Monday, August 26, 2013

Surtex, Comic-Con and Geeks - Artist Mark Gonyea

I suddenly realized in the past few days that I love to pursue art licensing as a profession because it gets me to think outside the box and constantly pushes me to learn, about new art techniques, about topics like marketing or copyrights, about sales and about people. It challenges me to not take what I know for granted because in art licensing anything, and I mean it, anything could work if your timing is right and you have enough of a concept developed to show a potential client.

It's like a puzzle in that you've got to get enough pieces to be able to continue and you've got to explore the many ways to place them before you can tell which direction to go next.

Artist Mark Gonyea
It reminds me of a video about Quantum Computing we just watched, which posed a lot of pretty mind-bending questions about technology, science and the possibilities they open up. It couldn't be a more appropriate way to introduce our next guest, artist Mark Gonyea. We met Mark at Surtex as our neighbor and we had fun together, watching out for each other. I think he has a great attitude and great ideas to make his journey in art licensing a success.

The Moon from My Attic: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your art? Probably first and foremost, I'm a geek. I love all things science and fantasy and that very much influences the work I do. I grew up watching movies, cartoons and reading comics, eventually creating my own comics and using what I learned from that in my design aesthetic.

I like hard angles and limited palettes as starting points, adding in details only if they're needed. I'm a big believer in "complicated doesn't make it good," so much so it was actually the sub-title of my first book about design. Even though at times my work can seem very complicated there's always a foundation of simple shapes and solid design.

TMFMA: What is exciting about your creative work? I really look at design like it's problem solving. There's this blank page that needs something on it. At first, the work is slow and it's a step back for every step forward. Then something clicks. Then a few more. As the solution becomes clearer it gets easier and things start happening faster. It's a real sense of accomplishment to finish a project that turns out better than you expected. Then it starts all over again.

TMFMA: Is there a person or thing that has influenced you in your artistic efforts? What inspires you? I started drawing very young. I remember copying Peanuts cartoons out of the Sunday paper as soon as the first grade. Charles Shultz was the first cartoonist where I made the connection that this was something people could actually do as a job. Later on, Bill Watterson really showed everyone the heights a comic strip could reach. Graphically, I'm definitely influenced by artists like Saul Bass and Paul Rand.

TMFMA: What project are you currently working on? Right now I'm concentrating on my next children's book. My previous book, The Spooky Box, just came out in July so I'm working on the next book in the "box" series. I'm always working on 3 or 4 concepts. I never know which one will step up and be the next fully realized idea (it's usually not the one I think it'll be).

Recently I've also been experimenting with a new medium as well. I've always been a fan and done work in scratchboard so I started working on lino-cut stamps. It's similar to scratchboard in the sense that it's reductive, so you take away material as opposed to adding it with ink, paint, etc. That kind of almost sculptural work is very appealing to me.

TMFMA: Tell us of your experience as an art licensing artist. In the past I've dipped my toe into licensing with a few t-shirts and posters here and there with mixed results. 2013 was my first year at Surtex so I spent the good part of the year before reading, learning and preparing for the show. I consider myself still a newbie when it comes to licensing but the response to my art so far has been very positive. As a direct result of Surtex I'm licensing a few new posters now and talking with a couple other companies about potentially doing some products. Not unlike publishing, it's a long process and requires a great deal of patience. I'm still finding my way through and perhaps I'll need a licensing agent at some point in the future but for now I'm doing it on my own.

TMFMA: Do you attend other trade shows? I started doing posters in 2000 and since then I've done over 40 conventions from coast to coast. The big difference with these shows compared to Surtex or other licensing shows is I'm acting as my own retailer, selling directly to the public. So far, the only convention I've done every year is the San Diego Comic-Con, by far the largest and most chaotic with 120,000 attendees in 5 days. There's so much going on, it's definitely an experience I think everyone should go at least once!

TMFMA: Any important tips and tricks you can share or anything else you'd like to share in the world of commercial art? I like to work with people who are positive and make creating art fun. Pretty sure this goes both ways.

TMFMA: What are your future aspirations and goals? I certainly intend to keep making kids books, improving as an artist and I hope to make progress licensing in the coming years. Other than that, just to be open to new opportunities. Oh, and there's also that board game I've always wanted to design!

