How does Skye Kelly-Barrett, founder of Roar Illustration Agency, run her business?

by MJ Widomska

Skye Kelly-Barrett is the founder and agent at Roar Illustration Agency. She also leans on her skills as a curator and art director for projects initiated by Roar, and this year sees the start of Skye Victoria Projects for Skye’s non-Roar projects. Roar has recently collaborated with Everpress and partnered up with Vans and Platform 13. Skye has also self-published three art books and put on numerous exhibitions.

How does your art history and curation background affect the way you approach commercial work? I think that it helps me to understand how a piece of artwork might be used, and experienced outside of the context of it being a piece of artwork. One of my main avenues when studying was the idea of art and the space around us, and how we, the public experience and take experience from what is in our lives, and that is obviously very important with artwork. I think coming from an artistic and commissioning background means that I can also understand the limitations of both the artist and the end product, and so can trouble shoot and try and find the best course of action if perhaps the project isn’t taking all the important things into account. 

When did you decide to start Roar and how it came together? I started thinking about Roar in 2017 and the company officially came to life at the start of 2018. In the grand scheme of things we are still such a baby company and I have to remind myself of this fact when I get stressed! The reason why Roar came about was simply to try and create something that would help and nurture artists, and maybe give them a space to come for help when needed. I had spent many years working with artists on other projects, like exhibitions, print series and books, so I already had a solid group of people who were happy to take the plunge with me and who were understanding that this was going to be a slow start for an agency. With some thinking, and talking, I realised that the only way I could try and help would be to create something that could help, so Roar was born.

What's the ethos behind Roar?
 Our ethos is “Artists First” followed closely by “Know Your Worth” – something that I think could juxtapose the usual mantra of a commercial agency. For us, the most important thing is that the artists are happy, supported and getting the best they can from a commission. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s easier said than done a lot of the time, but as long as we are transparent and we fight for what we think is right for the artists, then I think that we are doing ok. We always try and remind people that you, the artists, should always come first, you should be making decision that make sense for you as an artists, and for your mental and physical health.

What brings you the most joy running your own business? Seeing the projects that the artists work on come to life, especially if they are in public spaces! I feel like such a proud mom when that happens, but also I love it when an artist works on some personal projects, and they email me saying how happy they are as they feel like they have progressed, or they are inspired to create, that’s also amazing. On a far simpler note, having my own time management in my hands is the ultimate best thing, I know I work more than I would if I was working for someone else, but that’s my choice, and if I wanted some days off, I can do that – although that is increasingly hard at the moment due to the agency being so super busy.

Proudest work moment of 2019? The end of 2019 was a real highlight for Roar, we had some amazing projects come in (which are still being worked on), did an incredible t-shirt collaboration with Everpress, and had launched two exhibitions, so I think just seeing the agency go from strength to strength has been the best part of 2019.

How do you organise your work? Google Docs, printout schedules and project details for each artist, Google Calendars for each artist, and Slack helps us run the projects with ease.

What gets you into a productive mood? Being up early, oat cappuccinos, and knowing I can tick off my to do list!

Work can be overwhelming – how do you deal with stress on difficult days? I use an app to help with meditation, and breathing exercises, which has really helped me this year. I live for baths; salt and oil (not cooking myself, I promise). I take myself out of the studio so that I’m not overwhelmed by the work. I can find that I have been sitting for about 6 hours straight and that’s just not good for the body or brain!

How would you describe your relationship with work? It’s good, but can be stressful. I guess the thing with running your own business is that it’s all on you. If it succeeds its great for you, if it doesn’t, it’s awful for you. I sometimes feel like I am in a constant state of “waiting” for things to be amazing, and I actually wonder if that ever happens, or if you just get bigger and bigger and then one day hopefully someone else can take over and then you can retire?

If you could change one thing in the marketing industry, what would it be? Transparency, and fair pay. We find that so little money gets put into the visual aspects of a visual part to a project, which is so hard to deal with. Constant undercutting and people desperate for work means nothing changes in the industry, but if a company has something visually they want to be working with and they want that to be front and centre of their marketing project, they should be paying for it.

Tips for someone who’s struggling to get into your line of work? Being an agent is not for everyone. It’s a very admin and organisational style role, and doesn’t require as much creativity as I think a lot of people would like. But if it’s interesting to you, and you’re passionate about championing art and artists, I would say keep networking, learning what you can, make contacts, and show how you would be an asset to an agency.

What’s one piece of advice you wish someone gave you when you were 20? Do a few more internships before you leave University, or if you’re in a position to do so. When you’re younger you have far more time to do those things! Don’t worry too much about the future, because nothing is certain and your life will 90% be nothing like you plan. Be nice, be kind and be generous.

And, last but not least – what causes close to your heart do you support? Roar works with a number of charitable causes, with a lot of our in-house projects having a percentage of our profit being donated to Trek (Through BraveryCo), World Land Trust, Dogs on the Street, and Mind. We also have the Roar grant.

To find out a bit more about Skye’s work, visit Roar’s website.

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MJ Widomska Ella Hagi