In the last few blog posts I’ve been answering artists’ questions about a range of issues, both personal and professional. Here’s the latest!
I would love to learn more about art licensing. What is your perspective on hiring a licensing agent? Attending trade shows? Do you recommend a do-it-yourself approach to landing licensing deals?
- Diana R.
Art licensing is a complicated business, so it makes sense to think about the whole process before you jump in. Ask yourself the following questions to see if art licensing is right for you.
1. Do you make the kind of art that looks good on products?
First you’ll want to take an honest look at your art. Remember, manufacturers are looking for art that will help sell products, so it must appeal to the widest possible audience. These images tend to be colorful, attractive, and easy to understand.
If you’re not sure about your own art, start with some basic research, both online and on foot. Ask Dr. Google to help you find artists who are licensing art similar to your own. Try “art licensing + calligraphy” or “art licensing + seascapes”—just fill in a simple description of the kinds of art you make.
If you’re not crazy about internet research, it might be more fun to get out there in the marketplace and take a look. Go to your local gift store, stationery store, or home décor store, and notice the images used on the products they sell. These might include pillows or aprons, coffee mugs and trays, you get the idea. Can you imagine your art on such products? Would your images add something new to what’s already out there?
You can also do your research at trade shows, but go as a visitor first. Do not pay high fees to rent a booth until you know more. At trade shows you can scope out the competition, talk to other artists, and meet licensing agents.
2. Do you want to take a D-I-Y approach or work with a licensing agent?
Many artists are happy with a do-it-yourself approach, and others choose to be represented by a licensing agency. If you decide to do it yourself, be aware that you will invest a lot of time before you are successful. You’ll need to create a separate portfolio or even a separate website to showcase the work you want to license. Then you’ll need to research the manufacturers who are willing to receive submissions directly from artists. A do-it-yourself approach is fine for artists who already have good business skills and the patience needed to stay with the process.
If you would rather find a good licensing agency, internet research is an essential first step. Look for good artists who are already licensing their work, and see who represents them. Try to find artists whose work is similar to your own. Artists working with a licensing agency will sometimes name it, and that will give you a list of agencies that represent artists like you. You can then check their submission guidelines to find out how to get your work considered. Each licensing agency has specific guidelines that they ask you to follow.
3. Is art licensing right for you?
Finally, think about whether art licensing is consistent with your goals. When you license your art, its purpose becomes selling products. You might also be asked to make changes in the art itself to conform to a manufacturer’s needs. Your name as the artist often disappears. When you license your art you let go of it so that it reaches a wide and diverse audience, but you lose control. Don’t jump into art licensing unless you are comfortable with these conditions.
All the best,
Mary Edwards, Ph.D.
I’m a Career & Life Coach for Artists, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. I work with artists throughout the United States and all over the world. If you would like to send in a question or schedule a time to talk about your own goals, please write to me at:
I’m taking a break this week but wanted to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. I will be back with a new blog post on December 3.
In the meantime, if you have questions that you’d like for me to address in the blog, feel free to send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the best,
Mary Edwards, Ph.D.
Thanks for sending your questions. For today’s blog post, I’ve chosen two that suggest the range of personal and professional dilemmas artists face. The first question is about how to select juried shows to enter; the other asks what to do when your own creativity seems to have disappeared.
I’m an artist photographer who has returned to art after a career in online media. In the last year, I have gotten into three juried shows, so I’m encouraged. I’m following your advice and entering three or four competitions each month, but I’m starting to think about how to be selective in doing so. Having been in a business where awards programs are a pretext for ways to earn money, I’m aware that competitions can exist solely to collect fees. My question is, what filters should I use in deciding which competitions to enter?
Congratulations on getting into those juried shows! It is never easy. As you know, there are too many contests and competitions for photographers, so I agree that you need to choose carefully.
The best filters are tied to your own goals. For example, if you are trying to build a reputation as a fine art photographer, then you’ll want to consider the “call for entries” from the major photography nonprofit organizations, such as Black Box Gallery in Portland, Oregon, or the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado. While these shows are hard to get into, they raise your visibility in the art world.
I would also advise you to enter shows where the jurors are named. This makes it more likely that it is a genuine competition, rather than just a fund-raising effort. Be sure to check out the jurors’ credentials. For contests, look at images of past winners to see the kinds of work they are looking for. Do you admire these photographers? Could you see your work alongside them?
Don’t rule out competitions where the winners appear only online. These days people find you online, and such visibility can direct visitors to your website.
I have lost my creativity because of pain issues and I really want to get back into the life that I enjoy. I know people say art can help with depression, but I need a push to start. I also need to stop being a perfectionist and worrying about what other people think of my art.
I’m sorry to hear that you are in pain, but your creativity is still an essential part of you. Think of yourself as a perennial plant in a winter garden. Your deep roots of creativity are alive and ready to reawaken, even after a long dormant period.
I know it is difficult to get started again, especially when pain is draining your energy. Slowly return to the life you enjoy. Work on a personal art project. Perhaps you could make a gift for a friend or family member, using their birthday or anniversary as your deadline. Slowly get back into your daily studio practice, even if it’s only 30 minutes a day.
Try to silence, or at least ignore, the “other people” in your head who express negative thoughts and doubts about your work. These voices represent your inner critic, who keeps you stuck by saying that the work has to be perfect before you begin.
Even when you’re in good health, making art can be a lonely business. Living with pain can turn you inward, so start reaching out to other people. You might volunteer to teach a young student, or give feedback to another struggling artist. Whenever you feel isolated or alone, share your talents with others. Let your art help you heal. If won’t happen immediately, or even quickly, but it is time to begin.
All the best,
Mary Edwards, Ph.D.
I’m a Career & Life Coach for Artists. I’m based in the San Francisco Bay Area, but work with artists throughout the United States and all over the world. If you would like to send in a question or schedule a time to talk about your own goals, please write to me at: email@example.com.