Licensing Your Art – By Jessica Hogarth

As a full time designer, licensing has played an important role in the building of my brand. It has contributed significantly to my income over the last five years, as well as increased awareness of my work as an artist. I actually got my first licensing deal before I began publishing cards and I guess I would consider myself more of a surface pattern designer than I would a card publisher. I trained in Surface Pattern Design, and specialised in repeat patterns. This meant that when I left art college in 2010, I had a strong portfolio of work that could potentially be applied to a number of products – which is important if you’re wanting to license your art. This blog post aims to give a flavor of what art licensing is about.

The image below shows some fabric designs I licensed to Dashwood studio, a UK based fabric company.

When you license a piece of art, you are lending your work to another company, but you keep the copyright to it. Yes, you are letting another company use your design on their product, but the rights to the design remain yours. This means, hypothetically, that you could have one piece of art, for sale on multiple products at the same time, without you having to hold any stock or have any responsibility for selling the stock. Once you have created the art work, you can, in theory, sit back and let the royalties roll in.

I license my art, sell the odd design outright, as well as work on an hourly rate for companies wanting concept artwork that we then develop in to a final design. If you sell a piece of work outright, then that is it, you have given the copyright to that design to the purchaser, and you will not be able to use it again. Selling artwork outright can be good for quick cash, however given the choice, I prefer to mainly license for one main reason: people that are successful artists in licensing, are so, in my opinion because they have a unique style that the customer feels they cannot get elsewhere. If I were to sell off huge amounts of work that then started appearing in all kinds of shops across the world, it would begin to appear that my style of art is available to purchase all over the place, and it would begin to dilute my brand. My work has a particular style and feel and some artists are able to adapt their hand to many different styles, but, taking my own skill set in to account, I decided that licensing where possible, would be the best option for me.

As an example, my best friend was in a craft shop once and saw a patterned paper pad on the shelf and apparently said to her mum, ‘that has to be Jess’s work’. Said friend, although a massive supporter of my business doesn’t know every design I do inside out. She picked up the product, turned it over and saw my logo and also a picture of my face smiling back at her. The product was a result of a licensing deal with a paper craft company. This is a major plus point in licensing. The product nearly always has your name attached to it in some way or another. If I had sold the designs outright to a different company, not interested in licensing, then the products would just be under the customers’ name. Getting your logo or name on as many products as possible is not only good for earning a living, but also for growing your presence in the design world, which will hopefully lead to even more work!

My friend, either way was right, it was my art that she spotted on the shelf, but if I had just sold off the art work, there would never be a way to trace it back to me. It would just look like other companies were producing art like mine therefore making my style seem less exclusive.

There are many benefits that come from licensing your art, and these are my top three:

1. Licensing provides a good addition to my yearly income and causes no real cash flow problems. Unlike selling stock on a wholesale basis, the outgoings are very low. I have a small studio and other than my actual time creating the artwork and the purchasing of art materials, I feel I run my business fairly cheaply. It can take a while for royalties to begin rolling in as there is the sampling and manufacturing time, and then the goods will be on sale for up to one calendar quarter before you get any sales information. But, after all of that – every three months following, for the that you will get a sales statement to invoice.

2. I’ve already mentioned this, but licensing gets your brand out there. Sometimes being associated with bigger more established companies can make you seem like a more established brand yourself and make buyers or other prospective licensing clients notice you if they haven’t already.

3. I find it’s good to have my finger in a few pies – don’t put all of your eggs in one basket so to speak. I am thrilled to be earning a living by being a designer, but it is a combination of selling online, licensing and other freelance work and selling wholesale that makes up my income. The more income streams you have, the less pressure there is on any one customer or deal.

I have a big portfolio of repeating patterns, which makes my work ready for use on products such as gift wrap and quilting fabrics. If you’re not familiar with making repeating patterns the licensing client can often help you as they have their own artwork department however art directors are often developing hundreds or even thousands of products a year and the easier you can make their job the better. If they spot your work and can immediately see how it may look on a product then you’re already half way there. Placement prints can of course make their way on to licensed products as well and if you’re doing a product range, then there is likely to be a mixture of placement and repeat patterns within the collection. There is an example of work below which I initially designed as a placement print, but then reworked it, so it works as a repeat pattern too, making it more versatile.

Here’s an example of one of my Christmas cards that I transformed in to a repeating pattern for gift wrap and bags. You can just see your cards as a starting point for other more complex and intricate designs that may be suited for other products. A company is likely to approach you because they love your work, but may want to brief some completely new art to make it suitable for their product.

If you are interested in developing your portfolio for licensing and feel like you may want to learn some extra skills or just focus yourself on a project, then there are online courses that are geared towards creating art for other products – such as the Make it in Design courses run by Rachael Taylor. There is also the highly acclaimed Lilla Rogers Make Art That Sells Courses. Lilla really knows her stuff and is an excellent teacher.

I hope this has given a brief overview of licensing. In my next post I will look a bit deeper in to this topic and look at some of the key points when considering entering in to a licensing contract such as the length of term, and royalty rates.

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Jessica Hogarth
Jessica Hogarth
Jessica Hogarth is a surface pattern designer and greeting card publisher. Jessica is highly sociable and loves hockey; she travels around the north of England to play every Saturday. Jessica also loves people, travel, cats and copius amounts of chocolate.