Monday, September 10, 2012

An Artistic Collaboration - Dona Warner and Linda Warner Constantino

This past week I signed my first licensing contract!! Like a licensing artist friend said to me, it's Martini time: to more profitable contracts from here on out!

This event made me think about why I do what I do...I of course have a passion for art and design, and I actually like licensing very much as a profession. But why do I paint so much, what makes it so pleasurable? I came up with this simple answer: it's because I can let my imagination go and shape things and people the way I imagine them, the way I feel about them. So much fun!

I am not alone in this adventure, as many other artists enjoy their work and art very much. And this week it's my pleasure to host two new guests. We briefly met Dona at Surtex this past May - Linda was on a break so we couldn't meet in person but their booth looked beautiful and so did their artwork. I find their art inspiring and uplifting!

The Moon From My Attic - Please introduce yourself:

Artist Dona Warner
My name is Dona Warner. I am a partner with my sister Linda in our art licensing business – Linadona Botanica™. Our interest in starting this business stems from our love of the garden, passion for art and a desire to bring these together in our everyday lives. I am an avid gardener, a sculptor with a background in nonprofit management and Linda is a phenomenal illustrator, painter, teacher and expert in Photoshop. Our individual talents seemed a perfect match for collaborating to develop designs for products that reflected our aesthetic.

Artist Linda Warner Constantino
My name is Linda Warner Constantino and I am the artist and president of Linadona Botanica. Like Dona said our work is inspired by nature and celebrates our connection with it. We try to share this with our art.

TMFMA: What brought you to art in the first place?

Dona: Our mother was very artistic and when we were young we followed her as she painted Hex Signs on barns, did paintings by the lake or marveled at her ability to paint portraits. Everything in our home had her artistic touch. I was very clear that I wanted to be an artist and in particular a sculptor. I studied at Tyler School of Art and attended their Rome Program, all of which reaffirmed my love of art. After school I became involved with the Johnson Atelier Technical Institute of Sculpture, where I was able to create new work and collaborate with artists to help them create their work. Sculpture being very dependent on technique and technology made the Johnson Atelier the ideal place to learn how to make sculpture using a wide range of materials and methods.

While I loved working in sculpture, I found I had the ability to organize and direct from the business aspect of the organization, so my focus shifted to administering the operation of the Johnson Atelier which had grown into a world renown institution for both teaching and creating sculpture.

I maintained my interest in collaboration when I went on to direct Dieu Donné Papermill in New York City. It too was an incubator for creating art, but by using hand-made paper.

Becoming involved in the process of collaborating has come full circle with Linadona Botanica™. Linda and I have a very fluid way of working on the designs. She illustrates everything from life using watercolors and after scanning the images into Photoshop, we sit together remotely at the computer. (I live in Pennsylvania and Linda lives in South Carolina). We work on placing the designs on product templates, change colors and arrangements until we both feel it looks good. The collaboration continues when we work with manufacturers to fine tune the designs to suit their specific needs. It's a very organic approach to creating art.

Linda: Like Dona said, our artistic mother was our first connection with art. Drawing and painting were natural activities for us growing up. I majored in art history in college because I was afraid to be an artist. For as much as we both loved art our mom warned us that it would be tough to make a living as an artist. After college I went to the School of Visual Arts in NYC and studied illustration and graphic design. I loved it and always seemed to find work in the visual arts field. Later in life I returned to get my MA in Illustration from Syracuse and eventually an MFA from the Hartford School of Art at the University of Hartford. I have been doing freelance illustration for many years and for the last 10 years I have been a professor of illustration at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah Georgia. I love painting in watercolors for my illustrative work. I also plein air paint in watercolors and oils.

I have been interested in art licensing for a while and entering the art licensing field was part of my MFA thesis project. When the opportunity came along to collaborate with my equally artistic sister Dona, it seemed like the right thing to do. It is hard work but we love being creative.

TMFMA: What's exciting about your creative work?

Dona: I love learning new things. This is a very different field from the fine art production environment that I am more accustomed to, but in many ways it taps into areas that I love such as interior design, incorporating gardening and a connection to earth that makes me feel centered.

Linda: I love plein air painting, to be outside and paint seems to be the best of all worlds. I also like creating art that can surround us in our everyday life on useful products. I think it keeps us connected with the beauty of the natural world.

TMFMA: Who or what has inspired you in your art?

Dona: I get inspiration from so many sources, but working on Linadona Botanica™ the pleasure comes from watching how Linda interprets the subject of nature without diluting the spirit of life that exists within. It is more challenging than you might imagine, but finding that point where is representational yet still retains a feeling of a new life is where the art emerges. I find that very exciting and then to be able to play with the components to create yet another perspective, it very satisfying. I am vicariously participating in the process without having the actual talent to paint or draw!

