A very interesting article has been going around the internet about art licensing written by Jim Marcotte at Two Town Studios. The article expresses some of the harsh realities of the art licensing business. What I like about the article is that it is realistic yet it is also written on a positive note. It is not trying to discourage anybody from following their dreams but hopefully helping artists to see that it is not as simple as hiring an art licensing coach, walking Surtex and signing with an agent.
With permission this is the article Two Town Studios has posted :
There seems to be, lately, a rapid proliferation of blogs,
social contact groups, websites, coaching seminars and classes
revolving around art licensing. In many ways this is wonderful
– talented people of like mind sharing their work and
helping each other grow and prosper. Unfortunately, more and
more the message is reading something like the matchbook:
Can you draw Sparky? You too can have a great career in Art
Well, maybe….or maybe not.
My intention here is not to throw a wet blanket over the
aspirations of artists who want to license their art. We have
had great success over the years representing artists and
I will be the first to say it is possible to have a long,
profitable career in art licensing. Rather, I want to introduce
a voice of reason, suggest a bit of caution - take off the
rose colored glasses and look at some realities of the industry
with me before committing your time and dollars. Lots of time
and significant dollars, I may add. We read the blogs, follow
the groups, and contribute when appropriate, however there
are some things that need to be said - and no one is saying
them - so here are a few points to consider:
Your style may not lend itself to product applications,
may not have a unique quality and/or your art is just
not good enough - but no one has had the heart to say
it. There is also the “one idea” or “one
category” scenario – what will you do next?
We are approached by artists every week of every month
and see all of these problems (and more) repeatedly. Simply
put, the majority of artists are not right for licensed
product. Licensing agents make their living by representing
art that can be sold (licensed) and they will usually
snap up anyone they think has significant potential. You
may not be a fit for a particular agency for any number
of reasons, but if you have shown your work to several
agents and they all have passed, it is likely time for
a reality check.
Not all of the “coaches” are qualified to
help you and they may not have your best interests at
heart (see point number one). There are some wonderful
people offering coaching who can, at a reasonable cost,
be of immense help to you. There are some people who are
self proclaimed experts who have little or no art licensing
experience (it’s different) and are happy to take
your money, sometimes thousands of dollars, regardless
of whether or not you can actually succeed in this business.
And there are of course some in between. Tread carefully.
Art licensing is a long slow road to success, in fact
we joke about it being a “Get Rich Slow” scheme.
Most of the successful licensed artists have been at it
for many years, sometimes 20, 30 or more, and are still
producing new designs most every week. It also is not
unusual for them to have re-invented themselves along
the way, finding it necessary to produce work that is
right for the market instead of vainly searching for the
market that is right for their work. The point is that
you need to take the long view and be able to not only
survive, but also stay focused and adaptable during the
multi-year, multi-license building process. Don’t
let them tell you otherwise, there are very few exceptions.
Years ago I sat in a class of eager new real estate agents
when the instructor walked in and told us “Look
around – in one year 50 percent of you will no longer
be in real estate”. I would suggest that some variation
of that statement also applies to art licensing. Contrary
to popular opinion, there are not an unlimited number
of available licenses just waiting to be picked up. Companies
are downsizing, disappearing, cutting programs and buying
outright instead of licensing. Royalty rates are eroding
and shelf time is now counted in weeks or months instead
of years. There are dozens of new artists, some cut from
those very same companies, entering the market every month
(and yes, dozens give up). Licensors - from the best at
the top of the industry to the newest at the bottom -
are scrapping for every license they get.
