Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Surviving in the Licensing Arena - An Interview with Licensed Artist Patti Gay

I have been experimenting over and over with different techniques and ways to create collections, trying to make my art suitable for commercial use. It's a "look," per se. It's not as easy as one would think. It's like a ... search ... for one's own identity in this arena of licensing. I asked myself this question: how will I survive this quest against so much competition? There are already so many skilled and successful artists out there ... so how does one make it through? Veteran artist and licensee Patti Gay helped answer my question with few simple words: continue to learn and grow!

Artist Patti Gay
The Moon from My Attic: Please introduce yourself - I graduated from Columbus College of Art and Design with an illustration major. I started out in advertising. After moving to San Francisco I was hired as an art director for a greeting card company. That was my introduction into the whole licensing arena. Being an art director was a great way to see how things worked from a business standpoint. After leaving art directing I started creating my own work.

TMFMA: What's exciting about your creative work? What I love about being an illustrator is that I’m not boxed in. I can continue to learn and grow. I find that exhilarating. I also do work for different markets. I like doing work for licensing, children’s books and for hanging in shows. I am also trying to learn how to make interactive apps for children. Sometimes there is overlap. I think it keeps my creativity fresh and keeps me excited about what I am working on.

Two Can Art - © Noah and Patti Gay
TMFMA: What's your favorite medium or tool/s you create with? When I do traditional painting I work in oils or watercolors. I also am doing work in Photoshop.

TMFMA: Who or what has inspired you in your art? I have to say that the collection I am really excited about was inspired by my son, Noah, who is autistic. He loves to paint. I think the textures he creates are really beautiful and I have saved a lot of his paintings. I decided to scan them into the computer and create a collection called Two Can Art. All of the images are made entirely from the textures he has painted. I take the textures and put them into designs. I also made an e-commerce blog for prints on demand of several of the images. My licensing agent is also representing the line along with my other work.

Beach - © Patti Gay
TMFMA: How long have you been doing art licensing? I’ve been licensing my work for over 20 years. Amazing to think it’s been that long. Things have changed so much with licensing. It is a much tougher market then it used to be.

TMFMA: What brought you to exhibit for the first time and how many shows have you exhibited in? I’ve been represented by my agent at shows, but I have never had a booth on my own. It’s tough for me to get away for that length of time, and it is very expensive to do it alone.

TMFMA: Do you work with an agent or do you represent yourself? I do have a licensing agent. I work with JMS Art Licensing LLC.
TMFMA: Please give us your analysis of the market based on your own experience and contacts. I think it is a competitive market. With the economy in the state it’s in companies want to be sure they have products that will sell. I also have to say that sometimes you just get lucky and things get into the right hands at the right time. 

Two white bunnies © Patti Gay
TMFMA: In your view, what was of major interest to manufacturers this year? What do you think the main trends are for 2011-2012? I think companies are looking for something that they feel is a sure bet for them. I see from call outs that the subject matters haven’t changed all that much. There are some companies that are more adventurous, so it really depends on the company. I think trends are moving towards brighter colors, which I love.

TMFMA: How does a new artist find manufacturers that "match" their styles?
With the internet it is so much easier to see what companies like. You can get a feel for what they lean towards by looking at their current collections.

Memory box cover - © Patti Gay
TMFMA: What do you suggest new artists do to present themselves to the world of licensing for the first time? I think having a professional collection of images is the most important thing. Think about who you are presenting to as well. Research companies to see what might be a good fit for the type of work you do.

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? Look at company sites to get a feel for what kinds of products art is licensed on. Look at your work and think about how it might be used for product. Think about who your buying audience would be. Before doing a booth at Surtex be ready. It is a big step to show there and is expensive, so you want to make a good impression and you want to have collections that are marketable.

TMFMA: Any other useful info that you'd like to share about art licensing? I think those who are tenacious and keep growing are the ones who get the work. Keep at it. Keep learning, but most of all love what it is you are doing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Licensing Artist Maia Ferrell and Folk Art, a Family Affair

I created a new banner for the blog that will give a little glimpse of what the style of my artwork will be for licensing... and I completed the first batch of conceptual designs. I started scanning them and tried out a couple of ideas in Photoshop/Illustrator. It seems like it will work well and I am getting excited about my collections!

