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.

The Curse of Curiosity

I was at a party over the holidays and one of my neighbors asked me what I was doing these days. And since I have my elevator speech down, I said, “Besides my illustration work, I also coach artists to help them make more money with their art.”

“How do you coach artists? Isn’t that kind of hard?” he asked as he took a big scoop of my super fabulous Pimento Cheese.

I knew what he was thinking. You know, “all artists are crazy, how can you possibly work with them and anyway, aren’t artists supposed to starve?” Or maybe he was just thinking how awesome that pimento cheese is.  I know I was.

I explained that artists aren’t any different than the rest of the population (I left out that I find us far more interesting, but whatever…), but I told him that although what may look like crazy or off-beat to “the civilians” around us is what we are blessed/cursed with. Or what I would call “hyper curiosity”.

I know you know what I’m talking about.

Hey…what if I…?

But if I do that, will I be able to do that?

Hmmm. That’s interesting. I should research that.

But what about this other thing?

Is that right for me?

Ooh…did you see this thing? That looks so cool!

Wait, what was I working on?

One idea leads to the next, and the next and the next and pretty soon you’ve headed down another rabbit hole, changed your mind and you can’t even remember where all this started.

Not that it’s ever happened to me…

But here’s the thing—that’s how we figure out the good stuff. That’s how we’re built; to see the possibilities, to try new things, to make the old ideas new.

But we’re also built to feed our bodies and have shelter from the weather and the nastier creatures we share with this earth. We must figure out when to stop asking all the questions and start crafting our ideas to reflect what’s happening culturally, helping people express their emotions and figuring out what the heck the market wants—while staying true to our purpose and values.

Now, that’s the hard part.

Happy New Year, Friends!

As much as I like to say, “Oh, I never make New Year’s Resolutions” you would never believe me, now would you? I mean all I talked about over on Instagram were cookies for the last month or so—and you know where that leads. But here, I made a few here and feel free to steal them.

The Project Predicament

It always starts the same way.

“This is the coolest idea ever!”

And then it starts; before you know it, enthusiasm wanes and uncertainty develops but you soldier on because, my dear, you are a professional!

And pretty soon, it’s done. You might be tired, or stressed out or even pissed off.

But then, you relax for just a second and it happens all over again…

“This is the coolest idea ever!”

©2017 Ronnie Walter
©2017 Ronnie Walter

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Ronnie talks…

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