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

How I organize my art files

The other day I was asked how on earth I organize all the files that make up the collections that make up my art licensing business…  so I thought I’d give you a sneak peek.

Staying organized so you can find things when you need them is important to your success and your sanity.

You don’t want to waste time searching for files people want to review or that you want to work with so creating a system that makes sense to you is key.  Emphasis on makes sense to you.  What I do will work for many but I’m sure some of you won’t like it. That’s fine, you get to make up your own system for your work.

I work from an external hard drive so the majority of my computer power is available for Photoshop – it’s an amazing program but also quite the memory hog and works best when it doesn’t have to compete with all the files you’ve ever created.  In addition to the external hard drive that is a “working drive”, I have a “BIG 4″ from LaCie that has 4 hard drives in it.  That’s my fail safe – at least twice a day that drive automatically “mirrors” to my working drive – making sure it matches so I have duplicates of all my work.

It isn’t a matter of IF a drive or computer is going to fail, it’s WHEN.  So it’s important to save your work in multiple locations.

I also save everything to an online backup plan – I use CrashPlan.  Backblaze is another favorite of artists.

I have a simple folder system.

1.  Folders by theme.

2.  Folder for each collection.

3.  Folders within each collection for icons, images, patterns, borders, marketing files, etc.

Using the same format consistently makes it easy to find what I need in any collection, whether I made it yesterday or 10 years ago.

Organizing Art Files - Art Licensing Info


If you don’t have your art organized, take a few minutes today to create a system.  You will be amazed at how quickly you can have a lot so the sooner you have it organized the better!

Here’s to your creative – and organized – success!

– Tara Reed

If you liked this, you might also want to check out how I code my art to make it easier to track and talk with clients about on the phone or via email.

We need your questions for the March Art Licensing Ask Call

Ask Cathy Heck about Art LicensingOur next call is going to sneak up on us!  (Or at least me!)  On Wednesday, March 11, 2015 I will have a new artist on the line – the super sweet and oh-so-talented Cathy Heck.  I’m pretty sure my first introduction to Cathy was through some board books my now 21 year old read when he was a baby – back then I never would have dreamt that I’d be doing what I’m doing AND that I’d be getting ready to interview the illustrator!  Pretty cool!

Cathy is going to share how her business grew to include her now-grown daughters as well as her husband. I can’t wait to learn more about how they separate business and family time and make it all work.  In addition – she will answer questions submitted by artists.  We have only received a few so far so PLEASE… what questions do you have about art licensing??


More about Cathy Heck:

Cathy is an idea person who never runs out of new concepts. She is also an artist with a gift for producing attractive, imaginative artwork on demand. Cathy began her career as an art director for Young & Rubicam, NY, so she understands an art director’s needs. Equally comfortable with paints, pens and software, Cathy enjoys a collaborative approach to a project and the energy of a busy studio.

It’s a family business! Cathy and Jim started their family thirty years ago. Little did they know that they were creating their own work force. Each artist has her own style, which helps keep everything we produce fresh and new. But, at the same time, we love to collaborate, sometimes completing the work of another.

For over twenty five years, Cathy Heck Studio has been creating original and inventive artwork licensed for products from baby books to stickers, dinnerware to wall coverings. From three studios across the country, we deliver every aspect of a project from the first concepts to final press-ready electronic art, collaborating with our clients to create designs that customers love and buyers love to sell.

Learn more about Cathy Heck Studio at

They can also be found on Facebook at

Why you need to own your own website and not only rely on social media

As my dad said when I was planning my first wedding, “He who has the gold makes the rules.”  It’s true – in the end, whoever is paying gets the final say.

The same applies to the web.  While people will complain and bemoan the constant changes Facebook and other social media sites make to how they work and how visible you can make yourself and your business, in the end, they own the sandbox.  You can pay – in the form of advertising – to improve your advantage, but you are still subject to their rules.

You MUST own your own website.  Yes – social media is important.  But have it direct people to your website that you control and you know will always be there.  It won’t be suspended for a photo someone else reported as offensive or some other unknown reason… you make the rules.

Here’s a video with more thoughts about it…

Here’s to your creative success!

– Tara Reed

Are you 2 Legit to Quit?

This song seems to be a great follow up to my “zinger” post from Monday…

SUCCESS in art licensing or anything else in life is made up of your belief in yourself , your talent and your tenacity.  There are days where you may doubt yourself – those are the days that you need to channel a little MC Hammer!  Add this to your playlist because…


Here’s to your creative success!

– Tara Reed

The crazy things they may say…

I will be the first to tell you you can’t take things personally in art licensing.  To shift your mindset from “no” being a personal attack to meaning “it’s just not a fit for us right now”.

