How Art is Licensed | Artsy Shark

by Carolyn Edlund

What is art licensing, and how do artists enter the marketplace?

attendees at an art licensing show

A booth at the SURTEX art licensing show

Licensing art means entering into a contractual agreement with a manufacturer (or other licensee) to allow them the use of your original images. The contract defines the specific purpose, time period, and geographical area of the license (such as the United States, or worldwide.) Licensing your art allows the other party to use your images, but does not convey copyright, which you as the artist retains.

Take a look at products in the marketplace, and you will see artwork and designs used on products of all types. These range from fabrics to wall decor, dinnerware, wallpaper, rugs, stationery, greeting cards, calendars, stickers and countless other items. All of that art originated somewhere. Artwork that is not created in-house is usually licensed from artists who are active in the art licensing industry. And because manufacturers need to offer fresh lines of products on a regular basis, new art will always be needed.

Is your art appropriate for licensing?

Actually, most artwork is not a good candidate for licensing. Many artists who design their work for licensing do this exclusively. They are keenly aware of the niche that they fill, and the type of art that appeals to that audience.

The purpose of licensed artwork is to sell someone else’s product, making it visually appealing to the target customer. If you want to get involved in the field of art licensing, it’s essential to understand which products are a perfect fit for your artwork, and to design for that market. If you take a look at the websites and portfolios of licensed artists, you will see that they often contain mockups of products that are a good match for their designs. These mockups help licensees imagine using the images on the products they manufacture.

Typically, artists are paid royalties by the licensee, and this is most commonly on a quarterly basis. Royalties are a percentage of the sales of the products with designs licensed from that artist. Usually, artists who license have multiple contracts that provide enough royalties to support themselves.

Royalty payments are not the only way that artists earn from licensing. At times, there may be a flat fee paid for a licensed piece of art. In the case of a custom design, the artist may be paid a design fee up front for this service. The art licensing contract will spell out the details of compensation.

Interested in licensing? Here’s what you should know:

– You must be flexible, willing to make changes to suit the client, and able to turn around projects quickly when required
– Your designs should have wide appeal since most products are sold to the mass market sector
– Artwork presented for licensing should be grouped in collections, with related design elements such as repeat patterns and borders. This enables collections to translate to product groupings with similar designs and themes.
– Licensing can work well with other methods of earning. Once a contract is signed and the work is delivered, it acts as a passive income stream with royalty payments continuing throughout the term of the contract.

How is Art Licensed?

Trade Shows: Exhibitors at these events display artwork that is available to be licensed. Attendees are members of the trade seeking imagery for the purpose of publication or use on products. Exhibitors at these trade shows may be individual artists, licensing agencies or art publishers. Two of the largest and most important art licensing trade shows are Surtex and the Licensing Expo.

Art Licensing Agents: Many artists are represented by agents who act as a liaison to connect them with potential licensing clients. These agents represent artists at trade shows, online, and through making direct contact with their existing customer base and prospects. Agents can be very helpful by giving guidance to artists they represent on building a portfolio and entering into agreements. They will generally take half of royalty payments as their commission.

Submissions: Manufacturers may accept online submissions from artists who are interested in licensing their work. Check individual manufacturer websites to see if they have this function.

Online: Artists who wish to license their work frequently dedicate their website to presenting artwork for this market. Their presentation will show collections and even mock-ups of their designs on products. Another method is to use a third-party website that connects artists with clients. A good resource is Art Licensing Show, a portal that is like a virtual trade show.

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