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.
This is my first instalment of what I hope will be a series of reviews of my favourite illustration agencies. At first, I was going to write an exhaustive list of my favourite New York reps in one single post, but it quickly became apparent that this would take forever to both write and read. Instead, I will post one agency at a time, and will for now focus on reps in New York. Why NYC? Because it is indisputably the global centre of the illustration industry.
Of course, every review must have its criteria. I am hardly an expert critic on anything, but as a represented, full time illustrator, I do have my own opinions of what makes as good agency. For instance, an agency should have strong branding and a clear focus in its portfolio. I tend to favour agencies that have a few high quality artists over the ones that have dozens or even hundreds of pretty good ones. I am less impressed by the quality of individual artists than I am of the overall presentation of the set. But of course, who they represent is every bit important: I'm looking for at least one or two recognizable names, and I give extra bonus points for industry superstars (although not all reps with superstar names meet my other criteria). Good agencies of course show the work of their artists well and give each illustrator a proper bio and profile page. Another mark of a great agency is their demonstration of stylistic and technological freshness: their talent is current and creating good, time-friendly work, and their online experience is up to date. In 2017/18, We can't overlook social media influence either, particularly on Instagram. I'm looking at the follower count, which is an indicator of reach and influence. I'm also looking at the feed itself, particularly how it is curated. Finally, you may be surprised to learn that clients are less important to me than these other things. Most agencies can boast a handful of the big ones — Nike, Google, Penguin, The New York Times, etc. — if they've been around long enough. For me, the most stand-out agencies are the ones who are not just saying they're different, but actually are.
These are my personal criteria for what makes an admirable illustration agency. As I do not count myself an expert critic, I would caution you to take all my comments with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, I do not know how these agencies operate from the inside, nor do I know how well they are doing as businesses. The agencies that impress me most do so for the above reasons, and that's that. Furthermore, it should be acknowledged I myself have a New York-based rep. To make sure I am not showing any bias, I have left them off the table for consideration.
Bernstein and Andriulli
Bernstein & Andriulli is a premiere creative management agency with hands in all the pots: photography, illustrators, cgi, motion, beauty, fashion, and even influence marketing. But don't let their "one stop shop" appearance fool you: they boast an impressive talent roster, including pop art legend Sir Peter Blake, who created the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" sleeve. Among others, they also have the whimsical Nomoco (a personal favourite) and Toronto's own Polyester Studio.
What impresses me about B&A is their strong branding, which is sophisticated and premium, alongside a well designed web experience, which makes finding and viewing individual artists a pleasure. While there are many other reps in New York with similarly diverse and choc-full rosters, B&A do a very good job presenting the work in a way that feels cohesive and well-curated. It helps that their logo and overall branding is straightforward and elegant. Even their international-sounding name pleasantly lands on the tongue.
With an Instagram following in the tens of thousands, it's easy to assume that Bernstein & Andriulli are doing something right. And yes, their feed is delectable. It strikes a great balance in terms of showing work from its many disciplines, and demonstrates an expert curator's skill.
If I have any critique of B&A, it's fairly practical: for all the ease of use in finding artists on their website, finding information about the agency itself is less accessible. They don't have an About section on their page: I had to go to LinkedIn to find their agency statement. Their client list is similarly hard to determine, although specific clients are listed in individual artist bios.
My Final Verdict
Bernstein & Andriulli stand out as the top New York agency in my mind, with a good mix of legendary and fresh talent, a great online experience, high audience engagement, and a clear dedication to keeping with the times. They seem to elevate their artists and their work above any specific merits of their own, as an agency, which is refreshing in this industry. And this is the mark of a confident agency that knows what makes it most valuable — the work and the illustrators who make it.
NEWS: I just completed my second collaboration with Reunion Goods & Services on some wall art a the new Upper East Side location of Quality Eats. Their photographer, Liz Clayman, was kind enough to let me post some of her photos of the interiors. You can see more of the art I did for this location as well as the original East Village one here.
There were a lot of amazing moments in 2015. Too many to mention, really. The following are limited to what I consider professional highlights — milestones in my illustration career. There have been so many great people involved, bringing me great work, trusting in me to work with them, inviting me to contribute to their projects. It’s truly an honour, and I cannot be thankful enough. While the following are to me the most significant highlights, they do not even begin to acknowledge all the supporters behind the scenes, be they my steady clients or my always-supportive family and friends.
Before I begin, though, I do need to acknowledge my number one supporter, my wife Amanda, and our in house cheerleading team, Nina and Marie. Without their patience, encouragement, and love, I could not have done any of this. So thank you, Froese girls. Now, without further ado, I give you my best 10 from 2015.
In 2014, I started illustrating for Stickyscapes New York, a really cool fold-out stickerbook for kids by UK publisher Laurence King. This was the most intensive project to date, with two 5-foot long panoramic illustrations of New York City and some 100 stickers. I released final art in January and had the printed books in my hand (in two languages!) by November. Just as the New York books came in, I was finishing up art for my second Stickyscapes title, Stickyscapes Space. It was an honour to be asked to create not just one, but two titles under this series.
