Home | Business | Why Are Some People Great at Licensing Art?
Business Industry

Why Are Some People Great at Licensing Art?

licensing art

Wherever you are right now, look around and you’ll likely see dozens of products that license some type of design element; maybe it’s a photo on the cover of a book, the geometric pattern on a scarf, the graphic design of a product label, or the illustrations on a holiday card.  We are so inundated with marketing that we forget that all the imagery is the result of someone’s creative expression.  In the majority of cases, that person is a freelancer who persuaded a manufacturer to license their creative work. Those creators who know how to tap into it the $7 billion dollar industry of art licensing, are well rewarded.  Licensing can help creators fill in the gaps when art sales are slow or in a seasonal slump, providing the extra income to pay the bills, and deliver a continuing revenue stream based on royalties, not work.

There is no shortage of opportunities for those that want to enter the licensing market, but it does take some discipline and a bit of preparation. The cliché’ throw enough mud against a wall and see what sticks, rarely works. The most successful licensors are methodical, taking the time to research the various industries, finding those that best fit their type of creative work, discover which companies are the most likely buyers, and then reach out to the corporate decision makers, already knowing that their creative work is the type that those decision makers are likely to license.  They also create work for the industries rather than repurposing old work.  As we will discuss, the licensees’ wants and needs are very different from traditional consumers of creative works like art buyers, ad agency or graphic design shops. What to create and how to present it is as important as knowing who to will license the work.  License Art

The process may sound overwhelming but it actually isn’t very difficult, although like any other startup business, the process can take some time at the beginning. Thankfully, the Internet is filled with excellent resources that can help the budding licensor get started much faster and with far less effort than in the past.

The Push and Pull: Creativity vs. Merchandise

For the most part, a good licensing strategy tries to strike a balance between the various product types available for licensing and the creator’s artistic style. Only certain manufacturers or retailers may have products that compliment an artist design aesthetic but ultimately, it is the decision maker that needs to be a fan of the creator’s work.  Discovering which manufactures are the most appropriate targets and who the decision makers is important because it allows you to waste less time on those who will not be interested and spend more time on the people that matter.  So it is important not to rush the industry analysis.  Remember that the initial target development only needs to happen once unless you decide to expand into other industries, at which point, hopefully, you are generating a steady royalty income already.  Remember, with licensing each sale generates a royalty.  Art licensors do not have to create something for each sale, but can have multiple income streams from multiple licensed designs while letting someone else do the selling.

A Methodical Approach to Licensing

Before we look at the licensing process, let’s review two of the terms so we don’t get them confused. Licensors are the “artistic creators” – the ones that hold the copyrights to the creative work. Licensors are the ones who will grant the use of the creative work for use on products. The grant will be in the form of a contract, which may be signed directly with a manufacturer or through an intermediary, such as a licensing agent, who will be given certain rights to negotiate and license the creator’s work.  However, the licensor will always have the final say before the intermediary can finalize any agreement. A “licensee” is the company licensing the work.  The licensee is generally the product manufacturer, who may also be the retailer (the one selling the product to consumers), although manufacturers are often wholesalers who sell the products to various retailers.  There may also be an intermediary for the licensee with the right to negotiate on behalf of the licensee.  In some cases, there may be multiple licensees. For example, a film company making a movie from a popular book may license an artist’s work for the movie poster and a publishing house may license the same work for the cover of the next edition of the book.

Step 1. The first step is always the most difficult and daunting in any new endeavor; that is “where do I even begin?” Licensing is a big topic with many facets. Don’t go into it without learning as much about licensing as you can.  On the one hand, like anything, the more you know about it, the more effective you can be.  But more importantly, the more you know about it, the better you will be able to decide if it is the right business for you.  If you don’t feel like it is something that you can make interesting and enjoyable everyday, you won’t be successful.  (However, as you’ll see later, hiring an agent may be a happy compromise for many of you.)

As for finding information on licensing, that is a fairly easy task; artists are blogging about it, people are teaching online classes, and of course, there is always Google and Amazon.  Type “art licensing” into Amazon’s Kindle search and you’ll find aseveral excellent books on the topic. On top of the list you’ll see 20 Steps to Art Licensing, a quick, 60-page read, which at $2.99 is a bargain.  Second on the list is License to Draw a 126-page eBook costing a mere $9.99. Both are rated at 4 1/2 stars.  These books will help give you an overall sense of the licensing market and provide some of the strategies that made the authors successful.  A word of warning, though: don’t rely on just one source. Every author will have their own unique approach so read a few, or at least skim different resources.  Pay particular attention to the information or strategies that all the resources have in common as those will likely be the most indispensable. You might also want to look at some licensing blogs. Some of the more informative are MariaBrophy.com, ArtsyShark.com and the All Art Licensing Blog.

