Thursday, January 31, 2013

An Art Licensing True Story - A Late Bloomer’s Path by Artist Natalie Timmons

I have been experimenting with some new and fun techniques, and ended up with a couple of new collections that might be perfect for upcoming potential clients. Sometime good things come from unplanned actions and become useful at a later time, when the right time comes.

This is just like the experience of today's guest artist Natalie Timmons, who says she is a late bloomer as far as art and art licensing go. She also adds, "The first half of my life I enjoyed a very successful career in marketing communications and graphic design while raising an amazing son with my husband. Ten months before I turned 50, I left a full-time job to return to consulting part-time so I could seriously pursue my art and art licensing. Something inside me kept telling me 'now was the time.' My friends thought I was nuts to leave a good job in this economy. But I've never pursued things in the normal way and tend to follow my heart. Not willy-nilly, mind you. I saved my pennies, so I'd have a financial cushion."

As it turned out, she was lucky enough to leave the job she had with a contract already in hand. "I've had the best of both worlds this past year working part-time as a project manager for a global website project and part-time on my art" - she adds.

© Natalie Timmons
I asked Natalie how she discovered art licensing. She replied, "I've always been a huge fan of Mary Engelbreit, Marjolein Bastin, Kathy Davis, Amy Brown, Debbie Mumm, and Susan Winget. In fact, our first floor bathroom is a shrine to Mary Engelbreit. It has a pretty black and white checked border that I sponge painted by hand, five of my favorite ME calendar prints framed in black, a display of ME collectibles and a floor canvas that I designed and hand painted with Mary's trademark cherries and a black and white border."

Natalie thinks the catalyst was an article she read about Kathy Davis in the September 2009 issue of More Magazine. "After reading Kathy’s inspirational story, I started gobbling up everything in sight about art licensing. I read every website, blog and book I could get my hands on. I also started dabbling in sketching and painting my own designs."

© Natalie Timmons
In early 2010, she had a one-hour consultant with Carol Eldrige to see if her art was appropriate for art licensing. "I'm almost embarrassed to say I brought about 20 frogs and a few other paintings to the meeting. Carol thoughtfully reviewed them all and basically said, 'You're going to need a lot more than frogs'. She was a sweetheart and gave me solid next steps to pursue as far as expanding my portfolio."

In September 2010, Natalie left her job and diligently began sketching and painting new designs for her portfolio. After five months as a part-time artist she created about 5 small collections, she says. "At that point, I wasn't sure if I was heading the right direction so I signed up with Tara Reed for 6 coaching sessions. I can't say enough about Tara Reed Coaching. Her coaching approach is detail oriented and fantastic. I really feel I cut out a lot of trial and error by coaching with Tara. Using my expertise in marketing and what I learned from Tara and Joan Beiriger’s Blog, I spiffed up my approach so much that one agent said my sell sheet presentation was one of the best she'd ever seen. This inspired me to create a free eGuide on How to Create Killer Sell Sheets for Artists."

© Natalie Timmons
Natalie also walked Surtex for the first time in May 2012. Surtex was a fantastic experience for her - finally in one place was all her favorite art and many of her favorite artists, she added. "I was in heaven. I also attended all ten workshops which I found extremely informative. If you missed the workshops you can read the Surtex 2012 Conference Re-cap on my Creative Leaps Blog."

It's now been 14 months since she began her art licensing pursuit. "I've finished ten collections with a total of 108 icons, 205 mockups, 165 patterns, 29 borders and 4 designs or 511 art elements. Half of the collections are rather large, so my goal from now until Surtex is to create smaller collections to show a larger variety of themes. This will be my first time exhibiting at Surtex. I am equal parts exited and scared to death!!"

Natalie tells us more about her art licensing adventure: "I am unapologetically perky and so is my art. My tagline is 'Contagiously happy nature and animal art.' My inspiration comes from my gardens, walks in the countryside and the sweet spirit of animals. The work of other artists can also spark a creative fire."

She hand paints her art elements or designs in watercolor, pen and ink, scans the paintings, and then manipulates them in Photoshop to create designs, patterns, borders and mockups. Her last collection, called Rooster Country, was her first attempt at digital painting. "It was a blast! I sketched the 4 roosters, drew their interior patterns and outlined them with a black Micron pen. Then, I scanned and digitally painted them in Photoshop. I really enjoyed the flexibility of being able to change colors without having to redo the whole painting. It was liberating!"

© Natalie Timmons
"You (Alex), Cherish Flieder and few others have mentioned the value you've gotten from art licensing groups. I couldn't find a group like that on the East Coast, so I started one. Although I am very blessed to have incredibly supportive family members and friends, none of them are artists. And, I felt surrounding myself with like-minded people was very important. The first meeting of the Art Licensing Group of New Hampshire was in June and we now have 12 members."

Natalie runs the group similar to a Mastermind group, she says. "I'm a bit of stickler about the members setting and achieving small doable goals. I really believe that taking small progressive steps towards a dream is better than setting off in some vague direction. It's just too easy for life to get in the way of such a wishy-washy undertaking. Each month the members set a goal. I route the list of goals to the members and we hold that intention for each other until the next meeting."

