Hints 'n' Tips | Visual Arts

Artist Representatives and other Business Help

Delene Hessinger of FabryHess, art advisors and artist representatives in San Francisco

Some years ago, when I taught business planning classes for the Small Business Development Center, participants would ask me, “Can’t I pay someone to write my business plan for me?” “Yes,” I would respond, “But only if you’re ready to trust the management of your business to someone else.”

My response would be the same for artists who want only to make art and leave the business to someone else. Before you trust someone with your business, you need to understand what it takes to make a living making art – and seeing it in a written plan on paper really helps.

With that caveat, there are professionals out there who can help you with the art of business and the business of art. Here are several types of assistance available, depending on your level of need:

Creativity Coach
If you’re an emerging artist hoping to live on what you can make as an artist, but it’s just not working, you might need a coach. A coach, in most cases, will not manage your business for you, but will help you identify your needs and suggest methods and resources to get what you need.

There’s a wide variety of coaches, so it’s important to find one who has the expertise that’s right for you. Some are good at helping an artist overcome creative blocks and work more productively and consistently. Others have experience in marketing and sales and can help with the business process side of your art career.

The coach-artist interaction may be handled by phone or email, rather than in person, making it more efficient and less costly. Coaching fees vary widely — from about $150 per month to $250 or more. To locate a coach, visit www.creativitycoachingassociation.com, and look through dozens of members’ bios to find one who looks right for you. Then make contact and ask questions until you’re satisfied you’ve found your best match.

If this sounds like too much money, you might be able to work with a coach-in-training at no cost. Creativity Coach Eric Maisel offers online coach training classes several times a year and keeps a database of artists looking for an opportunity to work with his trainees over a 12-16-week period. In many cases, his trainee coaches are not novices; they may be experienced coaches who want to add the specific expertise of coaching creative types to their resume. Visit www.ericmaisel.com for more information. Maisel’s web site also lists under “resources” coaches who have graduated from his program.

Artist Representative
If your career is more advanced and you are consistently selling your work, you may be ready for an artist representative. Unlike a coach, who helps you mind your own business, the artist representative will manage more of the business for you.

For example, it is not uncommon for experienced illustrators to have a representative who serves as the artists’ liaison to art directors in advertising, PR, and publishing agencies. A good rep will make sure your portfolio is in the hands of decision makers and will constantly remind them of your availability. Of course, the rep will get a commission on work you receive (typically 20-30 percent), but it may be worth it if you are doing what you do best – art – leaving the marketing to the rep.

Utah artist/illustrator Greg Newbold, who may be best known locally for his downtown farmers’ market illustrations, has worked with two different representatives and offers some lessons for those considering such a relationship.

In one case, the rep promised to send some “great illustration projects” Greg’s way but none of the jobs materialized. “I’m not sure they had the contacts to be able to follow through on the promise,” says Newbold. In retrospect, he says, “I may not have done enough homework. I should have talked to some other artists working with the rep.”

Newbold signed on with another rep who did seem to have all the right contacts. This rep also had an impressive group of artists in her stable. Newbold found out too late, however, that the rep considered him “second string” and called on him primarily when a popular artist was too busy. “I didn’t want someone’s castoff job,” said Newbold. “I want work that will bolster my career.”

Newbold advises, “There’s nobody out there who will be willing to work harder for you than you. So you might as well dig in and learn the business. Instead of getting only 75% of the business, you get all of it!” And, Newbold notes, “With the advent of internet and email, it’s easier to do the business part for yourself. You can get the attention of people around the country or the world. You could work on a desert island in the middle of nowhere if you have a high-speed internet connection.” About 85% of Newbold’s business is with out-of-state clients.

On the other hand, Newbold acknowledges, “I have friends who have reps who are doing a great job for them.” The bottom line – look at other artists you respect and admire and see who represents them. Look for a representative who works with artists of the same caliber as you. “Once you establish yourself as a commodity that’s in demand,” says Newbold, “you have the upper hand and can negotiate a good deal with a representative.”

Though perhaps a little less common, there are also artist representatives who work with fine artists. Instead of, or in addition to, art directors, their contacts on behalf of the artist include gallery owners, curators, and art consultants.

Delene Hessinger (image above) of FabryHess, art advisors and artist representatives in San Francisco (www.fabryhess.com), says there’s a huge demand for corporate art but many artists don’t know how to make or maintain contacts with corporate art consultants. You can’t simply send your portfolio once and consider the job done. Nor can you call art consultants on the phone constantly. “They’re busy people,” says Hessinger. “It helps to work through a rep who has a relationship with the consultant or curator.”

As with other types of hired help, it’s important to find the right match in a fine arts representative. Many specialize in a particular niche in a specific market. Hessinger, for example, represents only a handful of artists at one time and they generally live and work in her part of California.

Hessinger also notes that artists trying to do their own marketing often neglect the huge amount of research needed to find the opportunities that are just right for them. For example, explains Hessigner, artists may send their portfolio to galleries without understanding what the gallery needs for their particular clientele. “An artist may feel rejected [when their work is not accepted], but it’s because they haven’t given the gallery what they need for their market.”


Hessinger finds the artists she represents through word of mouth, artist catalogues, exhibits, or through the artist’s web site. She lets the artist know clearly what to expect – services and costs. In addition to marketing their work and managing their business, she also advises her clients on the presentation of their work, including the archival quality of the materials they use. Artists sometimes don’t understand that a gallery’s ability to sell their work may depend on the gallery rep’s ability to explain how long the work of art can be expected to last.

She also helps her clients develop a good resume or curriculum vitae, advising them to “hit the highlights,” so that a busy curator can see at a quick glance that the artist is worth more than a glance. If you bury your best accomplishments in a long, boring chronological display of your shows and exhibits, you may not stand out from the crowd.

You have to be pretty advanced in your career before you’re ready for an artist representative. Meanwhile, Hessinger advises, “get out there and enter shows.” The more you are showing and selling your work, the sooner you will warrant (and afford) the help of a representative to get to that next level of success.


Categories: Hints 'n' Tips | Visual Arts

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