OK, so Im no expert, but I do know a little bit. So I’m sharing that little bit of knowledge that I have. This is my personal opinion on the subject.
When I first stepped into the surface pattern design arena I could see there were some clear choices that I had to make as to which way I wanted to go.
1 – Work for an agent
I sit at home and design all day whilst the agent does all the selling for me. My work will be seen at many big trade shows world wide.
I have to give the agent a hefty fee for doing this.
2 – Work for myself
I get to design what i want, when i want and get to keep all the money earned
As well as designing I’d have to do all the business side of things; selling, marketing, getting a great deal, understanding the laws behind licensing, keeping on top of the money side of things, paying for flights to the States, accommodation, following up after the show, social media……..it goes on and on and on!
For me there was no contest. After a few years in the industry and after seeing all the many, many designers out there doing it their way, to me it just seemed so much easier to do what I’m good at (designing) and let someone else do what they are good at (selling and all the business side)
Read other designers accounts here (When you get to the blog, scroll down) on a blog I used to run.
What’s the reality of working for an agent? (Bear in mind that EVERY agent is very different and this is just what I have been told by fellow designers)
The reality of working for an agent is probably not what you think. It is lovely being able to work from home and do what you love, but it’s hard work. Most agents will expect at least two designs a week from you. Each of these designs will consist of a main piece and also two or more co ordinates. You will also be expected to produce more Christmas designs than anything else. Also Halloween, Easter, Mothers Day, St. Patricks Day etc. You name the celebration, then you will need to design for it. Some agents take you on their books and leave you to it. They realise that you are a precious artist and know that pushing you won’t be productive, so they leave you to it and hope you come up with the goods – no pressure! Some give you trend reports and push you to design in a certain kind of style, some want you to be free and only design in your style. Some just want Christmas, Halloween etc and LOTS of it! – the more the better in fact.
First Look at YOU
So basically what I’m saying is that if you really want to work for an agent, then you need to look at how YOU work first. Can you work fast? Are your designs simple or more complicated? Are you more illustrative, great at designing for children (you need a publishing agent), or much more pattern based? Are you more stationery or fabric/or does your work fit well in both categories? Can you design Christmas/holiday in your sleep? Can you design something you hate and a lot of it or do you only want to design what you want to design in your signature style? Are you fast paced or are you like me – I can design like crazy for six week, but then need to take a month away from designing. Or are you super consistent – Can you design weekly without feeling the need to take a break? Once you figure out how you design, then you can start looking at agents and seeing who suits YOU, not if you suit THEM. It’s really important.
Next Look at the AGENT
OK, once you’ve worked out how you design, then you need to start looking at the agents that you are drawn to. Look at how active they are on social media. Look at if they promote all of their artists equally. Look at how professional they look online, does their website have a portfolio for customer access? Look at what shows they attend? Do they attend the bigger ones regularly- the ones that you’d like your work to be shown at. Look at their artists to see if your work would fit in around them. Would your work stand out too much or would yours be too similar? Have their artists been on their books a long time or is there a high turnover? Look at who they sell to. Scroll their social media and see who their customers are? Are their customers who you’d love to work with?
Once you’ve found a few agents that work for you, I’d then try contacting the artists that work for them. Obviously be super polite and ask a few questions about how they find working for that particular agent. How much work are they expected to do. How much help do they get with trend reports. How much feedback do they get. Do they have weekly/monthly Skype chats? Do they have a group FB page? Are they friendly/approachable? Are they allowed to do other work outside of the agency? Is the work sell outright or is it all licensed work? How much do they get paid? Are they paid on time? Do they get paid in US$ or GB£? Who are their customers? Do they get many commissions? Are the artists equally promoted? Which shows do they attend? Do they send their work via computer or do the artists have to print it off themselves? Does the agency prefer the artist to work in PS or AI? Are the agents super picky or are the artists expected to make just a couple of changes to their work?? (I once spent a whole weekend rearranging a polka dot design for one agent – It must have been about 60 changes!!! So it’s really good to know how the agent works!)
