Sure, be happy to!

We are fortunate here at Two Town to have a number of high sku-count collections under development right now (things are cookin’ out there!) and there has been a lot of post-contract, pre-production work involved with some of them. The artist/client interchanges run the gamut from simple “give us a little more bleed” or “saturate the background color a bit more” up to “replace that pirate with a princess” or “change out these 3 designs completely and replace them with…” sometimes significantly altering the original artwork.
Decision time. Your response options for these kind of requests can run from “no way” to “no problem”, but the one safe bet at this stage of a project is that you will not have a lot of time to think about it.
Some artists have a visceral reaction to these type of requests, treating them as a personal affront, and others will just shrug their shoulders and get to work. It is one of the big differences between the licensing world and contract work, and also one reason why some experienced designers quickly drop out of the business. On occasion the collaboration between artist and licensee could almost fit the definition of spec work, and for many who have worked as traditional illustrators or graphic designers that is unacceptable.
It may be helpful to consider the mindset of your licensees: a group made up of business professionals looking to make the most economical, risk-averse, and high-value decisions for their companies. Any new product can be considered a risky venture into which they pour many thousands of dollars in the hope it will sell, and sometimes it doesn’t – the “sure thing” does not exist. You are asking your clients to make a major financial investment in your designs, and it is not too farfetched to think that in some cases you could be asking someone to bet their job on your concepts. So when you react negatively or worse yet, emotionally, to their suggestions aimed at improving the chances of marketing a successful product… well, let’s just say you need to take a step back and carefully consider what they are saying. This is not about your artistic vision anymore.
Much, if not most, of the time there will not be any additional compensation available for the effort that goes into fulfilling these requests. We all would like to get paid sooner rather than later for work we’ve done, and when advances were typical this was less of an issue.  Of course advances are much more rare now and licensing requires the long view. The payback will be down the road when the product starts to generate revenue on the market. I believe you need to approach it from a different place than the “they are taking advantage of the artists” people, because the market is changing and it won’t be going back to where it was. Try looking at it as a collaboration where all parties are interested in the same thing – making a saleable product.
I hope you can hear the keynote here:  the attitude that you CAN do it, you GET to do it, will make you far more valuable than those who are selling outright, working the crowd sourcing channels, or even throwing hissy fits over the changes because they miss the opportunity to provide exceptional service to their clients. If you can see that as an advantage your time in licensing should be less frustrating, and your efforts more successful.
And if not and it still galls you to no end…well, good luck with that….
8 replies
  1. Deb Grogan
    Deb Grogan says:

    Seriously Jim???????? I usually enjoy your posts but this one, has my face red and my fingers pounding the keys of my $2500 iMac !

    First let me say this. To suggest that we “sometimes” do spec work, is ridiculous! It’s ALWAYS spec work! How many time have I spent days, weeks or months on a project just to have it go now where? Change that art, do all those tweaks and re paint, YES, re paint imagery, only to get a “We changed our mind”……….EXPERIENCED designers, excuse me, know how to better handle client requests, and DO NOT always walk away from them. Most of us have adapted to this ever changing landscape and done it well. I hand paint every single image in my work. But it isn’t just a matter of sitting down with a piece of paper and painting a pretty little picture!

    First, to have any success at this business, you need to give clients what they want, even when they aren;t sure what that is! It has to be on trend imagery, color etc. They want something different ALWAYS, but not willing to venture too far outside the box, because as you said, they are investing a greta deal of money…..I’ll get to that in a minute…….so in the end, even if they tell you they want something new and trendy for Christmas using the latest colors, donuts to dollars says they will stick with good old red and green every time!

