In July of 2010, well into the consequences of the 2008 economic collapse, I posted two consecutive essays* that explored illustration-related issues. One questioned the relevance of the illustration industry in the face of those changes with many print and advertising venues giving way to online presences. Along with the ascendance of gallery and aggregate stock image/portfolio sites, my agent at the time decided to branch out into the product licensing marketplace with a plan to enhance her own fortunes with those of the illustrators in her stable. So the other essay** mused on whether such a ‘marriage’ could prevail.
In short, despite working intensely on many collections of designs for product applications and attempting to understand the mechanizations of the licensing industry, the enterprise was not entirely successful for me. However, the experience did force me to realize two things: my own naïvete in that area and the fact that individual artists stand little chance in the marketplace against corporate licensing giants like Disney, Mattel or Starbucks. To wit, I was told at an international trade show by a licensing agent that although he loved my work, he would not even consider doing business with me until my ‘brand’ had generated several hundred thousand dollars in revenue. Huh. What a classic chicken and egg situation!
Though my agent and I have since parted ways, I still believed in the integrity and originality of my work and thought that one day I might try again to generate life for my images beyond paper and print. I knew that for me, full retirement was not an option ( and that after a long freelance illustration career, I still had the drive to create new things. I also knew that age-wise, holding a full-time job was also not an option. Therefore, I had to find a way to generate income from my work. To that end, I embarked on a new venture: I decided to write, illustrate and publish my own books***. This is an ongoing activity that I think will always inform my work.
Today, in 2017, we are facing other issues regarding the ever-expanding online opportunities with their associated intellectual property concerns and the difficult challenge of attracting as many eyeballs as possible amidst the unbelievably vast competition out there. Much as I had held to the notion that licensing my images would compromise my artistic integrity by ‘selling out’ to commercial interests, I now see that to some extent, becoming business savvy is necessary to economic survival. It requires that we understand the strategies of these new corporate giants. They operate primarily by advertising revenue and tempting artists to post their images for ‘free’ with the future promise of a tiny percentage of market share if and when their images applied to products achieve any sales. Like any business adventure, it is risky, both to creators and site owners. But in my opinion, the greater risk is assumed by creators who opt for compromising their intellectual properties and code of trust when dealing with a business partner simply because we are not directly privy to their accounting practices.
Still, the old adage of “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” often drives participation in new ventures. This is especially tantalizing in an era where the possibility of becoming internationally known for one’s work is but a few keystrokes and/or a credit card away.
However, as the ‘Practical Matters’ portion of this essay’s title suggests, I have made every effort to copyright and /or trademark (as appropriate) any design I’ve released for commercial use. Though some expense may be involved, the urgency of these efforts cannot be overstated. Through my activities on the boards of the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators and the American Society of Illustrators Partnerships I have become aware that under the current administration, the copyright environment in Washington DC is undergoing some far-reaching changes in favor of privatization of the copyright office. These changes will allow them to more broadly define the concept of public domain; a development that ultimately will not be friendly to creators. With the very dodgy security of the web, it’s now trivial to grab images from sites with impunity. It follows that using these images for profit comes with little consequence to the infringer. Protecting your intellectual property is essential as there have been cases where artists engaging in lawsuits against unethical corporations or individuals to reclaim their intellectual properties have taken considerable financial hits in the process. Though not an encouraging circumstance, it is a cautionary one.
Yet despite the potential pitfalls, the artistic spirit continues to be indomitable since most of us live on hope. In that light, with copyrights in place, I decided to reboot my licensing efforts when an illustrator colleague raised my awareness of a some potentially promising opportunities. I have since sold many designs for greeting cards at Greeting Card Universe ( http://bit.ly/2mWRXXI), have a t-shirt available at my Magic Eye Gallery (http://bit.ly/2mp1XW5) and am now engaged at Society6 (https://society6.com/imaginarius13) with twenty unique collections of designs for an array of personal and home products. Whether this will all work out, I can’t know, but one thing is certain; if you understand the risks and throw enough effort at the wall, something’s bound to stick!
Here are a few selections from the Imaginarius Shop at Society6:
Alchymy Collection: Firebird Wall Tapestry
The Cluckfosters’ Step Out Collection: Clock
Sea Swans Collection: Shower Curtain with Towels & Bathmat
Sushi AlaCarte Collection: Allover Print T-Shirt
Alchymy Collection: Elementals Duvet Cover & Comforter
Salisbury Tiles Collection: Throw Pillow & Leggings
Tudor Vines Collection: Duvet Cover, Comforter, Throw Pillow, ToteBag, iPhoneCover
***http://magiceyegallery.com/BookPage.aspx?id=8 (see all books under pull-down ‘Book’ menu)