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Monday, January 9, 2012

Art Licensing Tips from Agent Kimberly Montgomery: For better, or for worse?

Read the following article by art licensing agent Kimberly Montgomery. She discusses the changes in the art licensing industry and shares tips on how artists can survive and thrive.

For better, or for worse?
Follow these tips and see and benefit from the industry's 'better' side

by Kimberly Montgomery
Montage Licensing

As a licensed artist for 20 years, I have seen the industry grow and evolve. Some of the changes have been beneficial and have eased an artist's ability to connect with manufactures. Other changes have only served to muddy the waters of a growing industry that, at times, has seemed like the Wild West.

When I first began selling my work as a licensed artist, I spent a lot of time, energy and money mailing Xerox copies of my originals to manufacturers. It was tedious work that was not creative in the least, but was certainly necessary in order to sell a piece. The labor involved likely weeded out the faint of heart who were unsure if the time spent reaching out would, in the end, mean work sold.

Today I can email an electronic version of my work to multiple manufacturers in nano-seconds. Gone are the labor-intensive delivery steps and postal costs. But, at the same time, that progress has leveled the playing field. Thousands of artists can just as easily deliver their work electronically - meaning art directors can select from the work of thousands of artists with the click of a mouse.

The early years in the art licensing industry were like the Wild West. Nobody really knew what they were doing, what a contract should include and how much to ask for in the way of royalties. There were big winners, and big losers, when it came to payouts.

Today, the industry is much more standardized. Many manufactures have standard contracts and set fees, with little or no room for negotiation. Again, better in some aspects, worse for those talented artists seeking a windfall.

Despite the fluctuations of the art licensing industry, there are a few proven steps artists can take to ensure they survive - and thrive:

• Educate yourself! Learn about the industry and how you can provide something of value. Spend time online researching the business. Meet personally with industry veterans and ask them about their experiences and what advice they can share. Seek out any professional development related to the field.

• Differentiate your work. While the business side of licensed art has been simplified by technology, it's also a far more competitive industry then when it began two decades ago. Be sure the art you are creating will be valuable in the marketplace. Look at what you are illustrating from the viewpoint of the manufacturer. The art you create has to translate into a final product that will have consumer appeal.

• Review your own work. Like fashion, art styles come and go. When licensed art was a fledgling industry, the look was folksy and homey. Today, a more mature industry means manufactures are seeking illustrations that are sophisticated, and often even edgy. Is that the kind of work you are producing, or are you stuck creating a cottage look for what is no longer a cottage industry. Editor: Below is an example of Kimberly's early art with a cottage look and  a more recent painting with a more sophisticated polished look that appeals to today's market.

• Reflect on your business tolerance. If the idea that the art has to be about a manufacturer's product gets under your skin; or if you can't quite swallow the idea of adjusting your illustrations to meet the marketplace, you may be in the wrong business. Be honest with yourself and be sure that you understand the concept that your work will be employed to help items sell.

• Consider hiring a consultant. If you are serious about a successful career in licensed art, it's time to avail yourself of the benefits of experience. The money you spend on a consultant is likely a fraction of what it would cost you to go it alone. (Joan Beiriger's bog article "On Art Licensing Coaches (consultants)" can provide you with a list of qualified consultants to consider).

So, for better or worse, we're fortunate to work in such a vibrant and interesting arena. Hang on, the next 20 years is sure to be as fascinating!

Comments are welcome. Post yours in the comment section (below).