Meet the Agent - Paul
21 February 2022
In this series, we'll be getting to know the team at Beehive - and where better to start than with our director, Paul Beebee!
So, Paul, you've been at the helm of Beehive for over 30 years now! You started off as an illustrator yourself, and then ended up organising work for your illustrator friends and colleagues from the garden shed back in 1989, and that's how Beehive Illustration emerged. It's been quite a journey!
What are your standout moments, and what are you most proud of?
I guess the first big one for me was moving from the shed then the loft into a proper office. Hiring the first member of staff to help me was a massive leap to enable us to handle more commissions. Travelling to Bologna to research how things worked at the Children's Book Fair in the early noughties was really exciting and a great positive step in connecting with a world outside the UK. Looking back I think the biggest achievement I'm most proud of must be reaching the 30 year milestone in 2020 and to be still going strong in spite of all the recent challenges.
What kind of changes have shaped the business so far, and how different do things look now to when you started in the industry?
Without a doubt the greatest advance to help the way we operated has got to be the world wide web and emails with Adobe Photoshop coming a very close second. It seems an age ago that the only way to get artwork to a client was to physically send, post, courier, Red Star or personally pick up and deliver it by hand - delivery costs were a huge proportion of the everyday expenses. Oddly enough I remember being really chuffed with a new telephone headset with built-in microphone as it freed up my hands to keep typing and doing all the stuff I needed to do whilst I could keep talking to illustrators and clients on the phone! Social media has since changed the way everyone thinks, communicates and advertises in a total and revolutionary way. The rapid shift to paperless methods onto digital processes and ways of working has created a shift to more digital and vector-looking art-styles. Conventional paint and hand-drawn media is almost regarded now as retro or vintage in its appeal. The progression of digital 3D cartoon styles and computer generated animations has changed the way animation and special effects can be generated with ever more realistic results so you can now hardly tell real from CGI.
What do you think are the primary benefits of an agency for illustrators, and what value do you feel Beehive can bring to the illustrator-client relationship?
Established agencies will have a large network of clients that they can introduce your work to. They will be able to get your work seen by many more people (and more importantly, the right people) than you might be able to achieve on your own. Often agents will have a creative background, so can talk to you about your work with at least some knowledge of your technical process. Agencies can tailor and target specific illustrators to particular enquiries which may otherwise have missed the target. Agents can intervene and look after illustrators individual needs and interests even when the goalposts change. If illustrators feel they have been treated unfairly, agents can be the 'bad guy' and negotiate with the client on their behalf.
What sort of skills are needed as an agent to both understand the client's needs and advocate for the illustrator too?
Over the years I've found that above all else an agent needs empathy and the ability to see a situation from all angles. It helps greatly to have skills and experience of illustration whether that's having once been an illustrator or working alongside them. Having a willingness to compromise when everyone around you is adamant they are in the right can be such a valuable asset. A high knowledge of the industry with all its facets and sectors will prove invaluable as well as experience and connections with industry movers and shakers. You must want your illustrators to succeed and exell in their field which in turn will reflect on your joint success and continued partnership.
Do you think there are any misconceptions about working as an illustrator through an agency?
Even the best agent can't change their illustrator's careers overnight. It takes time to introduce new artists to the agency's network and market them to the right clients and signing with an agent is unfortunately not a guarantee of regular work. We are your partner and working with an agent is a relationship of trust where you trust that your agent does their best to find work for you, and we trust that you will deliver work on time and to the highest standard - we want you to succeed and we are on your team. Be proud of your agency - we have worked hard, with you, to gain the reputation we've earned. Working as an illustrator can be a lonely career as I know from first hand, your agents might be the closest you have to work colleagues for much of your career. As much as we want our illustrators to succeed we hope our illustrators want the same for us - in which case everybody wins!
What advice would you give to illustrators looking for representation, and what sort of factors are important in choosing an artist for representation?
The most valuable and important asset you own is your portfolio of work - it's by far the most important factor which I and my colleagues consider, when inviting new illustrators to join us. Always keep your portfolio looking fresh and up to date with your best and latest work and only submit the pieces you're most proud of in your initial submission. When you approach agents, commissioners or editors remember they are likely to be looking at your work for probably a short amount of time so you want to try and catch their attention with the first few pieces. Make sure everything is sharp and in focus and loads quickly and easily viewed on all browsers and computer types. The work will speak for itself so you can be brief with your accompanying submission giving your basic details and any other showcase links to your work - if they're interested they will be in touch without a doubt.
What do you think is the biggest challenge in the industry facing illustrators today?
I think the biggest challenge effecting freelance illustrators today has been, and remains, the world wide web. Everything and anything is easily available in high resolution and full colour with the click of a few buttons. Everyone is now a designer, publisher, artist or illustrator and you can learn how to do virtually anything on Youtube. The concept of copyright and intellectual property sadly, as a result, has become very blurred and misunderstood at best and disregarded and ignored in the worst cases. This new world stage has made it possible to connect and work directly with hirers and workers alike right across the globe without the safeguards which would have been in place pre-internet. It is progress and, of course things have improved as a result, but hopefully at not too high a cost. I do remain completely optimistic that good practice and professional attitudes will win through. Genuine artistic talent and creative skill will always be in demand and if people respect and appreciate the mutual positions of their fellow workers then the best will always float to the surface, and illustrators will thrive in an exciting and ever-changing industry.
Can we see some of your illustrations from 'back in the day'? Go on, show us!
Here's a selection!
What do you do for fun when you're not overseeing the buzz at the Hive?
I'm not an adrenaline junkie but I don't mind a bit of mild peril ha! Given a choice between a safe pootle or white knuckle ride I'll usually opt for the latter often to my dear wife Jane's frustration! We love to explore especially when we're on holiday both off the path or searching out historical remains - equally as much as taking it easy pottering in the garden or people watching from a taverna over a nice bottle of red. I'm happiest if I've got something to make or a project to finish. I recently acquired an old Marlin kit car which was built in 1997 but now needs constant fiddling with or mending but very exhilarating on a Summer's day with the roof down. The children have all grown and flown the nest and it's good to see them happy and settling down and I love catching up and spending time with them. We're very lucky living in the Cotswolds, it's such a beautiful part of the country and it doesn't take much to become immersed in all the spectacular surroundings right on our doorstep. I don't think I'll ever fully retire but when it does come knocking I can imagine being busier than ever!
It's time for our next look 'Under the Cover'! This time, we'll be looking specifically at what makes a great cover, and how a first-time author and first-time cover illustrator have collaborated to create a special piece which is loaded with clues about the story within...
In this Buzz series, we're going to take a closer look at a variety of different areas of children's publishing, examining the types of illustration you're likely come across throughout a whole range of diverse book formats! First up, we're examining those sturdy first books for the youngest readers: board books!