Monday, November 25, 2013

Art Which Appeals and Is Accessible to All - Artist Richard Macneil & the The Macneil Studio

Well, autumn is now definitely in the air and most of the leaves have fallen off our trees. I may be a bit of an oddity, as I love this time of year best of all - the colors, the crisp air, the slow lessening of daylight, the warmth of a wood fire in the stove all seem to me to be signs of the world exhaling; what could be more restful and yet more energizing than a good deep breath!

An artist who I also find greatly appealing is Richard Macneil, and it is my pleasure to share his artistic journey with everyone today.

The Moon from My Attic: Please introduce yourself - My name is Richard Macneil, owner and artist of the Macneil Studio Ltd. Four years ago I left an agency and formed The Macneil Studio together with my wife, Judi and sons Daniel and Kyle. We work in the glorious, rural countryside of Worcestershire in the UK.

© Richard Macneil
TMFMA: What's exciting about your creative work? Everyday is different, one day I may work on our expanding print range, the next, I am painting Santa Claus and snowmen.  We do work for commissions and I also like to explore new techniques.

TMFMA: Who or what has inspired you in your art? Many artists have inspired me over the years – top of my list would be Frank Frazetta, N.C Wyeth, David Shepherd and Norman Rockwell. I seek inspiration from all sorts of sources; I like to travel, particularly in Europe and I'm never tired of historical architecture, culture and people. I'm always on the lookout – I spend hours people watching, and I also watch films and read. I consider the gestures people use, or the colours they're wearing. It's about taking all the little everyday things and observing them with a critical eye.

TMFMA: Can you share a favorite technique you routinely use in your art work? My work has evolved over the last 30 years but there are always a few core techniques that remain in all my work. This starts with an interesting, balanced composition. I like to tell a story whenever possible – particularly with prints.  Each piece of work I do has to have exciting, vibrant but balanced color and light and an interesting subject.

© Richard Macneil
TMFMA: How long have you been doing art licensing? I am a self taught artist who has always worked in the creative industry. Born in Worcester in 1958, I started my working life at Worcester Royal Porcelain and have always worked in the fields of sculpture, ceramics and graphics both in the UK and internationally.

I spent many years in the USA where my company, Bronn, produced large, exclusive sculptures of American Western art. My partner was the sculpture and I painted the pieces. One of my greatest achievements was seeing my artwork displayed in the Oval Office of The White House. Whilst in America, I started experimenting with design for greeting cards – at that time, whimsical design was very big and I had some published with a wholesale publisher in the UK.

Returning to Worcestershire, UK, I freelanced as an artist and greetings card designer before deciding to join an agency. However, In 2009, together with my wife Judi and sons Daniel and Kyle, I formed The Macneil Studio where we exclusively license my art. Since then, the business has gone from strength to strength; my artwork can be seen on many gift, homewares and paper products around the globe. We have now licensed designs to Artko, a major print distributor in the UK.

© Richard Macneil
TMFMA: Do you work with an agent or do you represent yourself? Since 2009, when I formed The Macneil Studio, we have represented ourselves. My son Daniel takes care of the 'business side' and the licensing. My other son Kyle is a great artist and works alongside me in the design studio. My wife Judi works with our prints, website, shop and all manner of other things! We are a great team and we enjoy what we do, work very hard at it and are now beginning to reap the rewards.

TMFMA: Anything else you'd like to share about art and licensing? First and foremost I think my advice to any artist considering licensing would be do your homework – look at all the top licensing artists, look at the vast amount of greetings cards and other paper product designs, in fact, look at anything with a design on it. Then consider whether your art fits or whether you are willing to adapt.

© Richard Macneil
My art has evolved beyond all recognition throughout the years for several reasons:

- Because I wanted to earn a living and support my family doing something I love.

- Because I needed to give publishers/licensors what they wanted.

It may sound harsh, but artists cannot be too 'precious' about their art. In the licensing world, if Licensors don't see what they like and an artist is not willing to adapt through constructive critique, they just go on to the next artist or agency.

Last but not least, nothing happens overnight. Where I am today is a culmination of nearly 30 years in the 'art' business. There have been many 'ups' and probably more 'downs' along the way. However, hard work really does pay off and now having the younger generation following behind me gives me a huge sense of achievement and satisfaction. My vision is to create art which appeals and is accessible to all.

