About Our Guest Blogger: Laura C. George is an artist and art business consultant based out of Raleigh, North Carolina. After leaving her draining corporate job, she discovered that her passion was to help other artists succeed, bridging the gap between making art and making money from art. She has a blog full of art business advice, ranging from how to create a portfolio page to dealing with different types of art customers.
She shares her expert advice on how to land an art licensing deal:
One of the most fun ways to make money as an artist is to get your work printed onto products and sold in retail stores. It can be a rush to walk through a popular store and see your art on the shelves! This is done through art licensing, which is basically renting your art out to a manufacturer.
If you’re interested in starting art licensing, I recommend you pull your work into some small collections. It’s often more difficult to interest a manufacturer in using one of your pieces than in using a small collection of your work. So it’s important you take the time to pull together pieces that work with each other.
You’ll want to have at least one collection of work that goes together (it doesn’t have to match exactly though), preferably of ten to twelve pieces of art. When you show ten pieces of art to a manufacturer, it’s called a Style Guide. This is a standard thing in the industry. You can get licensing deals without having any style guides, but if you have one you’ll look more professional and be more likely to get a lucrative licensing deal.
No reputable manufacturer will sign a contract with you without making sure you have registered copyrights for the work involved. This presents a problem for many artists because filing copyright registration can get expensive. I’ve found over time that a good compromise is filing a series of work as a "collection" (it doesn’t matter if they are actually a collection or not) before you show any of those pieces to a manufacturer for consideration.
Technically, you could wait until the pieces have been selected for a licensing deal, but the copyright registration process in the US often takes 6 or 8 months. Meanwhile, you and the manufacturer may have already negotiated and sorted out a mutually-beneficial contract that you can’t sign until you have those registrations. So that way is a bit of a gamble. It could take the same amount of time to negotiate the contract, but the negotiations may be done beforehand which could delay the contract or even put the deal in jeopardy.
Of course, you can’t get a deal if you don’t even know who to contact. It’s surprisingly easy to find manufacturers if you know where to look. Here are my three favorite ways:
1. Other Artists
Look for artists with a similar target market to your art. Their art may look nothing like yours, which is ok. But they have to have a similar audience or you may approach manufacturers who wouldn’t think your art would be a good fit for their retailers.
When you find those artists, flip through their website and see if they talk about companies they license with. If you can’t find anything, don’t be afraid to email or call them. Usually, artists in the licensing world aren’t cutthroat like many artists in the gallery world. They’re typically more friendly and giving toward other artists and have the mindset that there are plenty of licensing deals to go around.
You can also search for the artist on Google to find products their art is on and sleuth around to discover who manufactured the products.
Speaking of Google, you can just as easily find manufacturers by searching for a type of product that you’re interested in having your art printed on. For example, when I searched for "snowboard manufacturer", the first page of results had a few lists of popular snowboard brands and manufacturers and also had Mervin, a popular eco-friendly board manufacturer, in the results too.
You may have to play around with search terms a little, but you can find manufacturers fairly quickly using this technique and then look around their website or call them for instructions on submitting your art for consideration for their products.
3. Roam the Stores
By far my favorite way to find manufacturers is to go shopping. Roam around your favorite stores and pick up the products. While many products with art on them won’t mention a manufacturer, you can almost always find some information to go on. If you pick up a mug with a cool design and you think your art would look just as good on that mug, you can flip the mug over and see what information is on the bottom. It could be an artist’s name (though that’s rare), a brand name, or a manufacturer’s name. Or you may find this information on the packaging.
No matter what information you find, you can always plug it into Google and try to find out more from there. For instance, if you find a brand name but you are pretty sure that brand doesn’t do their own manufacturing, you can search for that brand on Google and see who their suppliers are.
A LAST TIP
My last word of wisdom when you start licensing your art is to never be afraid to ask. Call up a company, speak with the receptionist. You don't even have to give your real name if it makes you nervous. Ask them how to pitch new art to them or if they manufacture their own products.
Call up an artist and ask them who they are licensing with or how they liked working with a manufacturer you’re unsure of. Negotiate with a manufacturer, don’t just take the first deal they give you - ask them for what you want.
You won’t always get everything you want and you may not even get answers sometimes, but asking won’t hurt and it can often help tremendously.
Put aside your fears and go for it. Licensing is not an industry where only the most elite, most skilled artists can succeed. It’s an industry that rewards professionalism and work that sells well so any artist can find their niche and make a wonderful stream of income from art licensing.
Want to Learn More from Laura C. George?
Visit LauraCGeorge.com to find out more about creating a thriving art business and sign up for her newsletter. You can also connect with Laura on Facebook and Twitter for more tips and tricks on finding art career success on your terms.