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:


Kim Brandt said...

Great interview. Thank you! Packed with info and inspiration.

Unknown said...

Thanks. Interesting journey, and good info.