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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

License Art by Marketing at Trade Shows

Art needs to be seen by manufacturers in order to get licensing contracts. The more frequently the art directors (ADs) of the manufactures see the artists work via marketing and publicity of all kinds, on products, and exhibiting at trade shows the better the chance it will be licensed. And one of the best methods in gaining visibility is to exhibit at trade shows that have an art licensing section. There is nothing that beats interacting personally with ADs to create interest in the art, find out what themes are needed, and how they wish to receive future submissions. Read "Art Licensing Trade Shows" for information about the different trade shows that have art licensing sections.

Exhibiting at a show costs many thousand of dollars ($5,000 to over $10,000 depending on the show) for booth fee, hotel, airfare, booth display materials, and marketing materials. So before committing to exhibiting at a show, evaluate your art. Is it REALLY ready to be exhibited? Below are some questions that should be asked before exhibiting.

Is your art right for products? Not all art is suitable to be licensed on products and some are suitable only to be licensed for niche markets. Also some art (especially surface design) is normally purchased outright and not licensed unless collections were created for the quilting or craft industry. Read "Licensing Designs to the Quilt & Craft Fabric Industries" for more information.

Creating the wrong themes limits the number of deals an artist gets. For instance, realistic two dimensional snake art may work to illustrate books but few consumers would be willing to purchase products such as dinner plates with snakes on them. Although, stylized snake art for southwestern themes are often used. However, southwestern art is a niche market and at the present time popular in only certain areas of the U.S. But, MANY consumers will purchase all sorts of products with flowers decorating them. The key to getting lots of deals is to create art with themes that appeal to the masses such as flowers, Santa, coffee, and seashells. That way artists have a better chance in getting deals from multiple licensees.

Note: Don't get me wrong and think that I am saying that art is not licensable if it is for niche markets such as southwest, western, lodge, vintage, or romantic/feminine themes. It is always licensable but in a limited way and sometimes it is extremely licensable when the trend periodically rotates to that market. However, if the niche art is not "hot" at the time you plan to exhibit then it may not be cost effective to exhibit at a trade show. It might be better to use other methods in marketing your art. At the time this article was written, the popularity of lodge is down but feminine and girly themes is still in.

Is your art style and/or themes unique enough to compete with other artist's work? Every artist work is unique to a certain degree but it may NOT be different enough from other artists work that the general public or even ADs can differentiate it. As a result, licensees will license art by theme from multiple artists. But if the artist has a unique style that is sought after such as does Thomas Kinkade, Mary Englebreit and Marjolein Bastin, the artist can create a following and manufacturers will go to her/him for the art. Note: An artist having a realistic art style has one of the hardest time in licensing their art because the competition is so stiff. There is already a lot of great realistic art licensed. Thus, to differentiate themselves, successful artists with realistic art styles specialize in certain themes such as does Thomas Kinkade for his cottage art, Paul Brent for his coastal art, and the Hautman Brothers for their bird art.

Do you have enough art? At first when approaching manufacturers an artist does not need create a lot of art (maybe five collections equaling 20 central images if each collection includes four images). However, to make the cost of exhibiting worthwhile an artist should have lots more. The likelihood in getting a deal with only a small amount of art is slim. Although there are always exceptions. For instance, if an artist is trying to launch a character brand that has mass appeal.

Do you have a diverse enough portfolio? The more diverse the themes (holidays, flowers, birds, butterflies, coastal, birthday, etc.) in a portfolio the greater the possibility in getting deals. ADs are looking for a variety of themes and not all are looking for the same ones at the same time.

Is your art formatted in enough ways to maximize interest? It is a good policy to format art in numerous shapes (vertical, horizontal, square, round) if the art is appropriate to be placed on various shaped products. ADs do not always visualize how art will look on their products or take the time to ask the artist to reformat the art to fit their products until after a contract is signed. And on that note, it always is a good idea to do digital product mock-ups to show ADs what the art will look like on their products.

To help you answer the above questions and to determine the right trade show to exhibit at, hire an art licensing consultant/coach. Read "On Art Licensing Coaches (consultants)" for more information and a list of consultants.

Exhibiting Information
Many artists and agents recommend "walking" the trade shows before exhibiting at them in order to determine which one is the best for your art and see what the show is all about. Read "Tips on Walking Trade & Licensing Shows" by agent Suzanne Cruise." Also read "Trade Show Tips" by artist Karen Rossi and consider purchasing artist Tara Reeds ebook "How to Maximize Your Time and Investment in Trade Shows." I found Tara's book very informative and her examples of "elevator speeches" very helpful when approaching manufacturers at shows.

Booth Layout
Booths should be set-up with eye catching art and a display that matches the artists style and personality. There are all sorts of ways to display art from taping individual images directly onto the booth walls, to hanging fabric and taping the art onto the fabric, or hanging panels of professionally printed art. Many artists agree that the art shown on the booth walls should be large enough to be viewed at 12 feet away to grab ADs attention. Also if physical and digital product mock-ups are displayed they should be labeled that the art is available for licensing in order to avoid Ads in thinking that the art is already licensed. Below are links to sites showing examples of booths at various shows. Some of the links also have interesting articles about exhibiting at the shows.

