Laura Carlin: How to get commissioned

Laura Carlin: How to get commissioned

By NellFrizzellIdeasTap 13/03/12

Illustrator and ceramics artist Laura Carlin won the Quentin Blake Prize two years in a row while studying her master’s at the Royal College of Art. She has gone on to illustrate The Iron Man by Ted Hughes and was voted one of ADC Young Guns’ 50 most influential creatives under 30. As our Heart Agency portfolio brief gathers pace, we caught up with the Heart-represented artist to talk portfolios, pressure and self-promotion…

This profession relies on self-initiation: You have to rouse yourself up.

I have always been a real workaholic but I didn’t know what I was aiming towards until my MA.

I went to see Heart agency just before my final show at the Royal College of Art. It was the only agency I’d heard of. I was overjoyed when they wanted to represent me, but I wouldn’t say you always have to get an agent. It really depends on your personality type. I quite like speaking to people, so it seemed odd to have a middleman. If you’re really shy – like a lot of illustrators are – then an agent can do a lot of work for you. But a lot of illustrators are great at self-promotion, they just don’t realise it.

I feel really, really sorry for young illustrators today, because there are just so many images out there. It must be really intimidating.

It sounds cheesy, but after education you just need to get to know yourself and your way of working as well as you possibly can. You can waste a lot of time thinking, “I should be doing this, I should be doing that.”

At college I used to find it really hard to start a new project – it’s that whole new sketchbook thing – so I often work on three images of the same thing at once. It stops that pressure of thinking that this one thing has got to be perfect.

I work quite fast and work every day, but don’t draw enough from life any more. A lot of people I draw at the moment are starting to look the same and have the same leg stance because they’re coming from my head, rather than from looking at real people.

In 2010, when the recession hit, a lot of commissioners just withdrew. I didn’t have any work for about five months, so I used my overdraft and made ceramics. I organised a show at a friend’s house, so I had something to aim towards.

There’s this weird assumption that because you’re doing something creative, you should enjoy it all the time. You don’t. It’s a job. You can get bored. So, if you have something else that you can do creatively, jump on it. Personally, if I didn’t organise shows for myself and have that slight terror, I would probably just sit reading blogs all day.



In Focus: How to get commissioned

You should have in your portfolio whatever it is that you want to get work in. 

Art directors can be great but they very, very rarely take a risk. So, they will only ever commission you on what you can show them.

If you haven’t had the luck to be commissioned in a certain form, then you have to take the initiative and show that you want to be. So, if you want to do books, but haven’t had a book deal, then you absolutely need to have proof of narrative in your portfolio. 

If you work out what you’re good at, then you can concentrate on approaching the right people. For example, if you’re good at design, then you should be sending your work to publishers. When I finished my BA I sent work out to everyone. I mean, I was sending work about death and rape to children’s book publishers and then wondering why I wasn’t getting any work.


For your chance to have a one-on-one portfolio surgery with Heart illustration agent Jenny Bull, apply for our Heart Agency Illustration Portfolio Surgery brief.

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