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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Art Licensing Editorial: 2015 January Atlanta Gift Show

The 2015 Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishing Market is for retail buyers to purchase products for their business'.  It is also where artists can meet with art directors that license art for their companies products, get contact information on where to submit art, get inspiration for creating new art, learn about the licensing industry and see trends. Note: Since this is a trade show for buyers, it is difficult for artists to attend unless they have the right credentials. For suggestions on how artist can attend the show, read "Art Licensing Editorial: 2014 Atlanta Gift Show - insights on walking the show"

The Atlanta Gift show was booming this year with huge crowds in comparison to the last several years.  And, the Reps in the showrooms were extremely busy writing up lots of orders. Although not everyone attending the show feel that the attendance is up significantly from last year like I do, the hallways and showrooms were often at times difficult to get through because of the crush of people. Also, the elevators were so slow and full that most people used the escalators (which were also full) or even the stairs to access the 20 floors in Building one, 18 in Building 2, and 15 in Building 3.  Note: As with all trade shows, not all showrooms were doing as well as those that had a huge selection of SKUs (stock keeping units), were not selling only to a niche market, or were a distributor that represented multiple manufacturers.

Tidbit:  Because taking photographs inside the AmericasMart is prohibited unless you have permission, I instead took two photos from outside.  The photo at the top shows the 8:30AM rush of exhibitors streaming into Building 1.  It is across the street from the Peachtree Station for MARTA rapid transit system. Once you are in any of the three buildings comprising the Mart's campus you can get to the other buildings via bridges that are located on certain floors.

The photo at the left is of a 120-foot long (8 stories if each story is 15 feet tall) escalator from the MARTA railway to the street level.  The three 120-foot long escalators at the Peachtree Station are considered the longest escalators in the Southeast. Because so many people use MARTA and the escalators during the 8:30AM rush to get to the MART for the 9AM opening of the show, sometimes security is forced to hold people back so that there are not as many on the escalator at the same time.  Otherwise, the weight of people and luggage would shut it down. I find it mind boggling that when the escalators are not as busy, riders like me need to move to the right because those that have the stamina literally run up it on the left. Gasp!

Trends
There did not seem to be any "NEW" trends at Atlanta but coastal images were showcased in lots of showrooms.  I was really surprised because the last I heard coastal was considered kind-of-a niche theme.  When I questioned one showroom Reps if the Mart had sent out a flyer asking the exhibitors to showcase coastal, she laughed and said "No, it is just popular right now."  She also said that coastal products are not just sold in stores on the east and west coasts of the US but in stores along the many waterways throughout it. Most of the coastal art and products in the showrooms and in the temporary booths had a distressed patina look although there still were a variety of other art styles.

• What Seen
Other than coastal I did not see many other themes stand out. But the usual rustic looking products with a distressed finish on them were visible as well as distressed finished American flags on many products from kitchen products to handbags. If there was anything really trending at the show, it was the distressed look with unsaturated color palettes for all kinds of themes.

Of course, the typical popular themes usually seen at the show and seem to be the staple for home and gift products were abundant.  These included flowers, butterflies, birds, grapes and wine, cats, dogs, owls, cupcakes, coffee, high heel shoes, inspirational words either alone or with art including lots of angels.  Also popular were seasonal, holiday and special occasion art such as for Valentines Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Halloween.  And, do not forget the most popular holiday of all – Christmas.

Showrooms had major displays centered on either Santa or snowmen, but over all there seemed to be a fairly even distribution of both. Other Christmas images seen were snowflakes, polar bears, penguins, deer, nutcrackers, angels, Christmas trees, white foxes, owls, partridges, more amaryllis flowers than poinsettias, pinecones and needles, presents, and ornaments.

As usual, the use of colors for art depended on the type of product and what it was used for.  The traditional red and green were predominating for Christmas art with the exception if the art style was graphical or whimsical for a younger consumer.  Then a bright red and chartreuse green were used.  Unsaturated and muted colors are still used for home decor but brighter colors are starting to appear on products in some home decor showrooms.

• What Not Seen or Less of
Last year chalkboard art was everywhere on products at the Mart but this year it was not prevalent.  Even though there are still evidence of owls and red foxes, the whole concept of the woodland theme seemed to be on the back burner.  The anticipated next new woodland creature "the hedgehog" was missing from most products with the exception of stuffed animals.

This & That
• Be Prepared
The key to getting the most out of the Atlanta Gift Show is to be prepared.  A month before the show is a good time to ask art directors for an appointment to show them your art. Although, I am finding that in most cases when artists ask for an appointment they tell you to just drop-in. Appointment times seem to be saved for art licensing agents that have more art to show.

Bring business cards, postcards and if possible an iPad with your art on it. It is now the standard to show art with an iPad when attending Atlanta.  You never can tell when you ask for contact information if you will also be able to show your art to an art director.  It happens to me all the time.

Wear comfortable shoes and take plenty of breaks to overcome exhaustion and sensory overload and to write notes.

