By Tara Reed
So you’ve heard about art licensing and think it sounds amazing! You can create art and have several people pay you for the rights to use it. You don’t have to do any of the marketing, selling or credit card processing. Heck, you’ve heard about people who make millions doing it so why shouldn’t you?
Well… it’s not that easy.
I will begin by telling you it is possible to earn a living licensing your art and that it can be done. I built my business from the ground up and absolutely love the whole process.
I will also tell you that it isn’t for everyone. One of my missions in writing, teaching and speaking about art licensing is to give artists a realistic view of what this business is and not a pie-in-the-sky “anyone can do it!” perspective.
1. It takes time to start making money . . . and by time I mean it can take 1-3 years so you need an alternate source of income while you see if your art is a fit.
2. Speaking of art being a fit, not all art is suited to licensing. Art for licensing is art that will work on and help sell products. That is the whole point. Manufacturers looks for designs to use on their products so consumers will buy them. There isn’t a lot of abstract art being licensed, for example. But you will never see snowmen or roosters leave the stores because people always seem to want to buy things with snowmen and roosters. (Not necessarily together, of course.)
3. There is a lot of competition. In recent years more artists have become aware of the idea of licensing and there are more people talking about how to do it. A lot of artists who used to work for manufacturers have been downsized and have entered the pool of artists licensing their work. This means your art has to be that much better. Manufacturers have a lot of choices so you need to put your best art forward to land that deal.
4. You might be asked to create quickly. There are many times when deadlines will be tight so if you don’t like creating on the turn of a dime, you might not love the process of licensing your art. Or, if you choose not to do things quickly (which is your choice since you are in business for yourself) you simply won’t get the deal.
5. You need to be determined and you must be able to handle rejection . . . or crickets. (Meaning no response at all.) Art licensing is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of work to create your art and market your art. It takes a firm sense of self and the ability to listen to and learn from feedback when your art isn’t selected. You also need to be able to keep creating and marketing when you submit art and never hear anything back.
6. Changes to the art is more of a rule than an exception. In point #2 I mentioned that the whole purpose of the art in licensing is to help sell products. That could mean that a manufacturer who is interested in your work might ask for changes based on trends they are seeing in the marketplace or requests they are receiving from retailers.
I would guess that about 80% of the work that I do is changed in some way between when I show it to a manufacturer and when it lands on a store shelf. It might be a color change, size change, or layout change. You have to know that you and the manufacturer are partners, trying to create the best product possible in hopes of lots and lots of sales. That is, after all, how you earn your living. (Most art licensing deals are done as a royalty based on sales so the more products that sell, the higher your royalty check!)
I’m feeling like the first 6 points could be construed as a bit negative but they are simply some realities of this business. It is better to know about them before you devote a lot of time and energy to creating art for licensing, right? If you know you hate to work on a deadline you can save some time and look at other money making options for your art.
The Good Stuff
Let’s finish up with some things that I absolutely love about licensing! (You will find that some of these points were mentioned before as well.)
7. When licensing your art is really working, you will be paid for the same art by multiple manufacturers. This is a concept I love. I love that I can create a holiday collection and license the rights to use the same art to different manufacturers for different projects. It makes sense to me. Why sell the art outright to a company who will only use it for paper plates and napkins? Instead I can license it to a company who makes paper plates and napkins, then to another who makes ceramic plates, and another who makes rubber stamps, etc. It is like a game to come up with art that will work across a variety of products and then connect with the people who choose the art.
8. You get to collaborate with manufacturers. This is one of my favorite things. Like many artists, I work alone in my studio, which is in my home. Not a lot of water cooler talk or heading to lunch with the gang. My co-workers become the licensing managers and art directors across the country who I talk to and brainstorm about art and product design. Very often I have art that they like and then we come up with some changes or additions to make it really fit for them. It’s so exciting to later see it in the stores and remember the conversations when the ideas were born.
9. You don’t have to focus on one product and manage all aspects – from production to marketing to sales to shipping and returns. Starting a greeting card business is a full time job. You have to study the market, create the art, invest in production and then figure out how to get the word out about your great creations. You don’t have time to also manufacture ceramic dishes, handbags and picture frames too! With licensing, you focus on the art and find the people who are making and selling and shipping – leaving you time to get back to creating the art.
10. It is so incredibly cool to go into a store and see products for sale with your art on them! After 8 years licensing my art I am still delighted each and every time it happens and hope I never become immune to the feeling. I’ve heard artists say it’s selling out to have your art mass produced but I wholeheartedly disagree. I think it is a very fun, interesting and satisfying way to make a living.
There you have some pluses and minuses of pursuing a career in art licensing. There are those who will read this and think to themselves, “This is simply not for me.” If you are one of them, I wish you much success in whatever you decide is a fit. Others will be intrigued and want to learn more. If you fall into that category, I invite you to visit my website and blog to learn more.
About the Guest Blogger
Tara Reed is a successful licensor of her art and teaches artists how to follow her path at ArtLicensingInfo.com (my affiliate link). You can visit that link, sign up for her bi-weekly newsletter, and receive her Beginner Basics audio program for just $10. Her creative juices flow in her Portland, Oregon studio.