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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Art Licensing Editorial: Why Agencies Won't Represent an Artist

Finding an art licensing agent to represent you is NOT always easy! The competition is stiff because more and more artists are entering the licensing industry each year. It is not known the number of artists interested in licensing their work but an indication is the number of members that belong to the business social network LinkedIn's Art of Licensing group (AOLG). It has over 5400 members and growing. More than 600 new members has joined since the beginning of the year. Probably half of the AOLG members are artists and many are looking for representation.

Because of the interest in being represented, agencies are swamped with submissions from artists. Some agencies meet periodically to review submissions while others make decisions when they have the time. And lack of time seems to be the reason why many agents do not reply to requests for representation if they are NOT interested. Unfortunately, most submissions go into a "black hole" and artists do not get a response from an agency.

So why won't agencies represent artists? Below are discussions on some of the reasons.

• Art not good enough
What is considered good art is subjective depending on each persons point of view. And good art in the art licensing industry could depend on the art style, the colors, or the subjects (themes) or all three. When agents are contemplating artists work, they are looking for art that is licensable and will appeal to their list of clients (manufacturers). Each agency has their own list and the type of art the client wants depend on the retail stores they sell their products to. By looking at the art on each agency website, an artist can get an indication on the type of clients the agency is focusing on. For instance, if the art is mostly fine art the agency is probably focusing on manufacturers in the art print and home décor industries and maybe the jig-saw puzzle industry. And if the agency website shows art with a variety of styles and themes then they have a broad list of clients and are looking for art that appeals to a multitude of industries. Do not waste your time or theirs in submitting art for representation that does not meet the needs of the agency.

Not matter the style of the art, it must have a good composition and pleasing color combinations. If the art does not, it probably will not appeal to most consumers and is not licensable to the mass market. For information about art composition, read "Creating Licensable Art: Composition Tips." And read, "Editorial: Not all art is licensable" for more information about licensable art.

Because there are so many artists asking for representation, agents have the choice in selecting only the very best. Therefore, artists may not be able to hire an agent if they do not have exceptional art. Agent Jim Marcotte of Two Town Studios states ". . . "good" doesn't cut it in this business anymore – it may get you a few small licenses but it is not likely to get you representation." Read Jim's article "Get Out of the Middle" to read more.

• Not enough art
Artists may be lucky to find an agency that is willing to represent them if they have only 25 or 30 exceptional images. But most agencies want at least 80 to 100 images that can be arranged into collections of art. A few agencies will not consider representing an artist unless she/he has over 400 images. Note: Many artists start out representing themselves until they have enough art to ask an agency for representation.

• Wrong themes
Many artists create art themes that they love but may not be what consumers seek. In the U.S. most consumers are interested in American themes such as seashells, snowmen, butterflies, birds, cats, and flowers. Artists submitting art with European or Asian motifs are not likely to get representation with a U.S. agency. Likewise, in America it is easier to license colorful art than black and white sketches and motifs. Although some product lines like tabletop have been successful with simple B&W decorative designs and also sketches. But most of these designs were created by in-house designers or purchased instead of being licensed. Artists that create B&W art and themes that are popular in Europe and Asia may have a better chance in getting representation in those countries than in the United States.

• Not enough themes
If artists create only a few themes they may not be able to find representation. Most agents are looking for artists work with a variety of themes such as floral, butterflies, coastal, inspirational, patriotic, animals, and various holidays including the most important one "Christmas" to optimize licensing opportunities.

• Doesn't know how to convert to digital files

If an artist does not know how to scan art into a computer and manipulate it in Adobe Photoshop, she/he is at a real disadvantage if they wish to license their art. Original art is no longer sent to manufacturers when the art is licensed. Instead manufacturers demand that digital files be sent. Therefore, most agents expect artists that they represent to know how to create digital files of their art or hire someone to do it.