© Richard Macneil

Find out more about Richard Macneil and his studio:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Love of Making Things by Hand - Artist Tammy Smith

Handmade Christmas ornaments are fun to make and exchange with friends and family, or to give out as gifts. Artist Tammy Smith is a licensed artist and also makes some really unique and cute ornaments. So I invited her to join us today for an interview!

The Moon from My Attic: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your art? Sure thing! I am a mostly self-taught artist and surface designer who grew up in Kansas City, MO, near where I still live today. In my early 20's I was hired by Hallmark Cards and began a career as an artist/art director there, designing partyware, giftwrap, and social expression products. Over the years I've also illustrated children's books and worked in many different mediums, including ceramics, wire, acrylic painting and 3D mixed media sculpture.

Artist Tammy Smith
Four years ago I began a freelance career working from home, creating surface pattern and product development for art licensing.

TMFMA: What is exciting about your creative work? I love the diversity of the projects I get to work on, from designing a 3D line of garden decor products to hand lettering a calendar or paper partyware unit. I love working on a pattern on my computer in the morning and a wire and stitch project on my back porch in the afternoon. I tend to get bored if I do the same thing in the same way for too many days in a row!

TMFMA: Is there a person or thing that has influenced you in your artistic efforts? What inspires you? >My father was a lithographer by day and an amateur woodworker by night and he was always building something in his basement workshop. From him I developed a love of making things with my hands and from then on I was never without either a sketchbook or project of some sort going on. As for inspiration, I really admire the UK maker/designers like Maxine Sutton, Mark Heald, or any of the artists of St. Jude's Gallery. I think that artists in other countries are more likely to be shopkeepers as well as artist makers and I admire that.

TMFMA: What project are you currently working on? In September I opened a new online shop that is also on my Facebook page where I have many new wire-n-stitch pieces, as well as DIY kits and downloadable PDFs available. I love to challenge myself creatively, so currently I am working on an Ornament-A-Day project, where I make one Christmas ornament a day throughout the month of November. All of the ornaments are created from wire, cloth and embroidery thread. Each day I post the ornaments on my Instagram, Flickr and Facebook pages. It's turning out to be a super fun creative exercise plus it's great to get that immediate feedback from an audience. I'm also doing some commission and graphic design work for clients as well.

TMFMA: Tell us of your experience as an art licensing artist. Since entering the licensing field from the corporate world 3 years ago I've exhibited at Surtex the last 2 years and plan to again in 2014. I've been fortunate to meet and work with some really wonderful licensing partners like Studio M (Magnetworks),Graphique de France, Design Design, and Unique Partyware, and I've learned that licensing is a marathon, not a sprint.

You may start a conversation with a company and begin concept development before signing a contract. This is where the "spec work" comes in. Then after completing a project it is usually months to a year before the product is actually introduced for sale in the marketplace. For someone who isn't very patient (like me!) that wait can seem to take a very long time but it is really exciting when you finally see your product on the shelves!

TMFMA: Any important tips and tricks you can share or anything else you'd like to share? I can think of a few things. The first is to have multiple income streams. Since licensing does take awhile to see financial returns, it's best to either have another way to make an income or have money saved that will keep you afloat. Many licensing artists that I know also do graphic design or book illustration while pursuing licensing deals. I think that just makes you a stronger designer and also adds more images to your portfolio. Next, read licensing blogs (like this one) because they are a wealth of very useful information.

I referred to them quite a bit before my first Surtex even though I had been to several Surtex shows before in an art director capacity. One other important thing is to find what makes you unique. There will be rows and rows of artists showing surface design, so really look at what makes you different from the crowd. For me, it was in the materials I used. For about 4 years, I had been making and selling my mixed media wire sculptures and lamps under my previous business name "Homemade Circus" so I brought a wire lamp to my first Surtex show. That lamp ended up being a conversation starter with Anne McFarland Brown and Sue Todd that has now led to a wonderful partnership with Studio M (a division of Magnetworks) and soon my new line of wire pieces for the garden will debut at the January 2014 Atlanta Gift Mart. This wouldn't have happened if I hadn't brought the lamp!

TMFMA: What are your future aspirations and goals? I would love to see my wire-n-stitch Christmas ornaments become a licensed collection and I'd love the opportunity to see my surface design work on fabric or stationery products as well.