    Like I said, I don’t just sit down and paint. I subscribe to magazines, from quilting to home decor, I spend my time, worth something I would think, going through them, making notes, doing sketches. I spend countless hours scouring the internet on Pinterest etc. looking at whats out there, Etsy to see what is selling, etc. In other words, TONS and TONS of research, which I do not get paid for…. Then I have to come up with new ideas for every single season and more ore less reinvent the wheel. How many different ways can I paint a bee? I have several in my portfolio right now and no matter how many I paint, my client will ask for a new one……then we have my costs. I send color proofs from an Epson 9800 Pro, $6000, my scanner scans full color sheets of watercolor paper %20,000, its a wide format scanner by Vidar… paper, maintenance etc. I have another hi res scanner, $600. My iMac was $2500, various peripherals to go with it like backups etc. over 500. Pantone color guides, fluid acrylics, numerous brushes, erasers and I use the best paper I can that costs me $12 a sheet so I can turn out the best art possible for my clients. I have an attorney who reviews contracts, off site online backup storage, fees for websites, and mailing CD’s etc. to clients, my accountant and fees for incorporating to protect my assets, what few I have after paying for everything else, and don’t even get me started on the cost of software upgrades and continuing education, and the list goes on………So, you see, when I hear that a company has “expenses” and takes “financial risks” to put my art out there, it makes me crazy. I take a risk every single day that when I sit down and work that nothing I have done that day will make me a single dime. Every artist in this business has a portfolio full of work that they put their heart and soul into and went absolutely nowhere. So when a product fails, manu’s most often than not can at least try to recover their loss by discounting things out but the artist makes NOTHING and the last I checked, my accountant has not found a way for me to charge that as a loss on my tax returns…..

    (continued on second post)

  2. Deb Grogan
    Deb Grogan says:

    It still boggles my mind that even though the art we provide is the driving force behind this multi billion dollar industry, some people still put us at the bottom of the food chain…..

    I love what I do, and so far, thankfully, have had mostly success lately, but I pay a price everyday that I sit down at this computer and take my hand painted art and make all those changes and try and keep up with the growing demand for more art, faster and faster……Physical therapy for sore necks, tendonitis etc. We pay the price sitting at our computers for the countless hours we do……SO the next time you want to complain about how an artist might react to what we consider an unreasonable request, read my reply……….remember what we go through on our end, because it isn’t always pretty and it surely isn’t easy.

  3. Deb Grogan
    Deb Grogan says:

    Oh and PS….to any of the manufacturers reading my reply (yes, I read all your posts Jim)……Sometimes we feel like we just don’t matter….and while I know that isn’t the case and there are many of you out there who appreciate us (my companies do anyway….) not everyone does and we often get left feeling less than important.

  4. Robin Pickens
    Robin Pickens says:

    Jim, I agree with your assessment that this is the new reality but it feels like there is a lot of shaming of artists in your post. We also want to make the, as you said it, “most economical, risk-adverse, and high-value decision” for OUR own company. We are also business people. I am very willing to make changes, to work with people, to create new art and revise as needed. It is especially in my best interest and the manufacturer’s best interest that we all be working together for the best end-result goal. It is easy to make this decision for companies we are working with that have contracts with us that are more likely to happen (for there are many contracts that don’t) and products that will get to the showroom and actually sell (many don’t) and actually have the long term payoff (which again, many don’t). It’s a gamble for them as well as for us. It can be worth the gamble. But it’s not as easy with new, prospective clients who are doing presentations to presell and we are doing the work of the people they used to have on staff. In some cases, we effectively have replaced their staffs and are their free labor. Many of us have done countless hours of making work beautiful and to the manufacturers unique and specific specifications only to find out they didn’t have the direction they thought they had, didn’t have the “in” or can’t get the cheap manufacturing prices the big box wants so the project is dead. We have to evaluate when the percentage of work for free with no payoff becomes too great and unfortunately it happens far more than any of us would like. I do not have an answer for the “new reality” but would appreciate respect for the time we artists give- and it is often given with no reward.