• Style is too similar or not similar enough
Some agencies do not represent artists with similar styles. They do not want to take licensing opportunities away from each artist they represent. But some agencies only represent artists with similar styles because their target clients want a certain look. Researching the various agency websites is the only way to figure out if the agency represents various art styles or similar and if your style fits their need.

• Wants artists with equity
Some agencies will only consider representing artists that are already known to the public such as the home décor designers on HGTV. Or, the artist made a name for herself / himself in an industry such as in quilting or scrapbooking. Or, the artist has a huge success with one manufacturer and the art translates to other products. Thankfully there are many agencies that do not require artists to have equity and will represent them if they have enough licensable art.

• Not seeking additional artists
Some agencies are limiting the number of artists they represent and are not seeking new ones. But if they find one with exceptional licensable art they may decide to represent her/him.

There is no short cut in finding an art licensing agency for representation. Since every artist has a different art style(s) and representation needs, she/he is the one that should do the research in looking at agency websites. And that can take a hours but must be done to find the optimum agencies for submitting art for representation. Read "Questions Answered about Art Licensing Agencies" to find out more about agencies. To find website links to U.S. agencies read "List of Over 50 U.S. Art Licensing Agencies," and to some non U.S. agencies read "List of Non U.S. Art Licensing Agencies." Good luck!

Comments are welcomed. Enter them in the comment section below.

Make sure that you read the comments.  An interesting point was brought up about unfair contracts offered by some agents.


  1. Joan, this is a great explanation! It is very difficult to find a GOOD agent if you're not a very well known artist or if you're new to the business.

    I always recommend that artists try to represent themselves in the beginning, if they cannot find an agent. There are many, many successful artists representing themselves.

  2. Great thoughts for artists on the big picture of licensing. Thank you. If you are interested in joining me on a show talking about your great licensing ideas and tips please let me know.

  3. Good article Joan. Sometimes artist does not want to come to terms with some of the things you mentioned so it is nice that you spelled it out so clearly. I agree with Maria as well. I know some artist have landed agents once they have a contract in hand. It seems like a backwards way to handle it but I have seen if be effective for art agents as well as literary agents.

  4. Interesting read. It seems like the licensing market has bloated. I agree with Maria. An artist may be better to educate themselves about licensing and spend their energy on searching for licensee's.

    I have been trying to get local talent to pool their resources and form an agency of sorts and perhaps using existing manufacturing capabilities to make our own products. EVERYTHING is not made in China! Possibly hire a management staff. In this economy there are plenty of capable managers looking for work!

  5. One reason not mentioned--that sometimes an agent sends a contract that is truly unsignable as written.

    After 30 years in the publishing industry I have learned that it is absolutely expected that contracts are reviewed and fine tuned between both parties to make the arrangement as fair as possible for both sides. For some reason this is NOT the case in licensing, and many artists are left in a "sign it or else" situation, with desperate artists leaving themselves vulnerable in order to secure representation. That's not healthy and never wise.

  6. Great article, thanks Joan. I love the comments shared also.

    I think what Barbara shared is a reality of this industry that many seem to ignore. Many art licensing agent agreements are one sided.

    Sadly many artists are extremely hungry to break into art licensing and will sign these deals. What is considered standard is not always fair. A contract needs to protect both parties. A take it or leave it deal is not good on many levels. Some of these practices have become excepted norms. Having an agent is NOT a magic pill to success. I always think new artists should try it on there own first to learn how things work.

  7. I think it is unfair to all the hard working agents I know to categorize all art licensing agents in such a way. An agent/artist relationship is a partnership and is treated as such by me as well as the artists I represent. One sided contracts are not something I have my artists sign as a foundation to what I always hope is a beneficial business relationship.

  8. I agree Julie. I think many agents are accommodating and will negotiate an agent / artist agreement. Joan

  9. Very clear written obstacles and/or challenges from both perspectives. Thank you.

  10. Another eye opening article. Thank you. Things I've read before, but with a new twist. I look forward to additional posts.