Ep.112: Ashley Spires on how to choose your art agent

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Feb 14, 2018 •  Interviews

Hey, guys! In this episode, I am chatting with Ashley Spires, a children books Author and illustrator. She has published more than 20 books and worked with clients like Penguin Random House and Kids Can Press. She is the creator of the Binky The Space Cat.

Get in touch with Ashley

Key Takeaways

“Keep on trying, work hard and believe in your work!”

Resources mentioned

💡 Please note: We are supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you! For more info, please read our disclosure.

Special thanks to Ashley for joining me today. See you next time!

All artworks by Ashley Spires, used with permission

Episode Transcript

Announcer  

Creative, artistic, happy! That’s you. There are endless possibilities for living a creative life. So let’s inspire each other. Art Side of Life interviews with Iva.

Iva Mikles  

Hello, everyone, and welcome back to the next episode of Art Side of Life where I chat with inspiring artists five days a week. My name is Iva, and my guest today is Ashley Spires. And in this episode, you will learn how she got to publishing on children’s books. And what’s important to do before you choose your art agent.

Ashley Spires  

What I would recommend if you were seeking an agent is find out who’s on their list, who do they represent? And just send them an email and just say, Hey, I’m looking at getting an agent. How do you feel about whoever, you know, just reaching out to the people who they work with who they represent? It’s sensible people would have no problem saying sending you a five minute email saying yeah, absolutely. They’re great or no run. So yeah, I think that’s

Iva Mikles  

Ashley is a children’s book author and illustrator from Vancouver, Canada. She’s a creator of the Binky the space good series of a junior graphic novels, and the best selling the MOST MAGNIFICENT THING book, which sold more than 200,000 copies and will also be an animated short film soon actually published more than 20 books and work with clients like between Random House and the kids can press. So please welcome Ashley’s buyers. And let’s get to the interview. So welcome everyone to the next episode of Art Side of Life and welcome my guest today. Ashley. Hi. Thanks so much. Oh, my pleasure. I’m super happy that you’re here. I appreciate it. Let’s dive right into your background maybe and what was your creative outlet when you were a kid?

Ashley Spires  

Oh, I love to female or Sculpey, which is a polymer clay that you bake in the oven. I’m sure everybody has it everywhere. And the bacon in the oven. And then you have your little creations forever. And so I was I was always making little tiny things. And like the smaller the better. Like I just had these teeny tiny little creations. And I just made things all the time. And I was also of course drawing. And I loved animation. And it was a huge inspiration for me. So I was this is dating me horribly, but I used to pause the VCR on the scenes that I really liked. And then I would copy off the television screen to start getting used to join different faces and different expressions and all that kind of stuff. So those were probably the my my two main interests back in the day.

Iva Mikles  

The kids would be like VCR what? Yeah, I

Ashley Spires  

know. Right? Oh, good. Yeah, this is pre PVR. When you could just pause it and or even just google images and find whatever you want. Yeah, this is back when you had to actually watch it on a bit. VHS tape. Yes.

Iva Mikles  

And we kind of like the biggest decisions you had to do in order to get where you are now kind of if you can take us through like the biggest turning points.

Ashley Spires  

Um, well, let’s see, I went through high school and took every art class possible. And then I went to I did decide to go to art school instead of I had very good grades all the way around. And I really could have gone anywhere if I wanted to. But I knew art was my love. And that was where I needed to pursue that. So I went to the main big art school here in Vancouver. And it was amazing. But somewhere along the way, in my teen years as tends to happen to us, I decided I wasn’t a very good drawer, and that I wasn’t good enough to do what I wanted to do, which was animation. So I bailed on that plan, and I went to art school, but by then I’d fall in love with photography. And so I was studying photography, but the technical side of it, I was like less in love with doing. And so I was always sort of drawing with my photographs. I was cutting them up and painting on them and making big fancy collages and that kind of thing. And then it was in my third year that I took a bookmaking class and my teacher was an author and an illustrator, she made these extraordinary pop up books. And it was like, it was like Angel surge saying, and I was like this, this is what I want to do forever. And so at the end of the of the semester, so three months semester, come in, and everyone’s got this one book that they’ve spent all this time making. I literally walked into the box of 20. I went into hyperdrive, and I just couldn’t stop writing silly stories and drawing silly pictures. And I just knew that that was where I wanted to. To be for the rest of my life. I wanted to be doing this. And so I continued on finish my degree and I wanted to do this job wanting to be an illustrator for children’s books in particular. And I sent up my portfolio and I got my first contract. And I knew nothing about what I was doing like nothing. I didn’t know what a bleed was, I didn’t know what a gutter was, I didn’t know the system of the drawing the rest and then getting approval and nothing. And so I got through it. But I realized that I probably should go to school and actually become an illustrator. So I went back east, I went to Toronto in Ontario, and I studied illustration in a postgraduate program. And that was the thing that sort of set me set me up to continue with this job. And I met editors that I still work with today, and it was the best thing I could have done.

