Art Licensing! (What it is and how my journey led me to it!)
Art licensing! What the HECK is it?? If you've ever ordered a product with my art on it (thank you, by the way!) you've probably noticed that it came from a third party. For me, licensing is the best way to share my art on various products, so you can add some FUNctional pieces to your home!
So now, let us go on a little historical journey on how I came about the decision to license my artwork! I want to share this with you for 2 reasons: 1) Maybe you're an artist and you're trying to decide whether you want to license or produce in-house. 2) You've ordered something with my art on it and wondered where the heck it came from.
Here we go!
Circa 2015: Here we have a 22-year-old Rachel, living and working at Walt Disney World. One day I decided to break out my old watercolors that my grandma gave me and make some fun little prints that say things like "Holy Guacamole" and "I Don't Flock With You". I post them on instagram, people express interest, so naturally I thought: a business is born! I make a little site called Rachel Creates and sell the prints. (If you were around for these first prints and you're reading this now, I freaking love you).
All hell broke loose.
Okay okay, that might be a little dramatic - but it wasn't good. Every time I got an email that a print sold, I would just straight panic. I had NO systems. Nothing was streamlined. I would look to see what they ordered, then I would send the file to local printer (I was way too broke to actually have inventory - I worked for a mouse), go pick up the print, wrap it in tissue paper, write a thank you, go to the post office, wait in line, send it off, manually type in the tracking number, and then hoped it got there. If it didn't, that was a whole other scramble. And don't even get me started on what I would do if I went out of town for a week.
The whole shipping process probably took about 3 hours and I would make like $10, but I didn't care - because I was way too freaking pumped. Someone wanted MY art?? You can't put a price on that!
Well y'all, I found out that being 'freaking pumped' doesn't pay the bills. I also found out that though the excitement of a sale doesn't ever get old, running around like a mad woman does.
This year was interesting. I knew nothing about business. I knew nothing about sustainability or systems. I just winged it. And though it didn't not work, it definitely didn't work.
Circa 2016: I get a job as a graphic designer in the beautiful city of Charleston, SC! I still paint.. some. It definitely wasn't a focus. Prints would sell and I would do the same crazy song and dance I did in Florida, and I worked on individual commissions. It was fun!
Circa 2017: Ah, this was my big "business" year. Yes! This is the year I decided to become a serious career woman. I moved to Nashville, TN on an awesome job opportunity. I put my whole heart into my graphic design and marketing career, and I'll never regret that.
I swear this year was when I got my mini MBA. Okay okay - maybe not like an official MBA, not trying to offend any Harvard students over here, but I really did learn a lot. I went to quarterly meetings and lunch-and-learns and networking events. I was doing the thing! I learned about systems and sustainability and a little thing called *passive income* (ooooh, ahhhhh).
I shut down Rachel Creates and set a Facebook status that anyone who wanted the digital files of the prints could have them for free! I was done! I was a career woman and had no time for a little painting hobby!
Circa 2018: Gretchen Wieners had cracked. (of course, I am Gretchen Wieners in this scenario.)
Okay, it's not like I had a meltdown on how we should all just stab Caesar (I've officially lost some of you going too deep into this reference but some of you get it and that's what counts), but I did realize that the the career I was in wasn't the one for me. I learned that I LOVE business and all aspects of it, I was just in the wrong one. Read more about that here!
I went back to what makes me happier than anything else: painting. But now - I had a few new tricks up my sleeve. I knew it was time to treat it like a real business and not just a little hobby. I took the leap and became a full-time artist
Circa 2019: I researched and researched and researched all of the different options to produce products with your artwork. I talked to so many people about it.
In my head, there were basically 4 options. I'll list them below with some quick pros/cons:
1) Have my own inventory and ship it out. Pro: bigger profit margin, have a seamless brand. Con: Won't have the variety of products, not sustainable for my travel lifestyle
2) License through 3rd party. Pro: Someone else handles everything except the painting part! Bigger audience. Huge variety of products. Can use it as a test to see what sells and doesn't sell. Con: Less profit per item, can't brand packaging, can't personally thank customers.
3) Fulfillment Center. Pro: Good profit margin, seamless branding, someone else handles shipping. Con: Big startup cost, not huge variety of products.
4) No products!
I thought A LOT about what I wanted. I mean - a lot a lot. And I came to this conclusion: I want people to have the products they want - the ones that bring them joy! I want them to have a huge variety. I want it to be easy for them, and I want it to be professional.
So alas! A few months after starting Rachel Elizabeth Design, I licensed my art on so. many. products. and the result has honestly been amazing!!
It's seriously a dream come true when someone sends me a picture of them using their mug, phone case, serving tray, yoga mat, cutting board, etc. And I just get to paint more and more without having to worry about inventory and shipping!
Sometimes people will just blatantly ask if I make money off these products, and even thought it's NONE OF THEIR FREAKING BUSINESS - the answer is yes. Yes, the percentage I make per item is insanely small, I'm not going to deny that. But, there's 2 ways to look at it: 1) Wow, I make such little money off this, this is so dumb! OR 2) Wow, I can't believe that I get to put my art on products, which is basically FREE advertisement; I can see what people like and don't like with NO startup cost, and everyone is loving it! Seriously, the only "cost" of doing this is the time it takes to upload the art, which I justify by listening to podcasts or books while I'm doing it.
Am I making enough money off of these products to live off of? Absolutely not. Is that the longterm goal? Maybe. It's certainly possible. Right now, I really don't know. I'm using this time to get back to the heart of my business: painting. Maybe the licensing thing takes off and I will be able to live off of it. Or maybe in a few years I'll have my own store and inventory! I have ideas for both routes, but for right now I couldn't be happier with how this is going and it seems like y'all are really happy with it too.
So there we have it! I love all of my products, and I truly believe they're great quality. I want to take a second to say THANKS to everyone who has supported my business by purchasing one and I hope it makes you happy! I think the hardest part is not being able to individually say thank you, and I hope I get that opportunity one day. But until then, please know that I truly am so grateful and I'm not going to stop painting any time soon! :)