© Natalie Timmons
Her group addresses the concrete aspects of art licensing such as how many pieces should one have in a collection, do they need an agent, copyright law and contracts, marketing, etc. She also adds, "But for some of us, it's not knowledge or lack of talent that holds us back from our dreams; it's our inner gremlins such as fear, low self-esteem or the negative stories we tell ourselves. We tackle those issues too by sharing techniques for overcoming resistance, designing our ideal day, and giving each other support and encouragement … or a gentle kick in the but.

"It has been amazing and wonderful to witness all the information sharing and encouragement that goes on in the group. In just six months one of the members found and signed with an agent. While other members have created new websites or gotten really focused and productive in their creative output."

Natalie also says she secretly wanted to be an artist. "However, when I was young I never thought I was creative. I had friends that could draw amazing things. But drawing never came easy to me so I tried other things like crotchet, tin punching, cross-stitch, quilting, poetry and creative writing.

© Natalie Timmons
They say, 'what you want, wants you' and I think my secret yearning to be an artist attracted me to a creative industry like advertising and marketing and kept me dabbling my way through a variety of creative hobbies until I was ready to own up to being an artist."

When she was 22, she took a decorative painting class at the Creative Cricket in Stratham, NH. The classes were essentially paint by numbers but she was hooked on paint. She painted signs, stools, and holiday decorations. She continues, "Although I've moved well beyond painting other people's designs, I learned a lot about paint and brush control from those early years. I used to practice my decorative strokes while watching TV with my young son at night.

© Natalie Timmons
I took my first watercolor class about ten years later. When I walked into the first class, everyone had an easel and the instructor pointed to a detailed landscape and said draw this. I thought, 'Oh boy, this is a real art class!' From then on, watercolor has been my medium of choice. In fact, I wouldn't touch my acrylics for two years because the whole approach to watercolor was so different. In acrylics, I painted darks to lights. With watercolor, I had to reserve the whites and lights."

Slowly but surely Natalie began painting her own compositions, mostly landscapes, home portraits, and floor mats. In October 2009, she sketched and painted her first frog. "Why is a little frog so exciting? Well, I was trying to channel the light, sweet style of Rachelle Ann Miller whose work I adore. But, my little frog painting came out nothing like her work. My colors are higher key and much more saturated. It was also hand-painted rather than digitally rendered."

© Natalie Timmons
"No matter", she says, "the important thing is that I became obsessed with painting happy little frogs. And, it was in sketching and painting frogs that I gained a lot more confidence in creating my own designs. More importantly I discovered my sweet spot – a way to marry two skills that I love – graphic design and painting. So, in a strange and wonderful way, my cute little frogs led me to the possibilities of illustration and art licensing."

These days, her primary goal is to keep designing and painting a greater variety of images and themes so her style and voice evolve more strongly. "I'm a firm believer that my art, and my heart, will show me the way."

You can learn more about Natalie at:

Monday, January 28, 2013

An Art Licensing True Story - Trusting Your Inner Voice by Artist Nicole Tamarin

Each week I try to make as much progress as I can to create new collections for the upcoming Surtex show. It's tricky when I try to submit new art to manufacturers at the same time - conclusion: this job requires some discipline to keep up with all that needs to happen and I think it's a fun challenge to discover what works best. And to illustrate this point, artist Nicole Tamarin tells us how she multi-tasks and gets the job done!

Nicole says that she knew she wanted to be a freelance illustrator since the seventh grade after seeing a presentation during a career day: "Despite that early revelation, I had a number of stops and starts getting there! I didn't take any art classes until my junior year of high school and in a very last minute decision I applied to the Massachusetts College of Art. Even after graduating with departmental honors from the illustration department it took almost a decade until I allowed myself to pursue art as a career. I think I'm one of those practical people that tries to do all the 'should do's' before the 'want to's' and it actually took losing my full time employment to push me in the right direction."

Artist Nicole Tamarin
Art Licensing is brand new to her but she feels as if it was something she was meant to do. Nicole says, "It is still a bit of a mystery how I knew that was the right direction for me; all I can say is it was a complete moment of clarity." In September of 2010 she had listened to a recorded call of Tara Reed's where she had asked Paul Brent how he'd suggest starting out in the business - he said to research the industry, create a minimum of 20 collections, and attend a trade show. "That became my mini business plan of sorts", Nicole adds. "When I say it now, I realize just how silly it sounds but honestly, it's exactly what I did! That call was also the first time I heard about Surtex and I decided right then that I would walk the show in 2011 and exhibit in 2012. I had no idea what a collection was or how to create a pattern and for the first time in my life I jumped whole heartily into something that I didn't have a concrete plan for."

© Nicole Tamarin - Mariposa Collection
And that's not all. She also says, "I officially launched my business at Surtex in 2012 and it was the most amazing experience. All those months of creating art, having no idea if what I had would be a fit for the industry and the response was wonderful. I had spent 36 hours a week working between two jobs and 40 hours a week creating art for the show, it was an exhausting 20 months but it was so worth it! Somehow I knew if I could just get to the show, I'd figure out my next steps. I met a variety of manufacturers and the most amazing, supportive group of artists! I knew before the show had even ended that I'd be back exhibiting the next year for sure!"

