Carol Lee Walker started her career in licensing with a few
cat designs for home decor. Today, Walker's designs show a myriad
of subjects and she has licenses for a variety of products,
including the mailbox top, shown above.
Art Market Pursues Licensing Dollars
This $70 billion industry is providing effective
options for artists wanting to grow their name recognition, as well
as their income.
Licensed merchandise in the U.S.
and Canada ”think clothing, posters, giftware, home furnishings and
a seemingly endless sea of consumer products”represents an approximate
$70.5 billion market. Of that, art licensed products account for about
9 percent of the total, or $6 billion, according to The Licensing
Letter, a New York-based publication.
More than 200 of these artists will be found June 21-23 at The Jacob
K. Javits Convention Center, site of the 25th L!CENSING 2005 International
show, where painters, designers, photographers and illustrators will
showcase their designs in the first-ever Art and Design Licensing
According to Elizabeth Waiksnis, show director for Advanstar Communications,
the show's producer, the art and design category has become one of
the fastest-growing segments in the industry.
And while anyone can license their art, it is important to have an
understanding of the process before making the leap. As with any industry,
there are many variables. With an assist from some song titles, let's
look at the basics.
1. What's It All About..?
Licensing is probably the best way for an artist to increase name
recognition and income. The technical answer to the question posed
by the song title (above) is an agreement between parties to produce
artwork on products that will be sold to consumers. To this day, I
meet artists who look at me with a blank stare when I say I am a licensing
agent. I am not issuing license plates at the local D.M.V. So, how
does the art make its way to product?
Most artists utilize the services of an agent. Licensing is a full-time
job. It is unlikely that an artist will have any time to paint if
he tries to handle the licensing on his own. An agent will be able
to navigate the journey from art to product and should bring a thorough
understanding of how the industry works, stellar contacts and knowledge
of the legalities involved in a license. Agents monitor all financial
aspects of the agreement, as well as the troubleshooting. The standard
split in the industry is 50/50. The agent is not paid until a license
comes about and may be working for a year before a deal comes to fruition.
It is important for the artist to understand that there is no magic
wand that the agent waves to bring in a license. To be sure, the work
is hard and the competition fierce. There must be a written agreement
between the parties that clearly spells out the terms. Some agents
work on a 75/25 split, with 75 percent going to the agent. If less
than 50 percent is offered to an agent, it is usually with the proviso
of a retainer being paid to cover the agent's expenses. Publishers
without an in-house licensing department should expect to pay an agent
a fee for their services, along with a small percentage of any licenses
they bring to the table.
3. Every Picture Tells a Story
New works by Walker that are available for licensing are "Seaside
Artist Jeff Wilkie says he knows that trends play a part in
licensee's choices. Shown below is Wilkie's "Exotic Beach."
Being a great artist is not enough. It isn't even necessary. Some
of the most successful licensed artists may not be considered the
most technically proficient. But what is important is the ability
to "see" their work on products in a realistic way. Important
questions to ask include: Does the artwork translate to product? Is
it within current design specs? Artists may create imagery that is
extraordinary, but that does not mean it will translate to product.
As Lyndsey Fischer of Indianapolis-based Hindostone Products, Inc.,
puts it, "An artist that is flexible in regards to manipulating
the artwork to fit the product is wonderful to work with." Some
artists are willing and able to create roughs or prototypes to illustrate
to a licensee just how well their work would suit products. Images
presented as a series are appreciated. It is necessary to have a body
of work to offer, while continuing to produce new and fresh images.
4. Same Old Song and Dance
Those who lived in a cave the past year may have missed it, but most
people have probably seen these on hundreds of products: martinis,
girlfriends, fashion, wine, tropical scenes and chef images. Once
a "trend" is in play, every manufacturer wants to offer
their version to retailers. It is important for their bottom lines
to do so and for artists to produce the designs that are in demand.
Of course not every consumer will buy what is "trendy,"
but it is important for a manufacturer to offer a selection of both
staple and trendy designs in each line.
Hindostone Products' Lyndsey Fischer offers this take on the situation:
"The tropical theme will always be popular and is a staple in
our line. It appeals to consumers who live in coastal areas, as well
as people who vacation in them. Coffee and martini themes may not
be around as long, or be as strong, as tropical."
And when it comes to art images that have been featured on products
for decades, such as Adirondack chairs with tropical drinks and umbrellas,
the challenge is to put a new "spin" on an old subject,
perhaps with hot, trendy colors. Among manufacturers, the staple designs
most requested year after year are floral, fruit, tropical, herb,
wine/vineyards and roosters, along with cats, dogs, and Christmas
scenes. It's all about the image, and not the medium. Whether it's
oil, acrylic, crayon, watercolor or pastels, people buy the image.
Judith Lynn, a former New York City Opera star, agrees. New
to the licensing market, Lynn has combined her love and passion
for music with her love of fine art to create unique imagery.
