Monday, September 24, 2012

Spirituality and Art Licensing - Artist Jennifer Parker

Motivational art and inspirational quotes are all over the paper & gift industry. People buy them as they seem to identify themselves in some form or another, or just simply to fill their own need to express similar emotions and feelings. Spirituality is one of the many sources for inspirational images and phrases. I am pleased to introduce this week Jennifer Parker, whose "deepening interest in spirituality" as she mentions below has been her way into licensing – I met Jennifer at a local meeting in Berkeley, CA. and her graphics skills and sense of design struck me as quite remarkable. She is a professional and fun person to collaborate with.

Artist Jennifer Parker
The Moon from My Attic: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your art? Thank you for the opportunity to share my story, Alex. I live and work in beautiful Mill Valley with my cat, Sadie. My vintage style evolved while I was designing for John Grossman's Victorian ephemera collection at The Gifted Line. That evolution continued at Punch Studio, where I spent nearly eight years as the Northern California Art Director. In 2003, inspired by personal travel stories and a deepening interest in spirituality, I began creating mixed media artwork and assemblages. My goal was to find a commercial market for these heartfelt creations. Seven years later, in 2010, these creations became the foundation for my career in art licensing.

Today, I find inspiration – and valuable resources – from copyright-free images that I stumble upon at flea markets and fairs; natural or found objects such as discarded pieces of furniture or old books; and ephemera which I've purchased locally around the country or traveling abroad.

I love texture, depth, and detail—for example, I incorporate my own photographs of rustic walls, architecture, and wood grains for background texture. Sometimes I stitch an empowering message into my design tapestry. If you'd like to learn more about my creative and professional journey, you can read my blog.

TMFMA: What is exciting about your creative work? I love variety! I enjoy the process and freedom of exploring a wide range of layouts, themes, and color palettes. My Juniper Trail line of greeting cards manufactured by Potluck Press is an eclectic mix of vintage art with layers of textures and details. The designs are similar to an Anthropologie store—nothing matches, but everything works together as a collection.

TMFMA: Is there a person or thing that has influenced you in your artistic efforts? What inspires you? I'm inspired by nature, Bohemian fashion, and weathered "things." I am also drawn to found objects, world textiles, exotic travel, and sacred places. I can think of two artists who have made a significant impression in my life. In 1991, I worked at a stationery store called Bon Papier in Sacramento. There, I resonated with Mary Engelbriet's inspirational quotes. I admired how brilliantly she told a story in her greeting cards. During that same year, I fell in love with Nick Bantock's collage postcard artwork and his Griffin & Sabine stories. In addition, I attended my first trade show in Los Angeles when I was 19 and I felt a strong pull toward the paper products industry.

TMFMA: Tell us of your experience as a licensing artist. After many years working as an employee in the industry, it felt like a natural next step for me to pursue licensing. I took a leap of faith and decided to learn everything I could about licensing — without an agent. I submitted my art to manufacturers and reviewed my contracts with a lawyer and a licensing coach. I definitely faced some challenges, but in general, all the hard work has paid off. Today, my licensees include Potluck Press, Calypso Cards, Madison Park Greetings, Amber Lotus Publishing, and Kaf Home.

TMFMA: What project are you currently working on and what's exciting about it? This summer, I've been experimenting in my studio with acrylics, watercolors, and collage. I'm excited to incorporate more drawing and painting into my designs to further evolve as a visual artist.

TMFMA: What are your future aspirations and goals as an artist? I always try to stay open to opportunities that I encounter and allow my heart to guide me in the right direction. Here are some dreams: I'd love to expand my licensing business; teach art retreats in exotic locations; and design and write a book to inspire and encourage other women to follow their own passion. I'm also expanding Jennifer Parker Designs by adding a wide range of art services that I've spent many years developing. My new venture, J. Parker Consulting, will offer art direction, graphic design, production, and Photoshop training, all specifically targeted to help artists with art licensing. For more information click on my website link.

