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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Art Licensing: Illustrator Johanna Basford's Success in Marketing Art Outside-the-box

Two years ago I posted "Art Licensing: Marketing Art Outside-the-box" where I discussed why an artist needs to market her/his art so that its stands out from the competition. In the article, I showcased United Kingdom illustrator Johanna Basford and how she marketed her art outside-the-box by bombarding Starbucks with her intricate and gorgeous black-and-white illustrations drawn on their paper cups. It worked so well that she was commissioned to create wallpaper for Starbuck's London Vigo Street store in time for the 2012 London Olympics and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Johanna has a very impressive and long list of clients including Crabtree & Evelyn, Absolute Vodka, Angostura Rum, Hallmark, Johnson & Johnson, H& M, Nike, Channel 4, Sony Music, and even Mercedes Benz Smart Car. She has continued her thinking outside-of-the box marketing and last year she created her own innovative way of selling her art on products with her Wonderbeasts project. Individuals made pledges via Kickstarter to get gifts (signed postcards, silk screen prints, etc.) with her Wonderbeasts illustrations (insects and creepy crawlies, birds and feathers, woodland creatures, reptiles, deep sea dwellers, safari animals) on them. The project culminated with the publication of Joanna's Wonderlands book of her Wonderbeasts illustrations and gave credit to those that made pledges. For more information about her successes and her Wonderbeasts project, read "Johanna Basford - Wonderbeasts".

Read Johanna's blog to find out what is going on in her studio, see more examples of her amazing work, her complete client list, etc.

Promoting Company Brands with Art
• Starbucks
According to Starbucks, people have been decorating their paper cups for years. But, because Johanna used social media to publish her outside-the-box marketing with her beautifully decorated cups it really caught the publics attention. Not only did it promote Johanna's art but it also promoted the Starbuck brand.

In April 2014, Starbucks decided to promote a white cup contest with the winning design to be printed as a limited edition of Starbucks reusable plastic cups. It generated over 4000 entries in three weeks. And in case you wonder, Johanna Basford did not win the contest. I do not know but she may not have even entered it. For information about the contest, read "Starbucks Invites you to Decorate Its Iconic White Cup". For information on the person who won the contest read, "Starbucks Announces the Winner of its White Cup Contest".

• Chipotle Mexican Grill
In 2014, Chipotle Mexican Grill started promoting and distinguishing its brand with their Cultivating Thought / Author Series initiative of prose written by well known authors and printed on their paper cups and bags. Black-and-white art created by different artists also embellishes the cups and bags. The marketing idea came from author Jonathan Safran Foer who pitched the idea to Chipotle's CEO Steve Ellis as a way to enhance the customers dining experience. More information about the initiative can be found by reading "Why Chipotle Wants You to Read Its Cups and Bags".

Note: Johanna Basford may not have gotten her art printed on Starbucks cups but she does have a design on Chipotle's cups and bags. She illustrated Nobel Prize winner author Toni Morrison's prose.

I love to read about successful artists especially when they use innovative ways to promote their art. In today's market to be successful artists need very unique art so that it stands out. Also it really helps if artists use outside-the-box marketing to create a buzz.  Johanna sure is creating a buzz! She does commission work and also sells directly to the consumer via the Internet.  And, selling her work is no easy task because black-and-white illustrations are a harder sell than if they were vibrantly colored even though her illustrations are outstanding!  Johanna has proved that being focused, working extremely long hours, and doing clever marketing can turned artistic and marketing talent into a successful business.

This article was updated 7/17/18.

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).


  1. Interesting and motivating ideas. Thanks.

  2. Beautiful work! Johanna Basford has proved how important it is to be innovative in getting our art seen. Thanks for the article telling one way she did it, Joan.