Friday, May 3, 2013

Start High, Quality Counts - Artist Gina Martin

We have now 16 days to the Surtex show. A couple of weeks is not much time - I have been printing my collections non-stop and preparing the last minute details for the booth. I still have to round up all necessary pieces and package them for shipping on Monday. Meantime the fabulous Print and Pattern blog published my Surtex ad and the Art & Design Source Book Summer 2013 magazine (see below - go to page 33) has published a brief but sweet article as well!

This next interview is the last one I will publish this month - artist Gina Martin will share her own story about licensing and her experience with the Surtex show, which she is again doing this year - she'll be in booth 359.

Article by Art & Design Source Book, page 33
The Moon from My Attic: Please introduce yourself - I've been working as an independent designer for 12 years. Before that I was a designer for Hallmark Cards. There I got to design greeting cards, gift wrap, and party goods. The job came to me right out of art school and I always say it was the best grad school I could have ever gone to! They taught me so much about production, illustration, product design and business, all things that have really benefited me in my freelance efforts. I loved designing their product and still do some freelance work for them from time to time, but after 17 years I was ready for a change. I convinced my husband (also a Hallmark designer) that I could make a go of it on my own and we wouldn't end up on the street so I resigned and have never looked back!

Artist Gina Martin
TMFMA: What brought you to art in the first place? I don't remember drawing much as a kid, but I do remember the moment when I realized that I was a little better at art than the other kids in my first grade class. I was more into sewing and crafting than drawing. When all the other girls were drawing horses I was trying out every craft project in the "Make & Do" volume of the Childcraft Encyclopedia set we had at home. I took the art classes offered in school over the years and got pretty good at drawing and painting. I remember being a little offended when my high school art teacher seemed genuinely surprise that I wanted to go to art school, but I didn't let that stop me. It just seemed like a good idea and the path that I was meant to follow.

TMFMA: What's exciting about your creative work? I guess for me I find excitement in getting product samples from my clients and seeing my work on store shelves. I also enjoy just the process of creating. The research, the thinking about an idea before I start designing it and I LOVE the freedom of working from home. My studio is sunny and quiet, I get to have my dogs around me and I'm not constantly interrupted to attend meetings.

One other thing I don't miss about corporate life is yearly performance reviews. I figure the best review I can get is when a company wants to work with me and pay me …possibly more than once!

TMFMA: How long have you been doing art licensing? I'm pretty new to art licensing despite having freelanced for 12 years. I've made a few deals here and there over the years, but most of the work I've done has been for a flat fee. I decided that it was time to make my art work for me and really jump in and take some chances. I didn't want to regret not trying … as intimidating and as expensive as Surtex is to do. Since my first time exhibiting was last year and I've spent lots of time this past year doing art without big or any advances and less paying work, the payoff is slow to happen. I know it will get better, though, and I am patient. It helps having a husband with a steady paycheck!

TMFMA: What brought you to exhibit for the first time and how many shows have you exhibited in, if any? 2013 will be my second Surtex. I've walked the show a number of times as both an art buyer when I was at Hallmark and as an artist thinking about doing the show. I have friends who have exhibited for years and they were always encouraging, but like I said I was intimidated. It's scary putting it all out there for judgement as well as finding the time to create enough art to show. I suddenly felt like I had no ideas!

Another instigator was wanting to broaden my client list as well as the kinds of products I was designing - like fabrics, for instance. At the same time I was considering exhibiting, some wonderful artist friends of mine (also former Hallmark artists) were considering the same thing. I think having this little Kansas City Surtex support group has helped me immensely. Suddenly I'm not the only one trying to figure out this licensing and exhibiting thing all by myself. These wonderful ladies and I meet for coffee or lunch now and then where we share what we are working on as well as business info and resources. We also badger the Surtex peeps to put us in booths next to each other! That is probably the best thing I got from Hallmark, life long friendships with other amazingly talented artists.

TMFMA: Do you work with an agent or do you represent yourself? I represent myself though I have been approached by an agent. Right now I think I want try it on my own. So far it's been doable. I enjoy the deal making to some degree … actually, confidence in my art is the harder part of it all for me. I've figured out that you don't get what you don't ask for so start high. You can always come down, but you can't go up! I've also made contact with people willing to help me understand the contracts and what I'm signing. So far so good! Last year I made deals with several companies that resulted from exhibiting. My new clients include Moda Fabrics, Jean Marie Creations and Studio M. To me, just finally doing the show felt like success. I had a lot of satisfaction in overcoming the fear of it all!

TMFMA: What advice would you give other artists that are considering the art licensing field? Be patient! The time frames are looooong. Lead times from the art creation to payday can be a year or more. I also think licensing is a little like that old saying about love in that "there is a lid for every pot." Do the art that you love and that feels right to you and it will find its niche. I'm not saying that you shouldn't be aware of market trends or what is selling, but don't let it inhibit you from creating what you feel in your gut. I'm always amazed at the variety of art shown at Surtex. Buyers have a lot to choose from so I think if you can be unique in your approach and true to yourself, you'll do well.

Two more things…

1. Quality is more important than quantity and you don't need 20 collections to show the first time. Take the time to do really good work and it'll pay off. I had grand plans last year to do those 20 collections for Surtex, but I got busy with paying work so then it was January and my goal became 15, then 10… I ended up showing 8 collections last year.


2. Be sure to have a variety of themes … one of them being Christmas. When in doubt, do Christmas. Companies are always looking for new Christmas looks and that was the first collection I sold. I also wanted a fabric deal so I made sure to show most of those collections in 2 colorways. Think about who you want to sell to and tailor your art to them. This year I would like to maybe get some card contracts so I'm doing a piece or two with each collection that is formatted more for cards and is not an all over pattern.

TMFMA: Any other useful info that you'd like to share about art licensing? I’m finding that the whole business takes a degree of trust. Trust that you'll be treated fairly and not stolen from. I'm also finding that our creative community is large and willing to share info, so don't let it all intimidate you too much. The info you need is out there and most of us are willing to share what we know so don't be afraid to ask!

Gina Martin's website:

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