Cool Interviews with Cool People

I’ve been asked to take part in the Thriving Artist Summit that starts next week—25 creative types across several disciplines with tons of practical information on how to thrive as a creative professional. And it’s free!

Wanna be part of it? Here’s a link to get the videos sent to you (they are designed to be short and chock-full of juicy info). Just click here to gain access starting on July 2nd. My interview will be on July 16th!

Listening to others outside of our industry can bring you a new perspective and maybe a few new ideas to add to your bag of tricks. Love to know which ones you found the most interesting to where you are now—and where you want to go!

Ronnie Walter-Thriving Artist Summit
The Thriving Artist Summit

New York Recap: Surtex, Blueprint and More!

I spent 4 action packed days in New York, attending three trade shows dedicated to both art and artists and the stationery market. I also managed to sandwich in two museum visits, caught up with old friends, met business contacts live and in person and walked 27.5 miles. I know I tend to exaggerate, but if you don’t believe me I will gladly send you my FitBit stats.

Here’s are some of the things  I learned:

If you ever get the notion to try and see the Abstract Expressionist permanent collection at The Museum of Modern Art on an extremely rainy Saturday afternoon, please re-think your plans. I have done the legwork for you and it’s a bad idea. Too many soggy people crammed into the galleries, too many people sliding in between you and the paintings you really want to see and way, way, way too many people crowding around Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” taking selfies.

I do, hoCartoon by Ronnie Walterwever, recommend slipping away from the trade shows on a sunny Monday afternoon to head to the Whitney with a fellow hooky-player to see the Grant Wood exhibit. Very satisfying, especially the delightful hike to the museum on the High Line and a “slice” the size of my head afterwards.

And if you get an invitation (no matter how sideways) to attend a thing at the Skillshare offices, you should go. Great program and super nice people.

So, besides those things, what else did you learn, Ronnie?

Let’s start with Surtex, shall we?

Okay, there was lots of discussion about how small it was compared to previous years and that is a fact. There were basically 3 rows of art licensing booths in increments of 10 X 10 feet (individual artists and agencies) plus one more row of similar booths in the “Atelier” section. The remaining booths (roughly 30) were the smaller booths reserved for first time exhibitors known as The Design District.

One row of these smaller booths faced the Stationery Show (with their backs to Surtex) and did not share the orange carpet with the rest of Surtex, so it was a little confusing whether they were part of Surtex, the Stationery Show or something else entirely; leaving it up to the newest exhibitors to take on the task of explaining to passers-by who they were. That simply did not serve those exhibitors well and frankly, the artists I talked to were disappointed in the placement—and the response from show management to their issue.

The rest of the Design District booths were tucked away at the very back past the Atelier section and they too were not served particularly well. I hope they had enough interaction with potential clients so it ended up being worth it to them and I would encourage those artists make the most of all of the connections they made.

The other topic of conversation is whether or not Surtex will be moving from it’s historic time slot in mid-May to early February to coincide with NYNow (the Winter New York Gift Show) and the National Stationery Show’s new date and location. So far that seems likely.

Everyone hates the idea of a show in NYC in February weather-wise, but it may get a new life if all three shows are happening at the same time. There are pros, cons and everything in between so it will be interesting to see how that plays out, especially as how it relates to Blueprint Shows (which I will get to in a minute).

So, beyond the size of Surtex and the discussion about timing, I heard all kinds of reports from some of the long-time exhibitors, particularly the agents. I heard comments that ranged from “this show sucked” to “this is the show I’ve been waiting for for ten years”. That’s a big gap. Casual observer that I am, I did notice that despite the complaints going in, it felt like a pretty active show by the end; energy and noise levels were up, and more than one exhibitor expressed lots of positivity, but I can’t say it was an outstanding show, more like “not awful”.

I also had an opportunity to pop into both Blueprint Shows (they ran two 3 day shows back to back, the second one concurrent with Surtex) and chatted with a variety of artists both new to exhibiting and old hands. Again, comments ranged from, “This was the worst show I’ve ever done” to “I’m rethinking any show next year” to “this is the best show I’ve ever done” and of course lots of comments that landed on various points on the map.

I hadn’t heard a concrete decision about whether Blueprint has any interest in moving to February to align with the other folks (I’m thinking not, from a few conversations— but who am I to say?) although I heard a few artists at Surtex say, “Well, I’m planning to do Blueprint next year” so if that is true, I’d suggest they get a space now as there is a limit to how many artists they can accommodate. But trust me, there will always be room at Surtex.