Art that SellsDeveloping the strategy and tactics to license your artwork is at its core, a marketing function.  So it doesn’t hurt to get a little general marketing under your belt.  Understanding the basic marketing principles can only help you to develop a successful licensing strategy.  To learn marketing basics, check out Skillshare, the online classroom for creators.  The site has several marketing classes but one of the best is the  Modern Marketing Workshop. Don’t miss it if you have the opportunity. Another great course is Make Art that Sells.

Step 2. Once you have a good handle on the licensing industry, (you don’t need to be an expert, that will happen over time) start looking at which industries and product categories you would like to see license your work. And, just like you did for the licensing industry, the next step will be to pick targeted industries and learn as much as you can about them. The idea here is to discover which industries are the most likely to license your type of work, or the work that you know you can create.  Then, find those companies that are doing the most licensing.  The important part here is to be honest with yourself.  All too often, people find ways to justify the direction they take because it is what they want to happen, but want should go hand in hand with the potential for success.  Discovering what not to do is as important as discovering what to do.

In this step, start by making a list of industries and product categories that interest you and that you intuitively feel would benefit from your work.  Some work lends itself better to particular industries.  For instance, if your art is surface designs or patterns, it makes sense to look at fabric companies, or clothing accessories like scarves, or even gift wrapping.  Illustrators find success in book covers and greeting cards, which is a huge and lucrative industry. Graphic designers can look at home decor or t-shirts.  Your final list may be long depending upon the type of work, so the next step is to narrow down the selection, choosing only a few to focus on. Use your instincts taking into account those industries that you find interesting, that you think would be profitable, that you can see creating work for, and that you can handle given the time you intend to put into this effort. If the industry is highly lucrative, it is also probably very competitive and so it may not be the best place to start. You can tackle those industries when you have more experience.

With those industries in your head, start by looking at the variety of products being sold, while at the same time, paying particular attention to those that have designs which are similar to your work.  The companies selling those products are the most likely to want to license your work.  Compile a list of those companies but be sure to list the manufacturer, not necessarily the online store selling the items.  Also, be sure that your work compliments the product line and isn’t too similar. You want your work to broaden the company’s portfolio. Silk cushions

Once you have your company list, we need to find out if they actually license their designs, or do them in house.  There is no point in targeting a company that does all the designs internally or just doesn’t have enough products to make it worth your effort.  But most important, you need to discover the decision maker; the person responsible for licensing at that company.  Start with the companies website.  Then use Google to do some basic searches.  Pat attention ot local newspapers and blogs, especially if the companies are in rural communities and are always big news for the locals.

Try some of the trade industry publication websites.  A fantastic resource, juts for the licensing industry, is License! Global Magazine, the premier publication and news source for the licensing industry.  Use their “license finder,” or their company lists.  Reviewing their list of the Top 100 Global licensees may also give you some additional information on companies you might wish to target.  If you are serious about licensing, become a member. Another excellent resource is the Licensing Letter Source Book, a directory of licensing decision makers. According to their website, the Sourcebook listings include 1,467 licensors and details of the properties they own and the agents who represent them, 1,637 manufacturers listing the licenses they hold and the products they manufacture, 678 licensing agents and the properties they represent, and 686 consultants and attorneys Its a bit pricey $469 for the digital version, but it could be helpful depending upon your industry targets.  There are many other databases you can access on the web as well.  Foe example, the LIMA Licensing DataBase (International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association) maintains a list of licensees but you must join LIMA to access it.

Finally, consider attending industry trade shows. You can see the various products being offered and often meet some of the decision makers, who usually attend. License! Global, holds a trade show, Licensing Expo, just for the licensing industry. This year it is at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas from June 9-11th.

