A great overview of where the business has been and where it's going... a must read for anyone in the business or thinking of a career in illustration. Sharing David's 38 years worth of knowledge and experience.
How long have you been an artist representative, and how did you get started in the business?
May 1st, 2017 is the start of my 38th year as a rep. After a few years touring the country (1974-1976), in a great cover band that included this then-unknown guitarist from Carle Place, Joe Satriani, I came off the road and had a series of very unfulfilling jobs beginning in January, 1977. A dear friend who was the local "phenom" photographer at my high school, Paul Margolies, asked me if I would consider representing him. I was then in the garment district selling piece goods in NYC, and hating my boss, so I made a deal with Paul to give me a desk, a phone, x-amount a week advance draw, and to teach me what a photographer's rep does. I knew absolutely nothing, but I could sell and tell a decent joke.
Does your group work a particular niche within the market and if so, how would you describe it? Do you think it's important to have a niche?
Over the decades, as I transitioned from representing photographers, to solely representing illustrators, the concept of repping niche talent was born very organically at first. I started representing an art director at Bozell & Jacobs named Norm Bendell in 1983. He had about six different styles at the time and asked me to carry his work around with my photographers. His book was much lighter – my first indication I loved representing artists more than the other five. It was a style somewhat along the lines of many of the New Yorker artists. A couple years later, we were called up to meet Joe LaRosa, who awarded us nine ads for Perrier. This was life-changing for both of us. In time, Bendell became so huge and coveted worldwide, we were billing over $200k many years in a row at his peak, approaching $400k one year. I was turning away more work than he could handle, as the major agency focus groups were overwhelmingly always selecting his particular style over every other humorous artist. So, with Bendell's encouragement, I thought I'd take on more humorous talents, which I did, and was able to successfully turn buyers' minds in their direction when Bendell wasn't available. This was my first attempt at niche, which I ultimately abandoned, due to meeting a young artist down in Silver Spring, Maryland named James Yang, thanks to a mutual friend, Jerry Tortorella. As I helped to develop James' career, I realized the conceptual world of illustration was something that really excited me on a personal level. I moved away from humorous talent and merged into the world of brilliant conceptual minds illustrating the world's most difficult topics. This, then became my next niche of sorts and was the focus for my second decade as a rep. I can't say if it's important for a rep to have a niche, though many do, and I assume it works for them, because they've repped mainly children's book artists or humorous talent forever and survived. Eventually I had the the privilege to ascend into the worlds of book publishing, licensing, creating TV properties and our own brands; places that I never imagined I'd be exploring in 1980. When the memoir is published, this entire progression will be revealed.
How do you decide to take on a new artist? What requirements do you have?
This is my favorite question I've been asked over the years, and the answer has never changed. I come from a psychology background. I'm a musician who composes music and performs to this day, but I have no background whatsoever studying art. I am an artistic fish out of water, an outsider with strong business instincts and basic intuitive interpersonal sensibilities. Hence, the first two qualities I look for in a talent are his/her ability to communicate verbally in an intelligent manner, and more importantly, how much I like him or her as a person. The final two criteria are: if their work speaks to me on a gut level and demonstrates brilliant conceptual thinking, and if our visions are aligned for the direction they are seeking for their careers long term. The requirements I have are the same as I would have for a lifelong friendship:
1. Be a person of your word, follow through on what you say, do it when you say you're going to do it – never miss a deadline. Never give less than 110% to a project. That person giving you a $400 spot illustration as an associate art director today will someday be the creative director somewhere else giving out $3-50k projects. Make great first impressions. Appreciate every project knowing it's going to be one more cobblestone as you build out your road to success.
2. Wake up each day with a great passion to develop your career. Work hard always, as I will work tirelessly for you.
3. Pay attention to details and communicate with me and clients throughout projects. Take notes, write things down, create paper trails. Always be responsible to guarantee the success of each project by asking the right questions. Don't be a blamer – take responsibility for everything that is within your sphere to control.
4. I require positive minds and attitudes. Artists who understand that there is no such thing as being "slow". Slow is your opportunity to build a new series of great images, develop a product, a brand, a book project, add to your stock art collection, jump all over social media to build new followers, refresh your website/blog, etc.