So, what have we learned here, anyway?

  • Some people will have great shows.
  • Some people will have disappointing shows.
  • Either of those scenarios do not always correlate with the quality of the art, the artist or the attendees— it just is.
  • At any given show whether you are selling auto parts, bee pollen or pot holders, some exhibitors are not successful because they either think being at a show is the only way to “make it”, they are premature for any show, or they were simply misguided along the way. Those people need to chalk it up as “a learning experience” * and dig deep into anything they can to salvage their time and expense. There’s always something positive to be gleaned from the experience.
  • It’s easy to fall into a “compare and despair” mindset at a show. You observe other exhibitors having the time of their lives while you feel like you have rearranged your business cards approximately 348 times just to look busy. You know the drill; you can’t compare your early shows with someone else’s 3rd or 7th or 17th. It takes time to develop relationships and there is a weird psychology to shows (and I’ll explore that idea in another post). Just remember that everyone starts somewhere. And there are lots of reasons why they are having a different show than you are. Plus, you have no idea if any of that enthusiasm or hilarity across the hall will result in any deals.
  • Everyone always says, “it’s all about the follow-up” and it’s true. But it’s not just following up on what potential clients told you to do (send me that baby design and that one snowman) but by nurturing the relationship over the next 6-12 months. And don’t forget to pay attention to the people you met who didn’t ask for anything specific as well; it could be a whole other story in a few months.
  • Good or bad show, you need to digest and evaluate what just happened.
    • Was your work in line with the companies you saw?
    • Was the whole experience too expensive for the results you are expecting? (you may not be able to answer this one for a while)
    • Did you feel comfortable in that scenario or would you prefer more one on one with a client— or hand the whole thing over to an agent?
    • Try to separate the emotional ups and downs, the tricky personal interactions, the preconceived ideas you may have had going in and get real about what happened (positive and negative) and what you want in the future.

So just like the new year, it’s time to buckle down and make progress with your plans. You are off the “but I have to get ready for the shows” treadmill, now’s the time to show what you’ve got!

I’d love to know what your reaction was to either of these events, just jump on to the comments here or you can always chat about it on my Facebook Page here.

*which tend to be expensive.

PS. Opinions and observations are my own.

 

 

 

 

The Answer Scale

It’s that time of year again. No, not the time of year when you start realizing that yes indeed, there will be a summer this year. Or if you’re in Florida, they are reminding you that hurricane season is right around the corner. Not those seasons!

If you’re an artist in the business of trying to secure contracts to work with amazing people who want to license (or buy) your amazing designs to use on their amazing products, you know exactly what time of year it is—it’s showtime, baby!

Between Surtex, Blueprint and Licensing Expo, the next few weeks are all about last minute preparations, packing, picking cute outfits, getting your nails done*, a few sporadic mini-panic attacks and constant low-grade worry—plus all that follow-up on the other side. Or maybe you’re like me and are attending to stay connected to the industry, meet and mingle with all those delightful people and absorb a trend or two. (In other words, my only panic is cute outfit selection and hope for a three-day good hair run.)

So, whether you are sitting behind a table at any one of those shows, emailing your work to a decision maker (or conjuring up the nerve to) I have good news for you. The responses you will hear do not have to be soul-crushing or career ending or anything of the sort. In fact, study this handy “Answer Scale” guide so you can figure out exactly where you are in the conversation.

And do you see the worst thing they can say to you? It’s “no thank you”. That’s not so bad, is it? Or a variation is, “it’s not right for us”. That doesn’t mean its not right for them ever, or not right for anyone ever it’s just not right for these people right now.**

So let’s review. “No Thank You” is the worst, with the best being some variation on (cue the angel chorus), “we’re sending a contract”. And each answer in between should be considered a win.

If possible, try to relax a little bit and take a tiny minute to congratulate yourself on what it took you to get to this place. And if you are at any of the shows, soak up as much inspiration and artist comradery as you can and learn how you might get more “we’re sending a contract” responses than “no thank you’s”.

And I’ll see you soon!

*twice a year whether you need it or not.

**And if they happen to say anything worse than “no, thank you”, you probably don’t want to work with them anyway, now do you?

 

Sorry, You’re not Lucky.