• Importance in Asking Questions
Asking questions from EVERYONE attending the show is a must if you want to take full advantage of attending the show.  Talking to buyers, Reps, art directors, and other artists is huge because it gives you information about all aspects of the art licensing industry and gives you a better understanding of it.  I drum-up conversations with people anywhere - while taking a break, waiting in line for food or an artist signing, on MARTA, and in showrooms.  This is the most friendliest trade show that I have ever attended and everyone loves to talk about products and their business.

Having a big smile on your face goes a long way and I am always amazed when busy Reps and art directors are willing to show me their products and talk about them even though they know I am not a buyer. It gives me the opportunity to ask what are good sellers, the artists that created them, and what themes do best.  Getting any information is huge in understanding the industry that I would not get it unless I asked.

This year I even went into showrooms that I assume only used in-house designers (most of the art look like the same artist created it) and got a big surprise.  Several of these manufacturers also license art from free-lance artists.  And, the Reps even spent some time showing me the products that they licensed and of course gave me the contact information to submit art.  Huge!  So make sure you talk to everyone and ask lots of questions when you attend the show.

• Traveling Woes in Attending the Atlanta Show
Traveling and hotel problems happen all the time to those attending trade shows.  For this show I was one of the unlucky souls that experienced airline and hotel woes where everything went wrong; airline delays, broken MARTA train and standing outside in freezing weather for 20 minutes until another train arrived and then the clincher - no room at the inn.

Every year there seems to be a lot of broken pipes at the hotels in Atlanta during the Atlanta Gift Show.  But the broken water pipe excuse is really a euphemism for over booking hotel rooms.  5-6% of booked rooms in hotels are no-show, so hotels make the practice of overbooking with first come first serve.  I do not know about other customers but with me it really cost the hotel that gave away my room. I paid for it four months in advance and had to wait over two hours for them to find me a room in another hotel.  They paid an $85 taxi fare to the new hotel with a free night lodging and a customer that will never book with them again. It is not fun to spend all day on an airplane, have hours of layovers at airports, and not get a hotel room until 1AM.  The only solution seems to be to book a hotel room far from the AmericasMart so that there is not the likelihood of losing your room OR arriving early enough so that the room is still available.  Because I live on the west coast, the second option is not feasible unless I am willing to take a red-eye flight.

Articles  - information and photos of showrooms and products
• Art and Product Licensing: Thought and Comment from Jim Marcotte - "Atlanta – A Study in Contrasts…and Not"

• Gifts and Decorative Accessories - "Direct from Market: Atlanta Winter 2015"

• J Wecker Frisch "AmericasMart 2015"

• the moon from my atticThe 2015 AmericasMart Atlanta - "The Nation’s #1 Product Destination"

Related Articles (originally posted for the January 2014 show)
•AmericasMart Atlanta (youtube video) - "The Atlanta International Gift Market - January 2014"  Note:  The 2015 video will probably be posted on youtube later in the month or in February.

• "Art Licensing: 2014 Atlanta Gift Show - the amazing AmericasMart campus"

• "Art Licensing Editorial: 2014 Atlanta Gift Show - insights on walking the show"

• "Art Licensing Editorial: 2014 Atlanta Gift Show - trends"

Conclusion
The health of the gift industry ultimately affects art licensing and the amount of art that is licensed by manufacturers. Thus, successful gift shows (Atlanta and other regional ones) bodes well for the licensing industry. This year seems to have started off well and hopefully that means good news for artists in obtaining many licensing contracts.

Your comments are welcome. Click on the comments section (below) to write your comment. Note: Some people have a problem in leaving a comment. The most successful method is to comment as Name/URL (your name and website or blog with a "complete" URL address).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Art Licensing: Tips on Using the Indispensable Mac Preview App

One of the most useful application that is included with Macintosh OS X operating system is Preview. Preview makes it fast and easy to view and edit pdf, jpeg, tiff, png, etc. files. Also image files such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator can be opened in Preview as non-layered files.

Preview also has other functions such as scanning documents or photos, sharing files via email or chat, changing the file format, capturing screen shots, editing photos, and batch processing actions. Learn how to use these functions by reading the articles listed in the Related Articles section at the bottom of this post.

Note: The features found in Preview for the Mac are available in Windows QuickView for PCs. However, QuickView is no longer shipped with Windows. But a third party equivalent that supports XP, Vista and 7 is available according to the QuickView section in Wikipedia.

PDF files
Preview is best known as an alternative to using Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat to view and alter PDF files. It is faster to launch Preview than Reader and had lots of useful features. PDF documents can be combined; pages can be moved between PDF files, reordered and rotated. Pages can be bookmarked, comments added, background color changed, view a PDF slideshow, a rectangle or circle can be drawn to emphasize an area. It also has other features depending upon the OS X Preview version. For instance, OS X Lion Preview version and greater allows PDF documents to be digitally signed. Note: Preview does an excellent job in displaying large PDF documents and allows some editing and other features, which may be all that is needed. But, it does not have all the bells-and-whistles of the latest versions of Adobe Reader and Acrobat support.

