Monday, February 25, 2013

Creativity, Unique Art and Color: An Inspirational Interview with DENY Designs

It's now time to start preparing for the Surtex show in May. This includes creating lots of new collections, ads, a press release and promo kit, booth design, and submitting art and making appointments with potential clients. All very exciting but lots of work ahead!

To help keep myself inspired, I invited Kimberly Nyhus of DENY Designs whom I met at the Atalanta Gift show this past January to tell us about what she does and how she keeps motivated.

© Arcturus | DENY Designs
The Moon from My Attic: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your company. What do you do? We're a husband and wife team who bring different talents to the table when it comes to DENY Designs. As it's been said, Dustin is the brain and I am the heart. Dustin, with a background in Industrial Design, oversees the entire business from product development and finances to our resellers. I, previously in Event Planning and Television Production, manage PR and Marketing for the company while also ensuring that the vision of the brand is being implemented. Together, it's a perfect pairing.

Based in Denver, Colorado, DENY Designs is a modern, think-outside-the-box home furnishings company. DENY empowers its customers to transform dull, everyday household accessories into fun and original statement pieces by adding a personal image or selecting artwork from the DENY Art Gallery. With each purchase from the Gallery, our team of talented artists earn part of the proceeds, enabling DENY to support art communities all over the world while also spreading the creative love!

© Heather Dutton | DENY Designs
TMFMA: What drives you personally in your job? What inspires you? In this industry, it's critical to stay one step ahead of the trends. Dustin and I are always on the hunt for design inspiration and we find it in almost everything we do. Creativity, home design, unique art and COLOR are what inspire us most.

TMFMA: Tell us a little about your selection process. We are always looking for brilliant art to showcase on! Each month, DENY receives hundreds of artist submissions. With that many submissions, it's critical that we find the perfect match for our customers. We have several different sets of eyes that view each artist's work. At the end of the day, we're looking for three different things:
  1. Is the artist unique in his/her own right? Out of respect for our current artists, we prefer to select new art that is different from our existing art collections. We're looking for something that is truly different from what we already offer our customers.
  2. Does the artwork represent the DENY brand? We're a modern site showcasing various types of art but we always want to make sure that it's art that we can stand behind as a company.
  3. Will the art translate well to our product line? There are so many artists whose pieces we love, but sometimes they just won't translate well to our product offerings. It's incredibly important that the image quality is top notch.
© Valentina Ramos | DENY Designs
TMFMA: What makes for a great art collection? Great art is in the eye of the beholder. Just like in spouses, there truly is a piece out there for everyone! What we really love to see are fresh ideas that stir something inside of you. Art is a feeling that invokes an excitement…the moment you say to yourself, "I have to have this." That's how you know you've found something great.

TMFMA: What are some of your favorite design trends right now? We're loving the bright and bold colors that are being used in home décor right now. People are taking big risks in their design choices and the payoff is huge. It lends well to a vibrant and inviting space. Also, pattern mixing and matching. In the past, you'd mix a standard solid with a print. Now, you can mix pattern with another pattern and it works brilliantly.

© Belle13 | DENY Designs
TMFMA: What's your largest product category? Our shower curtains have been very well received. We're turning one of the most boring rooms in the house into the life of the party!

TMFMA: What’s on the horizon for your company? 2012 was a year of quality control. We spent the whole year ensuring that our fabrics and product line were up to the highest standards. 2013 will be a year of product development. We intend to launch several new collections so that eventually you'll be able to outfit your entire home with DENY Designs' creations.

And our biggest goal? Creating more awareness of art communities from all over the world and sharing our findings with our customers.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

An Art Licensing True Story: Crowd-Funding Indiegogo Campaign and Surtex - by Dari Design Studio

"Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working." ~ Pablo Picasso. I thought this quote was quite appropriate to introduce two very dynamic sisters and artists: Dariela and Dariana of Dari Design Studio.

