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Discussion | AOI Events with Jack Oliver Coles and Rhiannon Parnis

last updated 23 October 2019

The Bright Agency

Here at Bright, we love to work closely with organisations like the Association of Illustrators. Not only do we get to go to fun events and meet lots of wonderful illustration folk, we also find amazing new talent through the AOI. Senior Agent Lucie Luddington first met illustrators Jack Oliver Coles and Rhiannon Parnis at an AOI event, and later they joined the Bright family. Here we ask the artist what the AOI means to them.

Lucie Luddington Birhgt Agency Bright Senior Agent Lucie Luddington // AOI Portfolio Event Artwork by Marianna Madriz

What’s the importance of events set up by the AOI for artists? What can these events offer?

Jack: As a freelancer you can spend a lot of time alone and you rarely get an opportunity to hear real feedback outside of commission specific things. The opportunity to meet industry professionals was invaluable to me personally as I was two years into a freelance career and felt lost professionally. I live in a city that doesn’t have many creative opportunities so having events like these made accessible to people outside of London is greatly appreciated.

Rhiannon: I think it can be really valuable to have a fresh perspective on your portfolio with someone that doesn’t already know your work. It was especially helpful to get advice from someone within the industry about things like approaching potential clients, and how to strengthen your portfolio.

Jack Oliver Coles Artwork: Jack Oliver Coles

What advice would you give artists attending industry events like AOI portfolio consultations?

R: I’d definitely recommend bringing some of your sketchbooks and development work! It’s really interesting to see what a portfolio consultant will pick out from sketches that you may have overlooked, and it also offers an insight for them into how you work.

J: I think the most important thing is to be prepared, be open to feedback, and to ultimately be yourself. Make notes of the advice that you’re being given but also engage in the conversation. If you’re paying for an opportunity you need to make sure that you’re getting the most benefit from it and in the most efficient way as the time will pass surprisingly quickly.

Rhiannon Parnis Artwork: Rhiannon Parnis

How important are organisations like AOI for regional artists?

J: As I mentioned before, working creatively outside of somewhere like London can be quite isolating, so having an organisation bring things like meet ups and portfolio consultations to smaller towns and cities is a welcome relief. Outside of the AOI’s events I have also noticed a big increase in the number of independently organised events by local people which is really lovely to see.

R: I agree with Jack, I think that having the opportunity to connect with people through regional events offers a social aspect that wouldn’t be there for a lot of us otherwise, and these events build a sense of community.

Rhiannon Parnis Artwork: Rhiannon Parnis

Aside from those hosted by the AOI, what are some of the ‘must-go’ events on your calendars for artists and agents?

R: I’m always excited to see new and innovative ideas in illustration coming from Degree and MA shows, whether it be going back to ours at Cardiff School of Art and Design or elsewhere. I’ve also found that It’s worth looking out for local creative events or meet-ups in your city.

J: I don’t really attend many industry events but I do enjoy visiting and exhibiting at illustration festivals in order to get a glimpse of the work that other people are making and make connections with other illustrators. Some personal highlights for me are Brighton Illustration Festival and the House of Illustration’s summer and winter fairs.

Jack Oliver Coles Artwork: Jack Oliver Coles

How have things changed since you’ve been represented by Bright?

R: In the following years after graduating I’d been feeling a bit lost with my work and where it might fit in a commercial context, but since being represented by Bright I feel like I’ve been making more focused developmental work for my portfolio, and working in areas of illustration I may not have thought I’d ‘fit into’ before.

J : I feel like being represented by Bright has unlocked a whole new tier of clients that were seemingly unreachable when I was working independently. Having someone that is able to negotiate contracts and do a lot of the client chasing when it comes to getting paid takes a lot of stress off of my shoulders and makes working full time as an illustrator that much easier.

Rhiannon Parnis Artwork: Rhiannon Parnis

What advice would you give to yourselves five years ago?

R: Personally I’d tell myself to not let overthinking stop me from making work, and that not everything you do has to go into your portfolio.

J: I’d tell myself not to be afraid of making work about myself and my own experiences. I put off making work about male body image and queer identity for so long thinking it’d scare off potential commissioners but in fact the opposite happened and it really seemed to resonate with people.

You can see Jack Oliver Cole’s portfolio here

You can see Rhiannon Parnis’ portfolio here

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