Are Illustration Agents Still Worth Having?

This is a question that has been on the minds of many illustrators for the past 10 years.

When the internet really started making an impact on our industry, many illustrators seemed to think that having an illustration agent might be a thing of thing of the past.

However, as time went on, I've heard many illustrators swear by the support their agent provides.

At the very least I believe the role of the illustration agent has dramatically changed. I've been agent-less for a few years now, by my own choosing, but recently I've been entertaining the idea again.

I thought I would write a little of my thoughts on the topic, and also ask to hear what you guys thought. I would really appreciate your feedback in the comments below, or on twitter / Instagram.

How Things May Have Changed

When we think about what illustration agents do for us, we often think about them getting us more work.

And although I do think that in the past this was the primary purpose of the illustration agent, I believe things have changed.

Yes, I do think a good illustration agent should be getting you more work, but I do not think that this is the illustration reps core purpose any longer.

I bought a house last summer. I used a real estate agent to both sell and buy a house, and I paid for those choices. At the time, I assumed that using an agent would help us discover houses in the market that we couldn't discover ourselves. I was wrong. The internet has changed this field as well in almost the same way.

We had access to all the same homes that the real estate agent had, similar to the way that many illustrators can find their own work. However, if I had to do it all over again, I would still choose to use an agent, and I would do so for the same reasons that I suspect an illustration agent is still very useful, maybe even more so in the right circumstances.

I believe that an illustration agent can find you a little more work.

But I don't think this is their highest contribution.

Here's what I see happening: 

1. Quality

I think it's the role of the illustration rep to get you higher quality work and higher paid fees. My experience has been that the agent usually pays for themselves in the negotiation phase. It also seems there is an added layer of respect and standards that the agent can demand from the client on your behalf. Both of which add to your overall experience and quality of work life.

I think the cachet of a great Rep on your side offers it's own clout. Being on a roster with other great artists is also a form of validation. I do believe the curation of the roster that surrounds you is important, and it's important to believe that you are in good company when thinking about representation.

2. Delegation

Illustrators are in some ways at a disadvantage in terms of growth, compared to other creative professionals. Many designers find the opportunity to hire others to delegate admin and general creative work. For many illustrators, the majority of the actual artwork has to be done by their own hand, and I don't think they would have it any other way.

In the old days, the illustration agent was someone who helped discover the illustrator and get their career off the ground.

Now, I think it's more helpful for the rep to come in when the artist is established and hitting a ceiling with the amount of time and work they can take on. As well as help that artist market more strategically. By taking over some of the admin / marketing, etc. the artist has more time to create. This partnership can be a substitute for the lack of hiring ability of the illustrator.

At the end of the day, your strengths probably lie in making art, not necessarily all of the business that surrounds this career.

3. Expansion

In that same vein, without being able to grow by hiring employees, by adding a rep, you are growing from a one person show, to a small team. I believe another way that the rep can bring value to the artist is by being another person with skin in the game. Someone who can act as a soundboard for ideas, strategy and goal setting.

This is is a highly valuable asset, and one of the core reasons I am again opening my mind to the idea of representation. My family and friends are probably sick of hearing about my illustration career.

To have someone else with something to gain from your success is a pretty interesting notion.

The Key

Here's the key though: I think that you need someone who is totally right for you and your work. Someone who really values it and genuinely gets 'it'. I also believe you need an agent that understands the new role of illustration representation in the age of the internet. If I do decide to walk down this path, these are the things that I will be looking for.

I've ran into a few agents over the past couple years that seem to get this new age of illustration.

Some established agencies, like Scott Hull Associates and Frank Sturges Reps, come to mind. I also think there are new agencies arising that seem to be built on these new principles, like Art & Motion for instance. In fact my previous UK agency, Synergy Art, seem to be doing some really exciting work these days as well.

Lastly, I think it's important to know if you are in the stage of your career when you can offload some of the work. I think in the past I have let go of these relationships not because of the faults of anyone, but because earlier in my career I just wasn't really ready for this type of partnership. My market was less clear, and I was work wasn't really in the right place.

My Question

My conclusion is that illustration agents can play a great role in the future of the industry, however it does need to grow and adapt from the old ways of doing things.

Having only a limited experience with representation, I'm more interested to hear what you think. I'd love to get a healthy debate going. So, I'm posing the question to you: are illustration agents still worth having?