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small claims copyright court can be a reality!

If you didn’t have a chance to see the Graphic Artists Guild webinar on copyright small claims court, last week, never fear! We attended and took good notes.

We were inspired by what we learned. This is a real and excellent opportunity to make a significant change to U.S. copyright law that could be of tremendous benefit especially to entrepreneurial artists like you.

Read on for a digest of the webinar, and stay tuned. We'll be sharing more soon to help you stay up to date and take a part in making sure good legislation is crafted and passed!

The GAG webinar is available for viewing here. For those of you who’d like the key points, here’s our take on it.

  • The presenters all agreed that the current process of having to file a copyright claim in federal court simply doesn’t work. It’s so costly and complicated that as a practical matter, entrepreneurial artists (i.e. small artist-based businesses that depend on copyright to enforce their rights) don’t really have a viable forum for self protection.
  • A small claims court will likely help to create a viable forum for artists to enforce their copyrights if the law has the right provisions in it.
  • Artists need to make their wishes known by telling their congressional representatives that they want the small claims court law passed.
  • Congressional representatives love to use personal stories from their constituents to explain why they support legislation and to persuade their fellow legislators to act. The panelists invited artists to send written letters—yes, old-school snail mail—to their legislators not only supporting the small claims law but describing how copyright infringement has personally harmed them.*
  • Getting a law passed is a marathon not a sprint. There’s a lot of back and forth between legislators and stakeholders— that would be you—before a law is finalized. Language changes, new ideas are introduced as everyone works toward the final bill that goes for a vote.
  • This process has been going on for a few years. There’s one bill before congress already and another will be introduced soon, at which point, the debate will heighten.
  • To get involved you can begin by going to copyrightdefense.com.

* Your experience with copyright infringement could help bring about effective legislative changes.  In an upcoming post, we'll share a letter template and tips for what kind of details to include. In the meantime, please share your questions and stories with us. We want to do all we can to help make Small Claims Copyright Court a reality!

easing the high cost of copyright litigation

Small claims court for copyright infringement is on its way! That is, with your help, it's on its way. 

One of the most frustrating problems facing an artist who’s had their work infringed is the ridiculous cost of copyright litigation. In a 2012 report to Congress, the Copyright Office noted that the median cost of litigating a copyright claim of less than $ 1 million was $350,000. That’s because federal courts are set up for handling big, expensive cases. If you’re an ordinary artist (meaning one who makes less than Jeff Koons), filing a lawsuit in federal court to protect your copyright is financially daunting, to say the least. 

For years, artist advocacy groups like the Graphic Artists Guild and the American Society of Media Photographers have been advocating for a cheaper, simpler means of protecting copyright through a “small claims” administrative court run by the Copyright Office.

At last Congress got the memo. On July 13, 2016 representative Hakeem S. Jeffries of New York introduced H.R. 5757 “to establish an alternative dispute resolution program for copyright small claims.”  For every artist who’s had their work copied only to be faced with the over-the-top cost of challenging the infringer in court, this is a big moment.

The Graphic Artist Guild is offering a free webinar on August 17th to explain why this legislation is good for you, your art and your business—and how you can help get it passed. We’ll be there. We hope you will, too! 

Important: The webinar is free but registration is required. Sign up here!

happy blogiversary to us!

Well, yes. It’s been quite some time since my last post. Lemme tell you about it…

I noticed a pattern about my energy a few years ago. The time period between roughly mid-December to mid-March has a very slow, introspective, keeping-to-myself kind of vibe about it. I notice that I want to think more than I want to do, but it’s taken me a while to trust that it’s OK be that way. Lots of urgent, fearful little gremlins do their best to get me fired up: Do this! Do that! Get busy! You’ll miss out! But my body and my spirit just won’t listen to them and this year I was finally able to make peace with that. Hence, the lengthy silences between blog posts since the end of last year. I’ve been wintering… in hibernation… and it’s felt really good to allow that, to trust my instincts, instead of forcing myself to do what I feel I should. 

One year ago today, Chuck and I began blogging here in earnest. It was an exciting new adventure for us, prompted by our desire to provide helpful information to visual artists, while giving them some insight into what makes us tick, our philosophy and unique way of working with creative entrepreneurs. We hoped that, as a natural byproduct, it would serve as a marketing tool, something around which we could build and engage an audience.

I’m really, really proud of what we’ve done so far with the blog. But to be totally candid, it was a lot of work and not the most joyful experience for me. I love writing, but I’m much better when I have a known audience of... one. The one-to-anonymous-many format of a blog triggers a lot of second-guessing for me, which makes the editing process go on and on and on. Yes, this is perfectionism and it’s not something I’m proud of. I know that it holds me back from doing things that would arguably be good for my business—not just regular blogging, but regular social media posting and all sorts of other marketing efforts.

I don’t regret the hard work I put toward our blog last year, because the material is solid. It’s also a good source of extra insight into our flavor, if you will. What it’s not—at least not yet, in any obvious or measurable way—is an effective marketing tool. And yes, I know that is something that takes time…. 

But there are so many things other than blogging that I want to spend my time on. Most important—and, serendipitously, the most fun—is my work with clients. You know what else is serendipitous? When our clients are happy, they refer folks to us. It’s like a two-fer: I get to do what makes me happiest, and as a result, our business grows. It’s taken me a long time to trust the beauty of that.

I’m curious whether you relate to this? Are there things you keep doing in your business because you feel you should, but it’s always a struggle and the payoff isn’t exactly clear? Conversely, are there things you love doing that actually are helping to build your business, but perhaps they’re so much fun you don’t let them count as marketing? For most if not all our clients, the single most effective thing I see them doing to help their businesses grow and thrive is also the thing they love most: making and sharing their art.

For me, with F13, the art is in the one-on-one conversations I have with my clients. I could happily do it all day long. So I'll focus most of my time and energy there, but I’m also looking for ways to write my blog with that kind of intimate and in-the-moment communication in mind. For one, my new approach will be entirely unscheduled, unplanned and unpredictable. I’m throwing my content calendar out the window. It feels more joyful already! My hope is that by removing the pressure of a regular delivery schedule and any kind of promise about what the content will be, I’ll be able to relax and enjoy the writing more. With any luck, the result will feel more fun, inviting and conversational for you, too! Chuck, to the extent that he blogs, will likely take to doing so on his own site. I’ll refer to his posts when I think you’ll appreciate them—which will probably be often, if not always. :) If you’re signed up for our newsletter, you’ll never miss a post. Thanks so much for reading!

 

welcoming the new year

Happy new year, friends! I hope you closed out 2015 with celebrations and rituals that brought you lots of comfort and joy. For me, highlights included my family’s time-honored, beloved Christmas traditions plus a deliciously long visit with our son, Henry, who just graduated from college. It’s such an exciting, expansive time for him and we’re so proud of the young man he’s become.

F13Creative_043_2016_NewYear.png

Over the holidays, I began reading a book called Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein, which I learned of via the beautiful soul that is Lacy Young. I’m only halfway through, so I don’t think I’ll attempt a synopsis or discussion just yet. Suffice to say: I’m almost 53 years old and I feel like maybe, finally—at freakin’ last!—I’ve found a thinker/writer who can help me articulate my worldview.

You see, I’ve never been especially comfortable proclaiming my opinions, at least not without lots of disclaimers and caveats. For most of my life, I’ve been painfully aware of how easily I can begin to question the rightness of an idea that, just moments ago, I believed in so passionately. That fickleness has often felt like a flaw, making me long for the kind of comfort and security that I imagine must come when one is able to align strongly with a movement, an ideology, or a religion (not to mention a diet, a time-management technique, or a way to decorate one’s home!). To me, there are many right ways. That, plus: being a human being is complicated; it’s glorious and horrifying, sublime and mundane, perfect and messy. How in the world can anyone be so damned certain about anything?!

You might well be wondering what the heck a book called "Sacred Economics" could have to do with all this. At some point in the future I might attempt a better explanation but for now I’ll just say that Charles Eisenstein’s writing is helping me claim my voice. And his book is helping me understand the instincts that guide me to think about and run my business the way I do. The quote in the photo above is based on the title of his most recent book (which is next on my list): The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.

If you’re familiar with Charles Eisenstein and his writing, I’d love to hear what you think of his ideas. If you’re not, I hope you’ll check him out. He writes so thoughtfully and clearly about the complicated issues confronting humanity today, and he gives me a lot of hope that we can live in an even more beautiful world. And OK, I'm gonna give you my opinion: artists are leading the way to that more beautiful world.

Here’s to a new year: 2016! May it be complete with bold exploration, rich challenges, meaningful growth, and deeper connection for all of us.

~ Betsy

art brand stories: Katie Daisy

Our last Art Brand Story for this year is a very special one for me. From the moment I met Katie Daisy, I knew that she represented a new paradigm for artists, one that I would eventually come to define as an “art lifestyle brand.”

