7 Art Licensing Tips for Lettering Artists. The pros, the cons, and seven things I’ve learned about licensing so far!
7 Art Licensing Tips for Lettering Artists
Why I’m focusing more on art licensing and what I’ve learned along the way!
I started blogging in 2011, and I started doing lettering and calligraphy in 2013. In 2014, I had my first art licensing request. I had ZERO clues as to what I was doing (#fakeittillyoumakeit) and, let’s be real; my lettering work wasn’t very good at that point.
And yet, my lettering and artwork ended up in Hobby Lobby and TJ Maxx. The following year, I designed a Krispy Kreme Donut Box. After that, life got crazy (we moved to Germany), and I took a break from licensing.
We’ve been back in the U.S. for two years, and getting back into Art Licensing has been on my to-do list the whole time. I’m FINALLY getting around to it, and I thought it may be helpful to share some insight for those of you considering creating an income stream from licensing your lettering work.
What is Art Licensing?
In a nutshell, you rent your artwork to companies who want to use your lettering or artwork on their products.
What I’ve Learned Along the Way
Before I get into my seven tips, here are a few pros and cons of licensing your artwork.
Art Licensing Pros
- It’s low risk. If you were to make your own products, there’s a lot of overhead costs and logistics involved. When you rent your artwork to companies in the form of licensing, they more-or-less assume all that risk.
- You’re getting your work out there on your own terms. I’ve walked into two big-name stores to see unauthorized use of my lettering starting back at me. Thanks to a great IPP lawyer, I got paid after the fact, but it’s a less than ideal way to get your work in stores. With licensing, your work is used in a legit manner.
- You can do it from anywhere! Want to work from home? A beach? A plane? With this type of work, you can work from anywhere you wish.
- Two words: Passive Income. After you create the initial artwork, it takes little to no work to maintain. I still get checks from some years-old Hobby Lobby licensing work. Yay for passive income!
Art Licensing Cons
- It a lot takes time to build your portfolio. Ideally, you want to get 100 pieces or so ready before you start applying to branding agencies. This is especially true if you’re starting without already having a website or social media in place.
- If you want to work with an agent or branding company, it can be hard to find one. The competition is stiff these days! (But you can always go it alone!). Social media has made it a lot easier to get your work seen.
- It’s rarely a full-time income earner. While it’s possible to make really great money licensing your artwork, it’s not the typical case. The average person makes a modest five figures from their licensing deals (think $20k/year), so I recommend making it one of several income streams.
For me, I have the following income streams: my blog, my shop, affiliate income, and licensing/royalties. My shop is currently my biggest source of income. But guess what’s awesome? These are ALL passive income streams. On the days I take off, I make the same(ish) income as the days I spend working.
SEVEN ART LICENSING Tips
One: Educate Yourself
- Art Licensing for Letterers eCourse. I scoured the Internet reading articles, and it turns out people in art licensing are a secretive bunch. So when Loomier.co released this course, I couldn’t buy it fast enough and watched nearly all of the lessons in one sitting. See my note below for more!
- Art Licensing Portfolio Builder eCourse. Also by Loomier.co, this eCourse gives you 100 weekly prompts and inspiration to build your portfolio.
I was so impressed with the Art Licensing for Letterers course, I sent this review to them via email, and they ended up featuring it on their course homepage!
I’ve been lettering and blogging as a creative business full-time for about six years now. I’ve been feeling burnout and wanting to shift my business so that I’m doing more of what I love most: creating lettering! I’ve dabbled in art licensing but had no idea how to make it a bigger piece of my business, so I decided to take Art Licensing for Letterers. IT IS WORTH EVERY PENNY! Ilana and Katie cover everything you need to know to build your portfolio and get your foot in the art licensing world as a lettering artist. I’m so thankful they created a course that’s that shares the secrets of this industry. It is incredibly informative, encouraging, and will enable you to decide which art licensing path is right for you. I can’t wait to get to work on my art licensing portfolio!
Below is the lettering art I created for the first Portfolio Builder Prompt. I placed it on a card mockup to show how a company might choose to use it.
Two: Make Lists
Here are a few running lists I keep in my Art Licensing notebook and spreadsheet.
- Dream companies to work with. I listed out all the stores and companies I’d love to see licensing my work.
- Brands to collab with. Similar to the above, I listed specific brands that would be a dream come true to collab with.
- Potential branding agencies to submit your portfolio to. I keep a spreadsheet for this one! My of the big hand lettering artists on IG have the branding agencies they work with in their IG profiles (or on their websites). It just takes a little digging!
- Products you envision your designs on. Make a list of all the different types of goods and products you’d love to see your work on.
Three: Create Artwork
- Fill your portfolio! Create. Create. Create. This part is fun but also overwhelming when you think of creating 100 different pieces. Take it piece by piece and focus on enjoying each one!
- Use mockups to show how your designs can be used. Use mockups of coffee mugs, cards, fabrics, etc. to display your work. Above, I used a card mockup to show how my “Love you so” lettering would look on a card. Below, I showed it as an art print.
Side note: If you don’t know what a mockup is or how to use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, now is the time to learn. You’ll need these skills and programs in the world of art licensing!
Four: Create a website
- Create a website that highlights your skills, style, and personality. A website is an absolute MUST these days. If a company reaches out and wants to work with me and they don’t have a website, a red-flag immediately goes up. It’s ideal to share place a clear vision statement, and, of course, you’ll place your portfolio on your website as well.
- Use a professional email. I’m a former HR manager who used to read a ton of resumes. Just trust me when I ask you to use a professional sounding email. Even just your name is fine, but save the [email protected] one for personal stuff only.
Five: Put Your Work Out There
Pick at least one social media to use to share your work. The first time I did licensing, the company reached out to me after seeing my lettering on Pinterest. I find Instagram is best suited for lettering artists since it creates a portfolio of sorts. It’s also a great place to connect with other lettering artists.
Six: Know When to Say “No, Thank You!”
- Review those contracts! Last year, I sent out my limited portfolio to a bunch of branding agencies. I was so excited when I finally heard back from one, I almost rushed into. I did a few sample pieces for them before they sent over an offer and contract. The terms were so stringent that I took a step back and decided to pause and build my portfolio more first. If it doesn’t feel right, go with your gut and wait it out.
- Consider the quality of the items your work will be on. Sometimes your name isn’t attached to the artwork, sometimes it is. Either way, you don’t want your name attached to poor quality items and reviews.
Seven: Keep at it!
Like most things worth doing, art licensing it a slow climb. Keep at it, and you can build a substantial income stream that will pay you dividends for years (and even decades) to come.
- Passive income takes time to build, but it’s so worth it!
- Patience and persistence are key. You’ve got this.