Is Licensing Right for You?

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Is Licensing Right For You?

art licensing (ärt li·cens·ing ) – an artist grants permission through a contract (licensing agreement) for a licensee (company or manufacturer) to feature their art on a product(s) in exchange for a royalty or percentage of the sales of that product(s). The artist retains all rights to the art and is simply granting rights to the licensee for a particular product(s) for a specific time period as stated in the agreement.

Let me start by saying, “Don’t quit your day job.” What I mean by that is licensing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It is like most careers; you have to put in years of time and effort to reach a high level of success. Also, through the years of building your licensing business, you are also building a brand. You and your art will become recognizable in the industry.

In order to make this point more clear, here is just one example of the amount of time it takes from the art being created to the artist getting paid. I am currently designing the Country Bears calendar……….for the year 2015! Most licensees need art very early – a year in advance is pretty standard. Once I create the art for the calendar (which is due by Aug 2013), Mead has to create samples, sell it to retailers (starting Jan 2014), ship it (July 2014), then I get paid the royalty for the sales of the calendar in Nov 2014. Note: Most licensees pay royalties on a quarterly schedule.

So as you can see, you won’t get paid for your efforts for a year to year and a half. Also when just starting out, you may only have a couple of licensees and unless they are producing large programs for big box stores, it won’t be enough to live on.

And, please, ALWAYS REMEMBER, everyone’s journey is different so don’t compare your success with others.

Here is a list of questions you should ask yourself when considering if licensing is right for you:

  1. Is my style of art licensable?
  2. How do I handle rejection?
  3. Do I want people dictating what I should paint?
  4. Do I need to know photoshop?
  5. Am I disciplined enough to work hard and meet deadlines while working at home?

 1. Is my style of art licensable?

Does your portfolio consist of portrait art? abstract art? landscapes? Not to say this style of art won’t license but it is very limiting for licensees. Remember my article on Designing Collections? It is clear that licensees need a central theme with many coordinating pieces. Let me jump in here and say that not EVERYTHING you paint has to be in a huge collection. But within your portfolio, you should have some full blown collections that are “ready to go”. Also peppered in your portfolio, among the collections, you can have mini-collections that are only 3-4 main images…….then if a licensee likes what you have done, they may ask for more coordinating images to fill out the collection. Below I am showing you one of my mini collections.

So what would I paint to fill out this collection if a licensee requested me to do so?? I could use photoshop to create a toss of stars on the navy background; I could paint a stripe pattern from one or more of the scarves; I could create a border with all 9 snowmen in a row adding more trees and reindeer and the border around that image could be the green scallop shown on the snowlady’s purse….you get the idea, right?

Your art needs to have wide appeal. For example, the snowmen above…..snowmen are everywhere in the marketplace during Christmas and beyond!

Research! Research! Research! Visit Target, Home Goods, JoAnn, Hobby Lobby; look at gift catalogs….what kind of art do you see? Can you visualize YOUR art on those products? What themes and color palettes are being used for today’s gift and home decor products?

By all means, research, but don’t copycat what you see. Be unique, put a twist on an existing theme, make it your own creation! Research is to inspire and educate you only.

Think of it this way……In licensing, the purpose of your art is to sell products for your licensee, right? For instance, there are a zillion calendars out there and each one has the same layout, months, weeks, days, etc. What makes a person buy a specific calendar over another? People don’t buy a calendar because of the information the calendar contains because they are all the same. They buy a specific calendar because they relate to the images……the art makes them smile, or brings them comfort, or makes them laugh, or reminds them of their childhood, etc….they buy what they connect with.

SO, it’s imperative that as a licensed artist, you understand that the purpose of your art is to sell products. You and the licensee are on the same team. Your design, whether a success or failure is felt by both you and the licensee.

2. How do I handle rejection?

When an artist creates art, it’s personal. It is a part of us made visible. You may finish a painting and be so happy with the results and think to yourself, “this is going to be a hit!” only to have someone pick it apart. They may want it painted in a different color palette, or change the snowman’s knitted hat to a top hat, or move this snowman over here, etc. Of course, it is always your choice whether or not you re-create the art with the changes someone requests. Licensees don’t intend to hurt anyone’s feelings by making suggestions in changing your art, but they think product and sales. You can’t take their comments personal and if you are very sensitive about your art, I would warn you to stay away from licensing.