Dariela graduated as a graphic designer in Venezuela. After that she worked as a junior designer, senior designer and art director in the corporate world in Venezuela, Mexico City and Los Angeles. Dariana has a B.A. in advertising and marketing in Venezuela and worked as a marketing and graphic designer for several companies in Venezuela, Mexico City and Los Angeles. Both sisters were always involved with art and design: "Both of our parents are architects and we were taken to a museum pretty much every weekend of our lives when we were growing up."

© Dari Design Studio
They both co-founded Folklore Eye in 2006 and then rebranded it to Dari Design Studio in 2010 to provide more ample services for the graphic design industry. They describe their designs as eye-catching. "We have developed a portfolio of a variety of innovative designs that reflect our multi-cultural influences crossed with the modern trends of today. We describe our style as modernly eclectic and sometimes cute busy. We think our designs hold the potential to develop into a unique brand yet still converge into today's audience demands." And they also add: "Our theme is we have no theme, the range of things that you can see reflected in our work is so crazy and unrelated that we might call it the universe theme. One day we are obsessed with a specific trend and the next day we are inspired by ballons or frogs or buildings or galaxies. It's kind of hard for us to stick with one thing."

© Dari Design Studio
They create all their work in Photoshop and Illustrator. They sometimes draw with pencil or paint and then scan and play with it. Some other times they create their work only digitally.

"Here at DDS we want to inspire you to follow your wildest dreams. To think infinite possibilities and to use our passionate business journey to motivate you to live your LIFE like no one else. We hope our bright designs fill your life with color and boldness, sparks and uniqueness. We also offer innovative classes. They are created with you in mind to keep you inspired, up to date and ready to succeed! We shine when we can help your business shine, and this is why we do what we do!"

© Dari Design Studio
So I asked them what inspires them - Dariana says: "In general I'm inspired by nature, especially animals and flowers. I love to be inspired by patterns and bright compositions. The mix of vintage and modern and all sort of eye candy get me really high into creative skys. I got used to work with an inspiration board where I mix some or all current trends I like. Dariela adds: "I am inspired by design, art and photography and by everyday life's moments. Sometimes I see a design draw itself in my mind just by watching my kids play or after admiring how the light comes in and shines on some objects, on some flowers or on people. Sometimes a delicious treat I'm eating  inspires me appreciate the moment so much I feel like designing with that treat as a subject."

© Dari Design Studio
Dariana and Dariela will be exhibiting at Surtex 2013 and they are passionately working on developing their portfolio for their debut. "We are new to SURTEX and our journey has been very special so far. We created a crowd-funding campaign to raise funds for our SURTEX journey and many people have supported us." They have so far collected about $3000 between their Indiegogo campaign and private donors to sponsor their trip. They wrote a blog post about their inspiring campaign fundraising experience, which I invite you to read.

You can also read more about their progress here:

"We are just getting started on licensing design, so our experience is almost zero. Dariana has had more experience since she has a three year background in the gift and stationery licensing industry. Many of her collections have been best sellers. She has also worked with an agent in the past and many of her designs have already been selected for different products. We would love to have our designs on stationary, bedding, kitchenwares and many more surfaces. Surtex is our launching trade show but we are prepared to rock many trade shows for years to come. Our main goal this year is to succeed at Surtex, which means to reach out to the industry and let them know who we are and what we can do for them. Within that same goal is to plan for Surtex 2014 and prepare a strong and steady foundation to keep in this long-term investment industry."

You can find out more about Dariela and Dariana here:

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Retro-Inspired Art - Artist Claudine Hellmuth

In my travels I sometime meet some interesting people and artists. They make beautiful art and products. Sara of Julian Quilts Plus is one of them, a very talented lady who I just met in Julian, California - an historical landmark where I stopped for lunch. She makes quilts in her shop and the one below for Valentine's day is a beauty. Her prices are very reasonable too - she asked me to please design more fabrics with red on beige or ivory backgrounds because she has a hard time to find them for her quilts, so I am posting this request for all textile designers and quilt manufacturers to take this great feedback into account for their next collections :). You can contact Sara directly at if you want one of her beautiful quilts!
Quilting Artist Sara
What makes people get inspired? What do they like? My new guest this week, Claudine Hellmuth, talks about retro-inspired art and licensing.

