Interview With An Agent: Vicki Willden-Lebrecht
last updated 17 January 2024
Interview by Rachel Moffat
Welcome to Interview with an Agent, a series where I interview Bright Agents and find out all about their passion for art, advice, inspiration and their career journey to date.
The first installment of Interview with an Agent in 2024 is a very special one. I interviewed the CEO and founder of The Bright Agency Vicki Willden-lebrecht, a passionate and powerful creative force. Read the blog to find out how she built her career and nurtured her creativity.
Vicki & James: 2010 & 2023
Rachel: Where did your love of art come from?
Vicki: My earliest memory is from when I was a child, with the ambition to discover a new colour, I can vividly remember imagining digging down into the earth to discover a new, never before seen before colour.
What was your first experience hands on with art, what was that like?
I was always art focused, I grew up in a family that were all very academic, and I was the one that was good at art. I definitely didn’t grow up feeling like my art was a talent, but thankfully something I was good at as I struggled with reading, spelling and word order. I have dyslexia, so I grew up thinking ‘I can’t do maths and english very well, and I really struggle with reading’ but art comes so naturally to me, thank goodness I can do that. It felt more of a relief than a talent.
How do you feel when you see a really powerful piece of art?
I am so stimulated by visuals, my mood is uplifted and I genuinely feel so excited! I see everything so visually, it’s my comfort space, it’s also how I can grasp opinions and ‘see the point’. I grew up in a family where politics were discussed in a lively manner - which I loved to participate in - only I didn’t read the broadsheets. I got all my opinions from political cartoons.
I love looking at art and thinking about what’s possible. I definitely have the ‘commercial eye’; when I see an illustrator’s work. I immediately make the links in my mind to what art directors would love it and what kind of projects it could birth.
Tell me a bit more about the Bright Journey. How did it all begin?
*Laughter It’s such a convoluted story, I’m sure so many startups are! I think I was really driven by a desire to make a difference and I could see that we could do something better. I felt that the creative link to understanding an artist, and how to get the best out of them was lost in industry and I wanted my agency to provide artists with an environment where they can feel comfortable and supported, to know that somebody was on their side. But also to be able to deliver direction and hold challenging conversations in a way that would empower artists rather than disarm them. As an artist, a creative and a business owner, I love people mentoring me, I thrive with feedback and direction, learning how to do things better. We all benefit from input. I wanted my agency to be able to provide that for its artists.
At Bright we listen to what the client is looking for, and we try to share that feedback to our artists. It’s a much more collaborative way of working. Brilliant things happen when you have a brilliant team of people working together. That’s what it was all about from the beginning.
What were the first six months like?
It was like waking up and a horse had kicked you in the stomach. I felt alive! It hurt, but I wanted to still get on. The feeling was in my guts, and once I started, there was no going back. It was full on… and it has been for the last 20 years!
What do you look for in an artist?
I look for two things. The first is the craft, the line, the actual drawing, mark making. I want to see someone that can really draw, and really give me the character, can distil emotion - art that holds great storytelling. I want to see something that’s alive. I don’t want to see a dog, but a naughty dog, a fiery teenager, a frustrated mum. I want to see real, believable people and I want to see everything anatomically correct.
The second thing is the artist’s attitude. It’s the approach, the attitude to feedback, the ‘lean in’. The agent-artist relationship is a wonderful thing because it’s incredibly balanced. It can be uncomfortable to be challenged. I see artists anxious - attitude doesn’t have to mean bouncy and jolly and upbeat, it can mean acting quietly or loudly but looking for solutions - curious, leaning in, open, the opposite to defensive.
Can you tell me about a very memorable project that you worked on?
The project that stands out for me is the project that changed my career. Barry the Fish with Fingers with Sue Hendra. Working on that book with Sue really catapulted Bright, it was so exciting! It was wonderful seeing the success of it, but it was the journey to getting there. It took two years for us to find that home with Simon & Schuster. It was a wonderful experience that I still draw from today.
When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?
I love walking in nature, being in or near water, hiking, and being outside. I love making things, painting things, and restoring furniture, printing photos, framing artwork, doing picture walls. Most importantly, I love being with my family, being at home with my kids and my husband, bumbling around… I love to potter about.
Quickfire question round, what was the best walk you’ve ever been on?
It was with all of our children in the Big Sur in California a few years ago and we came across this pool of water. The boys were jumping and diving off rocks, it was just magical.
What’s your favourite thing to craft with your kids?
Anything seasonal, Easter, Christmas. I love a theme!
What’s your favourite thing to cook?
I love baking cakes! Victoria sponge is my go-to. But for cooking, I love Italian food! Pastas, Lasagnas etc.
With a good wine right? What’s your favourite?
Definitely a good wine! Chocolate block - I tried it this summer and thought it was the best wine I’d ever tasted! Although I spoke to a wine connoisseur afterwards who told me it was ‘commercialized rubbish’. I also love oaked Chardonay
When you’re out with your girlfriends, what do you get up to?
Talking. Anywhere and everywhere: walking, restaurants, bus stops, bars, on the phone. Talking and laughing, supporting, often crying - and displaying big emotions!
Vicki & family
How has the support of your friends and family affected your journey?
I have the most wonderfully supportive and fun family, with all of the lovely complexities that we all have with our families. I was lucky enough to be the oldest of two sisters and my younger sister is eleven years younger than me. It feels like such a gift. She’s kept my family young. The world has changed so much in the last twenty years, but because I had my sister (a true millennial), I have been influenced by her. My other sister worked in the tech industry so having both of their influence and support was amazing. And all my parents have always been amazing and believed in me and been on this journey the whole way.
What has been your best day at Bright so far?
Every day! I genuinely love it. I love coming to work, all of it, the good days, the bad days, all of it. I am so blessed and grateful, and not a moment goes by when I don’t realise just how lucky I am doing what I love. It’s amazing to support my family and have creative freedom and work with wonderful people.
There’s nothing like a Monday morning at Bright
Yes! I love a Monday morning! Everyone needs a Monday morning, especially if you have children. Everyone needs to go to work, school, nursery, their chosen destination. I really miss Monday morning when it’s the summer holidays.
What’s been the biggest hurdle in your career?
Myself. Being inexperienced when I first began, and being emotional, learning how to do everything. Growing and redefining yourself and discovering the best ways to handle different situations.
You talk a lot about female empowerment, how has this journey been for you as a woman in business?
The one thing I will say on this is, I’m a very very emotional person. We’ve been living in a very male dominated world when it comes to commerce and business, and when I started out I didn’t want to adopt masculine qualities to fit in. Emotion has historically been seen as a feminine quality, and most people think that emotion and business should be kept separate, but I completely disagree. Emotion is amazing in business when it’s channeled in the right way, care, compassion and empathy, I think, has an enormous part in a thriving business. I am driven by my love and passion for my work and that emotion is why I get up in the morning.
What do you know about agenting now that you wish you’d known when you were first starting out?
What I didn’t realise when I first started agenting was that my opinion was actually what the publisher wanted. They don’t want you to just show up and say ‘here’s my book of artists, pick out what you like and I will follow up and see if they are available. Clients want to collaborate with you, to get your thoughts, whether they agree with you or not. They’re really interested in your view, your angle, your perception.
What I’d say to any agent starting out is: work on your opinion, be clear on it, speak up in meetings, because that’s where the synergy happens.
Bright Carnival 2023
Do you have a final message?
Do the hard stuff. Do it first, the things you find challenging, the things you don’t want to do. Challenge yourself. Have that ambition and belief that you can do it and face the hard stuff first. Now I need to go and do my hard stuff.
To work with Vicki, get in contact here.