Maria Brophy


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    ‘Strategies for a Successful Art Business!’
business of art

Do I need an Artist’s Agent?

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Maria's Photos to May 2009 390The most common money-related mistake artists make is a reluctance to invest in their own careers.”  Carol Michels

A commonly asked question I get from visual artists is:  “Will you represent me?”  Or, “How do I find an agent to represent me?”

My short answer is this:  A good agent can get you deals that you never would have gotten on your own.  And that’s worth the commission they will charge you.

However:  Consider representing yourself, first, because it’s very hard to find someone GOOD to represent your work.   You may be better off representing yourself until you can find an excellent agent, or afford to pay someone to manage your business.

My long answer is this:  Here’s how it typically works with agents:  A good representative will be responsible to help you get sales, put the sale together, deal with the contracts (in some cases), and do the follow up, make sure payments are made, and sometimes help with marketing your name and art.

Agents Pay:  Agents keep anywhere from 25% – 50% (depending on your deal with them).   However, to get a sale, it could take the agent up to 100 hours of prospecting and phone calling and footwork.  So, many agents will charge money up front (anywhere from $1,000 – $5,000 per month) so that they are not working for free, in the event that your art does not sell.  In this case, unless the agent is super-connected, you may be better off paying a salary to a manager.

Warning:  Agents that charge up front can be a risk.  Be sure to get references and confirm that they are connected to possible clients and they are experienced and straight up.  Otherwise, you could be throwing your money away.  There are some great agents out there, but there are some hustlers, too.  Do your “vetting” before giving your money away!

My personal experience as an artist’s agent has been humbling, as I learned, after about 3 years, that I couldn’t make a good living representing other artists without monies up front (and most artists aren’t willing to pay up front).

I started out representing Drew Brophy almost 10 years ago.  Since then, Drew has become known as the top licensed surf artist in history, he has over 30 licensees that pay him to use his art on their products, and he is well respected in the art world.  Now, being Drew’s wife and CEO of our company, Son of the Sea, we retain 100% of his earnings (and then we both get paid out of that).

We were so successful with Drew, that when other artists started asking me to represent them, I said, “why not”?  So about 6 years ago I started representing other artists, charging only 30% of the earnings from what I sold.  This didn’t work out as a good deal for me, as I’ll explain below.

Right now, I’m not taking on any new artists, and I’m cutting back on the work I do for the current artists that I work with.

And here’s why:  I don’t like working for free!  Now, don’t get me wrong, I do make money off of SOME of the artists I work with, when I get them a deal that’s over $10,000.  However, most deals are $1,000 or so, which means I get $300 or so, which means after all the hours that I put in to put it together, I’ve earned about $15.00 an hour.  Not good pay for a professional.  So now I’m focusing entirely on Drew Brophy, where my company keeps 100% rather than 30%.

My advice to any artist looking for representation: First put in the time and represent yourself.  Get better educated on sales, on how galleries work, on the business of art.  Read good blogs and websites for artists, like, and don’t be afraid to spend money on art consultants, which is actually a lot cheaper than paying an agent or manager.

Consultants charge by the hour.  They are great to use for specific questions or problems, as well as to help you plan your marketing and sales strategies.  For the Fine Art World, I highly recommend finding a consultant that knows galleries, museums, and most aspects of the business of art.  

For Licensing, I recommend myself.  I’m an expert on putting license deals together.  Consultants typically charge anywhere from $150 on up per hour, and are usually worth every penny  –  you’ll save yourself years of research using consultants.

So go on, represent yourself! You can, just take baby steps and keep learning by reading books and blogs and articles and using consultants.  Once you get to the point where you can afford a manager, hire one.

I want you to be successful!  Please, let me know what you think of this topic.

Thanks for reading – Maria Brophy

This article was reprinted from a previous post on


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51 Comments Do I need an Artist’s Agent?

  1. Jason Cullison

    Great post. I’ve been getting to the point where I was asking myself this very question. I think I knew the answer, but this confirmed it for me. It’s tough out there, but also rewarding to be doing it all. Good advice, thanks.

  2. Lynda

    This is my favorite blog of yours so far. I’ve been searching and searching for this info. I have even asked an actual art agent and she wouldn’t even let me know what they do or how much they cost! Reading this was like finding gold for me. Thanks Maria :)

  3. Jeff Dolan

    If you are not willing to represent yourself, you must question whether you are truly ready to make money from your art. If not, that’s OK, but you must set your expectation accordingly.

  4. Jason Wallis

    Great post Maria!
    I had a photo Rep. Now I don’t! Representing yourself is the best in my opinion -unless you have an extremely connected agent who can get you in front of the people you cannot.