5. And mostly, I require mutual respect, honesty and trust.
Do your artists create work specifically for their portfolios? Do you coach them in this area?
Absolutely! As with a great comedian, timing is everything. Showcasing the right images to show at the right time, the ideal target market is an intelligence that takes many years to learn, and it's a must to master. The reason I kept my group small throughout the years is to build very close friendships and/or professional relationships with everyone in the group. There are some artists who are in touch with me daily and some who are off in their own worlds, and rarely check in with me. The former, of course, get much more out of me and inspire me to advise them to develop images for specific reasons. Speaking and meeting with so many different types of art buyers daily allows me to be up on how best to meet their latest buying needs. This info I cull is what I translate to each artist. Beyond the agenting role of repping talent (sizing up jobs, knowing how to properly bid them, copyright protection) the managing role is one I highly regard and take very seriously, as guidance can be the difference between a weak and strong year for an artist, and in many cases, the artist's family.
What styles are hottest right now?
Not to be too evasive nor self-serving in my answer here, but I don't really spend a great deal of time thinking about a question like this. Obviously artists working with AI and vector graphics are having a field day the past five years or so, because so many clients have gravitated towards the trend and "safety" of presenting flat iconic graphics, especially in the financial, social media and animation worlds. I function 24 hours a day focused on the best markets for each artist I represent, to find the buyers who consider their work the hottest right now. Regardless of trends, as far as I'm concerned, it's the brain power artists must exercise to reinvent their thinking and approach to solutions, brands, characters, or self-invented properties, that are the hottest right now. May it be James Yang's "The Impolite Gentleman" comic strip or David Anson Russo's latest brand "What A Great Life", the hottest are creating hot all day long, whether or not the market tunes into it. With 76 awards for his illustration excellence to his name, Aad Goudappel has certainly become one of the kings in the world of vector graphics illustration. The same could be said for the newest member of my group, Kyle Webster and his massively successful KYLEBRUSH brand. I'm endlessly grateful that enough art buyers around the world believe my group of talent is always "hot" and trust my judgement and recommendations.
Whose work do you admire most and why (besides your own illustrators of course)?
There are so many incredibly talented artists I admire, some of whom I have represented in the past, some for whom I still do special "one off" negotiations for, and some you've likely never heard of. Two of my all time faves are Brian Stauffer and Michael Morganstern... it's rare I look at their work and don't think it's brilliant and wish I represented them. There's an amazing renaissance artist I met a few years back named Ron Rundo who's relief works with resin and various styles of illustration totally blew me away. His portraits are powerful. I've always been a lifelong fan of Doron Ben-Ami. He's so intelligent, and his approach to illustration is so fluid and always on target – the king of storyboards! I'm a big fan of Milton Glaser, Paul Klee, Saul Mandel, Jean-Jacques Sempe, Cathy Bleck, Rina Sinakin, Rosemary Fox, Mike Thompson, Laura Lou Levy, Greg Spalenka, Arlen Schumer, Robert Crumb, Cap Pannell, Ingo Fast, Campbell Laird, David Plunkert, Keith Bendis, Monica Kelly (N'awlin's finest) and so many more artists. The "why" is way more difficult to answer: personal taste, unexplainable, positive gut reactions when I see their work, as they each express something very original to me which is captivating and pleasing. But mainly the thinking behind each piece is most exciting, and/or I admire how they perfectly solved the need for a particular expression of art married to copy.
Are your artists incorporating GIFs and other forms of animation in their work? Any longer animated projects?
Yes, many of my artists have mastered motion graphics in different ways, from simple GIFs, to simple short-form and long-form Flash animations, which then morphed to HTML for portable electronic devices and of course, full-scale animations for broadcast. Working closely now for decades with one of America's greatest animation company founders, Peter Barg of Z-Animation, I have been fortunate to learn so much through his masterful guidance and supreme knowledge in the world of producing animations. In 2015, the first calls for GIFs we received were from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. As more publications lessen their emphasis on print and spend more money on their online presence, GIFs and simple animations should prosper going ahead.
