Sunday, July 24, 2011

Getting Down to Business in Art Licensing

Rough sketches - © Alex Colombo
I realized that I only have 9 more months to the Surtex 2012...! I am sketching out some basic concepts and trying out simple repeats to see how it all works together. I went out and did some research, which consisted in looking at the art that is on products in various stores, mostly for categories like paper goods, gift ware, textile and children's products, as these are what I am interested in at the moment. It's interesting to notice more the colors, patterns and styles being used. A fun and helpful exercise.

I also listened in to Tara Reed's Ask Call with Maria Brophy, which I also found to be helpful because it was so straightforward. So I am glad Tara agreed to share more with us in this interview on getting down to business in art licensing.
Licensing Artist Tara Reed
The Moon from My Attic: How long have you been doing art licensing? I licensed my work within the scrapbooking industry in 2001 and started looking into the broader art licensing industry in 2003.  After getting a feel for it I shared a booth with a friend at the Licensing Expo in 2004 to see what happened!

TMFMA: What would you say is/are the exciting factor/s in art licensing? I love the combination of business and art that art licensing offers. With a background in business, I get a charge from learning about the industries I design for and the business challenges and practices of the manufacturers I work with. While my main job is creating the art – I also get to figure out how to create art that will sell and that will fill a need in the manufacturers business. I really enjoy the combination.

TMFMA: Do you work with an agent or do you represent yourself? I tried to find an agent when I first started because I was so afraid I couldn’t succeed in licensing. I thought if I had an agent it would be a sign that I was “good enough”.  However, I didn’t have enough art to interest the agents I spoke with.  So I decided to give it a shot myself and have done so ever since.

TMFMA: Any specific reason you prefer one over the other? I like representing myself because I am able to be in direct contact with the manufacturers I design for – no middle men confusing a message or slowing down communication (not that all agents do that of course, but they are an extra layer in the puzzle).  To me it’s about the relationships as much as the art – I really enjoy the people I work with and would miss it if I had an agent.

However I don’t rule out getting an agent or hiring someone to help with my marketing at some point.  I often wonder if doing everything myself is holding me back – to me the agent or alone question is one to revisit every so often and decide how you feel about it.  Things change and we can always make a different choice if it feels right.

TMFMA: What brought you to exhibit at Surtex for the first time and how many shows have you exhibited in? 2011 was my 7th year exhibiting at SURTEX.  When I started in art licensing, I did both the Licensing Expo and SURTEX for a few years to see which was a better fit for my business – SURTEX was what made the most sense to me, my art and my business.  

TMFMA: Do you advise new artists to exhibit at Surtex or other art licensing shows to start off their career? And how many shows should they be part of to begin with? Exhibiting at a trade show – SURTEX or any of the others – is a huge commitment of time, energy and of course money.  I don’t think people should take it lightly but really be committed to licensing before investing in a show.  Understand what it takes to succeed in this competitive industry and have enough art ready to license.

When I was deciding to exhibit before my first show an agent gave me this advice, “If you are going to exhibit, commit to doing 2-3 years in a row before giving up.  It takes time to build and you can’t really tell how it will go after just one show.”  I’ve found that to be very sound advice, looking back. 

Trade shows are more about making connections and building relationships than immediate deals.  Sometimes they come quickly, other times you might do a deal with a company you met several years before.

75% or more of my business can be directly linked to exhibiting at art licensing trade shows so for me, it’s a very effective marketing investment. 

I advise artists to look into the shows but don’t bankrupt yourself.  Be smart about how you build your business and spend your money to do so. There are no crystal balls (unfortunately!) so each artist has to decide what show seems like a good choice for them if they decide to exhibit.  If they do exhibit, it’s really important to be prepared and remember to follow up, follow up and follow up again!

TMFMA: Please give us your analysis of Surtex 2011 and its market. SURTEX 2011 was a good show for me.  While I didn’t talk to as many people as I did in 2007 and 2008 – before the lovely tweak in the economy – the people I talked to were serious and good leads.  As I said before, I look at the shows as a way to meet manufacturers and begin to build relationships.  It’s also a great show to meet face-to-face with companies I do work with as well.

