Wednesday, November 3, 2010

how halloween is like art licensing

Every year I work really hard to make fun costumes for my kids. Some years I start in August because the ideas are so grandiose that it requires months to execute. This year was an easier year for me but none the less it reminds me a lot of the process of art licensing.

When I embark on my costume making, the first thing I do is come up with a concept. Which is what I do for licensing. What art will I make? Of course my kids are involved in what they want to be, but essentially we spend time deciding what will be the most fun. As an artist to license art I think more about what has a broad appeal, and what is a fun concept that I feel I can do a good job exploring visually.

Second step is devising a plan. For costume making I create detailed sketches and take measurements of my kids to ensure I create something that is wearable. As an artist creating artwork for licensing, I sketch my ideas and start to create a library of icons and images that will be good to play with in a multiple of compositions. I consider color palettes and whether the art is seasonal or everyday. But essentially both share the careful consideration of usefulness. Be it to wear to show.

Third execution. Costume making is easy, figure out the pieces and start creating. Art licensing is similar. Take all those sketches and pieces and begin creating.

The final step is bask in the awesomeness of the finished piece. Ok, maybe not, but once the work is complete both will be set out to the world. While the costume will go door to door and will receive a reward at each knock, art for licensing will require knocking on many doors, but only select ones open to reward.

Often I send out my samples, I call back and get no response. I am not alone. Many of us artists create, submit, follow-up and wait. But can you think of anything else you would rather do? I cannot. And honestly when the right door opens and gives me that king sized candy bar, there is no better feeling in the world.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

how to make time to make art

Recently I attended an author friend's book signing. It was a great event, listening to her talk about what it took to get published, to see her story in print, the excitement of promoting her book. An audience member asked her the question, "How do you make time to write". My friend replied that in order to make time to write, you have to be crappy at something. At first that made no sense, then she elaborated.

You see, in order to find time to be creative, you have to stop doing something else. For example, stop cleaning the bathroom, be a crappy co-worker if you have a job, or not pay attention to your pets. Something has to give. So you choose, what are you going to be crappy at today? For me it is cleaning the house. Let the dog hair pile up, let the toilet go unscrubbed, at least I got a drawing done.

I have wrestled with this for years. How to be super mom, how to be super wife, lover and friend. Now I just acknowledge that the stuff around the edges can wait. I don't really care about the dust on my bookshelves right now. I have come to terms with the challenge of what to spend time on. For now it is art. Later when I need a break from creative pursuits, I will sweat an hour or two away and have the cleanest house around.

For now, I am a great artist, and crappy house keeper.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

keeping up

The submissions have been emailed and mailed. The mock-ups are done. Now, keeping up with all the other details. What now?

First things first. Update my site. I know that it is easy to build your website then forget about it. But alas, the beauty of the web is that it is malleable. Websites should be current, and fresh. And although I know this, I often put web updates low on my priority list. But taking the time to go in, put up a few new pictures and post news is a great thing.

Second, taking the time to go visit other blogs pertinent to your industry and write comments. It may not seem like much but it really is a good thing, keeps you current, and lets Google know you are an active participant in your industry. So it may seem like it is nonsense, but spending an hour a week researching, and making comments really does help your business.

Lastly, follow-up emails. All those submissions I sent last week, well it is time to send a little note and make sure they were received. Remind people of my name and generally just be present, perhaps my name will shuffle up through the clutter of other submissions.

These three things aren't all that painful, really. But they often go undone. I have two of three completed, now to send those follow-up emails!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

next steps

I am still riding the high of getting my sample prints but I realize this is just one of many steps required to actually make it as a licensed artist.

Now what?

In the week since I received my sample fabric I have been pouring over websites of manufacturers looking for other places the pattern might sell. Then, I painstakingly applied the design to many products, for example; napkins, trivets, tea towels, and gift bags. Once the art was all in place I created a nicely branded pdf and began the submission process all over again. Now if I didn't enjoy my family, I would've done this months ago, but I actually like having a life, so find myself just now taking this next step. Two packages in the mail, and three email submissions later, I realize I need to make more work, and find more places to submit.

