Practical Matters 2: To License Or Not To License?

There are some who might say that licensing of  images has either caused or is one of the symptoms of information overload. We can do very little in our culture without being assaulted by the corporate sponsored images, jingles and buzzwords that have infiltrated our vernacular. The visual ambience of the movie Minority Report is a good illustration of this phenomenon and an appropriate segué into today’s post.  But don’t worry, I’m not going to rant about ‘infoglut’ because it’s not going away anytime soon. With rampant media sophistication, our world has changed dramatically and irrevocably.

Throughout the early portion of my career that focused on ‘fine art-making’, the prevailing sentiment that reproducing one’s work for distribution and sale to the masses was akin to prostitution. However, although I loved ‘art-making’, I also needed to eke out a living. And although I’d held minimum wage jobs as a student, waiting tables or clerking at the supermarket were not in my ‘big’ plan. So while I had always done small, quiet advertising illustration projects, much to the derision of my ‘fine art’ acquaintances, I came to realize that I could use the techniques I’d developed as a gallery artist to communicate to a broader audience. Coincidentally, the market trend in illustration (which had traditionally assigned projects to those who could work in multiple styles) was beginning to show a preference for those whose images were of an identifiable ‘brand’. Which is not to say that an illustrator was trapped in one particular style, such as a panel cartoonist must be, but was expected to consistently produce work with that certain ‘look’ for a respectable period of time if he or she wished to secure a ‘brand’ identity in the illustration marketplace.

For me, the irony of that statement was brought home when I began to work in what I thought was a new style, attempting to become a ‘brand’. Several clients who thought this development interesting, remarked that no matter how I ‘disguised’  my ‘look’, they always knew it was from my hand. Why that is so still eludes me; perhaps it’s my attention to detail or design- I don’t know, but I’ve  come to accept it and now work with a ‘visual voice’ that is true to who I am becoming. You know the old cliché about how writers are instructed to ‘write what they know’… ?

Well, for the last year or so, my career seems to be approaching full circle. With my agent, Sally Heflin of PaperRoad Art Licensing, I have become more engaged in developing portfolios of illustrative designs that can be applied to many different products and venues that include fonts, clothing, fashion accessories, textiles and wallpapers for domestic applications. The new font design in the header for this blog is an example; it’s called Arkadia ©2010 Ilene Winn-Lederer. Because it is a display alphabet and not usable for text, I will customize it to fit a client’s need, licensing it to that client for a fee that addresses a specified single or multiple use.

Samples from my licensing design portfolios can be seen at:

For now, I am excited about this new direction. Yes, the licensing industry is ginormous and mostly dominated by megaton corporate gorillas, but given human fickleness, there is an insatiable appetite for new ideas and talent. I’ll sign off today with this strange little story:

Many years ago before the prevalence of digital prints, a friend and art lover visited the artist Ben Shahn in his Brooklyn studio. Of course, she was thrilled to meet him, but shocked when she entered his atelier to see a team of apprentices arranging prints of his work on long tables where he walked around numbering and signing them. Aghast, she inquired, ” Mr. Shahn, why ever would you want to mass produce your brilliant paintings? It will diminish their value!” “Lady.” he smirked, “I gotta eat!”

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