Nicole also explains that all of her art is traditionally painted with watercolors on paper but she has reworked my entire process to allow for the flexibility manufacturers require. "I'm drawn to classic subject matter and love incorporating little details. I've been told my work has a subtle sophistication to it and is reminiscent of art you might see in classic children's book illustration. I'm excited to see my background in illustration does come through."

© Nicole Tamarin - Peacock Plumes Collection
"I'm thrilled to be working on several projects which will be coming out in the upcoming year," Nicole adds. My art will be on stationary products, wall art, gift items and electronic skins. My first line of greeting cards is coming out for 2013 as well as my first three fabric collections. I feel so incredibly fortunate to be pursing art as a career even if it took longer than I had originally thought."

As far as inspiration Nicole says, "I have never been someone who created art for the enjoyment of creating. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't love making art, but it's only part of the process to me. I think I get the most excited about developing a collection, thinking through all the pieces that I might need and how they might go together later on different surfaces. I'm never at a shortage for ideas since there are so many themes to explore!"

© Nicole Tamarin - Mad Hattery Collection
You can find more of Nicole Tamarin art on her website:

Friday, January 25, 2013

An Art Licensing True Story - Learning to Take a Leap by Artist Jill Meyer

I like to tell stories but mostly I like to listen to them. It's not only fun and entertaining but I always learn something new from them. So I asked a few artists to tell us their stories. This week I want to share artist Jill Meyer's tale.

When asked, she realized immediately that her precise story is not important at all, she said. "But what may be important for others is to know that I have redefined my life many times and have lived to tell the tale! I have often had to overcome the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with making a life change, turn off the rhetoric in my head that said I could not do it, pull all of my resources together, grit my teeth, and move forward on an unknown path."

© Jill Meyer
She still has a vivid memory of sitting on the classroom floor when she was in kindergarten. She said she was blissfully making artwork by coloring, cutting and pasting. She wanted to continue doing this forever, but that activity was over all too soon. "I think the reason that art, design, and color play a role in each of my lives and links them all is that I never really did get enough coloring, cutting and pasting in kindergarten, and I still want to continue forever! This connecting thread is somehow always involved in my various pursuits and passions, and they all hark back in some way to that blissful experience in kindergarten!"

Jill also adds, "When I become interested in something, I pursue it full throttle. I need to learn everything I can possibly learn about what I am interested in and sharpen my skills as much as they can be sharpened, and then I dive into whatever has become my passion head first with no life preserver in sight." After a certain length of time, doing what you do on a daily basis can become stale - she explains.  "I know when that happens to me because I notice that I do not approach my endeavor with the same enthusiasm or excitement. I always try to do my best when I am engaged but I know the signs now when the blush is beginning to come off the rose. When I make it a point to be aware of my own behavior and I am honest with myself, I usually know when it is time for me to change my direction. It took me several bouts of misery to learn to pay attention to these signals." She knows for sure, she says, that she is ready to make a leap to something new, when she hears herself saying that perhaps "I have stayed too long at the fair!"

© Jill Meyer
Jill had been a teacher at every level, kindergarten through high school. Several years before she left her last teaching position she developed a burning interest in calligraphy. She was fascinated by and studied the nuances of every historical hand and practiced her lettering at every spare moment. With an eye toward a new career, she also studied for and received a state license in real estate. After many years in the classroom she happily left teaching with the idea that she would begin to buy, redesign, and sell houses. "I had no real experience in this but it seemed to me that after managing and teaching a room full of children and getting them to do what I wished, that it might not be any more difficult to wrangle a group of construction workers! I wanted to be able to take a tired, worn, and dated older house and give it a fresh, current, and more attractive look, and then sell it to someone who would be thrilled with it.

I commandeered every penny of my teacher's retirement money and launched my new business. A very scary move indeed, but I committed to it, overrode the thousand reasons I knew that it might fail, and jumped in. Every house I revamped was sold immediately and profitably and my new business was a success. I used some very basic design (less is more) and color ideas (neutrals appeal to most) to re-do my houses and they were a hit!" She also adds that she became very experienced at "flipping" houses and the results were bankable but after several years in, she knew that the market was changing and the time was coming to find another direction. "I had no idea what the next step in my life would be, but I knew for sure that I was not going to 'flip' any more houses."

"I had a successful background in teaching and over a number of years I had developed good skills and a good repertoire in the different historical hands in calligraphy, so on a wild notion I called some of the local adult schools and asked the principals if they would be interested in offering a calligraphy class, taught by me, in their adult school program. Each one was thrilled to include me in their curriculum and could not wait to sign me up! Now, I had to actually develop the classes and teach adults, which I had never done before! Classes were to begin only a few short weeks after my initial inquiries. I was completely panicked and beyond nervous, but I had no time to worry about the fact that I did not know what to do, I just knew I had to do it! My calligraphy classes were packed from day one."

