Life & Business

10 Tips for Licensing Your Art

by Garrett Fleming

10 Tips for Licensing your Art, Design*Sponge














It seems as though now, more than ever, the craftsmanship and quality of work from today’s artists are being noticed by big brands. They’re not fools. These companies know that to get attention, what they’re selling needs to look great. And no matter the task, there’s an artist out there who can make their mug, bedding or lampshade sing.

I’ve never fully understood how this process looks from the artist’s perspective, though. That being said, I’m so happy we’ve partnered with celebrated watercolorist and illustrator Christine Llewellyn of Christine Joy Design. Today, she’s letting us in on just how artists and brands work together. Specifically, she’s giving us 10 tips for any artist looking to get their artwork into shops and into the hands of more consumers.

The name of the game is licensing, and it’s a game Christine is very familiar with. She even recently worked her way into a stellar partnership with West Elm and Minted, so Christine clearly knows her stuff. Click through to hear more from the talented artist and get ready to take some notes. Enjoy! —Garrett

Photography courtesy of Christine Joy Design

While so many artists, designers and illustrators dream of seeing their work in their favorite retail stores or on their favorite products, many are not sure how this happens. Many well-known home decor, paper goods and textile manufacturers partner with independent artists and license their art, illustrations or surface patterns for use on their products. There’s a very good chance that the pattern on that beautiful rug, cute lampshade or colorful stationery set you’ve been eyeing was licensed from an independent artist.

So what exactly is the key to getting these companies to notice you and get your work in their stores or on their products? There’s no sure-fire way to get a licensing deal, but these 10 tips to getting your art licensed by retailers will definitely get you on your way.

1. Create a Target List: Make a list of some of your dream companies, and start doing some research before finalizing your list. Does each company partner with independent artists, or do they have their own in-house designers? Does your artistic style seem like a good fit for the company? If possible, reach out to artists who have partnered with the company to see if it might be a good fit for you.

2. Register Your Designs: You should regularly register your designs that are public with the US Copyright Office in the event of copyright infringement. While this process is time-consuming, it is something that you will wish you had done if you see blatant copying of your work. Luckily, work can be registered in batches, so it’s a good idea to make this practice a regular part of your business – and not only when a design has been licensed.

3. Create/ Update Your Website: Many times, your website is the first thing a potential licensee will review. It’s imperative to make a good first impression! It should be clean while also conveying the unique aesthetic of your brand. Any photos you show (headshot included) should be of great photographic quality. Good photography makes your brand look established and professional, which in turn makes you appear more business-like and reliable. If you lack photography skills, hire a budding photographer or seek out a photography student who is looking to build his/her portfolio.

10 Tips for Licensing your Art, Design*Sponge














Image above: Eight works by Christine were recently sold in West Elm stores as a part of their collaboration with online retailer Minted.

4. Show Off Your Work’s Potential: Is it possible for you to mock-up what your designs might look like on certain products? If so, include a look book in your online portfolio. This will give the company a sense of what your designs might look like on their products and could set your portfolio apart from others.

5. Exhibit at a Tradeshow: Many manufacturers attend various design tradeshows such as Surtex, PrintsourceBlueprint, and the Licensing Expo and Premiere Vision Designs throughout the year where artists, illustrators and textile designers display their work. It’s one of the best ways to get your designs in front of a large number buyers and art directors with whom you might want to partner. Walk the shows of interest to you, and take note of the displays that stand out. If possible, talk to exhibitors during their downtime to see what their experience has been like. What are some things they may have done differently or wish they had known before exhibiting?

10 Tips for Licensing your Art, Design*Sponge



















Image Above: Christine’s at-home studio, where she creates all of her beautiful designs, including that latest collection for West Elm.

6. Be Enthusiastic in Your Communications: No matter how you met your contact, don’t be shy about letting them know how much you like their company and want to partner with them. Companies appreciate exuberance and enthusiasm. When contacting a potential licensee, tell them exactly what it is about their brand that you are passionate about.

10 Tips for Licensing your Art, Design*Sponge














Image above: Christine first hand draws or paints her designs using watercolors and markers. She then scans them into her computer, (making sure they don’t lose their organic nature) and tweaks the color palette until it’s just right.

7. Highlight your Accomplishments: While it might be uncomfortable for you to toot your own horn, it’s absolutely necessary to let the licensee know why they should want to work with you. Explain why you feel like your designs might be a good fit for their products. What is it about your designs – or you as a designer – that sets you apart from the scores of other designers that may have already contacted them? Don’t be afraid to sell yourself!