Original Painting by Ronnie Walter ©Ronnie Walter

A few weeks ago I had a coaching session with an artist trying to shift her business from one market to another. Several times in the conversation she mentioned how lucky she was to have such great clients and how lucky she felt about making such a good living. I suppose that luck could have something to do with it (I really don’t, but we’ll go there for the sake of argument).

After I heard her again tell me how much luck had to do with her success, I stopped her. And if you tell me how lucky you are, I’ll tell you the same thing.

You’re not lucky, you’re accomplished. You set the wheels of success in motion yourself. Maybe you met someone by chance, but you moved the conversation forward, you made the effort to bring something deeper to that random chat.

You sent out the work, made the call and followed up. You were the one that finished the job on time and wowed your customers. You were the one that set the goals, managed your schedule and showed up even when you didn’t quite feel like it.

That’s not luck. Luck is finding a twenty-dollar bill on the sidewalk. (But heart is trying to find the owner.) Luck is for people who think the rest of us are “lucky” for our success. Yes, sometimes the stars seem to align, and you meet the right person who needs your work at exactly the right time you showed it to them.

Sorry, still not luck.

That’s you making the creative work that resonates and staying connected “out there”. That’s you doing the hard work over and over and refining it until you see results.

You’re not lucky, you’re accomplishedand freakin’ amazing.

Remember that.

Alexa + Your Creative Biz = Best Friends!

People seem to have a love/hate relationship with voice technology (like Siri, Google and Alexa, Amazon’s voice streaming service). They either love the convenience of being able to get any answers they need by just talking to an inanimate object (as opposed to shouting at Uncle Howard camped out in your recliner at Christmas) or they are pretty sure The Government, Russia and Mrs Peterson from church is listening to your every request.

But even though I have some reservations and would probably refrain from a question like, “Alexa, what’s the best place to bury a body?” I wouldn’t mind asking her to reorder my favorite hair products. So I’ve jumped in!

If you have an Alexa devise and use “flash briefings” , you can add “Your Creative Biz Minute with Ronnie Walter” along with your weather reports, breaking news and tips for getting out household stains. Each week I will bring you a quick tip, a little inspiration and maybe even a nudge to keep being your adorable and talented self— all in less than two minutes.

You can sign up here and let me know how you like it!

Which Licensing Camp are You in?

In a Facebook Live video I recorded last week with Cherish Flieder, we talked about how to be proactive with your licensing career. If you’d like to watch you can find the recording here.  Toward the end of the chat I mentioned I’d identified two basic tracks that artists travel to achieve their goals in licensing. I probably should have spent more time on it, seriously it’s about 2 minutes hiding amidst a whole bunch of juicy information about building your creative business.

But – it’s an important point that can help you have a deeper understanding where you might fit in this market, so I decided to march it out front and center. (Keep in mind I make some generalizations here and fully recognize there can be other pathways to get there. It’s not always a one size fits all process but play along).

There are two main ways an artist can be poised for licensing. The first is what I would call, for lack of a better term, an “Artisan Illustrator”. (Note: In the video I used the word “commodity artist” as I was struggling for the right term to describe what I meant). An Artisan is an artist whose portfolio represents a variety of styles in both seasonal and every day designs that are appropriate across a wide range of products. The other option is an “Art Brand”, an artist who comes to the market with a distinct signature style/concept based in who they are and what they stand for. The art is the driver of a message and/or unique look, and less about filling the typical product needs of the market.

And by the way, this does not mean that if you’re in one camp or the other you can’t cross over.  Depending on where you are in your career and what you are good at, opportunities that might support a different way of licensing your art can pop up at any time.

So, let’s go a little deeper.

If you are an Artisan, you have a look that’s marketable to a general audience, and you continue to refresh and refine your portfolio with a variety of high turnover designs. This kind of portfolio satisfies the ongoing needs of manufacturers who license artwork for products that typically are sold in volume and need to be refreshed season after season. Products like gift bags and wrap, greeting cards, paper tableware, decorative flags, floormats, stationery, giftware etc. These artists populate their portfolios with collections of seasonal and everyday designs with popular motifs suitable for Christmas, Birthday, Baby, Wedding plus florals, patterns, juvenile designs and trend-driven icons. And they continue to add to their portfolio regularly, cycling out old work as needed.

There are many successful artists who can do this and make a name for themselves because their look is popular, and it sells well. Some examples of “big name” artists in this category would be Susan Winget, Paul Brent, Sue Zipkin and Barb Tourtillotte, however there are scores of artists in this camp making a nice living by developing lasting relationships with manufacturers and supplying new designs year after year.

