An original production cel of The Jungle Book’s Baloo kick-started Russell Singler’s interest in and eventual business in, licensed artworks.
The gift from his parents, based on his favourite film, led him to work as a Saturday boy in Regent Street’s Disney Store in 1991. He progressed to become senior store management, Disney trainer and the firm’s ‘collectables guy’.
In 1995, Singler co-founded The Animation Art Gallery at Oxford Circus, London. The store was set up as a haven for like-minded collectors and fans. A number of special events were hosted there, featuring voice talents, directors and creators of a number of characters from animations including The Simpsons, Scooby-Doo and Dangermouse.
Singler explains: “Eventually I bought my partners out and changed the name to Art You Grew Up With, which really does what it says on the tin. I started publishing limited edition art under licence, creating the kind of artwork I wanted to own and collect, but was not available.
“However, I expanded too quickly, was often over enthusiastic and unrealistic in my aims and tripped up a few times.”
At this point, Singler regrouped and went about tightening up the whole business, he moved from the West End premises and began to approach potential large retail partners, which have since come on board, including Selfridges and House of Fraser.
This is now the way in which the business works. Singler continues: “We supply independent galleries and thanks to the many years as a retail gallery, have a wonderful following and an ever growing collector base.
“In fact there are children of collectors who bought from us in the 90s that are now collectors. It really is a wonderful, fun business and I have a brilliant team that are as passionate about the business as me.”
That team consists of Emma Gillson, retail manager, who previously ran the Forbidden Planet toy department and Amanda Cattell, external business development, who supervised the retail roll-out of Lush cosmetics stores and was the Dubai country manager.
When making his move from selling vintage prints to licensed works, Singler set his sights high and signed Thomas & Friends and then Marvel. He comments: “It cost me far too much money and the deal was done on pure emotion. Lets just say it was a steep learning curve.”
Art You Grew Up With is now a partner to a range of key brands, including Peppa Pig, Paddington Bear and Mr Men, which have all proved successful, making it difficult for Singler to single out his one top brand.
He offers: “Genuinely I would say all of the licences we have are the most successful. We’ve created product that didn’t exist before, established them in retail environments, hosted retail events that hadn’t been created before.
“We work with brands we feel passionately about and know we can look after their interest, commercially and emotionally. Peppa Pig is brilliant as we’re just so proud of the editions we’ve created and Astley Baker Davies and the E1 team are just amazing. Mr Benn is a wonderful licence, as we enjoy our relationship tremendously with David McKee and Clive Juster.
“If I had to pick a personal favourite, it would be Mr Men and Little Miss. They appeal to everybody. It was also our licence when we created an exhibition allowing us to really get under the skin of the brand, offering a fantastic, nostalgic experience.”
It is this enthusiasm for the business which sets Art You Grew Up With apart from other publishers or licensees.
Gillson tells Licensing.biz: “We have almost a 20-year history of providing a personalised and unique experience to art collecting. We’re collectors too and have grown out of the feedback of our retail clients from the very beginning.”
The firm also constantly strives to create new, unique products. Gillson continues: “We’re constantly reinventing what we do and how we do it. Not just in terms of images from the shows we represent, but creativity working with artists who reinterpret characters and innovating special product such as the now sold-out 3D Paddington Bear limited edition signed by creator Michael Bond that retailed for £450.
“We have a unique portfolio of product that you can’t access from anyone else.”
The company has become a tighter-run, more effective business over the past year. During the recession, Art You Grew Up With, got rid of retail properties it didn’t need, and broadened its portfolio to cater to a wider audience.
Cattell furthers: “We offered Pop Art and Fine Art in Monaco and £9.99 editions in WHSmith, so there really was something for everyone, that enabled us to work through the year effectively.”
Going forward, there are new plans for expansion, as Cattell explains: “We’re planning to open more retail galleries, and focus on our retail partners and clients. We’re also expanding our gallery partner division and offering galleries something really special.”
The firm also continues to sign key new licences and will be refreshing its website over the coming months to accommodate and communicate the growth and change.