Director of Illustration Ltd Harry Lyon-Smith gives an interview to the SAA Hub News providing an insight into one of the most successful illustration agencies…
Please give a short summary of your company history and provide a bit of information about yourself and how you got into the business?
The agency was started in 1929 by a lady by the name of Katherine Boland, and it was called the Katherine Boland Studio. She ran it with her sister until 1970 when John Havergal bought it on their retirement. He changed the name to The Garden Studio, reflecting its location in Covent Garden, London. 15 years later after various experiments into publishing and greetings cards, John found that it was the agency part that was most enjoyable and rewarding.
It’s in 1985 that I found myself delivering portfolios to him as a motorcycle courier aged 20. I was paying off some college debts, and found myself quite regularly at John’s door. An acquaintance evolved, which developed into a friendship and a job offer to join him as a trainee agent. (Train me he did, his professionalism and duty to our artists being very much alive in the agency 30 years on.) A decade or so later he invited me to be a junior partner, and a few years after that he retired and we made arrangements for the business to carry on.
inside the office on Albert Embankment
How would you describe your day-to-day role as an illustrators’ agent? (i.e. finding work, finding new clients, serving regular clients, managing accounts, scheduling artists time)
The agency has evolved into a more plural operation than the 1 man band it once was and it is what we do as a team that answers this question. On the coal face, so to speak, there are 10 agents dotted around the globe who manage enquiries and jobs. Three are involved in the financial side of the operation, four handle marketing and promotion, and a further three vitally work with our artists and the agent team, keeping the portfolios looking great, managing new artists submissions and talent scouting.
What are the commercial advantages for artists represented by your agency?
Immediately anyone joins us, and their work is live on our site, they have a large international audience of commissioners. We have an expanding number of agents in new developing territories, and work comes in from all corners of the world. Our website has been around from very early days in the history of the web, and it has enabled us to keep principle positions on the google rankings.
We are a large agency by most measures and with that comes advantages. Such as the scale and range of the illustrators that we represent for the clients seeking top flight creative geniuses…it is rare that we can’t offer an option that is either bang on, or pretty damn close, or perhaps an exciting alternative that takes their creative to new places. This rewards the agency with loyal and regular customers enjoying very friendly, consistent and professional service from our artists and the agent team.
We have developed a payment system that gets everyone paid either all or a portion of the fees quite soon after invoice.
What other benefits can an artist gain from being represented by you? (i.e. Negotiating contracts, rights and usage licenses, support, time to work)
Our management systems ensures that as soon as a job is confirmed, the paper work is done and emailed to the artist and the client, with all the licences, fees, terms, deadlines etc clearly set out. The jobs are monitored and managed on a unique and efficient software, that we have been evolving for 2 decades. It connects to all the agents and gives us extraordinary flexibility to keep on top of jobs and help deliver clients top jobs, whilst alleviating pressure from the artists.
Furthermore, all the billing is automatically done when the job is finished, and a strict payment collection process is instigated….we hardly have artists chasing us for monies nowadays. If they do need the fee before it has been paid, we have an option that pays immediately if they wish.
What are the benefits of networking within the wider artistic community? (i.e. SAA Members, AOI & ProAction, events )
There are many good agents looking after the best interests of artists that they represent, and we admire them for their qualities…often with professional jealousies, that sharpens us up. However there are other agents that one hears who do not adhere to the standards that we have always held. The great thing about the SAA is that we know that the other members behave as per the constitution, and that is professional and fair. There are other agents who do as well, and we would like them to join the SAA to help develop our industry into a more influential and recognised barer of professional influence and practice.
Every Wednesday morning the team gathers and we review about a dozen or so of our artists portfolios, the jobs they have done, the marketing and promotion that we are doing, along with future plans. After this we have a good discussion with the artists, going through all the points raised, and sending a written report of it all. This we do 4 times a year with every artist on a formal setting, and of course a great deal more less formally in the throws of day to day business. Additionally we have regular meet ups, that we call ‘Face to faces”, that can either be in the office, by video conference or with a glass in hand…depending on location etc. It is all about enjoying spooling the artist’s and teams’ experiences that spark ideas and approaches that have client doors flying open.
What do you consider is the main role and responsibilities of the illustrators you represent to help you to build their career? (i.e. Flexibility, punctual with deadlines, importance of personal work to help develop an artist’s visual language etc)
A static portfolio will sooner or latter begin to fail any artist. We have seen this countless times and is probably without exception. So a continuously evolving portfolio has to be part of the essence of any illustrator’s career. Otherwise it is all about being a professional, delivering beyond expectation and utterly charming to work with. If you need any help with the last point (and we all do) read ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie. Cheesey in title, but there is a reason it has been the top selling self help book for over 100 years. Everyone joining us in the office has to read it…it is law in our shop.
This interview can also be read on the SAA HUB News site.