To share even more excitement I have a very inspiring interview with licensing artist Maia Ferrell. She was an artist and product designer for Natural Life for a few years and had record breaking sales (which is what convinced her to go out on her own) but nothing was under her own name. She considers herself an emerging artist and will be exhibiting in Atlanta this coming January through Painted Planet Licensing, her agent's booth.  Her colorful website is full of joy and catchy patterns for licensing. She also has a beautiful new shop on Etsy.

Maia Ferrell and her Daugher Lucia
1. The Moon from My Attic: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your art?  Sure! I grew up in Atlantic Beach, Florida with a wonderful family. Ever since I can remember my mom was pushing me to pursue my artwork and always supported whatever direction I wanted to go in creatively. My childhood was very colorful. Our walls were filled with outsider art, folk art and a lot of my great-grandmothers art. My great-grandmother, Gisella Loeffler, was a famous artist in Taos, New Mexico. 

(image by tartanscottie.com)
She is a huge inspiration to me and I feel like I connect with her creatively through color pallets and folk florals, although I was never lucky enough to meet her. I consider my work mixed-media because it usually combines a few mediums such as watercolor, acrylics, spray paint, pens, markers ... but a definite is always Adobe Illustrator. 

© Maia Ferrell
2. TMFMA:  What is exciting about your creative work? It is exciting to me to think that someone might display my work in their home and love it. Whenever I buy art or look at my great-grandmother's art, there is something inside me that just loves it so much and I just hope that when someone purchases something of mine, they feel that same thing. And it is exciting that I have gotten to this point, it seems like it has been a long road and I know there is still a longer one ahead.

3. TMFMA: Is there a person or thing that has influenced you in your artistic efforts? What inspires you? Well I suppose I answered that with my great-grandmother but I am very inspired by fabrics and patterns. I get a lot of inspiration from vintage, folk floral patterns. It seems like there is inspiration everywhere these days, so many wonderful artists ... I just never know what is going to inspire me. I could discover one amazing floral fabric and all of a sudden it triggers something and I can create a whole line based off of that. I love it when that happens! I read a lot of blogs, print and pattern is my favorite.

© Maia Ferrell
4. TMFMA: What project are you currently working on?  Currently, I am creating stationery products - greeting cards, boxed notes, invites, etc. I am constantly building my licensing portfolio with different ideas, different themes. That seems to be the most important work I can do, you never know what will catch the eye of someone. 

5. TMFMA: Tell us of your experience as an art licensing artist. I think it is really hard. I think it is amazing to be able to do what you love! But there is a lot of waiting and a lot of anticipation. You have to have a thick skin, a ton of hope and be willing to adapt your style. But when just one company takes interest in your work, that makes it all worth it. Doing research on different companies to find out who is looking for artists or to find a company where your artwork is a good match is a full-time job in itself.

When I first broke out on my own, I was feeling overwhelmed with building a licensing portfolio and trying to find new companies and building a website ... then I realized it would be much easier if I designated days for artwork and days for research. So usually about 3 days a week I design and then 2 days a week I do research. Everytime I leave the house, I carry my composition book with me. It is filled with company names that I see in stores, boutiques or online. I spend a lot of time in independent bookstores, they usually carry a large amount of stationery products from companies I wasn't aware of. 

© Maia Ferrell

I find Linkedin to be especially useful in researching companies as well. As far as my style of artwork, I look for trend-setting companies that use a lot of color, pattern and also they have to incorporate digital artwork. I try to find out which artists just signed with what companies, so I can figure out what that company was looking for. I try to find and connect with contacts in the industry, even if they are not with a company that would be interested in my work.

It is a pretty small circle, it seems like someone always knows someone that could be of more assistance. Most people are so kind, everyone wants to help. My agent is all over this kind of work, too. She has a lot of contacts and has a lot of meetings with companies ... but I think it is really important to know what is going on in your industry and perhaps I might make a contact somewhere along the way that might be very beneficial to both of us. 

