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:


kat mcd. said...

Lovely art and great advice. Artists need to know their worth!
kat mcd.

Ronnie Walter said...

Awesome words from an awesome artist! I was so chuffed to read it and I don't even know what that word means! But if Chris said it, it must be amazing!

Natalie Timmons said...

Alex, Thanks for plugging my Sell Sheet eGuide. I'm a HUGE fan of your blog and so it's an honor to be mentioned. Every post is so inspirational. I just received another "dose" of inspiration in reading Chris Chun's story. Thanks for all you do to motivate and inspire us!

Deb Grogan said...

Ronnie, Chuffed, is British and basically means pleased........and by all means, we are! We love Chris, his art and his attitude and spirit! Nice read Chunny Bunny!

Unknown said...

Thanks everyone for your kind comments! You left me chuffed to the 3rd power: chuffed that Chris is chuffed, chuffed that you all are chuffed and chuffed that I get to use this chuffy word so many times!

Unknown said...

On behalf of Sue Zipkin: "Alex, thanks for another amazing interview. I am a big fan of Chris Chuns artwork. I basically fell in love with his artwork the first time I saw it. I have been fortunate to get to know him and he is a one-of-a-kind special person. Chris is very generous and he shares some excellent advice here in this post. He brought up something that happens frequently in this industry, projects along the way often die on the vine before they even see the light of day. So many different factors are involved as to why something gets to the stores and other things do not. It is always a challenge for all of us who are involved in this business to embrace that reality, and move on to the next exciting project. Thank you Chris! Much continued success!"

Natalie Ryan said...

Another great interview Alex. Chris's passion for creating beautiful designs is apparent in all he does, and he is a very generous mentor. I'm sure Chris will be producing best selling artworks for many years to come!