At the time, I was interested in developing a new service model for artists. I wanted to provide the support of an agent for licensing deals, but I also saw that technology was opening up so many more and varied business opportunities for artists like Katie. I wanted to be a strategic partner, helping artists evaluate all those opportunities, decide which made the most sense for their businesses, and navigate the new territory as it unfolded.

Katie was my first client.That was more than three years ago and it’s thrilling to me to look back and see how both our businesses have evolved in that time. I’m so grateful that Katie was open to experimenting with me as I defined what F13 was all about. It’s been an incredibly rewarding collaboration for both of us, and in the process she’s become a dear, dear friend as well. I’m so proud to be able to share this interview with you.

~Betsy

F13 Art Brand Story / Katie Daisy

Betsy: You’ve told me that the idea of building a brand has been with you since art school. Tell us how it started, what inspired you to build a brand, and how that focus shaped your early business decisions.

Katie: I would say that it all started in my product design class during my senior year of college. My instructor was the lovely and talented surface designer & illustrator, Lindsay Nohl. In this class, Lindsay assigned us projects that I had never considered at the time: designing a home goods collection, creating a repeat pattern, and putting together mood boards. I was astounded when I realized that my artwork could go on so many products! One day while sketching, I came up with an idea: What if I had my own line of goods? What would it be called? What would the main colors be? Motifs? What typography would I pair with it? This opened an enormous box of ideas… my head was spinning! Not only could I pick and choose all these elements that work together, but I could tell a STORY with my art. This is how my brand Katie Daisy started to take shape.

"Grow Free, Wildflower" © Katie Daisy

"Grow Free, Wildflower" © Katie Daisy

That STORY you mention has captured the imaginations many, many people! Tell us more about it.

So much of my art has been inspired by my rural upbringing in Lindenwood, Illinois. In fact, I would say nearly every piece I create has some bit of that nostalgia weaved into it. At a very young age, I learned how important nature is to the soul. The farm I lived on and the surrounding landscape was an enchanting, wonder-filled world that still exists in my heart and mind. It’s so easy for me to drift away into a prairie daydream: wading through the muddy creek, falling asleep in tall grass, the song of a redwing blackbird, enormous bundles of lilacs my mom would snip for our sunny yellow kitchen, and the chippy white screen door. I can perfectly recall the sound it made when running outside to play. This world is so dear to me—so much a part of me, that I can't help but express it through art. It’s my greatest hope that this emotion and connection can come through my work and spark a bit of wonder in the viewer. 

What role has your Etsy shop played in building your brand? In what way(s) does it continue to be a critical component of your business?

I opened my Etsy shop in 2008. I started out with a "You Are My Sunshine" print, which at the time was a rare sentiment on Etsy—if you can imagine! Fortunately, that print took off and my shop became quite popular. Several big-name art/design blogs featured my work, and that really got the ball rolling! With constant shop upkeep, tons of time spent working on my craft, and providing helpful customer service, my Etsy shop has been my main source of income and continues to support me and my family today.

"My Soul is Made of Meadowflowers" © Katie Daisy

"My Soul is Made of Meadowflowers" © Katie Daisy

Not only is Etsy a wonderful place to sell my products directly to customers, but it also serves as a curated portfolio in an art directory. Most all of my notable clients (even the Oprah Winfrey Network!) have found me by perusing Etsy. I’m convinced that it’s a go-to for art directors to find fresh talent.

"Stay Close" © Katie Daisy

"Stay Close" © Katie Daisy

Which social media platform(s) are most successful for you, in terms of sharing your story, your brand and your message? How about for engaging with your fans and customers?

Instagram is by far the most successful platform for sharing my story/brand/message. I love the simplicity and design of Instagram. It’s like a little portfolio/lookbook into someone’s world! It also seems to be a kinder, more intimate place than other platforms. Facebook, however, is more successful for my brand as far as reach goes. It’s also easier to target specific audiences on Facebook if you’re looking to promote a specific post or product.

Katie's "Beauty You Love" journal with Madison Park

Katie's "Beauty You Love" journal with Madison Park

What was your first licensing deal? Has your approach to licensing changed since then? In what ways? When you’re approached by potential licensees and clients, how does thinking about your brand influence the questions you ask and the way you make your decisions?

I wouldn’t call it a licensing deal, but I wish it would have been! I was asked by a big box store to paint a page of artwork and lettering for an upcoming collection. I was blown away that a company of this size even noticed me and was interested in my work! You could say I was starstruck. The turnaround time was ridiculously quick, the pay was low, and worst of all, the contract was nonexistent. In a way, I trusted this company to guide me through the process. I thought, “heck, they’ve done this a million times! This must be standard practice.” When the products were released, I had such mixed feelings. My art appeared on products nationwide, which was so exciting. Although, was it my art? Elements were stretched, colors were changed, things were vectorized, and my name didn’t appear on anything. Since this experience, I’ve come to find so much comfort in a contract and outlining terms before the project even begins. I’ve found that If a client isn’t willing to budge on some pretty harsh terms, then it’s just not a good match.

"Wild Flowers of the Pacific Coast" © Katie Daisy

"Wild Flowers of the Pacific Coast" © Katie Daisy

You have such a natural, graceful way of sharing your art and your lifestyle via social media. Has that always been easy for you? How do you make decisions about what to share and what to keep private?

Thank you! Yes, it has been pretty easy. I share what I’m inspired by, and what makes me come alive. I hope that those things will inspire other people as well. :) I do keep many things private from my social media platforms. I think that it’s possible to overshare, and I’m constantly trying to keep this in check. I like to keep many moments (particularly with my family) private. In a day where everything seems to be broadcasted on the internet, I want to savor the sweet moments that only we share.

"More Than This Day" © Katie Daisy

"More Than This Day" © Katie Daisy

At the beginning of the year you posted about being a brand without losing your soul. It was in response to some critical comments you received about a large product collection at a major retailer. It was an eloquent and thoughtful response to the criticism and it generated a lot of commentary. What made you decide to respond in that fashion, and why did it feel important to respond at all? 

Thank you! I’ve had a hard time responding (or choosing not to respond) to negative/critical feedback. There’s a part of me that always wonders if there’s a bit of truth to the comments. In this instance, several folks were questioning my decision to partner with a major retailer. Some called it selling out, others called it soulless. One of the things that I strive for in business is to be transparent and authentic with my practices. I put so much thought and care into my client relationships, so to hear that a few thought otherwise was really upsetting. I hope that my blog post will open the eyes of the naysayers to realize that there’s an enormous amount of effort and care going on behind the scenes—it’s surely not about “making fast cash,” as some seem to think. I also wrote the blog to start a bigger conversation among creatives and licensed artists about the depth of a brand. Defining your brand and making it authentically YOU is a huge asset to a creative business.

"Sun and Daisies" © Katie Daisy

"Sun and Daisies" © Katie Daisy

Tell us about a couple art brands you love and what you love about them.

I love Papaya, Kelly Rae Roberts, Emily McDowell, and oodles more! These gals really have a way of expressing their authenticity and individuality through their art, products, blogs, photos, and more. I’m constantly inspired by these women and the brands they’ve built from the ground up.

Katie in her studio with her son, Finn

Katie in her studio with her son, Finn

I agree. I’m hugely inspired by all of you and consider you real pioneers. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Katie.

If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to read Katie’s blog post “I Have a Brand. I Have a Soul.” I’m so proud of the way she articulated her position and helped open the conversation about what it means to be both an artist and commercially successful—they don’t have to be mutually exclusive, you know. You’ll definitely want to visit Katie’s website and especially her newly-launched shop, where she’s now selling small-batch goods like these beautiful tote bags. The shop represents a new phase for Katie: she plans to continue selling through Etsy while exploring the possibilities afforded by a proprietary online storefront. 


If you Pin or otherwise share these images, please provide attribution to Katie Daisy and link back to this post or Katie’s own website. Thank you!

 

 

art brand stories: Stephanie Ryan

When I met Stephanie Ryan earlier this year, she was at a big turning point in her career. Already a successful licensing artist—known and loved for her upbeat and colorful watercolors, many bearing inspirational messages—she’d been working quietly on a new collection of work with a very different mood. She also had a strong relationship with a licensing agency. She wanted to continue working with her agent to promote her existing brand, while taking charge of promoting the newer art herself.

F13 Art Brand Story: Stephanie Ryan

So Stephanie set out to differentiate the new work even more, creating a standalone brand that she could represent herself without causing confusion for her existing brand. Rather than trying to license this new work immediately, Stephanie is focused on creating a small collection of home goods and stationery, which she’ll produce and market herself.

Enjoy Stephanie’s art brand story!

~Betsy


Betsy: You’ve worked as a licensing artist for five years now and have been working with a licensing rep for most of that time. Tell us a bit about your history with licensing. How did you get into it?

Stephanie: I wanted to get into licensing for as long as I can remember but never felt confident enough to do it. I started experimenting with my art and decided to open an Etsy store to sell my prints just to see how things would go. I was so pleased when creative directors started contacting me about licensing my art.