View more about Tammy at:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Artist 007 - "License to Draw", with Two Town Studios!

It's already the holiday season and I have Thanksgiving and Christmas on my mind. What to give this year? My Designer Keka cases for iPhones, Galaxy and iPads (plus some tasty chocolate cookies...) are going to be excellent gifts so I thought to let you in on a special deal that is going on right now ~ if you buy any 2 products you'll get 1 free!

Bo & Gigi is a trendy design but you can choose from 10 different ones. If you click on the image above you'll go directly to the Keka case site.

In addition to a cute iPhone or Galaxy case, you can also buy a new and fun book that my friend Ronnie Walter just recently wrote. It's called "License to Draw." As she mentions in the interview below, she highly recommends it ~ I know I am going to get one for myself for Christmas! 

The Moon from My Attic ~ Please introduce yourself:
R: I'm Ronnie Walter; licensed artist, writer and agent with my husband and partner at Two Town Studios, Inc. In 2014 I will celebrate 20 years since I signed my first license - it was little, but by golly it was a license!

J: And I'm Jim Marcotte. We incorporated as Two Town Studios back in 2000 and currently represent five fabulous artists and a couple of branded properties. Along with Ronnie we represent Leslie Murray, Ellen Krans, Krista Hamrick, Gretchen Kish Serrano's Paw Palettes® and Life is Country®. Most of our licenses are placed in the gift, stationery, homegoods and craft markets.

TMFMA ~ What drives/inspires you as an art licensing agent/agency?
R: I really like working together in partnership with an artist and seeing them develop successful careers. I also like the contact with our clients — almost to a person they are smart, funny and enthusiastic about product development.

Ronnie Walter and Jim Marcotte
J: It's actually very gratifying to collaborate with a client, discover what they need, be able to say "we can do that" and put together a line. You get a real sense of accomplishment from working as a team – artist, agent and licensee - to "build" a better product. Nothing makes us happier than sharing that kind of success with our artists.

TMFMA ~ What is your view of the role of an agent in art licensing?
R: We are the connectors, the people that help artists get licensing deals and help the manufacturers get the kind of artwork they need. For us it's a partnership on both ends of the deal. We need to identify where and then to whom the artist's work can go, and our clients expect us to save them time and effort by supplying appropriate designs.

TMFMA ~ As an agent, how do you find a new artist? When you look at an artist's work, what are the key elements you are looking for?
R: We always have our feelers out for artwork that looks "licensable." That being said, we like to see a professional presentation and a clear message of what the artist is about. We also evaluate the work based on whether or not that artist would compete with anyone we already represent and we need to have a sense that our current clients will respond positively to the work. Then, after some extensive conversation, we cross our fingers that the artist isn't going to be difficult or crazy.

J: It goes back to the partnership we talk about. Product licensing – which is really what we are talking about here – is a long road that you travel in fits and starts with forks and dead ends everywhere. We are looking for artwork that is adaptable to a variety of products and people that are adaptable to the process. Content and connection are now the way of the market, so we are also looking for the story in the art – how will customers relate to it?

TMFMA ~ How does an artist know their work is right for licensing?
R: After studying the market, the artist should be able to tell if their ideas and quality of artwork is competitive with what is out in the market. And they should show it to as many people as they can, both professionals and consumers (who do not already love you).

J: Ronnie makes a good point – feedback from your family or other artists is not nearly as valuable as what you will get from, say, retailers or potential licensees. I think every artist who thinks they have something saleable should consider making up some prints, renting a tent and doing an art fair. You couldn't pay enough for the education you will get on how people buy, what works and what doesn't. Another way is to take your portfolio to the gift stores and see if the owner is willing to give you an opinion on your designs. Retailers are the front line on saleable product and they will definitely have an opinion.

TMFMA ~ What’s the worst error a new artist can make in art licensing?
R: Underestimating how long it takes to develop a career. It's excruciatingly slow sometimes! It can be a waiting game for decisions to be made, forever until it comes out on the market, and an eternity until you get paid!

J: And not doing their homework. They should take the time to learn as much as possible about a company and what they make before sending them any art, because nobody wants art they cannot use.

TMFMA ~ What's your view of the current market and trends?
R: I think the "connection" based collections are still strong and resonate with consumers. I definitely see a trend back to good quality drawing and color is very important. Pattern only work, without illustration seems to be waning a bit. I think the market has settled down over the last year or so, but it is far below the "good old days" of the early 2000's.