You see, when you paint on commission or you sell your originals at a gallery or art show, your art only has to speak to one person….the buyer. In licensing, your art needs to speak to the masses.

3. Do I want people dictating what I should paint?

Again, licensees think product and sales. It only makes sense; they are the ones taking all the financial risks of making the product and going to trade shows to sell the product, so they have to think in those terms.

You may be asked to paint something that isn’t in your wheelhouse. Here’s an example, years ago I designed a line of quilting fabric with a Northwoods theme. The licensee asked me to design and paint a toss mosquito pattern to finish off the line. Well, I live in Michigan where there are tons of mosquitoes and they are nothing but an annoyance and I couldn’t imagine making a quilt with mosquito fabric in it. Of course, I could have said, no, but I did it because I try to offer that kind of service to all my licensees. However, I am not suggesting you paint everything someone requests from you especially if it goes against your morals & values or if it could discredit your art and brand.

I can also attest to painting from the heart…..don’t allow yourself to become so busy painting what people request from you that you have no time to create “from the heart”. This is where the best art comes from. My most successful paintings have been from this kind of creating. Allow time in your schedule to freely paint whatever YOU want… will keep your portfolio fresh and you won’t lose heart. Otherwise, it becomes too much like a J-O-B!

4. Do I need to know Photoshop?

The quick answer is no, but it doesn’t hurt. A licensee may ask you to change the reddish blue sky in the background to a warmer lighter blue….if you can do it using photoshop, you will save yourself hours of your valuable time. Maybe you paint with acrylics so changing the sky color is easy. I have been asked to change the border around a painting on occasion, I can do this quickly using photoshop rather than re-painting. If you don’t know how to use photoshop, you may want to eventually partner with someone who does so they can make changes for you.

I have never taken a photoshop class. I am self-taught. Over the years, I have become pretty good at photoshop….good enough to make the changes to my artwork that I need to. I know I only scratch the surface of what photoshop can do, but it has saved me hours and hours of painstaking work over the years. So I recommend you eventually purchase photoshop and tinker with it now and again until you know it well enough to make changes to you art that look natural.

Here is a link for a free trial of Adobe Photoshop CS6.

5. Am I disciplined enough to work hard and meet deadlines while working at home?

The one statement I’ve heard over and over from friends is “You are so disciplined. How do you focus on work when you could take the day off and enjoy this beautiful weather?” It is true, I am my own boss and I can work or choose not to on any given day. But for one, I LOVE what I do. I love the process of creating art and seeing it come to life in products. I love going to the store and seeing my art sitting on the store shelf. I love to create!

When I started my business, I took it seriously. To this day, I still write down the hours I work every day. It is my full time career. However, it does allows me to be flexible. When the kids where younger, I use to go on all their field trips. I made all their games, etc. I can work around everyone’s schedules and that is a real gift.

Being proactive in this business is a good habit to get into. Keep a schedule of any deadlines you have and finish them early if possible. By staying ahead of the game you can be more flexible when a friend invites you out to lunch, or your child is home sick from school. It will also keep you from getting stressed out because it seems like when it rains, it pours in this business. For instance, I find out early in the year if Mead wants me to paint another Country Bears calender. The art isn’t due until August which gives me approximately 7 months to get the paintings done. I work on the calendar here and there when I don’t have a lot of demand on my time so I am not trying to get 12 paintings done in one month.

As I mentioned above, when it rains, it pours. Most licensees are working on the same time line. Starting in January, they are planning for the following January’s product introductions so you will find at certain times of the year you are extremely busy. Are you willing to work over 40 hours some weeks? Are you willing to work a Saturday if necessary? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to meet your deadlines? This is imperative to your career. Missing a deadline by a week, could possibly sabatoge an entire deal. The licensees are under strict deadlines with their manufacturers which most of the time are overseas. A manufacturer is producing products for several different companies so their production schedules are tight. If you have a reputation for always coming through on time for your licensees, it will serve you well. On the other hand, if you are known for missing deadlines, you will eventually find yourself with no deadlines to worry about, if you know what I mean.

I find being disciplined is easy because I am serious about my career and I believe that’s what it boils down to…. how serious are you about being a full-time artist??

Ponder these questions and be honest with yourself. Licensing isn’t for everyone. If not, read my article about 10 Viable Ways to Sell Art for other ideas. But if the thought of seeing your art on products at your favorite store excites you and fuels your passions then go for it!

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