Thursday, November 29, 2012

Persistence and Respect in Art Licensing - Artist Chris Chun

This has been a fun and exciting week for me, with a new licensing contract and sales from my online shops! I've also been working on expanding my existing collections and creating new art. And my website now has links to my social media (and soon my online shops) so people can find us. Promo and marketing are an essential tool for getting your business noticed and artist Natalie Timmons figured out a clever way to promote.

She was also very kind to include one of my tearsheets in her practical How to Create a Sale Sheet eGuide - you can directly download it for free from her website or from my Resources Page. It's a great tool for emerging artists and designers to use so thank you Natalie!

On this sweet note of art and licensing and other great tips for success in this field, please welcome Chris Chun, an amazing talented artist from Austalia.

Artist Chris Chun
THE MOON FROM MY ATTIC: Please introduce yourself. My name is Chris Chun and I am an Australian artist and designer currently living in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. I have been living here for the past 18 months and the area is home to a thriving community of artisans and craftspeople. It's very inspiring living here and the city has it’s own unique charm. I love the whole lifestyle here – the friendly people, thrice weekly massages, wonderful fresh food and the slower, more relaxed pace of life.

TMFMA: What's exciting about your creative work? Being able to experiment and try new things. At the moment, I am working on some new art which combines my love of textiles so this is new and has lots of possibilities. I am also learning ceramics and printmaking again here (I haven't done this since high school) and I will be painting again for a couple of new exhibitions planned for next year.

© Chris Chun
TMFMA: Who or what has inspired you in your art? I'm inspired by lots of different things – anything from films, magazines, childhood, food, museums, art exhibitions etc. But perhaps my greatest sources of inspiration are travel and the natural world around us. I like capturing fleeting moments of beauty whether it's a leaf from a tree or a bird eating from a dragonfruit or butterflies dancing above an orchid.

TMFMA: What's your favorite medium or tool/s you create with? I use a wide variety of mixed media – acrylic, ink, gouache, wax, linocut, canvas, origami papers, embroidery, etc.

TMFMA: How long have you been doing art licensing? I've been licensing my artwork since 2005 to a select group of companies around the world. Prior to going out on my own, I worked in product development/ design and styling for bedding, pillows, homewares, fashion, etc. My first licensing contract was with a publishing company in the UK called the Art Group who saw some paintings from my first solo exhibition and wanted to license them onto greeting cards. I had funnily enough always loved and bought their cards so this was the beginning. The main reason I like licensing is that you can license the same image to manufacturers in many different product categories and you still get to keep copyright of your artwork.

© Chris Chun
TMFMA: What brought you to exhibit for the first time and how many shows have you exhibited in? I remember going to Surtex for the first time back in 2002 and thinking I could do this but it took some 5 years later before I took the plunge and first showed at Surtex. I have only exhibited twice in 2007 and 2008. Exhibiting at Surtex was key to getting me noticed in the USA and I met lots of wonderful people from these shows.

TMFMA: Do you work with an agent or do you represent yourself? I have an exclusive agent in Russia and someone in the USA, with whom I work with on a consultancy/ project basis. For the rest of the world, I represent myself.

TMFMA: Please give us your analysis of the market based on your own experience and contacts. I think worldwide the retail market is still tough at the moment. It can be quite frustrating being in art licensing as when things are tough, the buyers tend to be more conservative in their thinking about designs and colours etc. When really, the opposite should be true. People are not going to part with their money on something they've seen already before. They are more likely going to buy something that is new, fresh and makes them feel good.

Artist Chris Chun - Studio
TMFMA: What advice would you give other artists that are considering the art licensing field and that maybe want to exhibit in a show like Surtex? For a new artist living in the US and thinking about it, I think it is a great show to participate in. But it is expensive and it usually takes a couple of years exhibiting there to get noticed by buyers. I would personally go there first to see what it's all about before jumping in. At least then you can decide whether you would be happy showing your art to people in your own booth or you may prefer to go with an agent to represent you if this isn't your cup of tea.

© Chris Chun
TMFMA: Any other useful info that you'd like to share about art licensing?

It's all about YOU. Your art has to be authentic – I really believe that what you produce should come from the heart and have integrity. There are a lot of similar styles and looks out there. Ask yourself – what makes you stand out from the rest of the pack? What makes your art unique and special? It took me 5 years to find 'me' from when I first visited Surtex. The other important thing to remember is that your art has to be able to 'connect' with the end consumer so they want to buy it. We want them to buy a lot!