Iva Mikles  

Okay, so and if you can, have you talked about some teachers along the way, did you have a mentor or someone who inspired you the most along the way,

Ashley Spires  

I had a wonderful teacher who, who saw that this was such a passion for me. And she, she was the one who suggested at the time that I go to illustration school after I finished at that after I finished my degree, I should say, at that point, after being in school for four years, I was like, I just need a break. So it was the right thing to wait a couple years before I went and did that. So she was a huge help, because she was the one who put that in my head, like, go back east, you can do this, just just go do this. Other than that, I would say that my my editors, and the people that I’ve worked with along the way have been a huge inspiration for me and have really guided me on my career and helps bolster up my confidence a little bit. I think, like all artistic people, like question myself a lot. And so to have somebody there saying, no, no, you are good at this, your voice, you know what your your voice matters. And it’s, it’s going to connect with people and, and your vision is going to connect with people. I think that that’s been a huge part of

Iva Mikles  

the image and also the name. So if some people are also looking for editors,

Ashley Spires  

absolutely. Tara Walker is my my Tara Walker and Yasmin, you char here in Canada, so kids can presses Jasmine and Tara runs the Random Penguin Random House Canada, that children’s division. So

Iva Mikles  

perfect everything. Yeah. And so do you remember also maybe like the first conversation that you had with your parents when you told them like, I want to take this professionally?

Ashley Spires  

Actually, yes. So I think that’s the other Turning Point is so I finished art school and like everyone else was like, Okay, now what, how am I going to make a living doing art. And so I, as a backup plan was filling out all the prerequisites, I would need to become an elementary school teacher. And so I did all of those things. And I got into university to become a teacher. And a month before school was to start, I got my first contract for to illustrate a book wasn’t a ton of money. It was just a little tiny publisher and a little tiny project that I wasn’t even that excited about. But I was like, I don’t care, I get deals, read a book. And so I thought, okay, I can do both, I can do both. I’m, I’m pretty good at working hard. So I went to school that first day, and came home in tears. At that point, I was still living at home. And I said, I don’t know how to do this. I’m not I don’t know how I’m gonna go through school to be a teacher and, and do this book. And my mom said, to me, this is your dream, this opportunity to illustrate a book, you have to take that, and school will always be there. So if that doesn’t work out, but this is your dream, and you have to try that first. And so that’s that was always that’s always been my parents approach to all the I do. They’ve never had anything but complete confidence. And just when I said I wanted to go to art school, they’d like of course, you’re gonna go to art school. Like, why wouldn’t you write and they just, even though my dad is very business minded, and my mom is very artistic, but she she didn’t pursue it professionally. They just they just knew that was going to be for me. And they’ve been nothing but completely supportive my whole life. I know how fortunate I am to have parents who were supportive.

Iva Mikles  

And what do you think was the maybe best advice do you learn from your parents?

Ashley Spires  

Hard work, my dad owns his own business. And he works. Well still in this in his 70s. He works at least five, sometimes six days a week. And I just grew up seeing that work ethic. And I think that that’s such a huge part of being a freelancer is that if you if you don’t have the motivation to work and to get it done, then you’re not really going to succeed. Right. So I think that that hard work is is definitely the best. I don’t know if it was advice but best example that I could add. Yeah,

Iva Mikles  

yeah, definitely. And can you also think about the worst advice maybe what you heard along the way or you see that other young artists are receiving and then you’re like, No,

Ashley Spires  

yeah, first advice. Well, I mean, over the years when I was at art school, and I was taking drawing classes, like I said, I don’t, I’m not a good drawer, and then sense that I can’t draw something realistically. And so I actually had some drawing teachers asked me if I was colorblind, because he thought I was that bad at drawing. Yeah.

Iva Mikles  

It’s really nice.

Ashley Spires  

So I’m not sure if it’s advice, but things like that have happened to me throughout my artistic career where I’ve had people say, like, basically that you suck. And so I see from other I see other kids either making that decision themselves or hearing it from other people. And I think you know what, there’s so many styles of illustration in the world and so many different voices in the world. And you never know, who’s going to connect with what And so yes, that there’s a lot of books being published that I’m illustration that don’t necessarily appeal to me, but they do appeal to someone else. So to have somebody say, your work isn’t good. Doesn’t seem like a realistic thing. It might not appeal to them, but it might appeal to the next person. So yeah, that’s something that I always struggled with is to have those people that have been naysayers. I mean, I’m not saying that you’re not always going to make strike a homerun. But, but yeah, I think that that’s something that you people shouldn’t, it shouldn’t put other people down.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, I definitely agree. We should be nice to each other. And so how did you motivate yourself, you know, kind of to get over this when you’re like, oh, okay, maybe I’m not good enough. And, you know, this kind of thing. And so what kept you going?

