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


linda said...

As always, great interview - Alex! And thank you Tara for sharing so much...I've learned so much and pumped to get into the industry :)

Laurel Nathanson said...

Thanks Alex and Tara, great interview! So much to learn about art licensing. It's awesome to have so many people willing to share!

Unknown said...

Linda and Laurel - thank you so much for your nice comments and wish you a successful adventure in licensing! Have you decided to exhibit next year? If so, where?

mary quick said...

Thanks very much for posting the great interview. I'm new to art licensing myself and I'm very glad I stumbled upon your blog today via LinkedIn.

Cheryl Warrick said...

Thanks for sharing these insights.