Many of her images incorporate musical notes with traditional
floral designs, such as "Tulip Tune." As Lynn says,
"I take my inspiration from the beauty of the two things
I love most in this world, nature and music. Music swirls and
whirls like the changing waves on the water. It renews itself
and is never the same."
by Judith Lynn
Publishers of posters and limited edition prints have a bit more leeway
in choosing art that is more varied and can include subjects that
may not be in great demand for licensed products. Still, classic images
are always at the core for publishers of wall art. As Meghan Faulkner
of Emeryville, CA-based Editions Limited says, "Staples, like
black and white floralsâ€”Sondra Wampler's work, for exampleâ€”are
always popular, regardless of the current trends. Wampler's work is
timeless and therefore is above fashion trends in the market."
So, which comes firstâ€”the wall art or the product? Faulkner answers,
"We certainly visit retail stores frequently and note art, as
well as accessories. Furniture and accessory trends are very important;
they point to future trends in the art world."
Sondra Wampler's black-and-white florals remain popular no matter
what the current trends are, says Meghan Faulkner of Limited
Editions. Shown here is Wampler's "Iceland Poppies I"
Royalties vary by product, but range from 3 to 10 percent, with home
decor at the low end of the royalty range, and prints and posters
at the high end. Obviously, an artist with proven name recognition
and consumer acceptance is going to generate more sales and may be
able to command a higher royalty. Royalties are paid on a quarterly
basis. An advance and guarantee may be part of the license. When offered,
an advance can vary from $50 to $2,500 per image, depending on the
product, and a guarantee can be from $5,000 on up, depending on the
extent of the product line. This agreement is beneficial for the artist
whose work might not sell, but who would still be compensated for
the time their imagery was tied up by the licensee.
An artist will earn from zero to $1 million or more in a year. There
is no way to predict exactly how much an artist will generate in a
given year. If an agent does offer such a prediction, then the artist
should be suspicious. Even if all indicators point to a successful
license, it is possible it will fall flat. Most companies will have
an internal number of minimum sales they must meet in order to keep
a design in the line. If the number is not met, the design or designs
6. Fame, I'm Gonna Live Forever (or not)
Many licensees conduct product testing in order to assess just how
popular a license will be before entering into an agreement with an
artist. "We occasionally test market the designs in which we
are investing quite a bit of time and money," says Fischer. "Even
though there may be trends out there to support the artwork, we want
to be sure the product makes a strong enough statement." Test
marketing is most often used if a number of images are planned for
an extensive line of product. This is necessary to the licensee and
makes economic sense.
Fischer continues, "Normally artwork that we think will be a
big hit does pretty well because there is a trend in the market that
backs it up. However, we occasionally have disappointed artists who
believe their artwork should have done better."
7. You're So Vain
Most licensees have at least one story of the archetypal difficult
artist or agent. It is imperative that an artist understands that
the licensee is working with many artists. For those artists who are
truly legends in their own minds, it should be noted that licensees
need cooperation from the artist and agent in order to move forward.
An artist who issues innumerable demands, does not provide needed
materials in a timely fashion, and is generally difficult, will not
have a long licensing career.
"Artists or agents who put limitations on the artwork or who
are extremely demanding before we even get a contract worked out,
usually end up being difficult to work with in the long run,"
This works both ways, however. That is, licensees must also adhere
to their promises in the agreement they have signed.
8. What's New Pussycat?
Today's new artist may be tomorrow's established artist. Carol Lee
Walker started her career in licensing with a few cat designs for
home decor. Today, Walker has licenses for a variety of products featuring
a myriad of subjects. She is, in fact, a licensee's dream who is known
for her versatility and cooperative nature.
"I know how necessary it is to keep up with trends and to constantly
supply new work," Walker says. "I can paint anything and
luckily, I just love to paint everyday." Artist Jeff Wilkie concurs.
Although known for his art, which features marine life, Wilkie is
equally adept at many subjects and realizes it is necessary to avoid
the "niche" label. He is aware that trends do indeed play
a part in licensee's choices. "I love to paint in general; it
is my passion," Wilkie says. "But I know I have to stay
in the loop of what is current."
9. My Way
If an artist truly won't be flexible in terms of their artwork, it
is best to avoid a licensing career. If an artist does not make licensing
a priority and does not act quickly to supply new imagery or make
changes to existing art, it will result in the artist being left at
the starting gate. An agent cannot work optimally with an artist who
is not committed. A better plan would be a gallery focus. This will
ensure that the artwork is sold exactly as painted, whether as originals
or limited edition prints. It is absolutely understandable that an
artist does not want their work changed at all. But unless the artist
is willing to accept this as a reality of licensing, they won't be
happy and neither will the artist's agent or licensee.
10. Don't Let It Get You Down
Try, and try again. It is important to keep trying. This is truly
a business where tenacity and innovation go hand in hand with talent
and luck. If art is not chosen in the first review, go back again
with a new look. As Editions Limited's Meghan Faulkner says, "It's
true that sometimes you can't predict what people will buy. But I
think artists understand thisâ€”sometimes it is all just in the timing.
A great artist might not sell this year, but may be a big hit the
Hindostone Products, Inc., 800-288-2191 www.coasterstone.com
Editions Limited, Inc., 800-228-0928 www.editionslimited.com
Persistence of Vision, Ltd., 201-287-2598 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org,
Judith Lynn, www.judithlynnart.com
Carol Walker, e-mail: email@example.com
Jeff Wilkie, www.jeffwilkie.com