So You Want to Be a Licensed Artist – 4 Things to Know First
I’ve often spent well over an hour perusing the housewares, stationery, and party supply sections at Target and other stores, and thought, “My art is this good! Why shouldn’t I be doing this?”
Which is all fine and dandy, however what I would keep telling myself as to “why”, is that it’s because for this particular season and line, only that ONE artist was chosen. There are probably millions of artists hoping to get a deal, but only so few probably do… yes, that’s me, justifying my ‘failure’ without even having put in the effort to fail or succeed in the first place!
Please, someone tell me that you’ve done this too?
Sure, I’m a licensed artist. I’ve got my portfolio at DENY Designs, and I’ve got several POD (Print On Demand) shops set up around the internet. But… there’s nothing like knowing that your work is in thousands of stores across the country, and possibly in tens of thousands of homes! Truth be told, there IS a lot of competition out there, I’m not just being defeatist when I think about it. It’s HARD to get the initial relationship going, but once you do, it’s like many other freelance type jobs, where they’ll come back to you if you’ve made them happy (and made them money)!
So I’ve done my research. I really have looked into what it takes to get licensed, and the things that need to be considered when you’re working to build up your portfolio and get your stuff in the aisles.
1. Your style, while you may THINK is something worth mass-production, is probably already not a good fit. People don’t license art that they’re super passionate about, they license art that sells. This doesn’t mean you can’t create some giganto triptych abstract and sell it for several hundred dollars in addition to doing the work for licensing – it just means you probably won’t be able to license that giganto triptych and if you do – it’s likely not going to be a huge deal, since it’s not most popular. If your style is either too abstract or too traditional, you’re not meant to be on aprons or napkins. It’s just the truth.
Believe me – it’s hard to come to terms with this when you have a very distinct style that you’re proud of and have worked on for a long time. So if you really are determined to ONLY create in your current style, then to be absolutely honest with you – you’re apt to sit there for a very long time with nothing happening. If it’s more important for you to make a living as an artist and creative person in general, than it is to stick to what you know/like, then you’ve got a shot.
2. This is where the time factor comes into play. This will NOT happen for anyone, even those with cutesy or kitschy styles, in rapid time. If you need to be earning money along the way, then you may need to relegate yourself to the fact that you’ll be working on your license-worthy art either part time or in your free time ONLY. Don’t quit your day job, or at least try to find one that doesn’t make you miserable, while you build up your experiences with art licensing.
This means you have to be prepared for lots of rejection or worse, silence. Just know that this doesn’t mean your work sucks, it doesn’t mean you’ll never get there – it just means that right now, you’re not what they’re looking for. I dealt with that feeling in the past as a model and actress. I’d send in headshot after headshot, and get nothing for months before something picked up. Don’t take it personal!
3. What you first submit will very rarely be what winds up in the stores. More often than not, there will be major edit requests made. Everything from layout, size, color, and composition can be changed. You may design a really cute mother and child giraffe wallpaper border, only for the manufacturer to come back telling you that they want it with twins, and instead of yellow the mommy giraffe needs to be purple, and to make the spots bigger and darker. Do it or lose the gig, and that’s all there is to it.
You’ll also have to work on deadlines, so it’s not about when your muse strikes. You need to have a good understanding of your capabilities and be willing to meet absolute deadlines or you’ll find yourself having put time into something that you won’t get paid for. Talk about souring the taste at that point, right? But fair is fair – and you have to work to spec and deadlines almost all the time.
4. Keep your options open. Don’t just create art for shower curtains and pillows – create a collection that could also be used on napkins, rubber stamps, and melamine dishes. Why? Because that’s multiple streams of income from one design set!! You CAN license your work to different companies, but usually only for one type of product at a time. So you won’t license the same art to 3 companies for production on pillows, but think about all the different categories you can create the same set for, to be used on different types of products.
So, if after all of that, you’re fairly certain you still want into art licensing (cats, snowmen, and roosters be damned), then you really should spend time doing some research. I’ve found GREAT inspiration and tons of great answers with Tara Reed, for example. The fact remains that if you think you can/want to change up your style beyond reprints, posters, and originals, and open up a possible new income stream just being creative, then you really owe it to yourself to invest some time into learning more about licensing art.
Have you ever, or do you currently license your art? Tell us about it in the comments!