I’m usually pretty good at it.  I know that I’m designing for commercial purposes and what will work for one client won’t necessarily work – or appeal – to another.  I get it.  I’ve been at it for 12 years and building that “thick skin” people like to tell you about when you DO get your feelings hurt.

The reality is, some people have better communication skills than others and sometimes you can’t help but get your feelings hurt.  The more important point is this:  how quickly can you recover and get back to a place of creativity?

Last week, one of these these moments happened in my life.  I got to talking with a few friends about the things people have said to me.  One told me that if I had an agent, I wouldn’t have to hear those things – but might not hear much at all – good or bad.  It’s true – one beautiful thing an agent can do for you is shield you from some less than tactful comments.

I thought I’d entertain you with a few things that come to mind that have been said to me over the years – that way when you hear something similar (hopefully you won’t!) – you won’t feel so alone.  And hopefully being warned will help you recover from the sting quickly.

See no evil monkeys

Here are a few that stand out – in no particular order…

“None of us liked the work you just sent.  Call me.”

“We hate the colors.  What were you thinking?”

“What the heck is that supposed to be?  A hippo?”
(It was not even an animal and no one else was confused…)

“That is just stupid.”

“I hate your cartoon pets.  Stop doing them.”

Any of these situations could have been met with a polite “We don’t think that will work for us”  or “Can you change _____” – something constructive.  The above comments add no real value –  because in each instance, another client (or 3) had liked the designs and licensed them.

We need to listen to feedback, and we also need to recognize poor communication for what it is and try not to take it to heart.

Here’s to your thick-skinned creative success!

– Tara Reed

How to Price Usage for a Piece of Art in 5-10 Minutes

I’ve been getting quite a few questions about how to price art for projects that aren’t being paid based on a royalty structure traditionally found in art licensing.  I decided not to re-create the wheel (especially since I don’t have experience pricing art!).  Here is some excellent advice shared a few years ago that I think still applies…

In response to the post on March 29, 2011 - There is power (and money) in your system - Pilar Erika Johnson, aka PUFFY P, added some amazing information in the comments. I took one look at that and emailed to ask if I could make a separate blog post from her comment so it would be seen by all. (Really – how many of you read the comments for the nuggets of gold within them?)

Puffy P agreed to let me share her advice for all the artists who have wondered how on earth to price their art…

I personally find the Graphic Artists Guide to not be the best source for real life usage rates. A better option for advertising type projects (such as corporate tee shirts, logos, or other business usage) is to look at a stock photography site like I have done a ton of work as a designer (over 15 years), often needing to purchase rights for photos and illustrations for various design jobs.

    1. When talking to the potential client, ask them for the usage terms they need, including how many impressions (how many times the image would be actually printed or used on the website, – or how many items would be printed). Also ask how long the client wants to use the image, and what territory. With website usage, you can price based on the length of the term, since it is hard to estimate the number of hits. With something like a logo, you would want to know what they would be using it on, because there is additional value if they are going to put it on products too like tees, etc, rather than just on a business card.


    1. Go to and search for an image similar in subject matter to yours, ie: do a search for “dog with flowerpot”, (or whatever subject your image may be of). Be sure to only search for RIGHTS MANAGED images. (this means that the user needs to pay you for use of the image in relation to how much they will use the image, vs a one time fee which is called ROYALTY FREE. In general ROYALTY FREE rights cannot be used for products for sale.


    1. Once you select and image, click “View Pricing” in the upper right. You can choose a number of different options, and see how much a typical stock photo site would charge for image use. You may have to guess for some of these options, but that’s OK. It’s best to try a few different images from different image suppliers to get an idea of the cost range. You can see the image suppliers name below the image.


  1. You will probably find that these numbers are much higher than what you would expect, (i.e. thousands of dollars) but it is good to have a gauge of what your art is worth for this kind of corporate usage. You may opt to just say they can use an image for $300 or whatever for a one time print run of 300 tshirts, which is fine too, but it is at least useful to get an idea of what an ad agency or designer would pay for the rights to use a piece of art.

If you are finding there is enough interest, you may then want to take a few hours to draw up a boilerplate contract for this kind of usage. You can also consider working with a stock art company to manage your sales and marketing (Getty, Corbis, and Veer all do this, as well as smaller agencies. Some artists have even set up their own stock art portion of their site. But stay away from, because you will earn literally pennies per use. (Disclaimer: I can’t vouch for how much Getty , Corbis or Veer pays, but their end user price is much higher than istockphoto.)

