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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Editorial: Is Your Art Good Enough to License?

In several of my editorials I have stated that if you have the passion, commitment, have the art themes consumers want, and do not give up you should be able to eventually license your art. But is that enough?

Art licensing agents often state that they get many art submissions from artists with "bad art." Of course, the words "bad art" is subjective and can mean many things. Does it mean that the themes are not suitable for licensing? Does it mean that an agent that represents fine art thinks that only fine art is good art or an agent that represents country art thinks that any other art is not good ? Does it mean that some art styles are not licensable? Or does it mean that the art technique is not good enough to license in todays highly competitive licensing industry?

There are all kinds of art styles that are licensable. And that have been proven by many artists such as wildlife fine art artists Hautman Brothers, stylized & whimsical graphic artist Laurel Burch, and rustic styled Americana folk artist Warren Kimble. But what makes the art of those artists licensable? Their art evokes an emotional response (nostalgia, cute, gorgeous, etc.), has popular themes, and the technique and color of the art is beautifully executed. Hautman Brothers realistic wildlife art is drop-dead gorgeous with images and colors that "pop." Laurel Burch's art of her popular stylized cats is full of rich color combinations and rendered in interesting ways. Warren Kimble's rustic art painted on wood with unsaturated color gives his Americana and patriotic images a feeling of time gone-by.

Recently a friend sent me a link to an article "Kathryn Stockett's 'The Help' Turned Down 60 Times Before Becoming a Best Seller." In it, author Kathryn Stockett wrote an inspiring and hilarious account on how she did not give up in trying to get her book published. But she did more than just send her book to literary agent after literary agent. She continued to improved her writing by " making the story tenser, more riveting, better." And that is just what artists need to do when they are continuously rejected by manufacturers and art licensing agents IF they are really passionate and determined to license their art. They need to figure out why the art is being rejected and make it better.  Note: Not only did Kathryn Stockett's book "The Help" become a best seller after five years of writing and 3-1/2 years of rejection, a movie based on the book was released this month.

My Story
Many artists that license their art have similar journeys as did Kathryn Stockett. They also had rejections until they finally achieved success. The following is my story.

In the late 1990s, I decided that I wanted to license my art. The reason is immaterial and too long to tell in this article. But first I had to learn how to paint (another long story) and I decided to teach myself by reading art books about painting with acrylics. This was not the smartest move on my part because I should have taken some art classes. Clearly my art was not very good. The art at the left is one of my first paintings. Compare it with the one of my recent paintings at the top of this article.

Even though I instinctively thought that my art was not as good as other artists work, I did not know why. But I continued to paint and I slowly improve my technique (and I mean slowly). It has taken me years to improve my technique but I could not have improved it if I was not willing to ask art experts (art directors, consultants, manufacturers, artists) to critic my art and if they were not willing to give me constructive criticism. I heard such words as "your art is so dark," "it doesn't pop," "it is pretty but it doesn't emote a me-to-you emotion (for traditional greeting cards)," "your art isn't polished," "the background is too busy." I did not take these criticisms personally and in fact I welcomed them because they helped me to see what was wrong so that I could improve my art. Unfortunately, too often art experts do not have the time to critic artists work and also are afraid to hurt their feelings. Thus, artists do not find out that their art is not good enough to license.

So how do you figure out if your art is good enough?
First, compare your art with licensed artists art that have a similar art style. And second, ask others that are knowledgeable about art for their honest opinion. The following is some suggestions on how to accomplish this.

• Look at art agency websites
Agencies choose art to represent that they consider good and think they can license. Look at art on their websites that has a similar style as yours. Is your art as well executed as the art on the website? If you think so, then ask art experts their opinion to make sure that you are right. To find art agency websites, read "List of Over 50 U.S. Art Licensing Agencies."

•  Hire an art licensing consultant / coach
You can hire an art licensing consultant / coach to give you advice about your art but I caution you that art licensing coaches may know the art licensing industry but not all are experts in giving constructive criticism. They may not want to hurt the artist's feelings or just do not know enough about art that is licensable. So before hiring consultants to critic your art make sure to check out their qualifications. If the consultant has the qualifications, ask if she/he is willing to give a honest opinion and constructive criticism. To see a list of some art consultants / coaches, read "On Art Licensing Coaches (consultants)."

• Join or form an art licensing support group
Art licensing support groups share art licensing knowledge and the members help one another license art. Giving suggestions and critiquing art is one useful function of this kind of group. There are at least two of these groups in the U.S. One is in the San Francisco bayarea (California) and another in the Denver Colorado area. If there is not a support group where you live, consider forming your own. Read "Start an Art Licensing Support Group" by Kate Harper for information about the San Francisco group. Note: I belong to this group and find it inspiring and very helpful. 7/10/17 - Unfortunately the San Francisco art group disbanded several years ago.

• Team up with an art pal
Find another artist that is willing to give you constructive criticism in return for doing the same for her/him. If you do not know of anyone, advertise on one of art licensing linkedin groups or the art of licensing yahoo forum that you are looking for an art pal. For information about art licensing forums, read "Networking Resource - Art Licensing Forums," and " Art Licensing Resource: Networking in Linkedin."

• Take art classes
Another way to get constructive criticism on your art is to take art classes. Many towns and cities have adult education classes, community colleges and freelance artists that offer art classes.

• Ask questions
When you are rejected by a manufacturer or agency, call them up and ask them the reason why. I found that many times that the art director or agent is reluctant to tell you why but sometimes you can learn important information that will help you improve your art.

If you are unsuccessful in licensing your art and you have done all the right things such as created popular art themes, collections, and product mock-ups, maybe your art technique is not good enough. Ask questions, improve your art, and do NOT give up.

Related articles:
"Editorial: Not all art is licensable"

"Don't give up Your Dreams and Grow a Thick Skin - Part 1"

"Don't Give Up Your Dreams and Grow a Thick Skin - Part 2"

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


  1. Ive been following for some time, but i think this is my first comment. Great post with a lot of good info. I've been an artist designer for almost 20 years; custom rugs, dinnerware, stationery. I've been a freelance contractor for the last 12. I'm finally getting around to working on the licensing bit. I know how the biz works, but I feel like I'm starting from scratch; needing to create new work that is free and clear of ties to past clients. I have the skills and technique, but find the challenge in coming up with ideas and collections a bit challenging, but I'm sticking with it. I think the feedback ideas, licensing groups, etc., are great ideas. I must look into it, I could use some constructive feedback. Thanks!

  2. Thanks Joan for sharing your amazing story :) Art is such a vast but not much codified field. So much to learn and experiment with! I've been painting since I was five, went through art school and worked in many design fields all my life but I'm still learning and trying to improve my skills. I think this is key to be a successful professional, in any fields. Never stop learning! ...and never listen to criticisms that are not intended to help one in their artist or other pursuits.

  3. Thanks again Joan for a sensible, practical breakdown of the most important aspect of this business. Thanks for your encouragement and especially for the before and after pics. I love these things! Before and afters are one of the best teaching tools.

  4. Thanks for posting this article. I've been dealing with rejection for awhile now and it's good to see that others have been along this same path.

  5. Great post Joan! And terrific information and suggestions! Bottom-line is get out there, see what's in the marketplace, ask others - be a sponge. And listen! That's what you did...and it still works just like that. Kathryn Stockett's perseverance is something we can all learn from - and keep at it! Thanks again!