The frustrations of attracting an illustration agent

Attracting an illustration agent is a little frustrating just now. I’ve tried for so long but consistently receive the polite rejections.

I have many styles that I enjoy using as an artist but no way of knowing what is currently required by agencies and their clients. If only I could find out!

One of the real joys of being an illustrator is that I draw upon numerous influences. Over the years I’ve tried countless styles and techniques and many of them remain in what I may call my ‘signature style’.
But I can adapt to most styles and enjoy them all.

Following yet another rejection email I decided to take a much closer look at the market. Make no mistake, I analyse the market in some detail before submitting my work to potential agencies. To the point where I am selective with my submissions.

Something that I’ve often pondered is whether or not it’s actually worthwhile submitting my work to an agency with artists in a similar genre. I’m not sure it’s beneficial to have my work displayed alongside similar artists in the portfolio. But then, what if those other artists are in demand and that demand cannot be met?

I’ve tried to change my style to be more niche. But that then limits me and almost pigeon-holes me. Something that I’ve always tried to avoid.

Having said that, when I look at the illustrators that I truly admire -Quentin Blake, Gris Grimly to name just two – I see that they have a clear and distinct style. Agents will naturally look to attach these guys to specific projects based on knowing exactly what they’re going to get from them.
But I always figured that having a range of styles would make me more attractive as an illustrator and present more opportunities.
Is this the wrong approach?

What is my signature style?

I’ve asked this question a number of times recently. Perhaps the style of art that I’m producing and submitting is simply not relevant to today’s market.

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I always draw with ink. Whether it’s digitally or using traditional media I start with a pencil and complete with ink. My style is akin to cartooning but I always try to add texture with the pen.
I’m a huge fan of bold expression with my characters. I like to see a character’s actions exaggerated a little and have their mood reflected with fun facial expressions.
I am also a big fan of colour in my work and often use a cartoonist’s approach in that I ‘colour in’ my inked outlines.

It’s interesting to note that looking around the portfolios of numerous UK based agents there is a fair amount of work in a similar style.

I’ve never been much of an environment artist. I use a minimal amount of the background when illustrating.

For example, if a character is in the kitchen I’d generally only draw the immediate surroundings rather than the entire kitchen suite, table, sink, kettle and oven.

To this end my work tends to sit neatly on a clear white background. This is something that I rather like as I think it helps the characters to stand out.

Which market am I trying to reach out to?

The sort of authors that I want to work with are chapter book authors that target 7 – 11 year olds. Authors that create rich and ridiculous characters are the kind of authors that I’ve always enjoyed reading. I think my style suits their work in that I enjoy creating those characters myself.

David Walliams is the obvious high profile author in that genre right now but he’s really one of many.

Another illustrator whom I greatly admire is Chris Riddell. Again for his strong sense of character and expression. His ink work is an enormous inspiration to me and he’s obviously used that to great effect with some fun and adventurous chapter books.

It would be my dream to work with authors such as Paul Stewart who co-created a number of stories with Chris Riddell.

Just how clogged is that market right now? Are there enough new authors out there in that genre to warrant yet another character illustrator?

Which is the largest genre in children’s book publishing?

Are picture books always going to be the most popular? Just looking around the bookshops in town and online I can see a wealth of picture books on the shelves. Is this my way in to the hugely competitive children’s illustration market?

Do I need to offer something really unique like Oliver Jeffers did with his first book How to Catch a Star ?

I buy the Children’s Writers and Artists yearbook each year and pore over it to learn of new trends. I enjoy reading there and online the views of established illustrators and how they suggest approaching agencies. It’s all good and I’m always buoyed by what I read.

I guess in some respects I’d love to actually sit down with a panel of agents and ask them these specific questions. Or just the one question What style of art do you really need and will never go out of fashion?