This is Part 3 of a four-part series about how to get an illustration agent. In this series, I detail my top 10 recommendations for illustrators looking to find an agent. Be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 first! Follow Illustration Age on Twitter to be notified when the next part drops.
In Part 1, I wrote about how to prepare yourself for reaching out to illustration agents, and then, in Part 2, I described what I think makes a winning portfolio website — your top tool for attracting them to you. In Part 3, we look at how to set yourself apart as a pro — first, with a proper artist bio, and then with a body of work that proves your abilities as a commercial artist.
5. Write a proper bio and have a good photo of yourself
When you reach out to an agent or are trying to be discovered by them, they’re going to want to know who’s behind the work. A bio shouldn’t be long — about 300 words or less — but it should offer a glimpse into who you are, where you live, some significant achievements or honours, and perhaps some credentials that lead to becoming an illustrator. Here’s a simple outline format to get you started:
- Who you are and what you do.
- A brief description of the kind of work you do (what drives it or makes it unique?)
- Toot your horn: name drop impressive clients, awards, or accolades.
- Something else you do professionally or personally that feeds into your work.
- Any relevant educational background.
- Where you live and who you share life with.
- How to contact you.
This is my own opinion, but I think bios should be fairly straightforward and not try too hard to be creative. That’s different from not being creative at all. I think good writing balances getting key information across, clearly, and having a sense of style. Sometimes it helps to list out your bio in point form and then just flesh it out in simple sentences (see above). Don’t be afraid to ask someone you know who can write to help. Also, don’t be afraid to look at how other illustrators write about themselves as an example. Whatever you do, though, please don’t plagiarize! Interpret, adapt, and massage until it sounds like it came from you!
As for the photo, again, my preference, but do you really need to be looking to the left? And why do so many artists have to look so emo in their profile pics? If you’re shy about having your mug on the internet (as many illustrators are), there are alternatives to the straight on bio shot. Personally, I like when illustrators are shown at work in their studios. You can be turned slightly away and facing your work and still get a sense that you are a real person. But even better is to show your smile. People like pictures of people, especially when they seem friendly and approachable — this is how we identify and relate to one another.
Taking a good self portrait can be tricky, but if you set up a tripod, shoot in good daylight without harsh shadows, you’re almost all the way there. If colour is distracting or somehow off, converting to black and white can do wonders to save a photo. You can even use an app like VSCO to apply a nice black and white or portrait-specific filter to a decent photo.
In my own experience, as much as I know about using cameras, nothing has come even close to hiring a professional photographer. If affordability is an issue, perhaps there’s some way you can barter or negotiate with them. In my own bio photos, the photographer and I worked out a deal where I had to include her name in a credit wherever possible. This has planted her name and web URL all over the internet and has brought at least some value back to her for her work.
6. Demonstrate commercially viable work
Agents are attracted to illustrators whose work demonstrates commercial viability. In other words, your body of work must look, off the shelf, usable in real world applications, whether advertising, branding, editorial, picture books, and so on. I’m not saying they’ll want to take your existing work and resell it to the client (hopefully not!). I’m saying they should look at it and immediately see the commercial potential of your style. It’s not enough to have a unique style or to excel in, say, oil paint portraiture. Your style needs to look like something that is in demand.
The most obvious way to demonstrate this is to show work you’ve done for actual clients, including not only images of your work but also some examples of how it was used. If you haven’t done work for actual clients, your job right now is to study how illustration works in commercial and editorial contexts. Hopefully after a short time, you will start gaining a sense of the kind of commercial work you’d like to be doing. A goal! With this goal in mind, you can conceivably start making steps toward actually getting some real world work. At first this might be “less important” work with smaller clients, but don’t turn your nose up at it. Take on all work that pays, even if it’s for your cousin’s band for peanuts. Each real world job that you work on, properly shown on your portfolio, will become one more proof to others, including agents, that you are a commercially viable artist. It’s a long game, but if you work at it, you’ll get there eventually.
The fourth and last instalment in this series comes next …
In the next post, we’ll look at some key strategies for extending your reach and making that all-important first impression. Meanwhile, I’ll pass one question to you: why do you think writing a good artist bio is so hard?