The Ultimate Guide to Fine Art Licensing – 14 Factors for Successful Artists

Some of the most famous artists generate high income through fine art licensing. Artists like Andy Warhol or Salvador Dalí were able to serve museums, auction houses, art collectors and the mass market at the same time. We focus on fine art licensing for art lovers. This is not about printing a design on a coffee mug, a plain T-Shirt or a mouse pad. This blog article is about fine art licensing on materials that really fit the artworks and underline the high artistic standards of the artist. 

The Power of Art and Licensing 

Art has the power to differentiate common goods, but common goods also have the power to destroy the reputation of an artist. When artists license their work, they are giving permission to a third party to use their art in a specific way, over a specific period of time, for a specific purpose.

© Edar

Fine Art Licensing is a complex field and this overview is not meant to be complete. This is a living document based on our experience and conversations with artists and art lovers. You would like to contribute? Please leave a comment at the bottom or get in touch with us. Honestly, we do not know if one day there will be 83 or 267 factors. At the end of our guide we have listed the strict criteria we use to limit the factors only to the relevant ones. Relevancy to us means: The artist can create a working system that generates a residual income, most the work can be outsourced and the sales of the artist’s original artworks are not affected or even benefit from the higher visibility.  

 © Beatriz Perez Moya

1. Quality is Key 

This sounds simple and logical, and yet based on our market observations this is one of the most challenging factors as there are unlimited options. If any aspect of the quality damages the reputation of the creative mind, the art market concludes that the artist is – at best – a decorative artist. A high quality protects the market value of the artist. Quality is the most important factor with regard to bridging the gap between creating artworks and making money from art.  

2. Licensing Partner 

We recommend never to sign exclusive agreements and to work with several partners. These could be agencies, print on demand platforms, brands or other artists. Artists have to chose wisely based on experience in the art market and commitment shown by the future licensing partner. 

The most important 3 questions to select a licensing partner are: 

– Who is your partner?

– Who are other artists represented? 

– What has the licensing partner achieved for other artists? 

Every licensing partner exposes the artworks to a broader audience than the artist could have encountered through his main gallery or his own website.  

3. Royalty Negotiations 

Corporations and license partner offer artists anything from 1% to 50% royalty share. There are different types of royalty rates depending on the material and targeted market. Royalty negotiations are very important in order to set up a stable licensing business. For some niches of the art market, artists can also negotiate one-off fees and still retain ownership of the art asset. 

4. Contract Length 

Most licensing deals last from 1 to 3 years and will be renewed or canceled depending on certain milestones and how well the deal is working out for the involved parties.  

5. Materials and “Product” 

An artistic element exists as part of an infinite number of products, so choosing the right path can appear overwhelming. If a licensing partner is focused on printing designs on cheap T-Shirts or on low quality paper, this bears negative reputation risk for the artist. However, if one of the artist’s artworks has an element that fits a high quality designer shirt and the artist co-operates with the right fashion brand, this will not only generate income but also increase reach and help the artist to sell more originals. In other words, when it comes to fine art licensing, there are no general rules and there will always be working examples in fields that at first sight appear contradictory. There are endless possibilities, so thinking out of the box definitely helps. 

6. Know Your Market 

An artist should know her or his market. Nobody can serve the whole art market. Artists are caught in the middle between presenting art that fits with the trends and markets and still making it stand out from the crowd. The genre of work will determine specific niches. Experienced artists do not create specifically for the market place and stay authentic in order to sell and find their niche. For them licensing is an additional funding avenue that supports their passion. Actually, creative minds produce artworks that are so awesome and innovative that they change a segment of the art market through their works. Successful artists are able to find commercial niches that were waiting for their artworks to be presented to their collectors. Great art will always be sold, the only question is how and to whom. As a consequence, also the most creative mind needs to know the market or know somebody who helps not to get lost in creation. 

7. Collections and Series 

Successful art licensing requires the creation of separate entities. It is more difficult to interest a fine art licensing partner in using one artwork than in using a curated collection. Some artists do it themselves, others work with curators or art directors. The final result needs to be a collection of pieces that work with each other. 

