Editorial: The truth about licensing art.


There are many positive reasons to create art for licensing because otherwise artists would not license their art. But, just like all businesses' the art licensing industry also has negative aspects. I believe that power is knowing the negatives because you can use that knowledge to be prepared and not have unrealistic expectations in licensing your art. And, sometimes you can convert the negatives to positives.
Negative Aspects
The following is a list in no particular order of what an artist should know about the negative aspects in licensing art. Note: These are my opinions. Other artists, licensing agents and experts in the art licensing industry may have different opinions. It is always wise to get several viewpoints and not depend on only one.
• Licensing art is very competitive. There are thousands of artists trying to license their art. And, the number of artists increase each year. Thus, getting licensing contracts is harder each year.
• Not every artist can make a living by licensing her / his art because of the competition and less retailers selling licensed products.
• Licensing is NOT a 9AM to 5PM job. Artists need to juggle daily personal commitments with creating art and other associated licensing duties. Dedicated licensed artists work more than 12 hours a day especially when a deadline looms.
• Not all art is licensable. There are many reasons why beautiful art is not licensable. To find out why, read "Editorial: Not all Art is Licensable."
• Artists will not be able to license all the art they create. Because of the competitive industry, not all art themes are popular, and the art may be ahead or behind the trend. Also, not every image licensed will be licensed for more than one product. It may not be the right image for other products or manufacturers are not interested in licensing it for whatever reason.
• Not all art licensing agents and manufacturers are honest. Unfortunately, contracts are not always in the best interest to the artist and not every agent or manufacturer pay artists monies owed them. It is always wise to ask others in the art licensing industry if a manufacturer / agent that you are considering is reputable. And, you should have an attorney experienced in art licensing look over the contract before signing it.
• It is difficult to protect art from copyright infringers. Some artists watermark their images and use password protected websites. But, there are downsides to doing so. Many manufacturers will not take the time to request a password from the artist to view the art and dislike watermarks because they detract from the art. But in any case, artists should copyright their art with the Library of Congress so that if they need to sue for infringement and win, they will get legal fees paid beside being awarded statutory damages. To learn more about copyrights, read attorney Joshua Kaufman's article "Filing Copyrights: How and Why or Just Do It!"
• Art directors look at 100s of images for EACH image that is licensed. Thus, manufacturers showing interest in your art does not necessarily mean it will be licensed. For instance, experienced SURTEX show exhibitors know that the reality is that less than 10% (more like zero to 3%) of the art that art directors request for licensing consideration results in a deal.
• Not all licensed art have accurate colors on products. This could be due to the type of process used to print the art on the product, the manufacturer does not have or take the time to make sure the colors are accurate, or the manufacturer purposely changes the color saturation so that the colors are brighter (sometimes done for decorative flags). Note: Not having accurate colors most likely will not affect the sale of the product because consumers have not seen the original art. Although I do grimace when I see some of my licensed art on products.
• Getting a deal does not always mean that the product will be produced. It could be a print-on-demand type of deal which means the art on the product will only be produced if a retailer orders it. Or, the production of the art on the product is cancelled for some reason. Also, sometimes the manufacturer only produces one batch and if the amount sold does not meet expectations it is not produced again even though the contract will not expire for several more years.
• Royalties from a deal can be a very small amount or nothing if the product does not sell well. Sometimes an artist can make more revenue from a licensing flat fee than from a royalty deal.