Images
As an artist, I find the Preview app viewing function indispensable as I manipulate and edit my art and collections into pleasing compositions. Preview also includes helpful tools such as the ability to add text to the image, some image editing capabilities, batch processing, view slideshows and animated gif files, and change file formats. It is much faster to open an image in Preview and use Previews functions and tools than to open the image in Photoshop or Illustrator to do the same thing.

A single image or several images can be dragged onto the Preview app to open it. Or, images can be opened from the Preview app. Or, if the image file is a jpg, png, etc., it can be opened in Preview by double clicking on the image. To temporarily open images in Preview select the image or images with the mouse and then hold down the command key and push the Y key. Hint: Place the Preview app in the desktop tool bar so that it is easily accessed.

Useful ways of using Preview

• Viewing Images
– When manipulating parts of the image in Photoshop, it is difficult to look at the entire image to determine if the composition is pleasing and balanced unless you standup and move away from the monitor. I have found that it helps to instead reduce the size of the image when viewing the composition. A quick way to do that is make sure the Photoshop file is saved and then open the image in Preview by selecting the file, hold down the command key, and pressing the Y key. The image in the Preview window can be quickly enlarged or reduced by pulling on the bottom-right window handle. For information about composition read "Creating Licensable Art: Composition Tips"

– Using Preview to view multiple images in one window is a wonderful way to compare the images and determine if the collection is cohesive. Select all the images you wish to view at one time and use the command and Y key strokes to open the images in Preview. The four images displayed together at the top of this article is an example of opening multiple images in a Preview window.

– If you have a large photographic reference library like I do, you may have trouble finding what photos you wish to use as a reference for new art. By selecting a slew of images in a folder and opening them in Preview you can quickly scan and select the ones you wish to use.


 • Marking Images to be edited
When refreshing art, adding images to a collection, and working with art directors, there are times that you may want to mark changes and write comments on the image. Instead of printing the art and marking-it-up by hand, Preview allows you to do it on image files. See an example of a mark-up on the above tulip image.

• Labeling Images
Preview allows you to quickly label images with copyright and contact information. This is helpful if you want to place the image on a blog or submit it to manufacturers for licensing consideration.

• Changing size, resolution, and formats
Images can be resized; the resolution and the format can be quickly changed in Preview. So instead of waiting for a large high resolution file to open in Photoshop, Preview can converted it to a smaller size, lower resolution jpg file in a fraction of time. That is very useful when submitting art to manufacturers for licensing consideration.

• Rotating images and editing color
In Preview, images can be rotated and colors adjusted. I found the ability to rapidly adjust the color saturation useful when placing images in the sidebar on my blog. For some reason, when images are placed in the sidebar the color saturation is reduced. Thus, I need to increase the saturation of the image before placing it in the sidebar.

Related Articles

While in Preview, open Help at the top right of the function bar to find out how to use its many functions. Also read the following articles for more information on using Preview.

• "Mac Basics: Preview app views and edits images and PDFs"

• "What IS Preview (and Why You Should Use It)"

• "Scanning with Preview in Mac OS X"

• "How to use Preview in OS X Lion to digitally sign documents".

Your comments are welcome. Click on the comments section (below) to write your comment. Note: Some people have a problem in leaving a comment. The most successful method is to comment as Name/URL (your name and website or blog with a "complete" URL address. For example: http://www.joanbeiriger.com/ ).

Monday, November 10, 2014

Art Licensing Editorial: Changes in Art Styles Used on Products

When I first started researching the licensing industry over 15 years ago, each manufacturer used many art styles. But now that has changed and manufacturers have different art needs. Even though some of the manufacturers in different product industries still use a variety of art styles on their products, many have shifted to only one or two. Thus, there are not as many opportunities for artists to license their art unless they use multiple styles. For instance, it is harder to license realistic styled art to greeting cards manufacturers because many now use more graphic and whimsical art styles.

This article discusses the three art styles seen most often on products (whimsical, graphic and realistic).

Art Styles
To avoid confusion, below are the definitions and links to images of realistic, whimsical and graphic art. Note: All three of these styles have a large range of looks but they still fall into these categories because of their general characteristics.

• Realistic
Realism is a visual art style that accurately depicts what the artist sees. The images are accurate, detailed, and not embellished. This art style ranges from a painterly look to almost photographic in appearance. To see some examples, view "Artists Directory of Realistic Painters".

• Whimsical
A whimsical art style is often described as colorful, fanciful, playful and also as mischievous, quaint and eccentric. Images can range from a simplistic childish look to a sophisticated intricate look. See examples of whimsical art at "Favorite Whimsical Artists" and "The Whimsical (Decorative Art)".

• Graphic
A graphic art style is the depiction of things seen by an artist using an illustrative representation with a drawing, sketch or painting. Often artists create this style on a computer with Adobe Illustrator application. See "9 Inspiring Graphic Designers and their Distinct Design Styles" for examples of this art style.

