Talk to Illustrators Australia, Sydney

2 Dec

Christopher Nielsen, President of Illustrators Australia, asked me talk at their monthly meeting. It was a lovely evening and I met some great illustrators and some emerging ones. Here is the speech if you are interested.

My name is Sam Wright and I am currently the Art director for Wish Magazine. For those of you who are unfamiliar with, ‘wish’ it is a free monthly insert in the Australian newspaper. I have brought a few copies along so come and have a browse later.

I started working as a junior designer in London after doing a Diploma of Graphic Design at Luton polytechnic. My first job when I returned to Sydney was as deputy art director on Belle magazine. Then I became Art Director of a now defunct mag called Belle Entertaining. It was at BE that I started commissioning illustration. I then worked on ‘the design series’, ‘Cosmopolitan’, ‘live this ’, ‘AFRBoss’ and now ‘wish’ In terms of commissioning illustrations, Boss was definitely the highlight of my career. I was able to commission between two and five illustrations a month for seven years. Brilliant.

I have often been asked how I manage to find so many great illustrators and I guess the answer is I am always looking. I read lots of mags and if I like any of the illustrators that they have used I find them by either Googling them or contacting the Art director of the mag. I also have a number of rep sites that I visit if I need inspiration. My three favourites are Jacky Winter group in Australia, Frank Sturgess in the states and skinny dip in the UK

One of the most common ways of finding an illustrator is of course letting them find you. For me the simplest and most effective way for an illustrator to do this is to send me an email with a web address. That way I can have a browse and bookmark it for later. In these hard economic times, I am very restricted as to how much illustration I can commission. Basically I have been told I can only use the in-house guys, unless they are all too busy, which is why I don’t like to waste peoples time getting them in to see me. I do enjoy getting cards and inexpensively produced mail outs.

Chris asked me to talk about how I select the right illustrator for the job. I usually find that as I read the story I begin to have a feel for who might do the best job. With Boss, some of the stories where quite dry and would need the illustrator to really dig the idea out of them. I have to say that I often thought that some of them couldn’t be illustrated at all. That’s when I’d give them the Nigel Buchanan, he is brilliant at getting blood from a stone. Sorry Nigel.

Most of the time I like to be able to brief the illustrator and let them come up with the ideas. I have always thought that with a good illustrator you are actually paying about 80% of the fee for the idea and 20% for the execution. That’s not to say that the execution doesn’t have to be perfect. Having said that I am always happy to thrash out an idea and suggest ways it might work best. I have found that the only times I’ve been disappointed with the result has been when the editor has become involved.

Chris also asked me to talk about the current state of the industry and how you might go about generating more work and how to keep your existing clients coming back. I’d like to say that I am only able to speak with any sort of authority about the magazine and newspaper industry. Of the twenty odd years I have been in the business, this year has been the worse. About eleven of my colleges working in the Australian magazines divisions were retrenched or retired early. Our budgets have been slashed to the bone. We are no longer allowed to employ freelance photographers, designers, stylists, subs or illustrators. So I am guessing things are pretty tough for you guys.

My advice is this

1. It is very important to make sure you are looking further a field. Get those websites up. Get an American or European rep. There is still a lot of work in the bigger pond and you need to make sure that you are out there in the larger community.

2. Set up a system that sends monthly electronic reminders to all past and potential clients, ask Chris how, he does it very well.

3. Find other ways of making money out of your work. Prints, cards, t-shirts. All online.

And finally, keep your overheads as low as possible. If you can’t work from home find as many like minded people as you can fit in the space to share with. If you want to do a mailout, keep in mind the average result of reply from any mailout is about 2%, which out of 100 is about two possible jobs. So it is important to keep the cost below the amount of money you would expect to earn from one job and then at least you will make sone money out of it.


4 Responses to “Talk to Illustrators Australia, Sydney”

  1. Ylla December 2, 2009 at 1:18 am #

    Great speech Sam – congrats!

  2. Anton Emdin December 2, 2009 at 1:52 am #

    Thanks Sam, it was great to meet you.

  3. Simon Rattray December 7, 2009 at 1:08 am #

    Thanks for giving your talk Sam – much appreciated.

  4. Gregory Baldwin August 5, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    Very insightful, very true about the editor, although it gets even trickier when the author has a say.

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