Jill eventually expanded her schedule to include classes in some of her other interests and hobbies. She taught classes in card making, paper crafting, papermaking, paper marbling, and another passion of hers at the time, making fully articulated teddy bears. "What fun!" she says. "I met and worked with some of the nicest people on the planet. Many of them were seniors who were completely young at heart and spirit and with whom I had many raucous laughs and made many friendships. After teaching these classes for several years (and finally realizing that I was burning out and exhausted from my demanding teaching schedule), one student shared some art rubber stamps that she brought to class in a shoebox."

© Jill Meyer
At the time, there were very few art rubber stamps available, she tells, and she had never seen anything like them. "I fell instantly and completely in love with them! Within the next few days I had purchased every art rubber stamp that I could find and any inkpads or accessories that would enhance their use (many years later, I have well over 5,000 rubber stamps, and an entire room full of accessories)." She also found out whom the handful of companies were who made these marvelous objects. At that time, each stamp company had a distinctive look to their stamps. One could tell who the company was by simply looking at the stamp style. "I was putting on a brave face, but by now I was joylessly teaching calligraphy. In a timely, seemingly heaven-sent fluke, I came upon a want ad in a calligraphy magazine. A rubber stamp manufacturer was seeking to employ someone with a calligraphy or art background who knew how to use art rubber stamps. Yes! Yet another change in direction!"

She finished her commitments in teaching calligraphy and she became a demo artist for the rubber stamp company that placed the ad (and shortly thereafter, all of the other rubber stamp companies as well)! "I had never given a demonstration in a store before and I did not know what to do or how to do it, but I knew that I loved working with rubber stamps and I hoped that the people seeing my demonstration would forgive any amateur awkwardness that I might have as a demonstrator and be charmed by the delightful things that could be done with the stamps. The stamps, (and I think my enthusiasm for them) worked their magic."

© Jill Meyer
So she learned how to swim in different ponds and to show the distinct styles of each stamp company to its best advantage, she says. "This diversity in style is still seen in the art that I do currently for licensing." Her demo artist career grew to include a number of other companies that manufactured different products for art and crafts. Jill expanded her demos from stores to working at huge craft shows, trade shows and conventions for both fine art and crafts manufacturers.

"I used to walk these shows on my breaks and I noticed that there were a number of magazines dedicated to art and to crafts. I spoke with some of the people in the magazine booths and said that I demonstrated a lot of art and/or craft products and made loads of sample projects to show off the products. They told me that if I could make interesting projects and then write an article about them and step them out for the readers, that they would pay me for the articles. I really had no clue about how to do any of this for magazines but I took everyone's business card and said I might give it a go." Jill tried a few sample projects because she had no idea of what projects they wanted or how to do the articles. She sent the sample projects and her sample articles off hoping that she might get some feedback on what to do and how to do it correctly.  

All of her sample projects and sample articles were published in several different magazines. "I never looked back from there. I spent years doing projects and articles and having them published in what became a very long list of magazines. I had a project and article in at least two or three different magazines each time a new issue published. I always enjoyed doing the projects and writing the articles, and these proved to be very financially rewarding as well. This wasn't actually a change of careers but just an offshoot in another unexpected, unplanned, and really fun direction. Who knew??"

Although she remained madly in love with rubber stamps, her taste became more sophisticated and she realized that she could not find any stamps that really spoke to her on an artistic level. She designed a set of 12 large collage stamps which were the types of stamps that she wanted to use in her work. "I not only wanted an artistic stamp but also one that told a story. I showed my designs to a stamp company for whom I was doing demos. They in turn took the artwork to a trade show and asked their customers (mostly the large art and craft chain stores) if they would ever sell anything that looked like these stamps.

When the stamp company returned from the trade show they offered me a license to design stamps for them and told me that the 12 stamps which I had designed would immediately be going into several large chains across the country as soon as they could manufacture and ship them." Jill then goes on saying, "Those stamps and a number of others that followed were very popular and picked up by loads of stores both in the U.S. and in Europe. They were and still are very popular in the UK. I moved on from the original company but immediately licensed my work to another large stamp company.  They ultimately grew my line to 250-300 stamps. We all enjoyed the rubber stamp ride for six or seven years."

© Jill Meyer
During this time she also developed a craft product, Transfer Ink! which transferred a rubber stamped image to another substrate and gave the transferred image a soft, watercolor effect. "I licensed my product and it was manufactured and sold by a large ink company. Because of the runaway success of my stamps I was asked to license my artwork to a scrapbook paper company. I had no experience with scrapbook paper. I barely knew what it was. All of my rubberstamp work was done (of necessity) only in black lines on white and I did not know how to use color in the overall design for scrapbook paper." She said to the woman who wanted to license her work that she did not know anything about designing scrapbook paper and the lady said to her, "you'll learn!"

She did learn, and it was grueling, she says. "I had a short deadline and I had to learn everything that I needed to know, from the ground up. I worked through the day and then through the night many, many, times. I finally was able to design a line of vintage looking vellum papers and a number of sheets of vintage stickers to complement the papers. The papers and stickers became a huge commercial success." They were on QVC five times in the U.S. and the UK and sold in record numbers. So Jill was invited to scrapbook paper buyer's meetings where she was actually asked to sign autographs - apparently, you become an instant star when your product sells in great and glorious numbers, she says. It was fun for the moment but it did not remain on my long-range radar. She enjoyed the learning process and was proud that she had done well under very difficult circumstances, but somehow did not want to continue in this particular situation.