Most importantly, don’t undersell your work! Be aware that ad agencies and even small design firms can easily charge $5,000- $50,000 for logos and brand identity. And photographers can receive thousands for usage of an existing photo for sales materials.

If the usage is for a logo, think twice before taking a few hundred dollars, since logos are worth much more to a company than just a various image in their sales materials or on their website. The logo is the whole image for the company, and a client needs to pay for that value. (This is where the Graphic Artists Guide can come in handy, with pricing logos based on the sales of the company).

And please keep in mind that clients need to understand that just because a piece of art is already made, it still has value.

Author’s background:

In addition to working for 6 years as an Art Licensor under the name PUFFY P, I have 15 years of experience in corporate and small business design and branding. My design clients include Best Buy, Charles Schwab, Levis and Comcast (all who have paid a fair price for stock art and logos).

Learn more at Pilar Erika Johnson creative –
and PUFFY P –

Thanks so much for sharing your experience and insights!

– Tara Reed

Art Licensing for digital products

I recently got this question in my inbox:

Usually an artist would license their art to be used on physical products, but what if a Licensee wants to sell it as digital files?

I design printable party decoration kits and was approached by a website owner who wants to sell them on her site – in this case the digital art is the product itself. Does this work differently than other licensing deals?

This isn’t the first time it’s come up so I thought a quick post about it would be helpful.

Licensing is licensing – whether it’s for physical products, digital products, games, apps and more.  Some things will vary by industry – royalty rates often vary both by industry and by distribution channel – where the products are being sold.  Art Licensing includes the word “licensing” because it is done through the use of contracts.   The artist grants a license, or permission, to another person or company to do a specific thing. Just like states grant licenses to drive cars, we grant licenses to use our art.

It’s true that most discussions of art licensing relate to physical products but the same basic rules apply to digital products or media (games, apps, etc) as well.

Through the contract, both parties decide the rules of the agreement:

  • What is being licensed.
  • How can it be used (what products – again, physical or digital)
  • How long?
  • Where? Worldwide or in a certain country, region or store?
  • Is it exclusive (they are the only co that can use this art for this purpose) or non-exclusive?
  • How and when do you get paid and how much?
  • What happens if things don’t go as planned?  ALWAYS have termination – or “out” – clauses in your contracts.

Those are the basics and they apply in any situation where you are licensing your art.  You may decide on a set amount of money to be paid up front (a flat-fee license) or a royalty based agreement where you are paid a percentage based on sales.

In the specific example asked – I would assume the artist would want to negotiate a non-exclusive license since she is already designing and selling the printable party decoration kits.  If the website wanted an exclusive – the artist would need to make sure the contract had some terms that would ensure she would make more than she is by selling on her own – stopping selling will mean lost profits – make sure they are recouped!  That could be in the form of an advance that is more than she usually makes on a kit or a guarantee – the website owner could guarantee she would get a certain level of royalties regardless of sales but be paid more if the sales merited it.  This is where negotiation comes in and keeping the best interest of your business and profitability in mind.  Sometimes people get flattered and make bad business decisions.  No matter who the company or website is, be willing to walk away if it isn’t going to be good for you.

Another thing to consider with the many new digital and print-on-demand opportunities popping up is the expected sales volume.  If a website is new and unproven, your sales won’t likely be the same as if your art is in a more traditional or known location (be that a store or website).  Because the risk is higher and the volume of sales will likely be lower, it’s more important to get an advance (non-refundable) and a higher royalty rate so it is worth your time and effort.

Hope that helps!

Here’s to your creative success.

– Tara Reed

How to find copyright infringements and help deciding how to handle it…

Eep! Someone's Stolen my ContentIn a perfect world, you wouldn’t need any advice, counseling or guidance about what to do if you find someone using your art for profit without your permission… Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world.

We live in a world where you can be happily scrolling through Instagram one minute and the next minute you see your art on a product that you didn’t license… or someone sends you a photo from a store or a link to a website and says, “Wow!  I didn’t know you did this deal!  Congrats!”  But you didn’t do the deal and it’s your art and your heart is now in your stomach…

So what do you do?  What recourse do you have legally and how do you decide when and how to set the legal system in motion?

Attorney Kiffanie Stahle of* has written a great guide for creatives – Eep!  Someone’s Stolen My Content!* (I believe she uses the term “content” instead of “art” because this all applies to writers as well as artists.)

