How to Get Started in Art Licensing: Part 1: Is Art Licensing Right for You?

by Jeanette Smith





When people ask me where to start my art licensing business, my response is “What are your business goals for your art?” I believe you need to look at your artwork and its audience, as well as your personal desires and abilities, to help determine if licensing is for you.


Ask yourself these three core questions about your target audience:

  1. Do you have evidence that your artwork is sellable?  

  2. Do you have a track record of some kind, whether from prior jobs, such as an art director or designer, juried art shows, etc.? 

  3. Do you have an audience that is definable and potentially large enough to build a business on?


While most artists create from their own internal desire and inspiration, there are many external factors that will influence your creativity and career path in art licensing. For that reason, you need to search a bit deeper and ask yourself these six hard-hitting questions.


1. Are you motivated to create art for:

  • gaps and niches in the marketplace?

  • current trends?

  • retailers’ needs?

  • manufacturers’ specifications?


Undoubtedly you will be asked to change the color of your art, vary the design, meet deadlines, build certain types of production files and create something new for a client’s exact needs. Are you comfortable with commercial art, its demands and requirements?


2. Do you have the skills, desire and time to run your own business?   What can you evaluate about your lifestyle— time restraints, personal responsibilities, educational needs, goals and priorities—that will help you determine what you can put into an art licensing business?


3. Do you have enough money or income to sustain you while getting the business off the ground? (Note: most businesses take 1-2 or more years to be profitable; this industry is no different and varies widely by these variables: talent, sales efforts, time spent, and the economic climate!)


4. Do you have the technical abilities to provide artwork digitally, develop a web site and create  sales presentations?


5. Can you make the art changes required by manufacturers and create production-ready files?  If not, are you willing to learn how or partner with someone who can assist you in these areas on a frequent basis?


6. Are passionate about seeing your art on product, across the nation and around the world?

If you have answered a resounding “yes” to all or most of these questions, then art licensing may be a great option for you.  If you believe that building an art licensing business is what you want to do, then the first thing you must do is to learn enough about the business to make an educated guess as to whether you are interested in representing yourself or finding an agent.


In Part 2: Agent or No Agent? That is the Question, I’ll talk about how to determine to which representation is right for you.

Jeanette Smith has more than 25 years experience in the licensing industry, including building the Dilbert™ brand from its infancy to a global corporate icon. Today she enjoys speaking engagements at SURTEX and other events, as well as coaching, consulting and licensing fine artists, graphic designers , illustrators, animators, design firms, , and non-profits to maximize the power of their talents and offers online classes, audio downloads, e-books, workshops, and free resources including a monthly newsletter, live Q&A and blog.

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