Be prepared to ride the rollercoaster! The thing I dislike about licensing is that there are no guarantees when it comes to getting your product out there – even if you have signed a contract. For example, you may have worked hard on designing a collection, your client has gone ahead and had samples made and it looks certain it is going to a store…then WHAM! The buyer at the store may have changed or the CEO has stepped in and decided it's not the right look. All that work for nothing.

In this business, you have to accept the fact that there may be other reasons why some things don't come to the market but it has nothing to do with your actual artwork. I think for many artists, this is the thing that is the killer. You put so much of yourself into your artwork and then to see it not go ahead can be crushing. Even though you may be business savvy, we're artists at the end of the day. It does hurt on an emotional level and it can take some people (including me) a long time to get those creative juices flowing again.

Slow Boat to China. You've probably heard this so many times already and I'm going to say it again - licensing is not a get quick rich money scheme. It takes time to build up a portfolio, meet the right manufacturers, time to get contracts signed, time to get products made and then time to hit the store shelves to get sales. You could be waiting up to 18 months before you see any royalties and upfront advances are unfortunately becoming rarer and rarer these days.

© Chris Chun
Lawyer Up. Please make sure you get a good IP lawyer to look over your contracts so you don't accidentally sign away your copyright or get locked into an agreement where you can't show your work to anyone else for 5 years. Believe you me, there are some horror stories out there.

Respect. Please show some respect for yourself, your artwork and for the other artists in this industry. This means not licensing your artwork to a company for something ridiculously low like 1% just because you are so excited to get your first deal etc. It not only devalues your artwork but it brings down all the hard work that the artists who have been doing this a long time before you have strived to get recognition for.
By selling yourself short, you are also saying to the art directors out there that they can get artwork really cheaply so why should they pay normal royalty rates for this? As artists, we have to stick together and ensure that our commensuration is fair.

The First Step.  There is a wealth of information out there about art licensing; how to get started, what is involved etc. Make sure you know what you're getting into before deciding this is for you. These websites may be helpful: Tara Reed, Maria Brophy, Joan Beiriger, Khristian A Howell, Smart Creative Women, Art of Licensing Group on LinkedIn.

© Chris Chun
Don't be a Copycat! Please don't copy anyone else's work. Whilst it is normal to be inspired by other artists, please make sure that this is all it is. Doing a version of someone else's work or changing it slightly is not acceptable either. You will be found out and you can kiss your licensing career and credibility good bye.

The Jackpot. Licensing can be very rewarding in terms of earning potential and seeing your products out there in the shops. I remember the first time I saw my designs in a store - I was so chuffed! My Mum was so happy, she told all the shop assistants that her son had designed this. How embarrassing especially when I was standing next to her! LOL! But you know what? It probably helped them sell the products more as they learnt about the story behind the design.
Good Luck!

You can find out more about Chris and his art here:

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Journey In Reverse: From Manufacturer to Art Licensor - Artist Caroline Simas

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

In preparation for this Cyber Monday (check out my friend Khristian Howell's awesome offer!), I had a chance to check out a few really cool shops and see what the market has in store for this upcoming Christmas ... lots of colors! So today my new guest is right on when she says down below that manufacturers are looking for color. It's everywhere and it is a good way to attract buyers old and new, in addition to being uplifting as is this new interview! 

THE MOON FROM MY ATTIC: Please introduce yourself - My name is Caroline Simas and I am a mother of four and a licensed artist in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Artist Caroline Simas
I currently design for 12 amazing manufacturers and I am so honored to partner with each of them to design mostly faith-based products for the gift and home decor industry. My brand is called MULTIPLE BLESSINGS and you can find my website here and my blog called DESIGNING FOR THE SOUL here. I have 6 new collections launching in January so 2013 should be an exciting start.

TMFMA: What's exciting about your creative work? I feel so incredibly blessed to do what I love every day and I'm thrilled to be able to work from my home studio (newly renovated)! I enjoy the relationships I have made from this business. Wonderful friendships have developed from working with product development leaders and art directors. I have loved meeting and getting to know retailers and store buyers who are kind enough to carry the products I design and I have met people from all over the world through blogging about my Multiple Blessings journey. And finally I am grateful for the freedom of's such a blessing to create what I am passionate about and share it with others.