It really is a cycle. A cycle of creating art, mocking it up, researching markets, submitting and promoting. I pretty much suck at the promoting part, so my next big commitment is to make this a higher priority.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

final product

Wow. I started on licensing my art nearly two years ago. I started because I had a lot of time on my hands with the economic downturn. Of course it doesn't require time alone. I happen to be an artist with a ton of art, and a few concrete skills in the real world of design. Put that together and here I am, learning a new industry as fast as I can.

The bad news is, it isn't easy. And just because I have art and the know how to make it into a mock-up to send to a manufacturer doesn't mean instant success. As I have learned at the school of hard knocks, success in life takes a good dose of luck and timing too. Much to my chagrin. Seems some folks have more of that combination than others. I tend to fall towards the mid to low end of the spectrum.

The good news is that persistence pays. I have submitted no less than 30 designs to one company in particular. They in turn show them to their clients and finally, someone bit. Being new to the process, I didn't realize wholly that it would take nearly 5 months for the check to arrive with my sample product. The gears grind slowly in this industry. Much slower than the world of graphic design where everything seems to be due tomorrow and printed or posted within the week.

So here I am, contemplating how to celebrate my first real world success story. Granted it is one product. But it is too glorious yards of the most beautiful fabric I have ever seen. Why, because it is my fabric, my art, my name in the selvage. And that very fabric is going to be seen in stores this month.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

summers over, time to get back to work

I am a lucky woman. I get to work from home. I enjoy summers with my kids, both the fun and the annoying. With Labor Day past, school days in session, I can get back to work.

First, I am relishing in the quiet. Second I cleaned my office. Third I am back to sketches, renderings and final art. Lastly, I get to start submitting art for review. Nevermind the rain, the chill of fall air.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

success video

So Tara Reed the awesome Art Licensing diva recorded a video of me telling my recent success story. Of course I am hoping this is one of many upcoming successes, but for now I will revel in my one really great 'Yes'.

Here is a link to Tara's blog, and the video if you want to take a peek.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Well now that the good news of my first big licensing deal has sunk in, I am working hard to leverage it into more work. I am repurposing the piece that sold into other product categories in the hopes that I can secure more licensing deals.

This process showed me that there is a real cycle to how I work:

1. Ideas
2. Ideas evolve into sketches that fill my sketch book
3. Sketches turn into finished pieces as I paint them digitally
4. Final art is put into branded pdf that will be submitted
5. Research markets to submit new art, existing art
6. Submit
7. Wait, fingers crossed
8. Follow-up to see if anything is worth pursuing
9. If yes, do more work to try and secure license
10. If no, either loop back to items 1 and 2, or jump to item 5.

I can't say that I started out with this cycle or whether it just happened as a natural progression. The real positive to me is that identifying the process will help me going forward to create better systems for tracking the work, and where I am with it. I realize that as I have more successes the process will need to be more organized so that I can evaluate what pieces are working, and where they have been, and where they have yet to go.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Woo Hoo! Well it happened. I sold my very first royalty based textile print. Yea! Technically I started working on creating a portfolio for licensed art barely a year ago. I have worked tirelessly at night, on weekends and when the paying work didn't pay. Today after many submissions I got my official Yes.

A huge thank you to Robert Kaufman Co. for giving me a break. In 6 to 9 months my wine glasses print will be in Joann's stores. Aww I see a picture perfect moment of me with my fabric in the store.

Forgive my ramble but I am a happy girl today. Champagne is due.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

sketches and sickness

Ok so I had high hopes to post new sketches and more about process. But alas sickness struck. First the flu last week, and that has now morphed into pneumonia. Oh goodie! Instead of posting sketches I want to talk about something that occurred to me during my sofa hiatus.

I have been doing illustration and design for clients for years. Not the licensing art, but for hire, draw this image for me type of work. With the slow down of the economy this work has slacked which opened the door for me to create work for licensing. I have enjoyed the large body of work created and the small fruits it has bore already. However, I find I am at a crossroads.