"Think Happy Thoughts" © Stephanie Ryan / Be Inspired Collection, Petal and Light

"Think Happy Thoughts" © Stephanie Ryan / Be Inspired Collection, Petal and Light

At the same time, I was working as a freelance designer and had created Floral Fusion, a dinnerware collection for Lenox that was launching and the combination of these two opportunities really gave me the courage to give licensing a try. My first big step was creating three collections and sending them to Moda Fabrics for consideration. Within a week I received a call that they loved my submissions and wanted to welcome me to the Moda family. That was all I needed to hear to start taking my new licensing career seriously.

"Floral Fusion" by Stephanie Ryan for Lenox

"Floral Fusion" by Stephanie Ryan for Lenox

I started looking for an agent immediately after that, which was a big decision. Luckily, I had experience in the product development and licensing world working for other companies and knew exactly what getting an agent meant. I also knew that being an introvert and natural self-doubter that I really needed someone helping, pushing and cheering me on, so choosing an agent was a no brainer for me. I didn’t have any collections at the time, except the three for Moda, I had a lot of single images. Surtex was quickly approaching and I needed to create a body of work for my agents, MHS Licensing. I was able to create almost 20 collections for my first Surtex show and things really started to flow from there.

What have been some of the most rewarding moments for you?

I feel like I was really blessed with some great opportunities from the start. I think the most rewarding moments for me are the partnerships that turned into great friendships and collaborations. I love being involved in the process; creating art and product concepts and seeing them come to life.

directly above: Fleur Collection by Stephanie Ryan for Studio M / the gallery farther above shows an additional assortment of Stephanie's licensed products.

directly above: Fleur Collection by Stephanie Ryan for Studio M / the gallery farther above shows an additional assortment of Stephanie's licensed products.

What have you enjoyed about working with a rep?

I love that I have a team of professionals and friends working really hard for me. I love that I can spend my time creating and let them worry about the selling, contracts, organization of files, and daily back and forth with manufacturers. I am the type of person that likes to be hands-on especially when it comes to my business. I have been learning lately that I need to let go of some responsibilities so that I can focus on what is most precious and sacred to me.

At a certain point, I know you found yourself less inspired by the look that you’ve become known for. You felt there were more and different things you wanted to explore with your art, so you decided to develop an entirely new brand. Tell us all about Art + Alchemy, how it developed, what it means to you, and your vision for it.

Yes, it’s hard to explain. I was having fun and the brand was doing great but for some reason I had this little voice in my head saying this is amazing, but it’s just not right, I’m missing something. That was really hard for me. It didn’t happen overnight, it was a year long process of experimenting and soul searching. Eventually, I started to see it. I wasn’t that far off track, it was still watercolors, just more soulful.

"To the Darkness" © Stephanie Ryan / Art + Alchemy

"To the Darkness" © Stephanie Ryan / Art + Alchemy

"Sorcery" © Stephanie Ryan / Art + Alchemy

"Sorcery" © Stephanie Ryan / Art + Alchemy

When I started to clearly see the new look I tried to have them both exist in the same space but it wasn’t working, there was a disconnect between the old and new work. I decided to rebrand my brighter watercolors and inspirational art. That is how Petal and Light by Stephanie Ryan was born. I like to think of Petal and Light as the way I want to feel. I want to be happy and think happy thoughts, but the truth is that I don’t always feel that way. I am really sensitive, empathic and have my struggles. My favorite time of year is winter, I love cloudy days and bare tree branches. I’m an introvert that loves peace and calm and I absolutely love muted colors and art that has a feeling and mood to it.

"Awakening" © Stephanie Ryan / Art + Alchemy

"Awakening" © Stephanie Ryan / Art + Alchemy

Art + Alchemy is the way I feel on the inside and it is my passion project. I have never felt so connected to my art before. This work comes from a place deep within. It is moody, magical, peaceful, introspective and deep. Even my florals feel soulful to me now. My vision for Art + Alchemy hasn’t totally revealed itself to me yet. I am working on developing and manufacturing some products myself to start. My first product is going to be high end, luxe pillows followed by some fabric by the yard and handbags. I see this brand as more home decor and would love to eventually license for rugs, wallpaper, etc.

"Charmed" © Stephanie Ryan / Art + Alchemy

"Charmed" © Stephanie Ryan / Art + Alchemy

What are the challenges in distinguishing your two brands from one another and managing them as separate entities? What steps do you take to differentiate them from one another, not just in style but in marketing?

That’s a great question. I needed to be very clear about the difference between the brands, what they stood for and what messages they want to convey. They are similar in that they are watercolors and I think you can see my hand in both styles but Petal and Light is straight up inspirational, happy art. I keep the messaging uplifting and light and the color palettes stay cheerful. Marketing follows the same rules. I do think that they have different customers though and am working on figuring that out as well. It’s still feeling pretty new to me.

"Unsettled" © Stephanie Ryan / Art + Alchemy

"Unsettled" © Stephanie Ryan / Art + Alchemy

Has your licensing rep been supportive of your decision to launch another brand?

Yes, MHS Licensing have been very supportive and will continue to license Petal and Light. They want me to follow my heart and are happy to be part of the team.

© Stephanie Ryan / Stephanie's Instagram (@stephanieryands) is full of beautiful shots of her studio and work in progress, like the one above.

© Stephanie Ryan / Stephanie's Instagram (@stephanieryands) is full of beautiful shots of her studio and work in progress, like the one above.

You’re also a very experienced product designer, which I imagine gives you some advantages when it comes to licensing your art and developing the product line you’ve envisioned for Art + Alchemy. Can you talk a bit about your experience on that side of manufacturing, what you’ve learned from it?

I started my career working for a handmade doll manufacturing company called Little Souls, Inc. I used to work with vendors, wholesalers, sewing contractors and pattern makers. I was a buyer, designer and project manager all at the same time. I learned a lot about creating a handmade product, cost of goods, mark-ups, wholesaling and was introduced to the licensing world there. It was a small business and I wore a lot of hats and learned so much.

"Vortex" © Stephanie Ryan / Art + Alchemy

"Vortex" © Stephanie Ryan / Art + Alchemy

After that I worked at Lenox as their senior concept designer and learned about surface design, the tabletop industry, and product development in that industry. More recently, I have worked as a freelance designer developing home decor product concepts and creating art from trends for tabletop and melamine. My experience has given me a solid foundation to start designing my own products. I still feel like I am learning though. It’s a process.

A peek at some of Stephanie's Art + Alchemy product prototypes and mood board

A peek at some of Stephanie's Art + Alchemy product prototypes and mood board

Thank you so much, Stephanie, for sharing your story and your beautiful art with us. I'm so excited to see your first product collection take shape!

Be sure to visit Stephanie's website, where you can see more work from both her brands. I love following her on Instagram (@stephanieryands) and Pinterest, too—both are places where she's cultivating her new brand, Art + Alchemy. Her images are always so serene and contemplative.


If you Pin or otherwise share these images, please provide attribution to Stephanie Ryan and link back to this post or Stephanie’s own website. Thank you!

art brand stories: Troy Litten

This week’s art brand story is with photographer, illustrator, and designer Troy Litten. Some of you might know Troy through his "Wanderlust" series of travel-themed books, journals, notecards, and postcards published by Chronicle Books.

Photography can be tricky to license, but Troy has a gift for creating images that transcend the power of a single photograph. He curates his collections of photos (and, more recently, illustrations) around themes. The resulting artworks are immersive experiences, full of detail, wonderful visual surprises, and a "voice" that is distinctly Troy's own. At the same time these composite images are as decorative as an intricately designed pattern, making his work really appealing for a wide range of product and editorial uses.

Troy established his reputation as an artist through publishing, which I believe can be a great launchpad for an art brand—especially when it’s done in the thoughtful way Troy has approached it. He’ll tell you about this, and much more, in today’s interview.

Enjoy!

~Betsy


F13 Art Brand Story: Troy Litten / Troyland.com

Betsy: You’ve had a long and enviable career in graphic design. I’d love to know more about that part of your history and how that experience may have informed your approach to your artwork and business.

Troy: I’m a graphic designer/art director by training/profession and for over 25 years have had the good fortune to work for a wide variety of agencies and companies in the design, advertising, retail, apparel, and marketing fields in numerous places such as London, Hong Kong, New York, and San Francisco. Graphic design is all about visually communicating ideas to help clients solve problems and achieve goals and the knowledge and experience I’ve gained in my professional career has been key in my approach to my own artwork and business—being my own client, so to speak (I always seem to find a way to simultaneously be both the frustrated designer and the unhappy client!).

My inner designer loves all things typographic, such as this alphabet created from photos of San Francisco street names stamped into street corner sidewalks. ©2015 Troy Litten

My inner designer loves all things typographic, such as this alphabet created from photos of San Francisco street names stamped into street corner sidewalks. ©2015 Troy Litten

When and why did you make the transition to focus on your photography and building a business based on it?