TMFMA: Who or what has inspired you in your art? Our children play a large role in inspiring my is more beautiful when viewed through the eyes of a child. They help me to notice the simple beauty right in my own back yard. My work is also inspired by my faith and I'm passionate about incorporating that into much of the messaging on the products I design.

TMFMA: What's your favorite medium or tool/s you create with? Oh, there's no way I can choose. I'll never tire of trying new mediums but lately I am obsessed with mixed media and incorporating everything from painted lace to twigs from the yard to vintage skeleton keys and brooches.

TMFMA: Can you share a favorite technique you routinely use in your art work? I guess am known for the "organic-ness" (is that a word?) of my mixed media. I rarely use scissors because I hand tear each of my patterned papers. I love knowing that because they are torn by hand they are not perfect but rather make each piece feel very hand made and two are alike!

TMFMA: How long have you been doing art licensing? Creativity has been a life long passion of mine. After teaching elementary school for 6 years and teaching art lessons from our home, I began a decorative painting business called The Creative Palette where I hand-painted everything from murals to children's furniture, baby linens and lamps. About this same time, I was struggling to find a unique birth announcement for our soon-to-be-born twin girls. After designing this, I printed a small collection of inspirational greeting cards with my paintings and scripture. A friend asked me to bring them to a local show. They sold out the first day and a retail owner was there and asked to have the collection in her store by the following week!

Our two sons and twin daughters were the inspiration behind the name Multiple Blessings. And because the greeting cards and gifts contained scripture and messages of inspiration, joy and blessings were multiplied as they were sent all over the country. It spread quickly and the cards and other stationery gifts I designed were soon sold in 250+ stores across the U.S. But the manufacturing side was challenging and I found myself after a while focusing more on managing inventory and a warehouse and not focusing on using my strengths and artistic gifts. About the time I was praying about how to transition out of it all I was approached about licensing my art for baby pillows. I had already researched a great bit about art licensing and knew some wonderful folks in the industry, so it was a fairly easy transition for me from manufacturer to art licensor.

I am confident this is a much better fit for me as an artist and as a mother and wife but it was an important stepping stone in my career. My clients have often said they like knowing I have that experience and background because they feel I understand both sides of the industry. I also have been able to use my entrepreneurial experience to invent and help with product development and also help with unique packaging for products which has been great fun.

TMFMA: What brought you to exhibit for the first time and how many shows have you exhibited in? I exhibited in Atlanta in the stationery temps several years and then 2 years in the National Stationery Show. I had walked Surtex during these years and knew it was a great possibility that it would be a better fit for Multiple Blessings. I was strongly encouraged by a fellow licensed artist and my family to make that leap of faith and exhibit at Surtex in 2010. I already had 4 licensing contracts before I exhibited which I believe ended up being a blessing because when I met with manufacturers at Surtex, they could already see what I was capable of creating.

TMFMA: Do you work with an agent or do you represent yourself? I do not work with an agent at the moment but I am asked that question often...especially the question, "How do you manage it all?" It's a challenge for sure and lots of work but quite rewarding in so many ways. I do know some wonderful agents in this industry and know many do a great job for the artists they represent. I have a great relationship with all of the people I work with on product development and for me, I love to be involved with the process, the art, the decisions and all of it. I have learned though that things change so I will never say never. I am open and willing to learn more on this journey.

TMFMA: Please give us your analysis of the market based on your own experience and contacts. I believe the home decor and gift market seems steady and strong. I am hearing that from manufacturers and retailers as well. I like that the manufacturers I partner with think long and hard about their investment pieces (they want to know it will sell before they make thousands of the items!) And retailers I know are being careful with their spending...budgeting and buying specifically with their customers in mind. Products with great art, sentiment, dynamite color, pattern, and texture seem to be in higher demand. My hope is that gifts which are meaningful and tug at your heartstrings will remain strong. It makes sense; as consumers we love to purchase things which speak to us and to the person we intend to give it to. I'm thrilled to be designing in that category and it's an honor to create joyful, meaningful, faith-filled art which speaks to people's souls.

TMFMA: In your view, what was of major interest to manufacturers this year? color!

