Monday, March 5, 2012

Style, Theme and Technique in Art Licensing - Artist Julie Dobson Miner

This week I want to explore more about a style my guest artist Julie Dobson Miner refers to as "diverse, ranging from realistic (often with a contemporary twist), to fun, whimsical character-based artwork that shows a childlike innocence."

Artist Julie Dobson Miner
Julie says: "Even since early childhood, I've known I wanted to be an artist. My mom let me have a corner of the basement where I'd sit and work on my creations, usually working with colored construction paper and chalk. I would come home from school, make peanut butter toast and go downstairs and immerse myself in creating my own little world." Her agent, Carol White of Artworks! Licensing has said (and it tickles Julie) "I wanna be in your world." Many times she suggests themes to work on and at the end of the projects comes up with some clever collection names, Julie says. "My favorite theme, even as a child, has been Halloween, closely followed by Winter and Christmas themes."

© Julie Dobson Miner - Jolly Jingle Snowmen
When her first son Jesse started preschool, Julie went back to school to study graphic design and illustration. A year after she graduated her second son Sean was born and she spent her first years freelancing in an ad agency and for companies like General Mills and 3M. She was offered full time employment but she missed working in hand rendered imagery and wanted to be more available to her family.

"I took a watercolor class and I was hooked! Within a few years, I opened a gallery studio in a quaint little Minnesotan town called White Bear Lake. I had a gallery of my work, taught watercolor classes, and continued with my graphic design. I won a few awards for my watercolors and was featured a few times on a local cable television station teaching my watercolor techniques." One of the shows she put together was on the elements and principles of design and she gave the same talk to Minnesota Watercolor Society.

One of her students – Noelle Dahlen, who is also very talented Julie says – was currently working in the licensing industry and came to her to hone her watercolor skills. "We became good friends and Noelle introduced me to the world of licensing. It was the middle ground between the painting I had been doing and the subject matter I had enjoyed as a child. My computer skills were a large bonus. I found my new direction, and in a few years I moved home to pursue licensing full-time."

© Julie Dobson Miner - Pumpkin Gang Collection
Julie's art has been described as mentioned earlier - diverse, ranging from realistic (often with a contemporary twist), to fun, whimsical character-based artwork that shows a childlike innocence. "Most recently I have been focusing on the character-based work. My goal is to make you smile or remember something fun from your childhood. As a kid I loved dreaming up my next Halloween costume and loved dressing my little wiener dog in doll cloths." That is possibly what inspired her latest Halloween collection called "Pumpkin Gang." The collection is all about kid's different sizes and shapes, their costumes, and their goofy little side kicks. She says: "My little wiener dog found his way into the collection that's currently on the boards called "Circus Circus" I'm creating for Studio e fabrics. Flipper is decked out in goggles, a cape, and is cruising on a skateboard."

© Julie Dobson Miner - Flipper Circus Circus  Wiener Dog  
Julie also adds these important points: "I put a considerable amount of thought into my collections. They may start with a store walk or a web search to see what's currently offered in the given theme. I'm looking for a new twist or following an emerging trend and applying it to an old theme." She has found if it is too similar to current market choices it will likely not be well received, she says. "I do enjoy the research but my favorite part is reading through my notes and starting the pencil work which usually happens in a coffee house somewhere. Next, I'm back in the studio either bringing things to life by painting in watercolor or working in photoshop - or sometimes a combination of the two. I really think if you create something that is near and dear to you it will be your best work, so that is where I focus."

© Julie Dobson Miner - Eek Monsters

So what's exciting about your creative work, I asked. "I love the idea of presenting a lighter side of life. My most recent license was birthday party-ware with my Eek Monsters. They are manufactured by Unique Industries for Walmart. I posted on Linkedin with such joy, "I just made it into Walmart!" never expecting to hear anything back. It was my first post ever and I was blown away with all the well-wishing I received from other licensing artists." Her little cousin in Colorado had an “Eek Monster” birthday party. "That was so fun for me!" Another recent license is with Counter Art putting "Sweet Shoppe Cupcakes" onto coasters, she adds. "I just got samples yesterday. I lOVE them. I'm using them at my desk right now."

© Julie Dobson Miner - Kitty Witt
Where do you find inspiration, Julie? "Sometimes it's the oddest thing that can start me down a road. It could be the colors of a billboard or some character I see in a magazine. I would say my main source of inspiration is my childhood and my critters. Our two golden retrievers (Max and Lily) help me lighten up. Jamie's (my studio African Grey) witty personality cracks me up." She does also walk the stores looking for inspiration. It's also good for her to get out of my studio once in awhile, she tells me. "As I have mentioned my agent also sees trends and suggests projects which I rarely turn down. She's out there more than I can be and hears what is being requested. Projects with the promise of making a successful partnership with a manufacturer...that's really inspiring to me!"

© Julie Dobson Miner - Sweetshoppe Cupcakes
Julie is clearly a successful licensed artist so I also asked her to share her own experience in this complex field. She mentioned she started in art licensing part-time when a student of hers introduced her to it. She worked part time for two years and has now devoted her full attention for the past six years.

Julie says: "I have never tried to market myself. Upon signing with Carol I stressed that communication is very important to me. I asked many questions up front. She said she had never seen so many. I think it's important to be on the same page in how the relationship is going to work. I've heard it being compared to a marriage."

She has never exhibited at a licensing show but she has walked Surtex and the Craft and Hobby Show when it was in Vegas. Julie also has some local artist friends that work in licensing and sometimes travel together to the shows. Her beautiful work has been featured on greeting cards, pet mats at Petco and Petsmart, "Studio e fabric" lines for quilters (five or six collections a year), yard flags, party paper goods, ceramic ware, coasters, trays, scrap booking supplies, gift bags and boxes, and kids furniture. Julie concludes saying: "I believe in our industry success is achieved by 70% persistence, and 30% talent and skill."

© Julie Dobson Miner - Bow Wow Dog
The next logical question was to ask Julie about any important tips or tricks she's learned as a full time licensed artist. She replied, "I would suggest working in collections with at least four images to include patterns and borders and sometimes applicable product mock ups. Manufactures may like your work but may not license it until they see a consistent stream of work coming from you. It can be temping to too closely copy another artist but that will stop you from growing into the artist you were meant to be. Plus, the other artist has already been out in the market not to mention it's just wrong."

She continue saying: "Look at what is selling. Make yours the best artwork you can with your twist. Your art may be beautiful but if it won’t sell the product it's on it won't be licensed. It's tricky. There is a lot of art out there that just isn't right for licensing. Many times your art is not chosen for a variety of reasons. It could be the company just did something similar, the artwork is at the bottom of a trend curve, or it could even be budget cuts. It could be your art fits better in another market. If it's a good fit for the market, stay the course. 

Like a college teacher of mine once said, "Do the work and the money will follow like Mary's Little Lamb." - (Dean Kevern) "Well, we hope so, right?" 

1 comment:

Patti said...

love her work. adorable!