Change in Art Styles
In the past, manufacturers used numerous art styles on their products. Therefore, artists were successful in licensing one image to many industries. Now it is more difficult to get multiple licensing deals for one image because each product industry and even manufacturers in the same industry have their own specifications on what they want. And, the specifications are not uniform from industry to industry or manufacturer to manufacturer. Below are some of the industries and a "generalization" of the art styles now used on their products.

• Greeting Cards
The greeting card industry is one of the most changed industry that licenses art. To compete with e-stores, manufacturers that sell to retail stores have increased the embellishing of their products with ribbons, glitter, jewels, metallic, laser cut designs, etc. Many manufacturers use a graphic style art since embellishments can be easily used on them. Also, the graphic art style appeals to the esthetics of many consumers that feel that simplicity of graphic art is sophisticated and for those who believe in the maxim that "less is more".

Those that walk the National Stationery Show or look at greeting card websites listed on artist Kate Harper's blog will discover that the majority of manufacturers use graphical, whimsical, and cartoons styles on their cards. Although some of the larger card manufacturers having numerous card lines do license some realistic art styles. Also, card manufacturers that cater to niche markets (museums, historical monuments and parks, catalogs, specialty gift stores) tend to license more realistic art than other styles.

• Decorative Flags
The decorative flag industry is also moving away from using realistic art. Flags are now mostly colorful whimsical styles with a central image that stands out. Look at the decorative flag e-stores on the Internet such as "Just For Fun Flags" to see examples of the licensed art styles.

• Gift Bags & Wraps
Although some manufacturers use realistic and whimsical art for their gift bags and wraps, graphical styled art is now more prevalent in large chain stores including dollar stores. See examples of Target and Walmart gift bags on their websites.

• Fabrics
Depending on the manufacturer, all three art styles are used on fabrics for the quilting and craft industries. Look at the website of Robert Kaufman Fabrics to see the selection of themes and types of art styles they license.

Conclusion
Below are some facts that artists should be aware of when submitting art to manufacturers. These are my opinions and of course others may have different opinions.

1. In the past, artists could submit art to almost any manufacturer in any industry and her/his style would fit the needs of the manufacturer. NOT ANY MORE. Now to make sure their art fit the needs of the manufacturer, artists need to research every manufacturer they plan to submit art to.

2. Fewer manufacturers are licensing realistic styled art than in the past. Artists that create realistic art will have a harder time finding manufacturers that are willing to license their art.

3. Now, whimsical styled art seems to be the most popular style for most industries. Artists that create whimsical art have the best chance in finding manufacturers that will license their work.

4. Graphic style art is prolific in the greeting card and gift bag industries. Artists that use this style will have any easier time licensing their art to manufacturers in these industries than those artists that have a realistic or whimsical art style.

Your comments are welcome. Click on the comments section (below) to write your comment. Note: Some people have a problem in leaving a comment. The most successful method is to comment as Name/URL (your name and website or blog with a "complete" URL address. For example: http://www.joanbeiriger.com/ ).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Art Licensing: Using PDF Files to Submit Art

Manufacturers want art submitted to them for possible licensing consideration in different ways. A few want hard copies or a CD of images sent to them via snail mail but the majority accept and want them as single image tiff files, jpg files, files in a folder as a compressed zip file, or in a multiple image pdf file.

If the files are sent via e-mail, the artist must take into consideration the size of the files attached to the e-mail. Many e-mail providers limit e-mails to 2MB in size. So the number of files attached is limited and the size of each must be small. Other alternatives are to upload more and larger file(s) onto file sharing sites such as Dropbox, Hightail (formerly YouSendit), and WeTransfer. And then send a link to the manufacturer so the file(s) can be downloaded. Note: Not all manufacturers use each of these file-sharing sites and they may have a preferred one. Or, they may not want to download any images and will only accept single images attached to an e-mail.

The only way to find out what is preferred is to look at the manufacture guidelines on their website (if posted) or call and ask. Or, take a chance and submit a small sampling of art as jpg images in the e-mail and ask what method they prefer. Note: I usually send one jpg image with a short introduction e-mail and then follow-up with a pdf file with multiple images that can be downloaded from Hightail. If the file is not downloaded, I then know that either they do not want to download the file or they are not interested in my art enough to want to download more images.

The advantage in using a pdf multiple image file when submitting art is that the images can be placed into the pdf file so that they can be easily viewed as a "slide show" by using the free application Adobe Reader that most manufacturer art directors already have. Each image in the pdf file can be printed and download onto the desktop. The pdf file can also be opened in the Macintosh operating system with the Preview application or in the Preview Pane* in Windows operating system. Note: jpg and pdf files are already compressed and they will not be dramatically reduced further if zip compression is used on them.

