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Becoming a Digital Artist - Licensing Your Creativity

Mar 15, 2008
Licensing of artworks can be quite appealing to new artists as this reduces outlay and frees up time for creativity. Under these arrangements, the artist's responsibility is the supply of high resolution digital images at print quality. The licensee, usually an art publisher, is responsible for the post-creation sales. The publisher is generally responsible for the display, marketing, reproduction and supply of prints to buyers; as well as the payment of a pre-agreed commission per sale to the digital artist.

For painters, the cost of obtaining a high resolution digital image can be off-putting. For a digital artist there is no up-front cost, as the digital original should already be of print quality.

Through licensing an artist can gain access to markets that might otherwise remain inaccessible. One of the key issues for a new artist is a lack of recognition or reputation. By being selected to become part of a collection, the artist can trade on the reputation of the licensee, who may be well trusted within the marketplace. Also, some licensees supply artworks in multiple separate markets, for example as posters, framed art, greetings cards or even crockery designs.

Licensing can be can be an excellent way to generate sales volumes and prove the popularity of your art. There is nothing quite like high sales figures to boost confidence. It can also be an effective way to test the popularity of a new style or artistic approach.

Downsides to Licensing Your Digital Artwork

First is the difficulty of getting selected. Most licensees have a submission process but in practice this can feel like firing your digital artwork into the ether. Many licensees do not commit to respond if your artwork is not felt to be a good fit for their collection and target audience. This can be extremely frustrating as a particular set of images would normally be submitted to only one licensee at a time and one is never sure when to write off a particular submission. Happily there are also licensees who do take the time to respond.

Once selected, the initial euphoria may quickly fade as the economic realities become clear. The level at which commission is set can feel insultingly small for the artist whose creative energies and inspiration have produced the artwork. Commissions of 5% to 10% of sale price are typical. With such miniscule commissions, even high volumes of sales may only generate a modest income at best.

If the artwork is to generate any income, the artist is reliant on the licensee to perform sufficient marketing to generate business. Sometimes early success linked to a launch or marketing campaign can fade to nothing if the licensee does nothing to keep the momentum going. It is too late for the artist at that point as the artworks are licensed under contract and although copyright remains with the artist the reproduction rights lie solely with the licensee.

Artists may choose to deal with multiple licensees directly. This can be extremely time-consuming and often frustrating. The experience of the author is that when images are uploaded there are generally mistakes. The image carries the wrong title or is sized as landscape when it should be square. If the image is incorrectly cross-referenced or not cross-referenced at all, the gallery search engine does not find it. Sometimes artwork that has been generating sales mistakenly disappears from the website. When mistakes are made it can take a seemingly unreasonable amount of time, sometimes even weeks or months, to get those mistakes rectified.

Agents and Organizations

The issues of dealing with individual licensees can be bypassed by using a licensing agent or organization. On becoming a licensing member, most organizations will take control of the portfolio of the artist and seek and secure licensing arrangements. They can also take over the management of existing licensing contracts. For this service the organization will take a percentage of the commissions generated through licensed sales. This could be an attractive proposition for an artist who has no interest in self-publishing, or perhaps is pursuing another occupation to generate income and therefore has limited time available for art.

In summary, licensing can really help at the start of your career as a digital artist, but it may not be an easy route and can be disappointing in terms of the level of income generated, especially when compared to the actual sales revenue.
About the Author
MCW Contemporary Art supplies limited edition fine art prints and canvases for hotel, office, restaurant and high-end domestic interiors. Artworks can be tailored for specific colour schemes. See the full collection of contemporary and abstract art at www.mcwcontemporaryart.com .
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