What are your biggest concerns daily, think of "A Day in The Life of David Goldman Agency"?
My biggest daily concern of course is making sure every ongoing project is running smoothly and clients are feeling great about their choice to hire one of my artists. My next big concern is making sure the artists are always relevant in the marketplace and eliciting calls for commissions. I obsess over the question, "What more can I be doing to amplify each artist's exposure?" How do I get the word out without pissing off creatives sick of endless e-blasts and in a way that's entertaining? And lastly, the endless concern about guiding someone properly in developing new skills, developing new types of self-initiated projects to move in different directions, and making sure the artist finds ways to deal with all the endless challenges to survive as a freelance illustrator from year-to -year, in a quickly changing freelance landscape.
What changes are of concern to you about the state of illustration in our industry, and how can reps and artists adapt in light of them?
This is a great question, and my concerns and reporting about the state of the industry may be a bit depressing. But there are always ways to jujitsu these developments, and find the silver lining, but you have to be proactive, insightful and work really hard.,As the world has flattened out considerably since the internet was born, some companies are going overseas to hire illustrators (on a work for hire basis) for a fraction of what were once considered normal fees to supply artwork. I can only shake my head in frustration over this. The last decade saw an increase of major ad agencies hiring in-house illustrators able to ape numerous styles. This has been the case with infographics talent for years. Magazines have cut out sections, cut down on the amount of art they buy and many are moving online only or cutting the number of times they publish annually. And even though their potential reach online is way more than in print, for some reason, illustration pricing has either decreased or remained the same. I'm very concerned about artists and/or reps who are clueless when it comes to bidding on projects and have no idea how much to charge for projects, or what terms to protect their talents rights. I'm concerned agencies don't know how to pitch the importance of illustration, the uniqueness it brings to brand and the understanding of how much people love animation, which is very entertaining and succeeds in keeping viewers engaged. Did you know that magazines and newspapers rarely, if ever, have done any focus groups to find out what their readers prefer: copy alone, copy and photo, or copy and illustration? Multi-millions are spent by advertisers, but publishers and editors are clueless about what their readers actually prefer to see for editorial content when it comes to art. Some creatives are forced to shop for stock art and haven't assigned original art in years. They complain to me about it all the time. So what's the answer? What do you as an artist or a rep do in response to all changes? Change your style? Ramp up your social media posts? Start a blog? Create your first graphic novel and a slew of characters? Sell your art at Saatchi Art? Create a product line at Society6? Get a new rep? Get your first rep? Leave your current rep because you think the grass is greener elsewhere? (This rarely ever works, by the way.) Start mailing postcards again? Mingle at industry events? Think about adding another revenue stream: fine art galleries, increasing your stock library, teach, lecture, become an art teacher locally? The answer is yes to all of the above and are possible solutions to dividing your career into different pie slices of revenue streams, which in the end will allow you to continue making your living as you intended in a world where this is becoming more difficult. The great originators of content in any area of the arts are most valued. Beyond being an illustrator, you have the ability to conceive and conceptualize: books, TV show ideas, movie and animation ideas, card lines, fashion lines, graphic novels, comic strips, fine art collections, and... the list goes on. Focus, create goals, live your creative bliss and shoot for the stars. There is no "the worst thing that happens!" Attract the creative market to your dream by building it and serving it up on a tray, or let your rep serve it up and shop your ideas for you. For every concern we all have daily, there's a direction around it. Find it, find them!
When you write your memoir someday, "David Goldman, A Rep's Tale," what will be the greatest story about your career you want to leave behind to inspire future generations of reps or illustrators?
