by Bob Bahr
Mailbox money. Does that sound like a good thing to you? The idea is that you have already done the artwork, now others are working to sell it in numerous places, and all you have to do is check your mailbox for your next check. It may not change your living conditions, but it might just pay for a vacation. So why not make your artwork work for you?
At SKB’s 2019 Artist Rendezvous & Workshop, held in September in Dubois, Wyoming, Angela Sauro Davis found herself booked up with fine artists interested in her knowledge and services as a licensing agent. She conducted free one-on-one sessions with artists, and she led a presentation that served as an introduction to art licensing.
Davis is the president of Ansada Licensing Group, LLC, which represents artists such as John Seerey-Lester, Kyle Sims, Rod Lawrence, Carl Brenders, Linda Bittner, Guy Combes, Valerie Rogers, Paco Young, and Daniel Smith. She cautions that many art licensing agents, including her, have areas of expertise, but if your artwork is suitable for use on merchandise, there’s probably an agent right for you out there in the marketplace.
Davis has concentrated on wildlife art, but a quick look at some of her clients shows that she utilizes landscapes, figurative, and other genres as well. “Wildlife is our strength and our category, but there is definitely a market for landscape, figurative, seasonal, floral, and Western subjects,” she says. “It is skewed toward traditional, representational art, and things that appear to be tighter and more detailed do indeed do well. Color does well. But overall, one of the strengths for a licensing pieces is to have a little more complex composition.”
Her presentation demystified the topic of licensing for many SKBers. Davis explained that licensing is the leasing of intellectual properties for additional compensation. She pointed out that licensing introduces your work to a much broader and often different market from your painting sales market. And once your art shows up in one product, it can easily show up in another. “Calendars support puzzles which support textiles –they all support each other,” says Davis.
Part of her message was clearly a plea for artists to understand that there are many entities out there who will take from artists without compensation–just because that is how society views visual art–but artists don’t have to accept this. “If your art is adding value to their product or service, you should be paid for it,” Davis states. “Recognition and exposure are rarely worth it, except in the case when the exposure is directly to your target market. If you are asked to do a cover or illustration for a magazine, get paid for it. Keep in mind that even charities are businesses. Yes, they may use your work to solicit donations, but these uses should not necessarily be free. They pay many others who provide services; artists should not be expected to work for free. They have budgets. Artists can choose their charities of choice, of course, but the general expectation is to be paid unless the artist chooses otherwise.”
Davis dropped a lot of wisdom on the assembled in Headwaters Arts & Convention Center. Here are a few more points.
- In regard to royalties, the artist must trust the company. “The way it works is they say they had so much in sales, and they give you the royalties based on those sales figures. You have to be able to trust the licensees you choose to work with. You can audit them, but that is expensive and ruins a relationship.”
- Some of your old gems could make you money. Davis recommends showing your full portfolio to a prospective licensing agent. “Clients of the agent [licensees] will pick what they want, and it doesn’t matter when you painted it. So capture your images in hi-res digital photographs. Pieces can be photographed in a professional studio for under $100 now. And hi-res is critical, because you can’t send originals. Having those hi-res images is good for retrospectives, too, so keep photos of that early work.”
- The options for merchandise featuring your work are myriad, including puzzles, cards, calendars, books, journals, coasters, mugs, crafts, fabric, textiles, and collectibles, including sculptures, keepsakes, and non-original wall art such as posters, printed canvas, metal, wood, and porcelain.
- Licensing agents insist that both the artwork and any photographic reference used to make the art must be yours and yours only.
- The companies that are printing your work on all this varied merchandise prefer two work with an agent. They want to work with licensing agents, especially the ones with whom they are familiar. “The work tends to be more organized and fully curated for them with a licensing agent,” Davis says. “They can also gain access to more artwork and artists with one stop.”
After this full explanation, different than what has been historically true of limited edition prints, Davis also points out that an artist can go it alone when it comes to limited edition prints. “If you want to make money off limited edition wall art, do it yourself if you can,” she says. “You may only sell a few on demand, but why not? Generally speaking, you’ll make more per piece and even in total. When you have a relationship with a client, they love to buy from an artist directly, and wall art is the most efficient way to do that these days since you can print as you need them.”
The print on demand model has its place in the market, allowing artists and manufacturers to create products as their customers purchase it. However, there are manufacturers that many of us have been exposed to that offer to put a photo of your dog, or one of your paintings, or a politician in pink pajamas—virtually anything you want on a mug, towel, plate, clothing, you name it. Davis is, by and large, unimpressed. “We’ve seen that there’s a tremendous amount of art on these sites and its not curated, so the pool is very wide. Quality can be an issue, as well as how the image is placed on an item. You may be disappointed in what you get. But the biggest thing is it’s not curated. Many—not all–take everything and throw it against the wall to see what sticks.”
But mostly, it comes down to this, from Davis:
“Why not do it yourself? Because it is not a good use of your time. You should be making art.” Ω