One of my new cartoons from my website www.MuttTheCustard.com
One of my new cartoons from my website www.MuttTheCustard.com
I am really excited to have an interview with Kathy Weller from WellerWishes.
I must have contacted Kathy a year or two ago and asked if she would consider doing an interview about licensing her cute design and illustrations. As it was still early days for Kathy licensing her work she told me she would be happy to do an interview when she had a bit more experience behind her.
So for any designer or illustrator looking to license their work, read on to get some great advice on how to go about it.
1. Please could you tell me a little bit about yourself, your background and what you do now?
My name is Kathy Weller. My studio is called WellerWishes. I am an illustrator, designer, greeting card writer and artist, and product thinker-upper. I specialize in creating characters, making them the stars of my busy, “big scene” illustrations, and also writing humor for them.
I work with manufacturers, and I create art and product ideas for their products. I also maintain my own online portal site / shop / blog called WellerWishes World of Cute Art. (www.wellerwishesworld.com). My biggest dream, goal and wish is to spread my Cute Art all over the world! (I’m getting there!)
2. Please could you tell me when and why you decided you wanted to license your work?
Well, I have had a unusual awareness of product art from a very early age. It was on my toys, stuffed animals, Hello Kitty mini-stationery, sheets and pillow cases. Lots of art and lots of character. I just remember being very aware of it and being a little obsessed with it. But also, I drew all the time as a kid. Drawing was just my world. I even made up my first cute character at age three or four, complete with a style sheet on how to draw him. I know, very odd! So all of that is sort of an early clue that points directly to my life now.
As a grown-up, I’ve worked in a number of creative fields: sales + marketing design and illustration, freelance children’s illustration, custom pet portraiture, and earlier on, my first foray into self-employment was a tiny greeting card company. But I was always fascinated by product art, character art & humor, and the greeting card industry. (And, I continued to dream about doing cards on a larger scale, long after I closed shop on my indie card company.)
There is much more information and guidance available on how to break into various niche illustration fields these days. But, with art licensing, it was basically shrouded in skeleton-key mystery until the mid-2000’s (when the web hit a new phase of mainstream saturation). In fact I only discovered that the terminology for this industry was “Art Licensing” in late 2005! But when I did, I instinctively knew that I had to find out how to start working in it.
So I made plans to attend the 2006 Surtex/National Stationery Show and Licensing International. At both shows, I walked the show floors, and I took tons of seminars. During this time, I was working full-time as a graphic designer and illustrator, had a busy custom pet portrait business, and was also in the process of finally breaking into children’s publishing illustration. So, I had a lot going on. For the next few years, I juggled these various activities while my licensing goals were still alive, but on the back-burner.
Then in 2009, my mother had a devastating stroke. This horrific event led me to reprioritize everything, pretty immediately. It turned out to be the wake-up call I needed to refocus my creative energies, put my foot down and stop spreading myself so thin doing a million different things. I needed to be honest, get real, and focus on what I really wanted to do, be brave, get in the mud and pursue it! Life is short and nothing is guaranteed. If you’re lucky enough to have solid dreams and goals you want to build, there is no time to waste. My mom’s stroke snapped me awake to this fact, loud and clear. So, I made a decision to wrap up other activities by the end of 2009 so 2010 could be all about art licensing. I spent 2009 mostly with my mother in the hospital and rehab, doing the occasional craft show with my sister (which was a really necessary, and fun, distraction at the time), and wrapping up my pet portraiture business. The last thing I did was resign from working with my children’s illustration agent in early 2010. Since that time, I’ve been focused on my art licensing/character art/greeting card/social expressions goals.
3. How did you first start trying to license you work – what was the process?
Well, I had gained a lot of insight into the process by attending those shows in 2006, so I put a lot of the advice I’d learned to use. I also hired an art licensing consultant in 2008 to gain more one-on-one insights and more individualized feedback. I then started creating work that I thought would be appropriate for the areas in licensing that I thought were right for my style, and I started approaching manufacturers as well as agents.