TMFMA: What do you think the main trends are for 2012-2013? I have my ears and eyes open but try not to follow trends. I am really not sure because I try to just create from my heart and soul and be an authentic artist.

TMFMA: What advice would you give other artists that are considering the art licensing field and that maybe want to exhibit in a show like Surtex? Oh my. I am asked this so often. Here are a few quick but important tips:

You must be completely passionate about your art; if you don't truly love it and believe in it, no one else will either; know your work (there must be a market for it); develop a niche; what do you want to be known/recognized for? What sets your art apart from the masses? Make a business plan/set goals (in writing); if you plan to exhibit, organize your art into categories/themes; have collections to choose from and lots of them; research the art licensing industry, there's so much good advice out there! Hire a good attorney who understands art licensing contracts; think of every product (pie in the sky) you'd love to see your art appear on and make a list in writing; then research every manufacturer who creates those products and contact them with enthusiasm.

Find out more about Caroline's art here:

Monday, November 19, 2012

A New Sense of Direction - Licensing Artist Ellie Record

Did you know that is, for a limited time, selling custom gift wraps and gift boxes of your choice? You can pick a design you like from any of the many shops on their site - you can even see how they look on a mock-up before purchasing anything. I had a little fun playing around with a few of my fabric patterns to see how they turned out as wrapping paper. You can see one sample below - this particular design from my Fiesta collection will soon be listed for sale on my own shop.

Studio•Alex - © Alex Colombo
A little over a year ago I published an article on artist Ellie Record - she just had started in art licensing and was working hard to create a portfolio. Today I am happy to post an update about her progress in the field of commercial art.

The Moon from My Attic: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your art? I live in Thornton, Colorado, with my husband, a beautiful daughter and my two Jack Russell studio pals. My art has curved in many directions. I promoted myself for many years as a children's book illustrator, determined that was the only market my art fit into because of my cute, colorful, whimsical style. When I learned about the huge licensing world, I told myself, "why the hell not!" So started in a new direction, "the yellow brick road."

Artist Ellie Record
TMFMA: What is exciting about your creative work? When I am sketching or writing down ideas, I like to think of putting twists in my work - like adding wings to flying reindeer or instead of painting a normal cupcake create a cupcake birdhouse. Or my recent piece, of a pumpkin jack o'lantern snowman. I love adding detailed accessories to my characters in my collections, such as socks, slippers or silly hats. For me it adds personality, warmth and sometimes humor. My creative style and collections always lean to creating fluffy, feathery, animals. Everyone needs a friend, so my art always seems to incorporate a companion into it. The art within me is overflowing with cuteness. Exciting, hmmm, described more as, "that's so cute!"

© Ellie Record
TMFMA: Is there a person or thing that has influenced you in your artistic efforts? What inspires you? My favorite book when I was young was The Tale of Peter Rabbit. I would read it over and over and look through the pictures. Growing and learning more about the book and author/illustrator Beatrix Potter has always been a influence to me. I love her sweet style and her life story is so inspiring. She worked so hard and never gave up on her passion as a writer and illustrator. I have also been influenced with art throughout my family. My grandma taught me to mix colors at a very young age; I still have that love of mixing colors. On a daily basis my mother is an inspiration. She creates magical fiber art that has texture, paint and organic elements. She inspires me to think outside the box, to try new things. When I get stuck on a project or am battling ideas, she gives me a helpful nudge to get me through.

© Ellie Record
TMFMA: What project are you currently working on? I have been working on a lot of Christmas images lately. But after three or four in a row, the ideas seems to slow down. So I will switch gears and will do a birthday piece. Then maybe a fall piece. So, I just finished up on my jack o' lantern snowman and am now sketching out new thumbnails to see what pops up for the next piece.

TMFMA: Tell us of your experience as an art licensing artist? I attended a SCBWI conference in Jan 2011 and that was my first awareness about licensing. The intensive class included a free pass to walk Surtex. Wow, walking the show was overwhelming, exciting and inspiring. I felt a burning passion to pursue a new direction into licensing after that. I returned home with a new sense of direction and goals and got to work researching the business.

I knew I wanted to look for someone to represent me, so I did some research on how to find an art licensing agent. In the end, I did the actual opposite of the suggestion to build an ample body of work. I took a bold step and sent my small non-existent portfolio to a agent that was looking for whimsical artists. Luckily, she was interested in representing me but I still had lots of work to do with no portfolio. I am blessed that she was willing to work with me.

