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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Art Licensing Editorial: How to Create Art that is Licensable

Artists that are new to the art licensing industry are often frustrated that they have not been able to license their art to manufacturers (licensees). They may have been successful in selling their art at street fairs, in art galleries, or e-stores like Etsy. But, the art licensing industry is very different than these types of venues since licensees do not just sell to individuals but to the mass market through retail via multiple channels of distribution. Thus, art must appeal to a wide range of consumers.

In the art licensing industry, the reason why licensees license art to be placed on their products is to entice consumers to purchase them. So licensees look for well executed art with themes that are popular with consumers. Each licensee has specific art needs that often change with the fluctuation in economy, technology and trends. Even in the different product industries such as greeting cards, or decorative flags or fabrics each licensee tends to license art with a certain art style(s). It is a MUST that artists make sure their art style(s) and themes fit the licensee product line(s) BEFORE submitting art to them so that they do not waste their own time and the time of licensees.

A good resource on manufacturers in various industries that license art can be found in the article "List of Manufacturers that License Art".

Note: The title of this article is somewhat misleading because it insinuates that the information given in the article provides a full-proof way to get licensing deals. Unfortunately, there is no formula that will achieve that result. But this article does discuss what is required so that images submitted to licensees have a better chance in being licensed.

Why isn't all art licensable?
The art licensing industry has hundreds of artists that are successful in licensing their art because 1) the art technique is well executed, and 2) the art style(s), and 3) themes are wanted by licensees for their products. If any of these key components are missing, the art is not licensable or is difficult to license. The following discusses the art techniques that makes art well executed, art styles used for products, and art themes that are popular with consumers and licensed by licensees. Read the related article, "Editorial: Not all art is licensable"

• Well-Executed Art
Agents do not want to represent an artist and licensees will not license the art if the artist's work is not good enough. In other words, the art technique is not well- executed and the main reason why artists have difficulty in licensing their work.

Well-executed art has pleasing colors and the objects, and colors in the art is well balanced so that the viewer's eyes moves all over it. Below is information on art techniques (composition, color saturation, color combinations) that are important in well-executed art.

A. Color Saturation

Saturation of color depicts how pure or intense the color is; not diluted with white or gray or black. Unsaturated/de-saturated color can become dull if too much white or muddy if too much black is added to a saturated color. For example, the paint colors cadmium yellow, cadmium red, and ultramarine are highly saturated while yellow ochre, venetian red, and indigo are dark and unsaturated.  For more information about color saturation read, "What is Saturation?

Using a variation of color saturation in the art gives contrast to images so that they standout. If TOO MUCH color saturation is used in the image, there is a loss in shading and contrast in the images. While TOO MUCH unsaturated color makes the art dull or muddy looking. Thus, a good balance between saturated and unsaturated colors should be used in achieving well-executed art for products.

However, some industries such as wall décor tend to license art that has moderately dark de-saturated colors. And, licensees that sell baby clothing and accessories mainly use art with light de-saturated colors (pastels). Although, more saturated art and designs for baby products is now trending. In Photoshop, using the Hue/Saturation or Curves functions can easily alter the color saturation of images.

B. Color Combinations
Using pleasing and popular color combinations in art is important for the art to be licensed. As is stated in "Basic color schemes - Introduction to Color Theory" . . . "With colors you can set a mood, attract attention, or make a statement. By selecting the right color scheme, you can create an ambiance of elegance, warmth or tranquility, or you can convey an image of playful youthfulness. Color can be your most powerful design element if you learn to use it effectively." Read the above article to learn more about color theory and get links to websites with apps to create color combinations. Also check-out the article, "100 Brilliant Color Combinations and How to Apply Them to Your Designs."

Certain color combinations are popular and expected to be used on art for holidays and certain themes. For instance, Valentine's Day art should have red and white; baby and Easter - pastel colors; Halloween - black and orange; Christmas - traditional dark red and green; Saint Patrick's Day - greens; nautical - blues; patriotic - red white and blue.

Although, often these traditional color combinations may vary depending on type of products, trends, art styles and demographics. Currently colors for Halloween are bright fluorescent looking shades of orange, blue, green, pink, and yellow with black besides the traditional orange and black. Un-saturated colors of red, white and blue with a distressed art style are being used for some nautical art. And, bright red and chartreuse green with a whimsical art style is used for youthful and fun Christmas images.

For the last several years, a black background was used for many art themes but now not as much. Duo toned (red/black, white/black, grey/black, turquoise/white, etc.) graphic and flower patterns are now trending for home decor, clothing and accessories, kitchen, paper products and more.

C. Art Compositions
The correct placement of motifs AND color in a design or painting is an important aspect in achieving a good composition. Design principles like the Rule of Thirds creates balance in the composition. The Rule of Odds makes a composition more dynamic and interesting. And, the Rule of Simplification eliminates the clutter in the composition so the viewer can concentrate on primary objects. There are many more design principles so read, "Creating Licensable Art: Composition Tips" for more information about them and links to other articles that have more in depth explanations and examples.