Artist Claudine Hellmuth
TMFMA: Please introduce yourself - Hi and thanks for having me here for an interview! I'm Claudine Hellmuth and I'm an artist and illustrator. I live in Washington, D.C. with my husband Paul and our dog Maggie and our cats Mabel and Brian.

TMFMA: What's exciting about your creative work? I love the challenge of solving creative and visual problems for my clients. Each new illustration has its own challenges and it's always exciting to think of solutions that fit with my clients needs and incorporate my own artistic style.

© Claudine Hellmuth
TMFMA: Who or what has inspired you in your art? I am always inspired by the retro campy magazine ads from the 1940s and 1950s. I love how over the top they are with women showing how excited they are by their new oven or dishwasher. I have an old Sears catalog from the 1940's that is endlessly inspiring. I also am inspired by folk art, too. The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore is my favorite museum!

TMFMA: What's your favorite medium or tool/s you create with? For illustration and licensing work I create with a hybrid of computer and by hand. I prefer to use Photoshop for illustration and licensing because that way I can respond quickly to art director's requests and almost always there are some changes needed so this way I can quickly adjust color, size etc.

© Claudine Hellmuth
TMFMA: How long have you been doing art licensing? I have been licensing my art for use on products since 1998. In the early days I was more in the home decor markets and now I am licensing to the craft and gift markets as my work has evolved to a more whimsical look. Licensing is a tricky business. As soon as I feel I am making good headway in it something falls through. I often feel like with licensing it's two steps forward and one step back. If you are interested in licensing your work, artist Tara Reed has some great information on her web site to get you started. 

© Claudine Hellmuth
One thing that is good to know about licensing is that it isn't as much money as it appears to be! It looks like an artist who has her own stationery line would be raking in the $$ but when you look at the numbers, she's probably only making $0.15 per notepad sold. You've got to sell a lot of notepads to pay the rent!! Still, there are some artists that make 6 figure incomes on licensing so there is the possibility to really make a good income if you hit the right markets.

TMFMA: What brought you to exhibit for the first time and how many shows have you exhibited in? I have only shown at Surtex a couple of times and both times were with an agent or rep and were quite a few years ago. It is enormously expensive to do it on one's own but many artists go for it and have great shows! I began attending CHA in 2003 to promote the release of my first book. Since then I have attended every year but under the umbrella of a manufacturer or publisher. 

© Claudine Hellmuth
I have never had my own booth but my products have been in manufacturer's booths. This year I am having a designer table which is a table display in a special section on the booth floor. We'll see how that goes!!

TMFMA: Do you work with an agent or do you represent yourself? I work with an agent for my illustration work; her name is Jennifer Vaughn and she is fabulous. We have been together for nearly 7 years!

TMFMA: Please give us your analysis of the market based on your own experience and contacts. Illustration continues to be slow. So many companies that used to hire illustrators are now relying on stock. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of illustrators out there getting work, but the jobs are not as plentiful as they once were.

© Claudine Hellmuth
TMFMA: In your view, what was of major interest to manufacturers this year? What do you think the main trends are for 2012-2013? I think the collage mixed media art style is still very strong. Manufacturers also love quotes and text with artwork and that trend seems to be holding steady as well.

TMFMA: What advice would you give other artists that are considering the illustration or/and art licensing fields and that maybe want to exhibit in a show (like Surtex for example)? I would advise them to walk the show before exhibiting. Follow the artist Tara Reed, she has tons of information on her web site about licensing and also hosts great phone calls with experts that you can listen to.

View more of Claudine's work and follow her at:

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Retailer's Point of View: An Exclusive Interview with Kimberly Jolly

As mentioned in the Atlanta Gift show article we published a few weeks ago, walking the Mart gives one a greater insight into art, products, and how the product development-wholesale-retail-consumer business operates. We are very excited to introduce the first of a series of new editorials about fabulous retailers and their stories. We hope this will complete the circle and help understand the process from beginning to end.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your company. What do you do? My name is Kimberly Jolly and I own Fat Quarter Shop, an online fabric store and It's Sew Emma, a quilt pattern company.

