Interview with an Art Licensing Agent

By Carolyn Edlund

 

Recently I had the pleasure to meet with Julie Ager, who is the Licensing Director for Artistic Designs Group, an agency in Crownsville, Maryland. She answered some questions for artists who may want to license their art.


AS:  When you are looking for a new artist, are you looking through websites, or do you get them from referrals?

JA: A little of both. There was one particular hole we were trying to fill recently, and we were out there actively looking at websites and also at Etsy, which is a good place to look.

AS: When you view an artist’s website, what are you looking for? What do you feel could be improved?

JA: I’m going to share the advice that we recently got on our own website. Make sure that we understand what you are all about, and your website reflects that as an artist. It doesn’t mean “throwing everything out there to see what sticks.” You should have an idea of what’s going on in the industry. There are certain websites, with absolutely gorgeous work – but I have no clue how we would use it. It’s beautiful, from a talented artist, but the topic is not marketable, and the style is not marketable.

AS: How does an artist know their work is right for licensing?

JA: Sometimes you’re too close to your work. In all fairness, licensing is not always right for everybody. To be a licensed artist is not like being a fine artist at all. For a fine artist, you can follow your passion. Do you have to adapt to the market? Sure. But not to the extent that you have to with licensing. You have to be very flexible and versatile and willing to change things because someone else tells you. And also you have to be willing to find a way to make yourself happy as you’re doing it. You need to create your own path in licensing so that you are fulfilled.

AS: What do you see trending?

JA: Let me change the question. We are not a trendy art licensing agency. We tend to be more traditional. Not everybody needs to be trendy – you still have to understand the market you are selling to. Not every customer is a trendy customer. A lot of people will look at what is the latest color, or flower, or graphic geometric, or international influence. For some artists, that is really important. For others it is not. I’d say for half of our artists, if they were following this year’s trend, it would not meet our customer’s needs.

AS:  Do you recommend that artists who want to license look for an agent?

JA: For some people. An art licensing agent works if the artist really doesn’t like the minutiae of doing contracts – or if they are afraid of sales, then yes, you probably need an agent. But the flip side of that is, if you are already good at sales and the business end of things, and you have the support and network to do that, you don’t need an agent. What would happen is that you would end up stepping all over each other.

AS:  What do new artists need to know about fees, how much control the agent has, and what kind of business to expect?

JA: First of all, expect to spend the first six months to a year developing your portfolio and your own voice, if you haven’t already done that on your own.  What you should then expect is that your agent will give you feedback on what is working well for the agency. You have to have enough wherewithal to translate that to your own art. I personally, as an agent, would not be telling a newbie to be painting a certain subject, but what I would tell them is that I’ve had five people recently asking for that subject, or that I have seen a lot of people put it out this year. With that type of feedback, they will have to make the translation.

The times that it works best is when the artist and agent work as partners. If an agent is giving all the direction on where to go, and the artist is not learning it on their own, or if they have decided they know better and want to go out and sell their art, then it doesn’t work. Spend the time learning and understanding where your art works best. It’s a collaborative effort.

As far as fees, the artist makes their money with royalties. That royalty will depend upon what industry you’re in, and the volume will vary. The agent normally gets 50% of  the royalty in commission. The thought process is that it frees the artist up to do more artwork, and that the volume should make up for it. But you have to actually put in the effort to make that happen. Fifty percent is a big chunk.

AS:  So if marketing and selling would take up more than half an artist’s time, they may be paying themselves more efficiently by having an agent.

JA: Absolutely. And the artist should be able to count on an agent for contacts as well. Also their expertise, and knowledge.

AS:  Given the fact that the economy has been tough and the market difficult, how do you see the future of licensing?

JA: Last January and the summer shows have been a big improvement. We are not to 100% yet, though. Manufacturers are starting to try again, and they are starting to buy again. They are willing to experiment a little bit more.

AS:  Were they being very safe in what they were buying last year?