© Jill Meyer
Then the rubber stamp market became mature and changed drastically. "I knew that it was time for another change in direction for me as well. Although some of my stamps are still in many of the large chains, the rubber stamp industry ultimately dwindled to a shadow of its former self."

"I knew that there was at least one other area of business outside of crafts that licensed artwork. I had an agent at the time that asked to rep me after hearing of my successes in rubber stamps and scrapbook papers and stickers. He got me a badge to Surtex where he was showing my work for Fine Art and I walked the show. I knew immediately that I was going to be an artist in the stationery/gift, area. I wasn't sure what to do to make this happen but I was sure that it was going to happen."

It was a definite challenge, Jill adds. She had no idea that her artwork, which was so popular in crafts, was not viable in her new chosen market. "I worked very hard but was simply spinning my wheels. Finally, someone who was savvy enough and kind enough told me that my craft style of artwork was not going to work for stationery/gift. Once I had a clue, I researched and studied and worked very hard on changing the look of my coloring, cutting and pasting until it seems that I finally 'got it.' After I licensed my first image in stationery/gift, the floodgates opened and my images have been licensing well ever since. I'm still very enthusiastic, excited, and interested in what I am doing so I will definitely continue doing it…for now."

So, as it turns out, she is still coloring, cutting and pasting. Not in exactly the same way, or with the same tools that she originally used in kindergarten, but nonetheless she is still doing various forms of that original process, she says.

© Jill Meyer
"Change is always scary and disquieting; I have taken lots of leaps and re-invented myself many times so far in my life. I probably will do it again before the final story is written. I always hoped that the net would appear after the leap and it always did, but not always as expected! I think that the essence of what may be useful to others about my story is that I finally grasped the idea that staying in a situation when I could go no further with it was a good way to make myself unhappy. So, when I saw an opportunity or could make an opportunity to make a change in my life, I learned to require myself to say "Yes!" and take the jump, despite the angst and the undeniable fact that often I was flying only by the seat of my pants! So far it's been working out..."

Jill's website: - she's also the author of the article: Finding a New Agent.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Humorous Art - Artist Chris Reed

With the Atlanta show now behind me, I have been intensely working on some new collections for the upcoming Surtex show in May - the show is really around the corner and I have started feeling the pressure of making new artwork while also designing my booth (#446), promo pieces, updating my existing collections, submitting tearsheets to manufacturers for specific design requests or new potential clients, and of course keeping up with interviews with more amazing artists, manufacturers and...retailers. Yes, a new addition to our already busy schedule! I thought that it would be of great interest to find out how they see the market, product art, and the licensing world - and in effect close the loop on this intriguing and always fascinating industry.

To take a bit of a break from all these challenges and the non-stop action that has set in, I thought to start this week with an interview with artist Chris Reed, who creates humorous art that makes you smile. I saw quite a bit of it at the Atlanta Gift and Home Furnishings show on cards and other gift products, and there is something so playful in it that, indeed, it lifts my mood and helps me shake off any stress!

Actual photograph of Chris Reed
The Moon From My Attic: Please introduce yourself - My name is Chris Reed, I studied graphic design at SVA and quickly veered off into a satisfying career as a freelance illustrator. I stuck my toe in the licensing waters back in 2004 for a few years, took a break, and am now back with renewed enthusiasm.

TMFMA: What's exciting about your creative work? Brainstorming, sitting in my studio with a blank piece of paper and filling it up with written ideas and doodles. It's like mining for gold in a pile of rocks. There is a sense of anticipation that (hopefully) the next rock you turn over will be rewarding. Pairing words with imagery is also a fun aspect of licensing that I am seldom called on to execute as an illustrator. Licensing imagery, for me, is a perfect storm of design, illustration and humor, all converging as one.

TMFMA: Who or what has inspired you in your art? My biggest inspirations growing up, art-wise, were comic books and single panel cartoons. Some I enjoyed for the humor and some for the amazing artwork. Early favorites were Gahan Wilson, Edward Gorey, and Charles Addams. Exhibiting at Surtex and being part of a community of incredibly talented licensing artists is what inspires me now.

TMFMA: What's your favorite medium or tool/s you create with? Almost everything starts as pen on paper, which I scan and then color in Adobe Illustrator. Art that is type driven or less cartoony is often created completely in Illustrator. I love the flexibility that digital files allow for in making changes and variations to the art. Far from mastering the computer, I know just enough to be dangerous!

TMFMA: How long have you been doing art licensing? I jumped into licensing in 2004 for a few years and signed some deals, but realized that I enjoyed making the art much more than I did marketing it to the manufacturers. I stepped away for a bit before signing on with my agent in 2011.

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? I would certainly recommend walking a show for a couple days for anyone who is interested in exhibiting for the first time. It's an invaluable learning experience to soak it all in before committing to the high cost of a booth. Sharing a booth is also an acceptable way to keep expenses down and still participate. Focus on the work you do best instead of chasing every new look and trend report. Nothing moves quickly in licensing, which takes getting used to. If you want to experience success, be prepared for the long haul.