Kimberly Jolly
What drives you personally in your job? What inspires you? Writing patterns inspires and drives me in my job. Our pattern company, It's Sew Emma, has been an exciting venture and continues to take us on new adventures. Last year we wrote our first book and are gearing up to continue that journey!

Tell us a little about your selection process. While we always tend to purchase fabric collections that appeal to our personal tastes, we also keep an eye out for new trends and listen to what our customers want. This helps us keep our fabric offerings diverse and well-rounded. From batiks to modern to traditional, we have it!

What makes for a great art collection? As a quilter, I look for fabric collections I can really use. That means, beyond having some wonderful focal prints, a collection needs an awesome range of coordinates. When I look at a new collection I can instantly dive in and pinpoint my best focal, binding, sashing and background options.

What are some of your favorite design trends right now? We are always keeping an eye on trends. As of right now, my favorites have to be solids and chevrons. Solids are currently stealing the show in many quilts. We carry a vast range of colors and we love seeing the many different quilts made from solids. Chevrons, too, are everywhere. Chevron prints have popped up in the fabric, home décor and quilting industry. It is hard to over look this bold trend!

What's your largest market category? While we stock a variety of notions, books, sewing and quilting patterns, our largest category is high quality designer fabric for quilting and sewing.

Happy tones
What's on the horizon for your company? Here at Fat Quarter Shop we are developing our Coming Soon page. We are striving to make it easy to browse the collections and have an idea of what may perk the customer's interest. We are also engaging our customers in new ways, like an upcoming free sew-along project that will be hosted on our blog!

Find out more about Fat Quarter Shop and It's Sew Emma here:


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Art Licensing in Terms of the Process - Artist Jeannene Langford

As promised, we are going to add a new series of informative articles and interviews with retailers - the first one will be published this coming Monday! We hope that this will be of interest to those who license their work and want to better understand how the whole artist-manufacturer-retailer process works.

And speaking of process, here is our interview of the week which also addresses art licensing in terms of the process, as described to us by artist Jeannene Langford.

The Moon From My Attic: Please introduce yourself - I'm a fine artist, designer and all around creative. I paint both digitally and traditionally on paper and canvas with a range of materials. My look is bold contemporary with a touch of whimsy. I like describing images in simplicity. I am equally smitten by both fine art and design and pursuing both at the same time can bring many challenges as well as benefits. Spending time mixing colors in the studio sometimes translates to using the same color when I am working or can give me a new idea.

I am the type of person who is always wanting to learn something new. Recently I took two very different intensive workshops and I was smitten. The first was a "Painting with Thread" workshop by a local artist Lisa Kokin.

Artist Jeannene Langford
The second was a video training intensive. We learned how to tell a story in video and how to edit and transform it in Adobe Photoshop 6. Amazingly cool and fun.

TMFMA: What's exciting about your creative work? What’s not exciting about the creative process?! Seriously, the exciting parts are new opportunities, discoveries, collaborations and making a difference. By making a difference I mean feeling like I am contributing to the beauty of the world and raising the bar by offering the best I can. There are too many companies I have worked with that fail to put great art on their products because they need to get it to market so they can meet a manufacturer's deadline. For me it's not about perfection but about the integrity of knowing you did your best and really being happy when you see the product at the store with your art on it.

© Jeannene Langford
TMFMA: Who or what has inspired you in your art? On a day to day basis inspiration comes from playing with color, walking the dog, doodling, looking through books on fine artists such as Matisse, Picasso, Miro and recent artists such as Andy Warhol, Helen Frankenthaler, William de Kooning, and Agnes Martin. I am a nut for being outdoors and play to me is hiking, cycling, kayaking and scuba diving so nature is a big source in inspiration.

Usually I am in NYC once a year for Surtex/ Stationery and I have a long list of stores, galleries, and museums that I find really over the top inspirational. I will be posting this soon on my blog or you can email me at if you would like a copy. For me inspiration never comes from anything on the trade show floor.

If I am not in a place to sketch, I like to record things I want to refer to later with my iPhone camera. Sketches and pictures I've taken along with my books are categorized and become a good place for inspiration and reference.