I will try to keep this story abridged for the sake of not putting the readers to sleep, but the unabridged story will someday be in that book, that book I will be writing within the next five years. A friend of James Yang's needed my help in a "one-off" negotiation and bidding a massive project for a major credit card company. The AD was named Renee, and she told me they were considering several artists worldwide and that my talent had made the final cut. It was down to another artist and him. Renee told me the branding firm really wanted to go with my talent and recommended him to the client. But, the client made their own internal evaluation, and Renee called me back telling me how sorry she was to have to tell me they selected the other artist. Of course, I was not happy hearing their decision and and dreaded telling the artist. What I haven't yet told you was the scope of the project, which was proposed to be about four years of constant work, with every image being bought on a three year buyout basis, exclusively in perpetuity, totaling over 100 images. The art would never be seen by the public and was intended for biz-to-biz only in the company's intranet worldwide. So, as I sat there thinking about the pass on my talent, I figured I had nothing to lose, and I came up with an idea which I cleared with the artist and presented to Renee. I told her because her firm wanted my talent, and we all believed the client just made a terrible choice, and we are so sure that my talent would be preferred by their clients worldwide, we would be willing to submit another image against the first assignment at a heavily reduced rate if the other artist would be willing to do the same. But this time around, when both images were submitted, they would test the images with their employees and end-viewers, asking their opinions on which artist's work they liked better. Not only did Renee love the idea, the other artist went along with it (not knowing what I was doing behind the scenes), and the client also agreed to do the test. The full story will be in my book someday, but we prevailed, and I landed the largest illustration project of my life. The artist I was representing and his wife were overjoyed; their kids' college educations are secured. The point being, there is always a way to jujitsu "no" if pitched properly.
What advice would you give anyone interested in becoming a professional illustrator, or a professional artist's representative?
I occasionally consult with artists, have lectured at SCAD, done hundreds of portfolio reviews and looked into the eyes of myriad artists from around the world. There is a dream inside each of these amazing talented people I have met, and a burning pilot light of creative passion that has been nurtured beautifully in every great art institution across the world. Tuitions in the United States are at $30-65K a year to send a son or daughter to art school so they can meet some of the greatest minds in the industry who teach full-time, part-time, lecture and/or give seminars. They leave school after running up a $120-260K tab and now it's day one in the real world. Where to begin in 2018? The answer is directed at people whose hearts are set on becoming freelancers (not staff position illustrators). The advice I give them and their parents is for them to become learned in several areas of the art/design world and not pigeon yourself into one area. A substantial percentage of illustrators who are "just" illustrators do not make the living now that they made in the 80's through the early aughts: the industry has changed and styles have changed too. So, unless one thinks $30-60K a year is enough for you to be satisfied as a primary living (and for some that might be just fine), developing skills in animation, web design, teaching, printmaking, graphic design, infographics, signage, brand development, knowing CAD or InDesign may be your saving grace should your primary quest to make it as a freelance illustrator, not be enough for you in time. In one word: diversify. I also advise freelancers to read major newspapers and magazines, and understand what is going on in the world, as demonstrating major brains will heavily impact one's career. I advise them to practice communicating and pitching their ideas to learn the art of being persuasive. I also advise them to attend every industry function imaginable and meet art buyers whenever possible. I overemphasize one's need to learn and understand how to protect copyrights and verbiage in contracts, as ultimately this knowledge will severely impact one's earning potential. I advise them to create a great website/blog/identity and jump into social media with set goals and purpose. If freelancing is too challenging financially at first, I advise them to get a starting job in a field related to illustration, preferably with health benefits. I also tell them to be realistic going the freelancer route, as it sometimes takes many years to become known in the industry, without any guarantee of similar income from one year to the next. It takes a very special kind of person to endure the many rigors of maintaining a very special position in the world of freelance illustration – similar to making it as an actor, musician, or dancer. There are no perfect ways to get there, nor to remain on top, changing your life with one major ad campaign that sets the world on fire and getting one noticed. As for becoming a rep, apprenticing, interning and coming up the ranks is certainly one way to approach it. I have heard of a college course, taught in the New York City area, about becoming an artist representative, but I don't know if it is still being taught. Hence, I don't really know the answers here beyond my own experience. But I believe in the school of hard knocks with friends who are artists taking you under their wings is likely still a way to go, though I will say, the way is treacherous and not for the meek, inhibited, nor non self-starters. The need to listen, learn about pricing, protecting rights, what fair is, how to negotiate, how to pitch and other key characteristics a representative must possess takes years to learn and perfect. A book I highly recommend you read is titled "When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead" by the recently deceased Jerry Weintraub, a super agent and producer who has wonderful life stories to share and inspire you on your path to representing talent.