Creative Leaps Blog: art licensing Archive

WSJ article on art licensing

April 30, 2013

There is a nifty article in the Wall Street Journal about the art licensing industry, called ” For Artists, a Change of Canvas Can Be Good Business.” You’ll definitely want to check it out.

3 Self-Promo Videos Make the Damn That’s Good List

April 12, 2013

Damn-That's-Good-Natalie-TimmonsI’m starting a new topical thread called the “Damn That’s Good List.” I could have just as easily called it the “I wished I’d thought of that” list. As an almost 30-year marketing pro, good marketing catches my eye. However, I now find myself to be much like the plumber, I’m keeping everyone else plumbing (i.e. marketing) running smoothly with not as much time as I’d like to take care of my own. And honestly, even if I did have more time, I do realize there’s always going to be somebody out there who’s doing it better or spot on.

Here are three self-promotion videos that have made my Damn That’s Good List. Everybody, me included (I’ll be in booth #764), is getting ready for Surtex 2013. They are updating their sell sheets, press kits, postcards, business cards, booth displays and more. A few Surtex-bound artists have also done some really clever video promos.

Here are a few that I particularly envied …oops I meant to write, “enjoyed” – LOL!

Dari Design Studio Surtex 2013 Campaign

Elizabeth Olwen Design :: Surtex 2013

Art Licensing LA Debuts at Surtex 2013

Kudos to the artists and their producers!

If you have a self-promo video that you’re proud of and want to share with the world, post a link in the comment box or sent me the link and I’ll add it to the post.

My First Feature Story As An Artist

January 31, 2013

Screenshot of Moon From My Attic blog by Alex ColomboYou know how they say “it’s the journey not the destination?” Well, for the first time in my life, I can honestly say I am completely and totally in love with the journey. Every now and then I have to pinch myself because I just feel so dang lucky to be doing the work I love.

The art licensing industry is not an easy industry to get into. The experts tell us it takes 2 to 3 years just to get your foot in the door (I’m in year 1.5). They say not to expect instantaneous rewards because the market has shrunk and there are fewer manufacturers with a lot more artists all vying for the same piece of pie. Any normal person would probably walk the other way.

Instead, I’m running straight for it. I can’t explain it. It’s just something I have to do. I have to see where it takes me. Where will that be? I have no idea. For once, it almost doesn’t matter because I’m having so much fun along the way!

One of the keys to enjoying a journey in which the destination is potentially years away is celebrating the little successes along the way. Today I am celebrating one of those successes – my first feature story as an artist! I can’t possibly convey how excited I am about this. It’s not just any publication. I’m featured in one of my all-time favorite blogs on art licensing called The Moon From My Attic by Alex Colombo. It  features inspiring stories on artists, agents and manufacturers in art licensing. It’s the blog I read first – and now I’m in it! Whoo-hoo me!

Help me celebrate by jumping over to Alex’s blog to read An Art Licensing True Story – A Late Bloomer’s Path and share a little bit about your journey. Let’s enjoy the ride together!

PS: A million thanks to artist extraordinaire, Alex Colombo, for this incredible opportunity. She really lives her mission “Partnering to Make the World a Better Place Through Art!”


SURTEX 2012 Conference Recap

May 25, 2012
Earlier this week, I attended the SURTEX conference & tradeshow for the first time. I felt like a kid in candy store. Here in one place was all my favorite art. With more than 300 exhibitors, there was so much art to take in and so little time! I attended all ten workshops and each was packed with great information and insights. Here are a few takeaways from the workshops.

Basics of Art Licensing Part I

  • Create mockups for the category you are pitching: horizontal rectangles for rugs, circles & square designs for tabletop, vertical rectangles for greeting cards.
  • You have an advantage if you can digitally manipulate your artwork to create mockups, packaging and product comps (Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are your friends!).

Basics of Art Licensing Part II

  • The book How to Understand Art Licensing Contracts by Maria Brophy and Tara Reed is highly recommended for learning more about contracts.
  • Have at least 15-20 collections completed to exhibit at a tradeshow or to approach an agent. This indicates that you are not a “one hit wonder.”
  • One artist indicates that 75% of her new business comes from tradeshows. Out of all the shows, Surtex gets her the best results.
  • A good marketing mix includes tradeshows, website, email marketing, direct mail and personal phone calls.