Step 3.  Weed out some of the less desirable companies, focusing on a core set. For these companies, we already know that they will be receptive to your work, but do they have the have the sales potential to warrant your efforts. Whatever information you can find on their sales and their licensing practices will be helpful. Everything from sales figures how much they may have paid for a license will help you decide whether the company has enough potential for you to spend time trying to get to the right people. Befriend people at trade shows, look on industry message boards, read comments people may have left in a website’s comments section. If you cannot find much information, but you feel they are a company you would like to see license your work, then target the company anyway.  There are no hard and fast rules, just make the best decisions you can based on the available information.

 In part 2 we will look at what to do once you have done your research and have picked your targets.  I will also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of hiring a licensing agent, and provide some basics on calculating royalties.

About the author

Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Attorney with a background in marketing, Steve has a unique perspective on art and law. Should you have any questions on Intellectual Property contact him at [email protected] His photography can be seen online at Fotofilosophy.com or on display at the Emmanuel Fremin Gallery in New York City.


Click here to post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

{{Privy:Embed campaign=133844}}

The Latest From Artrepreneur

  • Why Storytelling is Crucial for Artists

    Artists who identify and satisfy our ongoing search for meaning by describing art they create have already discovered this crucial truth: artists that engage in storytelling create a compelling reason for collectors and admirers to invest in their […]

  • Is Virtual Reality the Future of Art?

    As virtual reality takes hold of the film industry, artists, galleries, and cultural institutions are incorporating VR art as a component of their program or practice. We take a look at this growing trend in the art world. The post Is Virtual […]

  • Craft An Art Director Portfolio That Gets You Booked

    A well-curated art director portfolio is what potential clients and hiring managers are really paying attention to when looking for new talent. Creative Circle recruiter Gabriela Williams offers her insight for putting your best work forward. The […]

  • Four Artist Open Calls to Apply to This Summer

    Artists seeking to get their work in front of gallerists and collectors might consider applying to an open call this summer. From London to Miami, find out what curators are looking for in these four artist open calls and get your work in front of a […]

  • Four Communication Skills Every Art Student Should Master

    As an art student, you are quickly learning that effectively communicating your artistic vision is key to your success. Here, we review the four communication skills every artist should master, from interpersonal and writing skills to becoming a […]

  • How [and Where] Can I License Artwork?

    Licensing art is a common practice among artists seeking additional revenue streams. Here, we discuss the details of a typical artist licensing agreement and offer suggestions for companies you may want to approach with your work. The post How [and […]

  • Aerial Photographer Antoine Rose on Self-Funding, Selling Work

    Producing work is arduous, expensive and often challenging for Antoine Rose, a fine art aerial photographer that's shot aerial images of some of the world's most bustling landscapes. Here, he goes into detail about how he finances each project, and […]

  • How to Develop a Buzzworthy Artist Branding Strategy

    Apart from talent, artists require a certain level of “buzz” in order to progress to new levels of recognition in their art careers. Creating an artist branding strategy can elevate your work to a wider audience, and generate new interest and […]

  • Five Emerging Asian Artists to Watch

    In recent years, contemporary Asian artists are finding greater recognition in the eyes of the Western art market. We review the emerging Asian artists to watch, including Phi Phi Oanh, Donna Ong, and more. The post Five Emerging Asian Artists to […]

  • This Service Connects the Emerging Photographer With New Clients

    If you're an emerging photographer looking for steady work, Wonderful Machine can help you get your work in front of thousands of potential clients. Find out how this monthly subscription service can help you streamline your art business. The post […]

  • An Animation Artist’s Journey from College to Career

    Animation artist Mack O'Conor used his time at art school to hone his technical skills and develop his professional goals. Here, he shares his advice for navigating the college experience, from developing a solid portfolio to choosing the right art […]

  • Searching for Studio Spaces? Heed These Five Tips

    From location and ventilation to the community working within, artists searching for studio spaces should consider a variety of factors before signing on the dotted line. Independent artists and studio managers share their best strategies for […]

  • How Can I Fund Art Exhibitions and Other Projects? [Part I]

    We review the necessary steps artists seeking to fund art projects must take before they solicit financing partners, and review three key methods frequently used to fund art projects – self-funding, crowdsourcing, and fiscal sponsorship. The post […]

  • Award-Winning Makeup Artist Julie Teel’s Rise From Fashion School to Film Set

    Entirely self-taught, makeup artist Julie Teel went from studying fashion design to working as a key makeup artist on shows like 30 Rock and Gossip Girl. Here, she shares her advice for navigating the industry, from landing word-of-mouth referrals […]

