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!