Tell me the truth…maybe.

RonnieCheerleader-WebRecently someone in one of the art licensing Facebook groups asked where people go for critique of their work. And occasionally someone will post an image and ask people what they think of it and its viability in the marketplace. I have been known to have my fingers poised over the keyboard to compose a (brilliantly kind) critique from my perspective as a qualified fresh eye. But I stop myself. Why? Well, I don’t know this person and I don’t know if she really wants criticism or does she want someone to say “Good Job! You worked hard on that!” Does she want honest feedback or does she want a cheerleader? Two very different things, and I am not going to second guess that answer with a complete stranger on a public forum. Not my can o’ worms to open.

As many of you know (because I keep talking about it), I have been writing for the past few years and have published a couple of books. What? You didn’t know that? Well, click here to learn more about that! In this process of figuring out how to craft stories out of thin air, I have become more connected to other writers through blogs, books and actual human connection. Critique partners and groups are much more common in the writing world and have helped lots of writers improve their craft by hearing the input of others who are qualified to give it. Or it’s caused a few writers to curl up into a tiny ball of angst after hearing that their dialog is stilted and the plot needs a complete overhaul. It is not for the faint of heart to listen to comments about the work you have wrestled from each fiber of your being and spewed onto a perfectly good sheet of paper. I once made the mistake of reading an early excerpt from a story I was writing that was not the typical subject for my writing group. I will not forget the sting of criticism from someone who clearly had no affinity-or respect- for the genre itself, much less my writing of it. I realized that I was reading up the wrong tree.

So if you are going after the hunt for honest critique of your work (and you should at some point), there are people who are qualified to critique your work as to its viability in the art licensing arena and there are some (ok, most) who are not.

Qualified to critique your portfolio:

  • Seasoned professionals that understand the business like:
  • Most Art Licensing Agents
  • Other artists who have successful licensing careers over a decent chunk of time who are not threatened by other artists
  • Consultants to the industry as long as they are up on current trends and market
  • People you trust and respect.

Not qualified to critique your portfolio:

  • Artists who want to be licensed. As much as we love them, if they haven’t figured it out for themselves, do you want to take advice from them?
  • Artists who have a bad attitude and do not have your best interests at heart
  • Your Mom. (sorry, she fits into another category…or two)

I am a huge advocate for artists supporting each other and I don’t know what I would do without my own posse of fellow creatives who get what this world is like to live in. And although we sometimes give each other honest feedback (when asked) we are really cheerleaders for each other. (“You can do this! I know you can! And if you can or can’t, I don’t care! Now have some wine…”) So who should be in your Cheerleader camp?

  • Artists who are on a similar path to yours and are not threatened by your work.
  • Your friends who just want to see you succeed already!
  • Your significant other
  • Your Mom–See? Here she is!

But if you want to develop an ongoing cast of comrades to act as fellow critique-ers, remember that selecting critique partners or groups is a delicate process. Trust, respect and a healthy sense of humor are essential qualities to set the stage for everyone’s growth. To prevent anyone from feeling hurt, embarrassed or just plain ticked off, snide comments, rolled eyes or anything resembling sarcasm should be left at the door–but they are mandatory while watching The Bachelor with your girlfriends. It will also help to learn the fine art of critique which in writing circles is called the Critique Sandwich. It works like this:

  • Lay down a base of positivity. “Your color palette is incredible; love that you used the aqua and orange-y red as accent colors!”
  • Spread a layer of criticism. “But I’m a little concerned about who your audience is. The sentiment seems like it’s for adult women but the art style feels juvenile to me.”
  • Top it off with a big old dollop of positivity! “Your style is really beginning to emerge and your message is spot on! I think with a few tweaks this will be a great collection!”

There! Now, wasn’t that easy?

Using phrases like these can help your partners come to their own answers:

  • Have you considered_____________?
  • Tell me about why you ___________.
  • Maybe____________might be a stronger approach.

