Art Licensing 101

Art consultant Jeanette Smith, owner of marketing, licensing, and publishing company J'net Smith Marketing, provides basic information for artists who are looking to break into the art licensing business.

The licensing industry is dependent on the art of classic properties as well as that of emerging talent. Since artists who are new to the licensing industry often have many questions on getting started, License! Global spoke with Jeanette Smith, owner of J'net Smith Inc., a marketing, licensing, and publishing company, for some guidance for emerging artists.

Smith, who is also referred to as an "art coach," has more than 20 years experience in the licensing and publishing industries. As the former vice president of licensing at United Media, she played a major role in building the Dilbert brand into a global corporate icon. Smith also represents, consults, and coaches hundreds of licensed artists, including Tara Reed and Becky Denny. In her role as coach and consultant, Smith works closely with many manufacturers (licensees) and artists, which enables her to bring valuable insight on how to get started.

Smith is also a partner with Tom Wilson, internationally syndicated Ziggy cartoonist and president of Character Matters, LLC, a character-based marketing and licensing company. She brings her strategic marketing expertise to character development and branding projects for renowned clients such as Father Flanagan's Girls and Boys Town—a privately funded organization for severely at-risk children. She also lends her talents to the Animaticus Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving, teaching, and evolving the art form of 2D animation in a digital world, as one of its original board members.

Today, Smith enjoys frequent speaking engagements, which have included the SEA (Self Employment for Artists) Conferences, LIMA's Licensing University, and the Graphic Artists Guild.

Here, Smith, along with a handful of other key industry insiders she spoke with, answers some of the most common questions that artists ask when they are looking to move into licensing.

Q & A with Jeanette Smith

Q. How do I find manufacturers/licensees that will consider my art?

A. First, artists need to decide exactly what product categories are the best fit for their art and designs. Since many artists have creative that works well on a wide variety of products, they need to narrow it down and choose between one and three categories to focus on. The four best places to find potential manufacturers are: licensing industry and product industry trade publications, retailers, trade shows, and the Internet.

Artists who are looking to license their work should also read all the relevant trade industry publications to see which manufacturers are currently signing deals with artists. Also, License! Global highlights "The Top 100 Global Licensees" each November. It's a terrific way to find the best manufacturers.

Artists should also shop at retailers for ideal products and then research the manufacturers online. If the manufacturer's name isn't readily available on the product, as is common practice with many private label programs, they should look for an RN# (five-digit number) on the products. Artists should enter the RN# at this Web site link, https://rn.ftc.gov/pls/TextileRN/wrnquery$.startup, to disclose the manufacturer's information.

They should also visit trade shows in their targeted categories, such as the National Stationery Show, Surtex, or the International Home & Housewares Show, to find companies, view their collections, and determine how their art can complement the manufacturer's collections. Using the Internet to research companies and review product lines and licensors, and then evaluating if your art is a fit, is also a good idea.

Q. What do manufacturers want most from artists?

A. Of course, there are many things that manufacturers look for—from being "on trend" to creating well-targeted mock-ups. Dana Grignano, licensing manager for Current, a paper goods company, states it concisely: "Research my company and send me relevant art." It is absolutely imperative for artists to research the manufacturers' existing product lines, current licenses, and collections prior to contacting them.

Artists should also ask themselves if the potential licensee already licenses work from artists. It's much easier to sell your art to a manufacturer who already works with individual artists and designers.

Also, find out if the manufacturer licenses your particular style of art. If the manufacturer is conservative, it probably won't change its strategy to accommodate a more modern or impressionistic style. If the manufacturer does license work from artists, and carries your "style" of work, ask yourself if you are a complement to its existing portfolio—offering a new take, trend, topic, or theme. It's unlikely that the manufacturer will license art that directly competes with one of its currently successful artists. And lastly, ask yourself if the manufacturer carries product that fits well with your art.

"Do your homework—don't show something to a manufacturer that doesn't make sense for its product mix," says Becky Denny, CEO of Ceranima Home. Denny has a unique perspective since she licensed her artwork in 2000 with great success and then moved on to create her own manufacturing company in 2006.

A major apparel executive recently said that after having really compelling artwork, the most important element he looks for is the willingness to work with the licensees to service their needs in everything from production assistance to offering style guides and retail exclusives. In addition to whether or not it's right for the category, manufacturers often consider how much of their creative resources it will take to get it to market.

Q. What is the best approach to take when presenting work to manufacturers?

A. I believe that sending e-mail presentations with PDFs or jpegs and a link to your Web site or online portfolio is always the best place to start. Ray Markow, CEO/director of licensing for Santa Barbara Design Studio, suggests, "If you are sure a manufacturer is a good fit, then send printouts, which are more likely to get noticed." He says that e-mails with PDF attachments and links to a Web site are also quite helpful and the least preferable way to submit work is by sending CD disks.

A handful of other manufacturers agree that they want prospective artists to send hard copies of their work. Many manufacturers now have guidelines posted on their Web sites, so be sure to follow the instructions. Send enough art to show variety and consistency.

If you are directing manufacturers to your Web site, it needs to be well designed and organized for potential licensees. A Web site that is too tough to navigate, or doesn't quickly get to the point (for licensing manufacturers), will be eliminated with a click of the cursor.

When you send an e-mail or package, whichever route you feel is right for you, make sure to follow up with a phone call. Also, create a package and e-mail letter that is memorable and tie it directly to the recipient. Manufacturers are inundated with art submissions, and it's up to you to make an impact.

Q. What format do I create my art in?

A. If you don't have tech skills, immediately find someone who does. Make sure you get high-resolution scans of paintings and other fine art, especially if you intend to sell the original. Larry Moyer, design manager of Everyday Products for Creative Converting, confirmed that anything but digital art is not an option. "We are a 100 percent digital workflow," he says.

Moyer and other manufacturers want art that can be combined in Photoshop or Illustrator, so it can be manipulated to meet their needs. Sending a design that is exactly what they want is highly unlikely.

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