Trade shows are not art fairs, they are business to business
events held by promoters to make a profit. (Repeat that
several times). While show management companies will offer
varying levels of support to the exhibitors, they are
not going to be focused on promoting the individual career
needs of artists. Get used to it. As an exhibitor spending
thousands for a show booth, you will also be less likely
to encourage non-exhibiting artists to attend and meet
with your clients in the aisles and lobbies while you
foot the bill for the venue. Your competitors may be friendly,
and some will become your friends (and if you are as lucky
as we are some will be very good friends) but you are
still splitting up the same pie and everyone wants the
Finally, this is an industry, a business. It may be
based on art and artists but it isn’t about having
shows and comparing notes and admiring each other’s
talent. It is about marketable product design, customer
demographics, contracts, deadlines, endless submissions
and cancelled programs. If you are any good you will get
knocked off regularly by overseas factories and you may
or may not find out, and even if you do, you may not get
paid. Royalties have to be analyzed, payments have to
be pursued, and samples (if you get them at all) have
to be chased down. If you can’t handle the details,
or find someone who will do it for you, your licensing
career will be painful and likely short lived.
This may sound dire but of course it’s not all bad.
We have a lot of fun in this business of art licensing and
still do the happy dance whenever we make a nice deal for
one of our artists. It’s an industry where clever and
talented people come together to make great things happen,
but in order to succeed you need to really, really want it.
Most artists come into the art licensing business, land a
few contracts and then after a couple years of the grind stop
refreshing their portfolio and fade away from the market.
It doesn’t take too many fingers and toes to count the
recognizable names in art licensing – those that have
hung in there, figured it out and made it work. This doesn’t
scare you? Maybe you can have a career in art licensing -
come on in and join the fray
Two Town Studios
I would like to add some more reality : One of the biggest things you will need to
take with you on your journey into art licensing is a very "strong
stomach". If you are looking to earn a living from art licensing you
must be willing to create a lot of artwork on spec, enjoy a good contest,
embrace rejection, get over being ignored, be able to live with not getting any feedback as
to why your artwork was rejected. You must also have the patience of a
saint and enjoy living in the world of "hurry up and wait". You must be able to let go of controlling of what your artwork
will look like when it is on a product. If you have extremely high
expectations of how your artwork needs to look you had best manufacture
it yourself. You need to be extremely flexible in working with
manufacturers. Although the product in the end will most likely have
your name on it (if they don't accidentally put someone else's ) you
will not have all the say about the end result. Actually you can have
all the say about the end result if you are ok with being called a
"difficult artist" and loosing clients. I love my clients and they do
their best to produce a great product within their limitations.
I see many artists deciding to get an agent because they think
by hiring an agent the artist can sit back and paint while the agent
handles the business. Agents all work very differently. Never
assume that just because an agent is paid a substantial commission
they are talented in the art of policing, you might end up having to
follow up on lots of little details with your agent also. Some agents
are amazing wonderful sales people with fantastic personalities but
might have a different approach to handling there business than you
expected . I often see people post in groups asking who is a "good
reputable agent". The answer is never simple. Much of this answers
lies with an artists expectations of what they need from an agent.
You have reached a blog that has "Zip", that's me Sue Zipkin. This is the place where I will share my latest design news and other hopefully interesting stuff. I am a mom, wife, friend, artist, designer,illustrator, cook, and sometimes cleaner. I have been designing artwork for products for thousands of years ( more like 2 1/2 decades ). I am blessed to be able to share my art with the world and I thank everyone who has been kind enough to purchase products with my designs on them. I hope to inspire others to pursue their dreams .
The artwork, text and photographs owned by Sue Zipkin contained throughout the pages of this blog may not be copied or reproduced without the express written permission of Sue Zipkin. Some of the photographs on this blog are owned by a third party and cannot be copied without their permission.
Sue Zipkin is not a manufacturer.
I am an artist who licenses reproduction rights of my art to manufacturers who then produce the art on their products. All questions or concerns about the actual product and wholesale inquires need to be directed to those manufacturers.
Creating handmade items
I encourage those creating handmade sewing projects from my fabric to sell on the web, craft shows and the like. I love handmade items. However, if you are a person planning to mass produce products using my designs (whether fabrics or incorporating any of my other artwork or products) that would require a license from me. Please contact me direct.
Thanks, Sue Zipkin