Licensing lessons

One of the side-effects of learning is looking back at something you wrote and thinking, “duh. how naive and silly that sounds now.” I haven’t even made it a week through my crash course into the world of art licensing and I’m already feeling that way about the first goals I set for myself.

But… better to learn and grow and change course early than to blunder ahead ignorantly wondering why nothing is working out the way I want it to, right? Right.

I’ve been digesting every article and podcast I can find by industry leaders on art licensing. What to do. What not to do. How to get started. Determining if this is the right path to even be on. Common mistakes. Common pitfalls even well-meaning artists fall into. How not to be a self centered arse. (that one is a read-between-the-lines inference, but I got the message)

Amongst all of the gold, silver and platinum riches I discovered, I also found the diamond: Joan Beiriger’s list of over 50 US art licensing agencies. And, really, thank goodness I read a lot of articles before I found this list. Why? Because the main lesson I have learned so far is to present your best, branded, relevant artwork to a reputable agency that specializes in licensing work similar to what you offer and do so in a targeted, personalized manner.

Seems obvious, right? Yeah, but no. I have a bad habit of NOT signing my work. I don’t even know why not. I sign all my paintings. But ZERO of my drawings have been signed. D’oh. And, color. I guess since I was just doing a casual drawing of the day when I was building up my back-catalogue of work, I wasn’t thinking too much about color, but HELLO, black and white doesn’t license well. This was another big lesson learned. Color is a key component for licensed artwork.

And large scale marketed art licensing is aimed at a very specific demographic. The target demographic purchasing most of the goods sold by manufacturers I’d like to be licensing to is women 35 and older. Color, familiar imagery, and a narrative help people connect emotionally to images. And people like to emotionally connect with their purchases. Seriously, though, who doesn’t? You think all of those people buying the new iPhone 6 aren’t emotionally connecting with that piece of technology? You think they haven’t built narratives around why they need it and what it’s going to do to make their lives better? They have.

So part of making a living at art is, wait for it… SELLING art. WHAT? Yep. Selling involves knowing your key demographic and what they want to buy, knowing your own product and branding it and yourself well. I know, all obvious stuff, but it needs to be said. I knew it and I still haven’t fully acted upon it. My work is mainly black and white and needs to be polished. It also isn’t really branded (although I have a definite style) nor is it signed.

The next major thing I learned is about art licensing agencies. There are lots of them out there. Some reputable, some less so. Contracts, if you are offered one, will REQUIRE a lawyer’s assessment before consideration. And, rather than waste anyone’s time and come off like a total amateur (which I may be now, but don’t intend to remain for long), it’s worth taking the time to investigate each agency and find the ones that work with artists making art similar to the art that you create. Find the person you need to contact and send them a personalized note explaining who you are, your story and your art process (emotional connection, remember?), along with examples of your work that showcase you in the best possible light, preferably in a way that shows you have a theme or can work in series, but also have range. 


Let’s go back and EDIT those other goals I set in place for Friday. They were great goals because they put me on a path that taught me more than I knew when I started. But they’re not quite the right goals for right now.

GOAL ONE: Read about licensing! Ok, this one is clearly a great goal, it’s working well (see everything I typed prior to this line above) and I’m going to continue to keep it up. I sketchnoted some stuff as I went along, too. This is an ongoing, fluid goal and as long as I read a few articles a day, I’ll consider it on track.

Old goal: Continue to apply to agents!
New goal: Investigate art licensing agencies and whittle down a list that I should contact when I have everything in place to do so. Because before I contact anyone, I really need to figure out what is my best work, colorize and fine-tune it, and then do my outreach. To make this a concrete goal, by Friday October 3, I will have a list of at least ten agencies I think I could contact when I’m ready that would be receptive to my work.

Old goal: Continue to create.
New goal: Go back and colorize and fine-tune my best, most appealing pieces. So, by Friday October 3, I will have decided on 10 drawings that showcase my work. I might come up with a couple of new ones now that I have more knowledge under my belt. By Friday October 10, my goal will be to have redone them in color.

Yeah. One step forward and two steps back, but at least those steps are slightly more sure-footed and deft. One day in the future when I’m no longer stumbling and instead sprinting along, I might look back on this and marvel at how obtuse and uncoordinated my first steps were, but I’ll do so proudly and with eyes wide open.



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