TMFMA: Any important tips and tricks you'd like to share about art licensing? I have learned first-hand that building a successful art licensing business can take patience, determination, and a lot of time and energy. I recommend securing steady work while you build your licensing portfolio. If you have a mentor, learn as much as you can from that person. Talking to other industry artists can be really helpful, too. There are many different sources of information out there, so get familiar with licensing blogs and books and join the LinkedIn licensing groups. You might want to establish a web presence through social media, too. If you decide not to use an agent, hire a lawyer or licensing coach to review all your contracts.

Most of all, be patient with yourself and with the learning process. Remember that "success" has many definitions. If you create from your heart's truth; keep moving forward when you make mistakes, experience doubt, or encounter challenges; and manage to stay inspired and have fun - that sounds a lot like success to me.

Find out more about Jennifer here:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Creating Art to Sell Products: Artist Mindy Hope Sommers

I recently decided to reshape my approach to licensing and am very excited about it! I will tell you more in the next few weeks once the reshuffle is completed and I'm on my way along my new adventure path. Meantime, I want to share with you this new interview with a unique graphic artist who loves to use Photoshop to create her artwork. As she puts it, "licensing is not about creating art as much as it is about selling product." She is a collaborative and fun artist to be in touch with!

The Moon from My Attic: Please introduce yourself. My name is Mindy Hope Sommers, and I also go under the name of Color Bakery, my custom art tile company. I am a digital artist, I live in a 200 year old New England house that is painted completely and totally purple---inside and out. The neighbors think we're a little eccentric (we have colored lights way up in the trees – they put on quite a show at night; we also have an open garden art gallery on our front lawn). My husband, a Texan, had the courage to marry a Brooklyn girl (the cultural differences and how we tackled them are worthy of at least a short play) and we both compromised on Vermont. We have two cats, Emily and Marcie, and we both dote on them shamelessly.

TMFMA: What brought you to art in the first place? My mother was an artist, an excellent painter. She was so good, in fact, I didn't want to compete with her. When I was about seven, she did a homework assignment for me. I had been instructed to paint a sky, and my sky was rather pedestrian so she totally redid it, painting on top of my sad, uninspired blue. Her sky was redolent with ambers, vermilions and aquas and mine was boring and traditional with a couple of obligatory white puffs tossed in. When I turned in my mother's version, the teacher sneered and said, "you didn't do that." Humiliating. I started to lose interest in art, because I didn't think I had any talent. But I did enjoy it. Using those big colorful magic marker packs, I used to spend hours as a child drawing round-shouldered women with unnaturally splayed fingers wearing crazy dresses. But as I got older, writing was what enchanted me. I was going to write the best-selling American Novel. But then, in the early nineties, a friend of mine gifted me Photoshop. I loved it. And that's how my art career started. Prior to that, I was a veep/creative director in corporate advertising on Madison Avenue. Quite a career segue :)

TMFMA: What's exciting about your creative work? It is more important for my work to be viscerally satisfying than exciting---although it is often both. It's very exciting when an idea I've had in my brain starts to take shape on my computer monitor the way I envisioned it, but what art really is for me is soul food. It soothes me, it calms my inner seas, it is satisfying on such a deep level I can't properly articulate how it makes me feel. I guess I can say that creating art is one of the very few things in life that gives me bliss. It grounds me, it keeps me sane, it's the very best sort of drug. Yet, it can be a struggle. The writer Saki once said, "I hate writing; I love having written." I feel the same way about art sometimes. It's not always a painless process, but it's always worth the angst.

TMFMA: What's your favorite medium or tool/s you create with? Photoshop, Photoshop, and Photoshop. The mother of all tools, the biggest, baddest weapon in any digital artist's arsenal.