4. What did you do right and wrong in your early licensing endeavors?
A ton! I am a work in progress, as is everyone. No mistakes? You’re a robot. You just have to find your way on an individual level. There is no one-size-fits-all Playbook. There is a ton of information out there these days, though— lots of e-books, and the ones I’ve read have been mostly very helpful, and some I’d heartily recommend. But ultimately, there’s only so much learning that happens from reading other’s experiences and how-to’s. There comes a time when you have to live your own.. You get to where you just have to do it. I will admit that I got stuck in the “learning cog” for a little while. It’s safer and more comfortable to learn and read and study and dream then it is to daringly jump in with both feet and just do it. I was nervous and scared! But, finally, I sucked it up and jumped in. And once I did, it felt really amazing. I was immensely proud of myself, and it was so empowering!
5. How do you present work to a potential company you wanted to license to? (how many pieces, how many styles, by email? etc)
If it’s a company I want to work with, I will usually email them first, provided I have the right person and email address. If I don’t, I need to make an initial phone call to obtain that information.
I do like to do a first intro through email as opposed to over the phone though, because people are so busy. Email is far less intrusive and way more flexible for people to digest. The flip-side is, you can get lost in the email shuffle. You just have to use your best judgement on how and when to follow up with them. If I get a positive response from my email, a phone call usually follows in short order!
There is no denying that cold calls can be extremely effective though. I am just careful about the who, what, when, where, and why. If I make a call as first contact, I just make sure I am as prepared as I can possibly be. 🙂
What you send out as samples is really wholly dependent on the specific client and their needs. They will usually share what they need with you, if you ask. Sometimes they’ll be more specific, sometimes more vague. Then, I will see what I have that fits. Depending on their deadline for samples, I will then decide what else I can do to accommodate them further. This is usually gets to be a smoother process the longer I work with a client. Once you know your people well and have your system down, it’s easier to anticipate things before they come up, and to accommodate them when they do!
I love to meet people in person. I know that is not always possible, but usually manufacturers will attend at least one show a year. Trade shows are great for meeting up with people who you’d like to work with, or, who you already are working with, or people you’ve been emailing with and submitting work to. Nothing beats face-to-face meeting! So keep the relationship alive, whether or not you’re actually working with them yet. If there’s good potential and you really like each other, invite them to your booth to peruse your latest and greatest designs, and to see what new product lines they have going that you might be able to help them with!
6. Do you use, or have you used an licensing agent and why? What are the pros and cons of this?
I currently have a licensing agent in Japan. In all other territories, I represent myself. In licensing, I’ve worked non-exclusively with a couple of art licensing agents sporadically over the past couple of years, and before that, I had an agent for my children’s illustration work from 2007-2010.
I think having an agent can be extremely great! But it has to be the right place, time, overall fit. The agent/artist relationship is a serious one. Licensing agents generally earn 50% so you truly are partners. You want to be sure it will be a mutually beneficial and rewarding relationship!
Before you sign with an agent, get to know their business. Understand the markets they serve. Learn which companies they tend to work with, the markets they serve, and the aesthetic + thematic genres they specialize in. Does their work favor specific demographics?
Now, turn the tables. Would THEY be a good fit with YOUR brand, as your brand stands today? Where would you hope to go together as partners in your brand?
Talk to other artists in their roster. (If they have a problem with this, run, don’t walk, in the other direction.) Would your work + style be a compliment to their overall group? Would your work offer variety and a spark of fresh, new ideas, while still fitting comfortably into the genres they serve? Or, is your work, just a little too similar to another of their current artists? An agent might cultivate a roster that offers a lot of variety within a pretty specific art genre so keep that on your radar when looking at potential agents, but don’t get too bogged down in the details.
Ultimately, there are a million reasons why you may or may not a great fit for a particular agent. They are the only ones who can tell you that. But I will leave you with this: if you hear or read a “No”, please pay attention to the entire paragraph, not just that one word. A “No” today may not mean “No” forever. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it doesn’t. Are they telling you something else, too? What else are you picking up from the rest of the message?
Turn over every rock you feel you need to. It’s integral to do a lot of back-and-forth and get to know each other before partnering with an agent. And… go with your gut.
