Well, I can finally share my big news with you all! I am now officially being represented by Advocate Art Agency. They are one of the leading international children’s illustration agencies with offices in New York and London, among other places. I don’t toot my own horn very often, but this is something I’m really proud of achieving.
How did this come about, you ask? Grab a cup of coffee and let me tell you the story of my journey.
A little over two years ago, while visiting my in-laws in a snow-capped mountain village in Lebanon, I was working on a digital illustration to keep myself busy. Digital illustration is something I’d only really gotten into that past year or so. I’d been doing a lot publishing industry research, trying out different styles trying to find where my strengths were and what would be sought after in the current market, and practicing a lot, but all of a sudden that one winter night I suddenly looked down at my screen and thought to myself, “What am I waiting for? I’m good enough. I know I am! Why don’t I finally just go for it?” I didn’t think it in an arrogant way, but in simple confidence of something I’ve always wanted and known I had in me to achieve. Being an artist isn’t about reaching a final destination. There will never come a point where you will be as good as you will ever get and that is when you can call yourself a success. There is always room for improvement and change.
So I took the plunge and started putting myself out there on the world wide web, looking for paid client work. I signed my first contract two weeks later for an indie author children’s book. A few weeks later, I signed my second contract. And it’s been pretty much non-stop since then. I’m so blessed that most of the time I’ve had more offers for work than what I can take on.
I knew that to get to the next level I would need to get signed with an agency one day. Agencies are the go-betweens between big publishers and the artists. They take a hefty cut, but I’ve been told it’s worth it. From my research, I learned that you should look for agencies that represent artists where your work would fit amongst other artists they represent. I compiled a list of my top 3-4 agencies, yet I hesitated to contact any of them at that time. I felt my portfolio wasn’t complete enough to send to them yet. I knew I’d only get one shot at grabbing their attention and needed to make sure I was sending them my best 12-18 pieces. During this time, I was also still fine tuning my artistic style and didn’t feel my portfolio was consistent enough. So I hung tight.
About a year ago, after only one year as a freelance illustrator, the very top agency on my list sent me an email one day. Yep, that’s right, they contacted me! I had heard of artists never hearing back from agencies they submitted their work to (they receive thousands of submissions), or being rejected over and over again if they did respond, so it didn’t even cross my mind that an agency would or could ever reach out like that. I kid you not, I shed a few tears of joy in shock.
Anyway, that agency represents several artists that have a similar style to my own. They had seen my work on instagram and wanted to know if I would discuss being represented by them. Um, yes!?! But….and there’s a big but…I told them I didn’t have a proper portfolio ready yet and needed some more time before I could submit something to them for official review. They said no problem, send it to us in the fall.
They even gave me a free critique and did some coaching with me by email a few times. I was really thankful for that opportunity, but there was a moment or two that made me pause and question if they were truly the right fit for me. You see, they really pushed me to create a portfolio and develop my style for the over 8 years old audience. I understand there is a big need for more artwork for that age range (the younger age range is overly crowded) and I got a lot of pointers on how I could best adapt my style to the older age, but there was also a nagging thought that I didn’t want to not illustrate for younger children. I remember thinking that maybe I should look at submitting my work to the other agencies on my list. Perhaps another agency, one that didn’t have artists with my style would provide me better service, because there I would be more unique. But I debated with myself, thinking “but this is like the TOP illustration agency repping some of the most well known illustrators in the world and I should do whatever they ask and do anything they want to be repped by them, right?” In my mind, I had incorrectly set this agency up on a pedestal where none could compare.
And so I redid most of my portfolio with art aimed at the 8+ age group. I actually really enjoyed it in the end and learned a lot, however, I did spend a couple painful months just trying to redevelop my style and characters within the new parameters. Nothing I created that first month of two I liked. If I was a traditional artist, you could imagine garbage cans full of crumpled up drawing paper! Occasionally, I still wondered if maybe I was closing the door to also illustrating for the younger market. But I plodded on along the path I was on and submitted my portfolio to that agency for official review a few months later.
Then I had to wait, and wait some more. And get this, the answer came back as a big fat NO! Well, it wasn’t a flat out no, but it was a very clear “We are already hard pressed to find work for our other artists in your style, so it wouldn’t be fair to you or them to represent you at this time. But please contact us next spring again if you’re still needing a rep.” They were kind and professional, so I have nothing against them. They had business reasons that made sense of course. But it still hurt! A lot! And even a bit mad. I was like “But you contacted me! How could you?” I hit a major creative block after that and lost a lot of motivation. Suddenly, I didn’t like anything I was drawing and was really confused if I should create in my younger style or in my newer older style or a mix of the two. It felt like months of my time and efforts had been wasted.
Anyway, I worked through the block and slowly, but surely, my work life settled back into the routine of freelance projects: indie authors and a few smaller publishers in the Middle East where I live.
And then a couple months ago Advocate Art, another agency on my “top agencies” list, contacted me out of blue. They’d also found my work on social media. When they contacted me, and not the other way around, it was a huge boost to my broken confidence. Nothing was said to me about having to illustrate for only the 8+ market. Overall, they appreciated my artwork as it was. I spent a few weeks putting together another updated portfolio to formally submit to them for final review. I stuck to my instincts in drawing things that I wanted to draw (things that represented the type of projects I’d like to work on) and combined this with their recommendations of things I could add to round out my portfolio a bit more.
And guess what? The answer was a big fat YES this time!
So, how will things change now that I have agent? First, all new clients need to contract with me through the agency. They will manage the negotiations, contract and payments (yes, they take a nice cut) for me. Second, though no less important, they will work to find me projects that will pay what I deserve and projects that are best suited to my style and interests. An agent is almost always necessary to get connected with the big international mass-market publishers, so in theory, I should be on way to “bigger and better” in the future. Having an agent will open up a lot of doors for me. They will also work closely with me on artistic development and art direction. Kind of like a coach.
As for my previous and current private clients, I can still work them whenever I wish without having to go through the agency, so if you’re a past client of mine and have a project you want me to illustrate, please do contact me directly. But for anyone else interested in hiring me, just reach out to Advocate Art and they’ll take care of everything!
All in all, I’m happy and proud to be repped by Advocate; and looking forward to what this next year will bring! I wanted to share my story to remind other aspiring artists that when doors closed, a window will open. Keep you chin up and your pencil drawing and you’ll get there.