Maker’s Mgmt founder, Kelly Thompson has been hustling day-in and day-out for her family of artists since the beginning. So it’s about time we shine a light on the lady behind the biz who makes the career of a commercial artist, a reality.
Combining her experiences as an illustrator, art director, project manager and entrepreneur (all with impeccable style, mind you) Kelly seized the opportunity to champion the makers and creatives she admires, who work tirelessly to make our world a more beautiful place.
So grab a cuppa and get comfy as we discover Kelly’s journey from accidental illustrator to boss-lady and what advice she can give to those wanting to make their own creative dreams a reality on either side of the fence – as an artist and as an agent.
Hey Kelly, what was it that made you want to start Maker’s Mgmt?
There were a few reasons, the first was that I didn’t want my work to be about me anymore, I wanted to do something to help others and also do something positive for the industry. As an artist who was represented locally and also has international representation I also felt like there was room for improvement in the agent-artist relationship. I wanted to launch a smaller agency that was really focused on personal relationships and had an artist roster that was edited so each artist felt they had their own place and wasn’t ever in competition with another. I’ve also always had so much enthusiasm for what can be done with incredible talent so I launched MM in the hope that I can share this feeling and encourage others to make advertising a more beautiful place!
Tell us about your work life before becoming an agent?
Before deciding to launch MM and become an agent again, my time was split between a few different roles - working as an illustrator, a creative consultant for a variety of brands and agencies, and then a few side games such as social media collaborations and public speaking. I had, in my past worked as an account manager looking after illustrators and managing projects so it felt very natural to step back into the role again.
When did you realise you could make a career out of illustration?
I don’t think it was ever really consciously decided on, illustration was something that happened almost by accident for me when I was working as a photographer back in New Zealand and I never really made any plan for it to be my job. Even after more than 13 years working as an illustrator I always felt it was a stepping stone and never felt it was what I was always going to do. To be honest I’ve always just wanted to work for someone else, be part of an awesome team and have somewhere to grow to in a company, nobody ever believes me though!
Tell us a bit about Maker’s Mgmt, what services do you offer?
We offer some of the worlds most talented illustrators, animators, typographers and CGI artists and we are the perfect matchmakers to find the right talent for your project. We assist with the budgeting, management and artist negotiations for projects and can also assist with art direction, development of briefs, pitching and technical aspects involved with pulling a project together. We are here to make sure that the client recieves the best possible outcome for their illustration project and has the most enjoyable process along the way.
How big is the team?
It’s little so far! It’s just me and my two amazing part time staff Susan and Maja.
Do you have any daily rituals that help you get into work mode?
I always like to make an effort in the morning, even if there are no meetings I always dress well and put myself together. I always start with a full breakfast, herbal tea and a dog walk to warm me up.
What’s a typical day like?
If the girls are in it starts with delegating tasks to them which is then followed with a few hours on emailing, replying, quoting, checking in on projects…. chasing up overdue invoices! If I don’t have afternoon meetings for promotion or with my creative consulting clients then I usually try and spend a few hours making contact with potential clients, introducing the agency, letting brands know if artists want to work with them, letting existing clients know about new artists and focusing on marketing. I usually finish the day with an hour or two back on the emails repeating the morning’s tasks.
How do you connect your artists with clients?
I spend a lot of time going to meetings with agencies and clients and sharing the folios of the artists with them (I spend more time trying very hard to get in haha) . I find that if the client/art director knows more about the artist and their processes they genuinely respect them more and are more inclined to think of them for a project. I also send emails to clients about new artists, we share projects/ news/ studio space articles on our news page and I spend a lot of time just cold emailing brands who we want to work with… It’s a pretty hard hustle sometimes.
What do you look for when signing artists?
There are a few things I ask myself – do I feel overwhelmingly jealous of their skills and wish I could do that? Are they different to all of my other artists and stand alone with a unique style? Can I imagine their work for any specific clients…. and most importantly are they a friendly, enthusiastic (and bonus points for funny) person. Having a folio of a reasonable size with strong stylistic threads is also really important of course!
Besides having an eye for great creative talent, what are some other skills that are unique to being an artist rep?
Definitely communication and planning skills are the most important things. You’ve also got to be able to work with many (often stressed) personalities and shift your communication style to suit the client, some clients don’t have any interest in friendly chat they just want it done! You also have to be good at easing fears, stresses, meltdowns and keeping people happy.
Nurturing a creative community is important to you, can you name some creatives you admire?
So many, I’ll have to edit! Other than the artists we represent I love Adam Custins, Chris Sisarich, Kate Banazi, Benja Harney, Romance Was Born, The Caker, The Knitter and… this could be the longest list ever!
Who is your dream client?
I would love nothing more than to see one of our artists decorate the full David Jones or Myer window at Christmas time… A little bit silly I know, but I would feel so proud (and festive overload)!
What are the advantages for an artist working with Maker’s Mgmt?
Ooh maybe you’d have to ask them that! I’d like to say that we are the number one go to for all the best projects, but we are not there just yet. Instead I hope that the family unit feeling would be an advantage, I give regular updates, even when we are having new business struggles and I like to keep everyone in the loop with how we are growing. I think the artists appreciate that I am an artist myself and can relate to them. Because we are smaller they can all have individual attention, they are never just another artist, they all have a very special place with me for different reasons. Overall I’d say it’s the personal relationship that would be the most valuable thing.
What’s next for Maker’s Mgmt?
Sustainability and survival are the main focuses right now. How do I grow this, afford to grow this (jeez that’s the big one), get full time staff and live up to all the things I said I would do for my artists. It’s a stressful time I’m not going to lie, but all the promotional hard work from the last year will be starting to settle in now, so it’s more about stoking the flame than lighting the match.
And lastly, your 3 tips for on how to make it in the illustration industry?
Practice, always be on time, don’t have an ego.
Image of Kelly in Kate Sylvester courtesy of
TDF / @thedesignfiles
Photographer / Amelia Stanwix @evegwilson