SURTEX - the premier event for selling and licensing art and design

The “Secret Sauce” for success in art licensing

There was an interesting thread going through Facebook about what it takes to succeed in anything… and in art licensing in particular.  It started with this image from Ira Glass…

Ira Glass - Work Through ItVery wise words just left on their own.  But the discussion that ensued from some veterans in the industry made me want to explore this further…

First I must tell you – there is no SECRET SAUCE for success in art licensing.  That title was a big old marketing ploy to have you read this post. :)

Art Licensing has been around for a while… when people started using the term?  I’m not sure.  The SURTEX show in 1986 and the Licensing Expo – originally just entertainment properties – added art and design to their show in the early 90’s.

The artists I have talked to who have been there since the beginning tell crazy tales of sending original art around the country, having to paint on actual products that are then sent over seas and having to paint large patterns – in repeat – right on paper or a canvas.  I can tell you I am glad I wasn’t in this game then… I love the power of Photoshop.

Deb Grogan agreed to let me post some thoughts she put on Facebook about “Paying your dues”…


The “Secret Sauce” (I like that Ronnie Walter, I hope its okay I borrowed it!) that is no secret is, HARD WORK! Those of us who have enjoyed various degrees of success in this business, have done so because we put our blood, sweat and tears into it. We have walked the shows, even done the shows even when we weren’t really ready, but we learned something from everything we did. We paid our dues so to speak. 

When many of us started in this biz, there was no internet, social media, blog this, blog that, how to, do this, do that approach to what we did, we learned the good old fashioned way, by seeking out the information and going with it, we asked manu’s questions, we talked to everyone in the biz we could, who would actually share information, we went out to stores and picked up product to find companies, I still find I do that today….lol…we learned along the very long path. Along the way, some stumbled and fell, and stayed there, others got up and dusted themselves off and got back at it. We spent thousands of hours doing paintings, HAND MAKING product for our manu’s and shipping them off, hand painting product blanks they sent us, printing art and mailing out portfolios by the hundreds………the cost of ink, paper, postage etc. Some of us started with Photoshop way back when (5.5 for me) and have paid for every upgrade since. Paid for continuing education classes, no Googling for us back then……Newer, better faster computers, more equipment. There was no opportunity to get noticed on ETSY, we had to find our way to the Manu’s. No one offered us $1000 seminars guaranteeing us all the secrets to be a success in this business, we figured it out on our own, paid our dues in countless ways, and for that , we will always be humble and grateful for the success we have, we EARNED it………..

For all the new folks reading this, there is a path to success, its paved with all the hard work from those of us who went before you, it stays paved with your hard work for those who will follow. While opportunities are different and a bit easier to find or get in front of in this global, internet age, so is the increase in competition. So how do you get ahead……Learn, learn, learn, and then learn some more…….those of us who have been here still learn new things everyday. Be willing to take chances, risks, some will pay off, others won’t, but you’ll get back up and try again and the experience will be an unexpected education. You will learn to appreciate what you have, the struggle you’ve made to get where you end up. Take advantage of the copious amounts of free information out there, read everything you can find, then read it again, learn what you can from it, then jump in with both feet. Some may not agree with this method but how will you ever know how ready you actually are unless you give things a try?

Many of us can look back at what we did when we all thought we were ready to and see how far we’ve grown since then……its a never ending growing and learning process……I’ll end with one of my favorite sayings…….Anything worth having, is worth working for……..


I firmly believe that anyone who has any level of success in art licensing has “paid their dues” but the form of payment is ever changing.

In 1986, artists at SURTEX had to educate everyone on the process of licensing.  Now, 99% of people on the show floor understand licensing so we don’t have that piece of the puzzle.

When I started in 2004, there wasn’t much online about what art licensing was or how to do it.  Let’s just say I pretty much went into my first show blind.  I do wonder, however, if I would have dared try the show if I had all the information and blogs to look at that are out there now… I was intimidated enough without fully understanding what I was getting in to!

Today  artists in licensing have to be a lot more computer savvy than ever before.  Learning Photoshop and Illustrator and having a website and how to transfer digital files… those are all “new dues” that weren’t around in ’86.

There are many resources to learn the business of art licensing – from trade show conference classes to online classes, eBooks, coaching and more.  But without the artist changing that knowledge into action (that’s the HARD WORK part) – nothing is going to happen.  You can’t buy success – you have to earn it one creation at a time.

With more information can come more competition and also more analysis paralysis.  Information overload can stop some people and spur others on…

As Deb said – art licensing is a constantly changing, ever evolving way to earn a living and to succeed one thing was, is and will always be true:

It takes hard work, dedication and a willingness to learn, adapt and evolve.

Here’s to your creative success – as a result of your hard work!

– Tara Reed

P.S.  Want to learn more about how to license your art?  Join us – and even ask a question before hand – for the next Art Licensing Info Ask Call with Paul Brent.  Wednesday, May 29, 2013 – go to www.AskPaulBrent.com for all the details.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>