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:
As an artist coach, I bring a unique combination of business knowledge, art world experience, and professional coaching skill to my practice.