Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Chemistry for Licensing Art - An Interview with Joan Beiriger

This past week I have been busy creating backgrounds for my artwork. I discovered that this is an important factor in creating interesting art for products. I like to sketch the main elements and hand paint them, then scan them, and finally alter them in Photoshop, so I have many layers to play with. A bit time consuming but very effective and fun!

I think that our featured guest this week, artist Joan Beiriger, will agree with me on using Photoshop for backgrounds. As usual, her advice is very thoughtful and useful for a newbie to read. Here is what she has to say:


Artist Joan Beiriger
The Moon from My Attic: Please introduce yourself - I am Joan Beiriger and I design art for products although I did not start my career as an artist. I have a BS degree in geology and worked as a chemist at a national laboratory until 2002. During that time, I tried all sorts of crafts from wood and stone carving to various needlearts such as needlepoint, quilting, and blackwork. I am a great believer that anyone can learn to do anything if they try. I discovered counted cross-stitch in the mid 1980s and decided to design my own charts when I could not find designs that I wanted to stitch. That led into a business of selling my designs to magazines, to kit manufacturers (licensing was not an option then), and my own mail order business. By the late 1990s, I was searching for another way to express my creativity when I heard a presentation about art licensing by Suzy Spafford (Suzy's Zoo) at a Society of Craft Designers seminar.  So I taught myself to paint via instruction books and started my quest in researching the art licensing industry by going to the 1999 Licensing Show in New York.

© Joan Beiriger
TMFMA: What's exciting about your creative work? I love to brainstorm about new concepts and create new art collections that I hope manufacturers will license for their products and consumers will buy.  An extension to creating art is learning about the business side of licensing art. The whole process is challenging and learning information about the industry is fascinating. Sharing information via my blog and networking with others interested in art licensing is very rewarding.

TMFMA: What's your favorite medium or tool/s you create with? I started painting with acrylics but I now use Adobe Photoshop and sometimes water color washes for backgrounds.  I like the freedom that I have when using water colors to create backgrounds but I like the control I have when painting images digitally. I use many layers in Photoshop which makes it easy to edit my art to manufacturer specifications. Besides using Photoshop, I use Adobe Illustrator and Corel Painter to create various effects that I include in my work.

TMFMA: Who or what has inspired you in your art? I am inspired by so many things that it is hard to just mention one thing.  I love nature and especially flowers, butterflies and birds and am constantly photographing them for my huge reference library. I am inspired by artist Alphonse Mucha and other graphic artists that created Art Nouveau style designs in the 1880 and 1890s. I especially love the Art Nouveau gracefulness of stylized flowers and vines as they twist and swerve around one another.
© Joan Beiriger
TMFMA: How long have you been doing art licensing? I started researching the art licensing industry in the late 1990s. But I did not start licensing my art until 2007. The reason is that I had to first learn how to paint and create art for products while I held a full time job and dealt with family commitments. 

TMFMA: What brought you to exhibit for the first time and how many shows have you exhibited in? I have walked the Licensing Show and Surtex and exhibited at the 2009 and 2010 Atlanta Gift Show to market my art. I signed on with an art licensing agency in 2009 and no longer exhibit because my agent manages the marketing of my art including exhibiting at shows.

TMFMA: Do you work with an agent or do you represent yourself? I have an agent, Joan Sargent of JMS Art Licensing. 

TMFMA: How does a new artist "find" a match for their art with the right manufacturers? How does one go about researching this? It is crucial to know the limitations of your art for products. Not all art styles or themes are suitable for all products. For instance, collage style art works for home décor but not for decorative flags (those need central images that "pop"). A whimsical style art works for children's products or playful products such as for garden accessories but is not licensable for adult home décor. And illustrative designs with lots of "white" space works for some greeting cards but not for jig-saw puzzles (those need art that fills the space to make it difficult to solve). Finding the right manufacturer for your art takes time and hard work. Researching the different industries via the internet, reading blog articles, "window" shopping, and walking trade shows are just a few ways to find the right manufacturers for your art.

TMFMA: Please give us your analysis of the market based on your own experience and contacts.
The licensing industry has gotten much more competitive than it was even five years ago. There are more artists trying to license their art while there are less manufacturers licensing art and less retail stores selling products with licensed art. Artists that are successful have created many art themes that consumer want and have partnered with manufacturers that license their art year-after-year.

© Joan Beiriger
TMFMA: In your view, what was of major interest to manufacturers this year? What do you think the main trends are for 2011-2012? The major interest this year (2011) to manufacturers is finding art that sells their products. Because of the poor economy, most manufacturers are NOT willing to take many chances so they are asking for the same art themes as last year. Those themes are dependant on the products they manufacture and that are wanted by their retail clients. But overall, flowers, coastal images, and roosters are popular for everyday and Santa and snowmen for Christmas. 

TMFMA: What advice would you give other artists that are considering the art licensing field and that want to exhibit in a show like Surtex? I advise artists new to art licensing not to "jump the gun" and exhibit at a show before they are prepared. It is very expensive to exhibit ($8,000 to $15,000 for booth fee, travel, lodging, banners, and marketing materials). Artists need to do their homework and walk the different shows (Surtex, Licensing Expo, Atlanta Gift Show, and Craft & Hobby Association) to see which one best fits their art. They should have a robust body of art (preferably hundreds of paintings) with a variety of themed collections to enhance their chance in getting deals. 

Artists should be prepared to exhibit at least three years in a row before they "start" to see a return in the cost of exhibiting. It takes time to build relationships with manufacturers. Also, NEW exhibitors are placed in the less desirable booths with poorer visibility at the rear of the show floor. By exhibiting year-after-year, artists have the opportunity to move to a more desirable location and better visibility when booth space becomes available.

© Joan Beiriger
It is also important to already have some manufacturer contacts before exhibiting at a show so appointments can be set-up. Existing contacts and appointments may make or break the success of a show. Normally artists that contact manufacturers, try to get deals, and build relationships and awareness of their art BEFORE they exhibit the first time are the ones that have a successful show.

TMFMA: Any other useful info that you'd like to share about art licensing? If an artist wants to be successful in art licensing, she/he needs to create popular art themes in collections with product mock-ups to present to manufacturers.  Following-up after submitting art to manufacturers is imperative. The more art the artist has the better. Also, new art collections need to be continuously created and older collections refreshed.  


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