© Ellie Record
She gave me direction and learning tools to start me off on my collections. With a small amount of work Montage Licensing represented my work for the first time at Surtex this year. I signed my first contract in June from Raz Imports - they create Christmas 3D art with my images. It's such an art high when someone is interested in your work. A jump for joy and then an inspiring feeling to get more work done!

TMFMA: What are your future aspirations and goals? My goal is to continue to learn and thrive in the art licensing world. I would love to travel more, to gain insight and inspiration from other places of the world.

You can find more of Ellie's work at these sites:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Enchanting Watercolors by Artist Lisa Livoni

I have been researching out companies that are a match for my art and sprucing up my artwork presentation. Time consuming but necessary. I'll post one soon, once I work out all the details and make it exactly the way I want it.

In the meantime I want to show off the amazing work of Lisa Livoni, an artist whose work is done all in watercolors. I met her at one of our monthly local licensing meetings in Berkeley. She was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and she developed a serious interest in art as a child; she attributes some of her early creative influences to extensive travel which included three years of living in Japan and attending classes at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

She studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California, receiving a fine arts degree in graphic design and illustration which led to opening a design studio in San Francisco.

Artist Lisa Livoni
Her development of corporate identities, packaging and wine label design introduced her to the Napa Valley where she eventually moved in 1988. After twenty years of designing she returned to her first love of drawing and painting. Lisa has a passion for painting color, light and texture and believes in using white space to encourage the viewer to use their own imagination.

Lisa tells us: "I am a watercolorist who paints in a representational style using a lot of white space. I try to focus on the essence of what I see in nature and to paint the feelings it creates within me."

© Lisa Livoni

She also adds: "My art is mainly of flowers, fruit and vegetables and I try to focus on capturing their personalities and interpreting them in paint and trying to create dynamic forms and composition."

© Lisa Livoni

Drawing is an important part of her painting - the foundation is there only as a structure, not to be formally adhered to but rather to add another dimension of interest and personality." I work a lot with a wet in wet technique to keep the colors clean and clear and let the colors mix on the paper. I use the best red sable brushes and Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper."

© Lisa Livoni

Lisa also shares some insights on being an artist: "An artist has a way of noticing the hidden detail, a glimpse of the soul, and if they are fortunate to see it, feel it, it can pass through them into their work. That is what is exciting about painting every day. My main source of inspiration is the beauty in nature, I am drawn to the perfection of form and color which is why I paint flowers, fruit and vegetables - the possibilities are infinite."

© Lisa Livoni

She is currently painting for several upcoming shows and working on a large commission piece. Lisa hasn't had any art licensing experience yet but she says, "I am certainly open to exploration. It is an area that interests me a great deal."

© Lisa Livoni

Her future goals? "They are to reach a greater audience with my art, to continue painting large scale pieces and working on commissions with interior designers, perhaps designing textiles, china or linens - I am open."

You can find more of Lisa's beautiful art here:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tell Us a Story: Artist Patti Gay and Two Can Art

I just launched my new Etsy shop - and am so excited about it! Many artists in this community have online shops and Etsy is a favorite place. If you want to connect find me here:

To top it all and to celebrate this new activity of mine I picked this quote: "Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep balance, you must keep moving." - Albert Einstein

The story I am about to present is about life and moving forward. Artist Patti Gay has been doing exactly that. Below is her story behind Two Can Art.

Artists Patti and Noah
"It's a collection of images that are a collaboration between myself (Patti Gay) and my son, Noah who is autistic. I believe that everyone has something beautiful to give to the world and this is the story of Noah's contribution. Noah loves to paint and creates wonderful textures using all kinds of techniques. He paints with brushes, sponges, hands and even bubbles. I have always loved what he has created and thought them beautiful. Having saved them for a while, there is now a wealth of textures compiled. I thought it would be great to take those textures and use them to create images. Two Can Art was born!

© Patti Gay
I scan in his paintings first. I do sketches for designs next, then piece together textured shapes to create images. The collection now has over 200 images and is growing. It's really interesting to also see how the collection is evolving as I get more comfortable working with the textures. It's a real departure from my other work under Patti Gay-Design. It's also fun to see how this is influencing that work. Both are represented by my licensing agent JMS Art Licensing. There are cards and gift bags that will be coming out next year with Two Can Art licensed images on them. I am really excited about that.