Chris Reed's website:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Atlanta Gift & Home Furnishings Market 2013 - Show Recap and News

I am sitting on the floor at home pawing through a stack of impeccably designed trade magazines, directories and promotional pieces while pondering about all that happened at the fabulous Atlanta Gift and Home Furnishings show this past weekend. It's been a wild but amazing 3-day ride!

Amongst many firm shakes of hands, courteous presentations and vivacious chats, I kept hearing the word "trend." It's becoming trendy to talk about trends.

Courtesy of Design Design Inc. - From Their Catalog: Trends
By whatever mechanisms, trends are present. Artists set trends by capturing images and patterns artistically. Manufacturers do, too, through product choices, materials and quality of execution. Retailers try to capture trends through the products they offer to consumers and how they display and market them. And, finally, it is the consumers cumulative actions that actually set them.

I think it's best to look at this whole notion of trends in a relative way - your way. I try to discern trends for inspiration and for getting a pulse about other views and cultures; I don't necessarily have to follow them. I follow what I like and believe in. For example, there is an outdoor living trend that showed up everywhere at the Atlanta show, even on the huge electronic billboard in the lobby. I love this trend and started embracing it last year in my collections, because the outdoors has always been a big part of my life.

While outdoor living is an example of a trend that is developing more momentum, an example of a trend that is more of a classic style is coastal and seaside. Recently, I met a pelican at a local wharf. He ended up in one of my seaside collections and has now become a half celeb through a JellyBean rug! (By the way, the pelican's name is Gabriel...) Is he part of a trend? I don't think so. But he's a nice dude and it so happens that he does fit into the coastal trend.

Courtesy of Design Design Inc. - From Their Catalog: Handmade
Set or follow trends that are suitable to your creative process, similar to how Design Design Inc. created these cool inspirational boards for their catalogs. We had the great pleasure of meeting their Art Directors and Chief Marketing Officer at the show and had one of the best conversations of the whole weekend. Such nice people and what quality work! They get it. By the way, they also provide a very detailed artist submission guideline. How much better could it get?!

There are many other companies that offer such collaborative offers. So yes, trends are all of us as a whole, our families and pets, friends, sharing circles, close co-workers, and our houses and what's in them. Classic, vintage, retro, modern, transitional or traditional. As I see it, the challenge of a licensing artist and the real value of a show like Atlanta is to help you better see where all those collective interests and ideas are headed, and thus how to adapt and interpret them in your art to improve your manufacturing partner's chances of success.

© Courtesy of Demdaco
All together the world of art, design and products is really one big cohesive whole that is made up of multiple people and views. I think this is the key concept I was reminded of at the Atlanta show. It was fun. It was thrilling. It was friendly and positive. It was so productive for us as it was for the majority of the people we spoke to. It included collaborative insights and a source of unexpected friendships. We'll definitely be going again next year!

Here are some more cool photos we were able to take with the blessing of the exhibiting manufacturers. We didn't have time to see every single showroom or meet each of the exhibitors and artists at the show, but we picked these to talk about because we thought they would be of broad interest to this audience, not because they are the most important or the best of the show.

© Courtesy of Demdaco
The Atlanta Gift Show is one of high-quality merchandise. The displays were bright, cheerful and tastefully displayed throughout the market floors. We spotted several that were retro/vintage inspired, with the red and blue popular color combos as a fun alternative to more traditional holiday colors. You can see them in the photos from the Demdaco and Enesco showrooms.

As mentioned above, trends and themes such as gardens, eco-green, indoor-outdoor living were very prominent throughout the show.

© Courtesy of Enesco
There is continued growing interest in this natural, nomadic, primitive, explorative direction as represented through visuals, words, scents, colors and other senses, talked about at the 2012 Surtex show. It's a mix of concepts. The themes are pretty much the same, but reinterpreted by artists in partnership with their manufacturers, retailers and their respective niche of consumers.

Walking through the floors was exhausting but most of the displays were very inviting and always colorful, some peaceful, with classic outdoor elements dressed up with whimsical images, shapes and/or inspirational phrases meant to uplift the spirits. We saw many little birds, owls, cardinals, butterflies, frogs, bugs, florals of all sorts and hues. Mixed media designs with enchanting themes, graphics, geometrics, natural materials, and vintage backgrounds were also abundant. What a mix!

© Courtesy of Demdaco
Two terms seem to be growing in interest: "boho" and "gypsy." We also noticed many industrial elements, like heavy metal objects mixed in with vintage/farm elements and inspirational concepts and words. Word art and fancy calligraphy are still big, either hand painted, hand drawn or typed, with chalk, pen, brush or simply pencil. Jute, burlap, cord, felt, and other craft materials are also coming to the market in a strong way. The home design and home products showrooms were full of them, from lampshades to chairs, accessories and wall art - even Christmas ornaments!

Dimensional art was also popular with colorful cards, gifts and accessories. Many Christmas fantasy themes were presented with sleek polar bears and regal foxes, or the more everyday themes such as farm life with roosters and pigs, or ponds with hoppy frogs and dragonflies; cute raccoons and hedgehogs are joining the already crowded parade in their debut to the consumer world. And of course family dogs and cats are still pretty much everywhere along with horses and deer. If there isn't a trend in there you can relate to, then you should take up knitting! Which, by the way, is also a trend!

