient way to do it. Just my 2 cents though!



  • @nessillustration Thank you so much ❤ I thought one has only one chance to apply haha. Good to know i can reapply 😃

    Thank you again for the encouragement



  • @irina Yes you can apply however many times you want 🙂 In fact, the Beehive agency picked me up the second time I applied to them!



  • @irina are you going to Bologna? Fancy meeting for a coffee there? I will be at the fair the whole week.

    I’m not familiar with the UK agencies (though I know Bright on their fame alone) and @NessIllustration has given you plenty of advice from her awesome experience.
    Your work is excellent and you’re more than ready to get picked up by an agent - indeed I think you can have your pick! An agent can open doors that would be very hard to tackle by yourself...but it comes at a cost, of course. For me it was totally worth it, also because I know I wouldn’t want to spend too much of my time in promotion mode (it´s already plenty, even with an agent....).

    Keep in mind that a Literary Agent (representing book illustrators) will cost much less than an Illustration Agent (representing all kinds of illustrators) - 15-20% of all contracts instead of 35-50% of all contracts. You can choose a mixed setup, like I did, where you have a literary agent for book work and you take care of all other types of work by yourself. Nowadays, I think I would like to have an agent take care of all the other stuff too, so I’ll be looking into getting a second rep for non-book work next year.

    As for day job, I have a 20-hour contract as art director for a small internal corporate comms agency (the corporation is big, the internal agency is small ;-)). I love it because I get to do illustration there too, as well as working with other super-talented artists and designers: I learn loads of stuff that comes in very useful also in my children illustration business. It´s also very well paid. So, since you worked in architecture, do not discard the possibility to work in the same field in a different role. I hear there is an appetite for hand-drawn renderings or sketches of spaces and not all is 3D. I’ve also been involved in designing exposition booths as part of my day job, and there are artists there too - and agencies that churn out ideas for those using illustration and sketches rather than 3D software. Do not underestimate the value of your expertise and look for creative ways to position in for other jobs.
    I’d personally always favor a job that is close to illustration and has a strong intellectual involvement rather than a more „classic“ day job, like being a shop assistant or waiter. The first is a source of learning and inspiration and is generally more profitable. The alternative is often just a time-sink (though I’m sure you can get loads of inspiration from working in contact with people in all cases).



  • Thank you so much Simona. I hope to go to Bologna in 2019 and hope to also attend some summer courses in children's book illustration but it will all depend on how i can earn money by then.

    Yes i have thought about doing visualisations or diagramatic drawings and so on for architecture too. I would very much though like a part time job though. I'll see how it will work out once i'm in London (which is in 3 weeks eeeek :))

    As for agent fees, do they charge only on contracts that they find or am i required that even work that i find and secure myself goes through them? And for the periods where there is no work, do i still have to pay the agent?

    Thanks



  • Hi Irina,
    You are moving to the BEST place for children's illustration, London is always buzzing with opportunities, exhibitions, events, artist collaborations etc, so you definitely won't be short of work once you get going!
    Are you familiar with the Children's Writers and Artists Yearbook? That is a must for all illustrators and writers as it will give you all of the latest publishers/agencies etc in the Uk, and has some great advice and information in it.
    Bright is probably the best agency in the UK, it's who i aim to be signed with one day if I can, but there is also The Organisation (who i was with and they were great), Plum Pudding, Beehive, Advocate Art - there are loads!

    If you're happy with your portfolio as it is, then I would definitely make some sort of portfolio site/website, there's one called Portfolio box which is free and has some great templates, I think you can also link a domain too if you have one, or I find wix is pretty cool if you want to pay per month.
    I would always recommend getting an agent to start you off so you can relax a bit and learn about the industry as you go so then you can always go alone if you decide to. Agents tend to take about 30% commission in the UK, in my experience anyway so it's whether you want to lose that much or not, they are great for getting your name out there though and bringing work to you so that 30% is worth it!
    I'm sure once you get an agent, they could have a look at your published book and see if there's any way of getting it published in the UK too or advise you in the right direction 🙂 Or you could always approach publishers yourself and see what they say?

    I work as an inhouse illustrator and designer for a technology company in North Wales, UK so I basically illustrate in all sorts of styles 40 hours a week, so it has been a BIG struggle for me to do my own illustration work in my spare time as my day job seems to drain all my creative juices sometimes. I think getting a part time retail/cafe job is a great idea, it takes the stress off of getting an income, keeps you healthy mentally and physically and hopefully it will help motivate you to work on your illustration career in your free time.
    I'd love to have a part time job to have more time to work on my portfolio, but I bought a house last year so mortgages/bills and all that rubbish needs paying 😞 My goal is to be freelance again in the next couple of years so fingers crossed! My day job is teaching me new techniques and is keeping me drawing, so I guess that's a good thing.