*There are complaints that the Preview Pane does not open pdf files in Windows version 7 and 8. I suggest that you Google the Internet with "can windows preview pdf files in Windows 7 and 8" if you want to find out if there is a work around for the problem.

Preparing PDF multiple image files
When submitting any images for licensing consideration, the images should have the artist contact information on it. See the image at the beginning of this article for an example. Some artists prefer to place a watermark (copyright symbol and artist name) on top of the art to protect their copyright. However, many manufacturers feel watermarks detract from the art and discourages using them.

Hint: To avoid doing repetitive tasks such as placing contact information on numerous images, you can use Actions in Photoshop to record a series of commands when adding the contact information to an image. You can then play back this action in the Batch or Create Droplet commands that are available in Photoshop under File/Automatic so that the action can be applied to one or multiple images. A video example on how to use Actions and Batch commands can be viewed on "Photoshop - Actions & Batch Processing".

Multiple Image PDF Applications
The following tips show how to created pdf multiple image files in Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Bridge, and Adobe Acrobat Pro. If you have purchased Adobe Creative Suite or have subscribed to Adobe Cloud, you should have access to all these applications.

Acrobat Pro with the PDF Portfolio command allows the inclusion of not only image files but other application files such as Microsoft Word and Excel. However, Photoshop and Bridge only allows image files. Being able to include art and a biography if written in Word or another application may be very useful when submitting art to manufacturers as a pdf file.

Warning: Images can be added and text placed on the image when in the pdf command of Photoshop and Acrobat Pro. The text is separate from the image and if the image is selected and dragged to the desktop the text will not be on the image. Thus, this is not a good method of putting contact information on an image. Contact information should be placed in the file before adding it to the PDF Presentation or PDF Portfolio.

• Adobe Photoshop (how to create a simple PDF Multi-Page Document or Presentation)

– Quick tutorial written by artist Jill Meyer
1. In Photoshop go to File > Automate > PDF Presentation.
2. Choose either Multi-Page Document or Presentation (slide show), upload the images, press Save. 3. Fill in the name of the PDF, select where to save the file, and press Save.
This may take a little while to process and the pdf file to appear depending on the amount and size of the files in it.

– More detailed tutorial written by Peter Bauer from Photoshop CC For Dummies – "Create a PDF Presentation in Photoshop CC"

– For those that prefer watching videos look at "How To Combine Multiple PDF Pages in Photoshop"

• Adobe Illustrator (how to save multiple PDF files in Illustrator)

– Tutorial video by howtechgraphics - "How to Save File as PDF in Illustrator"

• Adobe Bridge (how to create a multiple page PDF file using Bridge)

– Tutorial written by Noragu - "[Adobe Bridge CS5]: An alternative for Photoshop's PDF Presentation"

– Tutorial written by Barbara Obermeier from Photoshop CS6 All-in-One for Dummies - "How to Create PDF Presentations from Photoshop CS6 Files in Bridge"

– Tutorial video by Mary Castillo – "How to create a PDF in Bridge"

•Adobe Acrobat Pro (how to create a multiple file PDF Portfolio)
According to Adobe "A PDF Portfolio contains multiple files assembled into an integrated PDF unit. The files in a PDF Portfolio can be in a wide range of file types created in different applications. For example, a PDF Portfolio can include text documents, e-mail messages, spreadsheets, CAD drawings, and PowerPoint presentations. The original files retain their individual identities but are assembled into one PDF Portfolio file. You can open, read, edit, and format each component file independently of the other component files in the PDF Portfolio." For more information, read "PDF Portfolios."

– Tutorial written by artist Joan Beiriger
1. Open Adobe Acrobat Pro and a menu window will open.
2. On the right side under Getting Started double click on Create PDF Portfolio and another menu window will open. Click on Add Files at the bottom of the menu.
3. The menu for selecting the files opens. Find the files in the folder or the desktop and select the them. Press Finish.
4. The Portfolio menu opens. This can take a while depending on how large and how many files you select. I recommend that you do a trial run and only add one file to discover how long it takes. Otherwise, you might think nothing is happening.
5. Once the files are loaded they are visible in the window. You can move to the next image in the window with the arrow. You can also move the image placement by selecting and moving the smaller images at the bottom. Also more images can be added by clicking on Add Files that is located at the top of the side bar in the window.
6. Once you have added the files to the Portfolio go to File / Save As / PDF Portfolio.
7. Name the file and location (desktop or folder) you want it saved and press the Save button. The pdf file will appear in the location you indicated once the file is saved. It may take a while if the file is large.

– Tutorial video by lynda.com "How to create a PDF portfolio"

Your comments are welcome. Click on the comments section (below) to write your comment. Note: Some people have a problem in leaving a comment. The most successful method is to comment as Name/URL (your name and website or blog with a "complete" URL address. For example: http://www.joanbeiriger.com/ ).

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Art Licensing Editorial: The Truth About Art Licensing Agencies

WARNING! This is not an upbeat article and is depressing because the art licensing industry is like other industries where people sometimes take advantage of others. The purpose of this article is to warn artists that they need to make sure that they are signing a fair contract or at least know the repercussions in signing an unfair one when they agree to have an art licensing agency represent them.