Ashley Spires  

By blind, I ended up writing a book about that exact experience, which has ended up being my most popular book. So obviously, it’s a very universal experience. I’m not good enough, and I just want to quit. What I do is I come back to my sketchbook, though, if I’m really struggling, and I’m really having a hard time connecting with a project, or it’s been a while since I, you know, I’ve just been consumed with laundry and vacuuming and that kind of thing to be like, Okay, I gotta create, what happens when you’re in your 30s. I come back to my sketchbook and just try to make that time force myself to make that time to draw for fun. And it doesn’t have to be perfect. And I don’t worry about anyone ever seeing it. Sometimes I’ll post it on Instagram, I usually do. But I find that giving myself that freedom to play is the thing that will get me my creative engine wrapped up and then that will translate into wanting to dive into the next project, which then of course becomes motivation, right? So yeah, that’s for me, it’s my sketchbook, it’s my happy place.

Iva Mikles  

And what is maybe the biggest inspiration? Or do you have something which inspires you? Which other people might think it’s crazy, or weird?

Ashley Spires  

Um, well, I tend to have a house full of animals. So I think that’s probably a little crazy. And they are a huge inspiration for my book said that every single one of my books, the main character has an animal friend, even if they’re an animal themselves, they’re going to have an animal friend. And. And so I think that that’s like a huge part of my inspiration. So I have my own pets, but I also foster kittens for the local shelter. So I tend to have a revolving door of furry little friends running around. And so they’re, they’re definitely a huge inspiration for me, I don’t know, if it’s a lot of fun until they step on your keyboard and you haven’t saved.

Iva Mikles  

They can write something as well, you know? They do. Oh, that’s perfect. And so if you think about your branding, and kind of your idea, or vision, what do you always communicate through your work? What would it be? Or how would you describe your art style or the whole brand?

Ashley Spires  

Um, I’m definitely, I think, a little bit more commercial than a lot of the work that’s going on up there, the work that I that I love, but my style, I think, because of my love of animation growing up, I just have a kind of animated kind of look to my work. And as far as subject matter, than when I write my own stories, it’s sometimes it’s just silly. It’s always funny. Definitely, if I can, it is it has to be funny, because those were the books I loved reading growing up was funny stuff. And I love the idea that I may be making kids around the world laugh now as that’s an amazing thing. The world needs more laughter. Right. But in terms of like subject matter, it seems like I didn’t even mean to but recently I’ve sort of fallen into that. That idea of making mistakes and the importance of making mistakes and not being perfect all the time. And failure is just a part of life. And it doesn’t mean that it’s over. It just means that you learn from that. That seems to be a sort of a recurring theme that’s coming into a lot of my stories. And also now I am having more girl characters again, that’s just something that I just started started to do automatically. But again, the world needs more books about strong girls that are sure of themselves that are confident and that that are going to go out get what they want. So I’m trying to end Great that are not even trying, it just sort of happened. Lately, my work ends up being so much semi autobiographical. So little bits of me popped up in my books. So that’s, I think, a big part of my brand strong women. No fear of failure, or embracing failure and silly animals.

Iva Mikles  

Perfect. That sounds really good. So when you mentioned this, like the failure, did you have like a most difficult time at some point of your career or kind of the struggles? And then if you learn something from it?

Ashley Spires  

Oh, absolutely. I think every single project has had a huge meltdown failure for me and then learning something. But the like, is it the book that I was referring to? Okay. Perfect. So the most magnificent thing is the one that’s that’s been my biggest success has been translated to book 12 different languages, or more, maybe now. And that book came about because I had this whole other story that I was trying to make work. And so I, I already had a contract with my publishing company. So I needed to create something, just it was an open ended contract, like create a story. And so I had this whole other story with this girl and the tiger in a bike, I was trying to make it work, and it just wasn’t, and I was, I was losing my mind, I was so mad at myself for not being able to make this work. And I was so frustrated, I had the full meltdown, oh, my God, I’m never gonna make another good project ever again. I plateaued all downhill, I might as well just quit. And then I realized that that experience was the story. And that it was an experience that I’ve seen in everybody. It’s experience I’ve seen with children when I go visit schools. And I thought this was the story. So I think that was probably one of the biggest sort of crashes that I had in term. And it was, and it wasn’t put on by anybody but myself. Because I think ultimately, all the sort of big failures that I’ve had, it’s all it’s all internal failures. I haven’t had as many I mean, of course, I have, I’ve had bad reviews, that’s just part of life, if you create books, and I but I don’t necessarily consider that a failure, because it’s inevitable. But in terms of actual failures, it’s always been about, like my own judgement of my own work. And it was that big crash that I learned, hang on. Like, look how much you can learn from a big crash like that. And so now when I have the big crash, because I still do, I try and take that I try and take my own advice that I did in the story and take a deep breath, go for a walk with a dog, and just come back to it with it with fresh eyes.

Iva Mikles  

And is there something you wish you knew before you started the whole art career?

