Ok, first of all let's talk about how this title is absolutely bogus, because it's been over a year since I really signed with my agent, Jennifer Nelson Artists. JNA debuted in January of 2015 and we're about to hit...April? Geez. Hey! Better late than never, right?
I was inspired to write about the JNA birthday because so much has happened since joining and it's fun to look back. I think the most important thing is seeing how much I've grown as an artist and businesswoman since then. Since many of you know that I am more than happy to share my experiences, I thought it would be great to reflect on what it was like having an agent this past year and how it has affected the way I work and think about my art.
I'm learning what my "low hanging fruit" is.
One thing I've been working on is figuring out where my art easily fits in the world of licensing and illustration. It allows me to better target companies and clients that are more likely to pick up my work and improves my chances of getting a contract with them quickly. These jobs are what I refer to as my "low hanging fruit" because my work is a natural fit for that category or client. For instance, I seem to do really well with cards. I have hand-lettering in my portfolio, humor is an element of my work, and as a traditional illustrator I am very comfortable composing my work within a defined space (as opposed to a category like fabric where the art is in repeat and is a different visual aesthetic). These strengths make cards a good match for me, and one of my best returning clients is even in that category.
Now, this doesn't mean I do nothing BUT cards. No, it just means I have a mental list of "easier to get clients" right next to my mental list of "we haven't done this kind of product/category yet but let's try in the future, shall we?" In the end, it's simply a balance between creating work that I know serves me well immediately and sprinkling in those projects here and there for the "long game" of getting new clients.
I should add that Rule Numero Uno is HAVE FUN. I always have fun creating my work and never try to force anything to happen.
I'm listening harder to advice and realizing dammit, it really IS good advice.
Let's be honest. We probably hear the same handful of tips given to artists interested in licensing: make lots of work. Christmas sells. Do hand-lettering. Everyone has a Birthday. After a while I think it's natural for people to say "yeah, yeah, I GET IT", without actually listening to it. We go numb to the advice in a way. I probably have been a tad guilty of this in the past. However, I can tell you this- when I did a hand lettered birthday piece and my agent found a home for it in less than 24 hours, I was totally shocked about that and even MORE shocked when my inner voice said "well DUH, you dummy. This shouldn't be anything new to you. You've been told over and over again that this kind of work sells".
So I'm still making tons of work that is very "me", but yeah you better believe I'm paying better attention to all that advice being dished out by Jennifer and other people in the industry. I'm really making a point to LISTEN, because there is a lot of worth there if you just take the time to actually process it and- more importantly- follow through.
I still do "Business" even though I don't technically have to.
If you've taken Jennifer's workshop on agents, you may recall she mentioned that her artists still take the time to promote their work in some fashion. Obviously, Jennifer does this a LOT for us. She's constantly contacting art directors, sending out promotional materials, negotiating our contracts, handling the JNA social media and preparing for trade shows. But even though I am more than happy to have Jennifer handle all that stuff, the business part of the job is still in my blood. We're constantly brainstorming and bouncing ideas off of each other, and I'm still active in the world and send her any leads I might find, even if it's just stumbling upon a possible client and sending her an email quickly saying "hey, have you heard of this company?"
Yes, if you ever thought having an agent meant I just kicked back and enjoyed endless cocktails once the ink dried on the contract, then you might have the wrong idea. For me it really just lit a fire under my butt to work even harder. Not in a stressful way, mind you. It's more of a desire and excitement to just take advantage of the opportunity, because in the end an agent can only get you jobs if you're supplying new and exciting art on a regular basis. More art = more opportunity. Whether you are with an agent or going solo, that's a key thing to remember.
This year I have already worked on some amazing assignments. In addition, projects from last year are finally being unveiled! It's been a great time and I'm ready for Round 2!