Instead of:

  • What were you thinking?
  • It’ll never sell.
  • Well, that sucks.

And here’s another thing. Remember everybody comes to the table with their own viewpoints and sensibilities. So thank them, don’t argue and consider whether what they said gave you more insight into where you want to go with your work. A good critique will open up more questions, leading you to find the right answer for yourself. And the other kind is just…someone else’s opinion. But you can tell the difference, can’t you?

And when it’s your turn, be kind, be clear and don’t forget the sandwich.

Finally, be very careful when asking anonymous forums for a critique of your work—you can open yourself up for all kinds of grief when faceless, possibly heartless people have a place to voice their opinion. Or worse, all you’ll hear is, “great work!”

I have worked in the illustration biz since Hello Kitty was a wee kitten, including time spent as an art director, illustrator, agent and consultant, so I have a pretty good eye for evaluating an artist’s portfolio’s potential for art licensing. I can usually spot the pieces that rise to the surface and which ones should either be reworked or retired. I love this process and the clarity it can give an artist—I also know the feeling of staring at something for so long you can’t tell of its good, bad or boring. But you see—I’m qualified. And I am also seasoned enough to first ask the question—are you looking for a critique or a cheerleader?

Because I’m pretty good at that too—except for the cartwheels.

The Seven Stages of Art Licensing

Ronnie Walter, art licensingMaking a living by licensing your artwork on products is not an event but a process, a process that repeats day after day and year after year. Along the way you’ll have successes and failures but it will all work out in the end. Maybe.

I’m here to break down those steps to success so you can understand where you might land on the “Gosh Darnit, I want to do this for a living” scale. Just like any Seven Stages list, they don’t have to be experienced in any order and you may need to stay in a particular stage until you finally figure out how to move on. Personally, I like to hang out in Denial as much as possible and although it’s a nice safe place, it doesn’t pay particularly well.

Awareness: Wait…what?? There are people who will send me money because they want to put my artwork on their coffee mugs, fabric and gift products? Well now we’re talkin’! Where do I sign up for that deal?

Acceptance: So you’re saying I have to pull together a professional presentation, maybe a website and make art that hits the market at the right time? Yeah, I think I can do that.

Bargaining: Hey honey, can I talk to you for a minute? So here’s the deal, for the next oh, say 4 years or so, I am going to spend all of my free time and quite a bit of our cash to develop a plan to make a living with my artwork. Seriously. Stop laughing. You will enjoy all kinds of fast food each day and I will concoct delicious meals from food we already own, including that unidentified block of maybe meat or possibly banana bread in the back of the freezer. A couple of times a year I am going to spend extra money to attend tradeshows, maybe exhibit a few times and spend way more than you thought possible on comfortable–and adorable– shoes. There will be some drinking. Between now and when I get my first royalty check you may witness a few emotional ups and downs every so often and it won’t always be pretty. If you happen to see me curled up in the corner of the couch watching a “Say Yes to the Dress” marathon, I will tell you that I am doing “market research” for my new bridal collection coming to stickers near you. And I suggest that you believe me. Any questions so far? No? Great! Because you can do your part by supporting me emotionally and financially, and it would be best that if around 9 o’clock each night you’d bring me a glass of red wine and a piece of dark chocolate it will all go swimmingly for us both. Thanks, babe–you’re the best!

Joy: I got a check! I got a check! Look, honey! I got a check! It’s for $63.38!!! We’re building the empire, baby!

Denial: When all those art licensing experts talk about success being a long shot and it will take a while to make money, they’re not talking about me are they? I’m special! My mom and my girlfriends told me so!

Author’s Note: The paneled rec room of Denial is Delusion where you are convinced that no one has ever seen such amazing and incredible work before they gazed upon your portfolio. Bonus points: calories don’t count here either!

Endurance: I’m in it for the long haul, baby! Every year I’ll conjure up a couple of new Santas! An entire Civilization of Snowmen will be unleashed by my supreme creative powers! I’ll find dozens hundreds of ways to say Happy Birthday! Foxes? Owls? Hedgehogs? No critter will be safe from my speedy and precise paintbrush! Bring it baby, I’ve got what it takes!

