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.

1 comment:

Debra Quartermain said...

Thank you Gail! Very informative and insightful post!