I’ve had some close relationships with my artist representatives. It’s interesting how I was able to get to know their voices so well, without ever meeting them face-to-face. The rep that I’ve had the longest, Barb, I’ve only met twice.
Breaking up with an agent was almost always very painful; almost like breaking up with a boyfriend!
I know I mentioned my first learning experience was with a well-known agent in Los Angeles. I had a lot of difficulty getting paid by her. When I did get paid, the commission rate was higher than the rep originally stated. I was very wary after that.
I never had much success with agents in the Los Angeles area. The agencies that had more food related jobs were located in other cities. However, when I started out I began making a lot of phone calls and appointments. I contacted many artist representatives and began working with an agent named Michelle in Pasadena.
Michelle was very down-to-earth. She had a young son and she brought him along to one our appointments once. I remember since I didn’t have children at the time that it was an educational experience. Michelle explained all about nursing to me; I became very friendly with her.
Unfortunately, there were very few jobs. Los Angeles usually did not have many jobs for me, but I thought I could do better.
I certainly made a lot of mistakes along the way. Just like with boyfriends, I was fickle and overly ambitious. One of my mistakes (and I’d done this more than once) was to go shopping for a new agent, while still being connected with my current agent. I thought I could hang with Michelle, while searching for someone better.
Foolishly, I made an appointment with another high-powered agent whom I perceived as quite successful. I lived in Sylmar at that time, so when I went into the “city” I scheduled appointments back-to-back. My first appointment ended up being with the new agent, and after that I had planned to see Michelle and tell her.
The new agent perused my work and said hesitantly, “I’ll have to think about it; I’ll get back to you.” I left that appointment, and headed out to my appointment with Michelle right after.
When I arrived at Michelle’s home, I noticed some of my portfolio boards on the ground as I was walking up her walkway. I squinted, and there was a shocking revelation; my entire portfolio was spread out all across her lawn!
It turned out that the new agent had called Michelle as a reference before I arrived. Michelle was understandably very upset to find out this way. I should have told her my plan before seeing the other agent.
I sheepishly picked up my portfolio boards off her lawn. I tried to dry off some of my mounted tearsheets. At that time, mounting my portfolio was a considerable amount of work, and many tearsheets were “one of a kind” samples.
The new agent also did not choose to represent me.
I had several other Los Angeles reps after that, but nothing really clicked. The one I had after Michelle was very intimidating. She was French, and had a thick accent. Our first and only job was an FSI ad for the cereal “Super Golden Crisp.”
There were problems with my final painting. Those cereal kernels looked like potatoes and they were supposed to look like gold nuggets. I did not know how to change those kernels or the box to substantially please the client. I did a round of revisions on my painting, but the client was still unhappy.
This agent called me to express her disappointment. She said, “Dahling, what happened?” In order to solve this problem, she ended up asking another artist to “go over” my illustration to solve the problem.
Another artist airbrushed highlights over my illustrated box of cereal. The resulting “shine” satisfied the client and the job was complete. I never worked with this agent after that.
San Francisco really had a lot of food related accounts. A terrific agent named Freda represented me. Freda was excellent at promoting me; I was awarded many assignments for banks. I was amazed since my portfolio didn’t show anything close to that.
One of the most difficult moments of my career was leaping too high too fast. Freda called me with a huge and amazing project. It was a project for the Levi Strauss Company. The volume of illustrations were huge, possibly thirty illustrations of people wearing jeans throughout history. The budget was between $35,000 – $40,000.
My heart was palpitating with anxiety because I wasn’t really sure how I’d find reference for those illustrations. I was not adept at illustrating the human figure at all.
However, my ambition was such that I was willing to consider that perhaps there would be reference provided. I thought I could hire student assistants to help me with the sheer volume of work.
Freda told me the agency wanted me to come to San Francisco to discuss the job. I hopped on a plane, and I met Freda for the first time, too.