Linda: So many things inspire me beyond my family! I am inspired by Italy where I teach plein air painting in the summers. I love the great artists of history and some of the lesser known greats like Giovanna Garzoni. Her botanical art and still lifes are amazing. I am inspired by the great teachers I have had like Charles Reid, Joseph Zubikvic, and Burton Silverman. Of course I am inspired by nature, gardens, mountains, oceans – all of it.

TMFMA: How long have you been doing art licensing?

Dona: Linda and I had been talking about this for about three years. She started in graduate school when her thesis was on marketing her illustrations. We shared the pleasures of making family meals and in seeking to create a memorable ambiance to compliment the experience, we saw that there was a lack of products out there that reflected the beauty and quality that we would want to put on our table or in our home.

The idea that we could make designs that were beautiful and that could be applied to endless kinds of products was the equivalent of being two kids in a candy store! We went overboard placing designs on every conceivable product. We have realized that we needed to narrow our focus to product categories that made sense for the subject matter. It took some time to get to this point, but again it is all a learning process and part of what makes it fun.

Linadona Botanica Surtex 2012 
TMFMA: What brought you to exhibit for the first time and how many shows have you exhibited in - if any?

Dona: This past May was our second time exhibiting at Surtex. We had walked it a few times before deciding that we were ready. The second time was so much easier, having our set up and take down systems refined. It was also rewarding to have some manufacturers return and be excited to see us back. Each time we see how we can improve and work to make it a fresh experience.

TMFMA: What's the reason for representing yourself vs an agent?

Dona: From my perspective, my role as business manager undertakes much of what might be handled by an agent or representative. Linda has a good knowledge of the business as well, so together we felt it would the best approach that would allow us to learn from our mistakes and take ownership of our success.

TMFMA: How does one go about getting licensing deals? What's the "protocol" if any?

From our limited experience, it takes a long time. An introduction never ensures a deal. It starts with creating an interest and this requires knowledge of what the manufacturers are seeing in the marketplace and what is missing that might be appealing to the consumer. The economy has caused a shift in what people want and what they can afford, so the markets are very competitive.

It requires patience, persistence and it helps to have an attorney to help you with the legal aspects. It can be complicated, but being careful with what you are licensing is protecting your investment. You want to be sure that you are on the same page and don't get too far down the road without knowing that you are working with someone who shares your interest.

We would say learn as much as you can from the great teachers willing to share their knowledge like Tara Reed, Jeanette Smith, and Cheryl Phelps. Also, go to the seminars at Surtex.

We would say that every deal is unique and you have to do your homework and hopefully consult a lawyer to be sure. It would be foolish not to figure the cost of consulting a good art licensing lawyer into your business plan. You have to decide, "can I afford not to have a lawyer on this deal or can I not afford NOT to have a lawyer." I think you have to know when the situation requires this kind of professional help.

TMFMA: What do you suggest new artists do to present themselves to the world of licensing for the first time?

Do tons of research! Go out look around at what is on the shelves; see what sells and what doesn't. The Internet offers so much information in the form of blogs, webinars and market research. Take advantage of it.

Walk the show first. Get feedback from professionals, not just your friends, about your work. Do not show your work before you are ready. You need to identify the markets you want to target.

TMFMA: Please give us your analysis of the market based on your own experience and contacts. 

It is difficult to assess because we are new to the business and we don't have a long history on which to base our perspective. We do see from our experience at Surtex that our work is not typical of what is on view. We knew that we might be different, but given that we saw something lacking in the marketplace, it was not surprising.
The feedback that we get is that there is a desire to see quality and good design.

I think the market has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. I think it is important to respect your art and not give it away. This drags down the market. Manufacturers are working to tighter margins but I think they all need art to sell it. Art licensing is more than the show. Surtex can be flattering but you need to follow up and work the leads.

TMFMA: In your view, what was of major interest to manufacturers this year?

Dona: There seems to be a strong interest in floral, fruits and vegetables as well as coastal imagery.

Linda: I agree. We got a lot of requests for even more garden imagery.

TMFMA: What do you think the main trends are for 2012-2013?

Dona: Color is always a driving force and it seems that muted colors are not trending. Color that is bright and pure is hot. Perhaps we are biased in that we see a return to nature and people wanting to connect with the earth and their homes. When the economy is tough, we cannot travel as much so we need to bring things into our lives that fulfill that sense of renewal and pleasure. People are growing more vegetables, keeping bees and raising chickens (myself included). These activities give a sense of sustainability that is reassuring. Having products in our homes that pair with that lifestyle help to form a complete existence.

Linda: I think the trend of bringing the outdoors in is gaining momentum. And like Dona basically says, people are "channeling their inner farmer."

TMFMA: Any other useful info that you'd like to share about art licensing?

Be patient, proactive and productive. If someone decides that they cannot use your art, always consider that they could be a possible referral to someone who might be able to use it. In this way you can potentially change a negative into a positive.


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