You Really Can Make a Living from Your Art
The great Mexican artist Frida Kahlo said, “The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to…”
Van Gogh put it this way, “The only time I feel alive is when I’m painting.”
To Russian painter Marc Chagall, art was a means to a higher end. “My hands were too soft…” he explained, “I had to find some special occupation, some kind of work that would not force me to turn away from the sky and the stars, that would allow me to discover the meaning of life.”
If you have even a single artistic bone in your body then you understand exactly what these artists mean. That’s your gut talking.
Head-wise however, you may be held back by the self-limiting belief that to pursue your art means you are fated to be a”starving artist.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. You CAN make money from your art and I’d like to tell you how.
- Click here to read my article How to Earn Your Living as an Artist
- Click here to read my review of an eye-opening, career charting new course that teaches you how to earn money by licensing your art
President Harry S. Truman offered this bit of parental wisdom during a television interview, “I have found that the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.”
How many of you were encouraged to go after your early dreams? I know one kid who isn’t. Tom is the ten-year-old son of an acquaintance. Tom loves two things: drawing and baseball. When I spotted a particularly nice piece of Tom’s artwork featured on his family’s refrigerator, I told young Tom that maybe he would grow up to be a famous artist.
You would think Tom’s mother would have been beaming with pride. After all, I’d just paid her son a compliment. Instead though, she shot me a disapproving look and said loud enough for Tom to hear, “We’re trying not to encourage him,” explaining, “there’s no money in art.”
Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
Artists, performers, musicians and other creative types are routinely discouraged from pursuing their passion into adulthood. After meeting a local artist named Bonnie Druschel, I’ve learned that this whole “starving” artist mindset is largely a myth. Not only do many artists make a decent enough living from their art, lots of them make an excellent living. How? Through a relatively little-known phenomenon known as “art licensing.”
About eight years ago, I ran a course sponsored by a local bank on taking your business to the next level, and Bonnie was one of the participants. She may not have been a starving artist, but she was definitely a struggling one.
Fast forward five years. I ran into Bonnie at a local restaurant where she was celebrating landing a contract with a manufacturer to license her art for their product line. The company paid Bonnie to use her art on a line of gift bags, coffee mugs, key chains, votive candles, and refrigerator magnets. That was just the beginning. This past year, Bonnie negotiated with a jewelry manufacturer to license her images and inspirational messages.
Some of you may recognize Bonnie’s work. She generously allowed me to use it as the official image for the Making Dreams Happen workshop (where she also shared her remarkable journey as a guest speaker). Today I’m proud to display Bonnie’s inspiring image on the cover of the Making Dreams Happen CD set. To see more of Bonnie’s work “stop by” her studio at GrowBloomShine.
Bonnie made both of her licensing connections at a big tradeshow called Surtex (Surtex.com). Held twice a year at the Javits Convention Center in New York City, this event is a key place where artists come together with manufacturers who are looking for art to adorn their products. The spring show is probably the best place for a new artist to start out. Begin as Bonnie did just by attending, walking the floor and seeing what it’s all about.
What Exactly Is Art Licensing?
Maybe I should back up and explain exactly what art licensing is. Or better yet, I’ll let art licensing expert Michael Woodward explain it. Michael describes art licensing as “the business of leasing a copyrighted or trademarked art work by means of contractual agreement (a license), for a specified product, promotion, or service for a specific time period, in an agreed upon territory, for an agreed upon fee or royalty.” Walk through your local Target or Sears and start observing the images on various products. Everything with a design on it was created by an artist – the vast majority of whom are independent and have licensed their art to the manufacturer.
How Much Money Can You Earn By Licensing Your Art?
How much you earn varies depending on where your art appears and on how many items are sold. The royalty for images appearing on T-shirts ranges from 8-10%, posters range from 7-10%, mugs pay a 5% royalty, and royalties on limited editions will net you between 10-15% of sales. Product sales from Bonnie’s first licensing agreement were $800,000 of which Bonnie earned 10% or $80,000. Over the past 30 years, artist, licensing guru, and course developer Michael Woodward has licensed over $600 million in retail goods. You do the math.
Michael sent me the complete The Licensing Course to review, and I was genuinely impressed. The course includes a 200+ page manual, a DVD of an 80-minute seminar presented to hundreds of artists and crafts people wanting to learn about marketing and promoting their work, and an invaluable guide called Art Licensing 101: Selling Reproductive Rights to Your Artwork for Profit.
A Success Story
When she was young, Mary too was told that being an artist was not a realistic way to make a living.
