Sharon Dodge Insider Report by Poppy Evans
Stock agency looks for fresh new talent
Although online image services offer many conveniences to designers and art directors, the process of locating appropriate, professional-quality illustration can sometimes be incredibly labor intensive. Doing a keyword search often yields pages and pages of far-ranging imagery, including vintage illustrations of fine art. Online niche marketers, such as Illustration Works (illustrationworks.com), have responded to the design industry’s need to simplify the selection process by offering nothing but stock and royalty-free contemporary illustration from professional illustrators. As a supplier of illustration to Getty Images, the agency’s artists can be accessed through Getty’s search engine as well as through Illustration Works’ own Web site.
Sharon Dodge, founder and CEO of Illustration Works, has many years of experience in the illustration industry and understands how artists can reap benefits from posting their work online as stock or royalty-free imagery. Dodge worked as an illustrator’s rep for several years before founding her Seattle-based service in 1996. “We were the first online stock illustration collection,” says Dodge. “We haven’t attempted to be the biggest, but we have attempted to maintain extremely high quality. That’s brought us into relationships with companies like Getty and other major distributors who have selected us to represent a stock illustration offering.”
The Illustration Works Web site features the work of close to 400 artists and allows users to access over 300,000 illustrations. The Web site’s search engine is similar to those of other stock Web sites, allowing visitors to do keyword searches and narrow their selection to black-and-white or color as well as square, vertical, or horizontal orientation. Advance searches can also be done according to the artist, style or medium.
Because Illustration Works specializes in professional-quality illustration, it’s not a realistic venue for most beginners to consider as a place to market their work. “Most of the individuals we represent are life-time professionals,” says Dodge. “They are people who have been doing this for 20 to 30 years.” She says it’s possible for gifted beginners to make money in stock if they’re willing to do the work involved. Dodge notes that the agency represents a few illustrators who have less than five years of experience, individuals she describes as “brilliant talent.” However, she cautions that even if the agency responds favorably to a new talent, there is a lot of work up front and the artist isn’t compensated until an illustration is sold. This can be discouraging to young illustrators right out of school who are anxious to make money with their work.
Dodge also points out that experienced professionals are more likely to have accumulated work that offers some readily available imagery. “It there’s a large body of illustration, we almost always find something we can post and sell on the day it goes up. That’s obviously very efficient for the artist,” she states. In the case of many illustrators, stock can represent new life for commissioned illustrations for which the artist has retained the rights. Illustration Works and similar online stock agencies offer an opportunity for marketing this existing work. “A great deal of the imagery our company was built on is that sort of imagery,” says Dodge. But she adds, “You want to maintain a contemporary freshness.” Work that has been around for several years starts to look stale.
Other advice Dodge offers to those who want to pursue marketing their work as online stock is to create and post lots of imagery. She notes that some of Illustration Works’ illustrators have as many as 500 images on the Web site. This works to an artist’s advantage when an art director or designer is seeking several images that are stylistically consistent for a brochure, annual report or other publication. “The likelihood of your images being chosen increases exponentially with the breadth of material you have,” she explains.
The agency is always looking for fresh new talent to feature on its online library and welcomes submissions of about five low-res JPEGs attached to an e-mail sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. If Dodge and her colleague, Loly Carrillo, see work with a stylistic approach they believe will sell as stock illustration, they will come back to the artist with suggestions for subject matter they know will be the most marketable. “We look at rough sketches until we’re all on the same page,” says Dodge. When the artist delivers final illustrations, they’re posted on the Illustration Works Web site. From there, users can download a watermarked version of an illustration to put in a working comp, and then return to purchase a high-res version of the same image.
When a stock or royalty-free illustration is sold, the agency’s arrangement is standard for the industry. Fees range from 20-50% of the selling price to the artist. Illustration prices range from $100 up to as much as $50,000 per image for extensive usage, with an average price of $600 for a single-use situation. In addition to featuring stock and royalty-free images on its Web site, Illustration Works also hires artists to create royalty-free collections. “In some cases we discover a unique talent who we want to develop material for a collection,” says Dodge. The agency will pay an artist a one-time fee of up to $100 per illustration to develop royalty-free content, “This only works for illustrators who are very prolific and can deliver 50 illustrations at once,” says Dodge.
The agency also works as a broker for commissioned illustration. Occasionally, a viewer will see an image by an artist and want something different than the subject matter that exists on the Web site. In these instances, Illustration Works serves as the artist’s representative paying 65-75% of the commission fee to the artist.
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