Thursday, June 17, 2010

Interview with Harry Lyon-Smith in Artybuzz about the Illustration Industry, on it's challenges and changes

1.       Could you introduce yourself please, what do you do and what does your organisation do?

      My name is Harry Lyon-Smith, a director of illustration limited. We are an illustration agency representing some of the World's top illustrators. We have offices in London, New York, Paris, Hamburg, Shanghai representing both local artists locally and internationally. We also represent an increasing number of animators. We were founded in 1929 and I have only been with the agency since 1985

2.       At Artybuzz, we have a wide range of illustrators that include students, what advice would you give to an illustration student looking to break into the industry?

      There are some basics, such as getting as much feedback from potential commissioners as possible. As an agency it is rare that we represent artists who have just left college, what we like to see is how they have got on for a couple of years knocking on doors and honing a portfolio that they have had feedback from real-life commissioners. You have to work very hard at this, developing new work and adapting it all the time so that it is relevant to potential marketplaces.
      Keep realistic and honest with yourself. We represent illustrators who we class as being in the top 1% of talent, and the reality of their success is more or less; 1/3 do really well, 1/3 do fine, and 1/3 we struggle to find enough work for. It may well be that we are the wrong agency, the style and subject of the work is just not what is resonating with commissioners. We are always trying to re-tune the presentation of artist's work to get the formula right, but sometimes it does not work and we have to shake hands and wish each other bon to speak.

3.       How important do you feel it is for illustrators to have a strong web presence is in this modern age?

      Essential, and it needs to include a website, blog, Facebook, MySpace, Linked in, Twitter etc. and as much inter-linking as possible. They all need to be kept up to date as commissioners very quickly get what we call image blindness. Furthermore join as many portfolio websites  such as Artbuzz, Behance,  and Flickr etc, which are free and as many of the fee charging ones (AOIPortfolios, TheIspot, Altpick, Folioplanet etc) as you can afford. There are loads out there and the more out there you are the more potential commissioners will see you.  As an agency we try and do this as much as possible on behalf of our artists and dedicate a lot of man hours to keeping things moving and fresh on these sites.

4.       How do you feel the impact of new technology and programs like Adobe Illustrator has affected the illustration industry?

     On the one hand they have enabled a great deal of efficiency coupled with a fantastic new range of styles, techniques and effects, which in great creative and professional hands have broadened the spectrum of what illustrators do by some measure. On the other hand they can disguise some shortfalls in draughtsmanship. This disguise is short lived in our experience.
      There is a slight negative in that clients who work in the same programme know that changes can often be easily made, resulting in some briefs are not being as thorough or worked out as before, so that there are lots of changes to the final work.

5.       Following on from the question above, has this impact been a positive one or a negative thing?

      Mixed, it depends on the artists, the client and the brief. There has always been this triangular set of forces with commissions and I suppose some technologies compound a problem, whilst others alleviated them.

6.       Do you feel there has been a rise in the popularity of illustration over the past few years, and if so, why is this?

      Illustration enables greater individuality and "signature" when clients are looking to stand out from the crowd. Photography is a great medium and brilliant for many applications, however it is a narrower stylistic solution and whilst individual in many ways it does not nearly have the extraordinary flexibility, diversity and the impact that well used illustration has. In a World that bombards everyone with thousands and thousands of messages a day, individuality and standout is essential. This is understood by the creative industries and more illustration is being commissioned. 

7.       In these tough economic times, what advice would you give to illustrators looking to survive?

      The answers to question three applies a great deal. This combined with brilliant draughtsmanship, delivering beyond expectation, cracking the brief brilliantly, mixed in with a lot of genuine charming and professionalism. This has always been the way of success in any field.  I should also say a good agent can take all these fine attributes and leveraged them into some very well paid and exciting opportunities.

8.       What in your opinion is the most exciting thing going on in the illustrative world at the moment?

      The world is opening up and flattening, China is going to be as big a market as anything we have seen before in a decade or 2, places like Brazil and Russia are developing the same way. Not only are they producing many extraordinarily talented artists, their media industries are looking further afield to source talent.
      Illustrators are now able to animate relatively easily and with a booming mobile, Internet/TV platforms the need and desire for visual content, both static and motion, has never been greater and will grow exponentially.
Interviewed by Richard Wilde of Artybuzz also available as part of an ebook

Richard has just launched an interesting new business which many will find interesting and an opportunity


  1. Many thanks for the mention in your post, Harry. Some good advice tucked in here!

  2. Fantastic advice in here. Thanks for sharing!