Since I've been trained in product development and as a Creative Director I tend to look for inspiration through the lens of concepts rather than single images. How that plays out is thinking of a collection of images that tell a story or a concept that would be applied to a specific product category or demographic.

© Jeannene Langford
TMFMA: How long have you been doing art licensing? My introduction to licensing came back in the 90's when I was working for Current Inc., (a stationery company based in Colorado) as a Licensing Designer. I worked with several artists and brands developing their art into product. We also had at the time 35 illustrators whose art we licensed out to other companies which involved developing a portfolio, a presentation and selling at the Licensing trade shows and preparing contracts.

From there I moved to California and went out on my own and started licensing my own art for tabletop and stationery. After 7 years, I received an offer I couldn't refuse as an Art Director for a local craft manufacturer and then went on to become a Creative Director for a few places so once again I found myself on the Licensee side of the table working with other artists to develop their art into product and direct creative departments. Slowly my own portfolio and set of clients grew on its own. Right now I am taking some time to step back and do some Blue Sky sessions, looking into different ways of providing art, and some alternative marketing, licensing, and business models.

© Jeannene Langford
TMFMA: Please give us your analysis of the market based on your own experience and contacts. No doubt about it, twenty years ago we were in a more abundant marketplace. The predicted growth for the stationery market here in the US is only about 3% for the next 4 years, however, I truly feel there has never been a better time for designers and artists. Through the accessibility of the internet we have exposure to new markets and manufacturers including ways to show and sell our designs. It seems I am consistently hearing of manufacturers finding artists on Etsy or Pinterest. How great is that?

I am not saying the face to face you get at being at a trade show is not important. It is, but there are many other ways to move forward. Some artists develop their own product first or get exposure through writing a book on the technique they use. It seems the collaboration process with artists and manufacturers is in a more fluid state, manufacturing is less of a commitment with the ease technology has brought to the manufacturing process.

© Jeannene Langford
TMFMA: What advice would you give other artists that are considering the art licensing field? Here are 9 Musts I would like to share:
  1. Be able to live without any income from licensing your art for at least a year. Manufacturers work 6 months to a year out at least. You are handing over the art usually a year before you see royalties from the first three months of sales. Make sure you get the support you need. Try joining a group of professional artists and if there is not one in your area start one!
  2. Focus on no more than 3 or 4 categories (industries) you would like to target with your art.
  3. Develop a look that is you, ideally something that makes you smile in the morning and want to run to your studio to get started. This is the most important step, and the one a lot of graphic artists miss. Make sure there is consistency in your collection offerings.
  4. Make sure that look is reproducible. Investigate the production methods of whatever industry you are targeting with your look.
  5. Create a portfolio that is translatable to the industries you choose. Have as many other professionals (people you respect and like their work or tastes) look at it as possible. It is beneficial to get as many qualified opinions as you can but don't act on them unless you truly feel it is right for you.
  6. Before you consider participating in a trade show investigate it. Walk it, ask questions of the event sponsors and others that have shown there before. If you want to be taken seriously know it's a long term investment. Plan on being there for a few years to build up a following and credibility.
  7. Investigate if working with an agent is right for you. Inquire about them by asking other designers how they like working with them. How many new companies or deals have they brought to the table? Do they offer art direction? Good agents are priceless if you have a ton of work and no desire to try to get it out there on your own. They handle networking, promotions, contract negotiations, collecting kill fees, and follow through with payments.
  8. If you decide to go it on your own know a good licensing attorney (this applies even if you have an agent). You will need to have a contract that serves as a base of what you will and won't accept. You also need to understand all the terms, especially the indemnification section.
  9. Keep looking for that yes even when it seems impossible. If it seems like you can't make a deal happen because the terms being set by the other party are conflicting with another agreement, the pay is too low or something else, step back and ask yourself how you can make it happen. Brainstorm with another artist. Can you make a similar design they would take that would not infringe with the other design? Can you take a flat rate up front instead of the lower fee? This it another way of saying look for that win-win.
TMFMA: Any other useful info that you'd like to share about art and licensing? I like to think of art licensing in terms of the process. Breaking it down helps manage expectations. Know your art is going to look different after the stages of product development. Try to think of your art in these different renditions:
  • First you get the inspiration and create the art. Wow, great you're finished – with that step anyway.
  • Next you create a collection and put it in a portfolio and send it off into the world. (lots more work here)
  • Yay, for you, it is licensed. You write a contract with a manufacturer. The third rendition is now made according to the manufacturers specs, which might include changing color, details, formats, etc…
  • You turn that version over and production happens - voila! a product is born.
  • The product or a prototype is photographed for a catalog, packaging, pop display or an ad creating another version of your art.
  • Your "art" is now on the store shelf. The cash register rings and it is purchased by someone who smiles every time they see it or use it.
  • At the end of three months of sales you get a statement and a check. Great, it's time for that Cosmo!
Does the product look like what you envisioned in the beginning? It should resemble it pretty closely. During the process you are in collaboration with the manufacturer, hopefully a good one with the goal that your art evolves to a product everyone loves and buys.

