I get emails from time to time asking me how I got started in product design and art licensing. I'm always reminded of the quote that goes something like this: "It took me a lifetime to become an overnight success" . And this one, "Success is simply a matter of luck. Ask any failure."
It seems everyone wants to have their own line of stuff. Branded stuff. On T.V. or in stores. But yet, when asked just exactly what is your "stuff" I've had people respond with, "well, I haven't made it yet" or "I have ideas".
Hear me, creative friends....you have to have "stuff"...a portfolio, a really big portfolio or as I call it, a bag of tricks. Could be art, could be demo tapes, could be patented ideas or at least unique ideas presented as very well thought out and executed diagrams or drawings. Consult with an attorney to make sure you have a good non-disclosure agreement to protect those ideas before showing them to anyone.
And you have to have determination. There will be many, many "no" s along the way. That's ok and it's to be expected. Don't worry, you will eventually find a "yes" if you've got good stuff.
Art licensing has really changed in the last few years. As time to market becomes tighter and tighter, as margins get pinched down to the penny, as manufacturers are working bare bones, it's absolutely necessary to be computer saavy. If art is your "stuff", you must know the imaging programs and be REALLY fast and efficient because there will be times when you're expected to help out with the production.
Most importantly, don't sell out. Worth repeating...DON'T SELL OUT. What I mean by this is VALUE YOUR WORTH, YOUR TIME, YOUR TALENT. What you have is unique. If you say yes to a deal that's not fair to you as the artist, you're not only cheating yourself but other artists as well. This applies whether you're selling your goods on sites like Etsy or licensing your designs for product.
To really learn, I highly recommend finding a reputable company to work "in house" for. Do this for a year or two to understand the business. Make friends, find a mentor and learn how to speak well in front of people because you'll need to sell yourself. Working "in house" will give you a completely different perspective from working as an independent. You will learn why sometimes tiny details can totally alter the success of a program. You'll understand packaging concerns, line balance, sales team concerns and on and on. This will help you be a terrific licensing partner once you do go independent.
Make it uniquely yours. Don't fall in love with someone else's work and then copy it or "alter" it. Find your own voice and then sing it as loud as you can. This takes time to develop so work at it every single day.
Save enough money to hold you over until you get paid, which could, (hopefully) be a year from now. And be prepared to spend money to make it happen. Trade shows, equipment, software, travel, advertising...seems it never ends!
Be prepared to work like you've never worked before. I mean it. This business is not for the faint of heart, the weary or the ill-prepared. You will need to commit to this and have the support and "buy in" from your family and friends because you will end up working during your vacation, your holidays and into the wee hours sometimes. And after all that, you will probably have to change things once or twice before it goes off for production. Re-colors, re-sizing, etc. are all part of the deal so learn to be gracious and flexible.
These are just a few tips to get you started thinking about whether art licensing is really for you. There are a number of resources to help you out including coaches, e-books, seminars, etc. More on that later. Go get busy working on your stuff...