Having caught the travel bug while at university in Ohio in the ’80s, I’ve worked primarily as a freelance designer/art director for most of my career and have achieved a nice balance between professional work and taking time off to see the world. When I began traveling I was drawn to documenting the things that interest me as a designer which quickly resulted in an immense archive of photography, ephemera, and writing—the raw materials I use in my art. I’ve always loved creating personal design projects as a way to share my world with others and feed my creativity.

Travel passees from my first trips abroad. ©2015 Troy Litten

Travel passees from my first trips abroad. ©2015 Troy Litten

Hand-made postcard featuring Japanese street characters, created after my first trip to Tokyo in 1997. ©2015 Troy Litten

Hand-made postcard featuring Japanese street characters, created after my first trip to Tokyo in 1997. ©2015 Troy Litten

I seem to have an inherent desire to make sense of the world around me through collecting, curating, and commenting on the things I see and the experiences I have when traveling. I’m drawn to ways in which different cultures express their unique visual character through everything from street signs to payphones, public transportation such as trains, buses, and subways, to the everyday ritual of having my morning coffee. Buying packaging in the shops, scouring the sidewalks for discarded pieces of paper, collecting airmail stamps at post offices, searching out vintage postcards, and collecting old stuff at flea markets are an integral part of my everyday life on the road.

My morning travel ritual: cups of coffee from around the world, print available in my etsy shop. ©2015 Troy Litten

My morning travel ritual: cups of coffee from around the world, print available in my etsy shop. ©2015 Troy Litten

Traveling China with a blank book and a gluestick, 1992. ©2015 Troy Litten

Traveling China with a blank book and a gluestick, 1992. ©2015 Troy Litten

As a bit of an introvert, I also tend to prefer observation to participation when I travel. Being instinctively drawn to the details of a journey that get overlooked or ignored, or are thought of as inconsequential/unimportant/unappealing, I find I can enjoy, appreciate, or simply find humor in just about anything (from cheap hotel rooms to bad meals to extended airport delays)—really handy when I find myself in unfamiliar environments and situations. For me all these aspects of traveling contribute to a better understanding of and appreciation for each unique destination I visit.

Airport snoozing. ©2015 Troy Litten

Airport snoozing. ©2015 Troy Litten

Buzzers and bells on the streets of Istanbul. ©2015 Troy Litten

Buzzers and bells on the streets of Istanbul. ©2015 Troy Litten

Your "Wanderlust" series with Chronicle Books is such a perfect introduction to your work, your sensibility, your unique point of view and your design aesthetic. You approached Chronicle with a proposal for a book, and it resulted in a long and really fruitful collaboration with many related products. Please tell us more about that process.

My “Wanderlust” series and collaboration with Chronicle Books (which began in 2001) were a direct result of the personal projects I was creating around my approach to travel, such as making postcards and mail art for friends and family after returning from trips. Wanting to do something more substantive with all my “stuff”, I took my first stab at a book proposal, titled “One-Way Non-Stop Hello Kitty”, in 1998. Much rejection ensued. Soon after, a designer friend with experience publishing stationery items suggested I fashion my book concept into something more “useful” and two years later my somewhat more realistic proposal for an engagement calendar caught the eye of my first editor at Chronicle Books and “Wanderlust” was born. Much elation ensued! A boxed set of 30 postcards and four journals were quickly followed by an address book (with images of payphones from around the world), a travel journal, an engagement calendar, and in 2005 the “Wanderlust” book. I’ve continued to add to the “Wanderlust” series ever since – a total of 18 titles in 12 years, with the most recent being the “Wanderlust Skulls” and “Wanderlust Streets” journals published last year.

Fueled by an appreciation of and fascination with all forms of visual culture, communication, and expression, I travel the world documenting my experiences and adventures. The result is “Wanderlust”, my series of travel-themed books, journals, postcards, notecards, and more. ©2015 Troy Litten

Fueled by an appreciation of and fascination with all forms of visual culture, communication, and expression, I travel the world documenting my experiences and adventures. The result is “Wanderlust”, my series of travel-themed books, journals, postcards, notecards, and more. ©2015 Troy Litten

Through a unique presentation of travel photos, ephemera, and design, “Wanderlust” creates a travel experience that anyone who’s ever traveled can relate to by focusing on the commonplace experiences such as trying to sleep on airplanes, waking up in nondescript hotel rooms, ordering meals in foreign countries, finding your way around a new city, the people you meet along the way, and the souvenirs and mementos you return home with. As one reviewer at the time put it, “'Wanderlust'… created one of the most realistic accounts of the beauty, adventure, frustration, boredom, and wonder of travel.”

Spreads from “Wanderlust”, published by Chronicle Books in 2005. ©2015 Troy Litten

Spreads from “Wanderlust”, published by Chronicle Books in 2005. ©2015 Troy Litten

What have you learned from that collaboration and how has it helped you build your brand?

I’ve learned so much through my collaboration with Chronicle Books! For starters good ideas and a unique approach, coupled with an editor who shares your vision and can help shape an idea into reality, is key. My experience as a designer plays a big role in my publishing success—from knowing how to communicate an idea visually to the ability to design layouts and artwork for printing. Being comfortable with creative compromise when working with a publisher is also important, as long as I don’t lose sight of my initial vision for a work.

It’s been an honor to publish with such a respected publisher as Chronicle Books and they’ve always been top of my list. “Wanderlust” has definitely helped get my work out there and is an important framework on which I continue to build my brand and branch out into other formats and disciplines. I believe the premise of my work—that the joy of travel isn’t about getting there, but about all the fun you can have along the way—is as relevant now as it was when “Wanderlust” was launched.

Markets + Hand-drawn signage = Happiness! ©2015 Troy Litten

Markets + Hand-drawn signage = Happiness! ©2015 Troy Litten

A collage of international transit tickets from my collection, print available in my etsy shop. ©2015 Troy Litten

A collage of international transit tickets from my collection, print available in my etsy shop. ©2015 Troy Litten

I so admire your meticulous attention to every design aspect of your artwork, your branding, your pitches to licensees, and your licensed products—from carefully considered color correction, cropping and layout of your photo collage images, to custom lettering for product packaging, it seems nothing escapes your fastidious eye! Although you sometimes joke about your obsessiveness around all the details, the result for your brand and your products is obvious—it’s such a strong and consistent statement. So my question is… how do you know when to let something go?

Thanks, Betsy! Yes, immensely obsessive detail driven über perfectionist Capricorn designer here!

Working with clients/publishers/licensees often necessitates making changes to my artwork/designs. I believe I’ve mellowed a bit over time in regards to this inevitability (current editors may disagree) but it’s always difficult to compromise. Sometimes I’ll agree with a request for changes, and sometimes I won’t. But the changes made during design approval phases of many of my projects have almost always made the finished products better, although there have been amendments that with hindsight proved not so great. It’s a learning process—knowing when to stand your ground and knowing when to rely on the expertise of a client—and I try to keep in mind that they pretty much always know a lot more about their industry, markets, and customers than I do.

“Air Mail” and “Late Night TV” fine art prints published by The Art Group in 2014. ©2015 Troy Litten

“Air Mail” and “Late Night TV” fine art prints published by The Art Group in 2014. ©2015 Troy Litten

“Transit Graphics 1000 Piece Puzzle” published by Galison in 2013. ©2015 Troy Litten

“Transit Graphics 1000 Piece Puzzle” published by Galison in 2013. ©2015 Troy Litten

In my first year of design school I had an instructor who taught us that the real work begins when you think something’s done. My classmates and I affectionately (and rather un-PC-ly) referred to him as the “Design Nazi” and his advice was really integral to the formation of my approach to my work both professionally and personally. For example, when I can’t find just the right fonts I design them myself—there are 3 custom designed fonts throughout my Wanderlust work and I hand-lettered the title type for the packaging of my “Muchos Autos” puzzle published last year by Galison. In my opinion, going that extra mile will always result in something that feels much more special.

Custom “Wanderlust” typefaces are based on typographic forms found on common travel signage and ephemera. ©2015 Troy Litten

Custom “Wanderlust” typefaces are based on typographic forms found on common travel signage and ephemera. ©2015 Troy Litten

My “Muchos Autos 500 Piece Puzzle” features photos of colorful cars on the streets on Latin America and custom hand-drawn typography on the package. ©2015 Troy Litten

My “Muchos Autos 500 Piece Puzzle” features photos of colorful cars on the streets on Latin America and custom hand-drawn typography on the package. ©2015 Troy Litten

You seem to me to have a great deal of comfort with the negotiation side of licensing and with the design approvals phase. These are two areas of licensing where I find a lot of artists are reluctant to ask for more favorable terms, or to insist on seeing another proof. You don’t shy away from those conversations. Has this ever backfired on you? What tips do you have for other artists to be better advocates for themselves?