TMFMA: Who or what has inspired you in your art? Lots of people. I'd have to say the "Belle Epoch" (Art Nouveau) era (Mucha, Georges de Fuere are my two favorites) along with the master Impressionists (Monet, Van Gogh, Sargent, Merse, Caillebotte, Renoir) had a huge effect, but also some of the Fauvists (Matisse makes me drool with envy). And then there's Georgia O'Keefe with her impossibly beautiful flowers...but the truth is, there is inspiration everywhere, everywhere you look. My friend Tina Lavoie started me on my journey by introducing me to fractals and to Photoshop (Tina really did change my life, swung it in a totally different direction) and they (fractals) were my jumping off point, my first adult foray into art. Fractals are really math algorithms made visible, so it's kind of like having the Hand of God over yours as you're creating them. And then the contemporary collagists, some of them are so brilliant they make me gasp. So I guess it's safe to say I get inspiration simply everywhere I look.

TMFMA: How long have you been doing art licensing for? I started licensing my work in February of 2010. The CEO of a licensing company called me on a Saturday morning after having seen my work online on Color Bakery. I wasn't really doing the kind of stuff that was licensing-ready, but I think he saw potential and was willing to take a chance on me. I am grateful to him for that chance, and I was hell-bent on making the most of the opportunity. It's a funny thing---you sign, and there's the excitement of signing, and there is some validation in that someone thinks enough of your art to represent you. But then you realize you have way bigger hurdles to scale. You look at your peers that your agent represents and you say, "My Dear God, these artists are beyond awesome, I am competing against them! Oh my God, I'm not good enough!" And then after you have some successes and you get more confidence, you realize there's a world of artists out there---outside your agent---that are simply brilliant, insanely talented, and you're competing with them for a piece of that very same small pie.

But I've learned to put that out of my mind and try to stay as true to my vision as I can, buck trends when I can, rebel when I can, pick my spots. I tend to be a loose cannon, I like non-traditional color palettes and would rather start a trend than follow one, but in licensing that isn't always realistic. I've learned a lot and am still learning. Since there is no rulebook for licensing, you fly by the seat of your pants and it's a continuing education. I love licensing for many reasons, not the least of which you get to sell the same image over and over again ;) But on a more serious note, it's incredible to be able to actually work with a manufacturer to design a product line and then see the fruits of your labor when the designs you agonized over are now arranged stunningly on a showroom display table and the buyers are excited about what they're seeing. It makes the countless all-nighters worth it :) 

TMFMA: What brought you to exhibit for the first time and how many shows have you exhibited in - if any? I am not an exhibit person or a show person---I'd rather sit quietly behind the scenes and have my agent handle the hand-shakes and presentations. After having a long sales career, I am kind of tired of the promotion part. I like working and creating alone after so many years of corporate life, and to me shows remind me of that. Seeing photos of my stuff at shows is usually enough for me, it's just not my thing. However, I am going to attend my first licensing-related show this October in my hometown, NYC. I am looking forward to that. This show is kinda special to me.

TMFMA: Do you work with an agent or do you represent yourself? I work with an agent, and they're right here in Vermont. I love that they are so close that we can visit with each other personally whenever we like, and we do visit in person fairly often.

TMFMA: What do you suggest new artists do to present themselves to the world of licensing for the first time? I think they have to decide whether or not they want to represent themselves or sign with an agent. Whichever path they choose, they must be prepared with a serious, comprehensive portfolio that has just beef and no fat in it, i.e., the very best work they've done. The next step is figuring out where they fit in, where their strengths lie. Is their work more suitable for greeting cards or are they more of a pattern designer for fabric? Are they more niched or are they more diverse?  I promise you that you won't waste your time if you spend hours upon hours looking at art licensing companies *and* successful artists online and see what kind of work is going on what kind of product. Then you will be able to objectively assess your own portfolio to see what market would be most likely to buy your work. Make sure you show your art in collections of twos and fours, images that match and complement each other. And finally, once you decide the kind of products your art would work best on, make presentation sheets using templates shaped liked products so that either prospective agents or prospective manufacturers can easily visualize your art on products.