Ashley Spires  

I wish I knew more about how to read a contract, because that’s really hard. And I got into some not so great contracts at the beginning of my career. So I wish I had known how to how to read contracts or known how to find a good copyright lawyer. Other than that, I think I’m learning so much. And I think when I look back at my career, I actually really like that it’s been kind of a slow climb. I know there’s a lot of people who jump into this business, and they come out with this guns blazing. And they have this huge hit, write this one book that come out, and it’s just amazing. And it sells tons of copies. And then you’re always trying to live up to that forever. I like that I started small. And I’m just I’m still always like climbing and I have so many goals that I’m seeking out but I didn’t make that big splash at the beginning. I think it’d be really intimidating if you had to be living up to something. Yeah.

Iva Mikles  

Pretty much the same sales are the same. The best review is like

Ashley Spires  

actually, yeah, I kind of like that. I started here and I’m

Iva  

and if someone would like to do what do you do now? What would you suggest them to start with? And maybe what are your favorite tools and mediums? What do you do now?

Ashley Spires  

Um, let’s see. Well, when I started getting the world’s changed so much we were talking about that before record, right the world has changed so much that back when I started I didn’t even have a website right I sent out my portfolio actual pieces of paper to publish I know they were there and and I didn’t have to have a website and within a few years it got to the you must have a website and all that kind of stuff. So I think nowadays Absolutely you need to start your own website for I’m talking specifically about illustration not so much about the writing side of things. Got to have a website send out those those mailers to little Hey there to the people that you want to have look at your books or your work and and don’t just send out one send out every couple of months. Hey, remember me remember me? And nowadays social media, Instagram, and Pinterest and even even to some extent I think Facebook and Twitter but in particular Instagram and Pinterest because they’re so visual. That is I was surprised to find out that to my editor, that’s where she finds her new illustrators is on Instagram and Pinterest. And, and that’s where they get to discover these people. And they see, I mean, why wouldn’t they write they see someone has a built in following of 30,000 people then like, fantastic. Like, we’re already there, their marketing is halfway there. Right? So I think that having a strong presence in social medias is a must nowadays?

Iva Mikles  

And do you think like you need to have like an agent when you’re starting? Or can you find your contract first by yourself?

Ashley Spires  

I think it depends on which country you’re in. So here in Canada, there is no picture book, agent, there’s nobody that would represent someone who does what I do. As an illustrator, they would represent you if you’re a writer, but not with the illustration side of things. So I started representing myself, which is why I wish I’d done a Marvel contracts. Because I was. So I established a lot of great Canadian relationships. And I know that I’m still working with all these amazing Canadian publishers to this day. But when I got to the point where I wanted to start to cross the border over here in North America, you want to tap into that big ol american market right there. I decided it was time to get an agent, because you really can’t get your foot in the door with the big publishers down there unless you have an agent. And so I saw an agent out and and it’s been amazing. And she’s opened up a lot of doors for me, and a lot of opportunities that come my way. So, again, I feel like it depends, I think, if you’re in the States, you have probably have to get an agent. But what I would recommend, if you were seeking an agent is find out who’s on their list, who do they represent? And just send them an email and just say, Hey, I’m looking to get an agent, how do you feel about whoever they got? Have you been happy with them? Because I know a lot of new people end up getting into a contract with an agent that is near and you can you can really get in a bad situation. So you know, just reaching out to the people who they work with who they represent. It’s sensible people would have no problem saying sending you a five minute email saying yeah, absolutely. They’re great or no run. So yeah, I think that’s probably important.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, that’s definitely great advice, because that’s actually what I wanted to ask you like, how do you choose agent that you are happy with? Or, you know, like?

Ashley Spires  

Exactly, I was lucky enough that by the time I was seeking an agent, I knew so many people in this business that I could just reach out and say, Hey, how do you feel about your agent? And, and also my editor actually, up here in Canada? I said, Who Who have you worked with? Because she knows me. So well. We’ve worked together for more than 10 years, she knows me. So well. I’m like, Okay, who do you think would be a great fit for me, and she right away gave me like a list of three people that she works with regularly that she really likes that she thinks would be the right. Personality with mine. And so, like I said, I was lucky in that situation. But otherwise, I would say seek out people who are representing an art style that’s similar to yours, because you want to have the same sensibility as you right? I wouldn’t go with somebody who’s who’s representing just realistic artists, because they would be like, get your work, right. So you want somebody who’s going to understand your vision and your work and and help you develop that. Right. So you want to find people who are who are representing people who do something similar to you.

Iva Mikles  

Instead, like editors and publishing houses, would you just Google them when you want to contact them? Or you just ask your contacts? You know, just like,

Ashley Spires  

Yeah, I think if you were new to this, then yeah, you’d Google them. Because there’s usually a pretty good list of things. There’s also something called the it’s called the children’s book market. And it’s a book that they put out every year. So it’s updated, and it will give you a list of the actual name of the managing editor, the art director. And if you can send something to them directly to with your with their name on it, you just have that much better chance of them seeing it. I’m not saying send them something daily. But if you want to send something to them every couple of months, and it says very specifically, you know, to Jim, and then that will just increase your chances of being seen

Iva Mikles  

early. And so and when you were creating your books, what was your like first experience when you just decided, Okay, I will do this, and then like, okay, so how do I continue? I have a story, I have a illustration and what’s next?