  • Creative Placemaking: Art as a Genesis for Civic Transformation

    Metropolitan growth across the United States is often fueled by access to arts and culture. Artists play a pivotal role in this phenomenon, known as creative placemaking. Here, we discuss creative placemaking as a way to engage residents locally […]

  • How to Earn Your Living as a Travel Photographer

    The prospect of traveling the world while getting paid to work may seem farfetched, but these two photographers have the ticket to landing freelance creative work across the globe. Here, Andy Donohoe and Michaela Trimble share their advice for […]

  • A Recruiter’s Advice for your Video or Motion Design Reel

    Creative Circle recruiter Brooks Rowlett sifts through hundreds of motion design reels and video editor portfolios each week. Here, he shares his best advice for motion designers and video editors looking to land their next big gig. The post A […]

  • From Tattoo Artist to Brand Empire: The Rise of the Ink Mogul

    The savvy tattoo artist uses brand recognition to launch a multimedia business. These four artists have leveraged their underground celebrity status to build a brand empire, complete with product lines, book deals, and TV contracts. The post From […]

  • Exploring the Intersection of Art and Technology

    The advent of technology is re-shaping the practice of art. These educational institutions, artists, and startups are exploring art and technology's convergence in today's increasingly digital world. The post Exploring the Intersection of Art and […]

  • Work with an Artist Mentor to Get Your Career on Track

    Many of the world's most recognized artists sought inspiration and guidance from their peers. Gain insight into your practice and learn about the business of art by finding an artist mentor whose career aligns with your own vision for success. The […]

  • Why Artists Need to Make Copyright Registration a Priority

    Sharing, posting, and distributing your work online is easier than ever - but often times, visual artists find themselves dealing with online piracy issues as a result of that practice. Initiating a copyright registration routine can curb the […]

  • How Artists on Social Media Can Grow Their Following

    By sticking to the tenets of the social media pyramid, artists on social media can develop an engaged audience. The post How Artists on Social Media Can Grow Their Following appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • How [and Where] to Submit an Art Fair Application

    Submitting an art fair application doesn't have to be an arduous process. We break down which fairs are currently accepting submissions, and how you should apply. The post How [and Where] to Submit an Art Fair Application appeared first on […]

  • The Paperwork Behind Your Art Business [Part I]

    In this ongoing series, we'll review the various documents needed to get your art business up and running. First up: Crafting your artist proposal. The post The Paperwork Behind Your Art Business [Part I] appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • A Creative Career Coach Outlines a Strategy for the Working Artist

    Marc Zegans coaches artists planning the next move in their art careers. Here, he shares his proven approach for developing your practice as a working artist. The post A Creative Career Coach Outlines a Strategy for the Working Artist appeared first […]

  • Artists Who Failed – And Found Success Anyway

    Some of the world's most successful artists weren't always so revered. Meet five artists who failed to develop their art careers during their lifetime. The post Artists Who Failed – And Found Success Anyway appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • How Do Online Content Moderation Policies Treat Nudity in Art?

    As Facebook's online content moderation policies come under fire, we review creative platform Orangenius' policy on nudity in art. The post How Do Online Content Moderation Policies Treat Nudity in Art? appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Self Employed? Five Ways To Get Into the Creative Habit

    Self-employed artists don't always leave room for inspiration. Boost productivity and get into the creative habit with these proven strategies. The post Self Employed? Five Ways To Get Into the Creative Habit appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • A Creative in a Corporate Organization: Related Group’s Art Department

    In this ongoing series, we explore the creative roles available in the most unlikely of corporations. Our first installment talks to Patricia Hanna, the Art Director of Related Group. The post A Creative in a Corporate Organization: Related […]

  • Five Alternative Income Strategies for Independent Artists

    Independent artists shouldn't have to go hungry. We explore five alternative income streams to keep your art business on track. The post Five Alternative Income Strategies for Independent Artists appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Creative Designer Cat Lo on Executing Your Vision

    Creative designer Cat Lo works in a variety of design mediums. She shares her insight on balancing client expectations with creativity and setting freelance rates. The post Creative Designer Cat Lo on Executing Your Vision appeared first on […]

  • How One Graphic Designer Lands Gigs with the World’s Most Recognized Brands

    Graphic designer Carolina Niño shares her insight on working with brands like Adidas and Wired, while dishing on her recent collaboration with Colombian music group Bomba Estereo. The post How One Graphic Designer Lands Gigs with the World’s […]