• More and more manufacturers are pre-selling their products before producing them. That means they may request HiRes art (high resolution) from the artist so that they can make samples for presentations. An artist needs to really trust the manufacturer before sending them HiRes art for presentation because no contract is signed.
• Manufacturers may request that the artist hold art for them so that they can give presentations to their clients. If the artist agrees, it means that she/he cannot license the art in the same category to another manufacturer. Sometimes the manufacturer will hold the art for months and the artist loses the chance to license the art that year if it is not accepted by the client.
• Artists may be requested by a manufacturer to create art on speculation. That means there is no guarantee that it will be licensed. Although, there is always a possibility it will be licensed by another manufacturer. Some artists require that they get a designer fee before starting work on a spec project. Others work on spec under certain conditions such as only designing an art theme that appeals to a broad spectrum of consumers so the chances of it being licensed is greater. Or, the artist already has a good working relationship with a manufacturer and thinks that they will most likely create art that will be licensed.
• Artist are not always able to approved the product sample before it goes into production. Many times the production cycle is too tight and manufacturers are not willing to let the artist approve the sample. Although sometimes they will send a picture of the final product via the internet.
• Certain themes even though they are popular may be difficult to license to some industries. These manufacturers already have artists that are licensing those themes and they are not looking for another. For instance, calendar manufactures already license art from certain artists year-after-year for country, song birds, cats, roosters, wine and coastal themes. Until those artists can no longer produce enough art (normally 12 - 13 images per calendar), other artists will not be able to get a deal with them.
Related Articles
• "10, oops, 17, Things You Need to Learn to Make It in Art Licensing" by licensing art agent Jim Marcotte of Two Town Studios.
"Editorial: Art Licensing Myths" - Myth #1: License your art so you do not have to work so hard, Myth #2: License your art if you are broke and need money. Myth #3: Any art can be licensed. Myth #4: One design can be licensed for ALL products. Myth #5: An artist will get many licensing deals by signing with an agency. Myth #6: Licensing revenue is always from royalties.
• "Editorial: Art Licensing Myths continued (myth #7 to #12)" Myth #7: An artist must have an agent or manufacturer sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before showing art. Myth #8: Agents not only manage the business part of licensing but track trends, guide the artist in what art to create, and critics it. Myth #9: There is a manufacturer art size and file format standard. Myth #10: There is a standard time of the year for submitting art to manufacturers. Myth #11: Manufacturers prefer to license art from agents than from individual artists. Myth #12: Participating in manufacturers call-for-submissions (cattle-calls) is a waste of time.
• "Editorial: Art Licensing Myths continued (myth #13 to #18)" Myth #13: You are not infringing on the copyright if you change someone's art 5, 10, or 20%. Myth #14: Any free clip art and fonts found on internet websites can be used in art and not infringe on the copyright. Myth #15: Art licensing agencies always contact the artist when she/he submits art for representation. Myth #16: A good way to get a licensing deal is to send out e-mail blasts. Myth: #17 A manufacturer keeps producing product with the same art if it sells well. Myth: #18 You only need to follow-up once after contacting a manufacturer.
I have never worked harder in my life than licensing my art. It can be a frustrating business but it is so worth it when product samples arrive with my art on it, I see my art on products in stores, and the quarterly licensing revenue arrives.
Perhaps art licensing agent Lance Klass of Porterfield's Fine Art Licensing states it best with "I came away from this article with the understanding that what Joan is essentially saying to artists is that they should enter art licensing with their eyes wide open, expecting the best but not being dismayed when things don't work out the way they should. And not giving up when one runs into the inevitable bumps in the road."
Joan Beiriger9:49 PM