TMFMA: Please give us your analysis of the market based on your own experience and contacts. It seems to me that this recession has made manufacturers a bit gun-shy about being stuck with inventory that doesn't move so they are less likely to take chances with new ideas than they might have in the past. Hopefully, since the economy is an ever-swinging pendulum, the manufacturing sector will get strong again and with it more opportunities for artists and more risk-taking on a creative level. Seeing the same stuff on the retail shelves year after year is very telling about the lack of risk-taking at this point in time. It's pretty evident to anyone who does any amount of shopping.

TMFMA: In your view, what was of major interest to manufacturers this year? I have to admit that I am vigilant in ignoring, as best I can, trends and fads in licensing. I find them distracting and somewhat useless. I don't want to do what everyone else is doing and I don't want to use a color palette just because some color research firm or focus group said that aqua and sage green is the hot color combo this year. I don't care. I truly believe if the art is quality, and the artist stays true to his/her vision, they will rise quite nicely without needing to obsess about market trends---the manufacturers will react positively to good work even if it doesn't fit their preconceived notions or wish lists.

I don't think manufacturers necessarily always know what they want; some of them may actually want to be shown something they've never seen before, Sure, we'll always have those "point and shoot" kind of projects when a manufacturer will tell you exactly what they want you to design and the artist's creative input is minimal, and that's cool, but I think there are many companies out there who are so bored of seeing the same old stuff that they are open to new possibilities. What was of major interest to manufacturers this year? The same thing that's of interest to them every year: making money and getting a bigger piece of the market share. They just have different philosophies about how to achieve that goal. My personal opinion is that playing it safe is never the road to dominating any market in any industry.

TMFMA: What advice would you give other artists that are considering the art licensing field? If you think that your art comes from the angels in the cosmos and that you wouldn't dream of changing that sage green to a golden amber, or you wince when you're art-directed or critiqued, run from licensing as quickly as you can because it's not for you. Licensing is not about creating art as much as it is about selling products. Leave as much of your ego at the door as possible and be prepared to be extremely flexible, turn a project on a dime and happily make changes to your work that may, at times, make your stomach roil. If you want the most exciting roller coaster ride of your life and are willing to work very hard (very, very hard) and redo that tomato fifteen times when the customer asks you to, you'll do just fine in licensing. In fact, you'll love it!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Tell Us a Story: Artist Cathi Mingus

Do you sense the excitement of new beginnings, new opportunities lying just ahead in the warm and bright days of this Autumn? I do! And look out for upcoming posts, full of new perspectives and helpful tips from manufacturers, agents, and artists from around the globe!!

To celebrate I decided to publish a new series of posts about stories behind artists' art pieces. My little plane with banner for example was inspired by a story of when I was a kid and I used to go to the beach for summer. Little planes would fly around over us, dropping down little promotional gifts or products for kids and moms and everyone would run around trying to catch them. It was a fun time!

Cathi Mingus and her daughter Tory
Today we share a story by artist Cathi Mingus. She tells us the story behind her paintings:

"I've been illustrating professionally for the last 15 years (mostly children's projects). I recently got back to my first love (painting) and started a site showcasing my 'vintage inspired art...with a twist.' I opened an Etsy site in February to showcase some of my pieces. Vintage photos and personal items are something I've always felt drawn to. When my mother passed she left me all the family photos and I began to pour through them. I found some old yearbooks with tattered pages and scribbled messages.

I loved looking at these faces of the past and wondering what type of life they lived. My first painting was a huge yearbook inspired painting with faces and names of her classmates from the 40's. I felt a special connection to each person I painted. I began to paint people from the past, using old photos as inspiration. Recently, I've been asked to paint some personal pieces for people of their loved ones (using old photos as reference).

My collection of images tells a story of people who were here before us. Maybe it's not so much the story the paintings tell, but evoking a feeling of wanting to know what their stories are. Working on these paintings is a wonderful break from my digital children's work. This work is very personal to me and I hope you will enjoy it."