Since the other work slowed down, and the licensing is just picking up, I find both are at the same spot as far as need. I either have to dump time and energy back into promoting the 'Bread and Butter' work of the past, OR dump time and energy into the licensing work of the future. Both require promotion and follow-up. All my old word of mouth, steam ship promotions of past for the regular work has slowed down since everyone cut back their budgets. Now that I see a glimmer on the horizon of work picking up, I either have to start putting myself back in front of those people, or I lose them. By the same token, my fledgling licensing work needs the same love.

What to do? Can I do both? Can I promote both or do I need to choose. Licensing or Bread and Butter? I enjoy licensing, but I enjoy the immediacy of a payday from Bread and Butter clients. With my amazing luck of having pneumonia, I see that I can ponder this from my sofa for a few days.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

start to finish

So I am not the world's best blogger. Not even close. I decided to do something that sounded more fun. Starting right now I am going to post sketches of a new collection I am working on, and at various intervals show how it develops. Figured it might be more interesting then me blathering on.

Here we go, I want to do a fun series of animals. I started sketching and decided I wanted them to be sort of toy like. With more angular shapes, imagine little plastic animals you might put on a cake. That is my concept.

This is one of my first sketches. I will keep posting as I make them, but for now my first page. I don't like the lion, but I really like the giraffe. Not loving lion head. I also have some possible textures I started too.

Monday, March 22, 2010

do work

It isn't enough to want to make it. I know countless people who had great desires to 'be' something. The problem is in order to 'Be', you have to 'Do'. Some would disagree with me. I would argue that if you want to just be, than yes, you can sit under a tree waiting for divination, however if you have ambitions then you have to get off your butt and do.

There are days where I don't want to draw. I don't have an idea to work on. Often when that happens I try and force the issue, even if it is just a ten minute interlude of something creative. Sometimes good art starts from that nugget of time. Many times I just slog through it then relinquish to the lack of focus. I truly believe that forcing even that ten minutes pays long term dividends. It makes me stay on track. It keeps me from putting off goals for tomorrow. Just that simple act of forcing myself to work for ten minutes on a day I don't feel like it, helps me to see that I am chipping away at a bigger objective.

Have you ever either A) wanted to get into an exercise regimen, or B) wanted to get back into shape? Did you think that the hardest part was starting? If so, than what I am suggesting buys into the logic that if you keep moving, even just a little bit, it is easier to stay moving. Call it one of the laws of motion. Call it determination. Whatever you call it, this simple act will be one of the most important skills to help you make your dreams come true.

Monday, March 1, 2010

olympics and art

I don't know if you got caught up in Olympic fever but although I am not a big pro sports watcher, I do get sucked into the Olympics. After 16 days of winter sports extravaganza my evenings are now free again to work on art that I don't get done during the day. However I can't help myself and have to do one blog posting about how I found the Olympians similar to artists.

After watching the athletes compete it occurred to me that we share some similarities. First off, these people train and pour themselves into their sport. Most of them do NOT get paid to be a world class curler, or a world class biathalete. No they hold a day job, and then they spend hours after work, weekends, before work committed to their love. Many will spend countless hours devoted to improving their game for the hope to compete, not even making the team.

This reminds me of being a professional artist. How many of us toil away at night on art that doesn't have a buyer? How often have you poured your soul into something, submitted it, and gotten rejected? But what do we do? We keep going. We are not unlike the Olympians who give it their all, then crash and burn on some extreme slope. We get back up, battered and bruised, and make more art. Granted we don't risk life and limb, but we put our families in jeopardy by NOT holding that stable job so that we can take a risk, to be great at what we love. Some of us will be gold medalists, we will get a big payout. But most of us don't make it to the medal stand. We work just as hard but be it bad luck, bad timing, or not having that extra something, we end up world class, but unknown to most.

Here's to ALL the Olympians, gold medals or not. And here's to YOU artists, who keep drawing, keep painting, keep submitting.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

finding work

One of my favorite parts of the creative process is the research. I love the time spent at the library looking for books that fuel my inspiration. I can spend hours upon hours pouring over the stacks. Then I come home and look through the pages, carefully identifying the pages I like with sticky notes.

