Making 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.