This is the second instalment of a series of reviews of my favourite illustration agencies. More information about what makes for a great agency can be found in the first post in this series.
While not strictly New York based (they have Tokyo and UK bases too), Dutch Uncle has an address in the Big Apple, and they represent a number of artists based in the city and its boroughs.
And what talented artists they have! Dutch Uncle is almost the perfect agency, with a goldilocks roster (not too big, not too small) — which includes seventeen illustrators at the moment. The agency aims high too, boasting super star illustrators like Ping Zhu, Noma Bar and Satoshi Hashimoto. While technically not an illustrator, they have BC-based graphic genius Marian Bantjes on their artist roster as well.
One of the most remarkable things about DU is their support for their artists beyond bringing them and managing paid work by "encouraging and supporting their personal development and projects", in addition to helping "coordinate and produce their fine art projects including exhibitions, products and publications.". This may explain the maturity exuded by their roster — these are illustrators who've been around the block a few times and are clearly involved in pursuing more personal, less commercial work. For me, this kind of relationship, where the agency and artist work together to hone and develop their body of work, is an ideal to be pursued at mid- to- late stages of an artist's career.
On the branding and experiential sides, Dutch Uncle comes out on top. Their brand is cohesive, premium, and evokes a sense of restrained cool. Their website is at once no-nonsense and unpretentious. It is super minimal but somehow does not feel vacant or under-designed. It's the perfect crystal goblet through which the talent can sparkle, shine and effervesce. Of course, a nice looking website is nothing if it is unhelpful or misses the main task of giving clients access and insight to their talent and culture. Dutch Uncle has just about the best artist profile design that I have seen. Artists are represented variously by professional portraits or thumbnails. I like that they put the artists themselves forward, beyond their work. It seems like a risky move, but it actually speaks to the calibre of the people the represent. They're not selling twirly doodles for drug store greeting cards — they're selling the best minds and hands in the creative industry.
Clicking into an artist thumbnail from their Roster page takes you to the artist landing page, which large, eye-catching portraits and work images in a carousel, and a synopsis below. Further thumbnails allow you to click into either their rather extensive full bio page or their portfolio. In the latter, work images are shown large, and without superfluous doodads, in an overlaid window box. The only small thing I could pick at is that the image file names are displayed, in a sort of default, clumsy and clearly unintentional look. There must be a setting in their Squarespace panel to hide that or title the images more elegantly.
Their client list has all the usual suspects. As I've written before, the client list of an agency means less to me than the artist list and other experiential and branding factors, since most of the big companies make their rounds to most known agencies. If you've been around a few years, you'll have worked with Coca-Cola and Google and Nike and Adidas, etc.
Their Instagram is nicely curated but has a surprisingly modest follower count, given the calibre of everything and everyone else in their arsenal. I suppose 6.8k followers is commensurate to how often they post, which is about once a week as far as I could tell by a quick scan. They may have been late to the Instagram game, or perhaps they are focusing on building their actual artist's careers rather than garnering likes on social media.
While animation for me (and the entire agency world) falls on the sidelines, I'm impressed to see DU has a specific page on their site showcasing motion work by their illustrators. For over a decade the realms of motion and illustration have become more blurred together, and there is no sign of this trend going away. DU is clearly keeping up with the times, working with mutli-disciplinary illustrators and leading the industry with relevant services and content.
My Final Verdict
Dutch Uncle is possibly the most desirable agency to work for as an illustrator. With a philosophy of developing artists's careers and art practices, they put it into practice by putting their artists and work first (in that order, too). It's rare that an agency acknowledges the life blood of their business in such a selfless way. More than anything, I see that DU values relationships — relationships between them and their artists, but more remarkably, between their clients and the artists. It seems gutsy for an agency to promote their talent by showing a photo of the artists before the work, but then again, it's a huge vote of confidence in just who they're dealing with.