7. Can you remember the first designs you licensed, what were they, and how did it feel?
I don’t think it was officially my first, but still, receiving the first pieces of my Jive Cats fabric collection with Northcott Fabrics was nothing less than thrilling. I’d always wanted to do fabric, and here it was, complete with my very own kitty cat characters, that I created. It was magic!
8. What is your favourite bit of work you have licensed?
The Jive Cats puzzle I did for Andrews + Blaine sticks out in my head as true symbiosis of art, product and function. It’s a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, and the puzzle art is mind-boggling, eye-crossing puzzle perfection. It’s a super-challenging puzzle— easily the hardest jigsaw puzzle I have ever done—and I did the art!. But, I love how it turned out, down to the packaging: a sturdy, well-made slide-out box with a satin ribbon pulley! Too cute! (http://www.thejivecats.com/ )
All work featured above is copyright © Kathy Weller
Find out more about Kathy and her work at WellerWishes, on her blog at www.wellerwishesworld.com, on Twitter @wellerwishes and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/WellerWishes-Illustration-Design-Kathy-Weller
If any of you have been reading my blog for a little while you may know that I have been trying to get some of my character designs licensed, but as yet have had no luck 🙁 . So if any licensing agents are reading please get in touch.
I thought I would share with you some funny feet characters I created which I thought could make fun card and stationery designs. I had the strange idea for feet characters a couple of years ago, just rough in my sketch book, but couldn’t think what to do with them. Then I worked some of them up a little while ago in illustrator and photoshop. I have ideas for more but they are still scribbles.
Anyway here they are:
Are you working on any character designs or have licensed your work? I would love to hear about it in the comments below.
Claude Bonnaud is a toy designer and children’s illustrator who has also licensed his own children’s character brand. Claude kindly agreed to share some of his experiences of working on the sort of design projects many of us would dream of.
I am originally from France (Paris) where I trained as a graphic designer in the marketing and advertising industry. Back then being a designer was very different from nowadays: most of the work was done by hand and the learning curve was much slower.
My first job as a designer in an advertising company consisted in making black and white photocopies for the art director’s projects. I gradually worked my way up until I was confident enough to become a creative consultant.
I came to England 22 years ago to work as a freelancer on a 3 months contract and never returned home.
Since I left art school, I always wanted to work as a children’s book illustrator and when the licensing industry “exploded” in the 90’s it was really an opportunity for me to show what I could do. Disney and Warner Brother were continually looking for artists who could draw their characters and designers who could apply them to merchandising. The fact that I could do both was a very valuable bonus.
I opened my first design studio (Kid Cartoons & Design) in 1995 and we very quickly specialised in the licensing industry with a huge accent in children’s fashion and accessories (with occasional projects for novelty gifts and toys packaging).
In 2007 I left the company (and London) to relocate in Dorset and start a “home based” graphic design and illustrations studio. I really wanted specialise in every aspect of the children’s merchandising. I find the toy and novelty gift industry very exciting; especially now with modern technology merging into it.
I work mainly on computer using Adobe illustrator in addition of Photoshop for projects involving photographic input. There are others software available to create 3D designs, but they are more time consuming and not always cost effective to include in a competitive pricing. Also I love working with a pen and pad (manually or digital), as the ability to draw is the key skill for expressing any idea on paper.
I regularly contribute to develop new ideas for Vivid Imaginations range of toys. It usually starts with creating an illustration showing how the toy would look like. At that stage we spend lot of time modifying and tweaking each aspect of the original ideas. Then we move on to a coloured version which bring the concept into 3D.
Once the project is approved a real 3D model is produced and more amendments are added. I usually don’t get involve with this phase but I start contributing to any side artwork necessary to the final product like illustrations, graphic artwork, sticker or instruction sheets and sometime packaging. It’s always a fast moving and fun process, and I get to experience all aspects of creating new toys and games. The real kick for me, is usually a year later when I get to see the final product in shops, ready to be sold.
In 2008 in collabation with Sasha Felix from Sing and Sign (www.singandsign.co.uk) we created a mini series of 3 “lift-the-flap” children’s books: “Where is Jessie?” which won the Practical Pre-School Award. I contacted Sasha earlier that year and she was looking for an illustrator to develop some children’s characters to accompany her teaching technique.