© Courtesy of Vietri
As the Atlanta Mart logo says, this show is for international wholesalers. Many of them do not license art. They have in-house design teams or occasionally hire freelancers. Some of them are distributors only so they don't license directly but work with manufacturers and their exclusive artists. Some of them are a company umbrella representing artisans from other countries. People attending the show come from all over the world, including Europe, Asia, and South America, although most are from the U.S. As a result, while you do see a global market it is still mostly domestically-oriented. We got to chat a bit with the National Sales manager for Vietri - their showroom was breathtaking. The collection shown here is by Italian artist Giovanni De Simone but they include over 40 different Italian manufacturers in their product offerings. It was so inspirational to look at!

What else? We met with many manufacturers and introduced The Moon from My Attic to them, although were pleasantly surprised to find out that many were already regular readers. There is an increasing excitement about this collaboration between artists and companies, about what we are doing to help bridge the two ends of the product development process and create more collaborative partnerships. We have discovered that manufacturers are noticing artists through this blog and vice versa. We are happy about this new evolution. In upcoming months we will surprise you with more special referrals, editorials and promotions!

We got to meet some great artists who we'd previously only met via email or Facebook. What a treat! We wished we had more time to see everyone who expressed interest in connecting up at the market; more trade shows are on the horizon, with Surtex 2013 being our next stop. We'll be exhibiting there at Booth 446! So we are sure we'll connect with many of you who also have a booth or just want to walk the show.

Magnet Works Flag - © Alex Colombo
In summary, the whole show was an amusing and very productive one for us, in addition to getting to know the market a bit better and meeting very nice and friendly people. Etiquette is an important part of how to navigate such a show, with respect to many who are working really hard at this business. All people we talked to had a positive and encouraging result from the show. We also had a chance to see some of my art on products, which was really fun. We hope more will come!

As a final note on the Atlanta show, I think it's a fantastic experience for licensing artists for doing market research; it gives you greater insight into art, products and how the product development-wholesale-retail-consumer business operates.

I am sure other show participants can add to my observations so feel free to comment on this article. I invite you to also read other licensing and trade blogs about the show so as to get multiple views. For me, seeing the whole chain of production at work re-enforced my main purpose: partnering to make the world a better place through art!


Monday, January 7, 2013

A Trade Show Face-Off: Surtex vs Printsource - The Sisters Gulassa

Trade show season has started! This January there are several interesting shows coming up: the Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishings Market® (Jan 9-16) and the Atlanta International Area Rug Market® featuring the National Oriental Rug Show (Jan 10-13); the Craft and Hobby Association 2013 Winter Trade Show (Jan 12-15) in LA; and Printsource (Jan 15-16) in NYC.

So the "buzz" is on and this year The Moon from My Attic will be present at the Atlanta show and will report from it live via Facebook and Twitter whenever is possible, but for sure via this blog afterwards. So join us in this exciting new adventure!

Artists Cyrille and Lise Gulassa
Meantime we invited the Sisters Gulassa to share with us their fabulous journey in the field of licensing and surface design; their upcoming show is Printsource in NYC in a couple of weeks, where they have exhibited in the past. They also exhibited at Surtex last year. Lise Gulassa will tell us about their experience with both shows and tell us what the difference is between them.

Lise says: "My sister Cyrille and I grew up in an uber-talented family of 6 kids and have had a life of traveling and living abroad. We both came from careers in creative industries before we embarked on our Sisters Gulassa venture ~ Sisters Gulassa is a Design House connecting our love of patterns, design, travel and culture, and building a patterned community of visual travelers. We call it Vivid Living!"

Lise's back ground is in fashion design and her sister Cyrille's background is in graphic design. At one point they were both recruited to work for a start up company in Bucharest, Romania. "I think without knowing it, working together on various projects there became the foundation for Sisters Gulassa!" says Lise.

They started Sisters Gulassa showing their beautiful designs at Premier Vision in Paris. Lise tells us: "I had been to the show previously in my career as a designer - while my sister attended the show to see specifically about selling our artwork. She was living in Vienna at the time and called me after the show telling me that she thought we should exhibit at the next show. That was how it all began - just like that!"

I asked them to give us a description of their art and style and the immediate answer was: "Vivid! Exuberant! We also have an esthetic of putting together unique combinations with mixes of patterns and color. We provide exciting design solutions! We both come from a background of painting and fine art before we began surface design so we bring a different approach to our work."

They have many (the list is long!) favorite artists and designers who have influenced them before they began surface design from Matisse, to Sonia Delunay, and more recently Beatriz Milhazes to name a few. Lise also says: "We are also influenced by our surroundings; Cyrille lives in Vienna in the heart of what was the Vienna Secession Art Movement, with influences from Gustav Klimt and the Wiener WerkStatte and I live in Santa Cruz with the sun and the surf. These influences have a way of showing up in our work."