LINKS to Mark's online work:

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Foray Into Fabric - Artist Tamara Kate Serrao & the International Quilt Market

This past week I just published the schedule of the Trade Shows we will attend this year - The Moon from My Attic will report on these markets and exhibitions as Press. We welcome interviews with artists, agents, manufacturers and retailers from around the globe!

One trade show I really wanted to attend this year but couldn't was the International Quilt Market in Portland this past May. Unfortunately, it overlapped with Surtex. But one of my favorite artists, Tamara Kate Serrao, had her debut at the show and she has graciously agreed to share her exciting experience with us.

The Moon from My Attic: What new ventures have come about for you in licensing since our last blog post? I had just started licensing when we last chatted. Over that year I licensed six fabric collections to Jelly the Pug, an American children's clothing designer.

They even produced some swimsuits with the latest line.

And I licensed a few designs for medical scrubs.

The most exciting step for me has been signing a two-year contract with Michael Miller Fabrics. After we last spoke I designed a watercolor and pen-and-ink collection, Flight Patterns, for the 2012 (Fabric8) contest on Spoonflower.

While I didn't win the contest, that collection got me noticed by Michael Miller and within a few months I had my first two professional lines in the works: Flight Patterns and Les Monsieurs are shipping to stores as we speak.

TMFMA: Tell us about your debut at the quilt market! The International Quilt Market happens twice a year in the US. This past Spring it was in Portland, OR. If you love fabric like I do, this show is a must see! There is booth after booth after booth of fabrics, ranging from traditional to modern and everything in between. As it is a professional trade show geared toward the quilting market, independent fabric stores and manufacturers - bedding, children's clothing, etc, the emphasis is definitely on printed cotton fabrics. With a few exceptions, you won't find dressmaking or upholstery fabrics there.

There are also booths offering sewing patterns and kits and other related items. It was wonderful to be in such a creative environment with others who share my passion. Basically it's a place that international brick-and-mortar and online shops come to order fabrics for coming seasons. They are not shopping for designs, but rather finished goods.

Clockwise from top left: Mo Bedell, Skip Stone, Penguin & Fish, Amy Butler, Heather Bailey, Anna Maria Horner, Leah Duncan

TMFMA: What did you learn from it?  Meeting individuals in the industry was one of the most important aspects of attending the show for me. There was a steep learning curve involved in understanding the different roles (buyers, manufacturers, media, distributors, sales reps, designers) of attendees. I spent quite a bit of time talking with other designers, some industry veterans, some new to the field like I was, to better understand how everyone works. There is a range:

  • There are some designers (like me) who have an exclusive contract. This eliminates any other printed fabric licensing opportunities but the upside is regular work without having to constantly be a salesperson … though you still have to pitch new ideas that can obviously be declined if they don't fit with what the fabric house wants at the time. Some designers shoot for one collection a year, some do one per quilt market (Spring and Fall) and some do more than that. You need to think of diversity if this is the route you choose. Your work will lose its impact if your style is pretty constant, and a fabric house won't want too many repetitive collections in a row.

  • There are the designers who remain independent. They sign contracts for one, or perhaps two collections, but are not limited to working with one company. Attending Market would be important in this role, as one could shop around for a future fabric company with which to work. They also have the opportunity to pick up other licensing jobs in the fabric field, say a bedding line or a childrens clothing line.

  • Then there are designers that don't attend the show. Just because one has a collection debuting at Quilt Market does not mean one has to be present. For some the expense is too great (factor in booth space, shipping costs, flights, hotels, etc). There isn't necessarily a monetary benefit to attending. After all, if one has a collection showing, the licensing deal has already been accomplished. For others who also exhibit at Surtex, the Spring market is not a possibility as they happen at the same time. Then there is the factor of when a designer gets their hands on fabric. Due to production times, sometimes (very often) the first few yards of fabric are couriered to a designer mere days or weeks before the show, leaving little time to prepare. There are some companies that encourage designers to be there (like Michael Miller) and there are others who do not. They prefer that their reps do all the selling and PR work.

I also learned that many designers in the field also have other business ventures. Some, like I mentioned, exhibit at Surtex looking for other diversified licensing opportunities. Many who want to focus on the fabric end of things also have lines of sewing patterns (clothing, quilts, accessories) with international distribution or embroidery patterns and kits. Some better known designers also make affiliate deals with major manufacturers (sewing machines, thread, etc). There are also those that have had related books published. One could also venture into woven items (rugs, ribbons, etc). I actually recently licensed some designs to a European ribbon manufacturer.

