Work Smarter, not Harder – How to License Your Art Part 1

Work Smarter, not Harder – How to License Your Art Part 1

Licensed with IndoBoard

Licensed with IndoBoard

LICENSING:  WORKING SMARTER, NOT HARDER! Is written by Maria Brophy, who writes a blog that helps creative people to design the career and life of their dreams.

Do you want to see your artwork on clothing and other useful items, but you aren’t quite ready to invest the million dollars it takes to start your own manufacturing company?

There’s an easier way to get your art out there in the world, but first, LET ME TELL YOU THE HARD WAY….

Drew always knew that his art looked great on clothing, and it’s a priority for him to make his art available to all people, even those who can’t afford originals.

In 2001 we developed our own line of clothing and art prints to sell to retailers.  We did well in the beginning – we grew our sales exponentially every quarter – we hired employees, got a large warehouse and started working 60-80 hours a week to run this little business.

And then the UNSPEAKABLE happened:  Drew stopped painting.  There were too many other things a clothing company CEO needed to do.  And the art suffered.  And we were miserable!

Then, we discovered the beauty of licensing.

What is licensing? It is a great way to get your art onto a variety of products without actually having to manufacture, sell or warehouse those products.  You simply grant limited rights to a manufacturer to put your art on their products, and they pay a royalty in return for those rights.

Our first official license was with Wham O for kids’ boogie boards.  And thats when we had our epiphany – Why work harder when we could work smarter?  Why not contract with other companies who would do all that tedious manufacturing stuff , and we can do what we do best – create art! We shut down our wholesale division, let go our employees, got rid of the warehouse, and focused entirely on licensing.

And that’s when we really began to enjoy what we were doing, as well as taking our mandatory 8 weeks of vacation a year.

So, how do you get into the world of Licensing? Manufacturers have to have reason to believe that by placing your art on their products, they will sell more products.   The trick is to build up your brand strong enough so you can attract quality manufacturers who already sell to large numbers of retailers.

What manufacturers can I license with? Just about anyone.  We currently have over 30 manufacturers who produce products with Drew’s art.  They include:  cell phone screensavers, Sigg water bottles, Converse shoes, apparel, skateboards, surfboards, boogie boards, guitars, laptop skins, Indo-board, Nirve bikes, etc.

How much money can I make? Wyland did $100 million in licensing in 2007.  We didn’t come close, but it’s our goal to hit that number in a few years.  How much you make depends on how strong your art/brand is, and how many high-volume deals you get.  Some of our licensees pay us $20,000 a quarter, some pay us only $300 a quarter, and the rest are all over the board.  The key to high revenues is licensing your art to companies that sell large quantities to a large number of retailers.

What do I need to do to get started? Licensing can be complicated, and there are steps that must be taken to be successful at it.

1.) Create a strong body of work with many images, having a distinct style that’s recognizable as your own.  Build on yourself as a brand.  (More on this in other articles.)

2.)  Make a plan as to how you want your licensing program to work, what types of companies you want to license with, where you want your art to be sold,where you don’t want it to be sold, etc.

3.)  Educate yourself on how licensing works.  Get familiar with the contractual language and the general way the deals are made.

4.)  Always retain ownership to the copyrights of your artwork.

5.) GET PREPARED to Present:  You’ll need a style guide, or a grouping, of 10-12 images of a similar theme, in order to approach a potential licensee.  Don’t ever go to a potential licensee and show them just 2 or 3 images. It’s not enough and you’ll lose credibility.

6.)  Attend Licensing International in Las Vegas, NV in June.  Walk the show, see whats going on, and most importantly, attend the seminars there.  There are licensing seminars there that are worth every penny you pay.

7.)  Read, read, read, read:  I know, no fun.  But it’s necessary for you to understand how it all works.  Below are books that I refer to constantly:

Licensing Art and Design: A Professional’s Guide to Licensing and Royalty Agreements by Caryn R. Leland – it’s a simple read with great information.  The most valuable info I find is the average % of royalties for each different product.  (Royalties range from 3% to 20%, depending on the product and other factors.  Posters tend to get 15%, where t-shirts are only 6-8%.)

Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines (Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines)Every artist should own this  book.  It’s literally the bible for all things art, commercial and otherwise.  It covers quite a bit on licensing.

8.)  Take online classes on licensing.  There are a few available through – I’ve taken her online classes and they are good.  Use attorneys to help you put together contracts.