I'm also starting to branch Two Can Art into work for picture books and am in the process of writing a story for kids that will have Noah's great textures incorporated in the illustrations. I have a book agent, Ronnie Herman of the Herman Agency that will show it when it is ready.

© Patti Gay
Noah continues to paint and add to the library for Two Can Art. The next project we will do together is to make paper. The plan is to add these textures along with the painted ones to new images. I've got a couple screens ready to go, so that will be starting soon. I can hardly wait!

The very best thing for me about Two Can Art is that we are doing something together that we both love."

Patti also hosts a blog called Illustrator's Market where she features amazing artists.

Find Patti's work here:


© Patti Gay
© Patti Gay

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Moon from My Attic on Social Media - A brand New Facebook Page!

I just recently got in my set of promotional postcards that I will be sending out to various manufacturers soon, so I'm excited about this next step of my journey into art licensing!
I also launched my new (public) Facebook Page where I will be featuring interviewed artists to further promote them and their beautiful work. I'll share cool quizzes and other surprises ... anyone can participate; artist winners will be featured on the side bar of this blog for a full month for free! You can Like my new FB page here:

To top it all this week I entered a cool contest on Spoonflower, where I have a shop called Studio•Alex. The theme is Holiday Cocktail Napkins; you submit the artwork for a set of them and you can actually vote without needing to be registered or have an account. My napkins look like these below and they will be on sale soon, right after the contest. I appreciate your votes if you like them - it's easy and quick to do, just click on my design layout and then continue to the last page and enter your vote!

© 2012 alessandra colombo -

It seems to me, and I am new to this, that the work of marketing and promoting your art is a never ending one. I can assure you, though, that it is lots of fun and rewarding to collaborate with all of you!

I also want to add my many thanks to all past successful artists, as they have paved the road for the rest of us with their success. It is a real team activity after all - way before the internet grew into fruition. Artists have become more and more professional by learning from past pioneers who led the evolution of the industry and inspired many in the process.

Stay tuned for more great interviews and articles from artists, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers...very soon!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Brief Tips & Tricks in Art Licensing

What's a proper etiquette when approaching a manufacturer at a show? Well, I have done some research and found some good tips and tricks from art licensing professionals. It's also common sense in any business.

RIGHT WAY: Approach a manufacturer at a booth when not already engaged in a conversation; ask: "Can you give me the name and contact info of the person responsible for reviewing new art as I'd like to contact them after the show." (or something along that line)

WRONG WAY: Don't walk up to people in the booth if they are already busy in a conversation with other people and ask for info or to review your portfolio. Aside from being rude, it's also a sure way to create a bad impression with both manufacturer and guest being entertained ... you never know who that might be.

OCCASIONAL WAY: You might be asked to go see someone else who is nearby when asking the contact. If that happens, kindly thank them and go introduce yourself. Ask for that person for their contact info, again stressing that it's for after the show. Sometimes they will look at your work then and there, but normally they will give you a card to use for contacting them at a later time.

ADDITIONAL WAY: Do your homework before walking the show. Find out about a company's products and customers ahead of time. You should know and understand what they do; you want to show them quickly that you get their products/materials and that you can show them rapidly how your art might fit in to their company's products or market demand.

Also, have a good sample visual/small package of your work along with your card, something that will catch their attention. It should be a good representation of your work and that should be something they can store away easily yet allows them to remember you at a glance as they go back to their office. Otherwise it could take up weeks to look you up again. 

At last, make sure you bring your portfolio nicely presented or in digital format (tablet) to the show in case you get "lucky" and get to present your art on the spot! 

As they say, "Chance favors the prepared mind."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Business of Art: Carolyn Edlund of Artsy Shark

This week I switched into manufacturers' art matching mode ... so I've been creating colorful promo pieces to mail out to them. It's exciting and fun at the same time! Here is one of my three-set promotional postcards:

© Alessandra Colombo

To tell you more about business skills and marketing for artists, here's a special guest who will explain how to go about doing exactly that.