© Maia Ferrell
I am happy I signed with an agent. It is hard to keep up with everything and extremely expensive when you are just starting to get your name out there. I have a 10 month old at home so I am already about to pull my hair out with balancing everything. It is nice knowing that someone is still working on getting my artwork out there when I am not able to. It is also nice to have the support, a friend ... things get frustrating and everything is so up and down, it is nice to have someone to talk to.

If you are just starting out, the first thing I suggest is finding a great web designer and building a fabulous site that showcases your work. Then you can start sending out your link to agents and companies from there and they will know you are professional and serious. 

© Maia Ferrell
6. TMFMA: Any important tips and tricks you can share or anything else you'd like to share?  Yes, be willing to wear different hats. A good friend of mine in the industry has taught me this and I am still learning it ... You  have to be willing to have your artwork for you and have your artwork for licensing. As much as you may love some of your work and think it would be so perfect on a certain product, it may not be ... so you have to be willing to accept that and find a different way to get that artwork out in the world, such as Etsy or local art shows. 

7. TMFMA: What are your future aspirations and goals? I want to master my craft. I want to be at the stage where there is a consistency or a rhythm. Where I feel confident in what I am producing. I don't feel that yet and I am not sure I ever will but I know if I keep working as much as I can, I am headed in the right direction. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Art Licensing - What's Your Art About?

Art is an amazing way to express an idea or a concept - to me it is a form of  communication that has a potential to create certain emotions in the viewer, depending what the message is and on how well it is executed. The higher the quality of the art, both from an emotional and technical perspective, the better the resulting impact.

I've been asking other artists what their art was about. Here's what two of them had to say:

•  •  •  • 

"Ultimately, my art is about finding the kid that lives inside of us all, because the innocence of a child lives blissfully, full of freedom, and hope. I have realized that although we might not understand the "why" behind many real-world situations, just as a child might not understand many things that happen in life... ultimately we have to live onward, the happiest we can be. I want to empower, inspire and promote the joy of living here and now...just like how a child never hesitates to seize the day! I like to say "Artistry for blissful living."  Licensing Artist  Linda Tieu

"My art is about the ever-changing interactive dance between colors, shapes and themes which incite emotions that range from laughter to introspection. It is about self-expression, and the freedom of the unknown - freedom from thinking I know or can judge what the next creative moment holds. My art is the song of my deepest desire to surprise, cause to laugh, and deeply nourish myself and those who enjoy the flow of what my art offers. I'm profoundly touched when someone feels "fed" by the images that come through me."  Licensing Artist Lori Kirstein

•  •  •  •

I'll keep posting a couple of answers every so often; I'd love to hear your comments and what you think as well!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pursuing A Dream into Licensing - Cute and Colorful Characters from Softpencil Studios

So many exciting things are happening in my design studio! I've been hand painting non-stop and have now gotten a fair amount of work done that will be uploaded soon into digital format and will get manipulated to form my eight basic collections :-) - I've also been reading Licensing Art 101 by Michael Woodword again, a well written publication that offers practical exercises toward the end of each chapter. This week's homework consisted in Michael's suggested tip to go through specific successful licensing artist websites and read up about their work, in addition to other very useful tips and tricks suggested by his action plan section – I love practical work when I am learning something from a book or article! Very useful.

But considering how much work is head of me... is really there hope for us newbies? The answer is absolutely Yes! Here's a very practical interview for you with emerging artist Elizabeth Pujalka, from Argentina. She recently scored, all on her own, three licensing deals, two in the US and one in her own country. Here she shares with us how she did it!

© - colored pencil art by Elizabeth Pujalka
The Moon from My Attic: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your art? Hello everyone and thank you Alex for this interview! My name is Elizabeth Pujalka and I live in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I'm the illustrator and designer behind Softpencil Studios and the creator of the Tinytwinies™, a new brand which features eight cute and colourful characters.
TMFMA: What is exciting about your creative work? Everything! I love creating and designing! My work allows me to stay connected with the whole world, play with creative ideas every day, show who I am and that's priceless for me. Every step in my career is a new challenge and that inspires me to go beyond. I started as a fine artist working mainly in colored pencils and now I'm designing whimsical images and cute characters in digital format. You never know where your art is going to lead you! That was an exciting and long path and I've enjoyed every stage.

