Imagine walking into a store and your artwork is just everywhere. How proud would your mama be? What if your artwork was printed on the cover of a novel, or your design was printed on a line of cushions? A less considered avenue of an artists quest for hitting the big times and finally accumulating a great deal of passive income, is licensing their images. This can actually be very lucrative for the right artist. Artists often get distracted by selling their physical artwork and working on commissions as a way to make money from their art. But here, you can find tips and expert advice for how to get your artwork seen on products that you didn't have to make yourself.
So, what exactly is Licensing?
Essentially, it's like renting your art to product manufacturers. American Artist and experienced art licensor, Tara Reed quite simply describes it "making art for stuff that you can buy in stores" in her very informative interview with Abundant Artist, Cory Huff.
How to get started...
1. Make a Collection
If getting your artwork on products sounds good to you, then you'll want to start create a Style Guide. This is artwork that can work together in a collection of about 10 pieces. Artist and art business consultant Laura C. George wrote on The Artwork Archive and suggests that Style Guides will make you appear more professional, and most manufacturers will ask for one, so be prepared. Manufacturers, similar to galleries are more likely to take you on if your pieces are in a similar style rather than one off pieces that are wildly different from one another.
Full-time artist Natasha Wescoat wrote on Lateral Action and suggests you can create a digital catalogue. So if you've got the chops and know what your doing in Photoshop, smack your art onto some product mock-ups and give your manufacturers and idea of what your art could look like on some of their most common products.
2. Get copyrights for the work
Sarah Feingold on an Art Business post mentions that in the US, you may need to register with a Copyright Office to purchase a Certificate of Registration. This is a public record that establishes evidence of a valid copyright. This is what most us manufacturers will require in order to secure licensing deals with you. It also allows you to take legal action against copyright infringement. The registration process can take up to 8 months, so you might want to consider negotiating the contracts and artwork with the manufacturer in the meantime, and then sign the contracts once you've got the certificates.
Lucky for those of us in the UK though, we don't need to register for any such copyright certificates. You automatically get copyright protection when you create an original piece of work, no need to apply or pay a fee as there is no register of copyright in the UK. All you need to do is mark your work with that little symbol (c), your name, and the year you created it. But whether or not you mark it with the symbol, you're still protected.
There is no type of international Certificate of Copyright, though most manufacturers will also honour the US certificate, but you may want to check with you
3. Make a list of manufacturers and reach out
So, now you could decide which companies you'll want to work with. Imagine if your fave brand used your art on a product! Anything can happen actually, so create a list of companies you want to work with, that may have previously used work similar ro yours or those you feel could fit your niche. Approach them with an email which not only expresses your enthusiasm and has links (not attachments) to your work, but also shows how and why they should work with you. Why should they want to? What's in it for them? Present the benefits.
Where to look:
Creep on some Artists - Look for manufacturers that other artists in your niche have already worked with. Comb through the artists website and look for any stores they've stocked with or are licensed with. Laura C. George also suggests searching the artist on Google and taking a look to see what products they have their art on and doing some investigating to find out who manufactured them.
Poke around in stores - Walk into some shops, and have a look at the products that have the most artworks, patterns and designs on them. You could either approach the brand directly or take a peek under the item or inside the label, to see what info or name is printed on it. Contact those people.
Google it - you could note the product that you saw in store and do a google search for that product type, and see what manufacturers pop up. For instance, I saw a lamp shade with some birds printed on it, so I could google "Lamp shade artwork" or "Lamp Manufacturers" and see which companies come up from those search terms, and take of any that are commonly featuring printed products.
4. Read and Sign the Contracts & Agreements
Okay, we know contracts are kinda scary, but they are super important when it comes to giving your art to companies that are supposed to redistribute your artwork. Contracts will vary a whole lot between different business so be sure to read it all, and make sure you understand it! It's not always necessary to issue in a lawyer to read it but that's ultimately your choice. Agreements may be one page long or can be 15 pages long, its all going to be different.
The gyst of your contract will outline the basic W's, Who's going to to use it, What products will they be using it for, What countries, cities, or stores will they be using it in, When they'll be using it, How long for, How many items, etc. This is supposed to be thorough in order to further protect you and your work. Contracts can be written by the company and renegotiated by you, or vice versa. So make sure you read it and know what it all means.
5. Do a Happy Dance!
If you land a licensing deal for your art, you should be super proud of yourself! Because we are, and hope this article helped you land it. Once all is said and done and your products are available for sale, do your part to market it too. Share links to products on social media and obviously publish links to it on your art website. So long as it's been agreed by the manufacturer and doesn't interfere with any rules in your contract.
Some suggested resources to help you out even more:
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Thanks for reading, and don't forget to share your art with us by submitting your work or tag #darkyellowdot on Instagram @darkyellowdot
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lauren was born in London, but grew up in Canada where she received her degrees with distinction in Fine Arts and Education. Now she's back, she continues her work in creative arts by making art and teaching it, while developing opportunities for early career artists by creating and running the online platform Dark Yellow Dot.