Overall I would say that Quilt Market is a place to make connections and hopefully make an impact (promoting your collection and/or being noticed by a manufacturer, distributor, publisher …).

TMFMA: How did you make your decision to attend? Whether to attend the show or not was a tough decision. I wanted to better understand the market. I wanted to meet people in the industry and get an idea of how other designers make a living doing this. While I knew the sales reps would all show my fabrics to the buyers, I felt that having my own booth showcasing my collections, exhibiting specific items sewn with them, basically demonstrating my vision of how the fabrics could be used would be a plus and hopefully result in increased sales. The cost and logistics of sending a booth and larger pieces across the border (I am in Montreal) almost made me bow out, though. One has to factor all this into a decision and as I am new to the game, I still cannot gauge the cost effectiveness of my decision. I do feel, however, that I made an impact and I had numerous buyers stop at my booth that then made a b-line toward the reps to place an order.

TMFMA: What tips can you give to textile designers who want to follow their passion in the quilt industry? The most important things in my mind are:
  1. Find your voice: design the world through your own eyes. Don't try to imitate. Be original.
  2. Do the work. Unless you are really lucky, opportunities come most readily when you keep at something. I designed on Spoonflower solidly for over a year, entering almost every weekly contest, and bit-by-bit I started to get noticed. One thing led to another, and I am truly happy with where it has brought me.
  3. Enter contests. There are more and more great contests coming about, from Fabric8, to Repeated by Printed Bolt to Connecting Threads to name just a few, that give designers wonderful opportunities to make their mark in the fabric world.
  4. When you feel your work is strong enough and you have a few great collections to show, just do it. Be confident in your work and start contacting fabric companies (most have specific guidelines for submissions on their websites, so that takes out the guesswork). And finally – should you sign a fabric contract and plan to attend Quilt Market, have a plan in mind of an additional venture you could take there with you. You will already be in front of buyers and other important industry members, so pack your bags and go make the most of it!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Bringing Joy and Smiles to Art Licensing - Artist Kim Gann

Submissions, submissions, submissions. I have been working on several proposals and it has been fun and surprising how much I've learned by doing this; focusing on specific product categories has made me figure out the best way to utilize design elements, colors and layouts and improve my work overall. So I advise all newbies to try this out.

Research out several manufacturers that are a match for your art and carefully read their submission guidelines. Then create collections based on their specifications, if any. Do this a few times and you'll suddenly find yourself with many new collections ready to be shopped around!

Artist Kim Gann
Creating submissions tailored for potential clients is a an enjoyable aspect of this job and it is also a thrill to meet so many fun and friendly artists at trade shows. At Surtex this past May, for example, we had a good time with our entertaining and super-nice neighbors. I will publish each one of them in a near future. This week I'm happy to start with artist Kim Gann. She had a corner booth across from ours and it didn't take very long before we started helping each other out.

The Moon from My Attic: What made you want to become an artist? Art is me! I have drawn, painted, crafted and taught art for many years. My new venture in art is Licensing, with iPad and Kindle cases available this fall and fabric coming out in March 2014.

© Kim Gann
TMFMA: What's exciting about what you create? The most exciting thing to me is that nothing is ever the same. The chickens take on their own individual personas, they are just one big happy family.

The Flying Sweetly Series (see below) begins with rich colors painted like an abstract all over the canvas before the flowers and butterflies are outlined and encircled with wispy whites and teals. The Pink Oranges is the most intuitive line. They begin with yellows, oranges and reds tossed across the canvas, then I flip and turn the painting looking for something to pop out. Usually, I find birds and trees. These take the longest to complete but are the most gratifying.

TMFMA: What medium(s) do you use to create your art? Why did you choose it? Most of my art is created with acrylics. I love the quick drying time, the forgiveness, and the texture of acrylics. Sometimes I create with liquid acrylics. As long as I can get a bright color...I'll use it.

© Kim Gann
TMFMA: How would you describe the art you create? My art is bright, colorful and whimsical. It makes people happy. It's always such a nice compliment when I see smiles pop up on people's faces as they look at my art.