TMFMA: Is there a person or thing that has influenced you in your artistic efforts? What inspires you? Well… that's an eclectic list! Music, sunny days, an image, nature, flowers, Spring, my sweet cat, my family and many artists of all times and styles inspire me.

TMFMA: Tell us of your experience as an art licensing artist. I found about licensing around two years ago. Since then I've read a lot on blogs, websites, groups, forums and I got excited about growing this way. I was struggling between art licensing and character/brand licensing and finally have decided to take the second option. At that moment I was designing digital stamps for card making so I had some characters designed. I only had to create a background story for them, give them names and improve the way they looked. So my brand, Tinytwinies™, bringing joy and lots of smiles was born and launched the last March. It's only five months old, but I'm happy to say that I've already signed three licensing deals! Two of them in the U.S. and the other one in Argentina. Rubber stamps for card making and scrapbooking were released through The Angel Company this past June and next month, E.A.D. Designs will launch a line of stickers, rub-ons and wall decals featuring the Tinytwinies™. Also I'm working on new designs for my Argentinian licensee and discussing other deals.

TMFMA: How did you "match" your artwork style to the right manufacturers? I have been researching, and still am, to find the right manufacturers mainly on the Internet and especially through LinkedIn. It takes much work and time but it's worth it. The Internet is a window to the world and there are plenty of very useful information and resources. I've always been a self-taught person so I enjoy doing my own searching and analysis – since I'm a curious and friendly girl it's not difficult for me contacting people or investigating about the things I want to know, it comes to me naturally.

The Internet is a wide net as you all know, so sometimes while I'm reading a blog about home decor or about recipes or fashion I see a banner or a link that catches my attention, so I click on it. That could lead me to a company website who sells or produces a product where my art could fit. Or maybe on that website I find other interesting links so I jump from one site to the other.  You can also search for a product or a product category (as clothing, homeware, etc.) and then visit the sites you find. If they work with licensed artists, they often have submission guidelines that you can follow to contact them. As I've said, it takes time but I think it's a good way to find the right manufacturers.

On LinkedIn I've joined several groups about art and brand licensing and I read all the discussions there. Sometimes manufacturers or art directors are looking for new art or they reply to questions posted by other group members. Visit their profiles and send them an invitation to get connected. Then, when they accept your invite, send a short introduction. If they are interested in your art, they will contact you.

A tip: contact the “right” manufacturers. If you're a fine artist who paints landscapes don't contact a manufacturer who licenses kawaii characters! There won't be a deal there! (LOL)

TMFMA: Do you have an agent or do you work by yourself? I don't have an agent now but I would like to get one soon. I'm working on the style-guides and re-designing my website so, when that's ready, I'll be looking for an agent to work with me.

TMFMA: Have you done any major trade show like the Atlanta Gift show, Surtex, or the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas? I haven't visited trade shows yet but I would love to do it. I've read every report and article about them. I'm so far from the major show locations, so I prefer to focus on improving and growing my brand before visiting those shows. But they're definitely in my list of things-to-do!

Any important tips and tricks you can share or anything else you'd like to share? I suggest that you search and research a lot through the Internet, especially about the legal and business side of licensing. Visit trade shows if you're near and consult an IP attorney to help you to register your copyrights and trademarks and to review contracts. And draw, paint and design every day to improve your skills and develop your style… and to have fun!
TMFMA: What would be your most fundamental advice to new aspiring licensing artists? It is not easy to enter the licensing world but if you're sure that it is what you want, go ahead! Don't be afraid! And as I've already said, search, research, learn new things and improve your skills. Never be discouraged if a manufacturer/licensee says no. Only ask them why. Maybe your art isn't the kind of art they need at that moment or you have to adjust some things. I still have to work hard and learn many more things but that's what I love, so I'm willing and happy to do it!
TMFMA: What are your future aspirations and goals? They're so big as to see my characters on a wide range of products for kids and teens and even in animation series around the world. That's my dream and I'm a resolute girl so I'm working hard to achieve it!

Thank you very much Alex for this interview! And thanks everyone for reading!

