Today I’m delighted to share the art brand story of someone I’m also lucky enough to call a client and friend: Kelly Rae Roberts. Kelly Rae will celebrate the 10 year anniversary of her business next year. She’s accumulated so many experiences and a lot of wisdom along the way. I’m so excited for her to share some of that with all of you in this interview.
Although building a beloved brand wasn’t something Kelly Rae set out to do, her open-hearted sharing of her life and her journey (through her writing as much as her art) has attracted thousands of loyal fans. In that way her business really exemplifies for me what it means to be an art lifestyle brand.
Betsy: I’ve long admired your career and your art brand for the way you interweave many modes of creativity so seamlessly: your paintings and mixed media collages, your writing, and your teaching. Was that always a goal? Was there a point where all these forms of expression gelled for you in the sense of “Ah! My business and my brand are about all these things!”
Kelly Rae: Love this question. The truth is that I did not start out by saying "I'm going to create a brand where all my loves (creating! writing! decorating! teaching!) are interconnected and weaved together beautifully!" So no, it wasn't a goal at first. It was an organic process versus a calculated intention. First I started making art and then I began writing about my process of becoming a new artist on my blog. That flowed into a growing art career (Etsy sales, licensing, etc.) which flowed into more writing about all that I was discovering. All that writing and learning and creating eventually led me to teaching classes which eventually led me to sharing more and more about my process, how I live my life, what I love, and more. Before I knew it, I had a "brand" though I never thought of my brand as a business strategy. Truly, I was just living my life and sharing bits and pieces of it with my audience.
Tell us more about your teaching and writing and how you feel those facets of your business enrich your brand. What role do they play that might be different from the role of your artwork on its own?
In many ways I think my teaching and writing are the cornerstone of my brand. They communicate what I (my brand) believe, what I love, what I hope for. For example, once I make a piece of art, I generally write a blog post where I share not just the art, but why I created it, what I hope it communicates, and more. My goal is that I want to not only share the story behind the art but provide a glimpse of my own story and unfolding as the artist finding her way through life.
As for teaching, I feel a strong compulsion to share all that I've learned along the creative path. Some of it is creative arts knowledge (how to use materials, etc.) but more importantly how creating art wakes us up to pieces of ourselves that may be dormant—finding our authentic voice not just in art but in life, creating confidence, discovering more joy, and so on. The message is the same in my art, my writing, my teachings and more.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about teaching others your techniques, and the troubles this can sometimes lead to with innocent copycats. I believe this is an important question for artists to confront, because teaching is now a significant potential revenue stream—especially for artists with established brands who are frequently asked "How do you do that?" How do you create a valuable learning experience while also encouraging your students to seek their own unique blend of style/themes/motifs/subjects?
Yes, yes, this is such an important topic. In 2009, I wrote a blog post called "What Is and Is Not Okay." At that time, my art was becoming licensed, my book was published, and I began to see copycats of my work everywhere—on Etsy, blogs, websites, etc. I was incredibly disheartened. Below is an edited version of that blog post. All of these years later, I still feel the same way. It's incredibly important for artists to create boundaries around what is and is not okay if they feel that their work is being copied. I also think it's our responsibility as teachers and artists to be good stewards of the creative path. This doesn't mean being mean-spirited. It means gently educating and motivating folks to keep finding their own authentic creative voice.
I know that most people who have crossed the line have done so without intention. And most don't mean any harm whatsoever. But I also think it's important that we all continue to be good stewards of the creative life and continue to gently educate on what's appropriate and what's not.
it's just not okay:
To use one of my images as your profile photo on facebook/myspace/blogger or any other website without an artist credit.
To make copies of instructions I've given in my book, articles, or in class, and publish them to your blogs and websites. It's also not okay to reword my instructions and use them for a class you are teaching, or to submit them to magazines for publication.
To publish videos or photos on your blogs and websites showing my book/class instructions/painting process step by step.
To teach projects from my book via video, articles, books, blogs, and online classes. It IS okay to teach projects from the book to creative circles, non-profit organizations, school classes.
To replicate my paintings + designs and then sell (or submit for publication) your version/copy of my work. I have been amazed at what i've seen out there - exact color schemes, sentiments/words, backgrounds, body poses, faces.
To copy my words from my website/blog and post them to your websites/blog.
it is okay:
To be inspired. to experiment. To learn techniques and then to make them your own. The techniques shared in my book/articles/classes are meant to be a jumping off point for you so that you can keep going, expand, grow - totally okay, and celebrated! I don't claim to take ownership over ANY techniques. I just ask that you not use the techniques shared in my books/classes/etc to create works that look strikingly similar to mine and then to start selling those works that are near replicas.
