I am often asked whether an artist should look for and work with an art licensing agent, and the follow-up question is usually “how do I find one?” I first heard of art licensing in 2008, and it was quite by happenstance. I was attending a craft fair/artisan market, and my booth was approached by a nice couple. They spent quite some time in my booth, giggling at some of the quotes I had, and at one point the woman was moved to tears with a sympathy card I had. We spoke for a short time before they confessed they were the owners of a couple of Hallmark stores, and really liked my work. They were interested in carrying some of it in their stores. My heart skipped a beat! I asked how we could do it, and they explained they bought all of their product from wholesale manufacturers, and never from “artisans”. My stomach had that sinking feeling, but only for a second! They said they worked closely with RUSS in Canada (remember, RUSS BERRIE, the Teddy Bear people?), and they said they could get me a meet with the owners there, and that maybe they could be convinced to manufacture my work. And so it began…
It was through that chance encounter and referral that I learned of art licensing. My next few months were a whirlwind! I met with the RUSS president and manufacturing department, and soon I was offered a contract! It was my first gift industry/stationery contract ever, and it was a 5 YEAR CONTRACT! Luckily, my first task was to adapt many of my existing designs to fit numerous products they would be having manufactured. Phew. That gave me a taste of what was needed. But then the real work started: fresh new designs for a market I found I actually knew very little about, other than the one-on-one sales I had been doing at craft markets.
Thus began Phase 2, learning more about the gift industry. I dedicated all the free time I had to learning more. I was still working full time as a high-school teacher. I had recently divorced. And I had three young girls, age spread of approx. 10 years, so I was attending all of their activities, ranging from Varsity Athletics to elementary school choir practices. I was so thankful when my 16 year old got her drivers’ license! I spent many hours on-line and found every reference I could. I read blogs and did reconnaissance by visiting any gift shop in the area. Any product I could imagine my art on, I would flip over and find out who the manufacturer was. Then I would go home and check that artist and company out on-line.
And I designed like crazy! I always had a sketchbook with me, so whenever I had a chance, I was working on new designs. RUSS created sell sheets and catalogues of my work as we developed the new lines. It was exciting and I was energized. It was a great way to help support my family. It was so exciting to go into gift shops and see my work available on multiple products and custom display racks. All the products had my logo as well as the RUSS logo. I attended huge gift shows and learned much about the industry by talking to the salespeople who were selling my work right across the country and potential buyers of my art. Times were good for a few years, but then…
…RUSS Canada suddenly closed its doors. What a shock! My contract hadn't ended yet, but I was left high and dry. I was devastated.
In the end, there was nothing I could do. Even though the US and Australian RUSS were still up and running, I was not contracted to them, so I didn't make any headway with recouping lost royalties. I was unable to collect on products still being sold in stores outside of Canada. It was grim. So after a few months, I had to cut my losses, put on my big girl panties, and move on.
The whole experience had be so demoralizing, but I now had the taste for art licensing, and I knew I wanted to continue being part of that world. The only problem was, I really had no idea where to start. Through a lot of trial and error, and tons of research I have found my way, and in a direction I had no idea I would go. Follow my blog to keep up with this story, and I will share my entire journey. I am working on a couple of new Skillshare classes to help artists looking to get into licensing, so if that is you, come on back for the next instalment of my story and advice!