How long have you been in business and how did you come to be an agent?
My career as a licensing agent began in 1994 when I started the licensing division at Wild Apple Graphics. Wild Apple was an established poster publisher, and a licensing division was a natural extension since, with a treasure trove of art, manufacturers were already approaching them with requests to use images on their products. It was a wonderful opportunity for me. My first choice would have been licensed artist myself, but a decided lack of ability disqualified me so I got to do the next best thing, which is to find licensing partners for the very talented artists I represent. Before becoming a licensing agent I worked at House & Garden magazine, sold advertising at Travel & Leisure, and handled public relations for an international trade group. All my prior experience has been very useful in what I do now.
What do you love most about the art licensing business?
There are so many things! Among them are:
• Finding talent that I believe has licensing potential and being proved right;
• Sending (big!) royalty checks to artists. Really, the bigger the better. If the artists are doing well, so is Blue Sky;
• Putting artists and manufacturers together. It’s extremely satisfying to find the perfect fit between image and product;
• Developing relationships and friendships with artists, manufacturers, and other agents. There are a lot of wonderful, talented, interesting, and hard-working people in art licensing, and I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy getting to know them through working together.
What do you like least about the art licensing business?
No question, dealing with copyright infringement. It quite literally makes me sick. I’m happy to say that often we have been able to convert a piracy to a legitimate license. There are times when infringement is inadvertent and not malicious, and the manufacturer is usually anxious to making things right. However there are also those times when the infringement is deliberate and there’s a ‘guess we didn’t get away with that’ or a ‘we dispute your claim and will keep the dispute going forever until you go away’ attitude, or a ‘we’re too big for you to fight’ approach which is infuriating. Art Licensing is a relatively small field so word can travel pretty fast about the bad actors, but there is still far too much.
Who are the manufacturers you work with - how did you establish those relationships?
We work with manufacturers across the board from stationery to decorative accessories, wall décor, rugs and mats, tabletop and ceramics, gift. Many of our relationships are long—standing, established years ago and are on-going. For the most part they began at a trade show where the licensees were exhibiting or through cold calling and e-mailing. There’s no magic or trick to finding licensees: perusing trade publications, shopping the stores, both big box and small gift shops, and attending the trade shows are the obvious ways to find prospects. After that it’s a matter of perseverance.
How do you market artists?
By attending the gift and trade markets in Atlanta and New York, which gives us the opportunity to meet face-to-face with our licensees. We exhibit at Surtex, but sporadically. Last year was very good for us, so we’ll be there again in May, but we evaluate after every show to determine it’s worth.
Beyond that we market artists largely through email: I believe in edited, tailored presentations designed to appeal to whichever category or specific licensee we’re targeting. I want my contacts to want to open the submissions that come from Blue Sky because they’re relevant to what the manufacturer is doing. We’re conscious of not wanting to waste anyone’s precious time.
Finally, we use our website and facebook page as much as possible. Our website is up-dated frequently to reflect the newest images and facebook allows for regular up-dates on what’s happening with our artists and licensees.
What do you look for in an Artist?
We look for:
• Applicability of the artwork to a range of products. If I can’t easily visualize it on a minimum of three to four product categories it probably won’t work;
• The artist’s recognition that art licensing is a commercial venture. That means the work may have to follow trends, be altered to suit a licensee’s needs and might not be used at all;
• The artist’s commitment to licensing by producing new work regularly, ability to resist discouragement, and patience, since the payoff can be a long ways out;
• An artist that sees licensing representation as a partnership—neither of us works for the other, but we are working together to build something.
How much work do you expect an artists to create?
I’ve never understood this question. It’s a little like asking ‘How successful do you want to be?’ I know that every artist produces new work at his or her own rate, but the simple answer is the more art that’s produced the greater the likelihood of success. That said, one artist can produce ten pieces that don’t go anywhere, another can produce one that gets licensed all over, so in that case it’s a matter of quality over quantity.
There really is no short answer either, but I will say that Jane Maday, one of Blue Sky’s top artists is also the top producer of new work. She was already an experienced licensed artist when we started working together, but even so, she never stops pushing herself in new directions with techniques and approaches so her licensing program will move into new categories. She treats art licensing as the full-time job that it is and that discipline and ambition are largely responsible for her success
How has the Art Licensing business changed over the years?
When I started in art licensing there was a lot of resistance from manufacturers to using outside artists. Many companies had in-house design staff so they couldn’t see incurring additional expense for something they already had, they felt the accounting was going to be a hassle, and they’d have to increase prices to accommodate the royalty. Then, as it became clear that certain artists like Mary Engelbreit, Susan Winget and some others were selling a lot of product, those attitudes started to shift; before very long a lot of companies had given up their in-house artists and began to rely exclusively on outside artwork.
Then the internet provided a huge shift in the art licensing business. The advent of email and the now ubiquitous image software removed any barriers to entry for would-be art licensors. Many bloggers, Etsy shop owners and individual artists with computer connections are now successful art licensors. There’s more competition, but there are more opportunities as well.
What’s new at Blue Sky Art & Design?
There’s always great new artwork. Jane Maday is at work on a wonderful series of Vintage Journal Sketches that she’s painting in an old ledger bought online. There are already over 40 images of wildlife, Spring, coastal, inspiration, and holiday to name just a few of the themes. Veteran licensed artist Wendy Russell is adding to her Bird Dog series which got an immediate and enthusiastic response when first introduced.
In addition, Blue Sky has recently added several talented, experienced and FUN artists: Swirly Designs, comprised of husband and wife Paul and Lianne Stoddard make bright, colorful and imaginative ornaments from clay. Their work is already being developed for collectibles and gifts. Their images are also translated to flat art for multiple other uses; Nancy Archer is hard at work on new collections of patterns for stationery, fabric, tabletop and more; and artist Barbara Behr, well-known in Germany and new to the American market is making a big impression with her Victoriana collages and imaginative compositions. All this newness keeps things exciting!
You can find Blue Sky Art & Design
Surtex 2017 booth #2824 May 21-23, 2017