JA: I think so, yes. It’s hard to find an extremely creative person who is in the manufacturing process. They have been playing it safe and putting out what they know has been selling in the past.  Sometimes this is very frustrating to the artist, but the artists needs to respect the manufacturer too. A lot of times the artists get very frustrated with manufacturers. But those people have to answer to the balance sheet, or answer to a manager who says, “This has to sell.” Which means they can’t always take a chance on something even if they believe its good.

AS:  As an agent, you have ways of contacting your prospects to present them with artwork. What would you recommend to artists trying to do this on their own? Any suggestions?

JA: I would suggest getting in front of their prospect face to face, whether it be at trade shows or making appointments near where you live. I have found that if you just make cold calls to people you have never met before, your prospects are not as good as if you have met them and spent time either in person or on the phone understanding their business.  You don’t know what buying cycle they are on. You don’t know what they are looking for, you don’t know their personal aesthetic. You won’t have a very high ratio of results, even if you have taken the time to study their business. You will have a much better success rate if you either get on the phone with them or go to a trade show or go to an appointment. Ask them if you can stop by.

AS:  If an artist does put in the time to set up an appointment after they have done their research, they need to have a presentation. How do you make presentations in an appointment with a buyer?

JA: That depends on how well I know them. If it’s somebody I don’t know, I put extra effort into a presentation that says not only what the artwork is, but how we feel it can be used. If I know them well, I may just send the artwork, but even then it might be something for a very specific project. We may send a mock-up of that product. Or it might be a concept that we’re trying to pitch that may not have been done before.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. A very perceptive and experienced viewpoint as part of an excellent interview. I’ll just single out one point, of the many excellent points made, for comment.

    We’re not a trend-driven agency either but I emphasize to my artists that they study the actual, present-day market to increase their knowledge and understanding of composition, the importance of line work, level of color saturation, a general idea of color tones that seem to be prevalent, and in particular, subject matter that seems to be working at retail.

    I’ve learned to be skeptical of color forecasters as they’re wrong as often as they’re right. What’s more important is that an artist visit stores in large malls and stand-alond big-box stores as well and study what’s ‘out there’ so they can learn better how to attune their artwork to the end consumer.

  2. Hi,

    I’ll check out your licensing biz site.

    Please take a look at mine also.

    Carol Lozito,
    Endangered Species Artist [img]www.carollozito.com[/img]

  3. i am looking for a talented lic. agent.
    Looking forward to hearing from you.
    sincerely,
    hk

    • Harold, in order to find a licensing agent who would be compatible with your work, you might want to obtain a list of agents (or compile them from your online search) and determine the ones who sell into a market appropriate for your art.

  4. Just curious… if I’m out and about researching current trends… then head back to my studio to create along those lines… aren’t I too late by that time? Trends change sooooo fast these days!

    • Hi Wendy,

      I would normally say the same thing about trends but as a former rep for an art publisher, I saw trends that lasted for years. This is because unlike fashion, home decor trends are much slower to gain momentum, and slow to pass away.

      I’m reminded of the French poster art that sold for years back in the early 2000’s. And the “new” neutral that changed from brown to grey at about the same time, which is still with us. So I think it depends on how general that trend is, and if you can put your own spin on it that will be more timeless.

      BTW, I heard a comment recently that wallpaper is now “on trend” – not that I will run out and buy any, but if an entire product category is coming into vogue, I think there might be room to develop designs for it!

  5. I do see that you are not looking for new artist. I have not been able to find a personal agent online, just agencies. So far I have only licensed when I am approached. How would you recommend my finding an agent?
    I have tried a general search of “Art licensing agent” with several variations. I have looked on LinkdIn, facebook and through google browser.
    Any help in this matter would be SO appreciated
    Thank you,
    Laurie Shanholtzer

  6. Seeking a publicist and licensing agent.

    See my art @ Carol Lozito fanpage on facebook.

    Contact me at [email protected]

Speak Your Mind

*