By Victoria Kukla
Artist and Designer
Some of you have expressed interest in networking regarding licensing and have patiently been awaiting my post. So here is my story, along with some resources I wanted to share with you.
What is art licensing?
Art licensing can mean many things. We use the phrase "art licensing" as standard industry speak that has anything to do with creating art and selling it to larger companies for mass production. This can mean one of two things:
- Buyout - You sell your work to a company in one lump sum and they own the rights; you no longer get to use it or sell it again. Companies do this to cut costs and sometimes they shop for prints/patterns without knowing how much they will be printing or what products they'll be printing it on. For example, the 99 cent bags you see at places like Marshall's or TJ Maxx. A cheaper product requires cheaper art in order to make ROI.
- Licensing - You sell your work to a company and acquire royalties based on how many items/products are produced with your artwork. You maintain the rights to this art and you can resell it or reuse it as many times as you want.
How do you get into the licensing world?
You can do this in a few different ways. I recommend starting with the first one and working your way up to all three. I see no reason why you can't do them all, and most people in the industry do!
- There are licensing companies that usually accept new artists, either all the time or on a rotational basis. These sites take your art and slap it onto large canvas or framed prints and sell it to the general public or big corporations (sometimes both). These companies are strictly wall art only. Their standard rates are 10% commission, so you make $1 for every $10 they sell of your art. They typically do all of the marketing and you don't need to do anything except wait for a check. Or never receive a check! Depends on if your art is great for their clients/audience. I've personally had both experiences. There are also a growing number of companies that act the same way, but instead of selling wall art they sell cell phone cases. This is a relatively new branch of licensing I've seen and I would expect more of these niche licensing opportunities to pop up post-covid.
- Find an agent that works for you and you for them. An agent is just that - they do the heavy lifting and take the brunt of finding potential clients and assignments for you to work on. They already know people in the industry and they can take your work and market it to specific companies. They also attend licensing events throughout the year and market your work specifically in their product portfolio. They deal with client negotiations, sell your work for you, and try to pitch clients with your style so you can do client work with their mediation. It is extremely important that you seek and maintain a good relationship with your agent, as they are working for you (and you for them). You have to trust their expertise and they have to completely understand your style and what makes you passionate about completing these projects. The industry standard commission rates are at least 50/50 or 60/40 (you 60 and they 40), so you earn a lot more income with an agent, so long as they can find you work.
- Work for yourself and pitch your own work to clients. This is tricky and I certainly don't recommend it until you've been in the game for a bit. The licensing industry is full of sharks that will try to pay you pennies if you let them. You also should have a business lawyer on standby, or pay someone to write contract templates for you. Granted, this isn't always necessary. Most clients will have their own contracts for you to sign. It just helps that you at least know what you're doing before negotiating or signing anything. If you're ready for this route, you should absolutely follow the Graphic Artist Guild Handbook. I'll post more about that below.
What types of products are licensed?
Literally everything. Walk into any store, and look at the graphic tees, prints on clothing, journals and notebooks, greeting cards, wall art, home decor pillows, 99 cent bags - if there is art or any type of design on that product, the company that produced it either designed it with their in-house graphic designer or they licensed an artist to do it.
If you want to break into this field, how would you start and what are the steps moving forward?
- Make art. Lots of it. Find a style and a groove so you can make it faster.
- Build a portfolio. This is essential, don't contact anyone until you have one.
- If you don't already know Photoshop, learn the basics. Buy some product mockups and create mockups of your art on all kinds of merchandise.
- Make sure your website is well intentioned and your story is put together/solid. Think of it like a resume.
- Find an agent. Research licensing events and find out who attends them. Then go to each attendee's website and find out if they're an agent or artist. Bookmark the agents, research them a little more and see if they are a good fit for you. Agents are usually specific with the styles and artists they have on hand, and even though your work might be perfect, it's possible agents will love your work but not have any need for you in their portfolio.
- Buy the Graphic Artist Guild Pricing & Ethical Guidelines Handbook. This is your new bible, and you will need to use it for every client and price quote you manage and create. Read it inside and out.
I want to provide you with some resources, but I also want to make it very clear that I am in no way affiliated with promoting any of these and I'm not receiving any financial gain from referring these websites. I'll post them here and you can check them out for yourselves or start a private conversation with me if you want to know more. All of these are resources that helped me get into licensing, figure out specific pricing models, pitch myself, build a portfolio, etc...and you can even find templates on all kinds of things useful for licensing client work.
If you have any other questions on this topic, feel free to reach out to me on here or through Instagram @palmesque. I'm definitely no expert in the field, but I can certainly help a beginner find their way into the industry.