The “Art Brand” path is developed around who you are and a point of view, with your artwork supporting your message for a specific audience. For instance, it could be based around humor, inspiration, motivation, Scripture, a common cause or segment of the culture. The art brand artist finds the right manufacturers who “get them” and support their viewpoint. Products could be the same as in the first group, but can often be expanded into signature lines across a wide variety of categories like publishing, stationery, giftware, etc.

Often these artists come from another discipline; blogging, lifestyle branding, a popular book, entertainment, or the fine art world. Artist brands would include people like Kelly Rae Roberts, Mary Engelbriet, Drew Brophy, and Britto. Plus, there are artists who start with a theme or audience in mind and design a collection specifically hitting that target. Lori Siebert is an excellent example of a designer that leads with her message and then her incredible art supports it.

And of course, some artists do both, either by style or by the evolution (one way or the other) of their work and point of view. Over the years, as I developed my writing chops, I have been moving from an Artisan towards identifying as an Art Brand.

There is no “one is better than the other” here, each track has advantages and disadvantages. If you’re an Artisan, you may be faced with a lot of competition in the space, but there are many more licensing opportunities available to you.

If you’re an Art Brand, you do your thing because it represents who you are and what you believe. Because of that, you may have more of a challenge finding partners who believe that your message will resonate with their customers.  But once you do—it can be a beautiful and long-lasting journey!

I know there is a lot of “how to license your art” information out there (including my book, License to Draw), but not all advice (including mine) will fit every artist all the time. What you do, and who you are, at any given moment will determine what is relevant. Nor do you have to decide which camp you are in and only work under that flag. However, over time, as you get closer to knowing what you have to offer—and what you don’t—reaching out to decision makers becomes easier and more productive.

I’d love to have a further conversation about this idea, so please share your thoughts in the comments!


Did you like the video? If you’d like more information on staying focused (and pretty much sane) while running your creative businesses you can head over to my YouTube channel. I’m posting short videos to help you on your journey! You can watch (and subscribe) here. Thanks!

 

The Evil Twins of Your Creative Business

Maybe I’m overthinking this, but I’m pretty well convinced that feeling Overwhelmed and Overthinking every twist and turn of your business are two sides of the same coin. They’re like the nasty twins!

You see, when you Overthink every decision, before you know it Overwhelm stops by to see what’s going on. Soon the two of them are hand-in-hand, wreaking havoc with your creativity and progress. And it’s a proven fact* that when Overwhelm shows up, you shut down.

But part of our job description as creative business owners requires us to brainstorm ideas, tap into our endless well of curiosity, and consider every possible scenario for a problem or situation. And that’s fine—unless nothing ever happens, we freeze in the same spot we’ve been in for days…or weeks…or, oh yeah…years. That’s when you know the twins have moved in and settled down.

So, how do you politely show them the door? Well my dear, meet my fixer friend, Simplicity! When you feel the O-Twins pulling you down into their spiral, stop and simplify. Most situations, when brought down to the simplest terms, fall easily into a yes or no decision. And sure, we all make wrong moves from time to time, but most are small pivots, not business killers.

And here’s something I know for sure. When you’re trying to make your mark with your creativity, the world at large (and by world, I mean your market or audience) only wants to know three things:

  1.     Who you are.
  2.     What you do.
  3.     How do you contribute to this world (or your reason for doing that thing you do)?

And once you can articulate that, you don’t have to Overthink every decision. It either supports your criteria or it doesn’t. Simple, right? It’s a Yes. Or a No. Or a No, for now.

I’m not saying that once you feel more confident in your purpose and pathway, these two persistent devils won’t show up from time to time. That’s normal when you consider how our creative brains jump into overdrive from time to time. (Like maybe right before we fall asleep…). But stay focused on your path, and each time you’re pulled either direction, just ask yourself if it aligns with your bigger goals. (Wait, you do have a few big picture goals, right?) If they do, then plan and schedule for it.

And tell Overwhelm and Overthinking to take a hike and not return—unless they’re bringing the coffee.

Agent? Coach? Do I need both…or either?

The business of art licensing can be a lonely and confusing place. Not as lonely and confusing as say, a post-apocalyptic world in which you and Kanye West are the only remaining souls but still – lonely and confusing.

You’ve read the books, scoured the internet for every conceivable blog, tweet or Facebook mention of Art Licensing and you’ve slaved over your portfolio following All. Those. Rules. And still, you take a long sip off your 4th cup of coffee of the day and say to the cat,

“But how does this really work?