One of my least favorite parts of the creative process is researching manufacturers. I hate spending time cruising websites and Google searches for manufacturers of various products. Then the sorting, and the reading, and bookmarking contact pages. Carefully identifying the sites that have potential.

Funny how both are research, yet I hate one, and love the other. So how do I find what I am looking for without hating it? I don't know! I like window shopping, but really being a parent of two young boys, I find it difficult to sneak off and window shop when I want to be making art. I am ever so grateful for the internet because it does allow me freedom to research from the comfort of my own sofa while my youngest is curled up watching Shrek.

Here are a few things I am trying in an effort to make the most of my online research. One, I keep a folder called 'licensing' that I bookmark all the sites that seem like good fits. Second I create a spreadsheet and input manufactures and contact info. Third, I send query emails or pick up the phone and call manufacturers to find out who to send work to (or if they accept outside submissions). Not that this makes this part of my job more enjoyable, but it does help to make it productive. The last part is to create and send appropriate work to leads.

If you are like me, drudgingly researching markets, what do you do to be productive and get the most out of researching potential clients?

Monday, February 15, 2010

being your life

A good friend of mine forwarded me J.K.Rowling's Harvard commencement speech. The title "The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination" speaks to me as an artist, as a person who like many other creatives, has had to choose a road that doesn't guarantee a golden parachute but instead one that has an uncertain ending.

I won't attempt to paraphrase her message. Please take time to listen to her yourself. But what I will do is tell you that she makes me proud of my choices. If you are like me and have chosen the creative, non-corporate, unstable, make your own way road, you too may feel proud of your choice. We have taken a risk. Many of us have taken more than one risk with our careers. We forego the 9-5 for our dreams. If you are like me, you have failed along the way. I have tried many different avenues of illustration. Trying on each one like a 17 year old girl searching for that perfect prom dress. And some felt better than others. Some were ill-fitted, ugly dresses that made me look dowdy. Others seemed pretty good, but then over time I found them constricting and not playing to my best attributes. So I decided to go the prom in a dress I made myself.

What I connect to most, is that she says if she had been successful at something else, she wouldn't have finished her book. I know that I have had many artistic diversions in my life, Art director, Designer, Advertising Illustrator, Technical Illustrator. Being good at all of them enough to stay employed and bring home a steady paycheck. But, in my heart that is NOT what I want. Her message reaffirms to not give up on what you love. Remembering, failure can allow the the runway to start something new.

With that, I embrace my past, my present, and my future.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I have been a professional artist for around 20 years. It sounds romantic doesn't it? But I think every month I have a near mental crisis over what it means to be an artist.

I have two young boys who I adore, I am madly in love with my husband, (who is incredibly supportive of my artistic desires). However, this life with a family as at odds sometimes with my art. You see most of the artists who achieve the success I long for, sacrifice relationships, and much more to achieve that success.

Some days I don't know how to get started. I want to work on so many projects, many are speculative and don't pay. Or at least haven't born fruit yet. Then there is the marketing and the business stuff I NEED to do, but don't. There is the bread and butter work that pays the bills, but isn't always the creative work I want. As a mom I have obligations too. I am the Art Literacy coordinator at my son's school. I value that job. I have grocery shopping to do. Phone calls to make. Some days it is a struggle to prioritize. I work late at night a lot. The kids are sleeping. My husband is reading or watching sports. I get conflicted because I want to spend time with my husband at night too. Yet often I draw, draw and draw.

As much as I love my art and my goals as an artist, art breaks my heart all the time. Disappointment from the letters of acceptance that haven't arrived yet, to the art that is well loved but still hasn't sold. Being an artist is both liberating and soul wrenching. I know I can never do anything else, because being an artist isn't really a choice. Being an artist is WHO I am. I love working from home, researching what I want to create then spending hours creating. The business aspect is not fun. Balancing my artistic life with the people I love is the biggest challenge. Yet having both my art and my family is the biggest reward.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Last year when the economy really took a nose dive (for me it was last January), I decided to start working on new art for licensing. I had been to Surtex twice before as an observer and knew a bit about licensing. Not much mind you, there is so much to learn. But I knew in essence what it was and the basics of what I needed to do. So I started working, sketching, writing down matrices of what I wanted to draw, categories and ideas. My sketchbook started to fill up with new work until finally I found it was time to actualize the work into finished pieces.