Understanding Legal Basics

  • Protect your art by registering it with the United States Copyright Office/Library of Congress.
  • You should register within three months of first publication or before infringement. Get in the habit of registering your new art once a quarter.
  • You may register several collections at once for $35 (current price as of May 2012).
  • Registering several collections at once vs. one piece at a time provides less protection as the infringement will go against the whole collection, not the individual piece. However, it is still better than no registration at all!
  • Want to share your work with the public with some restrictions? Explore Creative Commons licenses, which work alongside copyright enabling you to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice.

Artists Speak – Licensees Listen

  • When making follow-up calls to a manufactures or retailers, consider preparing a written voice mail message in advance. This way, you’ll leave a concise professional-sounding message with all the relevant details.

New Legal Strategies

  • 89% of all royalties are underpaid
  • The reasons for underpayment include: questionable license interpretations, royalties from underreported sales, royalties from disallowed deductions, etc.
  • Audits typically start at $5,000 and up. If your royalty earning is $60,000 or more, you should definitely consider a formal audit as you have a good chance of realizing additional income.
  • Worried about people misusing your art on the Internet? Use reserve image search tools such: Google Search by Image or

Strategies for Working with Manufacturers

  • It’s all about the art! Strive for quality and quantity. Manufactures and agents want to see a full body of work.
  • Don’t be overly concerned with personal branding. Focus on the providing fresh, creative, original art. If the art gains popularity among retailers and consumers it will grow into a brand organically. You can still have a tagline and a logo but just remember it’s “the tail not the dog.”
  • Most prefer receiving one PDF containing your collections or images, rather than several JPGs or a web link. Be sure to include your contact information on every page.

Business Trends in Licensing

  • In 2011, the average royalty rate was 6.4%
  • We saw a really cool interactive app from Dena Designs for a T-Shirt. Consider the opportunities for licensing and marketing that exist with digital applications (Apps) and augmented reality.
  • When the economy is tough, themes stick around for a while longer because they are safe.

Retailer-Manufacturer Relationships

  • Manufacturers and retailers look for art that has a unique point of view, design or color direction that can drive traffic and in some cases bring exclusivity to the retail partner.
  • The product life cycle is 2 to 3 seasons’ max. The focus is offering fresh, new products (and art).
  • Providing mock-ups to show your art on product is critical. Also consider offering packaging and merchandising ideas that tie into your art.

Digital Opportunities & Challenges

  • Carefully review all Terms of Use on the social media sights that you participate in.
  • You can add greater protection by adding your own Terms of Use (TOU) to your FaceBook page, Twitter profile, etc. Enforce the TOU by taking down inappropriate postings.
  • Be sure to include contact information so a copyright owner can notify you if someone posts an image that doesn’t belong to him or her.
  • DMCA is an effective weapon for copyright owners whose rights are infringed on the web.
  • If you hire someone to design your website be sure to clarify who will own the content and html code used to create it. Unless specified, the developer will own it by default.
  • The most important thing you can do to market your art is to have a marketing plan. A multichannel approach is best. It is not the platforms you use (website, FaceBook, Twitter, direct mail, etc.); it is how you use them that matters most. Each should reinforce the other.

 The Evolving Retail Scene

  • Subscribe to retailer blogs to spot trends and learn their lingo.
  • Listen to earnings calls or read the transcripts of key retailers on They provide great insight into what drives the company and their marketing positioning. It will help you align your messages and images with theirs.

Themes Mentioned: Cupcakes, food, wine, chefs, coffee/tea, coastal including seashells, coral, shorebirds, and sea turtles, roosters, owls, butterflies, floral, birds, orange is still hot.

For a complete description of the workshops and speakers, visit the Surtex 2012 Conference page. I love to hear from readers. Please comment or share a takeaway of your own.

What is Art Licensing?

April 26, 2012

Artist Elf Art Licensing Basics by Natalie TimmonsSince I made the decision to launch myself into the art licensing world, friends and other artists and designers often ask me, “What is art licensing exactly?” This posts provides basic answers along with links to more extensive information on the subject.

