Ten years ago, when I started licensing my art, I thought that it meant that I could paint whatever I wanted, and someone would love it so much they'd put it on their products. Well, a decade later I have learned that isn't the case. I have learned that I have to gear my paintings to the manufacturors' needs if I want my art to get accepted. Yes, you should paint the subjects you love, but you have to keep in mind that you are creating the art to go on products. A lot of the artists that I meet tell me they want to get started licensing their art, but they seem to think that it is easy and takes very little effort. Rather like someone who told me once that she wanted to be a children's book illustrator, but she only wanted to illustrate the books that she herself had written. I suppose it boils down to if you consider art licensing a career or a hobby.
So, I thought I would talk about what it takes to be successful in licensing.
1. Do your homework! Remember, licensors are commercial artists. Manufacturors use our art because they want to sell their products. That means doing research to find out what actually sells on a particular type of product (and they are all different). For example, I do a lot of garden flags, which are vertical in format, so that's the kind of art I send.
2. Pay attention to what the clients say. After you have been doing this for a while, you will come to see that some of your work is more popular than others. Pay attention to that! For me, for some reason, clients seem to like the way I paint cats better than dogs (other people might be way more successful with dogs, I'm just talking about me here), so I paint more kittens than puppies. I have another client who doesn't like the color orange, so I don't send them any paintings of nasturtiums!
3. Build up your portfolio until you have a decent sized body of work. That way, if a manufacturor calls and asks for a specific subject matter that they need to do a presentation for their clients, I can send them several examples without having to do new work on spec. Its really frustrating to create a piece of work especially for a client's presentation and then they don't end up using it!
4. Be patient. Someone once told me that she was going to quit her job and start licensing her art, because she had enough money to live on for a year. I hated to tell her, but a year isn't long enough. Even if you got a contract tomorrow, it can take a year for the product to appear in the marketplace, and then another quarter before you begin seeing royalties. Someone told me once that on average it takes three years to become an "overnight success", and I must be kinda slow, because it took me longer than that (and I still have a long way to go)!
So what I am saying is that art licensing is a job, and you need to think of it that way. Like all jobs, it takes hard work and you need to educate yourself continually. However, it can be wonderfully rewarding too (and I'm not just talking financially here). The people who make the big bucks are few and far between, and of course we all admire them for their success. But licensing has other benefits to think about. I get to work at home, so I have no stressful commutes, and I can be around for my kids. It is very exciting to see my art on products. I get to meet fantastic people who work in the field. And best of all, I get to spend all day doing my favorite thing: painting!