TMFMA: At Surtex an artist can both sell and seek art license opportunities. How does one decide what to sell and what to license? Personally, I think it’s very hard to do both.  I license my work and never sell it outright.  I might do a flat fee license instead of royalty in certain circumstances, but I don’t give up the copyright to my work.  I have friends who prefer to sell outright – collect their cash and move on.  It’s a personal decision. To do both, I think an artist would have to have 2 brands or 2 looks so they wouldn’t create confusion for themselves and the market.

TMFMA: In your view, what was of major interest to manufacturers this year? What were they looking for? New, new new – just like every other year. Manufacturers always want to see what new art you have – even if they just saw you two weeks ago. Some manufacturers are looking for every category they cover and others were looking for specific themes to fill gaps in their product lines.  Overall I think they too come looking not only for art but for artists to build working relationships with.

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? Do your homework and make sure you are ready before you exhibit.  Art licensing isn’t easy money and the idea that you will be paid for the same art for 20 years is pretty pie-in-the-sky.  Artists need to know that they will be competing with artists who have been creating art for licensing for years, that they will need to continually add to their portfolio and that they need to treat it as a business and not a hobby. Be realistic and look at the art that is on products all around you – honestly decide if you feel like yours is up to par.  If not, work to get it there before spending thousands of dollars exhibiting at a show.

I’m not trying to be a negative Nellie but the reality is – art licensing isn’t for everyone and you need to bring your A-Game to an industry trade show. It’s better to come a year or so later than you’d like but really have your art ready than to try it too early.

At the same time, you don’t know if your art is a fit until you try.  Try contacting some manufacturers and getting feedback before committing to a show – what they say works or doesn’t work in regards to your art will really help if you take it to heart and are willing to make changes.

TMFMA: Any other useful info that you'd like to share about art licensing and Surtex? Art licensing is a great fit for me and my art – but we’ve evolved into it.  I look at the way I created when I started and what I do now and can assure you it’s like night and day.  I’m constantly looking, listening and learning and trying to meet the needs of manufacturers more effectively with each collection. 

SURTEX has been an integral part of my marketing strategy and building my business.  I’m honored to be on the Advisory Board to share feedback so the show can continue to be a premier destination for artists and manufacturers to connect.

Not everyone will be able to make a living in art licensing but until you learn more about how the industry works, it’s hard to say if you can. I’m a proponent of knowledge being power and honesty being king. If you can be honest with yourself – even if you don’t like what that looks like – you will go far.  On my blog and in my eBooks and other products, I am very upfront about how art licensing works and what the “job” looks like. It’s up to each artist to decide if they like the idea and to put in the time and effort to see how the market responds to their art.

Website links: | Fun & SASSY art! | Make art. Make plans. Make money. | How artists can get free publicity. | Goal setting system for artists

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How and Where Do You License Art?

I've been working on my first licensing collection. So far I managed to not throw away anything...however, some concepts didn't work that well after I placed them on mock-ups or templates of real products. Creating art for licensing is actually a different type of design work and I am starting to adjust my ideas to fit. It's a learning process like any other design field I have done professionally.

For another, more experienced view on this challenge of creating art for effective licensing we can read up this very informative interview with Lance J. Klass, the founder and president of Porterfield's Fine Art Licensing. And although it's not even close to Christmas yet, I want to also share a licensing image by Janet Stever, courtesy of Lance.

© Janet Stever
The Moon from My Attic: How long have you been doing art licensing? 
I’ve been licensing artwork since 1985. I established Porterfield’s in 1994 as a collectibles company, with a smaller emphasis on art licensing. As the limited-edition collectibles industry went into decline, we focused increasingly on building a solid ‘stable’ of artists oriented toward the creation of art that could be licensed onto a very wide variety of commercial, retail products here and abroad.

TMFMA: What would you say is/are the exciting factor/s in art licensing? The purpose of our company is to provide manufacturers and producers of retail products with artwork that will increase their sales. When we’re able to do that, it’s very exciting. Personally, I get excited when I come upon an artist whose work has great potential, or when an existing Porterfield’s artist sends in artwork that’s beautiful, compelling, and on-market.

I love it when a brand-new licensee comes in the door, when we’re able to license artwork to a really good company, when we’re successful at retail and especially when that’s reflected in high quarterly royalties.  And I love it when we receive samples of beautiful products which carry artwork licensed from Porterfield’s artists, and when I hear from those artists that they’re really happy with those products.

It can be extremely gratifying for an artist to have his or her work reproduced on excellent-quality products, to see these products in stores and to hear from friends that they saw the products and loved them.  What could be better for a creative person than to have a very positive impact with their work?