Cathi Mingus, aka Catherine Louise: "My Mysterious Past".  

Many other artists and illustrators have an online shop. Here are the links to some of their sites in case you want to buy their art, form up a group, or just chat with them:

Elizabeth Tipton:

Stephaine Ryan:


Marilyn MacGregor:

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.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Support An Artist

I found this quote on the web; it didn't have an author. I thought it was great so I am reposting it here for many to read. I added my own illustrations. If you know who wrote it please let me know.

© alex colombo (illustrations only)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Finding a New Agent, by Guest Author Jill Meyer

This is the first post being published on this blog that has been written by a Guest Author. We thought that her article could be helpful to other artists. Please feel free to let us know your thoughts about this topic.

Artist Jill Meyer
FINDING A NEW AGENT, by Jill Meyer. You think it might be time to find a new agent to license your art? I knew it was time for me to find a new agent when the agent with whom I had been working and signing licenses with for more than a year, misspelled my name on my Surtex banner! That, along with a number of other unimaginable and unexplained gaffes made it undeniable that it was time to seek new representation.

Artists usually pay 50% of their royalties to their agents, and the agents usually demand that the artist designates them as their exclusive representative. However, in this deal, the artist is not the exclusive client of the agent. So when you are paying 50% of your royalties to an agent, you do have a right to expect that agent to represent your interests and protect your brand at their highest level of excellence and competence, 100% of the time. Not just when it is convenient, or when they feel like it, or when they are having a rare good day. I think that some agents become so self-absorbed that they forget that they actually work for, and are paid by the artist. The artist does not work for them!

So, my path was a clear one. Find a new agent. Hopefully this time, one who could spell, who could communicate with kindness, and who would pay closer attention to the work for which they were getting paid!

© Jill Meyer
My first step on this journey was to tidy up my web site. I blew away all of the cobwebs, polished up all the buttons, and spruced up my web site until it was a true representation of the current work that I was producing. I made sure that my site was very easy to navigate and I presented my artwork samples on one page, in a very simple, and straightforward manner. I was aware that everyone was busy, and I thought that if I could show my work to prospective agents in a very efficient few seconds, I would have a better chance of having them actually look at the work. Sweep, tidy, dust, polish, and I finally had my web site ready to work for me.

I had in my possession the famous list of 50 Licensing Agents (thanks Joan Beiriger). I looked at the web site of each and every agent on that list. I had to make some basic decisions immediately. I knew the kinds of situations which would work best for my temperament and personality, and I wanted to follow the guidelines that I felt would give me the greatest shot at success with a new agent. Everyone has different parameters and requirements for an agent, and it is a good idea to make a list of your "must haves." I decided that I wanted a small agency which represented no more than around 15 artists. I wanted an agency where my work would fit but not be too similar to any other artist in the agency. I hoped as well to find an agent who was based in my time zone. Perhaps most importantly, I was looking for good "chemistry" with the new agent. I like to work in an atmosphere of kindness and respect. If I can share a few jokes and have a little lighthearted fun with my work mates, then that's even better! But working with a kind and respectful person is a necessity for me and was at the very top of my priorities.

No agent ever advertises kindness and respect on their web site, but all agents do have reputations that they have earned throughout their careers. Some agent reputations are impeccable, glowing, and sublime, and some are, perhaps unknowingly, being dragged around like a sack of three-day-old fish! If you listen carefully when you are doing your interviews on the phone with agents and their artist references, you will quickly pick up on many things, including how this agent handles their interactions with others. People will always tell you exactly who they are if you listen closely to what they say to you.

I eliminated those agents whom I thought were not suitable for me. I did focus on the agent sites where the artwork and the artists looked as though my work might fit in well. That is, if an agent handled only artists who did cartoons, I eliminated that agent, because my work would not fit in with that look. I culled the list of 50 agents down to 25 possible candidates. I composed a short e-mail note which said that I was looking for new representation, and I included a link to my web site.