The book is divided into 4 sections:

  1. Finding your Content
  2. Copyright Law Crash Course
  3. Create an Action Plan
  4. Templates

There is a lot of practical, how-to information in these pages.  Links to sites if you want to search for your designs that may be being used without your knowledge (sometimes you won’t stumble across it on Instagram or Facebook!)  She also includes a great and understandable introduction to why copyright laws exist and what they do and don’t protect, some basics about registration, publication, fair use and all the other things that have us often scratching our heads.

The third part is my personal favorite – how to decide what to do when you “have arrived” and your art is used without your permission.  When calm heads don’t prevail (or is that just me?) this is the guide to turn to for advice. (And then you might want to call her or another attorney – I’m by no means saying this guide will turn you into a lawyer who doesn’t need help resolving this stuff!)

Finally, there are templates.

I had the chance to be a Beta reader of this content and offer feedback before it was finished. I like that it is practical and easy to understand – something that often evades things that relate to the law.  Kiffanie breaks it down so you can easily go back and review specific topics quickly.

To me, this is a must-have for any artist or writer who is serious about understanding the legal side of their business and what they can do when they find others trying to use their content without permission.

Click here to learn more and get your copy…*

Here’s to your creative success!

– Tara Reed

P.S.  Check out Kiffanie’s Office Hours* – for a minimal fee you can be one of 9 people who meet for an hour to get your questions answered about the legal issues affecting your business.  Click here to learn how it works and sign up if it sounds interesting…*

* I am an affiliate and will earn a commission if you click these links and make a purchase.  I don’t promote things I don’t believe in and wouldn’t use myself.

Feel like it’s all the same old same old?

One reality of art licensing is that manufacturers regularly need new options for common topics.  I call it the “recreating Santa” syndrome.  Every year I ask myself, “How will I do a Santa collection this year?”  If you don’t do holiday art, you may substitute coffee, flowers, baby bears or some other theme you do repeatedly.

For artists who think doing the same topic twice sounds like torture, this industry isn’t for you!

Marie Forleo posted another great video for creatives who sometimes feel like they aren’t adding value to the mix or it’s all been done before or others are better, etc… take a few minutes to see what she has to say!

Here’s to your creative success!

– Tara Reed

Art Licensing Info Ask Call replay is now available

ask Maria Brophy and Tara Reed about art licensingIt was an exciting and somewhat technically challenging call… thankfully I’ve been doing this long enough to roll with the punches without having a break down!  A few artists had trouble getting on the call or got kicked out for no apparent reason… not sure what that was about but we also had 70 on the line the entire time and a random spot check revealed they had no issues.  Maria says we should blame Mercury being in Retrograde so I’m going with that…

Issues or not, that was part of the business lessons learned: things don’t always go as planned, figure out how to keep moving forward.  We have two new buzz phrases from tonight – “commercially viable” and “business model” – you have to get the replay if you aren’t sure what I’m talking about.

Since Maria and I have done many of these calls, the replay is available for a minimal fee of $20 through January 31, 2015.

This helps me cover some of the hard costs of these calls and allows me to give Maria some compensation for sharing her knowledge time and time again.  We both appreciate everyone who buys one and are confident you will get your money’s worth in knowledge and food for thought.

What we covered on the call:

Tara did a recap of the Atlanta Gift Show and talks about what “commercially viable” art might mean…

Maria talks about looking at your art as a business and how that changes your behavior and perspective and improves your business.

Questions we discussed…

  • What tips & advice can you offer regarding artists wanting to freelance and generate sales without committing to an agency?
  • One artist sees art on products as quirky but does realistic and another sees art as realistic and does funky… we talk about how people are seeing what is in the market and how to find where you might fit.
  • Do you put every color on a different layer in Photoshop so you can change them and how often are changes requested?
  • What kind of paperwork should I be getting from my agent about royalties earned?
  • How do I know when I’m getting paid unfairly, or could negotiate more if I try?
  • I’m one person, any advice on handling creative development and business activities?
  • New types of deals being offered are discussed – how to evaluate and why it might be happening more and more…
  • What’s the best advice you can give to a newcomer to art licensing?

Buy Now Button

Some links to things we talked about…

A great post by Maria about royalties >

Here is the software I mentioned to track your royalties by client or art collection or even image >

If you are exhibiting at SURTEX or the Licensing Expo, time is running out to apply for the 4 month Art Licensing Trade Show Academy – we start on Thursday 1/29.  Get the details at and if it sounds good, fill out the application.  I won’t be accepting any new people after the 28th so don’t delay.

Cathy Heck and Tara Reed answer questions about art licensingFinally – our next call is with new guest, Artist Cathy Heck, on March 11, 2015.

She will be talking about working with family (her husband and all three of her daughters are in the business now) as well as answering your questions. So please let us know what you want to know at