TMFMA: What's your view of art licensing exhibits such as Surtex? 
I think Surtex is terrific, and I’ve written an article on just how terrific I think it is, and why I have that viewpoint, on my blog at  For my money, there’s no other show in or around our field of art licensing that comes close to having the exposure, impact, viability and return on investment provided by Surtex.

TMFMA: Do you advise new artists to exhibit at Surtex or other art licensing shows to start off their career? And how many shows should they be part of to begin with? I wouldn’t waste a nickel on other shows, at least not if you’re starting out.  If you’re very successful monetarily and have established yourself as a brand, then yes, try some of the other shows.  But if you’re not at or near the top of the market, then Surtex is the place to be.  As with any show, you want to visit it and walk it thoroughly before investing in exhibiting. So the first step would be to go to Surtex, speak to artists, licensors, agents, licensees, and learn as much as you can.

TMFMA: Please give us your analysis of Surtex 2011 and its market.
Surtex 2011 was a powerful and extremely successful show.  After all, it’s the largest art licensing show in the world. This year the number of exhibitors increased 23% over last year, and about 6,000 people attended.  That’s six thousand qualified visitors, among them creative, marketing and/or licensing directors and staff at companies that must bring in compelling new artwork for their products.  You can’t ask for more from a licensing show.

TMFMA: At Surtex an artist can both sell and seek art license opportunities. How does one decide what to sell and what to license?
It all depends on what you do, on your orientation as an artist and/or company.  If you create surface textile patterns or repeat designs for fabric, rugs, quilting and bolt fabrics and are prepared to sell your art outright, then you should be in that part of the show that focuses on SURface TEXtiles.  You’ll show your work to companies that buy designs outright, along with total copyright rights.  If you sell designs outright, you should also check out PrintSource, a show that’s designed specifically for artists, designers, and design studios that sell concept patterns outright to individuals primarily in the fabric and apparel industries.

If, however, you don’t want to sell all rights to your images and want to be able to license designs again and again, then you belong in the extensive art licensing section of the show.  That’s where I and my associates in the art licensing industry show the works of our artists.

TMFMA: In your view, what was of major interest to manufacturers this year? What were they looking for? Bright, bold, uplifting, colorful, enchanting, inspirational and/or compelling artwork that will immediately catch the eye of a consumer who is a bit more reluctant to spend money because of financial uncertainty.  I was discussing with associates just the other day how art – really good art – is the best antidepressant. Good commercial art will not only sell products, it will do so by conveying a sense of beauty, calm, pleasure or escape to the viewer who feels a bit better just looking at the artwork and wants to bring that art, and the product it’s on, into their lives.

TMFMA: Based on your Surtex experience this year and your knowledge of art licensing, what do you think the main trends are for 2011-2012?
I try to avoid guessing at trends.  I much prefer studying the market, talking with licensees, seeing what’s selling and what licensees are looking for.  They’re the ones who guess for their companies, and I try to provide them with what they’re seeking. Actual physical data beats trend forecasting every time.

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?
Be as good an artist as you can. Study the market. Go into every large mall in your area as well as every big-box store, and look at every type of product that carries art. Study and learn. See what works. Look at composition, subject matter, color, saturation, format. Don’t paint for yourself, paint for women over 30 who purchase 85% of the consumer goods in America, buying products for their spouses, their children, their homes and themselves.  Then develop an extensive portfolio of such works. A few of this and a few of that won’t get you anywhere. Learn from experience what works, and then do lots more of it.

Learn Photoshop, if only because you’ll need to manipulate digital files of your art. If you’re interested in painting dry on Photoshop, study it and work hard at it.  If you paint wet, develop your photography skills or else find a good, inexpensive photographer to shoot your work.  Or if you paint small, learn to scan your own images.  You may even want to finish them digitally.  My feeling is that if Leonardo were alive today, he not only would be working on Photoshop, he probably would have invented it.

TMFMA: Any other useful info that you'd like to share about art licensing and Surtex? Don’t expect to make a whole lot of money the first year and a half, simply because most companies license artwork way in advance of product release dates. Because of the sampling, marketing, production, shipping and billing cycles, expect royalties from your licenses to begin either 13 or 16 months out from initial date of license.  But if you work hard, study the market, paint for the target consumer, cultivate licensees and work harder and smarter, you’ll do well given time.

