+ How can I tell if licensing is right for me?

In order to determine if licensing is the right path for you and your art, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

1) How much money do you need to make in order to live the life you want to live or need to live? This is VERY important to think about and set realistic expectations around. With licensing, you won’t start seeing royalty checks for about the first year you are in business. Yes, you read this correctly. Plus, you get paid every quarter - that's 4 times a year.

Knowing that going into it, and knowing how much I needed to contribute to my family to survive and thrive, I worked full-time and saved up 1 years worth of income, while doing licensing on the side. This allowed me the freedom to jump in with both feet.

Another thing to think about is that it is typically said that it takes about 3-5 years to gain enough momentum and establish yourself enough in licensing to make a decent living.

2) Do you have a distinctive style to your art that is true to you and not a copy or derivitive of someone else?

3) Do you have a large portfolio of designs that showcase your distinct style?

4) Are you able to create ‘collections’ of designs that can coordinate and work together? This is typically 3-6 patterns + 2-6 illustrations/icons per collection.

5) Are you self-motivated, prolific, and able to create artwork continuously?

6) Are you comfortable making changes to your designs including the artwork itself and the colors, based on a Licensee’s needs and requests?

7) Do you like to shop and are you ok with contributing your art to consumerism and making products to sell?

If you answered "yes" to these questions, then licensing could be a great fit for you and your art!

+ What do I need in order to start my licensing business?

1) A portfolio or body of work in the same vein. Many artists ask how many designs should you have in your licensing portfolio. There is no right or wrong answer here. However, the more collections you have for Licensee’s to choose from, the better. My recommendation is, if you’re going to show at a tradeshow like Surtex, it would be most beneficial to have a minimum of 10 collections with 5-8 pieces of art per collection, which equals to 50-80 pieces of art. Depending on your style, talent, and how well these line up with the market, you could need more or less to launch yourself.

2) A systematic way to track which Licensee has rights to what art and on what products and for what amount of time. When the contract will end, and how to terminate the contract if it auto-renews.

3) Money in the bank, another job, or another form of income, since you won’t be getting paid for perhaps your whole first year of business.

4) To copyright your artwork with the US Copyright office. Many artists wait to do this, don’t do it at all, or wait until an infringement happens. However, I feel that if you are truly running a business, you need to copyright and protect your work. There are many resources available online that can help you know how to do this. A lawyer can also help you with this.

5) Patience and the ability to live in ambiguity. It can take many months or even years for your artwork and that licensee's product needs to line up. Not to mention the competition! You've just got to keep at it, not get discouraged, and keep creating.

6) A way to make contacts and get your work in front of Licensee’s. Surtex is very helpful for launching your art licensing business and getting you on the radar of Licensee’s.

7) A lawyer. Yes, seriously. Are they expensive? Yes. Are they worth it? YES. You can try to find lawyers through Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, one who is semi-retired, or one who works on a contingency basis. Just make sure that they understand art licensing and IP (intellectual property). A criminal lawyer won’t be a good use of your resources. Art Licensing Info has a great list of lawyers with an understanding of licensing.

8) Your own contract. Best case scenario is to have an IP lawyer create one for you. Next best is to use a contract from the Pricing & Ethical Guidelines Handbook by the Graphic Artists Guild or another reputable resource.

9) Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop programs. You also will need to be proficient in whichever program(s) you use to create your work. A scanner and printer are also pretty necessary.

+ What does it take to make it in licensing?

I have found that the most successful artists in licensing have a specific look or style to their work, have a strong portfolio with a focused style, generate new artwork consistently, communicate professionally to manufacturers, can meet deadlines, and have enough of a left-brain to keep track of their art, read contracts, market themselves and get new business.

Many artists who succeed in licensing have worked in-house for other companies and understand how to create commercially viable designs that will help manufacturers sell their products. These artists are not divas and understand it’s not all about them – they are professional enough to understand that they are contributing to helping a product sell and are comfortable making changes to their designs and colors in order to help achieve this. Ego is out the window and it’s about building relationships with manufacturers and learning about what you can do to help them achieve their sales goals and solve a problem or hole in the market.

