How to Get Your Work Noticed by Illustration Agents

Tess Redburn
Mar 25, 2019 · 6 min read
Illustration: Nishant Choksi

As an illustration agency, we receive hundreds of submissions every month. It’s a competitive industry, and all it really boils down to is whether your work is good enough, but there are a few things you can be doing to make it easier for agents to see what you’re doing, and more importantly save yourself any wasted effort.

You’ll only have a matter of seconds to make an impression, so make it as easy as possible for them to see your work in an instant.

WHAT WE’RE LOOKING FOR

A Consistent Style

We have around 100 illustrators on the books, so we need to make sure each of those is a distinctive little package. There is definitely a place in the world for illustrators who can work in lots of styles, but that’s probably working in house at a design agency. We need to make sure our clients know exactly what they’re going to get when they commission an artist. We have a few artists on the books who work under two aliases, as a way of differentiating between two styles.

A Variety of Clients

First and foremost we want to see that you have worked with professional clients. If you’re fresh out of university, with a portfolio full of personal work, you’re better off spending your time trying to secure a few proper jobs before approaching agencies. If you have been working with clients for a little while, it’s a real bonus to see some variety; publishers, magazines, design agencies, ad agencies, etc. If you have a big portfolio of 30 or 40 images, but all of them were done for one client and for the same project, this is is going to work against you.

Illustration: Nishant Choksi

A Variety of Subject Matter

If you have a portfolio with only portraits, you’re only going to be commissioned to do portraits, and this significantly narrows down your chances of getting work and representation. We want to see that you can tackle a variety of subjects, because clients are increasingly wary of the unknown. Can you do animals, typography, conceptual ideas, people, landscapes, repeating patterns? While you and I both know that most illustrators can draw a cat, we often get clients saying “we love this artist’s work, but they haven’t got any examples of cats in their portfolio”….. you would be amazed.

Volume

While we’re definitely looking for quality over quantity, we aim to have 30 images in an artist’s online portfolio, and if you only have 10 to show us, I’d suggest bulking that out a bit (a few personal projects won’t hurt here!).

Quality

It’s staggering how many submissions we get from people who just can’t draw. Life drawing should be an essential part of an illustrator’s education. Ideas are great, but more often than not, design and advertising agencies come to us with a concept already developed, sometimes even to the point where they’ve sketched out the composition themselves, and they’re just looking for an incredible draftsperson to bring that to life.

Illustration: Nishant Choksi

THE LOGISTICS

Keep it Simple

If you have a website, we want to see your work straight off the bat. If we have to click through landing pages and categories, we probably won’t bother. If the images take forever to load, we’re not going to wait. Don’t send a big PDF that has to be downloaded, or a link to a website that we have to log into to view. A clean, simple website with all the images displayed on one page will usually do the trick. Having an Instagram account does not suffice as a portfolio.

Illustration: Nishant Choksi

Printed Samples

It is sometimes nice receiving things in the post, but more often than not, I feel a sense of guilt that someone has spent their hard earned cash sending something that’s going straight in the bin. Putting time and effort into sending something isn’t going to make your work any more suitable if it’s not the kind of thing an agency is looking for.

Contact via Social Media

We get a lot of people messaging us on Facebook or tagging us in Instagram posts hoping to get noticed, it feels as if you’re trying to sneak in through the back door! Someone once found my personal email address and sent a submission there which felt weird and intrusive. If you’re serious about being a professional illustrator, go through the proper channels, and submit your work properly.

Illustration: Nishant Choksi

What to Write

We don’t need your life story, just keep your introduction brief and factual; Where are you from? What clients have you worked for? What kinds of projects are you looking for? Is there anything particular about how you create your work? Include some links to websites, social media channels and maybe some examples where your work appears out in the world. We’ll probably only be reading it if we think your work is interesting and if we want more detail, we can ask you. Don’t send us a CV — you’re not applying for a job after all.

Do Your Research

Every agency will have a section on their website with instructions on what to send. Read it, and follow that to the letter. Some agencies will prefer for you to send some low res images in the email, others will just want a link to a website so they don’t have their inboxes clogged up with images. If it says send 6 images, don’t send 10. We need to know that an illustrator can follow instructions, so don’t fall at the first hurdle. It’s also worth looking at the agency website and checking that your work doesn’t overlap with other artists on the roster. It’s unlikely they’ll sign two artists doing the same thing as they’ll be competing for the same jobs.

Visiting Agencies

Never show up on the doorstep of an agency with your portfolio expecting to be invited in.

How Often you can Submit

If you’re unsuccessful, why not try again next year? That’s enough time for someone to significantly develop their portfolio and secure some new professional projects that are going to catch our attention. Most of the time we’re looking to sign artists who can fill a specific gap on the roster, and it may be that over the course of the year we’ve started receiving more enquiries for your kind of work.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST

There is a special place in hell reserved for the people who send a blanket submission email with 10 other illustration agencies copied in. Guaranteed this will be met by a chorus of exasperated sighs from every recipient on that list.

Illustration: Nishant Choksi

Tess Redburn

Written by

Art and illustration consultant. Creative project manager. Writing about illustration industry insights

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