TMFMA ~ What are your "must" trade shows to attend?
R: Whew, that depends on the artist and what they want to do. From year to year that may change, depending on the market, your work and your budget — so, yes, I am avoiding the answer.

J: I think we should differentiate between "attend" and "exhibit." There are only a couple shows where you can exhibit and for all the others I'd say you need to examine why you are going. There is nothing like a gift market to see actual product, how it's merchandised and what is on the market now. Every major city has them but many won't let artists in without a retail or showroom connection. Exhibiting at Surtex is great if you are ready, but very expensive. The Licensing Expo, also expensive, has an art exhibitor section but that is not the focus of the show. And there are hundreds of specialty trade shows in specific categories that can be quite good if you can work in that niche.

TMFMA ~ How do you see the future of licensing?
R: Well, I know for sure that the business cannot sustain success for every artist that wants to license their work. There just aren't enough products that use licensed art to accommodate all the people that would love to make a living this way. I think we'll see more "hybrid" careers develop in the next few years. There are just too many eggs trying to fit into the art licensing basket.

J: I couldn't agree more. This business has changed far more quickly than most will admit, and while there are tens of thousands trying to get licensed only a handful of people actually make a living as full time licensing artists. I believe licensing will always be a viable tool but it will only be one of many for someone hoping to live a creative life. Art fairs, e-commerce, teaching and coaching, crafting, corporate or educational work, commissions and work for hire, consulting, publishing … all are parts and pieces of what we see artists doing now. Some agents too.

TMFMA ~ What do you recommend to a new artist starting out in this field?
R: Get smart and realistic about the business. Read blogs and books (I highly recommend "License to Draw" and Jim's blog of course…) but don't get paralyzed by information overload and wait to get everything "just right." There is no "just right" but there is "get going." And do really good work.

J: First off, be different. No one needs another generic snowman or simple graphic, there are thousands out there already so you want to be truly unique. Treat every experience as a learning opportunity. If your work isn't getting any traction, try to figure out why and then make the adjustments to both your work and your methods. Experiment and test new approaches. Flexibility is important.

TMFMA ~ What other useful tips can you give a new artist starting out in this field?
R: Find your tribe. It's important to find people who "get you" --- and you may or not be related to them! I found a writing group that has been very supportive of my writing and has helped me find my voice. You get to make the rules on this one — do you want critique? Support? Or just someone to laugh along this crazy road? The choice is yours.

TMFMA ~ What are your future goals and aspirations?
R: Well, I'd like to get a big-ass RV and have Jim drive us all over the country while I drink fine wine and write best sellers, but he has seemed somewhat resistant to the idea. Oh, and I want to make our dog Larry the next big thing because he's just so darn adorable.

J: Hey, I'm in.

Visit Two Town Studio's website:
Ronnie's website:
...and Jim's blog:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Enjoyment of Painting and Exploring New Ideas ~ Artist Paul Brent

I recently happened to be on the Florida coast and I found it very inspiring for painting new collections. It reminded me of one of my favorite veteran licensing artists who has painted beautiful coastal collections and who was the very first person to help me when I started in art licensing ~ his positive encouragements were very helpful and also reassuring.

So I am very happy to present artist Paul Brent and feature some of his new beautiful paintings while sharing this great interview within this community!

Artist Paul Brent
The Moon from My Attic: Please introduce yourself - After a childhood spent enjoying art, I majored in Art at Cal State Long Beach and after two years decided to change my major to Architecture and transfer to the University of California at Berkeley where I got my Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Architecture. I began attending outdoor art shows with a friend while I was still working in an architectural firm and sold my artwork at shows and galleries. I became a member of the Florida Watercolor Society, the National Watercolor Society and the Society of Illustrators during this time.

Along the way I began to print my work and from there I began attending print and framing trade shows in 1986 to sell the prints. At one of those shows I met a manufacturer of book marks who was looking for a Florida artist to create designs for coastal regions for bookmarks. That went well and I learned about a new show in New York, called Surtex, where I could meet more manufacturers. In 1988 I attended my first Surtex show and have attended every year since then. I opened a gallery and distribution center for prints in 1990 and my wife, Lana Jane, joined me as president of our company in 1992.