OK, next thing is obviously to contact the agent with your work. You’ve probably read this before, but you will need the e mail to be short, friendly and to the point. Explain that you feel that your work would suit their agency and state what you feel your strengths are. I think as well as a great portfolio, agents will go straight to your IG page to see how active you are on there. How often are you posting new work, are you trying new ideas regularly/doing courses, how keen are you, are you a happy positive poster? Do you have a life outside designing? What are your interests? You can show them all of this on your IG feed and it all counts. Some agents will be looking for YOUR unique style and others will be looking to see if you will fit nicely into their team, so again it totally depends on which agent you are looking at.
What do they want to see in your portfolio?
LOTS of Christmas/Halloween/St Patricks/ Valentines/Thanksgiving/Easter/Birthday/Fathers Day/Mothers Day ETC, ETC……
Florals/Kids/Cute/Fluffy Animals/Animal based/Typography/Geometrics/watercolour
Anything that is on trend right now and for next year. If you can incorporate any of the themes above with what s on trend right now then do it and let the agent know that the work you are showing them is ready for sale right now. The agent should be salivating at this!
How to Present Your Work
So when you present your work you need it to look professional. This (below) is the way a lot of agents like to receive work. So you have the main piece which would be what would go on the front of a card or a t shirt (example) then the main co ordinating design to the left, which would be quite detailed and then the co ordinating smaller patterns – the more, the better! Don’t forget to add your colour swatches, I think 12 is about the maximum, including white and black. You can have tints of the colours you use on top of the 12, but again every agency is different.
Personally I would add to my emailed letter links to my website/IG account and I would also add in some designs, around 8 – 10. Five holiday, one floral, one kids, one that’s super on trend, one masculine and one that is very much your own style. Link to a portfolio on your website, but I think if the images are there as soon as they open up the e mail then if they like what they see they won’t put off reading the email until later…and then forgetting. It’s there, in their face as it were!
If you get nothing back, don’t worry. That agency is not for you. If you are really determined to work for them, go back in a few months once your work has progressed. If you get turned down but you do get an e mail back, ask them why? Try and learn from the knock back rather than taking it personally.
Trends – Look on Pinterest. Google trends for kids 2018/colour trends 2018/look on IG (Instagram) at some of your favourite designers and ask yourself why are they all designing with a tropical theme right now? 😉 Look at designers who are doing courses and who are posting their work on IG. If theirs is a decent course then whatever they are being encouraged to design will all be on trend right now. There’s lots of ways to find out what is on trend and to be honest unless you are with a very unique agency, they will all be wanting you to work towards whats on trend right now.
If you get lucky and get accepted, don’t be surprised if you don’t sell anything for months and months. Sometimes it can take a very long time to be accepted by the agents customer. I only sold one design in six months and I’ve heard similar. Same with the big shows, don’t be surprised if you sell nothing or very little. Its normal. If you really want to make it happen with an agent then you need to be determined to make it work. If you think the agent is a good fit with you, if they are doing everything to help you; giving feedback, supporting you, getting you commissions etc then push through and keep working with them. If they aren’t, then maybe it’s not a good fit for you. Only you can decide.
(This is just research I have personally done by asking fellow designers – It can vary a lot)
Fees – “Usually around” 60% to you 40% to the agent
Paid per Design – “Usually Around” £300 – £400 per design. Stationery sales are “usually” higher
Where to find agents
Look on Print and Pattern around show time and see all the flyers. Usually ALL the design agencies will advertise their designers on there, so just search. Also go to the address books of the big print shows. They will all be listed on there.
DO YOUR RESEARCH – Its great working for an agent, but I reckon it’s probably even better if you can work with an agent that is the right fit for you. Don’t do like most artists do and just feel privileged to be taken on by an agent. Be picky and choose who you want to work for.
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