Advice — Breed founder Olivia Triggs on how to do commercial work without losing your soul
The battle between maintaining your true creative voice and the temptation of changing your style to win over a client is an age-old conflict. And it’s something that many artists struggle with when trying to source commercial work. Luckily, Olivia Triggs, founder of Breed agency, is here to offer some key advice. Harnessing the talents of creatives such as the multidisciplinary Danny Sangra to the inimitable Kate Moross, Breed works with commercial clients in fields ranging from straight advertising to fashion, including names like Selfridges, Mr Porter, The Guardian, BBH and The New York Times. Having celebrated Breed’s twelfth birthday, Olivia has amassed a wealth of experience in sourcing work for artists that matches their ethos as well as their style. Here, she explains how to maintain a voice when doing commercial work.
Commercial work is nothing new
Throughout history, we’ve seen different kinds of artists emerge. First, starting in the Renaissance and going all the way through to Charles Saatchi today, the art world has had a system in place that enables artists to pursue their vision, without having to worry about where their next meal will come from.
And in the second half of the 20th century, the likes of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jeff Koons began to take direct inspiration from the commercial world, and some of them were even directly involved in it. Warhol started out as a commercial illustrator, Dalí designed the logo for Chupa Chups lollipops, and both could be seen appearing in TV ads. But then came the purely commercial artists, whose work tended to be anonymous.
“What is changing is the range of media available. Artists are no longer limited to paper and marble.”
What is changing for both sets of artists is the range of media available to them. Artists are no longer limited to paper and marble, and the rise of social media, in particular, has meant that even those who would once have seen themselves as purely commercial artists no longer need to work in complete anonymity. Because today, commercial clients and brands will often want an artist’s name to be known, as it provides them with other avenues and opportunities for promotion. And there is, of course, a certain kudos attached to having an artist with the right following attached to your brand. But it’s also important to know when to say no to this.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. If the talent is there, and you’re lucky enough to be represented by a good agency, then naturally the commercial work will follow. But if you’re a single-minded creative, and wondering whether you can turn your skills into a living without selling your soul, I’ve come up with a few suggestions based on what I’ve picked up over the years. Whether you are represented by an agent or not, these tips will allow you to keep your work personal to you, while still retaining a roster of commercial clients.
Steven Wilson’s poster work for Robert Plant
Try to meet clients face-to-face
Try to be open to meeting clients yourself. Even if you are represented by an agency, don’t just rely on them to be doing all the meet-and-greets with clients. As much as agents like to talk about the talent they represent, if you’re in the room with them, it can make a whole world of difference to a client.
Stay true to your own style
While it can be very tempting to try to capture current trends, I think it’s important for artists to find and develop their own voice by creating what they want to create, not what they hope clients might be looking for. That’s not a call for artists to stay in their lane penniless, just that clients are more likely to show interest in someone who has their own distinctive, recognisable and original style.
As an agency, we like our artists to produce personal work that is purely for themselves and is reflective of their interests – rather than made to order. We can then use that as a showcase and a catalyst to spark conversations with clients, both existing and potential. Artists demonstrating their own interests in their work can also bring dividends. For example, Steven Wilson’s love of music and gig posters, shown off in his work, has led directly to him creating posters for the likes of Robert Plant and Mark Knopfler, often for shows in California, which allows him to reference the classic psychedelic style.
Danny Sangra’s painting
Give the fullest picture possible
Championing the full range of an artist’s work is beneficial to both artists and agents. For example, Breed is largely an agency representing illustration and photography. But we don’t just go in showing the photography work of the photographers we work with or the illustration for the illustrators we work with. We show off the full range of our artist’s abilities, regardless of whether that’s in our remit. It’s that bigger picture that represents what’s unique about many artists, and, even if it doesn’t result in a tangible commission, it does build on the perception and awareness of a particular artist. And, who knows, it may well result in something for them in the future.
For example, we represent Danny Sangra for his illustration work. Since we’ve known him, Danny has expanded his portfolio to become a multi-disciplinary artist who makes both long and short-form films, as well as illustrative works in a variety of media. We don’t manage any of his film work, but clients are still interested when we mention what Danny gets up to in that field. It provides the bigger picture.
“It’s that bigger picture that represents what’s unique about an artists and helps build people’s perception and awareness of them.”
Asked whether he ever has clients asking him to adapt his style or vision to fit with their brief, Danny reflects that “That's part of the game. Many clients have asked this over the years. However, the further down the road I've got, it's become less frequent.”
A lot of clients have different approaches; some will try to put too many constraints on you. “When I was starting out, this used to affect me. I ended up hating the work I created. However, I soon realised I'd just do what I thought looked good and not think about it too much.” Explaining that many clients nowadays seem to let him do his own thing, Danny cites his development of an independent voice as a reason for clients letting him steer his own ship. He concludes that “most of the time clients are just a little scared because they need to know they can trust you.”
Matt Blease’s work for Rapha
Are you naturally a good match for a brand?
If so, this can really work to your advantage. For example, illustrator Matt Blease, a keen cyclist, has worked a lot with cycling brand Rapha, a connection that meshes perfectly with both of their followings.
At other times, a brand might want to add your particular aesthetic to their look, rather than wanting you to fit into their brand style. This is the case for Kate Moross. Kate has so many different things going on. For our part, Breed tend to be involved in projects for which Kate been commissioned personally. Kate also runs the Studio Moross team, who work on their own specifically music-based projects.
Spice Girls poster designed by Studio Moross
Kate, and the creatives who make up Studio Moross, have got their heads firmly screwed on and don’t need my help, but it’s important to keep in the loop of what they’re up to and when there might be crossovers. Kate and I have got the split between what Breed does and doesn’t have a role in tightly nailed down, and that works well. There are occasions when it might be a Kate Moross-related project specifically, but where it might also be appropriate to bring in the Studio Moross team. For example, we recently worked with them on a project for Nike with England’s national women’s football team, the Lionesses.
Ultimately, for us at Breed the most important thing is that an artist is given whatever space they need to maintain their voice. Our role, as agents, is to build our relationship with our artists, so we have a good idea of where their ambitions lie. Then we can seek out and offer them opportunities that fit their aspirations, and act on their choices, as well as the agency’s ideas, to help create the best possible outcome for everyone.
Header illustration by Matt Blease