Not one to be easily discouraged, Mary says, “I believed in myself and now I’m living my dream.” Is she ever!
In 1977, Mary’s dream was to illustrate children’s books. So she mustered up her courage and headed to New York to show her portfolio to some publishers. When one art director suggested she try her hand at illustrating greeting cards, Mary says she was “kind of crushed.” But she took his advice, and a few months later, made her first licensing deal by selling three card designs for $150 and signed a short-term contract with another greeting card company.
The list of Mary’s successes since then is impressive indeed. She saw her original dream of illustrating children’s books come true when, in 2001, her debut book The Night Before Christmas spent 11 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and then went on to become an animated film. She also launched a national decorating and lifestyle magazine called Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion and Mary Engelbreit Studios now has licensing contracts with dozens of manufacturers, who have produced more than 6,500 products. Sales total nearly $100 million annually. Now what was Tom’s mother saying about there not being any money in art?
After reading through the entire Licensing Course, talking with Bonnie, and seeing the phenomenal success of people like Mary Engelbreit, I’m a convert to art licensing as a viable way for artists to earn a part- or full-time living that allows them to do what they most love – make art.
You don’t have to be a “fine artist” to have your work licensed. Some of Bonnie’s work is done with markers. And now that you know about art licensing, there’s no reason to not earn a living as an artist.
“Proper timing is overrated,” says Mary Engelbreit. “There’s always a reason not to do things – it’s too expensive, or it’s not the best time, or this, or that – but I believe there are wonderful opportunities sailing by, and you have to be ready to grab them.”
I was very impressed with both the quality and quantity of information and resources included in The Licensing Course. Here are five reasons why I endorse this course.
1) The Course Offers Lots of “Nuts and Bolts” Information
On a very basic level, the course shows you an actual example of a sample contract, invoice, and delivery note. For example, it lays out the numbers for dozens of real life royalty agreements so you have the information you need to get the best deal. The course also explains the difference between getting a flat rate and earning royalties and takes the mystery out of licensing contracts by giving you exact wording from sample contracts and royalty statements. Plus, you get to learn about internet sites and other sources artists use to stay on top of the latest in home design and color in order to maximize earnings.
2) The Course Offers a Step-by-Step Approach to Making Money by Licensing Your Art
My mantra is information will set you free. Making money by licensing your art is not as difficult as you might think – if you know what you’re doing. And that’s what The Licensing Course does. By breaking the process of art licensing down into a series of simple, easy to follow steps, you’ll learn insider tips on how to:
- Negotiate and work out what fees to charge so you can strike the best deal
- Increase your income by negotiating royalties on licenses
- Produce the kind of work that sells
- Find manufacturers looking to license your artwork to appear on their products
- Best ways to approach manufacturers and present your work to ensure success
- Protect your rights by breaking copyright law down into easy to read, every day language
- Find new markets
- Create a profitable, professional freelance business
- Keep abreast of trends
- How to create a professional freelance business that supports you and your art for years to come
3) The Course is Even Useful for People Who Hate Sales and Negotiating
The reason you’re an artist is because you love the creative process. So if the thought of dealing in the world of sales and negotiating is just too far outside of your comfort zone, not to worry. The Licensing Course also covers how you can work with a licensing agent who will negotiate the deal, handle contracts, and manage the ongoing relationship with the manufacturer for you.
You learn how to find and interview an agent so you find the right match for you, information on fee structures, and how an agent can help you get into overseas markets like Japan or the UK. (Quick Tip: According to Michael, the UK is by easiest international market for American or Canadian artists to get in to.)
4) At the Completion of the Course You Can Receive a Personal Critique and, if You Like, be Considered for Representation via The Arts Licensing Division
Over the past 30 years, artist, licensing guru, and course developer Michael Woodward has licensed over $600 million in retail goods. Michael has successfully landed licensing deals for dozens upon dozens of artists.
Once you’ve completed the course, you may submit a selection of work and a sample of your presentation to receive a personal critique of your work and its suitability for commercial use. You will also be considered for representation by Michael’s company if you wish.
5) You Get Everything You Need
The course consists of three parts:
1) A Course Manual. The course itself arrives in a big binder housing over 200 pages which are broken down into six individual lessons.
Lesson 1 gives you an overview of copyright law and covers the ins and outs of establishing yourself in the business of being a licensed artist, including tips for getting organized by cataloging your work
Lesson 2 is where you get to see the full range of possibilities available to artists. This lesson covers licensing options such as limited editions (silkscreens, lithos, giclees, etc), greeting cards, stationary and gift products, design and character merchandise (Disney, Spongebob Squarepants, Rugrats, etc.), collectors’ plates, place mats and trays, needlecraft, tableware, children’s books, home décor products. You get the information you need to decide what kind of work you should produce for which market and where to begin.
