Imagine walking down the aisles of your favorite store. Suddenly, you glance up to see your artwork or designs covering the products on the shelves! Sound exciting? Not only does it get your art business some pretty big publicity, but it’s a fun way to make money from your original artwork.

We’re talking about art licensing. In other words, you’re basically renting the image of your work out to a manufacturer. Many successful fine artists like Robin Maria Pedrero and Tyler Wallach have ventured into art licensing and boosted their business as a result.

How do you make this happen, you ask? 

The key is to create an effective art portfolio that’s organized and on trend so you can impress potential manufacturers. We take you through some of the basics, so you can get a successful start in art licensing. Check it out:

1. Learn What’s in Style

You can’t put together an effective portfolio without doing your research—because anything worth doing is worth doing well. Plus, art licensing could be a critical way to add another revenue stream to your art business so you want to make sure to do it right.

First things first, take the time to figure out what type of imaging manufacturers are currently interested in purchasing. Look up what type of art, colors, patterns, subjects, and designs are in style right now for the products in which you are considering licensing your art.

Artists have tackled pretty much anything you can think of: home goods like bedding, pillows, and dishes, framed art prints, clothing and shoes, books, greeting cards, wallpaper, fabric, or even sports equipment like skis and skateboards. The sky is truly the limit.

2. Create Collections

Manufacturers are always looking for a collection of art they can use for a whole product line. Why? The more products they can make from a collection, the more they can sell.

That’s why art licensing experts like Natasha Wescoat recommend creating sets of four to ten cohesive designs that could be used on complementary products. Make it as easy as possible for them to look through and understand the collection by organizing these themes together in your portfolio.

How many collections should you include? “The size of your portfolio will depend greatly on how long you have been in the art licensing business,” says art licensing guru J’Net Smith. “If you are heading to a major trade event, then think in terms of presenting 20-30 collections in a variety of themes.”

3. Make Mock-Ups

Not every artist will have the know-how, but if you are Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator savvy or know someone who is, it can be a huge help to make mock-up images. This will help manufacturers get a picture of your artwork on actual products or in real-life spaces. It takes away some guesswork and helps them to envision the final product. Plus, mock-ups help manufacturers understand how the designs in your collection can be used together.

A quick YouTube search can bring up hundreds of tutorials about creating mockups. Or, take a peek at Christine Joy Design’s work on Design Sponge or these mock-ups created by artists Rebecca Baer and Joanie Bauer Hupp for Joanie’s floral patterns.

4. Tailor Your Portfolio

Just like your fine art portfolio, don’t feel pressured to include every single piece you have ever created. Remember that styles go in and out, and manufacturers want to see what’s on trend. And, if you wow them with one collection, odds are, they’ll keep coming back for more. That means you’ll need to have new designs ready to show them. Consider holding on to new designs or adding old designs back in when the time is right.

Then, think about what type of product lines are sold by the manufacturers you are trying to reach. Who is their audience and what types of design genres will they go for? Print versus pattern, bright or subdued colors, characters, scenes, floral, holiday, beach … the list goes on.

Help them help you. Tailor the contents of one portfolio to fit their design needs and it will make it much more enticing to take you on as a client! Feel free to submit different portfolios for different clients. Or, find the perfect match with a manufacturer who goes for your individual style.

5. Get Your Art Out There

Now that you have your designs in order, how do you show them to potential licensees?

These days, having your portfolio online is always important. If you don’t have a separate website altogether for your licensed art portfolio, make it as clear and easy as possible for clients to navigate to that page on your website. The same goes for contacting you or signing up for a newsletter—it should be as simple as a click of a button.

TIP: Consider registering your art online for copyright protection. Learn more here.

If you are attending an art licensing trade show, consider having a printed portfolio book as well. That way, you aren’t dependent on the Wifi working correctly or taking your chances that every manufacturer walking by knows how to figure out your technology. Lastly, don’t forget the most important thing ... high-quality images!

What’s the bottom line?

If you’re nervous about licensing your art, throw your fears away. Licensing is not an industry where only the most elite artists can succeed, explains art business coach Laura C. George. It’s an industry that rewards professionalism and artwork that sells well, so any artist can find success. Follow these steps for putting together an effective portfolio, and you’ll be ahead of the game.

To learn more about the licensing process, check out Laura’s tips in “How to Get Started in Art Licensing.”