Monday, December 17, 2012

Finding One's True Voice in Art Licensing - Artist Janet Broxon

It was just about a year ago today that I was working furiously to assemble and complete my first couple of collections in advance of a critique I'd signed up for with a local group of artists. Over the course of the last year, it has been a wild journey to figure out exactly where and what I want to do; what facet of my art do I want to explore, what makes for good licensing prospects, and what is it that most interests and inspires me. I can now easily see that this is a long journey, one that conceivably could last until I can no longer hold a brush!

Today I'm happy to introduce artist and designer Janet Broxon, who has an inspiring tale of her own journey into art licensing and has shared with us some of her beautiful work.

© Artist and Designer Janet Broxon
The Moon from My Attic: Please introduce yourself - I'm originally from California where I’ve lived up and down the coast. I studied fine art at UC Santa Barbara, and illustration at the Academy of Art in San Francisco.

I worked as an illustrator both in-house and freelance, illustrating children's books, book covers, packaging, editorial and fabric design. It was easy to find inspiration in San Francisco, such a culturally rich city in such a beautiful setting. Eventually, I moved with my husband and twin boys to mid-coast Maine where I now live and continue to work as an illustrator and art licensor. I find Maine is slowly seeping into my veins and thus my work, with all its nature, seasons and beautiful coastline.

© Janet Broxon
What brought you to art in the first place and who or what inspired you in your art? I think art was always a part of me; I drew and painted often as a child and my older sister constantly had some kind of sewing or crafting project going on, so we'd often frequent fabric, craft and stationery stores. We were always making gifts and greeting cards for family and friends, and I would go to the Laguna Beach art festivals every year, too.

About that same time, I remember shopping with my mom in a department store and seeing the iconic Vera Neumann signature on bath towels, sheets and all kinds of household products and thinking, wow a real person actually does these designs and gets to even sign her name! That's when I think the seed was first planted.

© Janet Broxon
What's exciting about your work? Well first I get to take a little from all the things I love, color, pattern, interesting and beautiful subject matter and throw it all together to create something completely new. I also like to have fun with the compositions I create, adding shapes and swirls that move the viewer’s eye around the piece, where they can find patterns and unexpected textures, like fun little surprises.

In reality, the creative process is a lot like life itself with its share of ups and downs. Some pieces come more easily but often there is that moment of frustration, even panic, when you feel "Oh no, this is just not working!" But it's great when you come out the other end with something that can express the joy of what you believe is wonderful in the world, and are able to share it with others.

© Janet Broxon
What's your favorite medium or tools you create with? I still love traditional mediums and tote around a pencil box full of all kinds of colored pencils, and pens. I do lots of mini paintings and designs, always in full color. I can't seem to visualize as well in pencil alone. When I like something, I'll enlarge it and paint with gouache and pastel and often add collage elements, a little fabric or an inked pattern for texture. I then scan and tweak it further, and maybe add layers of collage and filters in Photoshop. The challenge for me is to still capture the spontaneity in the mini paintings once I work on them larger. I'm also still determined to learn vector for patterns but I find I relate much more to pixels.

How long have you been doing art licensing? It's only really been the last couple years that I began to focus on art licensing more seriously. After working in house with a children's clothing company, I went freelance with the desire to develop my own style and see my work on all kinds of products but really didn't know how to go about it. I only knew about illustration assignment work, like educational publishing, advertising, children's books, greeting cards and editorial. Then in 2006, I was offered a contract to do several fabric collections for a company in San Francisco. I worked with them for several years while still mostly pursuing assignment illustration work. The fabric company was what really got me thinking again in terms of collections and seeing my designs on multiple products. I did lots of research and realized that there is a whole other category out there called "art licensing" (they never taught us this in art school) that works a bit differently. This felt like a good fit. I love being able to pick my own subjects to illustrate and like the idea of having my artwork on all kinds useful and decorative items.

