Industry Insight: Chris Labrooy

Chris Labrooy has an enviable career with his work being seen across UK, Europe and the States in advertising, editorial and publishing. Illustrious clients such as Apple, Porsche, T-Mobile and Ted Baker are all drawn to his unique, engaging work. Chris embraces CGI as a creative medium, subverting and twisting everyday things (cars, shoes) into new forms.  Having studied at the RCA, Chris is now based in Scotland and is represented globally by Debut Art. Chris has been a member of the AOI since 2013.

What part of your work do you enjoy the best?

For me it’s a lifestyle choice. I enjoy the freedom that being self-employed brings, as I can pick and choose what I work on and balance personal projects with paid projects. Working on any project can get really intense, and sometimes when I’m really focussed on a personal project I do turn down paid work, but usually the commercial work takes priority. This year I’ve been flat out since January (and its now June) so I’ve been super busy.

How long have you been working as an illustrator?

I’ve worked for myself since 2006. Initially I was doing architectural visualisations, and in 2008/9 I weaned myself off that and into illustration. It came about because of a personal project really – I was exploring 3D lettering using my favourite architectural icons as inspiration. It got a great response, was picked up by some blogs and I started getting commissions from there.

Each year, how does your income break down? 

The breakdown varies a lot year to year but oddly the final total income is pretty consistent, with only a difference of £1000-£2000 at the end of each year. I’m always a bit surprised when I see the accounts.

The majority of my income comes from commissions – a mixture of production costs and licensing costs.

Last year I started selling prints and artworks directly from my website, which is something that I’ve been meaning to get round to for a while. It was successful, and about 15-20% of my total income came through that last year.

I usually get around £15 – £20K per year from re-licensing. Some clients come back year after year to relicense for one year, or for 6 months. It’s nice; it means the work is still relevant. I, and my agency Debut Art, do chase clients – we make sure we know when licenses come to an end, and remind them to renew before they become copyright infringements.

How do you calculate the re-licence fee?

The relicense fee is dictated by the original licence fee – so if we say the original licence is £1,000 for one year, then that’s pretty much what it is for another year’s extension. It probably works out a bit more expensive for clients to re-licence – they are probably better off negotiating a longer licence at the point of commission. But clients are always interested in saving some money, and for some it’s a way of spreading costs, or keeping costs down. If they have an image that they like and still works, why not carry on using it?

You often work with large multi nationals.  Companies increasingly want a copyright buyout – is this something that you experience? 

Yes, the bigger brands that I work with (Nike and Apple for example) always want a buy out – it’s just their approach. Of course, I only agree this when the fee is reflective of a copyright buyout. If the client didn’t offer a fair fee I’d just walk away. It’s not worth my time.

Interestingly it’s usually a buyout when I work directly with a company rather than through an Advertising agency. When I work directly with the company they are more invested – we work together on the process – so I feel more ownership. I guess that is lessened when they work through an agency.

Saying that it can be harder to work directly with a company – their in house design teams push hard; they are so invested they care all the more.

Can you give 3 top tips to your illustrator peers?

Work as hard as you can – put in the hours to practice, develop a new technique (it pays off!)

Don’t work for free, don’t accept copyright buyouts – be professional. We all need the same approach in negotiation or it’s ruined for everyone.

Ignore what other people do – Don’t get absorbed by trends. Find your own perspective, resist the temptation to follow another style.


If you would like to see more of Chris’ work; head to his direct Illustration website here, or through his Debut page.

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Have a look at our new resources which thoroughly explain the licensing, pricing and negotiation topics that Chris mentions in this article.

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20th June 2018

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