Art Licensing

Behind the Scenes of a Licensing Artist

May 13, 2020


I'm a full-time artist and online educator. You can find my watercolor designs on products all around the globe. This blog is where I share all of my latest art business tips for you!


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Have you ever wondered what it’s really like to be a licensing artist? I’ll tell you that it’s different for everyone, but today I’m pulling back the curtain on what it’s like both for me and for a typical licensing artist in the industry now. 

It’s important to stress that the behind the scenes of every artist who licenses their work is different, and personal to them. This is because we all have our own clients, product focuses, styles to our artwork, approaches to how we work and, perhaps most significantly, how much time we choose to devote to licensing. 

Not many artists’ income surrounds solely licensing their work, and they don’t spend 100% of their time working on it. As an example, even ceramic artist Rae Dunn, who has built up a huge licensing business, still takes time to hand make original ceramic pieces which she sells, and shares more personal work and sketches regularly. Licensing likely gives her the time and freedom to do this.

I’m going to break down what it’s like for a typical licensing artist today, including myself. Let’s get started! 

Licensing is a piece of a greater income pie. 

For most licensing artists including myself, 100% of their income does not actually come from licensing. You may be thinking, wouldn’t it be nice just to live off of royalties (i.e. checks in the mail)?!

The reality is, most licensing artists combine multiple income streams together.  For me, I combine physical product/art sales, teaching and workshops, and, of course, licensing. There are additional smaller income streams, too, but these are the main ones I utilize. 

I say this not to discourage you from aiming for the sky when licensing your work, but to help relieve a little of the pressure from it. You don’t *have* to make a full-time income from licensing, and there may be other aspects of your business you actually enjoy doing. All of these elements work together to form a well-rounded art business, which keeps it interesting and sustainable for you. 

You’re not always making art. 

When you dedicate time to licensing your work, you do get to enjoy the fun part of the actual art-making for those projects. But you’re also pitching yourself to potential collaborators, negotiating pricing and contracts, managing client emails, delivering files, etc. 

It’s likely similar to some other projects you may already do – like one-on-one client work or commissions. It does involve some more upfront work, but at the end of the project you get to reap the benefits of all of that work and earn payments like royalties (percentage of sales) which can keep paying you for months or years. Woohoo! 

You experience exciting wins AND some disappointments. 

Sometimes, disappointments happen like projects fall through or the products you worked on don’t end up getting manufactured and making it to market. I’ve even experienced being paid a good sum of money for products that for one reason or another never were manufactured. It’s disappointing, but when that happens at least for many cases in my experience, you still get paid! 

Despite these occasional disappointments, you DO get to see some amazing collaborations come to fruition. You get to hold that product featuring your artwork in your hands, and experience your audience’s excitement along with you. There’s really nothing like it! 

Patience is key, but is so fulfilling in the end. 

Many licensing deals can take 1 year, or even longer, from initial contact, to design, to product development, and then brought to market. So, being patient is part of the territory when licensing your art. 

But when that day does finally come around (usually, a lot faster than you realized!), it’s so thrilling to finally get to share about all of your hard work. By that point, you’re probably already working on your next project; it’s exciting because you always have something to look forward to, and another project to reveal.

It’s fulfilling not only to see your artwork in action yourself, but to know that it is out there spreading joy and people are using it in their daily lives. Sometimes, the magnitude of that is even hard to imagine! But is is real. And if you haven’t yet licensed your art yet, it is possible to make that happen. 

Want to learn more about how to license your artwork? You can join the waitlist for my online course, Licensing for Artists!

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    Hi! I'm Juliet, an artist and surface designer. I create watercolor artwork and teach online classes for artists.


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