I sent this note to the 25 agents on my list. I did not really expect any answers, especially because I sent my query immediately after Surtex and everyone was busy with follow-up, but I thought that it wouldn’t hurt to try this approach first. I figured that I would definitely need to come up with a Plan B, but trying Plan A was my first option.

I actually had to pick my self up off the floor, pinch myself, and do the Happy Dance, because over the next few days I received 18 replies from agents. All of them had visited my web site and were positive and complimentary about my work, and most of them were seeking to represent me. I was really delighted, because to tell the truth, I was having a really hard time coming up with a Plan B!

The long list of agent replies now presented me with a new problem. Who were all of these people and which one could best represent me? I decided to ask everyone I could think of if they knew and could tell me about these agents.  ...No,that didn’t work. I could not find anyone who could or would share information about any of these agents.

I re-visited all of the web sites of the agents who had replied and I studied the sites carefully, and was able to exclude a few agents that way. If a site looked sloppy or did not showcase the artist's work well, or the mechanics of the site simply did not work properly, I eliminated the agent. Details, neatness and careful presentation count for a lot in this business…, really in any business. If I was put off by an agent's site, I imagined that art directors and clients would also be put off and this would not be the way I wished to be represented.

I had a few agents write me copious e-mails, complimenting my work, and offering me immediate art opportunities for licenses that they were sure I would get if I signed with them. I replied that I had a number of responses and I was just going to carefully speak with each agent before I made a decision, and that would take me several weeks, if not longer. A few more e-mails from these agents, complimenting me, and saying how much they wanted to rep me, and then…nothing more. I guess there are people who rush in, and try to make a quick deal, and when they are asked to wait a while, they re-think or do not wish to compete, or who knows what motivates people's behavior? I had one agent tell me that although she was very interested in representing me, that she felt that I had too many licenses and she was more comfortable signing only artists who had no licensing experience at all. Maybe, that's good news for artists who are just starting out, or maybe not. I was actually happy to be able to eliminate a few more from the list of replies.

I had a pretty solid list of 12 now. I e-mailed each and asked to make appointments to speak with them personally on the phone.

This was a defining step. Some of them never answered my e-mail and I eliminated them (or did they eliminate me? I'm confused!). I did speak with a number of agents on the phone. One of them would only work with artists who gave up their copyrights on all of their work. NO! Never (not something I do)! A woman agent was actually quite belligerent, snarky, and a little mean (been there, no thanks). I told her immediately that I didn't think we would make a good team. I checked the meanie and the copyright buyer off the list. The elimination process was getting easier and easier!

I asked every agent with whom I spoke to send me their contract and to send me the contact information for several of their artists who could be their references. All of them sent the contracts; a few did not send references. I eliminated those who did not send references. This is a pretty basic tell, but an important one to note. You need to speak with the people who are given as references and not just assume that you will not get helpful information from them. This is actually where I was able to gather some of my best information.

I perused the contracts of each agent. All of them were different, and all of them, to a large degree, defined how the agent viewed their relationship with the artist. There is no "standard contract." I always view that phrase with suspicion and mistrust. Anything in a contract can and should be up for negotiation. Some of the contracts were very fair and balanced, and some of them sought to advantage only the agent and to disadvantage the artist in unfair and onerous ways. The contract clauses which describe "the parting of the ways" when the contract terminates or is canceled are very telling. That is usually when the problems surface.

Then lawyers for each side lick their chops, put on the gloves, and turn on their meters. If an agent sought in their contract to continue collecting royalties, and hog-tie the artist well beyond the end of the agency contract, or the end of the existing licenses, then for me this became an agent to avoid. If an agent included the words "mutually agreed upon" in these clauses, I became instantly chirpy. With apologies to Neil Sedaka, "Breakin' Up" with an agent should not be hard to do.