    1. Maria Brophy

      Jason, thanks for reading my blog. It’s hard working with reps. We’ve been through a few ourselves, and it’s never worked out quite the way we imagined it! Your photography is great, and it seems like you’ve put in enough hard work that you’ve made a good name for yourself. That goes far in getting referrals.

  5. David

    It’s the classic catch-22. Marketing and promotion takes a LOT of time. It is time away from creating that which you are marketing. Yet, if we don’t budget any time for marketing we end up a mere hobby artist with a house full of unclaimed masterpieces. Finding the time to do both is extremely challenging. Plodding ahead will someday have its payoff.

  6. Travis Rice

    I had been searching all day for an Artist Rep when I came across your blog. Now I’ve read about 9 of them and I must say thank you. I am great at creating art but lousy at selling it, even to people who seem to want it. I’ve had a disconnect between knowing what to do and how to go about doing it, your blogs are helping to fill in some of those gaps.
    If you are willing to give me any recommendations I would be grateful.

  7. Linda Sale

    Thanks for your blog. It is very interesting to see how we have evolved in the art world. When I got into art many years ago, there were very few instructors except on the college level, and no free advice from anyone about technique or business or even any encouragement from other more experienced artists. It is wonderful to see artists and people who support the arts given freely of their experience and knowledge so willingly. It think your efforts to support are great. At one time those in the art world were so reluctant to share that they knew rather than understanding that no one steals your technique and really duplicates it or your wisdom, or your intelligence and the more you give the more you receive in all those areas. Thank you for your efforts!

  8. Alan

    I am mentally ill and am not able to represent myself as I lack the business and people skills. Where do I find an agent if I am okay with paying the %50. I have never had a piece shown anywhere, but I know my paintings are relevant. I have the skill to create, but not the faculties to apply to the search for who will sell or buy. This is why I feel I need an agent, but I don’t understand where to find an art agent, every article about them is the same, “There are pros and cons” “Try representing yourself” etc.

    1. Maria Brophy

      Alan, in my article I talk about how difficult it is to find an agent unless you are already a very successful artist. If you currently do not have strong sales of your work, than you will most likely have to pay a monthly fee to an agent.

      There are many agents that are willing to take you on for a monthly fee (sometimes as much as $2,500 a month), but it’s risky. Even if you pay that fee, there is no guarantee that you will see sales.

      The best way to find agents is to network – go to art trade shows and find out which agencies are exhibiting or walking the show, then contact them for a meeting.

      Another is to ask for a recommendation from an artist who is already represented.

      I am not aware of any lists, however, trade shows will have lists of agencies that attend or exhibit.

  9. David Macomber

    Maria – when you contact someone when you are representing Drew – Do you introduce yourself as his Wife or Rep or both?

    My wife is going to start taking over some of my emails and we weren’t sure on how to handle this.

    Thanks for all your help.

    1. Maria Brophy

      Hey David,

      Thanks for the question (and the comment!). I introduce myself as Drew’s agent, or manager. They figure it out quickly that I’m related since I have the same last name. Congrats on having your wife take over your communication – it’s helpful to have a barrier between you and your clients or potential clients. It adds a bit of professionalism and takes challenging people off your hands so you can focus on creating the art.

  10. Sargon

    In this day and age there’s absolutely no reason why I as an artist should be willing to piss away 30 to (a mafioso) 50% of my money on representation!

    1st) It’s not 1981 anymore, we have something called, the Internet.
    2nd) Good artwork actually sells itself.
    3rd) NO ONE, and I repeat NO ONE will be more knowing of one’s art that the artist nor have as much faith in the artist as himself.
    4th) What agents charge is ROBBERY, 30 years ago my rep took 15% with LUCK and only on projects valued at 5K and up.
    5th) A rep will ALWAYS have a preference for just a few (if not only one) artist in his or her lineup… meaning, the rest are ALWAYS going to get the second bid and less money.
    6th) FIND A REAL JOB, art reps (at least illustrator, designer and animator reps) are HISTORY if the artist applies just a LITTLE bit of common sense and knows how to blog.

    It’s not rocket science, peddle your own damn shit people, no one can truly do it like you if you really wish to make a living in commercial art.

    1. JOHN

      you obviously do not have dealings with large companies or multinationals. Agood rep is worth the expense, better to broadcast than implode!


    really liked your advice Maria, we have been artists & photographers for many years now. We are looking for a good rep. and willing to pay for it…we know we have a proven product and would appreciate help! We have a huge stock pile of illustrations and photos but how to get it out there???