The truth about art licensing agencies is that there are MANY agencies that are honest, professional, have a fair artist/agency agreement (contract)* and work hard to represent their artists. BUT, there are SOME that are unethical, and/or are not professional in dealing with their artists, and/or have unfair contracts, and/or have poor business practices. Sounds alarming, huh? Well, it is! And, that is why an artist needs to do her/his homework before signing with an art licensing agency. Read the following so that you do not make a bad decision and sign a contract that negatively impacts your income and even worse allows an agency to have control of all your art so that you lose your rights to it.

In the fifteen or so years that I have been in the art licensing industry, I have heard many complaints and some horror stories from artists about the agencies that represent them. Unfortunately, those artists with the horror stores were so pleased that an agency wanted to represent them that they did not read the contract closely enough, understand all the terms, or realize that some terms that should be in the contract were missing. The artist’s big mistake was not to acquire information about the agency's reputation and business practices by asking other artists and not having an attorney that is an expert on art licensing contracts look the contract over before the artist signed it.

* The artist/agency agreement is a contract and is referred to as a contract or artist/agency contract in this article.

Common Artist Complaints about Agents
Most of the complaints I've heard about agencies are not as drastic as unethical agencies and unfair clauses in the artist/agency contract but about the lack of communication between the agent and artist, poor business practices, not getting enough or any licensing contracts with manufacturers, and not receiving enough money from the contracts. Some of these complaints were because the artist had unrealistic expectations such as earning a lot of money from each licensee contract. Read below for more information about agency complaints.

• Lack of communication
Lack of communication and not being on the "same wavelength" between persons is a common human foible. It often results in frustration and may be intolerable when working together. Some artists want to be in constant communication with their agent and feel adrift and slighted if the agent does not immediately answer their questions or respond when new art is sent. Other artists realize that agents are busy and will respond as soon as they have time and are not upset when they do not get a quick response. Although, it does not go over very well if the agent does not respond at all. No one like their emails or art to "drop into a black hole" and not know if the agent received it. Note: Some artists find that if they phone the agent they will get a faster response than if they email her/him. Agents may not have the time in their busy day to sit down and write an email but find the time to chat if their artists phone them.

Some artists expect agents to provide art direction, to send them the latest in art trends, and give feedback from the licensee when art is submitted. Or, there are personality clashes where communication between the artist and agent does not work because they are not on the same wavelength. Not all agencies provide art direction and some depends on the artist to keep up with trends. That is why it is important for the artist to talk with the agent before signing with the agency to see if there are any communication problems, if the agency provide the services the artist expects, and how the agent envisions the artists work will be used on products.

Artist Jill Meyer describes the process she went through in selecting an agency in her very informative article "Finding a New Agent." An important part of Jill's process in selecting an agency was talking and asking lots of questions of the agent before considering hiring the agency to represent her. Also important was talking to other artists about the agency and having an attorney familiar with art licensing agree that the artist/agent contract was fair.

• Poor Business Practices
SOME agencies do not have the best business practices. They are negligent in submitting art, do not make adequate follow-ups, do not keep track of art already submitted or licensed to manufacturers, and do not respond to emails from licensees or send signed contracts back to them in a timely manner. Any of these will damage the creditability of the agency. The following are some complaints I have heard from other artists and licensees.

1. Poor method in tracking art
– Some agencies do not keep track of the art they submit to licensees and thus submit the same art time and time again. Licensees are looking for new art; not art that they already have seen.

– Some agencies book keeping abilities are not very good and they do not keep track of the art that have already been licensed. Thus, they are at risk in licensing the same art for the same product to different licensees and breaching the terms of the contract granted to the first licensee.

2. Poor response to queries and return of contracts
Some agencies do not reply to licensee emails or return signed contracts in a timely manner. Art directors appreciate quick responses and it shows that the agent is professional which helps in promoting future business. Also, a slow reply to a query can mean missed opportunities to license and promote art.

3. Poor follow-up
– Some agencies do not follow-up frequently when licensees show interest in art and thus they may lose the opportunity to license it.

– Also, some are poor in following up when payment of licensing fees are late or contracts do not arrive when expected.

4. Poor method in submitting art
Some agencies submit their artist’s work to their entire client list in what I call a "shot gun method" in the hopes the licensee will be interested in some of them. Instead they should be submitting only the appropriate art for each manufacturer. Licensees do not appreciate getting a ton of art that is not suitable to be put on their products and will eventually not open emails from agencies that submit art that way.

• Not enough deals or pay enough
Artists may not get licensing contracts because the agency does not have a list of licensees that is suitable for the artists work. Of course, the agency should never have signed the artist for representation if they did not think they could license her/his work. Or, it could be due to the impact on the licensing industry with the change in consumer spending and also the increase in competition of artists vying for licensing deals. The change in consumer spending has drastically changed the way retailers sell products. Retailers now order lesser products from manufacturers and the shelf life is shorter. Thus, licensing revenue per image is less than it was before the recession struck in 2008. Consequently it is not the fault of the agency to now get fewer and not as lucrative licensing deals for their artists.

