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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!