How to Sell Your Work to Art Publishers/Interview with Harriet Rinehart

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By Carolyn Edlund

Harriet Rinehart has a long history as an art publisher.  Founder and president of H.W. Rinehart Fine Arts, Inc. for 18 years, she sold her company to Bentley Publishing Group in 1999.   Since then she has worked on product development and artist search for the six brand divisions of Bentley Publishing Group.

Artsy Shark spoke with Harriet about her artist search, how to submit your work and what the benefits are of licensing your artwork to an art publisher.


AS:  Tell us about Bentley Publishing Group and their market.

HR: Take a look at Bentley’s website to see the type of art they are selling. For a more current look, choose this link to see the January, 2010 release booklet.

Bentley’s customer base is made up of large chain stores, small gallery shops, interior designers and overseas distribution channels.   Bentley is one of the largest companies in the industry and has distribution connections with related companies in more than thirty countries.

Retail customers purchasing Bentley art are mainly looking for decoration (Decorative is not a four-letter word!!) so art with any political, sexual, or violent content would never be selected.    Artwork which is painted in the currently popular color palette will outsell equally good quality work in other colors by a substantial margin.

For some reason, I get a lot of work submitted which looks like the covers of fantasy and sci-fi magazines and book covers.   These don’t work for us either as the audience is not broad enough for that type of work.

Bentley licenses the rights to reproduce selected images in both offset and digital printing technologies, on paper, canvas, and other newer substrates like aluminum or Plexiglas.  We pay a quarterly royalty of 10% on actual invoiced amount for which the art print is sold wholesale.

Royalty income is a great help to artists trying to survive.   Any income an artist can generate which does not involve standing in their studio or standing in an outdoor art show booth is wonderful.  In a few cases, some art reproductions have been continuously in print since the early 1990’s.    The artist receives a check every quarter…like found money.  Although the life span of an art reproduction has become shorter in recent years, some things still become “classics” and sell year after year.

AS:  When you review artist submissions, what are you looking for and what are you not looking for?

We are looking for artists in that narrow grey area where artistic talent and commercial vision come together.   I often see artists I would personally enjoy owning, but know I cannot publish as their work is too sophisticated for our middle-of-the-road decorative clientele.   On the other hand, technical sophistication (use of color, clarity of forms and definition) is very important.

Keep in mind that what Bentley is looking for in the decorative market may not be the same thing which the art schools tell you to concentrate on for acceptance in an art gallery.   These are two different worlds. Our art sells best when our artists work in series, pairs, or groups of four related images.    Images should relate as to color, format, and size.

You can see examples of artists who works in groups of related images here in the Bentley catalog.

Another example of related images can be viewed here.

 

Pairs need to be in related sizes and related colors, with the same image size, which can be seen in this example and also this one.

AS:  What are the biggest mistakes artists make when submitting work?

HR: Any artist who tells me they can “paint anything I want/need” will almost automatically be rejected.   We need artists who have some sense of uniqueness about them.    Artists who think they “can paint anything” are inevitably still struggling to find out who they are and what they want to pursue.

We also need artists who are relatively prolific.   Often, a client will ask for a variation on a piece already in print (different size, different format).    Artists who only paint 10-12 paintings per year generally cannot meet our needs.

AS:  How many artists do you sign a year and what can they expect to happen?

HR: I review the work of several hundred artists each year and we end up publishing about fifty new artists on a trial basis.  About half of them will be successful enough that we will return to the artist for more images.

Artists will get as much out of publishing as they are willing to put in.    Artists who are not prolific and only have a few images to submit will make less money than artists who have many images in the same style available.

One of the misconceptions of publishing is how long it takes to begin generating revenue.  I often tell artists that we have a good idea of how well we can do for them in the SECOND year after we select the first images.

Let’s look at the timeline.  We publish new images twice a year, although we will meet with our top clients more often.  So, if we select something in February, it will first be promoted to our clients in July for release in their upcoming season.  Many of our overseas distributors only update their catalogs once a year, so art selected in February may not be shown overseas until eleven months later.  In this difficult economy, some of our clients have a backlog of images selected that they did not have the budget to introduce.

All that said, I have worked with some of my artists for more than twenty years.   Some of these artists have more than 75 images in print in our line.   There is no “average” figure as to what artists can expect to earn, as earnings depend on the popularity of each artist’s work.   Among my long-term artist relationships, I have artists who have earned $75,000 in their best years, and artists who routinely earn $3,000 year after year.

AS: Could you talk about some style and color trends that are popular and how that influences your choice of artists?

HR: I always recommend that my artists review several design websites.   Among the most valuable is Ballard Designs.   A consistent review of the fabric swatches in the centerfold will allow an artist to understand the shift in color trends.

 

AS:  How should an artist go about submitting their work to Bentley Publishing Group?

HR: Send work directly to me at .HWRinehartArt@gmail.com.  Work submitted through Bentley’s website may sit for a long time before it is reviewed.  This gives me the opportunity to help you select the best work in the best groupings and “promote” your work to our team.  We have art selection team meetings once a month and release new work twice a year.

