On Wednesday’s episode of Outside the Frame we discussed Artist Representatives and Agents: What should you look for in a rep, what you can expect from your rep and what they expect from you. We began by discussing terminology, Artist Representative or Agent … which one? Both terms are interchangeable. Although, agents do tend to be more readily associated with the publishing, entertainment, and sports worlds whereas representatives tend to be more readily associated with fine art. Representatives and Agents perform the same types of jobs it’s just that some prefer to be called “Artist Representatives” while others prefer the term “Agent”. No matter the title used, the important thing is to find the rep or agent that handles your particular industry or market.
Oh and a word of caution, don’t be confused by the term “Artist Agent” especially if you are conducting your search via the Internet as this term is used widely by agents representing singers and musicians in the music industry.
What Can I Expect From a Rep or Agent?
First, it is important to note that the Representative or Agent works for the artist. Without the Artist’s talent to sell, the Rep or Agent would not exist. On the flip side, though, the artist can sell their own works for themselves without the aid of a Rep or Agent. The rep or agent promotes the talent of a group of artists (also known as a “stable”). The rep will maintain a portfolio of the artists’ work to facilitate sales calls and/or to secure assignments for the artist/illustrator/photographer. Additionally, a rep will negotiate fees and contracts for the artist, bill clients for completed work, collect monies due the artist, and follow up on competed assignments to get samples of published work from the client in order to update artists’ portfolios. In most cases, the agent will bill the clients for work the artist has produced and will typically be writing checks to the artist. However, it is the artist who pays the rep in usually in the form of a commission which is typically anywhere from 25% to as high as 50% -- depending upon the reputation of the rep as well as the industry or market. Artist-Agent relationships are governed by contracts that work well for the parties involved. Therefore, there is no “generic” Artist-Agent contract to suit all artists’ needs but there is a certain standard of professional practices. Be sure that any contract you sign with your Representative or Agent specifies clearly what each party is responsible for in regards to advertising, promotion, portfolio samples and maintenance, as well as, ownership of samples, proportion of expenses split between artist and agent and in what percentage the profits are split.
The agent’s office expenses such as rent, phone, fax, computer and messenger services are usually considered part of the agent’s overhead and are not shared by the artist. Although, an agent may charge their artists a set rate or fee in order to have the artists’ work appear on the agent’s website. Promotion costs in the form of direct mailing efforts or directory advertisements are usually split between the artist (75%) and the agent (25%). The artist’s studio, materials, and framing supplies, as well as, office expenses are considered part of the artist’s overhead and are not shared by the agent. Any agent who wants payment up front for any of these costs is not acting professionally. Once you’ve signed with the rep or agent, likely you will need to pay for portfolio maintenance and/or promotional expenses right away in the manner that I stated earlier i.e. the 75%/25% artist-agent split. The artist should receive copies of all receipts for any and all expenditures that the agent incurs on the artist’s behalf. Make sure you have this statement in the contract.
What Should I Look for in a Rep?
The Artist-Agent relationship is much like a marriage and finding the right rep is much like finding Mr. or Ms. Right. You should sit down and make a list of the qualities you are looking for in order to find your “perfect” rep. Here are some areas to consider.
Market: Make sure the rep you approach works within the market to which you wish to sell your works. For instance, a fine art rep will not do you any good if you’re work is intended for the children’s book market nor will an agent who works primarily with major advertising.
Style: Make sure that the rep you approach handles material in your style. If you work in fashion illustration, you would not likely want a rep who deals mainly with cartoons. Your work should fit comfortably in the rep’s stable but not duplicate any current artist’s style as they will get the work, because they are a known quantity for the agent, and you will not.
Number of Artists: Unless there is more than one principle rep within the agency, stay away from reps who handle more than 15 - 20 artists. Usually what happens when you get with an agent with a large stable, the big-name artists get all the choice assignments while the lesser-name artists get the other jobs, if they get any at all.
Agent Accessibility: Does the agent try to answer my questions or ignore my concerns? Are her/his answers vague? Did the agent provide artist references? If I have a problem, can I get in touch with the agent? Be sure to ask for artists references and check them out . . . are they getting steady work through the agent, have they had trouble reaching their agent at key moments, or have they had any trouble getting their payments. When given the opportunity, I ask the agent permission to contact his oldest and his newest artists and/or the biggest name artist in his stable and the least known name in his stable. This will usually give you the clearest picture of how the agent can handle your career over several years and at various stages.