Now I am down to a manageable list of a few agents. Whew! I seemed to have blown through that long list fairly rapidly, but a girl has to have her standards and I had some exacting ones. I wanted to get the agent thing right this time. I have had other agents in the past and they have all been, for one reason or another, a disaster for me. In fairness to me, I never actually had the opportunity to carefully select any of my other agents; I just sort of backed into them fortuitously. This time I was able to choose and I was determined to decide as wisely as possible.

I had precise requirements because I view the agent/artist relationship as a partnership, and I wanted to be able to work with the best partner for me well into the future.

I interviewed the remaining agents on my list, and I had a wonderful time speaking with them, and was thoroughly delighted to meet them! I called the references for each agent, and again, I had a lovely time meeting and speaking with the artists who were candid, and generous, and thoughtful, and delightful. Some of us have become friends, and I hope we will remain friends for a long time.

For my top choices, I settled on two of the agents who were both very pleasant, had most of the important requirements, and with whom I felt very comfortable. I had spoken with each of them on the phone and we had exchanged a number of e-mails. I had also spoken with the artist references that they provided. The agents were fairly equal in their appeal and it was difficult to decide which would be the final choice. I needed a tiebreaker. I read very carefully through each of their contracts again. I knew at that point that I needed advice.

I cannot emphasize enough how important the next step is. It is worth every dime and any time it costs you upfront, and it is nothing compared to the time, money and grief it will save you in the long term. Even after you have read through the contract of each agent, have an attorney review the contract of any agent with whom you plan to sign.

I am lucky that my husband is an attorney (as well as a darling husband), but I also have an Intellectual Property attorney ( who handles contracts and copyright issues for me. She specializes in handling contracts for artists. She knows all of the ins and outs and is a master at resolving any of the issues that crop up when negotiating contracts. She always seems to have just the right brilliant and/or creative idea to suggest. It is ideal when both she and my husband collaborate and review my contracts.

One of the agency contracts (of my top two agent picks) was very fair and well balanced. It did not disadvantage the artist in any way, it had a very favorable split and it was written clearly and concisely, in language that was easily discernable. It was abundantly clear that this agent wanted to work with the artist as a partner and every paragraph in the contract testified to this.

The other contract was long and verbose, and so unclear in many of its clauses that I could not understand it, nor could either of my lawyers. When the agent explained the meaning of those clauses and the inequitable intentions that were attached to the ambiguous language, which she represented as "the standard of the industry," I was advised by both lawyers not to sign that contract under any circumstance.

I chose the very pleasant agent with the fair and favorable contract. One cannot predict the future of course, but it seems that life is made up of a series of choices. Lessons learned in the past lead me to believe that if one makes a careful choice, based on a prudent, well–advised plan, that there is a better likelihood of a good outcome going forward.

I am hopeful that I will have just that. Here we go!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Next Evolution of "The Moon From My Attic"

© Alex Colombo
Well, everyone, after a lot of soul-searching and long consideration, I've decided to add advertising to this blog. I love the interaction with all of you and especially enjoy sharing the stories of so many fine, talented artists and their journeys in the art licensing field. It truly has been a marvelous and unexpected experience to be a part of this community and provide exposure to so many wonderful people.

However, it has also started taking up increasing amounts of my and my editor's time. I know there could be some potential impacts with this step, so please please please let us know what you think of this evolution of the blog. Feel free to add a comment below or email us directly at and give us your thoughts and perspectives on the ads themselves as well as the re-designed layout to accommodate them.

© Alex Colombo
We are joining Google's AdSense program to do this, and I'm told that any and all ads that appear will be highly relevant to the subject of each blog article - so hopefully in many ways the ads themselves will also provide an extra value beyond the fabulous stories of the artists that we showcase.

Thanks for your many words of encouragement and your avid followership over this past year, and stay tuned for many more wonderful stories and insights into the world of art licensing - including, soon, interviews with manufacturers and retailers to get the other side of the art licensing story!