Artists agent, Hannah Curtis, on her passion for the card industry and the benefits of representation.

Art, retail and greetings are part of Hannah Curtis’ DNA, so it is no surprise to anyone that she has ended up running her own, recently launched, art agency “Creative Sparrow”.  Here she tells us why she loves the card industry so much and why having artist representation can be so beneficial to a creative working within the card industry.

Hannah can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey to becoming an artist agent?

I am often asked how I got into doing what I do, truthfully, I think it was a natural evolution, looking back at my career everything I enjoy and every move was a stepping stone to where I am today. 

I grew up in retail, from a small age running around my Dad’s shop, as kids we were there all the time, years later I worked within the accounts department after learning how to negotiate with ‘punters!’  

My first job at a very (very) early age was in family run newsagent specialising in greetings cards. I worked there for over 10 years as a Saturday Girl, throughout school and university holidays. I loved dressing their window displays especially at Christmas, wrapping boxes as presents, placing greetings cards and decorations as props, we were known for our beautiful displays! I used to make handmade greetings cards that I sold in the shop and enjoyed arranging the card displays, eventually becoming involved in the buying from greetings card publishers. 

I went on to study Fine Art at University, post my degree my first ‘real’ job was working for an abstract artist, I was responsible for everything from design, marketing, sales, exhibitions, trade shows and working on private commissions as well as running the studio. This is where I first came across licensing, as an art studio we were approached by several publishers wanting to license the work, totally baffling at first but it soon intrigued me, I was keen to know more.

Shortly after I started work at an art agency based locally, this is where my love for representing creatives really began. I loved the variety it bought, the variety in styles and mediums, in personalities and territories, products and projects. The variety was endless, and it still is. 

You are clearly passionate about working with creatives, so it is no surprise that you have recently set up your own artist agency; how has your past experience equipped you to take on this new venture?

I have always been involved in every part of agency life from marketing and design, contracts and accounts so running everything solo at Creative Sparrow feels natural. My home studio has always been my little room of solace but this year it has become a really peaceful, inspiring and creative place to be. I adore the creatives I am working with and am blessed that so many want to be part of my new venture. 

Creative Sparrow’s vision as laid out on their website

Being an Agent is a hugely rewarding profession, I love to be able to share in an artist’s creative journey, from the initial discussions regarding representation right through to photographing the products their work features on in our high street shops.  

You are very well known in the greetings card industry, what is it about the card trade that you love so much?

The greetings industry is like family, it’s an amazing industry to be part of, full of wonderful people I am lucky enough to call friends. It is plain to see (in these Covid times) how we have all greatly missed the events, awards and exhibitions this year, most of all we have missed each other!

There are probably freelance artists and designers reading this who are considering representation, what would you say are the benefits of being represented by an agent rather than working purely as a freelancer?

A few of the creatives working with Hannah at Creative Sparrow

There is no right or wrong when it comes to which path you take on your illustration journey, some creatives prefer the freelance life whilst others like to have an agent.

Having an agent offers security & allows you to concentrate on your creativity, an agent will negotiate fees & rights, schedules & contracts and they will strive for the best fees for you and will guide you through the project from start to finish. An agent will charge between 30-40% commission which might feel like a chunk of your earnings but the service they offer gives you the time you need to do what you love and are great at.

A Creative Sparrow mood board.
Mood boards are often used to brief and inspire artists when either embarking on a commission or building a portfolio

An agent’s reach is also far and wide, they have a body of clients that they will showcase your work to, your portfolio will be seen constantly & consistently. Many clients rely on agents to find the right illustrator for the job and to remove some of the workload from their busy schedules.

If an artist wants to find an agent to represent them, how would you advise they go about doing so?

Some artists represented by Creative Sparrow

1. DO YOUR RESEARCH

Know what you want from representation and do your research on which Agent or Agency suit your ethos.

Are there specific product markets or territories you want to work within?

Is there anything you don’t want to do? Many Agents work in various industries, others specialise in just one, which suits you best?

2. PRESENT YOUR PORTFOLIO PROFESSIONALLY

Make sure your portfolio is well presented and easy to view, PDF’s work well.

Don’t send huge files or vast amounts of links to multiple places, make it easy for the recipient to view your work.

Show a variety of work if you have it, include mock ups & product, it’s great to see how your work translates onto tangible product.

3. INTRODUCE YOURSELF

Send a personal note as part of your submission, the best submissions I have received include an illustrated bio, showing their studio, their pet or a doodle of themselves.

Include any relevant background and training, previous clients and dream clients. It’s helpful to know not only who you have worked with but who you want to work with.

Add a fun fact or little bit of what you like doing outside of your illustration work, it helps the recipient get to know you.

4. DON’T LET A ‘NO’ GET YOU DOWN

There are many reasons an Agent or Agency might not take you on, don’t let it get you down.

It might be that your work is similar to another illustrator they represent.

They might not have the right client base for your style.

They might have a limit of how many illustrators they take on or want to represent.

Keep developing, take part in creative challenges and join relevant bodies such as The Creative Card Collective, grow your network and try again, it might be that timing just wasn’t right.

Some of the artists represented by Creative Sparrow

Working with so many creatives day in day out, do you ever return to your creative roots and create your own work?

People always ask me if I still practice my art, the truth is no not until recently, my career has allowed me to use my creativity by inspiring and directing others. Lockdown, and Grayson Perry specifically, inspired me to start sketching again, I drew my dog….a lot and then ahead of launching my agency I drew my little sparrow! But it’s time to get back to the day job, put the pencil down and work with my creatives to produce beautiful art to license onto product.

My thanks to Hannah for giving us an insight into the artist agency world.  If you are interested in representation you can find out more by visiting the Creative Sparrow website or you can get in touch with Hannah by email at hannah@creativesparrow.co.uk

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