About a year ago a sweet friend messaged me and said, 'have you heard of the agent, Nerida Hansen? I think your work would be a great fit for her'. I hadn't previously believed my work would 'fit' anywhere. I don't do the typical butterflies, love hearts and kitty cats that win wrapping paper competitions. I'm more the kind to include an ibis or a Hills Hoist - purely for the challenge... Anyway, I popped on over to Nerida's website and I was obsessed. The artists' work was fresh and vibrant, there were a host of styles and oh, the colour palettes and visual gymnastics...so much life! I dropped her an email immediately and the rest is history. Over the past year Nerida has become a friend and mentor and I'm so grateful for the way she advocates for us and pushes all of her artists to keep their work fresh and ahead of the pack.
At recent trade shows Nerida's clients have been blown away by the unique offering she brings to the landscape and I know even bigger things are coming for her agency. I decided to have a chat to figure out what it is that drives this UBER busy Mum of two, creative shepherd and powerhouse:
Tell us a bit about your background and where you first developed your interest in design/licensing?
I have always been interested in design, dabbled in fine art and dreamt of studying textile design, but none of that has eventuated - so far anyway.
After playing with my own small fashion label for a few years I landed a job as a buyer for a major retailer where I was purchasing for major licenses such as Disney, Warner Bros, Hello Kitty, Eric Carle etc. This introduced me to the world of licensing, which was really where my business today started.
The long hours as a buyer didn't suit my family life at all, so after I resigned I tracked down 2 designers from the USA and Sweden who I had been following on social media, and pitched their fabric collections to a manufacturer for Spotlight. They accepted the work and within months I was doing my first licensing deal as an Agent.
From the start I wanted to see more creative and independent designs on commercial products, and with such a homogenous retail landscape, it is what drives me today to not only represent artists, but educate retailers on the power of licensing and purchasing independent art.
Would you consider yourself a creative person?
Absolutely, but I don't dedicate the time to developing my creative self. With small children I find time management the biggest challenge in life - and I always choose beach time over any other creative pursuits. My creativity lends well to my business where I have to curate what I present, set up trade show booths and preparing files or presentations that clients are wowed by.
How would you describe your job?
It is an interesting mix of administration, marketing, mentoring and design. There is no single approach when It comes to customer needs, and I need to try to be on top of who has what opportunities where, which ones are a priority and what preparation i have to do for meetings or phone calls coming up. In the past i have not had as much time, but now with 2 children in school I dedicate those school hours to working on this agency, and I am fine tuning all my processes to make marketing and sales a priority. I am also known to be up at 4am to catch up on some work:)
I have legal and financial administration, as well as many artists to mentor and talk through project and presentations with. All in all, it is a very exciting business, and I love every minute of it. But at the same time, it is a lot of hard work. Licensing is also a real the ebb and flow of income, so many hours are sometimes spent working towards something where you won't see royalties for 6 months. In saying that, I am really starting to build on so many more projects and have been converting more sales, so I am looking forward to that becoming less of an issue.
At the recent Heimtextil trade show in Frankfurt.
What do you look for when considering whether to take on an artist (what makes a good design, collection and portfolio)?
The design aesthetic needs to be completely original and with a contemporary edge, which is what I want my agency to be known for. As far as skills and capabilities go, I look for technical expertise, and I love artists who can incorporate low and high tech - for example, someone who uses an interesting fine art approach like painting, etching, collage or screen printing, then has the skills to creating digital repeats out of it. For vector-based artists, I just want a unique look that is not something an in-house design team could achieve. It is so important to have a strong sense of colour, with a very good understanding of fashion and the importance of incorporating fashionable colours into your surface art. More and more I am finding buyers are drawn to pattern design because of colour, as much as they are the structure of the design. Even though in most cases they can change the colour to suit, they are buying it because it will sit right in with the collections they are building.
What is your point of difference from other agencies?
My clients tell me how fresh and contemporary my presentations are, which is the aesthetic I always want to be known for. I want to keep growing my focus on art repeats, quirky kids designs and fashion colour. One point of difference is the connection I have to my artists, I love to work with, and develop emerging artists where I think they have something really different to offer, and I love learning from the more experienced artists too.
Work by Emily Isabella.
What's the best part of being an agent?
Seeing beautiful independent designs on commercial products that are available for all to see and buy! Knowing that I played a part in that is very rewarding, as is, helping artists create income from their art.
One of my babies (said Ibis) that Nerida found a very nice home for :)
You recently attended Heimtextil in Frankfurt and are soon headed to Surtex in New York along with other trade shows, can you describe the vibe of a trade show and what happens?
Trade shows are very interesting, they are generally buzzing with buyers walking the floor and talking to the design studios they might be interested in. The big ones I have done can also have a fair bit of down time, where you get to see what everyone else is doing, and who else is in the market. Mind you, you know the minute you walk away from your booth, some very valuable and interesting clients will pop by! Which is why you always have people working with you!
You learn so much from the shows, and they are an invaluable experience for all designers. But they are not a short term solution to launching a surface art career, they are a marketing investment. The show I was at recently is full of studios who have been doing the shows for over 20 years or more. They are earning amazing income, but they all encouraged me to stick at it year in and year out, as each year builds and the customers always come back. I am in the process of selecting 2 more shows to do each year, which I intend to do every year, to ensure my clients know where to find me.
Nerida's Kids' booth at Heimtextil.
You've recently moved from Victoria to Queensland, how have you found the change in the creative vibe?
I haven't been here long enough yet to fully understand it, but I am very excited by the conversations I have had and the connections I have been offered. I am very excited to roll out my workshops and really get to understand the creative scene around Brisbane and the gold Coast- there is so much happening here!
Finally, you and I have been talking about a textile design course...what kind of content are you hoping to provide to the residents of the Gold Coast and beyond?!
I am running a series of workshops which are designed sequentially. They aim to educate and prepare both emerging and experienced designers for creative careers. I think for all designers wanting to make a lifestyle from their art, having a diverse approach to what they do is the key. So my first workshop is introductory, looking at creative career pathways and all the different ways an artists can create income from their art. I follow that workshop up with one specifically more tailored to the Surface Art Licensing business. For many designers, it is a bit of an unknown territory, so I aim to enlighten participants, and hopefully give them the tools they need to move forward into surface art licensing. These workshops are followed up by some of the more technical aspects of designing for surface art: Creating Collections, Using Illustrator to create repeat patterns, and using photoshop to digitise and prepare repeat patterns from original art. These will initially be run at Warehouse 5 in Burleigh Heads, so hook up to their facebook page and instagram and stay tuned for dates and details.
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Please also stay tuned to my Instagram, where I will continue to provide Instagram Live content including, 'Why do I need an agent?' and 'The Basics of Creating a Pattern- without a computer!'. :D But it's live, which means it disappears once I'm done! I'm a ninja like that....catchya soon, pattern lovers!