I had no plan. I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do after graduating.
I studied Multimedia Design at Swinburne and although there was something that compelled me to pursue a design degree, after three years of study, a few freelance gigs, a fun internship under my belt and a job offer as a junior designer at a post-production house, the thought of actually becoming a designer didn’t feel right at all. Instead, I went with my gut, took some time off, said yes to the first position in retail I could find and started performing in musicals (yes, musicals) which was something I’d always had an itch to try.
Six months in, I realised working in retail wasn’t for me and applied for an office job as an administrative assistant. I reached out to the director of XYZ Studios who I’d interned with as a designer while at Uni to ask if he’d be my reference and when he realised I wasn’t looking to pursue a career as a creative, he offered to hire me as a junior producer and studio manager. For a role I had no idea even existed, it was the perfect fit.
I stayed at XYZ for almost five years running the studio, learning under an excellent EP and mentor, Hamish Macdonald, and working alongside a talented team of directors, art directors, animators, illustrators, 3D specialists, editors and colourists to produce animated TV commercials for brands like Honda, McDonalds, Telstra and Birdseye in both Australia and beyond. I found so much reward in facilitating creative projects and especially somewhere as hands on as XYZ where there was a real emphasis on craft. Having the opportunity to work within a studio environment and face-to-face with such a diverse range of clients, creatives and personalities in the fast-paced throws of the advertising industry gave me a unique insight into how to get the best out of people which has been vital to my work now where collaboration mostly happens remotely.
Fast forward almost 10 years, I’m now a senior agent and producer at The Jacky Winter Group and head up our North American office in NYC. In a nutshell, The Jacky Winter Group is a creative representation and production agency. The agency was founded in Melbourne in 2007 by one of the most interesting and productive individuals I’ve ever worked with, Jeremy Wortsman. I know this is supposed to be an elevator pitch and I’m starting to ramble, but seriously, I’ve never met anyone with the ability to come up with a great idea and execute it as quickly as Jeremy can. Inspiring stuff.
As agents, we nurture the careers of the 100+ artists on our books and help them earn a commercial livelihood by introducing them to the best brands around and for our clients, we work alongside them to realise their vision and make the process seem like the easiest thing in the world. Full disclosure, I lifted this description almost verbatim from our website but I reckon it sums us up pretty well. Producing commercial commissions from brief to completion for the advertising, design, publishing and editorial industries is our lifeblood but we’re really just into making all kinds of good things happen.
I’ve been with Jacky Winter since 2012 and from our animation production company, Flutter and specialised GIF agency, Gif Horse, to our luxury guesthouse, Jacky Winter Gardens, and bricks-and-mortar gallery, Lamington Drive, run by the delightful Shena Jamieson, it’s pretty motivating to come to work each day and play a part in fostering a healthy industry for commercial artists and to help make the world a better looking place for everyone.
I moved to New York from my hometown of Melbourne a few months ago so I’m still getting used to the routine of a new city and working across two very opposite time zones so that our clients in the US don’t have to. I work from the studio of Point Five Design on East 25th in Manhattan who are my adopted work family away from home (miss you, #teamjackywinter!). Most days I’ll get to my desk around 10am and begin to negotiate the delicate balance of dealing with the reactive nature of my role as a producer managing any new briefs or enquiries that come in, and the proactive side of finding opportunities for our artists and refining our production processes so that we can do it all as efficiently as possible. Our agency philosophy is backed by a relentless pursuit to help make producing creative work easy so we’re constantly talking to our artists and clients about how we can better service them and then building the tools to make this happen.
My working day skips back and forth between new business development, artist management and production. Time spent at my desk is filled with some combination of talking, briefing, negotiating, quoting, emailing, cheerleading, translating, strategising, scheduling, match-making, guiding, filing, pseudo-art directing, editing, curating, chasing, documenting, problem solving, brainstorming, and riding a constant wave of adrenaline. I try and get out of the office as often as I can to meet with clients to take a brief in person or to introduce them to the ridiculously talented artists on our roster (who also happen to be some of the most wonderful people I have the pleasure of knowing).