Freda and I were sitting in a restaurant, and the sweat was pouring off of me. I found out that there was little reference provided. I would need to do a lot of research. As I was overcome with anxiety, I confided to Freda that this job was more than I was qualified to do. She was perplexed, but handled the situation professionally.
I went home and was overcome with the admission of my frailty. However, I knew I had made the right decision for myself.
Freda and I continued to work together for a few years after that; she hadn’t given up on me. We had a nice relationship and talked often. I hadn’t had children yet, and she sometimes talked about her enjoyment raising her child. I liked her but started clashing with her about minor things. Often there were extra charges on her invoices, and I didn’t receive copies of checks that I kept asking for. Perhaps because of my unfortunate first experience, I was very focused on maintaining control in the financial areas. Eventually, it seemed like it was time for me to move on.
After Freda, Barb Hauser represented me in San Francisco. Barb was a stable force throughout my career, and we did many, many jobs together. I didn’t clash with Barb about those little things, because I handled all of the billing. She was unusual in that way as an agent, because she preferred me handling that – most reps did not.
The business has become so difficult due to the scarcity of jobs that most reps have not been able to survive. Barb obtained another job, but our relationship is still there. Occasionally, we still get calls for illustration assignments.
CHICAGO & THE MIDWEST
I worked a lot in Chicago with a rep named Roy. Roy obtained a large project with a “cafeteria account” named Griffith Labs. He also was responsible for my illustrating the Claussen pickles. Eventually, Roy became an agent for other venues and the work petered off.
I actually illustrated diapers for one of our jobs! Because my illustrations were photo-realistic, sometime photography was combined with my paintings. On my illustration of a diaper for Luv’s, photographs of babies were superimposed on top.
I had a fascinating experience working on a job for Keebler chocolate chip cookies. There are so many examples from that job, that I will it separately later on.
After Roy, I had a few other mid-west representatives but not a lot of work. I remember clearly one of those reps named, Cece. She sent me a beautiful and compassionate sympathy card when my five-year-old son, Jason, died.
Currently, I still have a mid-west representative named Connie Koralik. Our work together has been infrequent, but always enjoyable. Recently, we did a job for Frito Lay that involved three “flavor” illustrations. That job was the first job that I did in my former, traditional technique in a long while. My illustrations were supposed to be “less photorealistic.” That wasn’t easy for me, and looking at my paintings – I could see I didn’t succeed. When I submitted my illustrations, it was done digitally. I utilized Photoshop filters over my illustrations to “loosen” them up!
I pursued obtaining a New York agent on many occasions.
Eventually, I was represented for a length of time by a pair of reps. I worked closely with only one of them; her name was Carol. I very much enjoyed working with her. Initially, I was also very intimidated.
On our first project, I illustrated a toilet with potpourri flying out of it. I remember when Carol received my final painting she wasn’t too impressed. Her phone call rattled me. She said, “Those flowers aren’t very exciting; they’re not all like the ones in your portfolio. What happened?”
I told her, “It’s potpourri, so they’re dead flowers; maybe that’s why!”
The main thing was that the client was happy. After delivering my artwork she called me and this time she said, “Terrific job!” I was relieved after that.
We worked on many jobs, and Carol was responsible for my many assignments illustrating of book covers. After Carol’s brother died, I reached out and offered a lot of understanding. Carol appreciated it and we became closer.
One of my larger projects with Carol was for Frito-Lay. I illustrated several jars for Tostitos salsa. The job was interesting because I was able to paint circular landscapes. The style was also a different one for me. The label on the front was an assortment of peppers, and I was instructed that the style needed to be “painterly.” It would be a different look for me.
Eventually, Carol moved to Arizona and the work slowed down. However, she continued to maintain the stance that she still was representing me in New York. After awhile, I had difficulty with the situation and my ambition began to propel me to look for other agents.
Carol and I parted painfully, and I never did get another agent in New York.