Should You License Your Artwork?

Almost every artist I talk to dreams of licensing their artwork. They want to see their designs on real products in actual stores, and believe that licensing is the only way to reach this goal. I started my career in Advertising and accidentally fell into the Art industry. A happy accident. I had never heard of art licensing before I started Maker Mentors. I started researching the business of Art Licensing, and quickly became obsessed with how artists make money licensing their art.

Here is what I learned:

  1. Most artists do not make a ton of money licensing their artwork.
    I have talked to some of the most successful licensing artists on the market. People who have had their designs on hundreds of products in every major retailer you can imagine. Landing a big licensing deal (or a few big licensing deals) does not guarantee a lucrative career. You make a % each time a product sells. And some products sell really well and you make a lot of money, and other products flop and you earn almost nothing.
  2. It is really hard work to get a licensing deal.
    You have to work really hard to land a big licensing deal. No one is going to come across your portfolio and instantly see how amazing you are and offer you a deal to license your work. You have to attend trade shows, market your work online and build relationships with Art Directors. You have to work really hard for each licensing deal you secure.
  3. You won’t make money right away.
    Most artists dream of building a full-time career by licensing their artwork. What they don’t realize is that it takes YEARS to earn a single dime from licensing your artwork. Artists have to create their designs and work with manufacturers for a year or more to develop their product, and you don’t get paid until your product hits store shelves. It can take two years to get your first royalty check, which makes it really hard to earn a full-time income.
  4. The art licensing industry is changing.
    Joan Beiriger wrote an amazing post discussing the big changes happening in the art licensing world right now. Manufacturers are changing how they source talent, and artists are getting less licensing deals from big trade shows. Artists that have always relied on traditional channels for finding clients are struggling, but there is huge opportunity for new artists that know how to market their work.
  5. There are better ways to make money from your artwork.
    Licensing is not the only way to build a career around your art that is sustainable in the long-term. You can develop products, secure national press coverage, land big wholesale accounts and building a brand around your work without ever landing a single licensing deal.

So what should you do? Should you license your artwork or not?

Here is the advice I give to artists who want to license their artwork:

  1. Do not rely on licensing as your main source of income
    Licensing deals are really unpredictable and you wont earn money right away, so you cant rely on licensing as your main source of income. You need to find more immediate ways to bring money in so that you can pay your bills. Most full-time artists sell their artwork outright or take on freelance projects to pay the bills, and view licensing income as a bonus.
  2. Start pitching potential licensing clients every single day
    You cannot get a licensing deal unless you actively market your work to the people who can offer you a licensing deal. You don’t need to learn more about the industry. You don’t need to continue building a portfolio. You need to start building relationships with the people who can give you licensing deals in the future, and develop the type of art they want to buy.
  3. Find the best way to monetize your artwork.
    The way that you decide to monetize your artwork should depend solely on your personal goals. How much money do you want to earn? How do you want to spend your days? What kind of art do you want to create? What do you dream of doing with your art business? Learn everything you can about how other artists monetize their work, and figure out which path will allow you to reach your goals.

Do you think licensing might be the right path for you? We are hosting a three-day live online workshop this week that will teach you how to get started licensing your artwork in the current market. Are you curious about selling your artwork outright to manufacturers? You may be interested in our on-demand workshop on Selling Your Artwork Outright.

 

 

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