The Art of Art Licensing
February 13, 2014
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While it may seem like a secret, art licensing is an extremely profitable industry. So what is it exactly? It's the process of licensing your patterns, artwork, images and graphics to companies. If you plan on becoming a freelance graphic designer, licensing is a way to generate extra income. Find out what licensing entails and how to find companies looking for artwork.
What Is Art Licensing and How Does It Work?
The designs, patterns, graphics and artwork printed on everything from mugs to T-shirts in your favorite stores have to come from somewhere. Not every manufacturing company has an in-house designer, or even wants one. When these companies want to license artwork, they draw up a contract between themselves (the licensees) and the artist (the licensor), who receives a percentage of the profit or royalties for every item sold with their artwork on it.
As you've no doubt noticed, artwork can be printed on nearly anything: postcards, bags, tablecloths, backpacks, stickers, clothing, you name it. Licensed artists need not limit their designs to production on just one type of item, although some merchandise lends itself better to certain types of artwork. For instance, pillows and wallpaper are more likely to feature patterns and flowers than fine art. If you are considering licensing, think about the types of merchandise that are best suited to your artwork. Chances are your work won't be marketable on just any item, although there are exceptions: One designer was surprised to find that her frog sketch was licensed to appear on a men's tie.
Kinds of Licensed Art
Although almost any kind of art can be licensed, you'll have to find an appropriate manufacturer or printer looking for artwork like yours. Do some research: Look in manufacturing trade magazines and in stores to find products manufacturers have already produced with licensed artwork. Analyze them and compare them to your own work. Pay attention to frequent color schemes and combinations in the artwork. If need be, tailor your work to fit a niche: you'll be more likely to get your work licensed that way.
Attend Trade Shows: One of the easiest ways to break into art licensing is by attending a surface design trade show such as Surtex. Manufacturers and agents frequent these shows to find new artwork for their products, and having a booth is an easy way to get noticed.
Get an Art Agent: Agencies such as Lilla Rogers specialize in finding new artists with appropriate styles for licensing. The downside is that agencies typically only accept a few artists a year. Do some research to see which agencies would be appropriate to represent your work. Once you have an agent, the agency will find art licensing projects for you — but remember they will take a percentage of your royalties.
Send Your Work Out: Conduct research on which companies would be interested in your work, then send promotional postcards to advertise. Remember to provide samples online as well, because you want potential licensees to review all your work. If you're not comfortable presenting all your samples to the public, create a password-protected section of your website and provide the password to potential licensees that are truly interested. Likewise, if you become a well-known designer, licensees may come looking for you instead.
Photo credit: Flickr