Read my blog on The Business of Art Licensing and the articles that I’ve posted on our main Porterfield’s site as well as the blogs of other artists and agents. Learn as much as you can.

Oh, and be sure to register your copyrighted work with the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress for that extra level of protection.

Lance J. Klass is the founder and president of Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing, a major international art licensing agency, online at  Be sure to follow Porterfield’s on Facebook ( and read our blog on The Business of Art Licensing at

Thursday, July 14, 2011

An Interview with Licensing Agent and Consultant Linda Mariano

This is my second written account about my journey into art licensing - the first one being the editorial on the Surtex and Expo shows. It's exciting to get started with some design work to make into collections! Although, it's a rather overwhelming feeling to even think of all the work ahead of me. Being a diverse artist I tend to go off in million different directions and try out everything I dream up. So where to start from, really? In a sea of concepts I picked one style that I felt passionate about – it has taken several months to decide on it but that's beside the point... In short, it has been my first homework in the start towards art licensing - to pick out what style and theme.  

But fortunately I am not totally alone in this journey as a newbie ;) I have met so many great artists and professionals, both on line and in person at the two art licensing shows. One of them was Linda Mariano – we met briefly at the Licensing Expo show in Las Vegas and she agreed to do an interview. She's also supplied us with her free Top 10 Checklist for Art Licensing

With a career that spans 30 years, Linda is a leader in marketing, brand management, e-commerce and promotion initiatives for major retailers, specialty retail, art industry, licensing partnerships, media and entertainment, as well as entrepreneurial business environments. Her expertise and strong track record of exceeding marketing and sales goals, building brands and driving business success makes her a vital part of any organization.

Linda’s expertise in the licensing industry, as either a licensor or licensee for 15+ years, has made her readily recognized for her expertise and strategic approach to integrated brand and business strategies. As a Top 100 Licensor, she achieved $400M+ in annual retail sales with 85+ licensees for the Kinkade brand. Her recent work coaching and preparing emerging artists for the licensing business adds another aspect to her acumen – read more about Linda Mariano here.

The Moon from My Attic: As an art licensing agent, what's your standard way to find a new artist? Do you go by referrals or do you go through websites, portfolios, blogs or on-line shops? Or do prefer to meet them in person at licensing shows? There really isn’t a “standard” way to find new artists.  They come by all means and avenues – some come directly to me, others I seek out and find.  Social media has certainly made researching an artist and their work much easier and more complete.  Personally though I still love meeting with an artist in person – because art generates a reaction, becomes an experience – I like to get to know the artist behind the art a bit as we both consider the possibilities of working together.

TMFMA: When you view an artist’s work, what are the key elements you look for? Depends on if we are talking about for the purpose of art publishing or for art licensing.  Each has different aspects that should be considered.  For example if the artist wants to explore art publishing – either for limited edition or open edition framed prints – then the considerations are:
  • First and foremost the composition of the artwork which includes everything from subject matter, style, perspective, color – is it compelling, does it draw you in, is it something you want to look at over and over again? 
  • Is there a body of work that can be shown to a prospective dealer or gallery? 
  • Has it been color captured properly to show the complete integrity of the original? 
  • Is the artist established with galleries already? 
  • What have the art’s sales to date been?

For art licensing, the considerations are all of the above, plus a few more!