You can contact Elizabeth by e-mail at elizabethpujalka@hotmail.com or through LinkedIn. You can also visit her website softpencilstudio, and find her on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Seeing Your Licensed Art Applied to Products - From a Spark to a Bonfire: Sheri McCulley Seibold on the Power of Ideas

How does one "find" what works for licensing? It's been an interesting and challenging process to discover what I am willing to license that could be also appealing to manufacturers. I'm still not totally sure in fact, but for the past couple of weeks I've been developing more concepts for my collections and I think I've found a possible way through this narrow tunnel... I still have much more market research to do, although I think this is an ever continuing, integral part of licensing.

To help enlighten the quest for a workable licensing style, Sheri McCulley Seibold of Sheri Berry Designs shares with us her story.

Artist Sheri McCulley Seibold
Since her 2007 debut at the Surtex art licensing show in New York, Sheri has built Sheri Berry Designs into a brand that encompasses fabric, holiday ornaments, murals, crafting supplies, cards, stuffed animals, checks and wallets, and baby clothing and decor – her brand name, Sheri Berry, is based on the nickname her parents gave her as a child.

Sheri’s dad was an art professor, and she grew up among the easels, paints, and brushes of the college art studios where he taught. She also spent summers at her grandparents’ farm in Oklahoma. Wherever she was, she says her earliest goal was simply “to create!” Sheri earned degrees in photography and graphic design from Pacific Union College in California, and since then has done commercial graphic design as well as taught art at all levels from kindergarten to college.

Since exhibiting at her first licensing show in 2007, Sheri has done projects with about a dozen different licensees, including Macy’s, Northcott Silk, EK Success, Provo Craft, and Bradford Exchange.

TMFMA: What's exciting about your creative work? I love having a spark of an idea and watching it grow into a small candle flame, a campfire, and finally a roaring bonfire. Like many licensed artists, I enjoy seeing my work applied to products and getting it into consumers’ hands—It’s how I make a living. But turning an initial concept into a complete, unified collection of art that can be taken to market by a licensee who “gets it” is very exciting.

Woodland Tails on melamine tableware for Lily and George 
© Sheri Berry Designs
TMFMA: What's your favorite medium or tool/s you create with? I work in Adobe Illustrator, but many of my ideas start out as pencil sketches on my clipboard, a sticky note, or the back of a grocery list. You never know when an idea’s going to hit! I often scan in these sketches to give me some reference as I work in Illustrator, but other times I just start drawing on screen.

TMFMA: Who or what has inspired you in your art?As a child, I admired artists like Betsy Clark, Holly Hobbie, and Charles Schulz, and dreamed of creating art that would add joy to everyday living, like the treasured pillowcase my mom made me from Holly Hobbie fabric. I studied art history and the “great masters” in college, but what I really appreciate and relate to are the largely unknown commercial artists of the twentieth century—people who created artful advertising, affordable textile designs, charming illustrations for children’s books and home magazines, household goods, and corporate and product mascots. Unlike “fine art,” these things are all a window into the real history and culture of the American spirit.

TMFMA: How long have you been doing art licensing? In 2007, I made my first exhibitor appearance at the Surtex licensing show in New York City, which led to my first two deals for stationery products and fabric.

Tiki Tikes collection for Murals Your Way
 © Sheri Berry Designs
TMFMA: What brought you to exhibit for the first time and how many shows have you exhibited in? While working on the art staff of a scrapbooking supplies company, I became aware of Surtex for the first time when I was sent with a group of fellow employees to walk the show and discover “trends.” I wanted my art to be on more kinds of products than scrapbooking supplies, and felt I had to try the show from the inside of a booth rather than the outside! My husband agreed, and in 2007 we went to New York and did our first Surtex show. We have exhibited there every year since then.

TMFMA: Do you work with an agent or do you represent yourself? Until recently, my husband and I completely managed our own client relations and contracts, based mostly on contacts we got from Surtex. We are now working with a freelance licensing industry veteran to help us build new licensee relationships, assist in contracts and negotiations, develop new product ideas, and generally build awareness of our studio brand. We will be announcing more about this relationship at a later time.