8. Style Guide with Artist’s Signature Style 

After having worked on several collections and having gained experience with different licensing options, an artist should think about focusing on the collections that reflect her or his signature style. Depending on the genre, niche and experience, a look book could contain anything between 10 and 100 pieces of art. A style guide is an industry standard and artists do look more professional when the style guide shows at a glance what the artist stands for. Lucrative licensing deals usually start with a conversation about the artist’s signature style.  

9. Copyright Management 

In most jurisdictions copyright is automatically granted once a piece of art has been created. Registering the copyright means that the ownership is a matter of public record, which simplifies to defend the rights. If an artist wants to bring a lawsuit for copyright infringement, in certain countries she or he will need to register it. The U.S. Copyright Office has created a detailde FAQ on this topic.  

10. Ownership Control 

An artist should never ever let a business partner claim ownership of the art. Ownership control means earning money off the artworks again and again. This way, even the artist’s children will generate a passive income from the artworks. The fine art licensing industry rewards professionalism and serious partners would never ask an artist to give away the assets, unless we are talking about financially extremely rewarding deals involving advances / upfront payments for specific pieces to be sold on an international scale. 

11. Strategic Planning 

Defining a strategic plan over several years and updating it regurlarly is a regular exercise executed by successful artists. The logic behind it is similar to an exhibition plan. What type of fine art licensing partners to first license artworks depends upon the art style and subjects. An artist needs to plan ahead what to present to whom and when is the appropriate timing to do it. Creative minds can use their core contacts as a foundation to gain exposure and build sustainable equity in their art brand. License partners do have access to different markets than the artist. Over time, with the right plan, artists will find different forms of additional income.  

12. Trade Shows 

On a personal level, every trade show can be a source of inspiration. On a commercial scale, trade shows connect artists with licensing partners and provide valuable insights. Detailed knowledge of the depth and breadth of constantly changing possibilities is important. A trade show one of the best ways to get artworks in front of a large number of captive, interested buyers and art directors.  

13. Country Strategy 

Artists can cover different regions with several licensing partners. It is also possible to license specific artworks on different materials depending on the culture of the respective country. Setting up the correct international partner network takes years and is a never ending story. It is worth the efforts as it establishes the artist across the world and generates additional income in regions of the world where the artist would usually not sell original artworks. 

14. Persistence and Follow up 

Licensing can be very lucrative, but it is rarely an overnight success. Planning, trial-and-error as well as constant networking are important. Business-minded artists take care of licensing themselves. Most professional artists will work closely together with a licensing partner that knows how to follow up in an efficient way. 

 © Pixels

Three Main Criteria for ARTOUI’s Strict Factor Selection 

At ARTOUI, artists can sell their original artworks. In addition, artists can license their artworks as limited or unlimited editions to art lovers. Over time, we have identified three main criteria that help artists to decide when it makes sense to actually license an artwork.

A) Is the factor a basic requirement or does the factor notably contribute to the development of the artist?

We believe in this simple formula: Artistic development ensures outstanding artwork which leads to additional income which in turn is equal to artistic freedom.  

B) How smooth is the implementation?

Nothing is without work, the question is if licensing income will surpass the costs of implementation. Whenever an artist establishes a working system, he can outsource the work completely and focus on the creation of his artworks. If the factor is likely to only work with a high mismatch between efforts and results, it does not make into our guide. 

C) Could the factor interfere with the sale of original artworks of the artist?

If the answer is “yes”, this factor will not appear in this guide, even if it has a short-term appeal. 

In practice, successful artists understand that the real power of this guide is the combination of most or even all factors over a long period of time. By connecting the factors in an intelligent and persistent way, artists can create high barriers to entry in specific niche markets and benefit from lucrative passive income. 

 © Oleksii Gnievzshev

Are you an artist or an art lover and would like to comment or add some valuable thoughts regarding our guide? Or do you have some comments? Please feel free to comment below. 

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