Artists and art licensing agencies are struggling to get contracts and bring in revenue. In the article "You Are Not Going to Make It in Art Licensing" art licensing agent Jim Marcotte of Two Town Studios wrote, "Art licensing today is an industry in search of a workable model. The scramble is on - agents and artists who used to make their money by licensing art are now finding ways to collect from (mostly newbie) artists in ways that run the gamut from coaching to holding contests. Some agencies are accumulating artists, hoping that more people earning less money can make up for the reduced sku counts and short market runs. Branding agencies are taking on artists and art agencies are promoting brands, and both are consulting for manufacturers who are buying art worldwide and licensing art only when they have to. It’s a wild time in the biz." Jim's article is a very "tough pill to swallow" but his aim is not to discourage artists so they quit trying to license their art but to energize them by trying new ways to license it. To get Jim’s perceptive on licensing art in today's market, read his article.

Note: I recommend that you read Belgium surface designer Ine Beerten's article "The Big Contest Dilemma" if you are interested in entering a design contest. Ine wrote a really thought-provoking article about contests. She ended her post with "So what do I hope you take away from this post? I hope you think careful when you enter a contest next time, think whether it’s just an easy way for the company to get free artwork and cheap marketing and whether the prizes are truly fair, or if you can really gain something that is actually worth something to you. By entering these bad contests you only help them devaluating your own and other artists’ work!"

Artist/ Agent Contracts
In "16 Art Licensing Agent Agreement Essentials" by licensing consultant J'net Smith, she states that "It’s easy to get excited about the prospect of finally signing with an agent and forget to make sure that the contract is not only fair to both of you, but includes everything you need. . . Don’t accept the first contract you are given without understanding all the obligations and ramifications of each clause. It may be your first and the most important contract you will ever sign."

Artists may interpret the terminology and meaning of legal terms or poorly written clauses in a contract incorrectly. And, if clauses that should be in the contract are missing such as the date and terms specifying termination, the artist may be obligated that the agency continues to represent her/him forever. That is why it is recommended that an attorney experienced in art licensed legislation look over the contract before the artist signs it. It is less expensive to pay an attorney to make sure the contract is fair to the artist than to pay him/her to try to free the artist from a bad contract even if it is possible.

• Unethical business practices and contract terms
What I deem unethical is when an agency does not pay monies due to artists for licensing their art or taking advantage of artists by having clauses in their artist/agency contract that takes control of the artists work and denies the artist usage of their own work.

Several years ago two artists told me that their agencies were not paying them revenue for their art being licensed. Their agents insisted that the art had not been licensed and yet the artists saw their art on products in stores. In one case, the artist was able to get monies owed by hiring an attorney. In the other case, the artist found out that her copyright was infringed upon and the art was illegally used. It is important that artists be constantly looking for their art on products in stores and on the Internet. And, getting their friends to help. That may be the only way that an artist finds out that their copyright has been infringed upon.

In the article "Hot Words to look out for in contracts" art licensing agent Lance Klass of Porterfield's Fine Art Licensing discusses the word "assign" and the consequence when used in any art/agency or licensee contract. He wrote ". . . when you see the hot word "assignment", make certain that you're not assigning the copyright or all reproduction rights to your artwork as a part of the agreement. If you do, it's lost to you forever. Other people will control the reproduction rights to your art, and you'll actually have to ask their permission to reproduce the art that you created."

Lance relates a couple of horror stories that artists endured by signing bad contracts in his article "How to Avoid the Most Common Mistakes in Licensing Your Art". In one example, Lance said ". . . This agency, which just happened to be owned and operated by the same people who owned and operated the publishing company, gave itself the exclusive right to publish any or all of the artist's work for the next five years and to sublicense his art to anyone they wished, whenever they wished". He stated, "If there's any one piece of advice I could give an artist about to enter a legal agreement, it is to read every single line in the contract and make sure that you totally understand it. I know that isn't easy for most people, but don't get in the water if you don't want to get wet. If you find that there are sections or sentences that aren't written clearly, don't say what you want, take away a bit more of your rights than you feel you want to give, or if any of it seems confusing or contradictory, have the company rewrite it in plain English. . . . But don't let this stop you from promoting your art for license. Most companies are quite reputable and many contracts are completely understandable by the average human. Just make sure you read every word, and know what it means".