Ashley Spires  

Well, I said I had that book that children’s marketplace, and I just, it had a great section about how to write proper cover letter how to contact all of these people. And so I sent all that stuff out and I promptly got a lot of rejections. So that that’s a big part of any freelancers work, is that you have to get rejected a lot. So I got a bunch of rejections and then it wasn’t like I said, I until I got that that one contract that that kind of got the ball rolling. Now I really always have a bunch of ideas on the go, whether they be just in my notebook or if they’re manuscript or if they’re character sketches or whatever, there’s, I have all these sort of things in development. And nowadays, like I said, I am very fortunate in that I line up contracts right now through 2021. And I can either give them to my agent or up here in Canada, I can just contact my my publisher directly and say, Hey, I’ve got this story. What do you think? And so I just kind of have contracts going on it on an ongoing basis. And it’s, it’s very nice. I mean, that’s not to say that all my ideas are a slam dunk, because they certainly aren’t. I have a lot of ideas where the public just like, um, know, that one, or my agents, like, that’s not very good. So I just like I said, Yes. Why do you have to have a lot of different ideas going anytime, because you never know which one’s going to strike the right chord?

Iva Mikles  

And do you like have something you do daily, which contributes your success? You know, like meditation and sport or, or something to design your day?

Ashley Spires  

Yeah, well, it’s like when you work at home, and you work in a very sedentary job, you have to move and so I go for a run or yoga or even just walking the dog every day, I have to get outside and be active. That’s why I love living in Vancouver, because our climates very comfortable. And you can get out all times a year. So yeah, that’s a huge part of my life. And, and also, tidying, which is a weird thing to say, again, because you work at home, if the house is in disarray, then my brain is in disarray. So I haven’t have a little part of my morning that is devoted to just tidying and centering, and then I can move into it.

Iva Mikles  

And then how many hours a day maybe do you draw or write?

Ashley Spires  

It really depends on the deadline. So right now, I’m waiting on some feedback. So I have a little bit more time flexibility. But if there’s a deadline, like there was last month, I was working like 10 or 12 hours a day, and the exercise thing went out the window, because I just had to get it done. So it really just depends and also depends on the project. Sometimes you can sit down and draw it and it just pours out of you like magic. And sometimes you sit down and it’s just a slog, and you just can’t get it right. So it really just depends. I tried to give myself at least you know, a proper eight hours a day to work. But sometimes you need more and sometimes you need less so

Iva Mikles  

yeah. And what do you use? What mediums do you use only traditional tools or only digital tools?

Ashley Spires  

I used to be strictly traditional I was I loved watercolor and pen. And I still do love it. But I if you can probably see behind me, I have this lovely Wacom Cintiq now, and that’s revolutionized my work. So I work a lot digitally. I’m still I still have so much to learn about the digital medium about Photoshop, but I do most of my work with Photoshop now because none of my publishers are local, right? You’re always having to send your work to them. So it’s just so easy if you can just Dropbox it.

Iva Mikles  

That’s true. That’s true. I also like my Cintiq as well. So yeah,

Ashley Spires  

it’s lovely. I can’t believe it. Yeah. Nice. My work now,

Iva Mikles  

do you still like do traditional art? Like maybe on the side or as a, like, basic sketches or something?

Ashley Spires  

Absolutely. Yeah, actually, all of my, all of my work starts in my sketchbook, all of my character design and everything is something about holding an actual pencil and feeling the tooth of the paper and that kind of thing. So yeah, my sketchbook is, is where everything starts. It’s um, I don’t know why, but it seems like the ideas can flow much easier sometimes when you’re working traditionally.

Iva Mikles  

Maybe they look more real, you know, because they’re there.

Ashley Spires  

I think so. Yeah. I don’t know what it is. But I just I yeah, like starting there.

Iva Mikles  

And then do you have like a favorite brand of Sketchbook or pencil or watercolors?

Ashley Spires  

Yeah, I love these. These are the moleskin ones. And it’s the watercolor sketchbook. So just again, because I do love to do even I do a lot of pencil stuff in here, but I do like to do watercolor and that kind of thing. So I love love that tooth and this. And otherwise, yeah, pins. I use visa. microns. So I think everyone does because they’re waterproof. It’s like a watercolor and pencils. Just a tiny, whatever. A tiny, automatic one. Stop that fancy.

Iva Mikles  

watercolors. Do you have also favorite watercolors?

