A little birdy told me…


We nestle in with Jeremy Wortsman, founder and director of The Jacky Winter creative agency

JW office shoot-44_thumb
Photography: Jesse Marlow

“We’re named after a native Australian robin, if you were wondering,” says director Jeremy Wortsman. “A pretty adorable one.” Jacky Winter, the Melbourne-based creative agency, represents more than 100 contemporary artists in applied arts, whose work nests with the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Facebook.

“Collaboration is definitely at the heart of our business. Without an actual collaborative process between our clients and our talent, the idea would never make it past a sketch on a napkin,” says the New York native, who adds that a few “strokes of luck” are needed for anyone to make it in this line of work.

“There’s so much to be said for having the right idea at the right time in the right place. I think it all comes down to making connections – both personally and intellectually. The more people you meet and the more you know about who’s doing what, the more you set up the playing field for those connections to be made, which in turn can generate new ideas and opportunities.”

Arriving in Melbourne in 2001, Jeremy was forced to start from scratch (despite having climbed the ranks to art director in magazines back home), elbow-deep in soapsuds and odd jobs while sorting out his citizenship.

He serendipitously stumbled from sink to design studio, to teaching in the field and then to founding a publishing project, a studio and eventually The Jacky Winter Group in 2007. While it started as an illustration agency, the group now encompasses a more holistic approach to image making.

“We’ve been rapidly growing and both expanding and refining our expertise and client list [in Australia and overseas]. We market and promote our talent and services, produce the work from start to finish, as well as actively seek opportunities to progress and develop our artists’ careers and our own business.” And at the risk of sounding overly sentimental, Jeremy’s quite the proud father.

“There’s a genuine camaraderie among us all that is just downright pleasant. Even seeing how former staff have evolved and grown after their time with us has been inspiring. Being able to support and nurture them is an amazing feeling, and seeing them grow creatively and financially is definitely something that can get me a bit misty-eyed sometimes.”

Back to that name, and why he borrowed a robin’s instead of popping his own name on the letterhead…

“I always felt uneasy about working somewhere that had someone else’s name on the door, as it was often much bigger than one person or a group of people,” explains Jeremy. A fan of old field guides (of plants, birds, fish and the like) he happened across the species. “I was really taken. It’s such an odd name out of all the bird names out there and it really just stuck out.”

Jacky Winter allowed Jeremy a small nod (through their shared initials), but otherwise gave him total anonymity.

“I think it’s great that there’s no discernible gender or actual identity, and it’s something that everyone who is a part [of it] can really take ownership of.”

The agency manages over 1000 commissions a year, with each day bringing new teams together.

“Given my background, I get most excited about our editorial work – our artists work regularly with major newspapers and magazines,” he says. “No two briefs are alike, and this isn’t even taking our self-initiated projects into account. The variety of our projects is definitely the driving force that motivates us each day.”

Jeremy also directs their in-house gallery, Lamington Drive and has recently launched the group’s latest venture, Jacky Winter Gardens – a private guesthouse and creative retreat just outside of Melbourne.  “I’m sort of a professional plate-spinner,” he says, while somehow still sating his ice hockey passion by hitting the rink a few times a week.

But for the purpose of casual conversation or a customs form, he’ll just say, “I work in advertising.” It’s blasphemous, considering the projects Jacky Winter have under-wing. This year has already see the release of Greetings from Australia! – a kids’ activity book that features the work of their artists, Jacky Winter’s second published by Thames & Hudson.

The feeling that comes from each creative conquest never gets old.

“Every time that we work on something and see it go public really gives us all the shivers. Just to be part of the process that actually becomes a part of our visual landscape or mass consciousness is a pretty cool thing.”

Catch Jeremy speaking at Kick. Start. Smart. Melbourne on November 25

Photography: Sean Fennessy

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