Art in licensing

We speak to a number of artists about launching their licensing programmes.
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Attendees at any licensing show will have seen a varied range of artist and designers exhibiting their images in a bid to embark on a licensing programme. With many licensors in the sector, it can be a competitive bid.

Edward Weale and his business partner set up Lemon Ribbon in 2009 and embarked on a licensing programme the same year. The firm hoped to use licensing deals to move into new sectors.

Weale explains: “With our strong background in childrens wear and the popularity of our graphics, we felt that the licensing arena would allow us to move our commercial and unique designs into different sectors.

“We identified the sectors we wanted to target and the brand image we wanted for the studio and…. met and pitched to the licensees who we felt would suit where we want to take our brands.”

This focussed approach isn’t always the case when an artist enters the licensing sphere. Many with slightly more established and recognised designs are approached by licensees, giving them the idea of launching a merchandising arm.

Artist Nel Whatmore says: “I was approached by more and more people as sales of my original work and limited editions increased my profile.

“We started to focus much more on developing my brand around seven years ago as I wasn’t happy with how the licensing of my work was developing in a rather unco-ordinated reactive way, rather than as a programme as a programme with a brand image.”

American artist Russ LaChanse had a similar experience: “About ten years ago I was exhibiting my artwork and was approached by someone who wanted to licence it for tote bags. This got me interested in licensing. I like the idea of having my art seen by thousands of people and I have been working on it ever since.”

There are, however, a few golden rules for those artists and designers wishing to stand out in the sea of art licensors. 

AdaPia d’Errico of d’Errico Studios comments: “The success and longevity of an artist or art brand in licensing depends largely on the uniqueness of the art and the emotional impact that art has with the audience at retail.”

Whatmore agrees that having a USP is key when licensing art. She says: “You just have to focus on doing what you do differently to everyone else. In the age of computer generated art, we are finding that being a painter and therefore offering that painterly look is something that is now in demand more and more and it is what we can offer that in-house studios can’t.

“I think it is difficult to break through, but that that is often due to the style of work the market is thirsty for at that particular time.”

Many suggest signing up with an art licensing agent also. Weale offers: “Potential artists can also approach an art licensing agency, which has many benefits such as allowing the artist to build up a commercial history with less risk, but artists can lose control of where their art goes to and also there is the agency commission.”

Also important to the process is marketing your brand to the relevant audiences. LaChanse comments: “I showed my work at the Licensing Show for three years. This got me several contacts and generated interest from Cartoon Network. 

“However I found that other companies came out with ideas similar to mine in the following years. I try to look at that as I am on the right track and have good ideas but I do not put my characters and properties on the website any more.”

LaChanse also merits networking as a marketing tool: “I joined FLIP (a sub-group of LIMA) and attend all of the networking events that I can.”

Weale also uses PR to promote his brands: “We used the Brand Licensing show in 2009 as a launch pad to introduce our brand and have continued to market out brand using the profiles and updates on and other licensing publications and online promotion. We are also working in conjunction with out licensees with marketing the brand.

“We have found it can be quite intimidating as a new artist/studio, especially if you don’t have a large advertising budget, but there are lots of media publications that are looking for new stories and you can use monthly newsletters and updates to keep you in the eye of the industry, If you get PR working for you, it more than repays the effort.”

So even if you have great images to convey into a range of new products, a strong business plan, distinguishable style and dogged determination are necessary to make a successful art licensing programme.

D’Errico concludes: “It isn’t enough for art to be ‘pretty’ because there are a ton of artists out there who are technically skilled at creating images, but there are very few who have the ability to speak to people through their art.”


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