by Carolyn Edlund
Art licensing is one option for visual artists to earn a living. Two artists pursuing this market talk about their strategies and successes.
Licensing allows artists to scale their creative work by contractually giving manufacturers or art publishers the right to use their designs on a variety of products. Artists who license understand that their work is necessary to create appeal and help sell those products – thus, the licensed artist becomes part of a team. They must be flexible and responsive, willing to make adjustments, and hit deadlines.
Cathy Hunt was an abstract painter who became heavily involved in art licensing several years ago. She spoke about the process, saying “My strength is in product development. I have partnered with many manufacturers to bring their vision to life. I enjoy the process of hearing their challenges, studying their industry, learning what their customers want and discovering the creative inspirations that arise. And I love to collaborate!”
Being open to collaboration has been one of the stepping stones to my success. ~ Cathy Hunt
Her willingness to partner goes a long way. Manufacturers tend to be focused on the needs of their own customers and their bottom line, and need collaborators who share that goal. The artist can assist clients in visualizing applications for their designs by presenting ideas through the use of mockups.
Hunt’s designs can be found on products such as fabric, baby mattresses, office file folders, back-to-school supplies, and fashion accessories. Her work is sold in stores such as Target, Office Depot, Staples, Marshalls and Walmart. She clearly knows her market and the appropriate products for her art. This strength translates into contracts and regular income in the form of royalties.
How does an artist get traction in the licensing field? They frequently have a website dedicated at least partially to licensing, showing collections and product applications. Artists may exhibit at trade shows such as Surtex that cater to licensees. They may share their portfolio on sites like Art Licensing Show, which has a password-protected area accessed by members of the trade. They can engage the services of an art licensing agency to represent them. Or, simply apply directly to manufacturers that take submissions. Experienced licensed artists frequently use their business network to build relationships with potential licensees as well.
UK-based artist Lynette Merrick is an artist who recently became involved in the field of art licensing. In 2015, daughter Rachel Merrick looked into ways of commercializing her large collection of botanical illustrations. Knowing that the art had limited market appeal in its raw state, they undertook a prolonged period of planning and experimenting to find how these illustrations could be modified to create different designs that would appeal to a wider market.
We want prospective clients to look at our designs and feel that we have the vision and skill to work with them to produce designs that work for their brand. ~ Lynette Merrick
Their website at LM Licensing was created to showcase how the designs can be interpreted across a wide range of product categories, with the aim of giving clients a platform in which they could see the potential in design opportunities relating to style, color tone and application.
Merrick explains, “As we are a start-up company, our next six-month marketing plan will target influential design journalists and bloggers, in addition to targeted proposals with strong visual content to potential customers we have met over the last year at various trade shows.”
Her hopes for the future? “To have an existing library is a really strong starting point,” she says, “We are very excited about what we can offer. Every day, new ideas emerge and new avenues open up for us to explore and our learning curve expands further. Our long-term plan is to aim for around 150 separate global licenses and become a successful independent art licensing company and a known brand.”
Artists who license clearly benefit from multiple contractual agreements, each one producing a stream of income. And as with many business models, exposure in the marketplace will help build a reputation and attract other potential licensees as clients. A strong plan, focused marketing outreach and persistence all work together to establish the artist as a licensing source and partner.