  12. J.P.

    Dear Maria, art landscape is not even! And making a business out of art is a sin against value! Looks lie is not about what you do, is about who you are. But in order to be, you have to become… If you are born in a country where 300.000 euros is the highest record, and of course, for a classic national painter, what is left for you, as a contemporary artist? Art World is not right, and we
    all pay the price: art become nothing, just marketing. :(

    1. Maria Brophy

      Thanks for your comments! Some people choose to make art their business. And that’s the audience I write for; I want to help those people to do the things they love (create art) full time, not just as a hobby. It’s a personal choice. Some people are happy just doing it for themselves. I urge everyone to do what’s in their heart!

      1. Irena Grant-Koch

        Paying an agent an upfront fee is like paying an artist before he has started a painting. Ridiculous.
        However, a percentage is a good idea, even if it is 50%

  13. Les Egling

    Hi Maria,
    As an artist with a business background in sales and marketing, I also belong to a online art ‘club’. However I feel it is time to get past the old saga of bitching about the lack of good art representation in our country South Africa. Can you please give me some advice as how to research starting an art agency to help if not all at least some of the better ( no actually highly talented) few in our midst. Thanking you in anticipation.
    Les Egling.

  14. Les Egling

    If it isn’t too much of an imposition – could you also notify me or your answer om my email – just now hit the tick box.

  15. David Lee

    Hello Maria, I have read quite a few of your posts and yet I cannot find the answers I seek. I really enjoy reading your posts and taking in all the great info. I was wondering if you could help me here; I have been encountered recently by a man who wants me to become a partner of a design company. Although I am flattered and interested in the partnership I’m still a bit reluctant. I have never had a real art job outside of my own freelance position. What are some questions that I should ask and how can I protect myself from being taken advantage of in any way? I thank you in advance, I know you are probably very busy and if you get the chance to reply to me I would greatly appreciate it, thank you! Regards, David Lee

  16. Junko yamada

    Hi Maria, I am looking for an art agent for my art. I am not sure how you define a successful artist but I have been showing my art for many years and somewhat successful but not financially. I need to find my market but don’t know how. I have tried many galleries in NYC and an art consultant in SF. What do you recommend me to do now?

  17. Colleen Patricia Williams

    I agree with a good agent being able to hustle up business. I did $38,500 last year in art sales, and then my agent decided that he wanted to market just his own work.
    But that relationship did get me an ongoing relationship with the group that owns some of the Doubletree/Hilton hotels, for my illuminated mosaics.
    Now, the trick is to find another one, sigh…
    He made over 30% on one of those deals, a life sized illuminated glass mosaic polar bear.

  18. Garrick Marchena

    Hi Maria,

    Is there a rule on referral fees?
    This lady who’s also a local artist was approached by a client who wanted a family portrait painting done realistically. Because that is not her style of painting she called me and said she was going to refer them to me since realism is my specialty.
    The thing is she wants to take me to the client and she is talking about ‘we’ this and ‘we’ that. I appreciate this, but I am not very comfortable. I’ve had bad experiences before with people making concept depressions for me when I wasn’t present, so I prefer to deal with clients alone. She also says that she wants 20% referral fee. Is this a fair percentage?

    Please let me know what you think of this.


    1. Maria Brophy


      I don’t know of a rule; I have paid 10% to people, and some artists pay me 10% or more when I refer them out. When I give referrals, I do it without expectation of a %, but many artists will send me a check anyway! (Which is so nice).

      20% seems okay. Just make sure that this artist is clear that it’s you and the client doing the work, and that she has no say in anything after she makes the introduction. She also shouldn’t be billing the client, you should. Otherwise, she’ll just muddle it all up and it won’t flow very well.

      Pay her the 20%, aftter the client pays you, deal with the Client directly, and thank her for the referral!

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  23. Christian Michel

    Hi Maria,
    I’m a professional artist painter with great recognition. Please let me hear from you to see if we can do business together. Have a wonderful summer. Thanks

    Christian Michel

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  25. Ric Downing

    After selling out of a high end frame shop here in Coral Gables Florida. .. and giving them 30% for nothing … for 7 years…. i feel like I’m being cheated … I’ve done a few Art festivals … sold 22 paintings one weekend … sold over 200 paintings internationally ….i feel it’s time to expand my growth …. and exposure … but I’m lost at where to begin. .. appreciate your input here … and signed up for your newsletter … i only paint original work…. at the moment. … wondering if i should be doing copies of my work as well…..

    1. Maria Brophy

      Ric, the answer is right there in front of you – keep doing what’s working, and stop doing what is not working!

      If the gallery isn’t selling your work, it’s time to move on. You said you have sold many pieces at art festivals and internationally. Keep doing that – and do it more – and you will sell more work.

      Keep doing what works, increase those efforts, and you’ll increase results.

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  28. Michael Burton

    I really found this article very helpful. Thank you sharing your insight and experience on agents. Im also appreciative of other articles and info you pass out. I feel that I will contact you in the near future for consultation. Keep up the good work.


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