Meet the Team: Leah Airey

We chat to Leah about her role as an Artist Agent, her advice for aspiring agents and her favourite pastimes...

Monday 3 July 2023
By Leah Airey

What do you do at Jelly?

Artist Agent to 24 stunning amazing talented illustrators! My job is multi-faceted which I love, it means no day is the same around here. I support the illustration department on projects - starting with initial enquiry from clients, negotiating the budget and contracts, ensuring the artist understands and is on board and then sometimes managing the project through to delivery. I also work closely with the artists to ensure their folios are updated with new work and engage with them to make sure we’re firing their work at the right people. I also do a lot of new business for the company, going into meetings and presentations and showing off the artists we get to work with - which I can talk about to no end!!

What was your route into being an artist agent?

I have a degree in fashion design and communication, which isn’t the most useful degree in the world but who decided that 16 year olds should pick what they study at expensive universities? Wild. Anyway! After I graduated, I worked in live action at a production company for 3 years, where we also non-exclusively repped photographers and directors. Although this job was very much not right for me, it was a huge learning curve. This enabled me to have the skills to apply for working in artist management, and although it sounds like a big fat lie because I work here, Jelly was honestly a dream company to work for. Bible.

What role do you think illustration plays in crafting content that engages audiences?

Illustration has no boundaries. We can imagine and create anything we desire. Many other avenues, when it comes to content, are limited to physical spaces and reality. Illustration can show emotions and depth that can be complicated and ungenuine coming from an actor or model, for example. Illustration can also add vibrancy and life to live action that may have fallen a bit flat. It’s got endless possibilities and when a client or agency see’s that, you’re in for a good project. Drawing - regardless of pen to paper, or stylist to screen- is emotive, you’re pouring your brain out, that’s unique to illustration and it’s personal to the artist. This is unmatched in a lot of other forms of content, which isn’t doing them a disservice in any way, but it’s what makes illustrations so interesting and tangible.

What’s the coolest thing you’re working on right now?

There’s always cool enquiries coming in and I love seeing work go live. Recently, my first big project for Jelly went live, it was Hannah Warren’s gorgeous lively and funny illustrations for Pets At Home. I was so excited and proud to see it out - seeing illustration used in a multitude of smart ways is so refreshing.

Best thing about being part of the Jelly Team?

Honestly - that everyone is such a laugh. It’s really fun being part of a team of professionals that are totally on top of their game, but also have their priorities straight and know when to say - you know what? We’re not saving the world.

What does craft mean to you?

Craft, to me, can have so many iterations and outcomes. Sometimes it’s more about the process, rather than the outcome. I don’t think it’s limited to illustration or animation, it really can be anything that you’ve put your heart into. We can all get a bit precious about ‘not being creative people’ when in reality, as long as you’re creating, then you are. I used to run a zine workshop with my best friend, and people came along purely to support me, but they left the workshop filled with endorphins because doing things with your hands, away from your phone, is so gratifying, meditative and satiates a feeling we convince ourselves that we’re not creative enough to fulfil. Craft is good for you!

If you could fix one thing about the industry, what would it be and why?

Like in all industries - inclusivity. The art world is specifically bad for this, as often, to have the chance to be an artist, there needs to be a certain level of privilege behind you, supporting your moves. But this is changing and, at Jelly, we do what we can to switch the narrative - but it takes time and unfortunately it’s going too slowly for me. I’m bored of old white men doing all the fun stuff and making all the decisions AND making all the money.

What advice would you give to aspiring artist agents?

To look at artwork, as often and as much as possible. I’ve noticed how much more fine tuned my eye has gotten since joining Jelly. Looking at artwork daily and having a good think about what that feeling is that it gives you, and maybe what you would change. It’s not about being right, or sharing this information with anyone, but just constantly consuming the work you want to represent, is a great way to feel confident in that area and in turn, feel confident about talking about it. We have so many chats as a department about new signings, up and coming trends etc and being able to feel fluent in saying what and why you like someone is a great feeling.

Your top 3 favourite Podcasts/Books?

I’m a huge book nerd - the bookshelf in my flat is the first thing I force visitors to look at. My 3 favourite ever would be too hard to pick, but my top 3 favourite books I’ve read this year - would be The Giant Dark by Sarvat Hasin (amazing cover art too). Letters to Gil by Malik Al Nasir and Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata - which I know I'm late to reading but it’s definitely worth the hype.

Any artists and/ or exhibitions worth looking up at the moment?

If you’re in London- I’m obsessed with Issy Wood (who also makes really great music) . They have a showing at Carlos/Ishikawa in Mile End, hoping to catch that before it finishes. I also love almost anything that Moosey exhibits, they’re real champions of illustration and super mad paintings.

And for London and a lot of other cities, this is not an ad - but Art Rabbit is the best app i’ve ever downloaded for exhibitions - you can search by closest to you, particular dates, what’s new and interesting. It even shows you where there are exhibition openings that have the free booze…thank me later.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?

Wholesome answer- I love to cook, read and do yoga but mostly - exploring London! I’m not a native and I think the best part of living here is there is always somewhere new you can go to and wander about, even after 5 years.

Honest answer - going to the pub. But that still includes exploring London as there is a never ending supply of great pubs in this not so wee city.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Who was it from?

The best advice I’ve ever been given is to listen to your gut, and then take time to hear what it’s saying - and that is from my bestie boss, Nicki at Jelly. Nicki has been this huge support in my starting at Jelly and always there to chat through sticky contracts and tricky clients. But one of her first questions is always ‘what is your gut saying’ and I think learning to work like that makes things intuitive and, since we do such a creative job, it is about your gut and what feels right. Not making a snap decision and taking a moment to feel things out - coming from a fashion, live action background, it was all about speed and not quality. Illustration is so different in that respect, so I've really grown from that piece of advice.

Leah Airey

Artist Agent, London