© Janet Broxon
What brought you to exhibit for the first time and how many shows have you exhibited in - if any? I had heard about Surtex during my time of research and through friends who had visited. I admire those brave and ambitious enough to design their own booth and show on their own. Weighing all things for me, it just wasn't practical. So I opted to be shown with a group through an agent. Thus far, I've been shown twice at both Surtex and the Atlantic Gift Shows.

What advice would you give other artists that are considering the art licensing field? I would first advise they do a lot of research - there is a ton of information to be found on-line. Decide if it is really right for you and whether your art is really right for art licensing. If you don't already have a large body of work, then find out what you are best at and most passionate about and develop a lot of work around that. You need to be very self motivated. This was challenging for me coming from assignment work where an art director is guiding you along the way and giving you deadlines that you know in the end will be published and you'll be paid for it.

In the beginning especially, You will likely be working very long hours and without much guidance, developing your own collections without knowing if the work will go anywhere. You have to be your own cheerleader, so to speak, and this isn't for everyone. The other thing I'd say is that you need to be flexible; you may have to change colors on demand, make something look less juvenile or more, tone something down, give it more punch, etc.

© Janet Broxon
Another key element is you have to get your work out there to be seen and noticed. This is much easier now to do with the Internet, but you are like a needle in a haystack, there are now so many others doing it. You must figure out a way to stand out. Patience is another important trait to have, it takes a while to land a deal, to get paid, and for most of us, to achieve any real success. Respect yourself and know your worth — as an artist you are bringing something important to the table, so learn about contracts and copyrights, and be negotiable but don't settle for deals you'll later regret. Lastly, be persistent - this isn't an easy field. I have made my share of mistakes along the way and still have a lot to learn, but I believe the longer you stick with it, the more you'll gain the confidence and clarity you need to be successful.

© Janet Broxon
Please give us your analysis of the market based on your own experience and contacts. From what I've read and heard from others as well as felt myself, it has definitely been a tougher time for many people. Manufacturers are offering fewer guarantees, little or no advances, and are giving products less shelf life, making it more difficult to accumulate decent royalties. And never before has it been easier to find exceptional artists from around the world, making the competition fierce.

Despite all this, I remain optimistic. There are also many positive changes taking place. With such easy access to finding so many unique artists, it sets the bar higher for both artists and manufacturers in general, and also educates the public more to what is out there, leading to more art appreciation. Never before have there been so many ways to market your art and even get it on products. Look at how Etsy, Spoonflower and Pinterest and POD sites have taken off. I think manufacturers will follow suit. I have already seen in some cases, companies becoming less conservative and willing to give emerging artists and newer styles a chance.

I recently stumbled upon on The Vera Company website, this philosophy I love of the late Vera Neumann that "fine art should be accessible to everyone, not just a select few." She believed that artwork should not be relegated to walls. Rather, people should surround themselves with art - wear it, dine off it, and dream under it. Because Art inspires, it lifts your spirit and makes you feel better.

© Janet Broxon
What do you think the main trends are for 2012-2013? Trends are fun to research and know about, but I don't follow them too religiously. I always feel I'm going to be too late on them anyway. I try to just paint what most interests me. If it happens to coincide with an upcoming trend, then great! I like to see what the new colors are and I'm thrilled to see brighter colors coming in the next year. The new color of the year for 2013, Emerald, will of course likely bring in more greens. There always seems to be something for everyone with the trends from mid-century nostalgia to fractal kaleidoscopes. So take what you love and run with it. And one I'm always happy to hear about is a continued trend toward more drawing and hand painting.

Janet Broxon
Illustration and Design


Tootseepop said...

Love your work Janet. Beautiful!

Unknown said...

I am reposting this comment in behalf of Deb Haugen, from another forum: "Nice interview, it helps in getting to know where an artists mind is. Also I love to see artists working on You Tube, that is my Sunday morning treat to myself. Thanks Alex and Janet!"