Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Licensing Art: Is it the Right Thing for You?

That is a difficult question to answer without first knowing exactly what an artist will need to do. So, what exactly IS involved in licensing art?

The answer depends on which side of the licensing spectrum you are on. For the artist or copyright owner, licensing involves many skills. If you are thinking the most important skill is being a fantastic artist, you’re only partially correct. While creativity and artistic ability are important, licensing art also requires other equally demanding skills, including all of the following:

Patience. Waiting. Lots of hard work. A thick skin and an ego that is not easily bruised. Endurance. Hope. Another source of income while you are waiting and creating a large portfolio…PLUS enough money to register copyright and perform all the necessary legal and practical business functions. Some of these functions may include skills an artist will not have and will need to hire other people to perform,such as preparing taxes, forming a corporation, creating and maintaining a website, exhibiting at trade shows, making presentations to potential Licensors, negotiating and creating contracts or writing promotional material and other forms of business communication. Creating a large portfolio of art in formats suitable for a wide variety of manufacturing production specifications, trend-on and trend-forward color palettes, subject matter that is being sought at the correct time and with a “look” that will appeal to the end user—the consumer. Filling a specific and real need in the marketplace. Being willing to work long hours—including weekends, evenings and holidays. And, did I mention….patience?

Licensing art is hard work with a great deal of risk. Licensing also involves a lot more than being creative and creating art. Licensing art is a business with all kinds of time-consuming (and potentially unpleasant) business activities like bookkeeping, marketing, and contracts. That’s the reality of what is involved in licensing. And it involves much more than creating art.

If you are now more discouraged than intrigued, then licensing probably isn’t for you. However, if you are intrigued by the potential of creating an income stream and aren’t daunted by high learning curves, putting in mega hours, and creating work “on-spec” with no certainty it will ever be licensed, then continue reading…and learning.

Licensing seems complicated because it is! Most artists and manufacturers lack the understanding of how licensing really works when done properly. But when both parties DO understand and work together fairly, licensing art is an incredible and satisfying way for both to maximize the potential of a single artistic effort.

In licensing art, the artist, creator or owner of a piece of art (or an entire collection) allows another party to use their art for a specific purpose--while still maintaining ownership to the rest of the rights. This not only allows the artist the ability to license a single image or collection to multiple parties, for multiple purposes, licensing art can also create a revenue stream from each artistic effort. Instead of cranking out a dozen paintings and receiving a single fee for each painting sold, the artist can instead generate a dozen royalty arrangements or flat fees from a single painting. In addition to maximizing effort--especially if each painting takes a tremendous amount of time to create--licensing also allows for quick and effective market recognition to grow a brand. Familiar examples include Thomas Kinkade and Mary Engelbreit. Their work is highly recognizable and in great demand. And while each of these artists generates an impressive and steady stream of revenue through multiple licensing deals, they both continue to develop additional art which, in turn, has the potential to generate additional revenue in a seemingly endless pattern.

And that is the goal. Licensing art creates a steady income stream based on efforts done months or even years prior to receiving royalty checks. And, because the artist does not give up his rights of ownership, licensing also allows the artist the ability to continue seeking new avenues of income through a single piece of art.

My next post will explore what artists need to know when creating portfolios for licensing.

Meanwhile, Surtex 2011 is still underway. If you are attending, my licensing agent Julie Ager (Artistic Designs Group) will be representing me at Surtex in booths 603 & 605. If you are unable to attend, please visit  to preview examples of my art for licensing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Look at Licensing

    What initially began as an extension of my love for rubber stamping eventually turned into licensing my illustrations on a wide variety of retail products in multiple markets. My art has appeared on products throughout the craft/hobby industry including rubber stamps, rub-on transfers, scrapbook products and needlearts kits to products in other markets—gift bags, gift wrap, partygoods, veterinary scrubs, children’s coloring products and much, much more. Most of these products have been sold in large national chains such as Michaels, Joanns, PETCO, PetSmart, Hobby Lobby, Archivers and all partygoods stores, as well as through various independent retail channels.

    Many artists and designers are interested in learning about licensing but don’t know where to start. I’ve been licensing my art for about 15 years and I’m still learning. Licensing is a straightforward concept but it is actually very complex. Here’s a short summary of what Art Licensing is all about….

    When an individual creates a piece of art—whether a simple line drawing or a complex painting—that individual automatically owns that art by law. This means that the moment an image is in tangible form, the creator owns what is called the “copyright” to that image. The exception to this rule is if that individual is an employee or has been hired as a temporary employee/contract worker. In that case, the employer owns the art. But, for the sake of explanation to artists and designers that are reading this blog, this summary will refer to art being owned by the individual who created it.

    The primary different in licensing art versus selling art outright is that the artist maintains copyright ownership. But…what does that actually mean? And, how would licensing be an advantage for the artist?

    Licensing art is like renting an apartment or other property. In property rental there is a landlord who owns the property and a person or group that pays for the right to occupy that property. What the renter is allowed to do with that property depends on the type of property is being rented—a business space, single family home, garage or an apartment within an entire building with multiple apartments—as well as the terms agreed on and signed in a mutual rental contract. Both landlord and renter must also follow the law. But, throughout the rental period, one thing remains the same. The landlord OWNS the property and the renter does not. The landlord can change, alter, or sell that property as long as those actions do not adversely affect the renter or prevent the renter from using the rented property. The landlord can also choose to rent additional properties (such as additional apartments within the same building) to other renters.

    In licensing, there is also a property owner (Licensor) and an individual or entity (Licensee) that “rents” certain rights for that property. The copyright owner (Licensor) controls what is done with the art, how it is done (quality control), who can use the art, what they get to use it for, where they get to market products and for how long. The manufacturer (Licensee) will have specific rights to that property as explained in an Agreement (Licensing Contract) but can can only use that property according to that Agreement. There are also negotiations, contracts, legal terms and lawyers involved with licensing. That’s a lot to keep track of.
Licensing includes a steep learning curve for both artist and manufacturer. Manufacturers need to have a clear vision of the products they will be producing and selling. Artists can spend months, or even years, just developing a portfolio of art to license before they even have the potential of earning any income from licensing their art. Legal terms are difficult to grasp and the significance or specific terms such as “exclusive” verses “non-exclusive” and “first rights refusal” can be daunting to either party. But, when done correctly, licensing art is like a well choreographed dance—with everyone working together to create magic.
Some of the confusion about licensing lies in the perception of what licensing is about. Yes, it is about commercial use, royalties and financial gain. But, at the core, licensing is about copyright ownership.

Tomorrow’s blog will expand further on this very relevant topic.

My licensing agent Julie Ager (Artistic Designs Group) will be representing me at Surtex in booths 603 & 605.

For more information on art licensing and consultation, please contact me directly.