Agent Trust: Never sign with an agent you don’t trust. No matter how good the contract, how big the rep is, or how much they want to represent you; you will never feel truly comfortable with the rep if you do not trust her/him fully.
Am I Ready for a Rep?
It’s important to know whether or not you are ready for a rep before you start your search. Know exactly what you want from a rep. Ask yourself, what can a rep do for me that I cannot or am not doing for myself already? A rep will not define your style for you. A rep wants to see that you have developed a style suitable for the market(s) you intend to reach. Very few reps will take on emerging artists and are not in the business of training artists. Reps look for artists who have been in business a minimum of five (5) years and/or show a modicum of success at selling their own work. If you’re thinking about avoiding the business of selling art altogether by getting a rep, think again. The time to look for a rep is when you already have an established client base that your rep can build on by finding you new clients, new markets, and re-uses for your existing work.
Reps tend to go through cycles of taking on talent. They’ll tend to take on new talent in one period, and spend a year or possibly more developing them. Promoting talent is a very big part of their work. Any artist who is serious about wanting to sell their work would follow their lead. Artists who consistently send out promotional material to reps have a better chance of crossing the period when reps take on talent. Reps may keep images on file for years before they decide they want to approach an artist.
Where Can I Find a Rep?
There are several places to look. You can search through directories such as American Showcase, Creative Black Book, Creative Illustration, and RSVP. They all have a section for artist representatives with examples of the works by artists in their stables. You can look through these samples and see if your work would be a good fit. Communication Arts Magazine and other publications also feature advertisements by reps. Look through the publications to get a feel for which agencies handle the type of work you create and the type of markets you wish to approach. The Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market (AGDM) and Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market (CWIM) have listings for Art Reps which includes contact information, terms, guidelines for first contact, and tips for artists; although, the information provided is mainly text and not pictures. Another good way to find a rep is to ask for recommendations from art directors, clients, and other artists. And, of course, in age of the “information highway”, you can do a search on the Internet. Many reps have a website to showcase the work of their artists and to provide contact information for artists seeking representation. In my opinion, the best place to find a rep is to contact the Society of Photographers and Artists Representatives (SPAR), an organization for professional representatives whose members are required to maintain certain standards and follow a code of ethics. You can contact SPAR by mail at 60 E. 42nd Street, Suite 1166; New York, NY 10165 or by phone at (212) 779-7464. Bare in mind that this is a highly competitive business and it will take time – sometimes even years, to become the type of established art professional that art reps are seeking. Three things that can help you are: funds for promotions, patience, and a thick skin.
A Look at Sample Artist-Agent Agreements:
There are subtle differences between the Artist-Agent Agreement for the Fine Artist and the Artist-Agent Agreement for the Illustrator. Mainly in regards to the handling of samples; with the fine artist, oftentimes the samples are in the form of actual original artwork, whereas with the illustrator the samples are usually in the form of transparencies or other reproductions. Also for the illustrator, you will need to include a clause regarding promotional fees and/or specify the percentage required of each party. For this reason, I am providing a sample Artist-Agent Agreement for both the fine artist and illustrator. The first sample is the actual Agreement I signed with a fine artist representative back in 1998, however, I am no longer with this particular agent. I have not included the agent’s full name or address on the sample contract. The second sample Agreement is for illustration, again I have not included the agent’s full name or address. You can find these agreements as PDF files with notes on my My Website in the column on the left under Episode 12 Worksheets.
Over the years, I have had several reps and have yet to find Mr./Ms. Right. The adage that you will not find anyone as invested in selling your art as you are is true. Sadly, most of the reps that I had did far less for me than I did for myself and garnered a happy percentage of my income in the bargain. There are times when I wistfully wish that I had someone dedicated to the business side of things so that I could just simply create art then I realize … I’d miss it. Besides, I wouldn’t have as much material for my show and articles. Tune in to Outside the Frame next week when will discuss Exposure: Do You Feel a Draft?