  • Need a UX Portfolio? Recruiters Share Their Do’s and Dont’s

    A UX portfolio that well-documents your process will definitely get you noticed by creative recruitment professionals, says Creative Circle recruiter Elizabeth Calabrese-Mahnken. The post Need a UX Portfolio? Recruiters Share Their Do’s and […]

  • How One Designer Landed a Celebrity Endorsement to Launch Her Brand

    A celebrity endorsement by JBalvin has set emerging indie brand Collab Store on a path to viral success. The post How One Designer Landed a Celebrity Endorsement to Launch Her Brand appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Need Affordable Studio Spaces in New York? chashama Can Help

    By re-purposing out-of-use properties across New York, chashama can offer artists affordable studio spaces in the city. The post Need Affordable Studio Spaces in New York? chashama Can Help appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Why Companies Like Nike Are Shifting to Design Led Business

    While working at companies like Nike and The Gap, Lydia Hummel noticed a need for a shift toward design led business that allows creative designers to predict consumer trends. The post Why Companies Like Nike Are Shifting to Design Led Business […]

  • Five Takeaways from TEFAF’s Report on the Art Market

    The TEFAF report illustrates the challenges facing today's art market. These are the top five findings affecting artists and gallery owners. The post Five Takeaways from TEFAF’s Report on the Art Market appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • How Visual Artists Can Land Public Art Commissions

    Government leaders share their best tips for responding to a Request for Qualifications and landing public art commissions. The post How Visual Artists Can Land Public Art Commissions appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Bill Chisholm’s Finely-Tuned Strategy for Landing Gallery Representation

    Painter Bill Chisholm has grown a successful art business by crafting a formulaic approach to gallery representation. The post Bill Chisholm’s Finely-Tuned Strategy for Landing Gallery Representation appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Can Sharing Political Views on Social Websites Harm Art Careers?

    Artists find that sharing political art or views on social websites can sometimes have negative consequences for their art careers. The post Can Sharing Political Views on Social Websites Harm Art Careers? appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • ICYMI: The Week in Art News May 7-12

    This week in art news, Damien Hirst stirs controversy at the Venice Biennale, and an artist admits to stealing someone else's work. The post ICYMI: The Week in Art News May 7-12 appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Why Sotheby’s Institute Art Business Degrees Fast-Track Art Careers

    Find out why Sotheby's Institute grads are uniquely positioned to excel in the art business. The post Why Sotheby’s Institute Art Business Degrees Fast-Track Art Careers appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Frieze New York Reports Record Crowds and Million-Dollar Sales

    The sixth annual Frieze New York art fair welcomed over 200 galleries to Randall's Island Park. The post Frieze New York Reports Record Crowds and Million-Dollar Sales appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Shokunin Gives Artisan Products a Global Sales Platform

    Richa Agarwal worked in apparel design before founding Shokunin, a global platform to artisan products and their makers. The post Shokunin Gives Artisan Products a Global Sales Platform appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • ICYMI: The Week in Art News May 1-5

    This week's art news for the art entrepreneur: The Met Gala doesn't disappoint, and New York voters have to choose their favorite design. The post ICYMI: The Week in Art News May 1-5 appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Photographer Robert Farber on Maintaining Commercial Success

    Whether fine art, fashion or advertising photography, Robert Farber has managed to maintain decades of success as an artist. The post Photographer Robert Farber on Maintaining Commercial Success appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Hung Yi: The Taiwanese Artist Transforming Public Art

    Hung Yi, a force in the Taiwan art landscape, is taking his penchant for public art installations to various cities across the U.S. The post Hung Yi: The Taiwanese Artist Transforming Public Art appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Five Challenges Facing The Art Entrepreneur

    There are a variety of challenges facing today's art entrepreneur, but they don't have to sidetrack an art business. The post Five Challenges Facing The Art Entrepreneur appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • ICYMI: The Week in Art News April 24-28

    This week in art news: Sotheby's takes a hit, a muralist is caught red-handed, and Christie's makes a shift in their art business strategy. The post ICYMI: The Week in Art News April 24-28 appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Two Russian Artists Give Their Take on the Russian Art Market

    Nastya Varlamova and Luliian Melian tell Artrepreneur that emerging Russian artists still struggle to gain international acclaim. The post Two Russian Artists Give Their Take on the Russian Art Market appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]