No two days are the same and being so hands on in our role as creative producers has opened us up to working across a diverse range of briefs and industries. I might start the day getting some quick turnaround editorial spots or static advertising commissions started but by the afternoon and the time Australia and New Zealand come online, we’ll probably have touched on a brief to direct an animated TVC campaign or some shorter form content for social media, booking an artist as talent or to live illustrate an event, negotiating a brand collaboration, an enquiry to produce a custom typeface, our own self-initiated product, or some kind of large-scale environmental commission or installation.
Working for an Australian company and representing mostly Australian-based image makers here in the US, my day creeps into the evening with emails, conference calls and Google Hangouts with our artists, animation team or the office back home. I’m kinda obsessed with what I do and find it difficult to switch off so any night I’m not at an exhibition or event or catching up with Jacky Winter HQ in Melbourne, I’ll make an effort do something that takes me away from a screen.
Living in New York offers so much unbelievable access to art, music, theatre and travel so I try and make the most of that where I can. Last week our artist Matty Huynh took me along to an intimate performance by Martha Wainwright at The Standard. You don't get those kind of opportunities as often in Melbourne so I feel guilty when I don't jump on them. Getting out during the week also helps get over the guilt of jumping on Slack or responding to a few emails again when I get home.
Consistency is important, and it helps to show depth in the types of things you illustrate. Above all else though, work on developing your own voice. I love, love, love seeing personal projects. They’re also the projects that can open up interesting commercial opportunities.
Some of my all-time favourite self-initiated projects from within the Jacky Winter fold include James Gulliver Hancock’s All The Buildings in New York which lead to a successful publishing deal with Rizolli, Eirian Chapman’s Teeth & Hair which got our attention here at Jacky Winter back in 2011, and Craig Redman’s Darcel Disappoints which has lead to some incredible collaborations over the years with brands like Mira Mikati, Kate Spade and Coca Cola. Personal projects really do pay off!
1. Learn how to sell your work. This is a good place to start.2. Regardless of your profession, take the time to learn how to become a better writer. Here’s why.
3. Get out of your comfort zone and learn to be OK with vulnerability and saying yes to things, even if they scare the shit out of you. Anything I’ve ever done that’s been rewarding or driven me forward has involved some kind of gut-churning leap of faith. It can be hard, but sometimes you have to put yourself out there and ask for what you want or to stop worrying or mulling over something and just pick up the phone or hit send on that email and see what happens. Every now and then, a bad decision is better than indecision as mistakes make room for growth.
4. Find a mentor. It doesn’t have to be a formal relationship, just find someone who knows more than you do about something and can give you a kick up the ass when you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or for clarification when you don’t understand something. You can’t know everything and you don’t have to. You just need to know who and how to ask.
5. Find a community. When I started out in production almost 10 years ago, not only was I the only female in the studio, but I was also the only “non-creative”. Most of the clients I was working with were also about 20 years my senior so I didn’t really feel like I belonged until I was introduced to Junior and met a handful of young people in advertising in Melbourne who were also just starting to figure things out too. Stumbling into the Ladies Get Paid community run by the effervescent Claire Wasserman earlier this year has given me a similar pillar of support as I figure things out here in New York.
6. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s only advertising. Perspective.
Book: The Illustrator’s Guide to Law and Business Practice published by The AOI.
If you’re an emerging illustrator, this book steps you through almost everything you need to know about how to price, protect and license your work.
Blogs: The Business of Illustration written by Neil Swaab.
I cannot recommend Neil’s blog enough for those looking to pursue a career as a commercial artist. Like The Illustrator's Guide to Law and Business Practice, Neil offers very practical advice and delivers it in layman’s terms.
The Good Project Manager by Team Gannt
For aspiring producers or for creatives who want to learn how to manage their own projects more effectively, The Good Project Manager series published by Team Gannt is bloody awesome.
Podcast: When I’m not listening to music, my subway commute is spent devouring podcasts about the business side of the creative industry and the people behind it. I haven’t missed an episode of Australian Design Radio since they launched in 2015 and for an American perspective on the industry, I switch up episodes of ADR with Don’t Get Me Started – A Podcast About Advertising hosted by Dan Balser. My boss recently recommended NPR’s How I Built This and I’m addicted. I also recently attended a fascinating conversation between Justin Gignac of Working Not Working and David Droga of Droga5 fame so I’m looking forward to delving into the Overshare back catalogue soon too. And for artists, Ask A Freelancer is fantastic.