Ah, the joys of contract negotiations... Working with licensees always involves contracts and my approach to this inevitability is pretty much the same as how I handle my working relationships on the creative side: be willing to compromise but be strategic and fight for what’s most important to you. I’ve yet to pass on a project because I can’t reach agreement on a contract, although I’ve come pretty darn close to throwing in the towel.

I suggest learning as much as you can about the ins and outs of contracts and don’t get bogged down by all the legal-speak mumbo-jumbo. It’s important to understand the gist of all contract clauses and their implications both near- and far-term. Learn about what typically constitutes a good/fair deal and what to steer clear of. Try to network with other artists who have similar licensing experience and compare notes—“industry standard” contract terms seem to me a bit of a moving target (there are lots of “boilerplate” contracts out there). As much as I hate to say it, from my experience licensees tend to “low ball” initial offers and expect negotiation.

When reviewing a contract my main concerns are usually royalty rate, advance, term of license, production grant (for designing print-ready mechanicals), level of involvement in design decisions and proof reviews, and clarity on the exact rights to my artwork (and also what’s not included in those rights).

Most importantly I highly recommend consulting a professional attorney who specializes in intellectual property, especially when first weathering the contract negotiation storm—there’s a big learning curve! I spent a considerable chunk of the advance on my first publishing projects on legal fees but it was worth it. My attorney worked directly with my editor and made numerous requests for amendments, much to the surprise and chagrin of my editor who commented that none of their other authors request so many changes. My attorney’s reply: Then your other authors don’t have adequate legal representation.

Payphones from around the world. ©2015 Troy Litten

Payphones from around the world. ©2015 Troy Litten

I know you’ve been doing a lot of illustration work lately. Please share what’s in the works and how you’re building on the brand you started with “Wanderlust”. What products you’re dreaming up, shows, special projects?

I’ve lately been exploring drawing and illustration as a new way to present the “Wanderlust” aesthetic and all the stuff that inspires me—from my travel collections of photos of signage (stop signs, no dogs signs, walk/don’t walk signs) to shiny objects found at hardware stores. I’m currently working on a series of illustration collages based on vintage travel ephemera such as old airline baggage tags, hotel luggage labels, and transportation tickets which I’ve fashioned into a set of journals.

Stop sign messenger bag concept. ©2015 Troy Litten

Stop sign messenger bag concept. ©2015 Troy Litten

“Hardware Store” pattern series exploration. ©2015 Troy Litten

“Hardware Store” pattern series exploration. ©2015 Troy Litten

Mockups of my new “Vintage Travel Journal Set” idea featuring hand-drawn travel ephemera. ©2015 Troy Litten

Mockups of my new “Vintage Travel Journal Set” idea featuring hand-drawn travel ephemera. ©2015 Troy Litten

A current dream project is creating a book and exhibition of my impressions of Eastern Europe, from the early 1990s to now, featuring photographs, ephemera, and writings to share my appreciation for the visual aesthetic of this unique time and place. I would love to curate/create an immersive gallery exhibition that explores our connection with travel and the world around us through the presentation of common travel experiences utilizing both still and interactive elements that allow viewers to react with the content, share their experiences, and respond to the experiences of others. I also hope to continue to find new ways to share my love of travel and design through photography exhibition work, new publishing formats, editorial endeavors, and surface and product design applications of my photographs and drawings.

Photos from my travels through Eastern Europe, 1992-present. ©2015 Troy Litten

Photos from my travels through Eastern Europe, 1992-present. ©2015 Troy Litten

Fruity syrup labels soaked off bottles in my hotel room in Romania, 1994. ©2015 Troy Litten

Fruity syrup labels soaked off bottles in my hotel room in Romania, 1994. ©2015 Troy Litten

And, as I approach my 50th birthday, I just wanna keep traveling!

My trusty backpack, along for the ride since 1992, has recently been replaced with a roller bag. ©2015 Troy Litten

My trusty backpack, along for the ride since 1992, has recently been replaced with a roller bag. ©2015 Troy Litten


Wishing you many more adventures, Troy. I can’t wait to see what you bring back from your upcoming trip to Southeast Asia and I’m really grateful to you for sharing your story here.

Travel vicariously with Troy on his website, Troyland, in his Etsy shop, and on Instagram (@troylitten). You can also journey with Troy to an exotic San Francisco destination known as Casa Troy… aka Troy’s house, which was featured last year on Design*Sponge. As you might expect, his very personal vision shines through in every aspect of his amazing home.


If you Pin or otherwise share these images, please attribute to Troy Litten and link back to this post or Troy's website. Thank you!

art brand stories: Angela Staehling

I met Angela Staehling earlier this year as she was making a big career transition. She had been with an agent for a good long spell—with loads of successful licensing deals to show for it—and had recently decided to strike out on her own. She’s quickly making an art brand name for herself, while also learning the ropes of self-representation and managing her own business affairs. And she’s doing it all beautifully!

Angela has a real gift for sharing compelling stories about her art practice. She has a warm, approachable voice and always features beautifully styled photos of her work. Check out her Instagram and blog posts to see what I mean! A gifted illustrator and painter, capable of working in a number of different styles, she may end up cultivating at least a couple different standalone brands that can work harmoniously under the Angela Staehling name brand. I’m excited to see where she takes things and I know you’re going to enjoy this interview.

Betsy


F13 Art Brand Stories: Angela Staehling

Betsy: You worked with a licensing rep for 15 years and garnered a lot of fantastic licensing deals during that time. Tell us about those years, what you enjoyed about working with a rep, and what led you to close that chapter and go out on your own.

Angela: 15 years ago feels like an eternity! At that time, I was just discovering the world of art licensing. I had young children and was looking for an art opportunity where I could work from home. A lovely friend of mine owned a small retail store and introduced me to the wholesale industry of home decor. In 2000, I exhibited at my first trade show in Atlanta with hand-painted furniture, home decor, stationery, and gift items.

Saint Ouen © Angela Staehling

Saint Ouen © Angela Staehling

I quickly learned from that experience that licensing would be the way to go for me, not manufacturing wholesale goods. After a few trade shows, I had connected with fine art publisher, a husband-wife team that quickly grew to become one of the leading fine art publishers in the world. It was common in those days for a publisher to also handle all of the licensing for their artists. We designed many collections based on various themes, including floral, kitchen, wine, coastal, juvenile, and holiday, to name a few. Much of the art was directed on style, color, and composition.

New York Coffee © Angela Staehling

New York Coffee © Angela Staehling

While it was great to have a team of art directors research patterns and color trends for you, the freedom of creating your own art simply didn't fit this mold. The tradeoff of working with an agent was that I didn't have to worry about the business aspect of selling my art. They took care of every business need and actually garnered me wonderful licensing deals—opportunities I couldn't have done on my own at that time. As time progressed, I became more savvy about the business and longed to work directly with my licensors. I enjoy the direct feedback from working one-on-one with my clients. In addition, and probably the greater of the deciding factors, was that the company that represented me had changed ownership several times.

Tulip © Angela Staehling

Tulip © Angela Staehling

My close relationships with the art directors dissolved as new faces were coming and going. Eventually their business model changed and licensing was not their forefront revenue generator anymore. This lead me to search out other options—either to look for another agent or try self-licensing. I chose to self-license because I didn't want to give up control of my art. Over the past two years, I have been able to develop some great relationships with several licensing companies, including those with new product categories. While this next chapter of my career is exciting, I am now looking at transitioning from being a licensing artist to a branded artist. 

Orvieto © Angela Staehling

Orvieto © Angela Staehling

You're in the midst of a fantastic 365 Day Project which you recently wrote about for the Strathmore Art Blog. Something you said there pointed to the difference between thinking of yourself as a licensing artist, versus thinking of yourself as an art brand. You wrote:

I began painting these daily sketches in March as a way to keep true to my art. As a licensed artist, I spend a lot of time on the computer tweaking and altering my imagery to fit product specifications. I found that many days would go by that I hadn't even picked up a paintbrush. With art as my passion, I decided to create a sketch every day for one year.

I’d love for you to elaborate on that! How did you chose your topic? Your media? What changes are you noticing in your mindset, your art (and maybe even your business) as a result of this daily practice? How is the practice fostering your brand development?

You picked up on my line of thought about being a licensing artist versus an art brand without me even realizing I was saying that! As mentioned above, I developed this 365 Sketchbook Project as a way for me to paint every day. I found that many days would pass and I never had the time to create art (on paper or canvas, as opposed to the computer). Electing to paint 30 minutes (which actually is about an hour by the time I photograph and post my work on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) is a great way to make sure I do what I love every day.

Plum © Angela Staehling

Plum © Angela Staehling

Bee © Angela Staehling

Bee © Angela Staehling

I'm using this Sketchbook Project as a way to freshen up my style and explore different color combinations, even try more stylish hand-lettering. Much of my previous artwork was heavily art-directed, not only by theme, but by color, pattern, and style. Because this Sketchbook Project has no constraints, I chose to paint about what I love the most—the great outdoors! With 365 days to paint, I thought it would be best to break it down into twelve monthly categories. Otherwise, I would go in circles trying to decide what to paint each day. I'm painting in gouache because I haven't used that medium since my college days—many moons ago—and I wanted to try something new. I use Strathmore's 500 Series Mixed Media Art Journals as they hold up real well to my sometimes heavy washes.