Find out more about Jeannene Langford here:

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Follow Your Bliss - Artist Tamara Holland

Personalized and inspirational art, perhaps on demand, seems to be a trend that has been spreading like a wild fire. I saw lots of it at the Atlanta Gift show a few weeks ago and I keep bumping into it as I review other publications and emerging artist's websites. To further illustrate this point artist Tamara Holland will share her story with us.

The Moon from My Attic: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your art? I'm a post-conviction death penalty defense attorney by training and an artist by luck. I started doing paper-arts projects with girlfriends about 10 years ago and my art (and now art business) morphed from there. I'm also a mom of grown kids and am going to be a grandma this spring.

Artist Tamara Holland
TMFMA: What is exciting about your creative work? The whole thing. All of my visual art to me is a surprise - that I am producing it at all and what it looks like as it changes over time. I never thought of myself as an artist because I cannot draw at all, while many of my family members are amazing at that. So, to me it is exciting to be playing at this and to see what comes forth.

TMFMA: Is there a person or thing that has influenced you in your artistic efforts? What inspires you? Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way" transformed my creative expression. I worked that book at the same time I was starting to play with paper arts with friends. All my life I thought my creativity channeled itself in writing - when it turned out I've got this visual side, too. I'm not sure that door in my thinking about creativity would have opened without "The Artist's Way."

TMFMA: What project are you currently working on? I'm working on images for what I think of as two different lines of my own because their styles are so different. I'm also writing copy for three lines with my partners at Morning Coffee Productions. And I am starting a novel. I also have a budding sales rep business for other greeting card artists.

© Tamara Holland
TMFMA: Tell us of your experience as an art licensing artist. Again, total luck. For a couple of years I'd been getting my greeting cards printed locally, selling them on my own and with two reps, and fulfilling all the orders each week. Last fall I made a business plan with artist and consultant Lisa Sonora Beam - where we set as a goal that I investigate licensing. I went as part of that to a Saturday meeting of the Bay Area Licensing Artists - where, as luck would have it, I sat around a table with who turned out to become my licensing agent and my business partners in Morning Coffee Productions. Through Montage Licensing a happy chunk of my images are now licensed by wonderful Calypso Cards. In more good luck, Thirstystone has licensed a set of images for production on their coasters, plates and trivets.

TMFMA: Any important tips and tricks you can share or anything else you'd like to share? Half of my "advice" (because I think things work differently for everyone, and you should trust what works for you) is from Joseph Campbell: "Follow your bliss." When you spend time doing what you love and believe in the energy flow of the world seems to respond better and you are happier while you are doing it, too.

© Tamara Holland
The other half of my advice is to work your butt off - in what you produce, in getting it out there in the world, in meeting and helping other people, in figuring out what works and what doesn't, and what you want to try next.

TMFMA: What are your future aspirations and goals? To keep manifesting the stuff that for whatever reason chooses me to make it. Right now, those are the lines I'm working on. This years' novel. Getting two screenplays I've already written out into the world. And seeing what else wants to come on in. And being a good grandma.

Find out more about Tamara at:

© Tamara Holland

© Tamara Holland