9.)  Locate the companies you want to license with, and sell them on the idea that your art will make them greater revenues should they license it from you.

10.)  Don’t be afraid to make a mistake with your first few licenses.  You’ll make mistakes, and you’ll learn from them.

maria-headshot-with-glassesBe notified when a new blog is posted on these topics:  follow me on Twitter!

Feel free to ask questions or comment in the comment section below.

Spunk Brophy

“Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” Andy Warhol

Spread the love
  • Randy Wimbush calling in
    Posted at 04:39h, 10 July

    50yrs artist i’m understanding now it’s time to release my art style. Many people commented on my art needs the woled to see and criticize as well as to reflect or compare their personalities or their strengnuous lfes struggles. I was afraid to release my art until I’ve read a numerous articles. I just passed up an offer to do an company logo and connections for several others. I’m now considering to start my company and get LLC .

  • Sherif
    Posted at 07:37h, 20 May

    Hello, I was just wondering if its possible to license many designs of the same concept or do companies like variety of different? The thing is, my designs are based on one idea (I have different design ideas for the same concept of the design), but every one of the designs are aesthetically different and detailed differently. Also, is it possible for another company to license the same kind of designs if another company is already getting my artwork? Thanks for your response.

  • Lisa Frances Judd
    Posted at 16:10h, 18 February

    Hi Maria,

    I have been following your posts for a while and Drew’s artwork is wonderful, imaginative and fun (my type of Art).

    Can I ask? Do you do offer Art reviews for Artists interested in Licencing? I would be very keen to have you have a look at my portfolio to see what you think stands out for licensing potential. Thanks, Lisa 🙂

  • Rose
    Posted at 04:37h, 24 October

    Thanks so much for the post! What awesome information! I’ve been looking for a way to make money with art, and licensing is something I will begin working towards. Now it’s time to develop my style and build my brand. It’s going to be a fun journey.

  • Jayme Rones
    Posted at 10:05h, 24 June

    Great Article looking fo rnew companies to work with Sally Huss Art work…..

    Posted at 19:12h, 19 December

    Wow! You’re my heroes. I want to be just like you when I grow up! Seriously, your posting provides so much great information. I want to take the plunge next year and approach companies for licensing. I’m showing in galleries in San Francisco Now and definitely would love to see my art on tshirts, boards, etc. Thank you so much for your insight.

  • Ashley Brake
    Posted at 10:19h, 23 March

    I would LOVE to get my art licensed and this article has given me a step forward and a light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you for your intelligent, insightful article.

    Sincerely, Ashley Brake

  • Momcredible
    Posted at 20:55h, 23 January

    I LOVE , LOVE , LOVE this article. I was just talking to my husband about a project that I am working on, and wanting to get licensed. This helped me tremendously!

  • Aaron
    Posted at 04:07h, 09 September

    Hey, I searched for this blog on Bing and just wanted to say many thanks for the superb read. I would have to agree with it, many thanks once more!

  • Cole Rossouw
    Posted at 18:35h, 11 August

    Thanks sooooo much for this helpful afrticle. I’ve been struggling for 10 years to get my works out… actually i kept it very private as it was a personal spiritual experience that propelled me to paint more than 200 paintings… i really want to start licensing my images as people are inspired by them and some actually experience personal enlightenment by them.

    Please tell me what you think.

    Thanks again Spunk.


  • Tom
    Posted at 12:43h, 26 October

    This was the first article that I used for information on licensing. Your website got me excited about this new world of licensing.

    THANK YOU!!!

  • Dr. David W. Powers
    Posted at 10:17h, 13 May

    Awesome advice! When I make my first million in licensing, I’ll give you guys all the credit for the inspiration and practical advice.

  • Jay Alders
    Posted at 19:22h, 10 May

    Great article Maria… I concur !

  • Tara Reed
    Posted at 13:03h, 10 May

    Great post about licensing! I too, license my art and love not being tied down production, accounting and shipping activities.

    I wanted to let you know about a resource I’ve been building to help artists learn more about licensing as well – lots of free and low cost resources by artists in the industry.

    Thanks for helping spread the word about the beauty of licensing!

    Tara Reed, Licensed Artists

  • Debbie
    Posted at 06:58h, 09 May

    That was a great article, Spunk. Can’t wait for the next installment!

Post A Comment