Swan © Angela Staehling

Swan © Angela Staehling

Fox © Angela Staehling

Fox © Angela Staehling

In terms of my mindset in regards to this project, my goal is to not be too hard on myself and not overthink anything. I've found a rhythm with this project and I'm simply trying to let the process flow. My hopes are at the end of the year, I can look back and see that I've developed a new style, or at least the beginnings of one. I definitely see myself moving in the direction of becoming a branded artist, but I’m realistic it won't happen overnight.

Amanita Muscaria © Angela Staehling

Amanita Muscaria © Angela Staehling

Mushrooms © Angela Staehling

Mushrooms © Angela Staehling

You're a super versatile artist and illustrator, able to work masterfully in many different styles and media. I'm sure that's been a huge advantage for you as a licensing artist, making you a strong candidate for many different opportunities. Now you’re working to define your brand as a self-represented artist and I’m inspired to see that you're developing at least a couple of different signature looks. You have the potential to create many distinctly different brands and I imagine it might be challenging to define the overarching Angela Staehling brand. Can you talk a bit about how you’re approaching this? What criteria do you have for your own work (as opposed to for a client work) to help keep it feeling true to you, your personal values and lifestyle?

Yes, that is absolutely true. Branding myself is probably my biggest challenge at the moment. I have worked primarily in a realistic style over the course of 15 years and my core group of customers have gotten to know me for that style. Introducing any new style can be tricky or confusing to your customers, especially if it's completely different than what they know you for. Recently, I've added much looser styles of art. These are styles I wanted to introduce, something new and unexpected that would be a fresh take on the themes I normally paint.

No. 4 Habitat © Angela Staehling

No. 4 Habitat © Angela Staehling

In addition, I am working on the Sketchbook Project which is yet another uniquely stylized collection. I definitely have many styles of art, and if you ever google my name, you will see the variances in my imagery throughout the years. Again, I find this very challenging because I may not want a prospective client who is interested in my more urban collections to associate my brand with my traditional work, or vice versa. I believe this is where brand management will be key to my success moving forward.

Terrain © Angela Staehling

Terrain © Angela Staehling

As far as what criteria I have for producing my own work as opposed to a client's, I basically paint per my customers request—whether it's traditional, loose watercolor, or more urban like the Sketchbook Project. I find this to be a happy balance, but I wouldn't be surprised if I someday gravitate towards selecting more projects that are based on the looser, more urban styles in my portfolio.

I also enjoy keeping a personal art journal about my backyard gardening experience (I blog about the experience on my website—My Garden). It's a place where I paint flowers, herbs, and vegetables in my garden and document any growing tips. The journal is a work in progress, as is my first year of planting a garden. 

Garden Journal © Angela Staehling

Garden Journal © Angela Staehling

Tickseed © Angela Staehling

Tickseed © Angela Staehling

Now that you’re able to focus your energies on developing your own signature brand (or brands!) and being the “front woman” for your business, what new skills are you cultivating? What fears or insecurities are you facing? How do you help yourself rise to these challenges?

I am learning to wear many different hats. Back in the days of working with an agent, I only had to focus on my art and nothing else. Now that I am self-licensing, I not only need to research and meet new clients, nurture my current client relationships, but also manage my imagery for licensing availability. While this seems like a lot, I thoroughly enjoy it. I think the key to moving forward is to collaborate with great partners who can guide me and help take my business to the next level.

Spruce Cone Cactus © Angela Staehling

Spruce Cone Cactus © Angela Staehling

Especially because I want to move more in the direction of being a branded artist, I will need to develop a marketing strategy that best reflects all of my different styles of art. My greatest fear is not knowing when to hire help. I work independently now, although I've recently hired someone to help with my image management. But as far as bringing on a brand manager, I'm not sure exactly when and what the tipping point will be. The creative part of me would have acquired a team yesterday, including a designer to help create my marketing materials. However, I realize my revenue stream needs to be at a place where these additions make sense.

Prickly Pear Cactus © Angela Staehling

Prickly Pear Cactus © Angela Staehling

I know I am moving in the right direction. I am much further ahead now, than where I was a year ago. I have to pause, look at my small successes, and know that I am moving towards my goal. I think it's just a matter of time before I build my team. And I believe someday I will. I just need to keep the mindset that my next phase of becoming a branded artist will present itself when the time is right. 

Big thanks, Angela, for sharing your story with our readers! 

Treat yourself by following Angela on Instagram (@angelastaehling)! Her 365 Day Project is always a highlight for me. I think you’ll also really enjoy the blog post she wrote for Strathmore about the project, and on her website she shares loads more of her beautiful and inspiring work.


If you Pin or otherwise share these images, please attribute Angela Staehling and link back to this post or Angela’s own website. Thank you!

art brand stories: Annette Makino

Hello! I'm excited to launch a new series today: Art Brand Stories. I've lined up a selection of artists who are building and managing their own art-based businesses and over the next several weeks I'll be sharing their stories and their art with you through interviews. I'm especially proud of the range these artists represent—each at a very different stage of business development and each with his or her unique approach to building an art brand. I hope these interviews will inspire you to think about the story you want to tell through your own art brand and help you see the many possibilities for your art business.

Betsy


F13 Creative Art Brand Stories: Haiga artist, Annette Makino

My very first interview is especially meaningful for me because it’s with someone I’ve known for a very long time—since our days together at Ukiah High School in Northern California—long before either one of us had any idea that our paths would re-intersect one day thanks to art careers that each of us took up later in life.

I’m happy to introduce you to my friend, Annette Makino, an artist and writer who combines both talents in her beautiful watercolor and sumi ink paintings. Annette is inspired by the Japanese tradition of haiga, artwork combined with haiku so the image and words deepen each other. Annette has always had a quiet, sly, Zen sense of humor and I especially love seeing that side of her pop into her artwork.

One thing I most admire about Annette’s story is her process of slowly switching from a career in international relations to one based on her artwork. In  2010, she began deliberately building her art brand while keeping one foot in her international relations work (as a consultant) and developing some passive income streams. Making a transition to self-employment—especially as an artist—takes a lot of discipline. It’s not uncommon to hear from folks who just want to dive straight in: devil take the hindmost, an artist’s life for me! Annette is doing it in small, thoughtful steps—an approach that I suspect will ensure a long life for her art-based business.

So, without further ado, our first Art Brand Story… Annette Makino!

Betsy: You come from a very creative and intellectually engaged family. I’ve always admired that in your home (both your childhood home and the home you’ve made with your husband and kids): that artmaking is celebrated and encouraged as much as academic pursuits. But you didn’t initially pursue college studies or a career in art, did you? How and when did your artmaking begin to play a bigger role in your adult life?

Annette: Art was always strongly encouraged in my family. Whenever my two sisters and I asked our mother what she wanted for her birthday, she suggested a drawing, painting or poem. For years up through high school, we kids created a calendar of our art that we photocopied and gave to relatives and close family friends. But other than a year of art classes in my early twenties, I didn’t do art seriously until I left the nonprofit executive world. 

Five years ago, for my birthday, my artist friend Amy Uyeki gave me a book she had self-published consisting of senryu by her Japanese grandmother. Senryu are Japanese poems very similar to haiku, but usually funny and focused on human nature. The poems were accompanied by Amy’s art, and she explained to me the Japanese tradition of combining haiku with images, called haiga.

I began writing senryu and started experimenting with painting haiga using a bottle of calligraphy ink. My early efforts were pretty rough, but with encouragement from friends and family, I kept experimenting and improving.

"bright on the branch" © Annette Makino

"bright on the branch" © Annette Makino

I now paint with sumi ink that I grind in an ink stone, plus Japanese watercolors. I use bamboo brushes, but have moved away from the traditional rice paper in favor of heavier watercolor paper that can hold more color. I have gradually adapted traditional Japanese techniques and formats to my own purposes. My work is still evolving; who knows what comes next?

"honeybee alchemy" © Annette Makino

"honeybee alchemy" © Annette Makino

You’ve transitioned from a long and satisfying career working for others, to being the owner of a small business based on your art. And the transition is ongoing. What does that evolution look like?

As people responded positively to my art, in 2011 I launched a web site and had a few of my designs printed as greeting cards. Many of my early pieces were humorous pieces about dogs, and these did well enough at fairs and in local stores to encourage me to continue and to branch out thematically. 

"juicy bugs" © Annette Makino

"juicy bugs" © Annette Makino

I currently have cards in 40 stores in four states and also sell at local fairs and online via Etsy. One of my very first stores, the Northcoast Co-op in Arcata, now sells 80-100 of my cards each month. And half a dozen stores have found my cards sell so well they have each gradually increased me to 35 slots.

