ArtId Art Blog
T shirts, key chains, table cloths, shower curtains, photo albums, wrapping paper, figurines and Sponge Bob Square Pants. It__™s summer in New York City and the Licensing Show has arrived.
Now, you might have a vision of the licensing world as a warm, fuzzy place where creative people get to meet and greet each other and work together on charming products we all love that can be purchased in massive quantities by everyone we collectively know, so that in a year__™s time, you, the artist can retire early on the huge royalties you__™ll be receiving and move to the south of France to paint ___ sigh.
SNAP OUT OF IT! This is business! And a nasty little business it is, too. It__™s Elvis, Mary Engelbreit, and Nick at Night vs. Barbie, Spiderman and Winnie the Pooh in a high stakes smack down! Lots of wheeling and dealing. Lots of back stabbing. Lots of flat out idea stealing. But it does have its good points, too.
Can licensing be lucrative? Sure. Just like Lotto and at pretty much the same odds. Big money goes to big names with recognizable images. The Rock__™s mug on a mug will sell a whole lot more units than the most beautiful landscape on an identical mug if the name of the artist who painted that landscape is Henry Unknown. See what I mean?
BUT ___ if Henry Unknown hooks up with the right manufacturer who wants to create a series of mugs with his seasonal images and they get picked up by The Sundance Catalog where a certain stationery company sees them and decides they__™d make a great calendar which in turn shows up in the office of a certain placemat company exec who decides they__™re perfect for his new line ___ and so on and so on. Before you know it, Henry Unknown has become Henry Known "by-everybody, and he™s well on his way to becoming the next Bob Timberlake.
Can licensing be fun? Most definitely. And that pretty much depends on you. I have friends who think the whole Vegas/Circus/Used Car atmosphere at these trade shows and in the business in general is overwhelming and appalling. I think it__™s silly, almost Marx Brothers-y; and in my world, a little ___silly___ is good now and then. It__™s highly entertaining if you don__™t take it too seriously.
The other very fun part is after you do get your first licensed item produced and you walk through a store and see it on sale for the first time. I don__™t care how old or jaded you are; it__™s a real charge!
Pursuing licensing can be time consuming. It can also be frustrating and exhausting. And once you__™ve been successfully licensed, that doesn__™t mean you can rest on your laurels. Not one bit. This is the most trend conscious industry within the art world. Today__™s hit is yesterday__™s news, literally overnight. And everybody has an opinion. Only you know if you__™ve got the kind of personality that rises to that kind of challenge.
Personally, I go back and forth. Years ago some of my work was optioned for a line of sheets and towels by a certain ___household name___ manufacturer. The development process took a full year. The line was debuted on the Queen Elizabeth II ocean liner. Very exciting. Press coverage. The works. One week after the line was launched it was pulled from department store shelves and destroyed because one of the spouses of one of the big bosses didn__™t like a certain color blue that I used in the original art. Very defeating. Humiliating. The works.
But time heals everything and what time doesn__™t heal, Oprah can.
Many years later, I created a line of placemats and coasters that were optioned by the Museum of Modern Art. They looked cool and did really well in the MoMA store. That Christmas, Oprah selected them as one of her gift picks for her Christmas shopping show. And true to form, the items became the top seller that year for the store.
The moral of the story is this. If you don__™t like surprises and are easily thrown by bumps in the road, avoid licensing at all costs. HOWEVER, if you revel in the unexpected and enjoy making your own roads, try it. You mightlike it.