© Kathy Weller wellerwishes.com
I've been sharing my art licensing story with you, in fits and starts, for quite awhile now. Staying positive and 'on the bright-side' does come natural to me... But, I'm not going to give you 'all rose and no thorns'. Painting half a picture of my journey for you just isn't how I roll. Art licensing is an exciting business, but, I will be honest, it's no barrel of cupcakes with monkeys and pugs on top. Nor did I think it would be. I studied the industry for too long and too hard before actually jumping into the waters myself to not have a full understanding of this going in.
The art licensing biz can be very... well, dramatic. My experiences this year has been riddled with highs and lows. I expected this. I knew what I was getting into. But, there some things you just can't really prepare yourself for. It's the difference between book-smarts and street-smarts. Reading the story and living it are two completely different things. So, when things happened—or didn't, in some cases—I didn't have a road map. I just had to keep my head on, refocus myself and revise my plan a little. Just keep on plowing through. Keep working, keep submitting, keep trying. No quitting allowed.
The other day, I was talking to a friend about it, and I compared the emotional toll to the ups and downs of buying a first home. "Congratulations! You're a Homeowner! Oh, wait! Sorry! You're NOT a Homeowner!" Maybe it's a Short Sale... Maybe with a moody, indecisive owner... Just for good measure, let's throw in a difficult house inspection: New roof.. Water damage. Get the picture?
Though the year has been dramatic, I can't see the shadows without also seeing the light. And believe me, there is light. When I actually really step back, and take a good, hard look at things, there has been plenty of light! All of my focused creative energy and hard work has produced a LOT of very solid, focused creative work. In fact, I dare say I've had one of my most prolific years on record, if not THE most prolific year I can even remember. Yes, I'm not exaggerating. That is something to celebrate!
I also discovered that I am a GOOD WRITER. For reals! I found "my voice" in writing copy for greeting cards. The illustration part of the card equation was never an issue, of course. But writing the copy? Scary! In truth, it took me years to work up to it. It was an experiment in many things, mostly in my own self-confidence. Turns out I was ready to let the card writer come out to play, and stay. It is a truly amazing to have discovered (or admitted... or maybe just fully embraced?) this other passion of mine. This year, I even had interest in my card line from a great company. This time, that deal did not happen. But this was a bump in the road. I could'nt let myself get too discouraged. I know my work is good, and I know the work will find the life it deserves. And, I have a LOT more cards in me. So there are lots of possibilities. It is my job to turn those possibilities into probabilities.
Another great positive that happened this year is that I started to cultivate relationships with people in the industry. Really nice, really honest, really genuine, really talented, really hard-working people. And, Ta-Da! Some of them are agents! Maybe I'm lucky, choosy, or a combination—but not one of the agents whom I personally interfaced with this year was any less than great. ANY LESS THAN GREAT. (That's my Oprah repeat for you.) Yes, I know that we illustrators all hear the "bad-agent" horror stories. But between you and me, I'm sure some agents (and some manufacturers) also have horror stories about some less-than-professional illustrators! My main point is that we're all adults here. There are bad apples everywhere. And there are good apples, too. And we all need to be on top of our game. It just boils down to listening to your instinct (really listening, not hearing only what you want it to say), using your common sense (using those street-smarts or cultivating some), doing a ton of research on your subject (study as though for a test, whether you are looking into a manufacturer or an agent). Finally you have to know exactly what your art and brands' VERY SPECIFIC creative point of view is—where you fit, and what you bring to the table. You also need to know what the specific point of view is of the subject whom you are trying to pitch. It's that simple, really. (But yes, it IS a LOT of work.)
There is plenty of trial and error, too. Don't ever not try because you are afraid to fail, or you'll never start. In retrospect, I sat on my hands longer than I would have, simply because I heard this one line several times, from several authorities, at an art licensing conference: "In art licensing, you ONLY get ONE chance to make a GOOD impression". Crippling statement for a newbie, yes? No sugar coating there... But, at some point it becomes time to move on, and go with your gut, and let some of the things you've been told from the pros fall away (yes even the pros aren't right all of the time. Especially if they don't know you and your personal situation). So I learned to take what makes sense, but not to not allow myself to become frozen by fear. I can always pick up discarded advice later, if I find it fits. The baby duck has to get it's feathers wet some time. None of us were born experts in anything (but the obvious). I think I understand what the objective was in the statement, but I finally sent it packing...
Hey, guess what? I don't think I really qualify as an art licensing newbie any more. But I've still got a long way to go, and though the journey is at times dramatic, it's also exciting, and even rewarding. I don't ever want to turn a blind eye to these valuable experiences that initially are not all sunshine and roses. They're moments to be marked— celebrated even. Gaining wisdom through hard-won experience is priceless, isn't it?
Onward and upward!