wise elephant, making it happen

Richard Solomon, Artists Representative

By Jason Moriber • Nov 24th, 2008 • Category: Guru Interviews, Illustration

Illustration has been around since the dawn of time. I confidently assumed it would succeed in outlasting the bumps and bruises of the digital wave. Photo initially exploded (although in some ways its currently imploding), but illustration was caught in the rut on the road blazed by new digital technologies. The success of illustration as a business, like most businesses, required a handful of pillars to keep it strong. Leaders who believe in the medium, who can see the big picture, and for the most part can see their way out of the jungle.

I met Richard Solomon the Artists Representative a few years back at his former office, flat-files stocked to the gills with images, his team deeply quiet in their work, Richard with the phone at his ear. A lot has changed since then, but Richard’s firm belief in “art” has guided his shop to continue to offer the best work available from the best artists working today. This interview with Richard was conducted earlier this Fall, just as the economics of our time hit their low point.

Wise Elephant (WE): What has been the greatest change in your role as an Artists Representative since the beginning of your career?

Richard Solomon (RS): Some years ago (I would guess about 2001-2002) I noticed what I called a gathering of “the perfect storm,” the confluence of the digital revolution coming into full force, linked to the stock revolution, and- for want of a better term, the “dumb revolution.” To explain: many creatives now are not knowledgeable about the history of illustration, and have a hard time making a differentiation, qualitatively, between great, good, and mediocre art. And in my opinion is because of they are exposed to so much visual crap over this past decade, and the lowering of artistic standards.

These three factors have impacted my business greatly. Bottom line there are fewer calls, which impacts the number of jobs.  For this reason I created a new parallel business, Art On A Grand Scale (AOGS), which has necessitated a different approach and philosophy to our marketing.

WE: What has had the most influence on commercial illustration over the past 10 years, past five, this past year?

RS: The demise of the portfolio and to a lesser extent, the need for printed samples. Business is now done almost entirely through the Internet and electronically, digitally, with the phone, and to a very small extent fax, taking a backseat.

Here’s an example: the last two big jobs I’ve worked on have been for international clients, big budget with multiple illustrations, for advertising. And I’ve never once spoken to the art buyer or art director, and never needed to.

WE: What about being an Artist Rep would be the most surprising to someone who knows little about the field?

RS: Most people think that you sell original art, and you own a gallery or galleries. It takes a bit of time to make clear that we sell intellectual property, and with few exceptions not the original art. People don’t comprehend that usage is the most important factor in negotiations, and this is where a reps earn their stripes. Most artists are lost. As an example: we have recently completed a mural in three sites, and now we are negotiating for it to appear over the next several years in multiple sites. It is possible that the 2ndary rights fees will equal or surpass the initial fee. For some reason this is a hard concept for people to grasp. Also when I say I represent 20 illustrators (or in AOGS’ case, 37 artists), they are shocked. When in reality I have a boutique compared to most of my colleagues.

WE: What makes a gig a good gig?

RS: The best possible scenario is: great money, a challenging job that the artist can get his teeth into, a reasonable amount of time, and as much creative freedom as possible. If this can be combined with a prestigious and high profile client, and usage, everybody comes out ahead. As the saying goes “too many cooks spoil the broth.”  A sympathetic and knowledgeably art director/art buyer helps immensely, and also the fact that they know well enough to let the artist do their thing.

WE: What other career could you imagine yourself doing?

RS: I’ve always wanted to be an automotive designer. I was a screenwriter, for a time, and thought I might be a marine scientist in high school. Anything to do with astronomy/cosmology would have intrigued me.

WE: What element separates you from your Rep peers? How are you different?

RS: I have a passion for art, all kinds of art. My business is linked to my avocation for all forms of art. Having been raised in a family where my father was a collector and had a part interest in a gallery… I believe this changes my perspective, and certainly informs my judgment when picking talent and talking with my artists about their work and art in general. Not to be disparaging about my colleagues, but in conversations I’ve had with them over the years, that does not seem to be a prerequisite for them. And if I mention a particular show I’ve seen, gallery I’ve gone to etc., they draw a blank.

Also I pride myself on being a very tough negotiator in a positive sense, and am a very strong advocate for my artists.

WE: What does Illustration need to do? Where should it go, if anywhere?

RS: I can’t really answer this question. I can only supply the needed talent and signature style art, but I have no control over what is chosen. My whole value structure is based on the idea that the cream comes to the top, and I do the best I can to facilitate that.


You can learn more about Richard Solomon and his businesses at:

Richard Solomon Artists Representative: http://richardsolomon.com

Art on  Grand Scale: http://www.artonagrandscale.com

(Richard Solomon portrait photo credit: Mark Wiener)

Jason Moriber is a veteran product/project/marketing manager, underground artist/musician, and online community developer, Jason expertly builds/produces/manages clients' projects, programs, and campaigns. Follow me on twitter http://twitter.com/jelefant
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