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Comments

  1. This is a great interview. Rarely do artists get the real scoop on how things work until after they have the experiences, and getting to the point can be difficult when you don’t know how things work! Thanks for this, and all your helpful articles.

  2. This is very enlightening and helpful.. So many of us need this kind of information to make informed decisions about the directions we can go in. I am wondering how this applies to mixed media wall art that is made from all reclaimed materials? Photographs?

  3. Thanks for your comments! I agree that this type of insider info is really valuable, and I know that Harriet wants to encourage artists to submit work, but also be very realistic about what art publishers are seeking. I will ask her about mixed media work, and see if she will agree to answer more questions in a future interview.

  4. Appreciate the straightforward, nuts and bolts information. Thank you, Harriet.

  5. AdaPia d'Errico says:

    Thanks for this great article! I’ve been looking into art licensing for an artist who is a mix of the fantasy that Harriet mentions, but also generally, aesthetically pleasing to a wider audience. It isn’t easy, but I have found some (smaller) companies who are either willing to take a risk because they love the art so much, or companies who license art for niche markets. I wonder if art like this could potentially work on that middle-of-the-road consumer, if only given more of a chance and with some momentum? Are there art publishers out there that are known to take on some of the more difficult art?

  6. This is a great question – how many types of art publishers are out there, what are they seeking? Would love to get input from others on this!

  7. Thank you for such an informative interview. It was full of such practical advice and helpful suggestions.

  8. This is a terrific interview and I appreciate the information provided. This seems like a great revenue stream for painters and photographers. I noticed the comment up above about mixed media and also wonder about the Textile medium and if images of textiles would fit into this.

  9. This was a great article, (as usual!) thank you! I took a look at the site and did see photography, but was wondering if abstract photography is something a company like Bentley has or would license. Thanks again for all the help!

  10. I am pleased that my interview was valuable. To try to answer a few questions…
    1)Abstract photography is a generally a bit too sophisticated for the mass market audience.
    2) Yes, we have reproduced mixed media. Our clients like textural effects and mixed media usually is very good at this.
    3)However, textiles are difficult because they tend to look like advertising/editorial photography when reproduced. They don’t work well as art printed on paper.
    4)Re: smaller niche companies. There were many more of them before this current recession. Sadly, many have closed their doors in the last two years. The economies of scale of printing many images at a time across several styles have allowed us to stay a healthy business, although we, like everyone else we know, are a bit smaller than we were three years ago.
    There are niche companies which only present a few artists to a few clients. They tend to be more local in scope, rather than having national or international distribution. For example, a niche publisher I know used to only handle art related to wine, and sell only to the gift shops of regional wineries. The present economy has made it difficult to be that specialized.

  11. Thank you for the added answers, Harriet. I appreciate your time in answering the questions and sharing your knowledge.

    As photography techniques expand, I’ve noticed that textiles are reproducing much better on paper now than they did before. This may be from photographers learning how to shoot textiles as it is difficult to get clear, crisp details.

    There is a new book out just this month entitled “500 Art Quilts” published by Lark Books and the imagery in there is spectacular. One of my textile artworks is in the book and every stitch shows very clearly in the half page image.

    As the images continue to improve, maybe Bentley and other companies will reconsider textile images in their inventory. You can view other images of my work at http://www.jeanjudd.com where many of the Internet resolution images still show the stitches even on the full view images.

  12. This article was very helpful. Thank you! I was referred to you by my Art Marketing coach who always steers me in the right direction. I find it so unfortunate that the economy is holding back so many fine artists, however, I guess persistence is the way to go.

  13. This article and the comments following has been an education for me, for which I am very grateful. I have some landscapes that I can see working which I will send to the email address.
    Thank you for your open approach.
    Gay Tracy

  14. Thank you so much for the informative interview. Your offer to have submissions sent directly to you is generous. I have a much clearer understanding now of both the process and what constitutes salable art for this market.

  15. This is a great interview! Thank you for sharing all this valuable insider info.

  16. This interview was fantastic. It was full of valuable information. I do a lot of landscape/ nature photography and am wondering if that is something that Bentley might offer to their clients?

  17. Wonderful article! This is my first visit to your website – can’t believe how much informational help and support you provide for us emerging artists. Thank you.

  18. Wow! Thankyou so much! This was such useful information to me. I am thinking of changing directions with my art, so your information was invaluable. I will keep coming back to this website for more!

  19. Thanks, everyone, for your wonderful comments. Harriett is a such a great resource. When we first spoke, I assured her that there were many people out there who wanted to know about this fascinating subject. I’ll be contacting her for more advice for those artists who want to consider pursuing art publishing.

  20. Dear Harriet,
    I would like to have a look in my art and if is a possibility to cooperate
    Thank you
    kind regards
    Phaedon Constantinidis
    http://web.me.com/phaedon.c/http___www.phaedonc.com/Home.html

  21. gary crain says:

    my interest is publishing my sons art and how to do it as fast as possible.

  22. I am just beginning my research into art publishing and came across this very informative article. I thank you so much for the insight. I see I need to be honest with myself to increase my art production and set higher goals in order to succeed. I’m so excited, I’m starting today.

    Aileen

  23. Carolyn, Great interview. nice info it’s great. thank for sharing.

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