Realization: OK, got it. I’ll work hard, stay in tune with the market, bring my best work and try to work with people who are reasonable human beings, risk takers and actually pay royalties when they say they will? It. Just. Might. Work.

Money Saving Tips for Freelancers

Here’s the deal. Freelancing is not for the faint of heart. Some days you will be strutting your stuff and thinking you are the greatest thing since they figured out how to weave Spandex into jeans and some days you’ll feel like that tiny rock that gets wedged in the crevices of the sole of your sneaker. The really really, tiny rock. But you’re still freelancing and that, my friend, is a pretty cool place to be. You just don’t necessarily know which kind of day it will be when you pour that first cup of coffee in the morning.

But one thing I know for sure, there will be times at any given point in your career that you may need to pinch a few pennies to squeak through the lean times. It happens, and it can happen at any point too. I won’t list all the reasons you may find yourself in this situation since I am all about positivity and delivering uplifting messages, right? Right?

So here are a few tips to get you through the lean times. You can thank me later.

1) Don’t get a new phone unless you dropped yours or someone stole it. Whatever you have is fine, no matter how often your teenager rolls his or her eyes when you pull it out in front of his or her friends.
2) Only buy accessories, I’m not talking about designer bags or shoes, but cute scarves and cheap and cheerful jewelry can really spiff up a basic outfit.
3) Start cooking at home, people. I just made a pan grilled fish and sautéed spinach with mushrooms, garlic and a little bacon and I swear to you I had it all done in 15 minutes. I’ll send the recipe for the spinach if you like. I made it up myself.
4) Use up everything before you buy new. Art supplies, hair products, condiments. Who knows what brilliant designs, new hair styles and menu items you can come up with before you have to shop again? But send me the pictures of your new hair. I promise not to post them anywhere. Really…I promise. Mostly.
5) Go to the library! They have the most amazing art books to lose yourself in when you’re having a less than creative day. Some libraries even have coffee shops in them now, mine doesn’t– but then our first stand-alone Starbucks is being built as I type this.

So there you have it, let me know if any of these work for you and if you want the world’s least expensive MBA in Art Licensing?* You could buy my book you know!

*It doesn’t exist, I looked it up.

Relax! What could go wrong at SURTEX?

SURTEX
Oops!

No one will show up.
Yes, they will! It will just feel like they never will in the beginning. Just be ready to smile and say hi!
My banners will fall down.
Yes, they could. And that’s why you will bring every adhesive known to humankind with you on the plane or you will beg for extras from your neighbors. If begging doesn’t work, chocolate often does.
I’ll be meeting with someone who is a complete dullard while the Best Potential Client Ever Ever Ever walks past.
Yes, that happens all the time! And since the Best Potential Client Ever Ever Ever does not wear a badge that actually says that they are the BPCEEE, you may never know. But if they love your walls enough and you are easy to find out there in the world, they will contact you. I hope. Or they won’t. Sorry about that.
I will vomit, pee or faint in my booth.
Sure you could! But just pray that it doesn’t happen all at the same time!
I could spill coffee on my cute outfit and my adorable shoes will slowly kill me.
Oh, yes, coffee gets spilled–but hear this: Be really careful! Tight fitting lids, people! And by the way, I have never in my entire career spilled coffee or tea on my artwork or portfolio. But let’s not talk about the red wine incident of 2003. And shoes have been known to take down even the most seasoned exhibitor. Bring an alternative pair of super cute shoes to the show with you. I recommend black patent for the 2nd pair since they go with everything. Now do you think my year and a half as Assistant Manager at Famous Footwear was a complete waste of time?

So go ahead and worry, but it really won’t do you any good. Either something icky will happen or it won’t. But if you haven’t shown up for the potentially awful to occur, then you won’t be there when the amazing moment happens either, now will you?