Painting by Natasha Wescoat licensed to Murals Your Way
When I began as an artist, I was really enjoying the experience of selling my work directly to people. It was so much more exciting than hanging it on a wall in a gallery.
I had more control over my work, when it was available and where I could place it for sale. There was no middle man involved and I preferred it that way.
But something was missing.
I wanted to find other avenues of making money from my work, but I wasn’t sure how. I saw artists launching clothing lines, doing book signings and licensing their art on collectables with well known brands.
I wondered how they were doing that. Did the company find them? Or did the approach come from the artist? It appeared a daunting and impossible achievement.
“Those artists must be veterans by now,” I figured. “They have thousands of fans and their art has to be in galleries everywhere.”
I had no idea how licensing worked or what was expected. Interestingly enough, it was simpler than it appeared to be, thought not without some work.
Extra income, extra exposure
When I began licensing, it was through the well known site, Art.com. Back in 2005, I used their Print-on-Demand program for artists, which means they print orders as they are taken. They offered a decent typical market royalty to artists for every print sold and even later, a small percentage on their framing, which they do in-house. It was a great option, because I didn’t have the equipment or funds to offering prints directly from my studio.
I then discovered other Print on Demand sites like Imagekind.com and FineArtAmerica.com. It would turn out to be a great option for extra income as well as exposure to future collectors. For a time, because of Art.com’s program, I was exposed to a broader audience than I could’ve encountered through my site alone. This was invaluable to my business and helped me grow as an artist and a business person. I even acquired several custom commissions from clients who wanted something ‘larger’ than what the print sites were offering.
This was ironically a great way to also acquire new licensee clients. They found my art through sites like Art.com and emailed me to ask how they could put my work on their products. Because of sites like Art.com and Imagekind.com, I have signed on with product companies that now feature my work in stores like Bed Bath & Beyond, Target and art shops across the US.
It was wild when just one day, opening up my email to find requests on a regular basis. I built a larger following and soon had regular paychecks coming in the mail!
Residual income builder and gap filler
What’s great about licensing is that you are able to fill in the gaps when art sales are at a low or in a seasonal slump. This helps immensely when you need to get the bills paid! If you want to do this full-time, then you have to expand your multiple streams of income. Licensing is a continual, residual income builder.
Painting by Natasha Wescoat licensed to Olivia Olive Oil Company
So how does licensing work? What do companies look for? How can you pitch to clients? How do clients find you?
First, licensing is a big business. Not only can you offer prints, but you have the potential to create a BRAND. Everything from collectables to home decor to car decals. There are endless possibilities.
Companies work with manufacturing companies that deal with artists and designers to create products. You have to know how it works in order to not only expand your art brand, but to protect it as well.
It’s worth registering the copyright of your work whenever you come up with a new design or collection. Here in the US, as in many countries, copyright is automatically granted to you as soon as you create a piece of art, but registering the copyright means that your ownership is a matter of public record, and makes it easier to defend your rights. For instance, if you want to bring a lawsuit for copyright infringement, you will need to register your copyright. (More information at the US Copyright Office FAQ.)
I remember one day, while on vacation in Florida, I spotted an artist friend’s signature fairies on a t-shirt in Hot Topic. I then contacted her to find out it was a copycat ripping off her work! Because she had her work protected under law, she was able to take that copycat’s products down. You have to protect your work and make sure it’s copyrighted with the Copyright office, not only to claim what’s yours but to protect it in the future.
What companies want
Companies are looking for themes that they can use across a range of products, with complementary images.
So whether you are a fine artist, illustrator or graphic designer, it’s important that you create your work in sets. I know it may seem unappealing if you are a fine artist to be a little commercial in your efforts, but if you can offer sets of 4, 5 or 10 in a collection of themes, they are able to make more products or sets with it.
Another attractive thing to offer is patterns. If you are a designer or can work in design, you could make patterns and designs that would work great to complement your original art images, or to license to fabric companies.
Typical licensing terms
Companies will offer artists anything from 4% to 30% royalties on the price of their products. It depends on the market and type of product. There are different types of royalty rates depending on the product. For example, typical royalty rates for prints and posters are around 10-15% whereas licensed gadget cases or similar can be around 4-7%. You can negotiate these as well, remember! Try to get the most you can for what you’re worth.