  • Is the artwork in a series or collection that has a unified look and feel? 
  • Is the artwork a standard size and format that can be easily used for multiple product types?
  • Is the artwork fully rendered – flat rather than sculptural – and in color? 
  • Does it have broad appeal? 
  • Does the artist have a clear understanding of the art licensing business, what it entails from the artist’s commitment? 
  • Does the artist know the marketplace and what’s out there? 
  • From a work style perspective, does the artist enjoy collaboration?  Working against deadlines and on the input and direction of others?
What's the worst error a new artist can make in looking for an agent? The very worst error is not doing your homework!  Just like anything else, you must understand the business before you leap into it!  The other error I think artists make is in thinking it is a fast solution to creating cash flow.  It takes months and even years to get a viable licensing revenue stream going – even for the most expert well-connected agent.  You can sign a license agreement tomorrow, but it may take 12-24 months for the product to get on the retail shelf and another several months for your first royalty check to be paid.
How does an artist know their work is right for licensing? So many times artists have a vision for where their art should be – mugs, calendars, purses, apparel, tabletop, the full gamut of product – but they don’t have an understanding of how the business works – either from a manufacturing or retail perspective.  Again this is where research come in – and that means being out in the stores, seeing what’s selling, going online, seeing what’s new.  Subscribing to newsletters and magazines, read the ads in newspapers, become a media junkie so you understand the marketplace.  Then you will have a pretty clear picture of how and where your art could fit into the picture.
What's your view of the current market and trends? Retail is still difficult – and I heard from a global economic expert that specialty stores will continue to shrink and consolidate over the next two years, especially women’s apparel.  But the worst of the global economic disaster seems to be behind us and we continue to see small baby steps toward improvements.  The good news is that artists are creative and resilient – and can respond when needed to shift their creative focus.  And as humans we need and want what artists produce – it makes us feel good no matter whether it’s the design on the coffee mug we use each morning or the paper products we buy for our daughter’s birthday party.  That’s a given – as artists and their agents we just have to connect with the right manufacturers to make it happen!
How do you see the future of licensing? The future of licensing is bright.  At the latest Surtex and Licensing Expo shows, there was a positive buzz in the aisles – both from the exhibitors and the attendees.  It think it is a good sign that retailers and manufacturers are eager to find new properties and new opportunities for engaging the consumer.  They must keep their assortments fresh in order to keep the momentum going.  Certainly, the majors in both entertainment and corporate brands will lead the parade – but I for one don’t mind letting them lead.  It’s stimulating the consumer – and once they are in the store, they will see more than just the parade leaders’ products.
What's your opinion of Surtex?  What do you recommend to a new artist as an entrance into licensing? Surtex has become one of the primary shows for art licensing.  It has grown over the last couple of years into a very viable resource that manufacturers and retailers alike depend upon for sourcing new artists and their work.  The first foray into any trade show should first be one of investigation and exploring.  By attending and walking both the Surtex and Licensing Expo shows, it is another means for doing your due diligence and research.  It is an investment in your business and understanding of the marketplace as a whole.  Each show also has a great education program that can be of great benefit to both new and experienced artists.
What do you offer as a consultant, as an optional choice to being an agent? As a consultant, I work with both emerging and experienced artists on evaluating their goals and setting strategies, developing their business model and creating the plan to make it happen.  Some of my clients have been artists for decades, but have only sold originals and are now wanting to expand their business into art publishing and licensing.  On the other hand, some of my clients are really just beginning to turn their creative talents into a viable business and need help exploring their options as well as establishing their focus.  And as we work together, if art licensing is one of the goals, we determine whether I am the best candidate to represent them or if another agent would be more appropriate to meet their goals.
Additionally, I have a number of artists that I represent for the purpose of licensing their artwork and developing and marketing their brand.
What other useful tips can you give to new artists starting out in this field of licensing? Be an empty sponge, soak in information from all avenues – artists, blogs, social media, online discussion groups, newsletters, trade publications, seminars, retail stores, all of it!  Become educated, learn the industry, meet artists and agents, network. And evaluate your work style – is it in tune with what is needed to make a licensing business really work?  You are organized, love deadlines, like to work with clients and respond to their input and desires, are business minded and eager to oversee all aspects of growing your business, are savvy on legal terms to protect your intellectual property.  If the answer is “yes” to each of those – then get ready and jump into licensing.  If the answer is “no” to even some of them – consider the assistance of a consultant and/or  agent to make it all come together.

Go here for more information on Linda as well as her contact information.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A New Direction for This Blog

Since I started this blog in January, it has been a lot of fun to interview and collaborate with many great artists from around the globe. I want to thank them for sharing their creative wisdom. But in view of my renewed professional interest in art licensing after I walked both the Surtex and the Expo shows (see my earlier editorial on both shows), I have decided to chronicle my adventures into this complex field and make this a blog for art licensing only.

For those dedicated followers interested in illustration, including children's illustration, I have just launched a new blog called Tales for Creative Minds. Some of the earlier posts have been moved to this new blog, which will continue with more fantastic interviews and editorials about talented artists and illustrators.

And finally, for those who love folk art, arts & crafts, and other types of decorative arts and creative pursuits, I am now hosting a new blog called A Basket of Hearts, where I will share handmade crafts and projects as well as other creative work. You're all invited to participate!