TMFMA: Is there something that inspires you to create art? I find inspiration every where I look. My husband inspires me with ideas everyday - mainly he points out what my art should be on. My family is always giving me ideas for The Chicken Coop Series. I try not to look at other art for inspiration because I have such a desire to create my own without being influenced by others. I painted landscapes for years and was always compared to Bob Ross with my happy little trees. Now I create my own whimsical, fun art.

TMFMA: How do you hope your art makes people feel? I hope it brings joy to their heart and a smile to their face. I hope it puts them in a happy place.

© Kim Gann
TMFMA: Can you tell us about your art licensing journey? My journey into licensing began in February 2012 when I read about this show in New York called Surtex. I emailed about it and received a call to let me know they had a place for me, so I jumped in. I had 10 weeks to get ready. I read everything I could to find out how to set up my booth and what to take. The show was great, I created a little book with contacts of interest then dropped the ball when I got home. Before the 2013 show I discovered the key to a successful show is follow-up. This year was even better with a contract with P&B Textiles.

© Kim Gann
To further my knowledge of Licensing I signed up for Make Art That Sells with Lilla Rogers. I learned some of the keys to help break into several markets such as Gift, Wall Art, Home Decor and Textile. Throughout the five weeks I have a start on five new collections expanding my portfolio in directions I may have never gotten into. I learned how to look for trends in a not so pricey way and heard from leaders in the markets on how they discover new artists and what they prefer for submissions.

I also worked with Licensing Coach Deb Eiseman who gave me the tools to be my own agent. I am now licensed with two companies and talking with several others in partyware, needlecraft, 3-D sculptures, flags and other gift items. Look for the Autumn edition of GreenCraft Magazine, where I have an article on recycling old lamps. My goal is to eventually be Licensed worldwide with my own brand. Why dream small?!

© Kim Gann
TMFMA: What advice would you give to someone new to this industry? Research the markets you are interested in and find the companies that manufacture items your art would be a good fit for. Follow their submission form. Get in front of their face without being in their face. The secret ingredient is continual submission, every 2-3 weeks. Show them your new art. Be respectful! If they turn you down, thank them for looking and ask if you can send new work for review in the future.

Find out more about Kim at:

Monday, August 5, 2013

Developing Characters and their Stories in Art Licensing - Artist Lucky Nielsen

It seems that time is just flying away. In fact we already are two months past Surtex and it's time to renew next year's contract for the show. It's also time to create new art or join an art retreat during these sunny months of summer when licensing seems to slow down a little in between trade shows.

Starting September, the pace will pick up and the next show will be around the corner all of a sudden...

Lucky Nielsen - Surtex 2013 Press Kit
Speaking of Surtex, while there this past May we were able to quickly grab a few unique and colorful press kits of artists I wanted to feature as a follow-up to the show - I thought their presentations were adorable. One of them was for sure artist Lucky Nielsen. So refreshing and fun!

Lucky has also recently participated in the Global Talent Search by Lilla Rogers and the great news is that she was just selected as part of the final 50 artists. Brava! Lucky is definitely a rising star and we wish her the best in the final stretch of her competition!

The Moon from My Attic: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your art? My name is really Lucky Nielsen. In fact, my full name is Lucky T Nielsen and it is my middle name (or lack of) that has given me the most trouble, especially for official documents.

For instance, my high school threatened to not print my diploma unless I provided a "full" middle name.

Artist Lucky Nielsen
By now you can probably conclude that I was born to hippie parents in the mid 70's. As a child I was a shy introvert with no siblings or television. Drawing would transport me into my own little world where I could amuse myself by creating characters and stories.

Thinking graphic design was a practical choice for an artist, that is where I began my career. I started freelance designing and illustrating when I had my daughter and continue to do so presently.

A few years ago, I was accepted into a hip and coveted art fair in Minneapolis. It was here that I was introduced to a gallery owner who was interested in my needle-felted sculptures and store owners who wanted to carry my cards, prints and pillows. Between the gallery work and illustrating, I really had no time to produce products for stores, which is what brought me to the beginning of my latest journey: licensing. Why not just make artwork and allow others to manufacture products?

TMFMA: What is exciting about your creative work? I find the entire process of creating a piece of art exciting. I love developing the characters and their story, then playing with the composition of the space and color. I like exploring new ideas and pushing myself. It's challenging, frustrating, rewarding and surprising. By the time I am finished with one piece, I am already madly infatuated with my next project. I refuse to acknowledge the impossibility of developing, in my lifetime, every single idea I have listed in notebooks.