© Paul Brent

TMFMA: What brought you to art in the first place? My mother was an elementary school teacher and always had a lot of art supplies around and would do art projects with me and my sister at an early age. I began drawing and my mother bought how-to-draw books for me when I was 5 and 6 years old. It was something that clicked with me and as I progressed people recognized me for my talent and further encouraged me to create art.

© Paul Brent
TMFMA: What's exciting about your creative work? Each time I sit down and pick up my pencil or brush there is a new idea to explore. I really enjoy painting and creating and thinking up something new. I like thinking about trends and how my work can either go with a trend or in some cases begin a trend based on what is happening in the world. People ask if I ever get a creative block and the reverse happens with me. I have to edit and chose from the many things I want to do because I do not have time to create all of the work I want to.

TMFMA: How long have you been doing art licensing? I began licensing in 1988 so that makes it just at 25 years. I found licensing to be both interesting to me as an artist and financially rewarding. I began without really knowing what I was doing but after my first attendance at Surtex I began shaping my work for licensing. By the third year I had major contracts for wallpaper, bed linens, tile and home accessories. I found that my niche as a coastal artist worked well with art licensing and this has proved true over the years.

© Paul Brent
TMFMA: What brought you to exhibit for the first time and what/how many shows have you exhibited in? A friend told me about Surtex and it seemed to me that my work might fit art licensing. So I have been in 25 Surtex shows and we have also exhibited in the Licensing Expo probably 15 times or more. That makes around 40 trade shows but does not include the gift, house ware and linen shows we have attended.

TMFMA: What do you suggest new artists do to present themselves to the world of licensing for the first time? First be unique. Find an area that you excel in and that says who you are in the world of art. Focus on your central artistic core until you are established. Don't try to exhibit every style and subject you can possibly paint. Pick your strongest and stay with it.

© Paul Brent
TMFMA: Please give us your analysis of the market based on your own experience and contacts. It is a tougher market to get into now than when I started. When I began we had to explain what licensing was to manufacturers. Now licensing is a given and we have to compete with the number of established and new artists on the market. The emphasis on the new is now stronger than ever in art licensing. We also have to deal with copyright infringements that seem to come in ever increasing numbers. So I would say that art licensing has reached a mature phase which means that competition for each contract is more fierce than ever. A successful artist has to be a successful business person, too.

TMFMA: In your view, what was of major interest to manufacturers this year? I would probably say that collage, using elements that are put together rather than paintings by themselves was at the top. In this, the use of pattern with subject was very successful. If I were starting now as a licensed artist I would start with a strong holiday selection of designs.

© Paul Brent
TMFMA: What do you think the main trends are for 2014? Contemporary styles are definitely trending up and the shabby chic direction and retro are stable to down trending. Holiday licensing is on the rise with Harvest, a look that can go from Halloween to Thanksgiving becoming a defined holiday style and Day of the Dead and Halloween merging. Mardi Gras is also expanding into many new regions of the country. It seems that everyone likes to party and that any holiday is an excuse to party and therefore it's becoming a licensing opportunity.

Second homes are also seeking new looks so more contemporary versions of coastal and lodge that are pattern oriented are moving up in trend. The phenomenon of the creative wedding has brought that category into the licensing field. Woodland themes for boys and girls are even more popular now. Chalkboard art has gotten a big boost from Pinterest and is going strong. We will have to see if that has lasting power. Look for sites such as Pinterest and Instagram to be the breeding places for new trends.

© Paul Brent

TMFMA: What advice would you give other artists that are considering the art licensing field? Become familiar with the business before you exhibit your work. Attend Surtex or the Licensing Expo as a visitor first to observe and attend lectures. Go online to find information about art licensing: this blog plus several others, "The Art of Licensing" on Linkedin and my own informational site with free and low cost courses is are all good ways to familiarize yourself with the industry. As far as your art, be confident, be original, be prolific and be professional.

© Paul Brent
TMFMA: Any other useful info that you'd like to share about art and licensing? There is something about being original and being in the market at the right time in the right spot. Luck has something to do with it but being astute and knowing how to use your talent to be in the market place with the right style and subject at the right time can be the biggest boost to your career whether you are just starting or in mid-career. Also you have to have perseverance in art licensing. Overnight success is not something you will generally encounter. It talks time to build your reputation, your portfolio and your knowledge of what manufacturers want.

Find out more about Paul Brent at