I'm also on my third year of producing a wall calendar. And I do art shows and the occasional custom painting. 

Along the way, I’ve experimented with selling t-shirts with my designs and hand-binding limited edition books of my haiga (both popular with customers, but not really profitable). 

I’ve tried working with greeting card reps, with mixed success, and at the moment I just market directly to stores when I’m in a new town. 

It’s not easy running your own business (see my blog post, "When you work for an idiot”), but I love the freedom to try new things and just see what happens.

"in meditation" © Annette Makino

"in meditation" © Annette Makino

Your brand is about your original writing as much as your art, and the power of the two connected. Tell us more about how it all started.

After writing senryu for a few months, I began writing haiku. In school, we all learned that haiku in English need to follow the syllable format of 5-7-5. I soon learned serious haiku poets believe this is based on a limited understanding of the Japanese language, and it usually makes for overly long and clunky poems. 

I kept reading and writing haiku, and eventually got to the point where my work started getting published in the leading journals of haiku in English. For the past couple years, I’ve also been honored to have haiku included in the highly respected Red Moon Anthology of the best haiku of the year. Here’s one:

cowlick
some part of me
still wild

As my work has evolved, I’ve found that haiku aren’t always the best words for a card, but they can work well for a calendar image. So I often create two or three versions of a painting, digitally: the original may have no words, the calendar version may include a haiku, and the greeting card version may have words more suited to the “me-to-you” purpose of the medium.

"happy birthday-berries," "I'm so glad," and "may peace in our hearts" © Annette Makino

"happy birthday-berries," "I'm so glad," and "may peace in our hearts" © Annette Makino

On the prose side, I write a monthly blog post/e-newsletter about my creative process, very broadly speaking. I usually interweave haiku and always include my art. It’s a unique, personal way to keep in touch with my customers, stores and supporters, and it’s also a useful vehicle to reflect on my process.

I was really excited to read this in an email you sent to me recently: "[Developing alternative and more passive income streams] has taken the (self-induced) pressure off me to make my art pay better, and as a result, I’ve been painting more, and I think my work is becoming stronger than ever!"

Then I read a recent blog post, where you explore your growing command of your chosen media—the struggles and the breakthroughs and the satisfaction that comes from continued patience and practice. What did you notice about your artmaking when you felt pressure to “make [it] pay better”?

In the greeting card business, there’s pressure to keep coming up with new designs. So I would get a few ideas and churn them out, even if they weren’t as strong as I would like. Those tended to be the cards that I ended up selling on clearance at fairs! 

Having to come up with holiday designs in the spring to meet store buying schedules, when snowflakes and holly berries are the last things on my mind… that feels forced and takes the fun out of it. And since making art is a tough way to make money, it’s got to at least be fun!

"every day is a gift" © Annette Makino

"every day is a gift" © Annette Makino

What can you tell us about cultivating and maintaining patience through those pressure periods?

Very little! I’m still working on that one. One of my best-selling early designs is really a message I wrote to myself:

"relax, the future" © Annette Makino

"relax, the future" © Annette Makino

and here is another:

"leaf light" © Annette Makino

"leaf light" © Annette Makino

You’ve built your brand by producing and selling your own line of products, learning the ins and outs of wholesale and retail business as you’ve gone along. You sell on Etsy as well as at craft fairs, you do shows, your cards are carried in a number of stores across the country. Which venues have been most successful for you financially?

I have several big local stores that now trust me to just come in and restock them every month with whatever designs I decide. That’s easy and quick, and gives me great immediate feedback on my new designs and what sells best. I consider them my laboratories, and I check those accounts frequently.

Which venues have been the best in terms of building brand recognition? Which give you the most satisfying interactions and/or feedback from customers?

The fairs and other live events, like an annual Open Studios weekend, are great for building my brand, understanding who buys my work and why, and getting customer feedback. However, this only works locally, as I’ve found it’s not worth it financially for me to travel to events. 

I love hearing directly from customers how my work has helped them connect with the people they care about, or provided just the right message for them at a key time. For instance, at the last fair I did, a woman chose a dog card reading “I’m here for you,” one of several designs she has bought for her mother over the years. “My mom and I have a rocky relationship,” she confided, “and your cards are helping.” (See also my blog post, "Stories you told me.”

"I'm here for you" © Annette Makino

"I'm here for you" © Annette Makino

So far, licensing has only played a limited a role in your art business. You also mentioned that some of our recent blog posts on F13 have helped you understand the tradeoffs that can happen when you license your art. Can you talk a little more about that? Maybe give us an example of a  dream licensing partner and/or what kinds of products you’d love to see with your art.

Until I read your blog posts on the artistic tradeoffs that licensing can involve, I was planning to focus on pursuing licensing deals as my next big experiment. But creating the art and words is a labor of love for me. It needs to feel meaningful and authentic, or there is no point in doing it. 

"water and stone" © Annette Makino

"water and stone" © Annette Makino

I dream of a licensing partner that truly respects the artist and the integrity of their vision. I only know the company from its cards and website, but Artists to Watch seems like it could be a good licensing partner in that way. My only current licensing contract is with a realtor friend who uses my haiga in his monthly e-newsletter. It works well for me because the work is presented just as I created it.

Since the art and words go together in my art, it may limit the kinds of products that would work for licensing, other than cards, calendars and prints. I may self-publish a book of my haiga and essays someday, but I have no illusions that that will make me rich. Except rich in spirit!

Thanks so much, Annette, for taking the time to do this interview. I know your story is going to be inspiring to our readers, especially for those who hope to make a transition from full time employment to an entrepreneurial, self-owned business model.

I hope you’ll all check out Annette’s website. And consider signing up for her newsletter! I always appreciate her thoughtful observations and good sense of humor around building an art-based business.

If you Pin or otherwise share these images, please attribute Annette Makino and link back to this post or Annette's website. Thank you!

what are you selling?

For me, the most successful brand of any kind feels like a person I want to know and hang out with, a person whose taste and values I relate to or aspire to. It conveys a human nature at its core. Some of the most successful and enduring brands we know are indeed the products of a very singular human being’s vision and values (Disney and Apple, to name a couple of the bigs).

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Corporations commonly spend lots of money and time working with pricey consultants, internal teams and focus groups—analyzing, discussing and reaching consensus on their core values and mission, in an effort to humanize their brands. But if you’re an artist and you’re building a business around the art you love to make, it seems to me you have a real leg up in this whole branding game! To discover and define your brand, you get to spend quality time with yourself and your art, with the goal of cultivating your unique voice and offering. Eventually, the people who respond enthusiastically to what you create will be your voluntary focus group and advertising agency, providing valuable insight into the ways your work inspires them; they’ll help you build your brand by enriching your message and story with their own words and experiences.

Brand exploration and development—whether at the corporate or small business level—can often seem pretty abstracted from the ultimate goal of selling. It’s natural to get a little agitated when we think about that disconnect. You might be saying to yourself: This is a very lovely picture you’re painting, Betsy. And sure, I’m excited to just gaze at my own pretty navel all day and make the art I want to make, but ultimately I need to be sure there’s food in the fridge and a safe, cozy place to rest at night. How is what you’re advising going to help me do that? Can I actually make a living making the art I love to make?

I wish I could definitively answer that question. What I can do is point to many compelling examples of artists who’ve approached their business from this standpoint and are finding great success. I’ll bet you can name many such artists yourself. So let’s assume it works, let’s assume there are real forces at play here. What are they? If this is about commerce and currency, about a system of exchange, what’s being exchanged between an art brand and her customers?

Well, let’s look at where we’re headed as a consuming culture. It seems to me that with each passing year, consumerism becomes more focused around values like originality, personalization, meaningfulness, and lastingness. I see these ideas come up with increasing frequency in all kinds of ways. My conversations with friends and family—despite our different tastes—often reveal our shared interest in these values. Popular books like Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Greg McKeown’s Essentialism are underpinned by these same themes. There are new business models like car- and home-sharing, and trends like upcycling. Such movements tap into many desires and pleasures; I would argue that chief among those are the joys we find in more personalized experiences and objects, and satisfying interpersonal exchanges. And, of course, there’s the ever-growing interest in handmade goods and locally-sourced foods, accompanied by a curiosity about the people and the practices behind the things we buy. We especially like stories that ring with authenticity, transparency and humanity, stories we can relate to as well as stories that show us what a single individual with a driving vision can achieve.

I believe we’re increasingly likely to exchange our money for the goods and services offered by these human-centered businesses because the exchange has a more lasting and intrinsic value. Above and beyond the price we pay and the obvious thing we get in return, we get connection with someone else who shares our interests and our values and we both feel elevated by that exchange. This is why I believe there’s real potential for the commercial artist who boldly explores and nurtures her own creative style and themes, and sells her art through channels that encourage a more direct conversation with her customer.

