Want to be a Freelance Illustrator? Or a Freelance Designer? Getting an Agent can really Boost your Career.

Want to be a Freelance Illustrator? Or a Freelance Designer?  Getting an Agent can really Boost your Career.

Want to know how to get an Illustration agent? Recent art school grads know it can be difficult for an illustrator starting out on their own to gain access to the most desirable clients.  Meanwhile agents are able to promote you and your work to the best art buyers, ad agencies, production companies and creative directors in the industry. For freelance illustrators and designers, having representation from a professional agent can open doors to new clients, jumping your career to the next level.

Not only can agents find you better, more high-profile freelance jobs, they also can negotiate higher fees.

Sure, as soon as I became an art school graduate, I pounded the pavement and navigated public transportation with my over-sized illustration portfolio, but i got instant respect and credibility when I got an agent. I was still the same artist with the same skills.  But now I had representation.  And a better day rate.

But, how do you grab an agent’s attention amongst the ocean of other artist’s submissions?

First, start by being your own self-promoting agent.  Tara Aarons, senior agent and vice-president of Famous Frames, a Los Angeles and New York based agency, specializing in storyboards, comp art, illustration, animatic production, set renderings and concept art for the entertainment and advertising industries, stresses the importance of being web savvy. “Illustrators that have a website, blog or images of their work online are able to demonstrate their talents and abilities to us immediately and we can easily decide who is right for us to represent. While we do take meetings in person with both clients and potential artists, most often, relationships are forged and fortified via the internet.” she explains. However, artists sometimes do introduce themselves via promotional postcards and other means, she stresses every agency has their own submission guidelines, typically notated on their respective websites, and it’s up to the artist to do the research.

Aarons suggests artists seeking representation should  have a portfolio containing a wide range of work with a strong unique style and avoid imitating others or following stylistic trends. While many agents prefer to take on illustrators and designers who already have some commercial work experience, creating mock-ups as samples can suffice.

Many talented artists miss out on opportunities just because they don’t get the business basics down. Make sure your images are of good quality but not too big to email. You can create and attach a PDF,  and sometimes a link to a website or blog is acceptable or preferred.  Be sure to include a brief bio.  Set up your email to use an auto-response and check your spam folder just in case they contact you.

Do research when choosing agencies to approach. Some have hundreds of illustrators on their books, while smaller boutique agencies may only represent  a dozen artists or so. Look at the clients they serve by viewing the samples of artists already on their rosters. Some agencies have a wide range of clients whilst others may only focus on certain segments of media.

Good agents are worth their weight in gold. They will make a long-term commitment to the artists they represent by investing in a well-coordinated promotional strategy. Targeted promotions and PR will ensure an artist’s work is viewed by the right people and generate commissions.

Agents generally keep a fee for promotions, but this should be in balance of the commission rates. For example, if your agent charges a 25 per cent commission, then they should be paying 25 per cent of your promotion costs. The cut an agency typically takes is generally between 20 and 35 per cent, which can seem a lot but, as Tara Aarons reminds: “”understand that an agent works with you, and not to see them as taking money from you, but more so, getting you a larger fee and taking a percentage out of a job that would not have been there or at that rate otherwise.”

Remember, a successful business relationship with your agent is built on trust. Agents and illustrators alike will emphasize the importance of effective communication. This is a team effort – the illustrator must work as hard for the agent as the agent does for the artist. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

However, it is possible to sustain a successful freelance career without an agent. Representing yourself has its downsides: searching for jobs and clients, getting past the gatekeeper, dealing with inquiries, providing quotes, negotiating fees, writing contracts for usage and rights and doing billing does take a chunk out of the day – especially when you are on a deadline at the same time. This is doubly difficult when working with clients in different time zones, or with overseas clients with cultural and language differences.  An agent taking care of you makes sense and is well worth the commission.

Get the right representation, and watch your career take off.


  1. Oak Suwanphanich |

    I am glad there is a website for students looking for jobs. The first one is the hardest to get… and this really helps

    • Renee Reeser Zelnick |

      You’re right, Oak- Things are always toughest the first time around. Walking was hard before you knew how…but after we learn how, it’s easier-
      Same with looking for a job in the arts!

  2. This is a great article, thanks for the insight. Trying to figure out how I am going to approach finding work is one of the perpetual issues on my mind; even more so now that graduation is approaching.

    • Renee Reeser Zelnick |

      Hey Kris!- GREAT to hear from you! Art School is hard enuff, let alone finding an agent and finding work! Feel free to sign up on the right and get a free download from my upcoming book which is geared to help art school grads and art students land that first job- whether you’re looking for part-time, full-time or freelance- also at the top of the site is a menu titled “get a job” – check it out and take a look around- i even have internships up there. The jobs are for folks like PIXAR, DISNEY and MTV, as well as smaller gigs. After clicking onto my job board, type in your key word search, such as illustrator, designer, or junior art director…what ever you’re looking for- WYDLIAS is here to help

  3. Wow! I am so glad I found this blog. I will be checking back often!

    • Renee Reeser Zelnick |

      Aw Nick, how sweet of you to say that!
      Speaking of sweet, i love the sweet style direction you’re developing.
      You have such a warm sense in your portraiture.
      I love having this venue to connect with folks who are starting to find their as artists, illustrators and designers:)
      You’re welcome back here anytime-
      and make sure you get the free sample download from my book,
      while that takes you to amazon,
      you can find the free download on this blog, scroll back up the page to that little rectangle on the right w/ a picture of the cover –

      Thanks again for stopping by-
      Are thinking about getting an agent?

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