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Q&A with Jon Cockley

Illustration agency Handsome Frank

I'm Jon, the co-founder of an illustration agency called Handsome Frank. I launched the agency almost five years ago now with my cousin Tom Robinson. The agency has grown pretty quickly during that time and we now represent 34 illustrators, artists and image makers spread across five continents. Despite our UK base, our clients are very spread out internationally and we work with people all over the world. Projects predominantly fall into the worlds of advertising, design and publishing but we also also handle licensing. Our role is to promote our artists and agency to the biggest possible audience and to first and foremost to find them commissions. They more interesting and inspiring the work is, the better it is for everyone.

How did you get started with the Handsome Frank agency? What is a turning point in your professional career?

I worked in business to business publishing for ten year's after university, I was a sales executive and ended up as a commercial director. I was very lucky though in that the title I worked for, Creative Review, was about an industry that I was incredibly interested in. Working on the commercial side of a business selling advertising, gave me invaluable experience for being an agent and taught me fundamental skills like how to find new business and how to negotiate. At the same time I was able to learn a huge amount about the advertising and design industry and it because of the subject matter of the title it was a very creative role.

The turning point for me was becoming a Dad. After my first son was born I really began to reassess everything in my life and I wanted to have more control over my work life balance. Suddenly my time seemed to be more valuable and I didn't want to waste any more of it on someone else's business. It was the catalyst for changing things and I decided to build my own business.

What is your ideal work environment? Do you prefer to work in your design studio with Tom all day long or prefer to mix a few activities?

Myself and Tom actually work pretty remotely. He spends most of his time working from his place in South East London, while I have a home studio in Cambridge. Our way of working would have been pretty much impossible 7 or 8 years ago, but thanks to developments in technology it works really well. During a standard day I'll make sure I get out of the house and have a change of environment at least once. Thankfully Cambridge has (finally) got the coffee bug and we now have two or three really good independent coffee shops nearby. I tend to work in one of these for a couple of hours everyday. Aside from that I'm able to split my time quite nicely so that I see my three kids during the day. I tend to take a break from work from 5-7pm and then pick up any bits and pieces that I need to finish before the end of the day in the early evening. Working with clients on different time zones means there's always someone you need to get back to, and we're often dealing with US clients in the evening.

If I'm working from home then music becomes a big part of my day. I listen to a lot of records while I work or I'll have the radio on.

What design tools / software do you use for your work?

We've always prided ourselves on trying to present our illustrators work as well as we can. Where possible we'll get hold of the finished article (bearing the illustrations) be it a book, magazine, food packaging etc and photograph it ourselves for our blog and social channels. We have Canon 5d mk2's for this reason and use Lightroom to improve the pictures. Aside from that it's fairly standard stuff, Photoshop and Indesign for the creative stuff and Google apps for the actual running of the business. Streak is a great little app for Gmail that helps manage projects and new business leads and Skype is essential with the spread of clients and illustrators across the world.

Where does your design inspiration come from? (Do you believe in 'inspiration' at all)?

Do I believe in inspiration? Absolutely, but I don't think it's always an obvious or an entirely conscious thing. For me it's all about broadening your horizons and being aware of as many different walks as life as you can. Culture, food, travelling as often as you can, reading widely, but also having broad tastes in music, film and embracing different hobbies. I'm always getting told by friends and family I'm really 'faddy'. Admittedly I don't tend to master things, but I like dipping in and out of various hobbies and interests and I think that's the best way to be inspired. I'm currently embarking on a little micro-brewing experiment with a friend.

Who are the designers you admire most and why?

Rather than individual designers, we tend to follow the work of design and ad agencies more closely. There's so much exceptional work being produced these days but agencies who's work we really love include BUILD, Design by St, Winkreative, Irving Co and BBH.