I hear of many artists who think of licensing as a way to make money off of old designs they have sitting around, or find a way to create whatever they want to on their own time. They may have a lot of passion for their art but have not taken the time to develop their skill or understand what sells. The insecurity of many artists cause them to take any opportunity that comes their way either out of fear that another one will never come along, or see it as a form of validation that they are good enough...even though they see red flags.

Might I suggest that artists who fall into these categories spend their time developing their skill, learn more about the licensing industry, shop around to see what artwork companies are choosing to put on their proucts, and get comfortable enough with their talent that they can be objective about opportunities that come their way.

+ Can you share more about the different trade shows that are out there and that you've exhibited at? Which do you recommend?

I’ve exhibited at both Surtex and the Licensing Expo, and have attended Print Source and Première Vision New York for many years when I was working corporate.

I would say that if you are interested in licensing your artwork, Surtex is THE show to exhibit at, to put yourself on the map, and help start your licensing business. The Licensing Expo is for artists who are further along in their licensing career and are ready to take it to the next level.

Another way that I like to compare the Licensing Expo and Surtex is that the attendees that come to Surtex are looking for art & design for their products, so there is a much higher concentration of key companies looking for you. At the Licensing Expo, art & design is an afterthought.

As of writing this Q&A, I would honestly say that Surtex is 10x better than the Licensing Expo because the attendees that come to Surtex are looking for art & design for their products, so there is a much higher concentration of key companies looking for you. Whereas at the Licensing Expo, people are there to look for established properties like Marvel & Disney. The majority of the attendees don't usually go to that show looking for artists, therefore the traffic that comes by is like when stationery show people walk by Surtex. It's an afterthought. I would recommend doing the Licensing Expo in addition to Surtex but not instead. In my humble opinion.

Print Source is great for selling your designs, and it tends to lean more towards a younger market, kids, artwork with characters, and more mass market driven patterns with a focus on fashion and paper products. Première Vision New York is also great for selling your designs and is more for textile designers who have a sophisticated and trend-forward hand and aesthetic, who keep up on runway and push the envelope.

For any designer interested in exhibiting at any show, it’s important that you have a large body of work. If you are interested in licensing your work, then it’s important that your artwork has a strong and singular look. I would recommend walking Surtex first, and attending the classes they have at the show so you can learn more about the licensing industry.

If you are interested in selling your designs to fashion companies, then I would recommend working with a rep who exhibits at Print Source or Première Vision New York, depending on your style. Many fashion companies who go to Première Vision New York, for example, won’t stop by individual artists booths and would prefer to go to a print house who is established and whom they have a track record with.

Lastly - when you are asking for advice on which shows to attend, just be sure to ask yourself "who is benefitting from sharing this information"? You need to stay objective and make the best decision for your business.

+ With licensing, why won't I start seeing royalty checks for a year?

Remember – you get paid based on the sale of the product. Therefore, if it takes the Licensee 9-12 months from the signing of the contract and them receiving art, to produce a product and sell it, you get paid after orders are placed. Then, it also depends on when the order is placed compared to where that falls on the quarterly royalties. For example, if you sign a contract in January, and they will be launching it in January of the following year, you will most likely see your first royalty check in April of the following year.

+ Can you point me to some resources so I can learn more about licensing?

Yes! I'd be happy to. To learn more about licensing, check out these resources:


I Just Like to Make Things by Lilla Rogers

Pricing and Ethical Guidelines Handbook by the Graphic Artists Guild

2015 Artists and Designers Market

Art, Inc. by Lisa Congdon



Art Licensing Info Blog by Ideaologie

February 13 Creative

Maria Brophy

J’net Smith of All Art Licensing

Lilla Rogers Studio's class “Make Art That Sells”