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  • Francesco Lo Iacono


Updated: Aug 10, 2021

It's been a while since I had the pleasure to interview someone for my blog. With the series of interviews that I have done so far, I have always aimed to give useful resources to other fellow creatives who daily navigate the fashion (illustration) industry. I have been approached myself before with questions about how to make things work as a freelance illustrator, and it's something that I still experience every day.

So, I thought I could interview Barbi Mlczoch, founder of artist management agency Cosmopola, based in Berlin, as she could offer another point of view of what's being an illustrator today. I hope this interview could give some advice to any illustrator willing to reach out to an illustration agency.

Hi Barbi, would you like to tell something about yourself and your background?

Sure, I am Barbi, turning 46 this year and working mom of two boys (19 and 9), happily married. I love to work in the creative industry full of inspiring people and visions. I believe that in the hands of creatives, the future is bright.

How your creative journey led you to open Cosmopola, your agency?

I started as a freelance photographer back in 1996 after studying Photography at Die Graphische in Vienna. At the age of 22, I moved to Berlin. Combined with my own photography, I gained experience as a picture editor and managed a magazine before I started working as an artist representative for almost a decade.

I found myself naturally more in zen managing others than continuing my own photographic path. And yes, that was my call. In 2013 I created Cosmopola. I decided to build up a group of talented photographers, illustrators and video artists. I am endlessly amazed and inspired by the creative beauty I witness every day and I am deeply dedicated to enabling artists to share their vision. This became my life and it's an ongoing exploration. Witnessing the amazing creativity is my drive. And it will never end.

What is the toughest part of being an agent?

The toughest part is to keep up with everyone; clients and artists on a personal level. I wish I could beam myself from one place to another, to be on multiple locations in one day, like being on a shooting in London and the next moment being with a client in Munich for a business lunch.

I especially believe in the power of a business lunch. To solve the situation of wanting to have a business lunch in another city in Germany without the hustle of driving or flying there, I came up with the idea of virtual business lunch.

That´s how it works: we sit in front of our screens with Skype to see each other and eat together in different towns, me in Berlin, the client in Munich, for example, and it's fun!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an agent?

Follow your taste! Build a brand. Be open for changes, stay flexible, start with conversations of potential clients, what do they need. Which problems can you solve for them? What can you offer? What can you offer artists?

As an artist, what's the best way to get noticed by an agent?

What works for me is a personal enthusiastic e-mail describing why you think you will enrich the portfolio of the agency. And yes, sometimes it needs more than one e-mail, it needs a nice reminder to look at the work. When the email starts a conversation then I most likely react.

How important is the portfolio when an artist wants to sign with an agency?

Most important, I would say, it is to have an online place where you show your portfolio whether it’s via a website or a platform like Behance or Instagram. Once the artist is on board of a representation agency, I like when the selection of the portfolio is different from the personal selection of the artist. It’s a good way to show a different or another side.

How do you usually choose the artists you would like to represent?

I get 4-5 applications every day. And mostly I get inspired a lot, however, I wish I could represent every artist that I am inspired by, but it is mostly a question of capacity that I need to remind myself not to take on too many artists.

Popularity on social networks, like Instagram, is a criterion you take into consideration when representing a new artist?

Popularity on social media is a criterion but it does not come first. I usually do like this. First comes the personal e-mail, from that personal e-mail I can already get a kind of feeling of the person, a feeling for the interesting conversations we might have. Best case scenario, the e-mail comes with a cool gif or pdf attached with a strong selection of work.

When I get inspired, then I go on Instagram to see how this person looks and presents him or herself there. I kind of stalk the person a bit. Instagram is a good tool to see another layer of the artist. If used cleverly, it is fun and offers a great and fast opportunity for me to see in one click the artist signature and what he/she works on at the moment.

How do you usually introduce your artists to potential clients?

I love to be part of portfolios shows, I like when there are networking events and I can do speed dating and meet new potential clients. A few weeks ago, I was taking part in Lebook Berlin, I had no voice by the end of the day but was very happy and satisfied! I am looking forward to the next portfolio show Update Berlin. When not on a show, I like to inspire in personal meetings, e-mails or phone calls with my clients on a daily basis.

It happened to me a few times that I walk out of a personal meeting with a job, maybe that's why I believe in it so much.

Being asked to work for free as an illustrator is something that happens at some point in an illustrator's career and also a great issue in this industry. What do you think about as an agent?

Always ask yourself what is in for you? What can you gain, what else than money the client can offer to you? Can they offer creative freedom?

Any advice to illustrators in seek of representation?

Ask yourself what you can offer and what expectations you have.

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