Ashley Spires  

I’m not totally No, I mean, Windsor Newton is pretty classic. And that seems to be the one that you can’t go wrong with but, ya know, I just kind of buy whatever’s on sale.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, because I also like to try like different brands when they’re like, I like this shade of color or whatever.

Ashley Spires  

But he does the same colors. Yeah. So you want to have a little bit of everything.

Iva Mikles  

Perfect. And is there something maybe you bought recently with simplifies your life maybe like a scheduling tool or a medium or tool or whatever?

Ashley Spires  

Just the Cintiq which I’ve had for almost five years now. But yeah, I think that this is the thing that’s definitely simplified thing and I got a nice big mac recently too, because my other one was coughing and so Veteran,

Iva Mikles  

like falling apart. And

Ashley Spires  

when you like, hit you and you try and draw a line and then you’re waiting for the line to actually appear. That’s when you’re like, Ah, it’s time to upgrade.

Iva Mikles  

Frustrating, then you’re like, oh, where is it?

Ashley Spires  

Thinning that little color wheel on the most infuriating, spinning lever? Yeah. So no, I think that that’s the thing. That’s yeah.

Iva Mikles  

And when you’re creating new projects, because sometimes when we have limited time, and you have to say no to projects, how do you decide what to say? No to what is kind of going on in your head?

Ashley Spires  

Yeah, that’s actually, that’s interesting question, because I just had to last week, so you know, pass on a project that I was really excited about. And I really wanted to be a part of, but I had committed to, like, I know, I have some other contracts lined up, and they just, they just came in a little bit late. And usually, it’s just about figuring out what I can realistically do with my time, I am notorious for over scheduling myself, and for just taking on just too many projects, because so many of them are so exciting. And I’m like, no,

Iva Mikles  

no, it’s okay. Often it is. Yeah.

Ashley Spires  

And also, I think I it’s just one of those things, it’s like, it’s like, if you have a little animal that started their life without much food, then they’re going to eat too much for the rest of their life. And I feel like that with artists, you know, at the beginning of our career, any job that comes our way, we’re gonna say yes, right? Because it’s like, Oh, my God, you’re gonna pay me to do it. Yeah, I’ll figure it out, just giving it. And so it’s hard to lose that mentality. It’s like, you always kind of hang on to that, like, well, I should take this job, because I don’t know if I was another one coming down the road. But most recently, it’s just about realizing that I have limitations. And also realizing that in order to spend the time on the project that I think it deserves, in order to make it as good as I want it to be. It means I can’t take on every project. So sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes I have to like recently, I had two projects come in one was about trucks, and one was about animals. And I’m like, Well, I’m not crazy about drawing trucks. So I’m going to go and buy animals, right? Like it just no brainer. Because the time schedule, the scheduling would have been the same. So I pick one or the other. And then the other thing is, yeah, just it’s just about how many projects I have on the go. And timing, essentially what it’s all about. Yeah.

Iva Mikles  

And I usually also ask about, like the income and word the artists start or I mean, like, what do you live from? And do you have like, different sources of income? Like you sell your art brains? Or books? Or do you spread it out? Or is it mainly one source,

Ashley Spires  

it’s mainly one source, it’s mainly my publishing. So I get advances for my new projects, and then twice a year, I get my royalty statements as well. But because you never really know what the royalty payment is going to be. Because I don’t, I can’t keep track of my sales. That’s always sort of a variable. So that’s why, you know, keep working because you need those advances, because that’s what you count on. The other thing that that we do is visit schools and make author appearances, that kind of thing. So that’s, that’s something that was a huge sort of source of income for me at the beginning of my career. Less so now. Because I do have so many projects on the go, I don’t have as much time. So I usually just take maybe one day, a month during the school year to go visit a school. But yeah, that’s pretty much just all the money comes from from working with all my own things. Yeah. Which is really

Iva Mikles  

good. So yeah, because you publish so many books already now. Yeah, I have a pretty good stack. Yeah. So um, what would you advise maybe starting artists like when they are trying to kind of negotiate their first deals or, or like hourly rate? How do they go about this? Like, who should they ask or what do you think how they should calculate or something like this?

Ashley Spires  

That’s yeah, that’s a that’s one of the hardest things because it’s not like people who do what I do talk about how much money they make. And it’s so variable, depending on the publisher, and depending what country you’re in. And if you’re a new illustrator or author, you’re not going to get as much money because you’re not a surefire, you know, bet for them, they’re not going to give you a huge advance and then end up eating a bunch of it. So I would say if you can track down a good copyright lawyer, or again, that’s the perk of having a good agent, not a shifty one, but a good agent. They will help you manage those things. Pardon me? Again, it’s so variable because it depends on country to country in Canada, you know, you start with a very small advance because we are a smaller country, big in size, small in population. And whereas in the States, I know that if you’re a new illustrator, you’re probably going to be making a significant, bigger amount. So I think it just that’s why it’s nice to have a copyright lawyer or an agent because they will be familiar with the standards in your own country in your own state or province or whatever. And they can help you navigate that and make sure that you’re not getting it Getting a bad deal?