February was the month I spent painting and creating patterns, and repeats. I took all the time I would have spent on design work for customers (who vanished with their budgets) and took all the sketches to final art. I can't tell you how many hours I spent, but it was all of February, day and yes into the night.

March came and I decided enough images were done to put together promos and start submitting to manufacturers. I researched and compiled and started sending. Nothing happened. So I kept drawing, and painting, researching and occasionally sending. I responded to a small Craig's List ad and end up creating 4 patterns for Sock It To Me Socks.

Fast forward to July. I got an email from one of the manufacturers. They liked what I sent and wanted to look at more. I sent more. They presented all my work and said they loved it, got great responses, sent me a contract. I wondered if this was it, the big break. But no, learned that you still sit and wait for orders. Not a bad thing, just a thing requiring patience.

August, draw, paint, mock-up, send. That was September through December too. I did submit a few things during that time, including some art to Sassy Switches. Yippee they liked what they saw and I signed a contract. Now, sit and wait.

Fast forward again to February. Surprise surprise at the mailbox, I got my first royalty check! Sassy Switches just sent me my first $41.65 in royalties. To you it may not be much, but to me it is an exciting and rewarding moment in time. The beginning of something new, of a new path, another angle, another means to earn a living as an artist.

It has been a little over a year since I lost my old clients and I am still making new art and submitting. Getting good feedback, interested parties, and in general positive movement forward. Each day I find there is a lot more to learn, I have so much art yet to finish, to mock-up and submit. But it is a good day. I am a lucky girl.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

cleaning out the clutter

I love all my treasures, the bits and pieces from trips to the collection of kid art that adorns the fridge. However sometimes I just feel overwhelmed by all the clutter from what is on my desk to what is clogging my email in box or jamming up my living room. This visual clutter is just too much to take and starts to diminish my creative ability. Yes, I do NOT create well with clutter.

Being that today is one of the few sunny days we have had in Portland over the last few months, I am very aware that winter has started to pile up. From boots by the front door, to blankets piled on sofas, to the stacks of paper on my desk. Compound this with my new computer configuration, which is a workaround- laptop attached to cinema display. Yes I can see that my creativity will take a steep jump up once I put some crap away.

My good friend Kriss who is a textile pattern maker used to say the clean-up was required to 'clear the birth canal'. Which to a chick is a good analogy. And I must say as a visual person I don't really want to visualize that statement but...I do think there is a truth to it. I can't create when I am all stuffed up with stuff.

With that said, I am going to eject the two dogs and the cat from my office, open a window for some fresh air, and start purging!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

training a dog is a lot like making a career in art

Really? Do you question my post title? Well let me tell you, as both an artist and an owner of a young dog, they really are quite similar. How you ask? Let me tell you...

1) Patience ; yes it takes patience to train a dog, lots and lots of patience. And it takes patience to have a career in art. With a dog the patience required is due to the repetition, the amount of time it takes your dog to 'get it' when you try and teach him/her a trick or preferred behavior. As an artist it takes a mountain of patience to keep working, keep submitting, and finally to get accepted.

2) Repetition ; oh yes Virginia it takes repetition. For the dog it is simple, teaching them the task/trick/behavior over and over until they get it. This dovetails nicely into the previous 'patience'. As for artists, repetition in creating a style, in sticking with a genre, a system for follow through with contacts. Repetition in not giving up at the first rejection letter (yes I said rejection).

3) Reward ; this is obvious for dogs, if they do what you want they get a reward. Now as artists we don't have any control over getting a reward. I suppose you could say the reward is a contract signed. But that sort of doesn't reward us for achieving a goal that is behind the scenes but equally important to making art. So, my suggestion is, reward YOURSELF when you accomplish something. It can be a cup of coffee, a new piece of jewelry, an afternoon off. But you have to reward yourself.

Now, can you argue with that? Of course not, because you know I am right. With that said, I am going to take my 6 month old golden retriever puppy for a long walk. Get him all tired out so I can draw without guilt!