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? As far as trade shows go, Surtex has been my primary marketing and networking tool, and we’ve never felt the need to exhibit anywhere else. It does represent a substantial investment for the first-time exhibitor, but for me it’s been a good source of clients and projects. Those considering Surtex should certainly get second opinions from people who’ve exhibited at other shows before assuming Surtex is the best one for them.

Swell Noel for Afghan kit for Dimensions (EK Success) 
© Sheri Berry Designs
TMFMA: Please give us your analysis of the market based on your own experience and contacts. To summarize the market from my perspective: 2007: Difficult! 2008: Hard! 2009: Challenging! 2010: Competitive! 2011: Scary! My point is that working in art licensing is an inherently challenging and somewhat chaotic way to make a living. Even though it sometimes looks easy to those who are observing the industry from the outside, for me there have been ups and downs, good years and bad ones. Regardless of the economy at a given time, or the number of prospects you meet at the show in a particular year, or even the number of projects you did last year—I don’t see clear-cut “trends” in my project calendar. The market for licensed art has always been—for me, at least—unpredictable and sporadic.

TMFMA: At Surtex an artist can both sell and seek art license opportunities.  How does one decide what to sell and what to license? Our studio always intended to license only, because I’ve never wanted to sell all rights to any of the art I’ve done. That said, I think it’s important to distinguish between licensing for royalties and licensing for a flat fee. Both are licensing, technically, because you sign a contract with a manufacturer to let them use defined art on defined product types for defined periods of time. Some manufacturers are set up to track and pay royalties, while others prefer a one-time, up-front fee that gives them exclusive rights to that art within a particular product category for a specific period of time. Some artists refuse to do anything but royalties, but if you do that try to negotiate for an advance or “guarantee” on royalty payments in case the product doesn’t sell as well as you think it will.

Another way to figure this out is to go to Surtex yourself and see what types of art are being sold and what are being licensed. Selling art outright may be right for some artists, but licensing was the right choice for me.

TMFMA: In your view, what was of major interest to manufacturers this year? What do you think the main trends are for 2011-2012? We didn’t see any clear-cut areas of interest to manufacturers this year, or any year. The only real trend is that it’s getting more competitive, and more manufacturers are wanting to buy art outright.

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? First, if possible, attend your target show as a non-exhibitor so you can get a feel for the show’s vibe and where you fit in. Waiting for the next show may seem like an unbearable delay, but having a booth is a big investment for the first-time exhibitor and you want to be prepared and make sure it’s the right place for you.

The number of projects I’ve done in the four years since I first went to Surtex can give the impression that it’s as easy as showing up and having the deals roll in. What new exhibitors don’t realize when considering that total is the overwhelming number of promising leads that simply dried up, the projects that got cancelled, and the deals that fell short of their early apparent potential. This may not be true for every licensed artist, but I’ve talked to enough of them to know that creating art is a lot easier for us than a) finding new licensees who not only like your art but can push a project through their organization, all the way to market, and b) keeping that early excitement alive for future projects, even with licensees you’ve had a positive relationship with. Having good sales on products your artwork appears on helps keep the door open, but every new project is a test of the licensee’s ability to invest wisely and pick winners in the marketplace—not just art that they personally like. This is another reason why many companies “play it safe” and repeatedly manufacture with designs that they know will sell—and what they pick may not be yours!
TMFMA: Any other useful info that you'd like to share about art licensing? While it’s important to be confident about your own look and style, remember—when you get a deal—that you are part of a team that’s needed to get the product to market—not the center of the universe. Be nice and don’t step on other people while trying to get your work noticed.

Second, be prepared to compromise and adapt what you do. You may create beautiful or fun or sophisticated art, but each manufacturer has their own goals in the marketplace and you need to help them achieve those. I love quilts, but I’m not a quilter, so I knew I could either accept the manufacturer’s instincts on adapting my style and actually get a product on the market, or insist on having everything my own way and spend the next 20 years creating art for myself. Manufacturers know their audience—and if you help them succeed, you will succeed.

Third, take production deadlines seriously and deliver your art in the form requested. Just as when you’re working at a salaried job, establish yourself not only as a good artist but a reliable partner who manufacturers can count on.