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. And then also like you get certain percentage to the agent like, I don’t know, 10 15% or something like that. That’s normal or? Yeah,

Ashley Spires  

yeah, I think 15 to 20 is probably normal. Yeah. So that’s, that is the other thing. And then if you want to go the copyright lawyer route, then you just pay a flat fee, right? Which is, which is very nice, which is a nice way to do it. Because if you just have one contract, and you just need some help, then that’s a good way to do it. It’s usually not a crazy amount of money, especially if they’re a sensible individual. So yeah, yeah, a couple 100 $500, something like that. It’s worth it in the long run to make sure that you’re getting a good deal. Yeah.

Iva Mikles  

And then when you will have more demand than you can, you know, rise, raise the prices right then? Exactly, yeah,

Ashley Spires  

yeah. And then and, you know, it’s just for the advance that you’re usually well, and your percentage of each book. So I think the going rate, generally, if you’re just illustrating is 5% of each book sold. And then if you author and illustrate, then you get 10%. Sometimes you can get escalator, so after a certain amount, you get more. But yeah, that kind of thing is totally standard across the board. And after that, you know, if you get a small advance, well, if your book sells a bunch, you’re gonna make money at the other end of it, right? So it’s, yeah, it’s okay to not be so worried about the advance, you want to make a good book that’s gonna sell.

Iva Mikles

And they also help you with promotion, or you have to promote as well, or so usually the

Ashley Spires  

publisher, the publisher, all that stuff for me, for the most part, I mean, they arrange, of course, for me to go do events and, and signings and book festivals, and all that kind of stuff, as well. But yeah, it’s really nice to have the publisher doing that, because then you can just focus on the creative side of things.

Iva Mikles  

Perfect. So let’s talk about your project. So which are kind of like projects, which are exciting now? Or maybe something which is coming up?

Ashley Spires  

Yeah, um, well, I have a couple of books that are in the in the can now. So I have one coming out next month that I’ve illustrated for another author in the States is called Booker bell with Bloomsbury. And it’s, it’s, it was really fun to illustrate, it was, again, what I went traditional with that book, which was really fun. So I went back to doing watercolor, which was great. And then I just finished, the one I was on a deadline for last was a project within my Binky, the Space Cat series, which might have seen this, it’s actually right now being optioned for television here in Canada, which is really fun to cool. It will happen. It’s one of those things where it’s like, kind of happening. But if TV so who knows. But, yeah, so I finished another graphic novel for for junior graphic novel. And then I’m about to start two different projects I’m illustrating for another author, really, really fun book about a turtle and tortoise. And it’s hilarious. And I’m about to start my own first and hopefully will be a series the first two books have been contracted about this gal, Esther, the fairy. And so she’s, she’s a fairy who doesn’t believe in magic, she, she’s more rational, and she believes in science. And she’s the only one in her community who believes in science. And so she’s always having to tell everybody how it is. And so that’s a picture book series that I’m starting with Random House in the US and in Canada. So yeah, so I’m really excited about that, because I’m writing it and there’s a lot of a lot of jokes in it.

Iva Mikles  

Nice, nice. So when it will be out, we can put also like the links in the show notes so people can check it out. That’d be great.

Ashley Spires  

Yeah, it doesn’t come out till fall 2019. Because that’s how publishing works. I’m working so far in advance. And my other book I’m working on it will be summer 19. So yeah, that’s just kind of how to do a follow up. I never know what year is because I’m always in my head. I’m working so far ahead. I’m like, what year are we actually in? Because in my head, it’s already 2019? Because that’s what I’m working on. Yeah, it’s ridiculous. Yeah, that was the

Iva Mikles  

same when I was working in my previous job. It was like, yeah, yeah. But like, which year are we?

Ashley Spires  

I feel what, where am I?

Iva Mikles  

Exactly, exactly. And do you maybe have some books aside of your own kind of maybe you you learn from or something you give as a gift?

Ashley Spires  

Oh, yeah, there’s so many yeah, there’s so many people that like my my friends and stuff that are having babies and I’m like, Okay, so here’s the list of books you have to have, you know, I just like have this this big stack. So let’s see I happen to be sitting by my bookshelf, so I’m gonna grab some things. I love this book. Children make terrible pets. It’s just so funny. And because it is true children do make terrible pets. And oh, well of course the it’s a total classic but Lost and Found Oliver Jeffers anything by him is extraordinary. And actually my favorite illustrator and I love sharing it with people. His work with people is David Roberts. He’s my absolute favorite illustrator. I am really drawn to European illustrators and in particular UK A illustrators, I just love the British style. And David Roberts is just, in my opinion, he’s been a huge inspiration to me. And so I’d love sharing his work with other people, because his character design, in my opinion is unparalleled. And yeah, so those ones are definitely on my list. Yeah, that’s just a few. But I won’t.

