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.
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.
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 .[email protected]. 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.