How do I fit it in?

What the heck am I supposed to do next?”

This is where a coach can come in. A good coach will help you sort out your questions, prioritize your ever-growing to-do list and help you find clarity in your voice and vision while you negotiate your path to monetizing your art. And they do it in a supportive, logical, cut-out-the-clutter kind of way.

I’m often asked what the difference is between a coach and an agent, and whether an agent will also act as your coach. OK, those are two different questions, so I will take them one at a time.

A typical art licensing agent is the person who represents your portfolio to manufacturers with the intent of securing a licensing agreement on your behalf. In exchange you pay them a share of the royalties generated by that agreement. They do this through their extensive (you hope)  list of contacts, by attending and exhibiting at appropriate shows, by targeted campaigns sent to their client list and more. They do the work and leave you with more time in the studio to drum up more fabulous concepts for even more potential deals.

Coaches usually work on an hourly basis. They help you clarify your intentions for your business and brand, guide you toward discovering your best artwork and unique voice, help with presentation and suggest action steps you can take to move you forward with your goals. Coaches can also help you noodle a solution to a problem you might be having with a client—or an agent—or move you along when it seems like your career has stalled or the market has shifted away from your work.

So can your agent also be your coach? Well, yes…and no. Once you sign with a good agent they will certainly work with you to fine-tune your message and presentation, however they are going to expect that you are ready to roll out your art when they sign you. Believe me, they are not signing on for a year of development and training. A coach can get you out in front of that expectation, working with you to move closer to your best work and therefore your launch—whether you are planning to go it alone OR would prefer to work with an agent.

Working with a coach at any point in your development can save you oodles of frustration and lost time by getting you on track with a plan in place and your emotions in check. In my over twenty years in the business as an artist, agent and now as a business coach for creatives, I have viewed hundreds of portfolios and spoken with many more artists. I love being able to help artists discover their most authentic work and negotiate a path toward a successful career – it’s always satisfying to see someone move from a place of “I really want this” to “I really can do this.”

P.S.This article first appeared on the Art Licensing Show, a website connecting artists and decision makers for licensing. If you are not familiar with them, head on over (click here) for oodles of information about licensing your art on products. Plus I just happen to know (wink, wink)  that they are rolling out some super fun bonuses to celebrate their Third Anniversary!

P.P.S. The next cohort of The Licensing Ladder starts on April 24, 2018. For more information, click here!

 

From the HR Department…

Annual rSnowman cartoon by Ronnie Waltereviews are a tried and true method for everyone in an organization to establish their goals and objectives, address weaknesses or full-on problems. And when an employee has a weakness, they don’t automatically get canned, but a plan is developed for working out the kinks and move forward.

Same thing with your portfolio.

So, here’s the Super Corporate Human Resources Department’s view of your portfolio:

The High Achievers
These employees are the stars of the show, the crème of the crop, the designs that should have certificates decorating every inch of their cubicle. The other designs either want to bask in their glow or talk about them in the ladies’ room. You didn’t necessarily know when you hired them that they would be the break-out employee of the month, but you keep reaching for that goal.

The Work Horses
Your behind-the-scenes heroes. The kinds of designs that you know will sell, are the tried and true subjects, categories, and style that your clients look to you to provide. They refresh every year and stand proudly in your portfolio. Sometimes they bring the donuts because they are just that nice.

The Problem Children
You know the ones. Maybe they show some promise but are languishing around the coffee maker talking about last night’s episode of The Bachelor. They have a lot of potential but try cashing that in at the supermarket. They may need a little nurturing and guidance to live up to that elusive starring role, but for now they either need to go on probation or step it up through a design update, new colorway or an updated technique.

The Delinquents
But they interviewed so well! You had such hope for them! But there they are; back on the loading dock smoking cigarettes while the others are toiling away making you into the artist you’ve always dreamed of becoming. Time to cut them loose and start over again or they’ll continue to drag the whole company down.

So, when it’s time to review what you are offering to the world, sit each design down and have a little chat about their past behavior and their future potential. Maybe your weaker 2-dimensional employees need a little guidance and “thinking time” before they will start pulling their weight at your company. Put them on probation until you know what to do. And nobody gets any satisfaction from firing someone (unless you’re C. Montgomery Burns).

But sometimes that’s the best route to go for everyone’s morale. Including yours.