2. Contract length
Most licensing deals last from 1 to 3 years and will be renewed or canceled depending on how well the deal is working out for you and them.
3. Ownership of the work
Never ever let the company claim ownership of your art, take your ownership or give them exclusivity.
Unless you are creating an exclusive collection for that company that is separate from your other art, do not ever allow a company to force you into a corner. You don’t want them to take your right to license the same art somewhere else. Make sure it’s in the contract that they are not expecting you to only license to them for that particular product.
I’ve found many artists don’t realize just how much control they have over their own work, when it comes to art licensing. You not only have the power to create opportunities but you can make the deals happen.
You don’t need an agent. You don’t need a manager. You just need to learn how to license your work, and make it happen for yourself.
How to begin licensing your art
1. Do the research
Read books, websites and blogs such as MariaBrophy.com, Theabundantartist.com and ArtsyShark.com on how artists can license their art. There is valuable information on the steps to follow, but more importantly – HOW to negotiate deals and also HOW to PROTECT your rights.
Know what the typical licensing rates are for fine art or whatever your craft is and also know what you need to protect. With this basic knowledge, you’ll be ready to negotiate on your own.
2. Know your market
Before you pitch to any companies or brands, you should already know what your goals are and who you are selling to.
Are you a cartoonist? An opera songwriter? A fashion designer? A fine artist? A book illustrator? Your genre of work and your market will determine the best people to contact, because you’ll know exactly what products you want to launch or companies you will want to work with. E.g. You shouldn’t pitch to a company that only licenses fantasy art if you are a floral artist or to a children’s book art company if you are a fine artist painting landscapes.
Also – see what other artists in your genre are doing. How are they creating licensing deals? Did they use a certain site or do certain things that led to that? Who do they work with? Take note of these things.
3. Make the pitch
You can create your own opportunities. Make yourself known to companies you want to work with. Research their sites, their brand and then write a thoughtful letter describing your interest and make a brief introduction of yourself.
Offer links to your work, as sometimes attachments are marked spam or they won’t open. Show them how THEY can benefit. Not just that you want to work with them. Show how you two fit. Link to the best examples of your work that complement what they already license.
4. Create a plan
You should make it a regular plan to pitch to companies either monthly or every few months. Create a list of companies you’ve contacted and ones you want to contact.
5. Mock-up a catalog
If you have the skills, create a portfolio of products that your art would be great on. If you want to do toys, create some with your work. If you want to sell yourself as a voiceover, create pretend commercials or jingles that you’d do.
The idea is to help them envision your work already on their products. This can take a few months to create and put together, but it’s an important part of your ‘sell’.
Most people keep these offline or available as a downloadable file, or you can make this a public portfolio on your site – even better!
6. Follow up
Give it two weeks to a month before you contact again, asking if they have gone over your email. This is good to show that you are serious about your proposal and also to remind them, considering they might be too busy to keep up.
7. Use social media
If you really want to make a business opportunity happen, connect to the people who can make it happen – and social media is a great way to do this. Right from the start of my carreer, I’ve found it important to really connect with people and be a genuine source of friendship and value.
Follow them on Twitter. Talk to them on Facebook. I’ve found huge opportunities because of MySpace and eBay, two places you’d NEVER expect to make a connection. People are people. We are all normal. We are all using the internet these days, and not just for business.
Connect on a personal level and befriend others! Don’t expect that your opportunity to happen overnight. You have to provide them with something of value too. It’s a give and take space.
8. License the work yourself
Some of my friends who are now famous authors got publishing deals BECAUSE of their success in self-publishing. Another very famous example is Justin Bieber, whose fame began on YouTube when he was just a little boy performing on instruments and singing! The potential options are ENDLESS!
If you want to license your work, search the web for your particular craft. There is bound to be a site and software available for you to start making the product happen today.
Over to you
So what do you think about licensing?
Do you plan to license your work or produce your own products?
About the author: Natasha Wescoat has been a full-time artist since 2004, living and working in Michigan with her two children and extended family. Her art is seen in publications and licensed products across the US and at WescoatFineArt.com