A few years ago, around when I wrote my first book, I started art licensing. It was a new experience for me, and a great way to get the designs that were in my head into a place of reality, and make money. If you are wondering what art licensing is, it’s selling your art work and/or designs to be put on product such as towels,stationary or home decor. Some stores produce in-house, but most large companies such as Pottery Barn or even Walmart buy from companies that license from independent artists. There are thousands of companies. Some artists and designers make a nice income with licensing. It’s also a great way to make passive income, and grow your brand and a small business/blog.
My first licensing contract was for my stencil line with Royal Design Studios for a line of Christmas stencils. It was an amazing experience and made me want to do it even more. It brought my creative dreams to life and it was also a great way to partner with another company and promote each other.
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Later, after building a body of work on-line such as with my Society 6 shop, I started approaching different licensing and product companies about collaborating. I received a lot of no’s, but when I got a yes, it was pretty awesome. I now have a few companies I license with and have been working with an agent on more collaborations. It’s exciting to see my designs in places like Wayfair, and Overstock. Plus, it’s a great way to expand your brand, and to have other things you can offer your reader’s and clients.
I thought I would answer a few of the questions about art licensing I had when I started out.
So what do I need to start licensing?
Some kind of body of work always helps depending on what your art is. Either an active shop like Society 6, or Redbubble, or if it’s not a print type art, then an on-line portfolio to be able to show. The most important thing is that it’s your own art.
How do I find companies to license with?
I did mine the old fashion way, and started e-mailing an introducing myself. A lot of people like to go for the big guns, and hit the large companies right away. I’ve found I have better luck with the smaller companies.Also, try to find companies that fit with your aesthetic (thank goodness for spellcheck, or I would never have been able to spell aesthetic.). The companies I’m with sell to places such as Wayfair, AllModern,Overstock, Amazon, Walmart, and Sears.
This was one of the first designs I did, and it is still exciting to see it on a big site.
What does it pay?
Well, here’s the thing. Sometimes art licensing pays not a lot,and sometimes it pays pretty well. Normally you get 3-10% of the wholesale price, depending on the company. However, after you get a few contracts, it starts adding up over time. Just like anything else in retail, you make your most money over the holidays, and not a lot of income in January or February. For instance, if a pillow with one of your designs sells in a store retail for $45… it could wholesale for $20. You get 3-10% of that. You only take a percentage of the wholesale price. The retail is what the store takes after the mark up from wholesale. Depending on the wholesale price, you would have to sell a lot of pillows to make some decent money. But, the more licensing contracts you have, the more you will theoretically make by quantity.
What are some details?
With most licensing, unless you are selling your art outright for a one-time pay out, you should retain the rights to your art. Normally the contract is for a certain period of time (1-5 years) and then your artwork should be returned to you after that time is up. Also, some places require exclusivity for a certain design, so you will also need to decide if that’s important to you or not. And, if you are particular about what your art is put on, you’ll want to have approval for items before they go to production.
Do I need an agent?
Not necessarily. My first contracts were negotiated with a lawyer, but I think it would have been easier with an agent. You can do it, but if you want an agent,the most important thing is that you have a solid body of work to show as you approach agencies. But remember, they can take up to half of what you make. The biggest thing is to get that work, and then just start e-mailing. And FYI. You are probably going to get rejected… a lot. I did. A LOT. To the point where I should probably be embarrassed about it. To where I felt like, “What the h#ll was I doing? No one wants me, I have no talent.” amount rejections. But, I kept sending out one more e-mail, and one more, and one more. And then I got my first yes. And then I tried again. and got rejected again a lot more, and then I got another yes.
What if I can’t get an agent or with a licensing company, how do I sell my stuff?
It’s easier than you think! Etsy is great,Society 6 is very user-friendly (so is Red Bubble), and you don’t need fancy software in the beginning to get started! It’s where I started. In fact, I have a tutorial here on how you can put an image on a pillow today! Here’s the thing. I am no different than you. I am a person who likes to make art, and see my designs on stuff. I don’t have a BA in fine arts, or some kind of fancy degree in graphic design. I just took that leap and figured it out, because I really want to do it. And for flip sake, I’m 45 years old, not 25… It’s never too late to give it a try if it’s something you really want to do. We’ve been given these dreams and gifts, and they are meant to be shared. If you gave one of your kids a car, and they left it in the garage all of the time, what sense would it make? Sometimes, you might have step out, and commit to learning something new, but it’s worth the reward of trying to share the beautiful gift you have.The biggest thing is to get your feet wet and just start! Stop putting it off!
I haven’t covered everything, and I’m not an expert by any means, but these are just a few things about art licensing about getting started! If you have any questions, leave them in the comments, an I’ll try to answer them for you!
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