Iva Mikles  

Do you go also for conventions in in UK or Europe? Or as you said, or maybe in your area?

Ashley Spires  

Like yeah, it’s no not in the not in Europe. But I have been doing more us stuff now that I have an American agent. So this this past spring I was I visited a bunch of different big conventions, which was really exciting. And I’ve done a lot of up here in Canada as well. Of course,

Iva Mikles  

your favorite maybe like, what are the asking to go?

Ashley Spires  

Yeah, well, there’s the big one in the States is the ALA the American Library Association, they have they have it twice a year and it’s incredible. It’s just everybody. I, I went to promote some books, of course, but I really went to be a fan girl because there were so many amazing authors and illustrators that are I’m

Iva Mikles  

like, Oh, my God, look who

Ashley Spires  

that was. That was my favorite. And then up here in Canada, there’s the Oh La, which is the Ontario Library Association. And it’s another big super Conference, which is really fun to attend and and then we of course, all the writers festivals are always great fun.

Iva Mikles  

Super nice. I need to check out some of these festivals as well never been on there like a proper Book Festival fair.

Ashley Spires  

Well, and I mean, I’d love to get the ones in Europe because Bologna, and I think it’s Frankfurt, or they just I one day, one day,

Iva Mikles  

because actually Frankfurt toy fair that I think yes, that I’ve been.

Ashley Spires  

Yeah, and the Bologna one supposed to be just amazing. And so one day, good excuse to go to Italy. Yeah, that’s actually

Iva Mikles  

true. Or just eat pizza and drink some wine and check out the art, you know, that’s the best combination.

Ashley Spires  

Oh, yeah.

Iva Mikles  

What about the future? If we think about like, five to 10 years, and you know, like, you have your dream scenario, and everything is working out how you want? How does it look like?

Ashley Spires  

I would love to have and this is probably never gonna happen. But I’d love to have a New York Times bestseller. I’d like something that is just, yeah, this, this amazing, big hit. I love that my some of my book, write books right now are actually being turned into animation. So I’m getting to live that dream because the most magnificent thing is becoming an animated short film as well. And as a kid who wanted to be an animator to have my work finally being animated, it’s like, Oh, my God. So in five or 10 years, more of my properties being animated would be amazing. And yeah, and to just have those, those big hits the ones that people like, oh, yeah, I’ve read that book. I love that book. Oh, that’s, that’s the kind of thing I want to have happen. Yeah.

Iva Mikles  

And what about like, far, far future, you know, like, in the 100 years to vote, would you like to be remembered for?

Ashley Spires  

Again, I think it’s just that creating that book. That’s when, like, I was saying, when my friends have babies, I’m like, okay, these are the books you absolutely have to have. I would love for one of my books to be on everyone’s list of the thing they have to buy for their kid because their child needs to read this book. That’s what I would like to have created a book like that.

Iva Mikles  

Oh, perfect. Yeah. Because then people will be like, Oh, this is so funny. You have to check this out.

Ashley Spires  

Yeah, I just thought that book that connects with people through the ages would be incredible. Yeah, just

Iva Mikles  

to bring smiles on kids faces. And they’re like, oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Perfect, then I’m like, super happy that you took time off. And during this year, it was so much fun.

Ashley Spires  

Thank you so much. Like I said, this is really exciting. And thank you so much for featuring me and my work, I appreciate it.

Iva Mikles  

And before we finish, maybe you can share like a key takeaway or the advice and then we will say goodbye.

Ashley Spires  

Um, again, I think it’s just comes down to keep on trying. Keep on trying, work hard. And believe in your work. Find that authentic place and bring your work from that place. Because if you’re trying to do something that looks too much like someone else, or you’re trying to do something for someone else, it never comes out right. So find find the place within you and pull from that to create. And people will connect with that because it’ll be authentic.

Iva Mikles  

Amazing. Love it. Thank you again. So thanks again so much for being here. And thanks, everyone for joining and I’ll see you in the next episode. Thanks everyone. Hope you guys enjoyed this interview. You can find all the resources mentioned in this episode at artsideoflife.com Just type a guest name in the search bar. There is also a little freebie waiting for you so go check it out. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a review on iTunes. Hopefully Five stars so I can read and inspire more people like you. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to Art Side of Life podcast, because I post new interview every single workday. If you want to watch the interviews, head over to artsideoflife.com/youtube. Thank you so much for listening. Don’t forget to inspire each other. And I will talk to you guys in the next episode. Bye.

Announcer  

Thanks for listening to the Art Side of Life podcast at www.artsideoflife.com

Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am an artist, illustrator, founder of Art Side of Life®, and Top Teacher on Skillshare. Since 2009 I've worked as an illustrator, character designer, art director, and branding specialist focusing on illustration, storytelling, concepts, and animation. I believe that we are all creative in infinite numbers of ways, so I've made it my mission to teach you everything I know and help either wake up or develop your creative genius. Learn more about me.

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