Art Licensing Basics

In very simple terms, Art Licensing is a process where an artist “rents” their artwork to a client to use on certain products, in certain applications, and in specified geographic regions.  The beauty of this arrangement is that the artist retains the rights to their artwork and can sell the same piece of art to many different clients. The only restraints are the limitations the artist agrees to upon signing a licensing agreement with a client.

In Art Licensing, clients typically pay a royalty to an artist. The royalty is usually a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of the licensed product. It can also be based on a fixed dollar amount per licensed product sold. In some cases, artists are also paid an advance against royalties.

How Art Licensing Differs from the Graphic Design Industry

Since my background is in graphic design and I am new to the art licensing field, I’ve discovered several differences between the two. In my mind, there are three major ways that art licensing differs from graphic design work: Goal of the Art, Rights of Ownership and Payment Structure.

1. Goal of the Art

In art licensing, the goal of the art is to enhance the look of a product. Clients purchase artwork to adorn the products they manufacture and sell to retailers. Products may include everyday items such as dishtowels, gift-wrap, stationery, textiles, apparel, paper goods, and more. The intent is that the art will make the product irresistible to consumers, who then buy the product, earning the retailer, manufacture and artist an income.

In graphic design, the goal is of the art is to enhance marketing communications materials (brochures, ads, logos, signage, website, etc.) in order to improve brand image and/or aid the client’s efforts to sell more products and services.

These are very generalized explanations and there are many exceptions. For example, graphic designers may be contracted on a work-for-hire basis to revamp a product’s overall design. This encompasses the artwork on the product as well as the product’s materials, shape, color, packaging and labeling.

 2. Rights of Ownership

With art licensing, the artist retains the rights to the original artwork. In graphic design, once the artist completes the design project (brochure, direct mail piece, print ad, logo, etc.) and has been paid in full, the client assumes all ownership of the artwork. This is because graphic design services are typically considered to be “work for hire.”

Again there are exceptions to these scenarios. For example with illustration & photography, many artists negotiate to retain the rights to their artwork while being a paid a flat fee for their use of their art in say a magazine article or on a billboard. While other illustrators and photographers serve clients on a work-for-hire basis, releasing all rights of ownership to the client once they’ve been paid in full for the project. In this later case, the client then owns the purchased photo or illustration and can use it anywhere and however often they choose.

 3. Payment Structure

The payment structure is also very different between the two industries. Graphic design services are typically considered to be works-for-hire. Designers are paid a flat fee for a project and/or are reimbursed for time spent on a project. Licensors (artists who license their artwork) are usually paid a royalty fee and/or an advance against royalties. In very rare cases, a licensor (artist) may agree to release all rights to their artwork and sell their artwork to a client for a flat fee (not recommended, but it happens).

Basic Art Licensing Terms

License – An agreement or “license” grants rights to another person or entity to use your art for (x). The (x) could be a particular product (dish towels) or a group of products (kitchen accessories).

Licensor – the owner of the image (you the artist).

Licensee – the one who is granted rights to the artwork (your client).

Licensed Property – the image (i.e. piece of artwork)

Royalty – A royalty is typically a percentage of the proceeds received from the sale of the licensed product.

Licensing Agreement – A contract with gives the licensee (your client) the right to use the licensed property (your artwork) for a specific purpose (on wrapping paper) for a limited time (two years) in a specified territory (United States).

Art Licensing Resources


Joan Beiriger’s on Art Licensing Blog - a must follow!

Art Licensing Blog by Tara Reed – a must follow!

All Art Licensing Blog by J’Net Smith

Maria Brophy’s Blog

The Moon from My Attic by Alex Colombo – I love her interviews of other licensing artists.

Art Licensing from Jim Marcotte

Greeting Card Design Blog by Kate Harper

Surtex Blog

Teleseminars & Podcasts

Accidental Creative by Todd Henry (Not specific to art licensing but definitely covers topics to help commercial artists face stay brilliant and balanced.

Art Licensing Teleseminars & (free) Monthly Ask Calls by Tara Reed – highly recommend!

Illustration Mundo


Art Licensing Info (Tara Reed)

Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing Resources for Artists

The Business of Art Licensing by Lance J. Klass

Art of Licensing LinkedIn Group

All Art Licensing Newsletters


Licensing Art and Design: A Professional’s Guide to Licensing and Royalty Agreements by Caryn R. Leland

Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines

If you have more to add, please post a comment or email me to share your tip.