To copy my work as you try and find your style. Totally okay and expected. But it's not okay to sell your version (copy) of my work if they look exactly or very similar to my paintings (colors, hair, positioning, background). If you aren't sure if yours is different enough from my style, then it probably isn't. Listen to your whispers on this one before you sell.
To use the projects/techniques from my book/articles/classes as a starting point to get your creative spirit thinking, breathing, rejoicing. Keep going. Put your own spin on it. I promise your creative voice and style will eventually come through. And when it does, release your paintings out into the world (selling, gifting, whatever you choose) so that you can make room in your heart spaces for more paintings, more growth. I love seeing how people adapt and manipulate and expand what they have learned from my book/articles/classes and successfully integrate it into their own styles.
To post photos of your book projects on your blogs, etc, but please give credit to my book.
To send me an email asking if you can use one of my images for any reason.
To grab images from my website for a blog post. But you must give credit.
To feel unsure what to do. Just ask me.
[Note from Betsy: Please be sure to check out Kelly Rae’s full post. It’s SO helpful and thorough! There’s a link at the very end of this interview.]
You’ve had a long and really successful licensing relationship with DEMDACO. They are a company that’s always impressed me for being real partners to their artists, helping them define and build their brands. Can you talk a bit about your experience with DEMDACO and how it's shaped your brand? Have you ever needed to "defend" your own vision for your brand when working with them? Has working with them strengthened your brand vision?
DEMDACO was one of the first companies I started licensing with in 2008. I quickly realized that they were a rare gem in the licensing industry. Their president, Dave K, took time to meet with me, as he did with all new artists who licensed with them. In that meeting, he encouraged me to continue to dream big, grow my brand, and see even more possibilities than I could have imagined. He has continued to inspire me all of these years later.
They have been a big part of my journey. As I continued to grow my brand in other areas (teaching, writing), they've helped me expand my licensing brand with products for gift, home decor, holidays, fashion, garden and more.
With any long term partnership there’s bound to be lots to celebrate, but also the occasional hurdle. We've definitely had our fair share of hurdles, but we've been able to get past them with mutual respect and understanding along the way. I've absolutely needed to defend my vision for my brand while working with them. It's important for any licensing artist to continue to defend, speak up, promote, and hold the vision for their brand. The minute we stop doing this is the minute we hand over our vision/ideas/possibility to someone else.
You recently launched an entirely new brand, True by Kelly Rae Roberts. Please tell us about the decision to create another art brand, distinct from Kelly Rae Roberts. Was this confusing to your existing licensees? What challenges do you foresee in marketing and maintaining two separate brands?
Yes! When my son was born, we named him True, and we often called him Baby True that first year of his life. His birth and my stepping into mamahood inspired me to create a new brand called BabyTrue that would include baby products, books, and more.
But as he got older, I realized the brand wasn't "BabyTrue" but rather "True by Kelly Rae Roberts"—because I didn't want to limit this new brand to only baby products, and also because I wanted this brand to encompass all of my values around family and togetherness.
The values of my Kelly Rae Roberts brand are somewhat different, which is why I wanted True to stand alone as its own brand. So far, because the story/values of these two brands are different, it hasn't been confusing to my existing licensees, though I will need to be diligent in making the differences between these two brands distinct as I move forward in the licensing them both.
What art brands do you love and what do you love about them?
I love Rifle Paper Co, Lulie Wallace, Papaya, Katie Daisy, Emily McDowell, and so many others. What I love about them is that they each have a very distinct voice and I can imagine—beyond the art they create—what they love, what they hope for, how they decorate, who their friends are, and more. This makes me feel a connection to them, like I know them in some way.
Precisely! The values, lifestyle, the persona of the artist are as central to an art brand as the art itself. Thank you for wrapping this up with such a perfect definition, Kelly Rae! And thanks so much for sharing your beautiful work and story with us.
Please be sure to visit Kelly Rae's website to learn more about her art, her teaching, and what inspires her. And definitely check out her full blog post "What Is and Is Not Okay". I love the tone she's struck on this topic; she makes the boundaries very clear while still welcoming and encouraging those who are deeply inspired by her work.
If you Pin or otherwise share these images, please provide attribution to Kelly Rae Roberts and link back to this post or Kelly Rae’s own website. Thank you!