• Unfair contract terms and business practices
Not all agencies have unfair terms in their art/agency contracts but some do. Terms that seem unfair to artists are usually in the contract because of the way the agent decides to operate the agency. For instance, a clause in the contract may state that the agent will make all decisions in licensing the art. That means that the artist has no say-so in what company manufacturers her/his art, will not have the opportunity to approve or not approve the licensee contract or even see it, and cannot approve the amount of royalties or flat licensing fee that will be paid for the use of the art. That is unfair to the artist. But, the artist may trust the agent to do a good job and is willing to sign the contract because she/he wishes to be represented by the agency. What is NOT acceptable is if the artist is blindsided and not aware that the terminology in the clause gives the agency that right. And, that is the reason why an art licensing attorney should be hired to point out unfair terms in the contract before it is signed. Note: Yes, there are agencies that have that clause in their contract.

Below are more contract terms and business practices (may not be in the contract) that may be construed as unfair to artists.

1. Artists do not get to see licensee contracts
A variation on the above unfair term is that an artist does not see the licensee contract but gets to approve or not approve the contract. The agent sends a form to the artist with the basic terms of the deal so that the artist can sign it for approval. Just like the above term, the artist must trust the agent that she/he makes sure that the clauses in the licensee contract is fair.

2. Agencies continues to receive commission after termination
Most agree that the termination clause is the most important clause in the artist/agency contract. In his article "The Artist – Agent Relationship" art licensing attorney Joshua Kaufman states, "The greatest issue of tension and dispute between artists and their agents surround post-termination issues. . . . The issue of how long an agent is entitled to keep receiving its commission after the contracts terminates, is one that is strongly negotiated. Agents of course, wish to be compensated for not only the full term of their contract but for the term of the licensing agreement and of all extensions and renewals. The artist wants to limit the payment to the agent after their contract expires. Agents believe that they secured the contract, they work long and hard, had to wait for their money and should be entitled to their receipts throughout the term of the contract. " Note: Most contracts do give the agency the right to continue receiving commissions from the contracts they obtained for the artist until the contract expires and no renewals are requested by the licensee.

3. Agencies continues to represent the artist after termination
Some agencies have clauses in their contract that allows them to continue representing the artist after the termination of the contract. The representation is for an additional several years after termination and is limited to those licensees that the agency obtained contracts for the artist's work during the term of the contract. There are questions on the legality of this clause according to attorney Joshua Kaufman in his article "The Artist - Agent Relationship". He states "One finds in many agreements prohibitions against dealings by an artist, post termination, with the agent’s clients. First of all there is a question (which depends on which state law applies) whether those clauses are enforceable and to what extent. . . If the agent’s client list is very large, and there is a blanket restriction against dealing with the agent’s clients, and this precluded the artist from doing business or greatly hampered their ability, many states will disallow the restriction."

4. Do not allow any interaction between the artist and licensee
There may not be a clause in the artist/agency contract but some agencies do not allow their artists to interact with licensee art directors. All licensee requests for high-resolution art are sent to the agent who forwards it to the art director. And, all requests for editing of the art go through the agent. This is awkward and frustrating to the artist. It is much easier and faster for the artist to make art changes if she/he works directly with the art director.

5. Artists do not get to approve samples
Not all licensing contracts allow the approval of art on the products before they are manufactured. But if it is in the licensee contract, the agent normally approves the samples and not the artist. That restriction may not be in the artist/agency contract but because of licensee time restrictions it is not usually possible for the agent to ship the sample to the artist for approval.

6. Artists are required to pay part of booth and marketing expenses of the agency
Many agencies do not require artists to pay any of the agency expenses. But, if they do required their artists to help with trade show and other agency expenses it should be clearly spelled out in the artist/agent contract according to art licensing consultant J'net Smith in "16 Art Licensing Agent Agreement Essentials".

Summary
There are many good art licensing agencies. But, do not get blindsided and sign a bad contract. Do your homework and ask agents for recommendations of artists in their agency to talk to and/or look at agency websites for the artists the agencies represent. Select a few artists and find out their contact information from their own website, Facebook or LinkedIn. Either phone or email them to ask questions about the agency. Make sure that you fully understand all the terms in the artist/agency contract. And better yet, hire an attorney that knows the ins-and-outs of art licensing to look over the contract and point out any unfair clauses before you sign it.

For a list of agencies, read "List of Over 50 U.S. Art Licensing Agencies". But, you need to research the agencies yourself because I am not familiar with all of them or their artist/agency agreements (contracts).

Resources:
The above post mentions quotes from the following articles. I recommend that you read these articles because they contain a lot of important information you should be aware of.

• "Finding a New Agent" by licensed artist Jill Meyer

• "You Are Not Going to Make It in Art Licensing" by art licensing agent Jim Marcotte of Two Town Studios

• "The Big Contest Dilemma" by Belgium surface designer Ine Beerten

• "16 Art Licensing Agent Agreement Essentials" by art licensing consultant J'net Smith

• "Hot Words to look out for in contracts" by art licensing agent Lance Klass of Porterfield's Fine Art Licensing

• "How to Avoid Mistakes in Licensing Your Art" by art licensing agent Lance Klass of Porterfield's Fine Art Licensing

• "The Artist – Agent Relationship" by attorney Joshua J. Kaufman

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