Q+A: Illustrators: Why you need to stop looking for agents

Hi Amy,

I’m a recent illustration graduate and I’m finding it difficult to get work. I’ve also sent letters to illustration agencies hoping that I’ll be picked up, but so far it’s not been going very well. I’m on the verge of giving up – I have bills to pay and I can’t find full time work – how can I get into an illustration agency?

~ Mark

Hi Mark!

That’s one of the many questions that I’ve been getting lately. Work is hard to find, and illustrators are aplenty. So why not do it in reverse right? Find an agency and perhaps some work will filter down to them in the process instead. Wrong.

There’s a lot of problems in this one little question, and your belief that being a part of an illustration agency isn’t going to make it any better. I get it – the fact that you have someone going out and getting work on your behalf is a marvelous idea. Someone who does the marketing for you, and someone who makes sure you get paid on time. But there’s only so many illustration agencies out there, and there are even more illustrators clamoring to get onto their list.

What people often don’t realize is that illustration agencies would rather take on someone who’s more established. That is to say that they have proof that the illustrators are in it for the long haul – that they’re not going to run away and do something else, because the agency would have invested too much in their growth. But on the flipside, when you’re more established, you might not need an agent anymore to pull in work (I can already get clients on my own, so why should I hire an agency and split the fee?) It’s a catch-22.

We’re not going into more specific details too – like how agencies take anywhere from 25% to 45% of your fee (and no, you cannot bitch about this, because it’s a choice you’ve made and agents need to eat too), whether or not they’ll help you pay for your marketing, postcards, competitions, annuals, etc. What I’m more concerned about is how this unhealthy dependency on getting picked by a small segment is overriding illustrators out there from doing the real work that needs to be done.

Drawing. Illustrating. Communicating. Marketing. But most of all, choosing yourself.

So stop depending on others to give you work – go out there and hustle. And not just any sort of hustling, mind you. You need to go in there with the right mindset and be prepared.

How? I’ll show you in the next few weeks. To not make sure you don’t miss out, click here to subscribe to our weekly newsletter!


I’d love to hear your experiences – have you ever tried seeking out an illustration agency to take you on? Whether you were successful or not – what did you learn from it all? Let’s talk about it in the comments below – and if you have more advice for Mark, do share your thoughts too!


Q+A: How to create the work you love and make money at the same time.

Q+A illustration by Amy of Pikaland!

I received a question from Kayla, a few months ago, who writes:

Dear Amy,

I am currently working full time as a graphic designer, but I what I really love is illustration. And what’s conflicting is that I am doing graphic design work with one style, while my illustration style is another. The style that I work with on my day job is very safe – a generic, vector style that seems to be able to sell well. But on the other hand, I’m having trouble promoting my personal illustrations, which is dark, graphic and moody. I told myself that I could only transition to full-time freelance if I can find a way to market my personal illustration, which seems doubly hard. I don’t want to be a freelancer and yet create designs that do not speak to me on a personal level because I don’t see myself being happier for it in the long run. How do I create the work I love and make money at the same time?

Hi Kayla!

You’re right – there are styles that are more commercially viable, and because of this fact, there are industries out there who are looking for illustrators who can produce almost the same style as another, because it’s popular. There’s no dearth of talent, that’s for sure!

Don’t listen to people who tell you that there isn’t a market for your work. I always tell my students that an illustrator’s style isn’t the problem.  The market out there is HUGE. There are niches, and sub-niches and sub-sub-niches that it’s wild. The internet and globalization has created an infinite category of niches, and you need to capitalize on it! There is no such thing as wrong work – the main reason why you’re not getting any clients or paid work is because you’re aiming for the wrong market.

So, here’s what you need to do:

Step 1:

Take a long, hard look at your own work and answer these questions.

Describe your work as much as you can. Is it dark, scary, moody and yet uplifting in some way, etc? Where do you see it belong? Books, stationery, clothes, bags, as a children’s book, etc? What age group do you think you’ll attract? What is the message you’re trying to send out?

Step 2:

Find brands/companies/people who would benefit from your style, and an audience that mirrors the information you come up with at Step 1.

Who do you think would love to work with you – so that they can achieve their goal and yours? Let’s be honest here – if your work isn’t what most people are after, then don’t go after these people. Never mind if it’s Target, Anthropologie or Marks & Spencers. You don’t necessarily have to market to the masses to be successful. Carve out your own way. Find these smaller markets that would need your help and your work, and grow with them. And I will say this – this part is the hardest part of your research, because you need to be open to different possibilities and stretch yourself beyond what you know. How do you do this? Ask your friends/families, and yes, consult the search oracle – Google.

Go where you’re needed, instead of forcing your style on others and you’ll find that it won’t be so much as an uphill struggle when it comes to making money doing the work you love.


In the comments below, tell me:

What’s the single most effective strategy you’ve used to make money from work that you love creating? I’d love to know what’s worked and what hasn’t for you — so please share as many specific details as possible!

If you like this article, share it with your friends – tweet about it, share it on Facebook, or just send it around via good ol’ email! Want to ask a question of your own? Send me an email: amy@pikaland.com

** And pssst, I’m going to dig pretty deep into this topic and a few others in my new online class, coming up in September 2013. So click here to sign up for the newsletter to be the first to know the details when we have them!

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