• Surtex Show Gallery 
• video of Surtex 2010
• artist Ellen Crimi-Trent blog post "Vegas Baby!"
• artist Carol Eldridge blog post "BACK FROM ATLANTA . . . . IT WAS ALL GOOD!"
• artist Karen Embry
• artist Cindy Ann Ganaden blog post "My Syrtex Experience - 1st Time Exhibiting"
• artist Khristian Howell blog post "Tips from a First Time Surtex Exhibitor"
• artist Jane Shasky
• artist Kate Spain blog post "Surtex Booth Tour"
• artist Debra Valencia
• artist Cindy Yost

What to Expect when Exhibiting
ADs mainly walk the shows to find art to license and if they are NOT interested in the art style or themes in a particular booth they will walk past it. But not all people walking the shows are ADs and looking for art to license. Some are artists checking out the show to find agents for representation and to see if they want to exhibit. Other people may be searching for trends or came mainly for the conferences and are curious on what art is being displayed.

There can be a lot of downtime when exhibiting at a trade show. The traffic past the booth can be light or none and then all of a sudden a swarm of people stream past the booth and some may even stop and look through portfolios and comment on the art. And some ask the artist to forward designs to them for licensing consideration. But why doesn't more stop and check out the art of new exhibitors and why do some booths have so much traffic and the new ones do not? Connections is the answer. The booths that have the most traffic are the ones that have booked appointments with ADs. And if the booth is busy with activity other ADs will stop to see what is happening and also to say hi to the people they know in the booth. Agents and artists that have been exhibiting for years have lots of connections and normally have very busy shows. It takes a long time to build connections which is the reason why exhibiting only one year is not enough time to build relationships.

When ADs are interested in an artist art, they normally ask that a low resolution copy of it (them) be sent for licensing consideration. Once in awhile ADs may offer a verbal agreement to license images at the show but they do not expect the artist to sign a contract then. That will be done after the artist and manufacture and their attorneys have time to review and negotiate the contract.

Not all artists exhibit at trade shows. Some are very successful in marketing their art by other methods such as does Susan Winget and Mary Engelbreit. But if you decide to market your art by exhibiting at shows remember that you can't expect to get lots of deals the first year. It takes years to build connections and recognition so you need to exhibit year after year.

After the show, remember to immediately follow-up with "thank you for stopping by the booth" emails and send the art requested by ADs. And then continue to follow-up, follow-up, and follow-up. Read "Art Licensing Tip: What does follow-up really mean?"

Comments are welcomed. Please click on comments and write them in the comment window at the bottom of this article.


  1. Wow! A wealth of much needed information. Thank you. I love your blog because I learn so much and you aren’t trying to sell me stuff.

  2. one has to wonder how profitable art licensing really is with the sudden proliferation of e-books, coaching services, and courses offered by many licensing artists.

  3. Well - There are many more artists NOT making a living at licensing their art than there are ones that do. So art licensing is profitable for at least some artists just as it always has been. The artist that has unique and licensable art, works hard, and has luck can make a living and sometimes a VERY good living in art licensing.

    There does seem to be a sudden proliferation of art licensing information for sale but I do not necessarily think that it is because artists are having a hard time licensing their art. I think it is an additional revenue stream for them just as some artists make money by placing their art on print-on-demand sites, post AdSense advertisements & other services on their sites, sell at street fairs, doing gallery work, and painting on consignment. The suddenness is probably caused by an old adage - "If she can do it (in this case make money selling art licensing information), then I can also."

  4. You are the perfect person to do an article on this topic. You have done so many shows. Great resources too.

  5. Thanks Kate,
    Yes, I've done lots of shows but many were retail shows (crafts, needlework, and miniature - i.e. dollhouse items) including street fairs and only a few trade shows. The experience in exhibiting at all kinds of shows has been a valuable experience in marketing my art. Learning what people are looking for, networking, and applying what was learned is so important in all aspects of the arts and in licensing.

  6. I have so much respect for you and your knowledge. Thank you so much for sharing your wealth of information.

    I just purchased Phyllis Dobb's templates for mock-ups. Found them through your site. All this is really motivating to me!


    Christine Adolph

  7. This is a very sensible, straight-forward and honest guide to what an artist needs to know before taking the plunge and spending thousands of dollars on a booth at a major show like Surtex or Licensing.

    I've encountered many artists over the years who have gone to shows unprepared in terms of what to expect, what to bring, and how to speak with and deal with potential licensees. Some have lost thousands of dollars year after year, showing art that simply won't license, all in the hopes of pulling in major licensees that will get them rolling, their art out into the marketplace, and make them lots of money in the process.

    Common sense and basic info like what you've presented here, is essential for anyone considering investing in a show booth.