• Art Styles
Not all art styles (traditional/realistic, whimsical, abstract, cartoon, stylized, graphic, distressed, etc.) are licensable for ALL product industries, or even by licensees in the same industry. That is because of the kind of products licensees sell, the demographics of their customers, and their distribution channel. For instance, abstract art may be licensable for fabric and wall décor but not for many other industries. And, humor and cartoon art styles and themes may be licensed by some licensees in the greeting card industry but not by other licensees in the card industry.

Art styles used on products change over time depending on trends and other factors. So styles that were predominate five years ago for certain product industries are gradually being replaced by other art styles. For example, in the greeting card industry whimsical and stylized styles are now more prevalent than the traditional realistic art styles. And, instead of using mainly traditional and SOME whimsical styles, the decorative flag industry now uses whimsical, stylized, distressed and SOME realistic art styles.

• Themes
Some artists create art with a theme they like and then try to find a manufacturer that will license it. But successful licensed artists create art to be put on products with themes for the mass market or niche market that they know is popular with the consumers for those markets.

Knowledge is power. Knowing what kind of images that a licensee want is crucial in being able to get deals. For example, most licensees in the greeting card industry want art that gives a meaningful and sentimental feeling. And, the decorative flag licensees want art that is colorful with central images that can be distinguished 20 feet away.

Although licensees say that you want new art, many are not willing to take a chance on introducing themes that may not sell. So they tend to license art with themes that are popular with consumers and proven sellers of their products. Hint: Art with popular themes and have a fresh new look are often licensed.

Below is a list of some popular art themes.
– Nature - flowers (sunflowers, daisies, geraniums, etc.) birdhouses, butterflies, garden birds, dragonflies, frogs, roosters, etc.
– Coastal and Beach scenes - seashells, lighthouses, sea birds, flip-flops, umbrellas, beach chairs, etc.
– Patriotic - American flags, patriotic colored flowers, stars, fireworks, etc.
– Easter - eggs, bunnies, flowers, religious crosses and scenes, etc.
– Christmas - Santa, snowmen, cardinals, poinsettias, pinecones, snowflakes, reindeer, religious scenes, etc.
– Halloween - pumpkins, scarecrows, spider webs, crows, non-scary witches and monsters, etc.

The concept "less is more" of simple duo colored patterns has replaced art themes on many products such as gift bags, gift wrap, totes, plastic tumblers, etc. Read "Art Licensing Editorial - 2016 January Atlanta Market Trends" for more information and pictures about this art trend and other trends seen at the 2016 January Atlanta gift show.

How to recognize if your art is good enough
Just because your family and friends love your art and you get accolades from other artists does not necessarily mean that the art you create is licensable. Of course, if you are getting contracts you know your art is good enough to get licensed. But if you are not, then maybe your art technique needs improving or you are not creating the right themes. So, how do you find out?

It is better to get input from persons that are known experts in the art licensing industry such as art licensing coaches/consultants than from family and friends. But even coaches will not be helpful if they do not give constructive criticism and are not able to give suggestions on how to improve the art. Coaches may be experts in the art licensing industry but art direction or giving constructive criticism is not always their forte. So if at all possible, get recommendations or ask the coach before you hire her/him. Some art licensing coaches are listed in the article "On Art Licensing Coaches (consultants)".

Another way to determine if your art is good enough is to be IMPARTIAL and compare your art with art that has already been licensed. Study the art that has a similar art style as yours. Ask yourself questions like: What makes the licensed art outstanding; colors, placement of icons? Is my art as good as the licensed art or does it need to be improved? Hint: This method in recognizing that your art is not good enough will NOT work unless you are brutally honest when comparing your art with the licensed art. Note: An excellent e-store to compare decorative flag art with licensed flag art is Flagsrus. And, the Leanin' Tree website is a great site for comparing your art to licensed greeting card art.

Read my (Joan Beiriger) journey on improving my art to make it licensable in "Editorial: Is Your Art Good Enough to License?" The article also discusses more ways to find out if your art is good enough to be licensable.

Creating art for products for the art licensing industry is NOT a hobby. It cannot be a hobby if you want to be successful in getting licensing deals and continue to get deals. It is not a couple of hours a week job but for some artists a 12 hour or more a day job. Artists are willing to spend countless hours because they are passionate in creating art for products, seeing their art on them, and hopefully earn enough money to make the hard work worthwhile.

Successful licensed artists are prolific in creating art. They are constantly looking for inspiration for art to create and are continually improving the quality of their art. They are very observant wherever they are and look at designs and colors on products in retail stores, on e-stores, social media, and the clothing people are wearing to see what is trending. Researching for manufacturers that license art to see what type of art styles and themes they are licensing is a MUST if an artist does not have an art licensing agent to represent them. Note: It is well known that the more prolific artists are in creating licensable art, the more licensing deals they will get.

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. For example:


  1. Very helpful as always, Joan. Thank you!

  2. Awesome Joan! I added a link to your post on my Useful Stuff blog page <3