Carolyn Edlund
My name is Carolyn Edlund. I write two blogs, the Artsy Shark blog at and The Arts Business Institute blog at

The Moon from My Attic: What exactly do you do? I founded the Artsy Shark blog in 2009 for the purpose of publishing articles and interviews about the business of art. I also have a private practice as a business consultant for artists. Although I work with many types of artists, I especially like helping people who are developing greeting card lines, a business I understand very well. I also work with quite a few artists who want to wholesale their collections and need to understand how to set up and run production businesses. I've had extensive experience with wholesaling, not only because I owned a production studio, but also as a road rep selling art and gift lines to retailers.

I am the Executive Director of the Arts Business Institute, which is a nonprofit organization focused on teaching business skills to artists and craftspeople. We have a faculty of experts from around the country who we use to conduct workshops. These are intensive experiences for students who want to learn to become full-time entrepreneurs running their own studios. Art schools typically do not teach about the business of art, which is unfortunate. So we help to bridge the gap with practical information on how to plan and set goals, price, market and sell art and craft. Our goal is that students are prepared to run successful businesses. There are a lot of details and everyone's situation is different, so we provide ongoing support for students through private business consultations. I spend much of my time doing those.

Earlier this year, I wrote an e-course titled "Marketing for Artists & Craftspeople," which is available through the Arts Business Institute website. It's a comprehensive course for creative entrepreneurs with hundreds of strategies and links to resources. We have gotten a lot of really good feedback on it.

TMFMA: What are your requirements to publish an artist on your blog? What do you look for when you do the selection? Featured artists are a very big part of Artsy Shark, and each call for artists gets a huge response. I'm looking for artists to feature who have talent and a cohesive body of work that speaks of a mature style. It's important that I feature artists in different mediums and those who are doing innovative and unusual work. I enjoy featuring artists from all over the world. Some of the artists I've featured have been from Australia, Italy, Russia, Romania, Brazil, Canada, France, South Africa, and other countries.

TMFMA: When you view an artist's work, what are the key elements you look for? A signature style and a well-developed body of work. When an artist wants to be considered for a feature, I review their website. If they are all over the map with different mediums and styles, they would not be ready to be featured.

TMFMA: What's the worst error a new artist can make in getting known and established? Many artists are uncomfortable talking about themselves. They may fear speaking in front of others or be insecure in their work. New artists have to step outside their comfort zone. They have a story to tell – about themselves, their technique, their inspiration. This is fascinating to others and their story becomes an intrinsic part of their art. The more you share and connect, the more you will find a response and make sales of your work.

TMFMA: What's you view of the current market and trends? I've got a mixed view, but overall a positive one. With this economy, it's really tough out there. Art and fine craft are viewed as a luxury and sales have definitely dropped off. Retail shows have declined. On the wholesale front, it's more difficult because many retailers have closed or they are very careful in their purchasing. On the other hand, with technology everything has opened up. Online sales are flourishing, which means that your market is now global. You can sell your work without the expense of going to trade or art shows, right from the shopping cart on your website. My opinion is that today artists need multiple ways to sell their work to be successful. And when you diversify your income streams, your business is more stable.

TMFMA: How do you see the future of art licensing? I definitely see licensing growing, but probably slowly. The past couple of years have been difficult ones. With an uncertain economy, manufacturers flee to very safe designs and what they know will sell. They have to satisfy their bottom line and they must be convinced that your work is a good bet to go forward. Artists who license will have to become increasingly sophisticated in their presentation and industry knowledge. You see this happening at shows such as Surtex, where artists may be showing their portfolio on an iPad, presenting finished concepts using their designs. They must be very clear as to what products their work is appropriate for and be able to present that effectively.

TMFMA: What do you offer as a consultant? Usually when working with a new client, I gather as much information up front as possible about the vision they have for their business, their priorities, and problems they are facing. We start with an hour long consultation, structured to provide as much really useful content as possible. The signature feature of my consultation process is that I tell clients, "Don't take notes." This is so that they can be more engaged in the conversation. I always follow up with an extensive email to the client, detailing their strengths, challenges, and strategies that were discussed during the appointment. The purpose is to map out steps so that the artist can take action immediately and start moving forward in their business.

TMFMA: What other useful tips can you give to new artists starting out? You need a website with your own domain name. These days, if you have no online presence you are invisible. You also need very professional photographs of your artwork. If your photos are amateurish, you are wasting your time. Your competition has gorgeous photos and the bar is set high. Keep that in mind and present yourself professionally.