8. Be Social: There are countless stories of artists partnering with dream companies simply because their Instagram post was seen by the right person. To build your community, follow other artists, comment on their posts and regularly engage with your audience. This will result in you and your work getting in front of more eyes, which is exactly what you want. LinkedIn is another great site to use to make professional contacts and to connect with art directors at companies of interest.

10 Tips for Licensing your Art, Design*Sponge














Image above: “[Christine’s] designs are influenced by her Caribbean heritage, childhood neighborhood which boasts the most ethnic diversity in the New York area, and living in central Africa as a young girl.” (Source: Christine Joy Design) 

9. Be Persistent/Follow Up: If your art does not work for your target company now, there’s a chance it will in the future. Companies’ design needs change every season, so there’s a good possibility that the print that didn’t work for them last season may be just the thing they are looking for now. Plan to reach out to your target list quarterly with new designs and any other important news about your work that might interest the licensee.

10. Review Contracts Carefully: It’s best to have an attorney read through your contract and decipher all the legal jargon so that you understand all the implications of the terms to which you are agreeing. Don’t be afraid to push back on terms that don’t sit well with you. Also, if you don’t know an attorney personally – LinkedIn is your friend! Try and find an attorney who specializes in licensing, and see if they might be willing to work with you.

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  • Love #4 & #5, answers to questions I was pondering when I googled best design blogs this morning. Thank you so much Christine and DesignSponge! I’m off to SURTEX in a couple weeks so this post is perfect timing to read such valuable and generous advice. Merci Beaucoup!

  • The starving artist stereotype seems to be gradually changing. Instagram makes it easier to reach a large audience, while brands increasingly look for creative talent outside their walls. With hard work & dedicated research (thanks to articles like this) the business side of art is becoming a bit clearer. Thanks for posting this feature, Garrett. Beautiful work Christine!

  • Was this article written for me as I’m preparing for Surtex? Seems like it. Thanks for the wonderful tips and terrific timing! Also, beautiful work, Christine. I love how you are influenced by your heritage.

  • I’m going to be exhibiting at my first trade show next month (BluePrint) and it is so heartening to hear about Christine’s successes. Thank you for the tips!

  • Great summary of things to pay attention to when you start licensing your art! The lawyer thing is so important for your first few contracts until you start understanding the language. Another tip is to ask for things and negotiate. Sometimes you can get your name on the product (like on the bottom of a mug or the tag of a throw pillow) if you ask, but they’re probably never going to offer that sort of thing unless you mention it. Remember that they want your art just as much as you want the deal. You aren’t in a lesser position than them so don’t act desperate.

  • I am also getting ready to exhibit at Surtex, I was wondering- I barely know anything about Licensing my artwork, is there a specific source you could point someone like me to? I need to bone up before Surtex, it is super hard to be good at everything, but nowadays you need to be, right? Thanks for the informative post!

  • I love your suggestion for artists to be social. Like you mentioned, you never know who will see your artwork online and want it in their art shop. My wife has always had the dream to have her paintings in a gallery. I’ll have to show her your advice, I’m sure she will appreciate it. Thanks for sharing.

  • G. Payne July 30, 2016
    This is such an interesting article. My granddaughters love creating and exploring their artistic side of life during their free time. I will share this article with them. I hope it will inspire them to continue working on their artistic dreams.

  • What a fantastic article and very helpful. I am trying to refocus my business and enter into the licensing world. Do you copyright all of your pieces? I am working on some collections and wondering if you can register them as a group or individually?

  • Wow, I came to this website to read a different article and am so glad I found this. It’s great advice and covers some really useful issues/topics. Thank you so much :)

  • I never thought about this for my art work… Great ideas here!…Can someone give me an idea on costs… 1st on costs for Registering art, is it cheaper doing more than one piece at a time? Also what to charge these companies for the art they would want to use? How do you know what to charge for a licensing fees?

  • The suggestion you provide, I totally agree with that. Licensing art, design and paint is really important. Great tips, Thanks for your awesome suggestions.

  • Thank you for all of this helpful information! I had never given enough thought to this process and always sort of assumed artists were “discovered”. These are such great tips to act on. :)

  • I loved this article. Actually I have a question- who are the best people to reach out to show your designs? The designers themselves, the art directors, ect…?