© Sister Gulassa - Asian Fusion
So what kind of main/overall art theme do you use? "We select a series of themes and color concepts each season to develop our collections and portfolio around, which for us become our way of telling a visual story of what we are inspired by for that particular season. This helps to give a framework for designing and it is exciting to see how we both interpret it into our work. The theme may also dictate the style or techniques that we want to include to communicate our telling of the story." She also adds: "These themes are often about current cultural influences, travel experiences, art and design influences, they may be about what we are reading; this all goes into the mix which always get reinterpreted in new ways."

What's exciting about their creative work is an immediacy to their work. Lise comments, "the hand is evident, we do the preliminary work by hand and then translate that to the computer and sometimes develop it further from there. We explore different processes and because we are both painters, we approach design from a slightly different perspective."

As for inspiration, it comes from many different things for Lise ~ it is all encompassing: traveling and art, her garden and the outdoors, colors, textiles, especially from other countries, different cultures, music, pottery from all of the world, literature, music! "I can find inspiration anywhere! Living near the beach is tremendously inspiring. I also have many inspirational books!"

I asked her to tell us about a particular project they are currently working on that is exciting. "We are getting ready for the next Printsource show and getting all of the new artwork together and printed is always very exciting! We both have a shared love of silkscreening; we grew up with our mother working on various silkscreen projects and getting ready for a show is a lot like that; it is always a thrill to see all of the newly printed designs hot off the press!"

© Sister Gulassa - Brazil 
They also have a new collection of art work being launched in Brazil which they are very excited about. Lise shares: "We just saw the new catalog and it looks beautiful; there are a few more projects in the works which we will share the minute we can!"

Then she says: "We currently have a number of licensing agreements with a variety of companies. We license our fine art and some photography in Brazil,as well as a selection of accessories including e-covers in the USA. We license tables in Vienna, a fabric collection in Canada, and e-stationery in the USA. Most of our licensing agreements have come from exhibiting at trade shows. Some happen quickly while some may take longer. It is always interesting who you meet at trade shows and oftentimes surprising to find out what product they are looking to find a design for."

What's the difference between Printsource and Surtex? Many of our readers have asked this question at different times and we want to share your experience since you have exhibited at both shows.

Lise says: "Printsource is one of the premier international markets in the USA for Surface and Textile Design catering to a wide variety of industries looking to purchase designs outright and/or license designs from artists and design studios for any product that has a design or pattern on it. This means it could be anything from fashion-related industries: clothing for women, children and men, which might include all aspects of clothing and accessories, i.e. dresses, lingerie, swimwear, backpacks, skiwear, e-covers etc. as well as any other industry looking for textile or surface designs. This means textile mills, paper companies, and interior design companies to name a few. This show is held three times a year."

"Surtex is also an international trade fair which caters to the sale and license of design and artwork for textile fabrics, apparel and contract textiles, wall and floor coverings and paper products as well as many other product categories not listed here. Surtex is held once a year. The primary difference between Surtex and Printsource is that Surtex has more of a focus towards licensing where as Prinsource has more of a focus towards outright sales."

© Sister Gulassa
Lise continues saying: "Some companies want the look or voice of a designer's hand or esthetic to help sell their product, whereas other companies want a new seasonal design for their product and don't need the designer's endorsement to help sell their product but need fresh seasonal designs that are right for the market."

In summary, some companies are set up for licensing programs and other companies are not, which is one of the many reasons they may prefer to buy a design rather than license a design which may also determine which show they will attend as a buyer.

"From my personal experience," Lise says, "more fashion designers attend Printsource to buy for two reasons: Printsouce caters more to the fashion design industry and does not cost the buyer anything to attend the show. She then adds, "while fashion designers do attend Surtex, I'd say there is more of a focus on gift type products and paper goods at Surtex than at Printsource."

"The challenge for designers showing their work at Printsource is that the focus is more on selling designs than licensing, meaning that as a designer you have to produce a lot of new work every season to replenish your portfolio where as if your focus is about licensing you have fewer sales but potentially more licensing opportunities. All that being said you have to develop a look or style of art that is desirable for licensing. You may have a look or design esthetic that is better suited to one show or the other."

Thank you Lise, I think that clarifies for many what the difference is between the two markets. And now, based on your experience from having done many shows in different parts of the world, what tips can you share with our readers?

Lise suggests, "walking any show you are thinking about exhibiting in is critical. Every show has a very different personality and client base. I also think it is great to start out with a vision of what types of products you can imagine your designs on and develop your collections with that in mind. This helps to give you focus. I also think one of the biggest challenges we face as artists and designers who have our own companies is finding the time to make art and design! As silly as that may sound, when you are running your own show it is easy to get caught up in the myriad of everyday tasks! Good art and design takes time to make. Even when it may look effortless there may be more to it than meets the eye!"

To conclude Lise says, "we have had some ideas that we haven't had the time to focus on and develop fully which we are excited to move forward with this year. We also have a couple of exciting collaborations we are working on and we can't wait to share them with you but we will have to wait a little longer before we can ... and we would also would love to go to Brazil! We never stand still for too long; there is always something new and exciting on the horizon!"

Come "like" the Sisters Gulassa on Facebook and see what they are up to on their website and blog, and don't forget to follow them on Pinterest!