2. Herb Lester
Herb Lester creates beautiful illustrated city guides that are reminiscent of tourist maps from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. When they contacted me about doing a guide, my chair hit the ground as I stood up in disbelief/excitement. Coincidentally, they asked me to illustrate a New York themed guide. Having just wrapped on the Stickyscapes title, I was able to hit the ground running and produce a fully illustrated and designed guide within a month. As a lover of vintage maps and New York, this remains my favourite piece to date.
3. Brand New Conference
Having researched New York City extensively for the above projects, it was a no brainer to attend Brand New Conference 2015, which was this year hosted in the city. For a number of years, especially as an art director, I had dreamed of going to the event, which caters to designers. As an illustrator, it actually made a lot of sense to go, since it is art directors and designers who now commission me after all. I met some of my favourite Internet buddies and got to rub shoulders with some of the most legendary people in the industry. One of the best things to come out of this trip: meeting Ben Levitz of Studio on Fire, who in turn invited me to illustrate for their 2016 Calendar.
4. Moving to Yarrow
Early in the year, my family decided it was time to leave Vancouver for greener and more spacious pastures. Literally. We sold our condo and moved to a split level in the semi-rural village of Yarrow, BC, an hour outside the city. Along with this decision came the rather painful-at-first transplantation of my studio from the bustling Railtown district of Vancouver to a quiet farm-based studio shared with local potters. It was really lonesome at first and had me questioning the whole move, given the need for creative community as an illustrator. But after a month, I was settled in and there was no turning back. Best thing about the move: the commute.
5. Quality Eats
While my work primarily consists of editorial and the odd retail project, I do get a few jobs outside the usual from time to time. This year, in the “odd job” category, my commission from New York steak restaurant Quality Eats took the cake. Restaurant interior architecture and design team Reunion Goods & Services had me illustrate a series of large framed canvases that integrated with their electrical lighting system. You need to see the pictures to see what I mean! With art direction that included “draw a prostitute and a cow on a skateboard”, this was definitely one of the most hilarious and amazing jobs I’ve ever had.
6. Adobe Creative Jam
One of my long game goals is to regularly share my expertise and experience with others. Public speaking, writing and teaching are among the activities I hope to do more of as I mature and grow in my art. It was with gratitude and a knotty tummy that I accepted the invitation from Adobe to speak at Vancouver Creative Jam. It was convenient that I had just done all those projects about New York, so I just talked about my illustration process by walking the audience through a couple of those projects. It was so good to be able to share to a listening audience (they were amazing), and to answer such good questions. I basked in the glow of a successful presentation (no need for knots in the old tum-tum after all) as I sipped beers with new friends and fellow presenters after the show. Turns out I quite like public speaking.
7. The Canadianist
For the past two years, my pal Vince at Eveverlovin’ Press and I have created letterpress projects that aim to elevate the art of letterpress printing in Canada. Last year, we created Greetings From Canada, a 10 artist collaboration of 10 Canadian-themed post cards. It was a hoot and a success. This year, we went with a similar theme, but with a smaller batch of artists and a larger format to create The Canadianist — 5 8” x 10” prints. We were elated to have names like Katy Dockrill, Andrew Kolb, Jeannie Phan, and Ben Weeks in the mix. Of course, with a foil stamp as part of the design, I couldn’t resist inserting myself into the mix.
8. Bloodbath Group Show
Another first this year is being in a group show. Bloodbath was shown at 71a Gallery in London (UK), and was organized by Edward Tuckwell and Josh Mckenna, fellow artists on the MP-Arts agency roster.
9. Skillshare Class
Skillshare had been asking me to develop a class for a while. They asked me first in the summer when things we just nuts for me. I figured it wasn’t a big deal, they probably ask everyone to teach. But when they asked me again in October, I was persuaded. I took on the project fully aware that building a good class and then shooting/editing my own video footage would be a crapload of work. And it was (had a lot of help on the editing side). Creating this class dominated an already saturated work month, but in the end (and after a lot of support from the folks at Skillshare and one very patient video editor), we pulled it off, and Inky Illustrations was born. I was pleased when, after only 2 weeks, the class had amassed over 1,000 students and ridiculously generous reviews. Sticking it through for this class taught me the value of shunning self doubt; it reinforced the importance of encouraging collaborators; and it reinstated my love for teaching. All in all, a big win.
10. First Editorial Writing Assignment
While I haven’t heard much about what people thought about my writing for the Hunger issue of Applied Arts Magazine, being published as a writer is another significant milestone for my career. The article was featured in their craft column, where, each issue, they feature an essay by an industry professional “to open up peer-to-peer dialogue”. Had I supplied them with a better headshot for the piece, I would have liked to show you a pic of the spread! Looks like you'll have to order the mag to read it!
So those are my 2015 highlights in a nutshell. I want to include so many more things above, like the front of book series of illustrations for Monocle Issue 83, the crazy illustrations I did with the folks at Will Inc., all the great projects (like Wired UK and The Harvard Business Review) from Tim and Karlie at MP-Arts, and of course, being added to the Mendola Artists roster of illustrators more recently.
If 2015 is an indicator of how things will go in 2016, I’m very, very excited. Thank you for following along. I can't wait to see what's next.