Lesson 3 gets down to “brass tacks” by answering such questions as “What do I charge for my work?” “How to I negotiate fees?” “What business terms do I need to understand?” and “How do contracts work and what potential pitfalls do I need to watch out for?”
Lesson 4 is dedicated to the all-important topic of how to market yourself and your work, the various forms of presentations from CDs to websites to mailers as well as how to target your presentation to specific markets. Also covered here is where to find tradeshows where manufacturers are actively looking for artists to license and what to do both before the show and once you get there.
Now that you have all the basics, Lesson 5 drills down to give you a more in-depth understanding of specific types of licenses. The course uses specific case studies to explain the difference between individual licenses for a single or small number of designs, artist brand licensing (think Mary Engelbreit, Flavia, and Thomas Kinkade here), and what’s known as artwork or design concept licensing which is a form of property licensing. Examples of the later include “Forever Friends” which was a major success in the UK in the 90’s and made artist Andrew Brownsword one of the richest men in Great Britain, all from a few drawings of cuddly bears and in the US, Precious Moments which generated $500 million in retail sales in 2002.
There are less famous examples as well. Here is a specific example from Michael’s own experience:
“The Art Director at Athena International (a major European Art Publisher back in the 80’s) asked me if we could produce an image for a poster of ‘evocative children with a nostalgic look in sepia, probably hand tinted.’ A photographer colleague and I therefore auditioned several dozen children and after choosing 5 or 6 of the most photogenic kids, we all set off for a day at the Worth Valley Railway in the heart of the Yorkshire countryside… We spent several hours taking pictures of the children in various situations, dressed in old-fashioned outfits so the pictures had a nostalgic feel.
One of the pictures produced a poster that sold around 200,000 copies. Also postcards, calendars, small prints, jigsaws and T-shirts were produced for many years. The US market didn’t do too well, but in Japan they loved the series which were black and white with special hand tinting. They are still selling to this day.
We received around $75,000 in royalties for this series over a period of a few years, all based on 5 pictures. Not bad for a day’s work! This equates to retail sales of around $3 million.”
Lesson 5 also covers things like guarantees and advances, terms of agreement, royalty rates, US and international trademarks, working with overseas markets, and more.
Lesson 6 covers who should have an agent and why, agent commissions, how to find and work with agents, the pros and cons of self-publishing and how to do it, and what you need to know about book keeping, insurance, record keeping, and self-employment taxes so you can keep the IRS happy
2) “Art & Design Licensing” 80-minute DVD. This seminar was recorded at a unique marketing “bootcamp” attended by hundreds of artists and crafts people from all over the country who came to learn about marketing and promoting their work. The DVD takes a comprehensive look into the $175 billion industry of licensing and covers:
- license agreements
- how to generate multiple royalty streams
- the 12 key property sectors
- what opportunities are available in the many market sectors
- creating an Art Brand
- examples of successful licensing programs and the importance of trade shows (this is how Bonnie landed her first licensing deal)
- what it costs to exhibit at key shows
- the ins and outs of how the show system works
3) Guide Book. You also get an invaluable guide to the industry in the form of a book called Art Licensing 101: Selling Reproductive Rights to Your Artwork for Profit. Among other things, this handy guide is full of real life stories of artists who have successfully sold the reproductive rights to their art.
Like the artist whose first commissioned book cover ended up being a best seller, making her almost as famous as the author. Soon she had 20 book covers under her wing as well as several children’s books, some of which she illustrated and some which she both illustrated and wrote.
Then, when the US Postal Service was looking for an artist to do a Kwanza stamp, they did a bit of detective work and landed at the artist’s site. Although beyond the initial money she earned for her art, she receives no on-going royalties. Having her artwork appear on a US postage stamp means millions of people have seen her work which translates into a lot of great PR. In this case, the Postal Service owns the original and the copyright. But the artist is able to draw on her original look to make and sell similar pieces in the form of posters, cards, and book covers.
What I initially learned first hand from licensed artist Bonnie Druschel was confirmed by reviewing this informative course – namely that it really is possible to earn a substantial income from art licensing. After experiencing such tremendous success himself, Michael says his goal with The Licensing Course “is to help you improve your own lives so you can enjoy a successful and rewarding career in one of the most exciting industries on the planet.” From what I’ve seen he’s more than met his goal.