"Lance J. Klass is the founder and President of Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing, a full-service international art licensing agency that provides companies in many countries with beautiful, charming, inspirational, seasonal and always compelling artwork for their retail products.
Lance wrote his first art licensing contract in 1985 and hasn’t let up since, beginning Porterfield’s in 1995 and growing it to an enviable position in the field of art licensing".
How long have you been in business and how did you come to be an agent?
I was working as a principal at a major collectibles company in Santa Barbara, later to become its president, and finalized my first art licensing agreement in 1985, with many to follow. That was with The Bradford Exchange, an excellent company that I’m still very happy to be working with. I enjoyed working with artists, and when I went out on my own in 1994 and established Porterfield’s, L.L.C. (which became the parent company to Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing) I took on Porterfield’s first artist. In 1996 I moved the company to New Hampshire and the number of artists under representation began to quickly grow.
Back then, business was finding its way onto the internet, banks and finance companies were experimenting with encryption, a few companies were trying to figure out how to create and run shopping carts and direct sales on the internet, and major national corporations were beginning to put their companies on view, using their own company domains. So I thought I’d investigate this new program, Microsoft’s Front Page, and see if I could figure out how to create an art licensing site. I did, it worked, and when Google was established it put my new site, www.porterfieldsfineart.com, as its #1 site in art licensing. Yahoo finally realized that it couldn’t keep up with the rapidly-increasing number of sites for individual review and cataloging, and followed Google’s lead, so we wound up as #1 there and on other major search engines as they evolved on the Google model. Being #1 on Google for fully 12 years, coupled with a “stable” of really excellent artists, led to rapid growth of the company; I recall telling my wife that getting new licenses was like picking apples from a tree. How I wish it were that easy today!
Do you have help/employees?
In addition to my assistant, who focuses on digital scans, site maintenance and growth, and art presentations in certain areas, we have 34 artists currently, all remarkably talented and easy to work with. Three are from the UK, another three from Canada, one New Zealander, and the rest are Americans.
Who are the manufacturers you work a lot with?
We supply art to manufacturers in a very wide range of fields. Retail products include quilting and bolt fabric, prints and canvasses and other types of wall décor, needlecraft of all types as well as other craft products, calendars and cards and a wide array of other stationery and paper products, home décor, home fabrics, kitchen and dining room tabletop products, nonprofit printers, tins (one of my favorites because I do love chocolate), labels, juvenile – you name it, we have art for it!
How do you market artists? Who pays for this? (Anything different for new artists?)
Artists make no financial investment when we accept them for representation, other than whatever it might cost them to provide us with large, high-resolution scans of their work. We do all the rest. I once figured out that including labor, direct expenses, overhead, advertising, conventions and the like, we invest as much as $10,000 in each artist we take on. So the financial risk is all ours, and we don’t always win at it by any means. The retail market is fickle and we’re still laboring under the after-effects of the 2008 recession and the unfortunate ideology of austerity that has gripped the Western world at a time when economies need to be stimulated, not suppressed.
The way we make money is the same way that most art licensing agencies do: we split any and all income from our endeavors on a 50-50 basis with our artists. Needless to say, it takes varying amounts of time before an artist “breaks even” for us, and unfortunately some never do.
What do you look for in an artist?
I look for artists who are expert at creating pleasant, appealing and compelling commercial art that is suitable for our licensees and our current retail market. Artists must be talented, versatile, motivated and easy to work with. In years past, I would have easily a thousand artists coming to us every year. That’s three artists a day, every single day of the year. In the past few years that number has declined significantly but we still have a half-dozen or more artists coming to us for representation every week. Despite this plethora of art talent, we only take on perhaps 2 or 3 new artists a year because the specific abilities we’re seeking are not that easy to find. Plus, we need artists whose ego’s are not wrapped up in their work and who understand that manufacturers may wish to crop their images, alter colors, and make necessary modifications so the art looks good on their products, good enough to have their products jump off the shelves and increase their sales.
Do you feel an artist needs an online presence?
Every artist who wants to become known and make money needs his or her own site on the internet. A presence in social media – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn for starters – can be extremely helpful to an artist in developing and expanding a client base.
How much art do you expect and artist to create in a year?
I’d like every one of our artists to send us 10 images a day, but that’s just a fantasy. Our artists live in the real world. Sometimes they’re able to devote lots of time to creating art for license, and other times life events push away the palette for some while. I have one artist whose house was flooded out in a major storm and who hasn’t been able to get her contractors to finish repairing it for almost eight months, during which time she wasn’t able to create art for license. Those things happen. I have another artist who, despite success in licensing and repeated requests from licensees for new art, made the decision for personal reasons to focus on other parts of her life; we still license art from her portfolio online but haven’t had new art from her for several years. One of my most sought-after artists is deceased (not something I would recommend, but those things do happen). As for those still alive and under active representation, I would hope that they’re “on” with the program and despite up’s and down’s and seasonal fluctuations are still committed to making art licensing work as a part of their income stream.
Any advice or other information you would like to share?
Did you ever ride an old-fashioned carousel and try to grab the brass ring? It’s not easy, and requires a sharp eye, expert timing, flexibility and dedication to the goal, but it can be achieved. Keep that in mind if you’re talented artistically, flexible and versatile, and want to make headway in having your art reproduced commercially on retail products. It isn’t easy, but you can get there. Learn as much about the field as you can. Don’t let occasional set-backs get you down. And read the articles I’ve written for artists that I’ve posted on our art portfolio site, and those on my blog on the business of art licensing, as well as the articles and blogs of others who try to educate artists on this field. Learn, study, survey the market, perfect your craft, keep at it and you’ll get there.
You can find Lance:
Art portfolio website: http://www.porterfieldsfineart.com/
Blog on The Business of Art Licensing: http://www.art-licensing.biz
Direct email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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