Characteristics Of Clay

Facts About Clay That You Need To Know If You Plan To Work With It

By Ethel Jamfrey


1.     A long chain of 3 molecules chemically bonded together; A12O3+2SiO2+2H20. A hydrated alumina silicate (“Kaolin”).

2.     May be wet and squishy, dry as bone, “leather hard” or anywhere between depending on the addition of “Physical Water”. It can always be softened with water and return to a “plastic state”

3.     Plastic” means easily shaped or changed in form.

4.     Clay becomes “Permanent” when it is “Fixed” or heated to temperatures from 900o Fahrenheit or higher.

5.     Bisque” is clay that has been fired once.

6.     Firing causes the “Chemical Water” to be released from the bond and the new formula becomes A12O3+2SiO2 (an alumina silicate).

7.     Fired clay will not soften or dissolve in water.

8.     Clay is Found: In nature in beds of lakes and streams, or in ancient lakes and streams, in layers of other soils.

9.     Clay is formed from decomposing granite.

10.  Color” is always what color it is when fired i.e. it may look gray when it’s wet and plastic, but when it’s fired, it will usually look different.

11.  Color in clay comes from metallic or mineral impurities that oxidize during firing. They also determine the firing temperatures of different clays.

12.  Grog” is the gritty stuff on ground-up fired clay or sand added to clay mix to give it strength/body and make it less likely to trap air pockets that would explode during firing.

13.  Shrinkage occurs at different rates in different types of clay. All clay shrinks as it dries and is fired. Shrinkage varies from 10—15%.


Earthenware is usually red, cream-colored or quite dark. It is high in iron and other impurities, it is “Low Fire” (1740o to 2130o Fahrenheit). It does not hold water unless glazed.

Stoneware is fired at a higher temperature (2300o Fahrenheit) and becomes very hard and vitreous and can hold water even without a glaze.

Porcelain is the highest fired ware; it becomes translucent when fired to 2300o – 2670o Fahrenheit, it is vitreous and has a “ring” sound when tapped. It is also called China.


Surface Enrichment refers to Carving, scraping, rubbing/compressing, engobe (an application of colored clays to the surface before firing), an application of clay forms.

It also refers to Staining with acrylic or water color or oils after bisque firing and glazing.

Glaze is a surface treatment of a glass, melted on a clay body. This is usually done with metallic oxides that give color in addition to other chemicals that will give other effects.

About our Guest Bloggers

Joan Beiriger

As a self proclaimed art licensing junkie, Joan continues to search for art licensing info and share it with other artists to help them license their own art. Joan creates art for products. Her robust body of art is in collections, product examples (mock-ups), and in Photoshop layered files that can be easily customized to manufacturer's specifications. View my complete profile

Ethel Jamfrey

An award winning sculptor in bronze and clay, Ethel Jamfrey pursues her fascination with horses and their movement through her artistic creations. While she has pieces in private collections across the country and has shown her bronzes in Albuquerque, New Mexico, San Francisco, Palm Springs and locally, she is still developing her style and expression in sculpture and returning this year to hand built forms in clay…and bronze.

Her early work in sculpture had its rudimentary beginnings in the long summers of hot afternoons on the farm when she whittled poplar suckers into horses and crafted “paper Mache” into a model of her Paint horse. By the time she went to high school she was painting in oils with discarded brushes and left over paints that someone had given her. Her great fortune came to her in the wonderful teacher she had in Art at Madera High School, Heinz Kusel. His passion for art and life was boundless and he conveyed it to his students. He recommended her for the Bank of America Award in Art which she received as a senior in 1961. As a student at Fresno State she was again fortunate to have had Adolf Odorfer as her Ceramics teacher. Odorfer was from the “old school” of learning which demanded that students understand the medium of clay and how to make it work for you within the bounds of its physical and chemical properties. Under his strict supervision and guidance her “sculptural mind” was formed. It is a way of looking at 3 dimensions that reduces it to its simplest form. It takes the essence of a subject instead of interpreting it literally… to show movement, interesting composition and form with an awareness of positive and negative shapes…showing characteristics of the subject without “copying what God has already done better”.

Graduating from California State University Fresno with a Major in Art and Minor in Life Sciences, she became an Art and Biology teacher for 38 years.

Along the way, between teaching and “life”, Ethel found time to continue sculpting in clay, and learn the craft of working wax and casting bronze…as well as breeding, raising, training and showing Arabian horses, and photography, and spontaneous gesture drawings of horses on clothing, logo’s for horse entities, etc.

Her emphasis currently is on clay forms in high relief on a plaque which allows for a pictorial quality as well as actual three dimensional images. These pieces will be fired. Experimentation with surface enrichment in glaze (fired) and acrylics as well as use of different clays is also part of these adventures. Subject matter is also in an exploratory state. She plans to continue her work in bronze as well using Plastilina (clay with linseed oil mix) as an original form medium.