The books were so fun to work on as their format included lot of little details in each page to keep children interested. Each illustration focused on one world and one sign and in the process I learn a lot about babies’ language.
In addition to the illustrations I also produced the final layout of each book and I was able to give to this mini series a real identity. Sasha was such a pleasure to work with and gave me complete freedom of creativity.
Years ago I developed a children’s brand called “Big is Beautiful” (aimed at children with weight difficulties and had an educational “healthy eating” message). At the time, the license had a modest success, but triggered lot of support from some companies. The licensed aspect of the brand was fairly straightforward but it involves a tremendous amount of marketing and media exposure. The competition was also extremely fierce at the time and eventually “Big is Beautiful” was no more. The experience was interesting, but bank and nerves wracking…
First of all: Have a very tight marketing plan. There is no point in licensing your work if you don’t know where it will fit in the market ahead. We all hope that success would occur over night, but it usually takes 2 to 3 years to impose a new brand.
Secondly: Be very ‘hands-on” with your budget: Licensing, copyrighting and marketing your designs can be an expensive business if you choose to do it yourself.
Finally: Do your homework. Talk to licensing agencies and people who are currently going though this process. There is a lot to acknowledge and to think about to achieve a successful license.
I have a website, showing my portfolio, a Linked-in account for all my business contacts, and a Twitter account which I use to share tips and links related to freelancing, graphic designing and illustrating.
As I have mentioned previously on this blog I would love to license some of my character designs, and while I keep on trying have not quite managed it yet. I put a tweet out asking for advice on licensing character designs out and via my other twitter handle @ideasuploaded I got a very helpful response from @FWD_LB (forward licensing). Abdel Boazzati from Forward Licensing told me to email him with my questions and he would be happy to give me some advice. I asked him if I could share his response on my blog to help others and he agreed.
I sent Abdel some of my character designs and asked him the best way to present them:
1. Demographics: define for each character target ages, gender (eg. Boys 4-8yrs old), have a 1sheet of each character
2. Lifestyle: define activities of the characters in terms of activities, interest and opinions (can see that you have done that with your main characters)
3. Define each character with a human personality to make identification and or aspiration easier.
4. Define the overall brand through some of the main brand differentiators: sincerity, excitement, competence and sophistication.
Once you have done the above it will be easier to define which categories and licenses you want to get into.
There are roughly 6 main categories available for licensing:
The main drivers for a licensed program are toys and softlines (typically 60% of revenues of licensing is done in these 2 categories) so it will be easier to approach companies in these categories once you want to start marketing your brand.
1. Put together what is called a styleguide
Which means you put a document with high res images together which has the following: different designs of character, background, packaging, fonts to be used etc. This means you will be able to keep a closer control on how the brand is treated.
All the big licensors work like this except see below.
2. Just put some basic characters together
Just put some basic characters together and leave the licensee to be creative with your brand, of course keeping to the brand dynamics and staying faithful to its core qualities. The biggest licensed brand works like this: Hello Kitty. You will get more creativity you can use for your other licensees but you need to keep a closer look and give more detailed briefs to your licensees.
In all the cases, if you are going to present to a licensee the best thing to do is do a mock up, eg if you are presenting to an underwear licensee make some mock ups on how the brand can be visualised on the garments.
Animation shorts are not necessary, eg there is no TV series of Hello Kitty but it can help to get more deeper in what the brands wants to transmit.
FWD Licensing and Branding’s Mission is: first and foremost to nurture your brand and understand its strengths in order to unleash its full potential. We do this by extending or licensing your brand, while keeping its core values intact – introducing it into new categories, new lines and new targets to ultimately conquer new retail space. We have the capacity and experience to create a vast array of new opportunities for business that would otherwise remain untapped. EXTEND your brand ACCELERATE your growth
I have just today heard about some free 3D software which allows you to sculpt amazing things almost though you are using digital clay. The 3D software is called Sculptris and unlike most 3D software with this program you start of with a ball of clay and there is a tool set which allows you to push here and pull there and do all sorts of weird and wonderful things. I have downloaded and tried it quickly just with a mouse, although the makers suggest it works better with a Wacom tablet.
You can download free Mac and PC versions at www.pixologic.com/sculptris/