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5 Tips for Creatives to Profitably License Their Work Starving is no way to live, even for artists. Licensing creative work for the consumer market can put food on the table.

By Kedma Ough Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Struggling artists are always searching for funding avenues that support their passion. Choosing to be an artist is romantic but to be an artist who can support oneself selling their artwork is difficult.

One notable success is Joan Beiriger, who has spent the last fifteen years successfully licensing her artwork and researching the art licensing market. Her robust body of work can be found on stationery, gift and home décor products, including greeting cards, gift wrap, gift bags, wall décor, decorative flags, mailbox wraps and stained glass. She shares her insights to getting an art licensing deal.

1. Study the consumer market

Artists must create art that consumers want to see on products and that appeals to the mass market. To do this effectively artists must study images, themes, and art styles used on products in different industries such as greeting cards, decorative flags, quilting fabrics, coasters, mugs and jig-saw puzzles. For instance, do not submit everyday realistic looking floral images to a greeting card company if they only sell illustrative art for their Christmas cards.

Related: What You Need to Know About Music Licensing for Your Business

2. Look to trade shows for licensing opportunities

Depending on your market, there are several national trade shows to consider. In particular, artists should consider the SURTEX licensing and sale tradeshow for exhibiting or walking the show and connecting with art licensing experts. Another option is to attend the Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishing Market to view thousands of products that provide insight into the latest trends and find potential manufacturers seeking licensing deals.

3. Consider an art licensing agent

This decision to work or not work with an agent depends upon one's business skills. Some artists prefer to only create art, so having an agent run the business side of licensing can be advantageous. Artists can check out the list I developed of fifty art licensing agencies.

Related: Art Gets Entrepreneurial

4. Expect modest royalties

The average art licensing licensee royalty is 5 percent or 6 percent when the products are sold in gift stores and 2 percent to 3 percent when sold in large chain stores. There are flat fee licensing deals (revenue given up front with no additional amount), and print-on-demand deals (receive revenue only if the product is sold).

The average art licensing licensee contract is two to three years. Licensing contracts do not necessarily generate high revenue and not many artists get rich from licensing their art. Since the recession, fewer artists can live on just what they earn from licensing their art, so they need to build their licensing portfolio in conjunction with our marketing efforts.

5. For more money, license the art yourself

The normal split between and artist and agent is 50/50., so of course the artist does better not having to share the revenue with an agent. The artist can submit art directly to licensees and build a relationship with the art director instead on depending on the agent.

Some companies seeking idea submissions from artists include:

  • Avanti has been publishing award winning greeting cards around the world for over 30 years and is always on the lookout for great new photographic imagery. Click for their idea submission page.
  • Calypso Cards publishes and distributes several lines of sophisticated, contemporary and innovative greeting cards and invites submissions of artwork that lends itself to holiday and special occasions. Click for their idea submission.
  • Hobbico is the largest model hobby company in the world. Click for their idea submission page.
  • The Plaid Company is a leading arts and crafts company focused on bringing the most innovative craft products to market. Click for their idea submission page.

Artists should make sure they understand the clauses in a contract before signing it. There are low-cost and pro bono services available for artists seeking legal counselor on licensing contracts. The California Lawyers for the Arts offers artists education, representation and dispute resolution and also are involved with the United States Patent and Trade Office national pro bono legal initiative.

As Andy Warhol once stated, "Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art."

Related: How to Sell at Craft Fairs and Shows

Kedma Ough

Entrepreneur, Inventor, Speaker; SBDC Director

Kedma Ough is a proven champion for small businesses. She is an inventor, author, speaker and a fifth-generation entrepreneur. Ough provides honest, straightforward education to innovators on feasibility,  funding and free resources. 

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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