TMFMA: Is there a person or thing that has influenced you in your artistic efforts? What inspires you? I absolutely adore the mid-century children's illustrators: Mary Blair, Alice and Martin Provensen, and Roger Duvoisin, to name a few. They certainly influence my style. But I find inspiration in everything I see: a shape, a color, a particular juxtaposition.

I find my daughter, Violet, awe-inspiring. She has no preconceived notions of art nor does she follow any rules. Her thoughts, ideas and artwork are the epitome of unbridled creativity. I wish for that to never change.

TMFMA: What project are you currently working on? Currently, I am having a blast working on needle-felted sculptures for a show that will be opening on November 16th at Gallery 360 in Minneapolis. I am calling the show "Misfortune at Mansfield Manor." Set in the early 1900's on an English estate, illustrations will tell a humorous story of how characters (anthropomorphized, faux taxidermied animal wool sculptures) met their unfortunate, untimely demise.

TMFMA: Tell us of your experience as an art licensing artist. I am very new to art licensing. I first heard about Surtex about a year ago and immediately signed up. I then spent 10 months researching everything I could find on the internet about Surtex and licensing. I took advantage of the Surtex webinars and even bought Tara Reed's book on licensing.

At Surtex, I met so many lovely artists who openly shared licensing advice. I also had the pleasure of meeting potential clients, even dream clients. I definitely hope to explore these relationships further.

TMFMA: Any important tips and tricks you can share or anything else you’d like to share? All I can really offer is the advice I have given to my little girl: Find your passion and chase it to the ends of the earth. I can't imagine anyone has ever regretted spending their life doing what they love.

TMFMA: What are your future aspirations and goals? I would love to finally finish a children's book that I have been slooooooooowly working on for over 4 years. My daughter helped write it and I am absolutely in love with it. It's completely written and drawn, it just needs color. Sadly, the problem with personal projects is that they always get pushed to the bottom of the list.

My ultimate goal in life is to live fully in the present moment. I get to spend every day in that magical creative place I created as a child and I get to share the journey with my beloved daughter/soul-mate. I have a lot to be thankful for and I want to relish every ounce of it.

You can find out more about Lucky here:

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Creativity and the Artists Behind our Doodle Board

There seems to be an explosion of excitement about eCourses, eMags & eBooks, art retreats/camps, workshops and editorials that teach about painting, creativity and styles - how to become a successful you, or how to find your true creativity and style, and so on. So many options in fact that it makes it impossible not to find something interesting to sign up for!

I am having a great time doing my own thing, you know, taking some time to explore new tricks and passions. My latest one has been to hand paint on linen. It was a pretty spontaneous experiment that has caught me by surprise, it is so fun!

Love Bouquet Collection - © Alessandra Colombo

So I'm learning that it is absolutely best to focus on creating art that makes me happy - not just in the final product, but also in the act of creating itself. I'm also learning that exploring my creativity means that I may have to pass on some manufacturers who I love and admire but I know are not the right fit for that art.

It makes me really happy to share stories and tips from this great community of artists as I move along on my art and licensing journey and I hope to share more about blogging and marketing as I have learned a lot about it in the past couple of years. I do have a big surprise in the works and can't wait to share it, I hope by the end of the year - meantime I want to thank you for your continued and amazing support, it makes this journey much more pleasurable!

As promised, although with a bit of a delay, I am publishing the names and links of all the artists that stopped at my booth at Surtex and left their magic doodle on our Artist Doodle Board! It took me a while to get this list together because I had to find all the business cards and postcards connected with the names. Some I wasn't able to locate so if you know you are one of the artists without name, please email me and I will add you in!

Stephanie Ryan -

Carol Van Zandt -

Dianne Woods -

Patty Gay -

Cindy Lindgren -

Mark Gonyea -

Ming Platt -

Pim Pimlada -

Christine Kerrick -

Leah Hoelscher -

Michelle Baker -

Audrey Hopkins -

Cherish Flieder -

Karen M. Beers - no website yet

Elizabeth Golz Rush -

Mittie Cuetara -

Sarah Hudock -

Jessica Sporn -

Alisha Wilson -