Saturday, September 29, 2012

Artists Tips: So you want to license your artwork?

I’ve been talking for a while about posting helpful advice for freelance illustrators and artists who are interested in submitting work for licensing at C.R. Gibson (and just in general). Read below to get some helpful tips and insights from an illustrator who’s behind-the-scenes in the licensing industry. Anyone who is interested can send a PDF file, mailer, or just a good old-fashion mailed portfolio to me at or…

C.R. Gibson
Attn: Lauren Minco
402 BNA Drive
 Bldg. 100, Suite 600
Nashville, TN 37217


Send your promotional materials to other art department members besides the Art Director.

This is something that I always heard from past teachers, and it’s so true! At C.R. Gibson, our art and marketing directors are so busy that they don’t always have the time to thoroughly look over the carefully constructed portfolio you send (or you get forgotten in the HUGE filing cabinet after a few months. Sorry). However, it’s not uncommon for a designer to pitch a new artist they discovered when certain jobs come up. For instance, every few months or so my team is asked to create a bunch of journals to pitch to a particular client. Sometimes we have a vague direction, but for the most part we are allowed to run wild and create whatever we want (whoopee!).  I end up creating my own artwork for some of these samples, but it’s also a great time for me to go though a folder I have of illustrators and see if there’s anyone I want to use.  

 Why not just make all the journals my personal designs? Well, mainly because that wouldn’t give the client as much variety to choose from. Another important factor is -and you’ll hear me talk a lot about this- time. My team usually only has about three days to churn these out (including time needed to make the mock-ups), so I’m more than happy to give an emerging illustrator a chance to score a cool opportunity (it’s just good karma, ya know?). Sometimes I contact artists I’ve found while cruising online, personal favorites, artists who have sent materials to us, former students, or even my own friends and colleagues who I think create amazing work. During the last batch my directors liked an old friend of mine from Providence and a local Nashville artist who I had the pleasure of discovering when I moved to my new city. How cool is that? And even if our client passes, we might end up using them again down the line on another project.

Research our products before you send artwork.

 You have to look at a company objectively and truly ask yourself if your artwork is appropriate for their products (Mind you, this advice applies to all markets, not just licensing and surface design). CRG does a lot of things, from colorful back-to-school notebooks to vintage-inspired home goods, so we do house a variety of styles and looks. BUT, if it’s pretty obvious your muscle-y comic book vampire women don’t fit in, don’t send it! Submitting stuff way out of a client’s focus just makes you look like you didn’t do your homework. Check out to see the spectrum of items CRG makes.

You won’t see many figures in our work. 

 Oh, you’ll see them here and there, but for the most part our products feature patterns, great color combinations, and illustrations of things (like vegetables or teapots) before you’ll see figures. Think about it, having a blonde baby on a memory book when your friend’s new bundle of joy has red hair may sway you from buying it, so we use cute animals and sailboats instead. The same philosophy can apply to a variety of products. This doesn’t mean we don’t use people at all or that your portfolio should exclude them completely, but showing us a variety of subject matter will help us see more potential in using your work.

Make your work easy to use and know your programs.

Repeat business with a company can depend on how easy it is to work with your artwork.  Illustrators and artists working with traditional mediums should explore scanning their images and setting up layers in Photoshop. Obviously we have plenty of artists that simply scan their images and send them along, but we love, love, love our outside artists that know their programs and can set up things properly when needed. This makes turning last year’s note card into this year’s tote bag soooo much easier, which means faster production time and directors who are not stressing over deadlines. 

For instance, if you use Adobe Illustrator, have you outlined your text? Are your shapes all closed? Have you grouped things in a way that makes sense? If any of these questions make you go “huh?”, it may be wise to take a class or order a pizza and ask your digital-savvy friend to come over and show you the ropes. 

Create some secondary art or a collection.

When selecting art and illustrations to license, it’s more enticing to see something being submitted with additional patterns and such, even if it’s just dots or stripes. One reason is that it helps envision a finished project for marketing and creative directors when they see it. The second reason is that when we license artwork, we can’t add even a simple pattern- it all has to somehow come from your art, so the more you give us from the beginning the more we can realistically use it on multiple products (and give you more money. Thumbs up!).  If we license a painting of your snowman and you have a candy cane in there, I can take that candy cane and make a fun little toss pattern to make additional art for a product we’re working together on, like the inside of a recipe book or the packaging for Christmas cards. However, this obviously takes up time, and sometimes there just aren’t enough elements to pull from an image (I was in a meeting where we picked our second favorite piece of art for a tableware collection simply because our favorite one had too little to work with).  Let me stress that this is not necessary, but it will improve your chances of getting a deal on a whole line of products rather than just one or two.

Also, if you can’t set up your paintings, collages, and other traditionally made images in Photoshop layers, making some additional secondary art/patterns is the other thing you can do to make your work more flexible for a variety of products.

Have a (real) website to send us to.

Not deviant art, not a blog… directors want to see a website with your work on it. It makes you look professional. It’s okay to have any of the above mentioned things in addition to a website, but you have too much competition out there to not look as professional and serious as possible. 

If we say “NO”, it doesn’t mean we don’t like your work.

Rejection is never a fun thing, and everyone hates that horrible feeling when you approach a potential client and they say “no thanks”, and you swear that you can feel your soul deflating ever so slightly like a sad balloon.  However, you should know that all the companies and publishers, etc, that you will contact have many reasons to say no, even if they love your work. Perhaps they already have another artist who has a similar style. Maybe your work doesn’t match the company’s focus. Maybe CRG just bought a bunch of safari children’s art and we don’t need any more cute monkeys and alligators at the moment, no matter how cute your animals are (and Lordy, do we have to pass on some cute ones! Too much cuteness!). Don’t take “no” personally, and don’t let it stop you form resubmitting down the line. My illustrator friends and I all have stories about courting clients for months, sometimes years, until they finally said “yes” and gave us a chance. Keep in touch and send a revised portfolio 6-8 months later, or even just a mailer notifying us of new work on your website.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at the email address listed earlier in this post. It may take me a few days to respond, but I will get back to you.