Friday 28, 02.2014

Illustration as a business: Special Interview with agent Erika Groeschel

Illustration as a business: Special Interview with agent Erika GroeschelToday’s interview is not about the artist and his work, as those of you who read my interviews are already used to finding. Today’s special interview goes a little bit behind closed doors, to showing the person who represents the artist, who makes their business decisions.

In the past few months I encountered quite a few artists with representation and I was curious to know more about how things happen for artists who are being represented by an agent – and who else better for this interview than a professional agent for illustrators?

Erika Groeschel is among the most influential agents for illustrators. She is based in New York City and has made a career out of representing artists from all continents. She has clients like Disney, Nike and ESPN and knows every rule that applies to doing business for freelance illustrators. Erika’s day starts at 6.00 AM and her job starts way before the artist’s job starts. Before a brief is decided, before a contract is signed, before any first sketches are done for the client, there is first the talk with the agent. That’s where all the specifications are discussed, including negotiations for the project. And her work isn’t done until the job ends. It’s a fascinating area and I’m not sure people know much about it. So therefore I thank ms. Erika for doing this interview with me, as much as I thank the illustrators who work with her and who took the time to give me their side of the story.

I fell instantly in love with America. We performed at the Radio City Music Hall, Ed Sullivan Show, Las Vegas and all around the country


Please tell me a little bit about you. What did you do, before becoming an agent? 

I have done many things in my life, it is a journey – everything you do leads in to the next chapter one can apply from the lessons learned.

I grew up in Germany, studied photography, studied ballet at night and switched to show-business. First a group a la the Rockettes, later a group ’The Trio Morlidor‘ for several years. That brought me to the the U.S.

I fell instantly in love with America. We performed at the Radio City Music Hall, Christmas Show, Ed Sullivan Shows, Las Vegas and all around the country. Show business is the best ’Finishing School‘ for selling and business! First, “the Disziplin”, second, the Presence.


You are an agent for graphic designers and illustrators. How did you start your career?

I quit show business, came alone to NYC, worked with photographers which lead me to represent them. I met my husband, a fabulous top Creative Director from whom I learned everything!

Later I added Illustrators to my group, now I only represent artists.

Illustrations by artists represented by Erika

I handle all inquiries, I know more about usage rights, how much to charge and usually negotiate better fees


What does your work involve?

Everything! I have to promote them, advise them, bring in the assignments, make sure the work is excellent and on time. I do the billing and as soon the payments come in I wire their money to them.


How many artists do you currently represent?

About ten to twelve. I prefer a smaller group in diversified categories, I work hands on, they become like family.


How do you decide on the artists you want to represent? What is the criteria you take into account, before signing with someone?

Their work has to turn me on!


What do you think are the advantages for an artist working with you?

They are free to concentrate on their work, I handle all inquiries, I know more about usage rights, how much to charge and usually negotiate better fees.


Tell me a few of the clients you are most proud of having worked with.

I am proud of ALL my clients, big or small!  Well to mention a few of course I must point out; Disney (City Girl game), Nike, GMCR, ESPN.


Illustrations by artists represented by Erika

The problem clients may have: there is no structure, follow-up and service to see to that everything runs smooth and on time


Once you talk to a client for a project, what is the process of choosing a suitable artist for it? What happens next?

The client picks the artist! I prepare the details about timing, fee, purchase orders, I am being kept in cc of the progress of all work and keep work files. If there is a problem I have to step in and straighten it out.


What do you think is the biggest problems brands have, when hiring an illustrator through direct connection, without an agent in between them?

They go directly to the illustrator because they think they get it cheaper!

The problem the clients then may have: there is no structure, follow-up and service to see to that everything runs smooth and on time. Sometimes there is trouble later on regarding usage and copyright issues that normally would be cleared up right in the beginning by the agent.


What would you advise illustrators in search of being represented by an agent?

HONESTY!  That’s the most important issue because once you lose their trust – it’s over. On the other hand – I have never been more cheated as by illustrators!

Since I am totally open in every aspect with the artist – they have direct contact to each of our clients, they work with the art director behind the scenes and then cut me out. Once with a KFC TV commercial I got for one woman, the other, same situation, with the Wall Street Journal. However both women did not get very far on their own and disappear within time. It’s not sour grapes, it’s the reality and I am sure other agents experienced the same.

Illustrations by artists represented by Erika


What does a day in your life look like?

I get up at 6:00 AM, work 10 hours a day and come in to my office on weekends as well. My husband in the later years was part of my business, very important in every aspect but unfortunately he died very suddenly last April. From him I learned the excellence of integrity, everything you do has to be the best!


You work in New York City. How would you describe the art scene there?

It’s great! So much talent and inspirations all around!

However my daily focus is geared towards business! Where do I go to get work for my artists? Ad Agencies, Companies, Books Companies, Magazines, Game companies, Record Companies. It is a business and very competitive.


In your experience, what kind of art is most in demand, for brands?

I really don’t know? I love beauty and fashion but when you look though magazines, It’s all overley retouched photography. Of course the Game Industry rests totally on illustrations, character development, comics and so on. Publishing is one market, some ad agencies resort to illustrations, it depends on the project and client. It changes all the time!


What do artists think about working with an agent?

“Working with Erika has brought me lots of benefits, most importantly she deals with all the legal work, checks the contracts, handles the business correspondence and negotiates rates so I can fully concentrate on what I do best: My art.

The commission she takes off of every finished project doesn’t hurt a bit – after all she’s getting me way better deals than I would have got on my own.” – Fantasy illustrator Eva Widermann

Illustration by Eva Widermann

Illustration by Eva Widermann

“A good agent is good at helping an illustrator build business and also frees the illustrator from having to deal with every new project enquiry. I used to have to spend a lot of time answering emails or queries from people who did not really have projects for me to do. I can use that time now to work on my own illustrations or experiment with new art styles.

An agent can also offer insight into the industry that may help the illustrator. Because they deal with clients more regularly, they could have a better understanding as to the particular trends of the year. They may be able to let an illustrator know if a certain topic or motif is popular or not, and whether ideas or experiments are applicable to the illustrator or not.” – illustrator Charlene Chua

Interview with illustrator Charlene ChuaIllustration by Charlene Chua

Check out Erika Groeschel’s portfolio of artists (and get in touch with her) here:

About Miruna

Hi, my name is Miruna Sfia. I'm 28 and I'm a self-employed graphic designer and illustrator living in Bucharest, Romania. I created Talk Illustration because I wanted to be able to learn from some of the best people in my industry.

If you want to know more about the things I work on, feel free to follow me via Facebook, Twitter or Google+

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