    I did freelance for about 2 years in 2013-2015 and I loved it (I still lived at home though), I started straight from Uni as I exhibited my work at New Designers in London. It's this huge Artists and Designers fair they hold each year where students can exhibit their work and agents and publishers from across the country come and look around - that's where I signed up to my agency The Organisation.

    try not to panic, you don't need to do everything straight away. Just get yourself settled in your new home with your boyfriend, moving to a different country is big enough in itself, so worry about your career later. Like everyone has said, you can always just get a part time job for now while you plan your next move in your spare time.

    Also, hopefully Brexit won't happen for us so you might be okay in that department, there's still hope anyway 😞 I don't want to leave the EU! 😞

    No, your agent will only take commission on the work they find you, so if you happen to get work by yourself then all that money is yours. Just read up on how to write contracts/invoices etc (The AOI is perfect for that). Your agent will explain all that to you 🙂
    You shouldnt have to pay your agent anyway in between getting work from them, unless they want to put your portfolio on a website such a Childrensillustrators.com, then you have to pay a yearly fee.

    Good luck with the big move, you'll love London and the UK, there are so many opportunities here! If you ever find yourself in Wales, then let me know 🙂



  • @irina An agent takes a percentage of the jobs they find for you. My agent takes 25%, for example. The jobs I find myself don't have to go through them, and I retain 100% of the wages for those. If any agent offers you an "exclusive" contract, where you aren't able to find your own work without them, RUN! What if they don't find you any work, and you would be left not even allowed to find your own! That's a shady practice though, and good agents will offer you a contract on a non-exclusive basis.



  • Actually many agents will insist on exclusive contracts - particularly literary agents. This means that no matter who finds the job, if it is in their remit, they will get a percent of the contract. This is quite standard, as it is difficult nowadays to know what triggered a contact in the first place. Was it something you did or something your agent did? If your agent pitches you at a meeting and then the client contacts you directly six months later for a different job, is that your agent´s contact or yours? Marketing is also just a small part of an agent´s job. They negotiate fees and deadline and take care of all administrative or legal tasks. My agent consistently negotiated more than double what I would have asked - so I’m very happy to have her tune in even on stuff that comes through a direct contact.



  • @smceccarelli It makes a lot of sense for literary agents! For illustration agents, not so much... But agents find clever ways around the problem you described, in fact in my contract it says if I'm contacted by someone that I did not contact first I have to ask them where they found me - if it was on Beehive's website or through some of their efforts they get the contract, if the client found my website or social media then it is my contract. Of course, I think if I was contacted for a really big job outside of my expertise I might ask my agent to help me out with it anyway! Like you said, they're very helpful on a variety of levels! However, I've heard horror stories of young artists getting signed by an illustration agent exclusively, and then it took 6, 7, 8 or more months for that agent to find them work, and in that time they were legally prevented from seeking their own illustration work, meaning they couldn't do anything to earn money but get themselves an unrelated job!



  • @nessillustration No, that would be a total no go. Of course you have to be able to seek out your own jobs - that is spelled out quite clear in my contract. The only thing my agent asked is to inform her if I write to publishing houses, so that she can take note that I contacted them already.
    Otherwise, my contract covers exclusively book work. Everything else is free range...I can involve her or not, as I see fit. And she can decide not to get involved on a non-book contract if she doesn’t want to. This past year I’ve had all possible variations: jobs completely without her, jobs with her finding and managing the contact, jobs where I had the contact, but she managed it, jobs where she declined to manage even if I asked her ....a whole mixed bag.



  • @hannahmccaffery @NessIllustration @smceccarelli Wow so much good information!! Thank you so much. I am literally taking notes hehe

    Does a literary agent mean i have to write my stories too? Or does it mean they work in the publishing industry whereas an illustration agent can find you jobs also for say an advertising agency?

    I totally need to join the AOI

    and now talking to all of you makes me so happy i want to meet you all in real life too ❤



  • @irina Literary agents work solely in the publishing world, they represent mostly authors but a lot of them also represent illustrators who don't write. A literary agent is a good choice if you're particularly interested in children's books and only want to do children's books, or if you would like to write your own stories one day and be an author-illustrator. Other agents and agencies that represent illustrators are usually more varied but most of them still have a "specialty". You might find an agency that specializes in editorial illustration, advertising illustration, children illustration, etc. It's good to find an agency that does the kind of work that you want to do or that your work is suited for 🙂 But they may occasionally send you stuff a bit outside of their specialty also, it happens! My agency specializes in children book illustration, but I know they've given some editorial illustration to some of their artists as well.



  • @irina

    Does a literary agent mean i have to write my stories too? Or does it mean they work in the publishing industry whereas an illustration agent can find you jobs also for say an advertising agency?

    It just means they only work in the publishing industry and they normally represent writers too.
    Author-Illustrators are seeked after, though, so if you want to write they encourage that.