As you no doubt see, this requires quite a different creative mindset than one that’s focused on following trends and building one's portfolio in a specially-prescribed fashion with the goal of attracting the largest possible number of buyers. What would happen if you took a break from trying to figure out the system, a timeout from trying to read minds (the customer’s mind, the influential blogger’s mind, the art director’s mind), a vacation from trying to sell? What would happen if, instead, you focused on cultivating the gifts of your very own creative calling and then offered them to the world along with your story?

the art brand practice

In my last post I shared my experience talking with artists who become curious to adopt the art brand mindset to frame the way they think about their business goals. This week I want to look at some of the benefits and challenges of making that shift.

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First, I want to be straight with you: thinking about and positioning yourself as an art brand is no more of a magic trick to improving your business’s bottom line than any of the other great practices you’ve inculcated. In its simplest sense, it’s merely a framework for thinking about what you’re doing as an entrepreneurial artist. I promote it because I believe that it can, over time, help you create a more sustainable art business. And when I say sustainable, I mean at an energy and enthusiasm level more than anything else. Yes, hopefully financially sustainable; but from my perspective the more important goal is that your business protects, nurtures, and continuously recharges your calling to create art. To achieve that, you’ll want to ensure it doesn’t become “just a job.” The art brand paradigm can bolster your feelings of ownership, leadership, and creative freedom.

I also believe the art brand mindset encourages you to think of your business itself as a unique creative work—as much a reflection of your interests and passions as any other art you create. So, when I talk about building an “art brand” (or better yet, “art lifestyle brand”), I’m talking about defining your very particular (and perhaps even very peculiar!) vision and way of expressing yourself in the world. It’s about bringing your whole self to the creation and management of your business, rather than housing yourself and your artwork within someone else’s predefined standards for what an art business looks like.

As with any artwork, seeing your business in this light will require a willingness to stay attuned to and trusting of your own instincts. With so much information coming at us every day about how we ought to be conducting ourselves and promoting ourselves in business, it’s very easy to get caught up in the notion that there are right ways and wrong ways. You’ll need to take information in and become adept at assessing it against your internal compass—incorporating those tactics and practices that you know are right for your business and confidently bypassing those that don’t truly resonate.

It’s a process—as with any creation worth your time and devotion—that will take patience and perseverance. You’ll be building the house while you’re living in it, learning what works and what doesn’t work and making adjustments as you go along. It also means letting go of perfection. Doing business in the internet age can sometimes feel like being the star of your own reality TV show. It’s easy to believe the whole world is watching your every move! So, just as sharing your art can feel vulnerable, shaping your own unique business model and defining your own brand voice will almost certainly feel a little messy and uncertain at times and this is an especially hard pill for perfectionists to swallow. It helps to remember: even though everything you put on the internet is public, the reality is that you'll probably be flying comfortably under most folks' radar for a while. In that space, you can use the process of internet show-and-tell as a laboratory for exploring and refining your voice and presentation.*

Thinking of yourself as an art brand doesn’t necessarily include or preclude any particular revenue model for your business. You can have your own shop, license your work, illustrate books, take editorial assignments, and more. What it will do is put you in a much more confident position when deciding where you want your work to be seen and what kind of companies and people you want to collaborate with. Marquee names and money may hold less sway in your decision-making. You’ll be attuned to your own personal and enduring values and you’ll likely find that your choices come with a greater sense of peace and certainty because of that attunement.


* Take it from one who knows! I'm a recovering control freak and I'm still pushing myself outside of my comfort zone every time I post a new piece on this blog. Nevertheless, I am seeing how the process of blogging helps me refine my message. Through these posts, I’m trying to articulate some long-simmering ideas about how to build a meaningful and sustainable career as a commercially-oriented artist. So, in a sense, they're my artworks and the somewhat tentative building blocks of my brand.

I'm wildly grateful to those of you who’ve been writing to let me know you’re inspired by my posts. You make the awkward vulnerability bearable. Knowing that I’ve connected with you and helped you is a gift to me. Thank you!

the sigh of relief

Last week I talked about the difference between thinking of yourself as a licensing artist and thinking of yourself as an art brand. This shift in emphasis is particularly inspiring for artists who’ve been working diligently to build marketable art collections but are having a tough go at licensing their work.

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They show me their portfolio and I often see plenty of market potential in what they’ve created. It seems to me that they could be well-served by simply “staying the course.” If they seem firmly committed to the goal of licensing their art, first and foremost, I can tell them, Look. You’re doing everything right. You just need to ramp up your promotion, be a little bolder in your outreach to potential licensees or clients, build out more themed collections, get better with Photoshop or Illustrator, study the trends more... Keep doing what you’re doing, and give it time. But here’s the thing: I often pick up on a hint of sadness or resignation. They’re not having as much fun with their work as they’d like. There’s a lot of commitment, but less passion.

Inevitably though, after these artists have gotten a little more comfortable with me, they pull out something that’s more “personal,” or “experimental,” or “just for fun,” or “just doodles.” I probe a bit, showing my interest. At this point in our conversation, the energy shift is palpable. There’s a childlike joy that comes out with just the tiniest bit of encouragement from me. They can’t stop talking about this work—how much they love making it, what it means to them, the secret dreams they have for it.

The funny “coincidence” is that this work is always the stuff that I’ve already seen a glimpse of before our meeting (hidden in their portfolio, or sprinkled on Instagram, or shared sparingly on their blog) and it’s always the stuff that’s most exciting to me—as a viewer, as a potential customer—before I even talk with the artist.

So when I say to them, What would happen if you let yourself explore this some more? there’s this funny reaction that’s a mix of glee and fear. And I get it. The delight part is easy. Who doesn’t want to simply make the art they love to make? The fear part is more individual. Sometimes it’s about money: Sure, this stuff is loads of fun, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Sometimes it’s about self-doubt: What if you and I are the only ones in the world who like this stuff, Betsy?! What if I make a fool of myself? Sometimes it’s about the overwhelm they feel when they imagine reorienting their business around this more personal art: I’ve already invested so much time, energy and money in building my business to attract licensing work. This feels like starting over!

These are all totally legitimate concerns. If what I’ve portrayed above resonates with you, I’m not advising you to ignore your fears. What I am asking you to do is stay open. Allow yourself to explore.

Explore the art by making more of it, explore the feelings that come up as you make it, explore why it fills and propels you and how it relates to all the other things in your life that make you you. Take note of all of that and keep making time for it. When you’re ready, share it. But not necessarily for feedback or potential sales. Share it because you want to share more of yourself. Share it along with your story and glimpses into your world. See what happens.

It’s often at this point in our conversation that I hear a sigh of relief. I think that’s because sometimes even artists need permission to follow their hearts!

Next week I’ll explore what can happen when you make the “art brand shift.” There can be many rewards, and there are inherent challenges. We’ll examine both, to prepare you for the adventure ahead.

art brand, or licensing artist?

Thanks to all of you who’ve taken a moment to answer our questionnaire. We’ll leave it up for one more week, so if you’d like to give us your input we’d love to hear from you! The most requested topic so far is “building an art lifestyle brand.” It’s one that’s near and dear to me so I’m pretty excited to dive in!

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Often, when I talk with artists about their brand, they assume I’m talking about things like their logo, the design of their website and business card, maybe their artist statement. Those are all certainly part of it, but it’s also much bigger and more significant than that. In one sense, it’s about the way you position your business in the market. Sometimes I explain it by comparing being an art brand with being a licensing/assignment artist. They’re not mutually exclusive ideas. In fact, it’s entirely possible to have a business that encompasses both. But I do think it can be a helpful distinction to consider when you’re thinking about your goals for your art and your business.

There are many excellent e-courses, blogs and books available to help artists learn to make their work more marketable, whether for licensing/publishing opportunities, editorial assignments, advertising work or all of those things. These resources can be career rocket fuel to some artists, propelling them to successfully make the make-a-living-making-art leap. This approach to an art business tends to be accompanied by marketing and branding that’s geared toward art directors and potential licensees because the primary business goal is to generate licenses, publishing deals, and/or assignments.

I see other artists who successfully make that make-a-living-making-art leap by making the art they love to make and selling it directly to customers—as original paintings, limited or open-edition art prints, greeting cards, and more. The marketing and branding efforts have a more personal vibe and tend to encompass the artist’s lifestyle as well as their art because it’s all of a piece. In these cases, the full story of the artist is a big part of what the audience gravitates toward: the customer sees herself in the story and there’s a feeling of intimacy, of finding a kindred spirit.  

OK, those are broad generalizations to a certain extent, because it's usually not an either/or scenario. I know many artists who successfully incorporate both modes.

At the same time, I often meet with artists who are struggling to some degree in their art business. They’ve taken a lot of classes, read a lot of great advice, worked hard to build their portfolios, designed beautiful websites, built a social  media routine... Basically, they're doing everything "right," but something’s just not clicking for them. Next week, I’ll share more about what I’ve witnessed when these artists decide to adopt an art brand mindset.

In the meantime, if you haven’t read it yet, you might enjoy my earlier post about what it means to be an art brand. What questions and thoughts do you have? I'd love to hear from you!