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    There are always two sides to a coin (thank you for sharing your perspective Deb) as there are rules and exceptions to any given situation. Art licensing is a business, and to be successful, we must work as a team understanding, accepting, and valuing the part each plays, the cost each pays, and the risks each takes in bringing a line to market. No different than our current hostile political climate, IF/WHEN we can avail ourselves to see past our own narrow perspective (or agenda), take in the big picture, work in cooperation with one another for the greater good for all concerned, THEN we will all know the success of what we bring to the table.

  6. Jim Marcotte
    Jim Marcotte says:

    Thanks for the comments!

    First, let me say that I am not voicing a complaint in this post, not at all – our artists that are involved in these aforementioned projects are doing a superb job of responding to all the changes, extensive as some may be. It did bring to mind however the few times we have seen, and more often heard anecdotally from clients, how it has gone the other way.

    All clients are not the same, some have great appreciation for the artist’s contribution and others see it as a commodity, but all need to make a profit to stay in business. I am encouraging artists to try out a different perspective: that there is not automatically a right or wrong side to a suggested change but viewpoints from different places. It helps to recognize that your licensee can often see things you won’t, including market history, material costs, delivery problems, retailer input and other issues, and what you may consider unreasonable changes may not be unreasonable from the standpoint of producing a saleable AND profitable product. I intend no shaming where it is not deserved as there will be occasions when it does not make sense to do the work and opting out is the best option. Of course we all grumble when confronted with ongoing modifications – however the point is to think about it before responding to your client from an emotional place.

  7. Robin Pickens
    Robin Pickens says:

    Thanks for clarifying Jim. I guess I am fortunate to know a very professional group of artists and most of us welcome learning from the expertise of our licensees. Sure, grumbling sometimes happens, but I hear it more with the highly speculative work. I would absolutely hope both artists and manufacturers are wanting the most profitable product. Sad to hear from the clients that this in not always the case but I’d hope those cases are minimal and not the norm.

  8. Deb Grogan
    Deb Grogan says:

    When reading your posts, it seems to me at least, that you have lumped all artists in one big pile and said this is how we all act….excluding yours though, I am so happy that all YOUR artists are doing such a good job. SO I am not sure what artists you are talking about? You do mention that many “experienced” designers drop out of the business……lol….. Experienced designers DO understand all those things you mentioned like material costs, etc. Experienced designers are the ones who are, “just getting to work”….WE do our homework too in the form of research etc. At the outset of any working relationship, I try to have a conversation with my manu’s about what does and doesn’t work. Color palettes they may have tried, subject matter etc. I am not going to present them with a collection of owls if they can’t sell owls. Perhaps the negative reactions from artists are from the inexperienced ones who have haven’t learned that end of the business yet, or from the experienced ones who know the difference between what is expected and what is unreasonable, because unreasonable happens a lot and more and more is expected of us for no payment what so ever. We understand the market is changing and that in some respects we need to embrace those changes and work a bit differently, but you have more or less just smacked us in the face with this Jim…..Explanation attempt aside, I still found your post leaving me feeling with a “put up or shut up” attitude. It’s going to take me while to get over this 🙁

    If there is anything I would like any manu’s reading this to come away with is this……Please respect us, respect our time and the knowledge we DO have, respect the fact that we are in business to make a living too. Understand that when we give you all we have, spend the time we do on projects that go no where, that we cannot recover that time, and often if a project is brought to market and fails through no fault of our own, we cannot use it anywhere else and it is lost to us as well. Many of us depend on the incomes we receive from licensing to feed our families. Many of us license with multiple companies in order to be able to do so. So when everyone is on the same production schedule and everyone wants everything ASAP we often spend many nights working past regular hours to get things to you. Sometimes the request you have may not sound that big of a deal to you, but the artist may have multiple requests form multiple sources and everyone thinks their request is the most important and to us, ALL our clients are important….We do understand this is part of our business. We want the work we give you to be a success as well, and will go to the nines to make sure you have the best art possible so we make that happen. I think we need to start looking at it as a partnership or in the least, a team effort.


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