Edward Burns, the founder of Advocate Art illustration agency explains how we package work from artists and illustrators into a portfolio that is in sync with industry needs. Also the importance of samples, why some images are chosen for your portfolio and some aren’t and what artbuyers look for. If you are a freelance illustrator then read on to perhaps gain some useful tips for yourself.
“When work is first submitted to us we can see pretty much straight away where we can place it commercially.
It’s important that this commercial vision or creative direction is shared with the artist and they are fully on board with it before we start marketing their work. It has to be a shared vision, or else the artists may be stuck doing a style that they don’t enjoy or go off in a different direction stylistically and lose the commerciality we first saw. Having the opportunity to meet and discuss what we see in the work and explain this to the artist is important, we call it “packaging with their permission”.
Work is presented just like a product is packaged, easy to understand, the contents are evident, what you see is what you get and the features are highlighted. We want it to say “this is John Smith! This is what he does, isn’t it great!” We package the work or images into a physical and online folio as well as numerous portals, adverts and marketing material.
The aim is to present the artist’s work in a way that they agree shows them in the most commercial light and is also in the same direction they are going creatively.
In our experience when meeting artbuyers (we meet on average 500 different art buyers between us a year) they are looking for continuity (you can do things over), colour understanding, (co-ordinating colours and complementary colours), characterization (candid, clever poses), a design element (decorative elements, added value), relevant to the age group (the style and characters match the age of the characters shown which in turn match the target audience), matches the rest of your folio, ahead of trend or on trend and most importantly an application (the work has a use).
The work must have an application i.e. be more than “nice” and “well done”, we are a commercial agency so it boils down to application. The work must either on its own be usable or be able to inspire a commission. If you are an illustrator this is completely relevant, but much less so if you are an artist who we are more likely to find an application for their work than the other way round. An illustrator may produce a nice image of a dog on a rug for example but what would it be for? Can it carry a narrative for a children’s book or is it decorative enough to work as a design for a product? As Agents, just like you see in the cartoons, we have to look at work with dollar signs in our eyes- we want to be blinded by them!
The thumbnails we select from an artist to go on material and the main artist site are key indicators to how we we package the artist’s work. They are the style setters, at a glance this is what the artbuyer will see in the rest of the artist’s folio. This may sound obvious but so often I see thumbnails that simply don’t relate, how frustrating that must be when you are searching for style.
Portfolios need to keep growing into this agreed direction, hopefully incorporating any subject matter commonly asked for by art directors and contain unpublished work. We brief artists speculatively on filling these gaps in advance of being asked. The most ideal way to achieve a rounded folio is with real paid commissions, if a client thinks an artist may have the ability to do something but they can’t see it from their folio they may ask for a sample.
Art directors often need to show their marketing department or the author (who perhaps have less of a creative eye) an example from an artist folio, you are not going to convince these people you are the best person for a jungle book by showing a train sample, obviously. So when an artist is asked for a sample, even if it is free, it is important to take the opportunity. The Artbuyer will be selling you, fighting your corner if you like, you need to give them the best chance you can.”