Today, I’m sharing my story about how I went from my day job to selling my artwork in Staples, Office Depot, Target, and beyond.
The Desk Job
In fall of 2012, my husband John and I were living in Chicago working really just not soul-sucking jobs. We were both in our very low twenties and figuring out what we wanted to do with our lives. I eventually accepted a job back home in California from my uncle to work at his financial planning office as his assistant.
I learned a lot but definitely didn’t feel like it was aligned with my soul. I was sitting in a cube all day, filing IRA applications and retirement things, scanning, writing emails, and answering phone calls. I needed an outlet—something that was therapeutic, something that was creative—and so I started painting.
Opening an Etsy Shop
Fast-forwarding a few months… I started an Etsy shop because friends and friends of friends and family all started asking, “Hey, I want to pay for this. I want to buy some of your artwork and put it up in my house.” So I filled my shop with hand-lettered quotes and watercolor flower prints. They were all original pieces that I made copies of by hand because I didn’t know how to print anything yet!
And I just thought, this is what artists do. We have print shops where we sell things and people buy them. And this is the only way artists can make money. My view of art and making money was very limited because I had no art, design, or business experience whatsoever.
My Start in the Wedding Industry
I got a huge surprise when somebody asked me to do calligraphy for their wedding! That opened my eyes to the wedding industry—designing wedding invitations, scanning my artwork, making it digital and reprinting things instead of having to hand letter every single invitation suite by hand for a hundred people. And that is how I discovered the world of printing and digitizing your artwork and getting things on a screen and not just on paper.
There were so many mistakes that I made along the way with printing, recoloring my artwork, and choosing the wrong paper. But I learned from those mistakes and slowly bootstrapped my way to a successful and fully booked stationery career.
Yoga Towels Changed my Life
After five years of working in the wedding industry, it felt a more aligned than my financial day job, but I was still not fulfilled personally (don’t get me wrong, it was an AMAZING experience, just not my personal long-term dream).
Then one day, I was connected with a yoga tea towel company called Nomadix by a mutual friend. They reached out and asked what I would you charge for three of my prints to be on their yoga towels. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but it was my first licensing job!
And I had NO idea what to charge. This is the ultimate question for any industry within the creative sphere.
What do I charge for my design fee? What do I charge for designing wedding invitations? What do I charge? How do I charge? What fees should I do for licensing?
All of this is so unknown and it’s confusing, especially for somebody who’s brand new to a particular type of job. So I asked a friend of mine who I knew had work in Barnes & Noble. She was the one who connected me with her licensing agent, Julie Turkel, who is now my licensing agent, too!
A lot of people who work in licensing have an agent but you can definitely find licenses, licensing partnerships without an agent. I work with an agent because I don’t want to handle all the negotiation, figuring out the pricing, the flat fee versus royalties exclusivity, what it’s going to be used on and where.
The Benefits of Licensing
With this licensing deal with Nomadix, I had the eye-opening moment where I realized that I can send my work to another brand and they do all the printing, manufacturing, and shipping of the product. I didn’t have to print my work, contact a print shop, pay for shipping package, go to the post office… I can literally just sit at my desk, paint what I want to paint, upload it to my online library, and people can choose those things to put on their products and then manufacture it.
Since working on licensing, I’ve made deals to have my art on 30 different planners in Staples with more collections coming out in Office Depot and Target. I also have a tech products collection with Casetify and baby products with Toki Mats, Little Sleepies, and Copper & Pearl.
Licensing has by far saved my business and been one of the best business decisions that I’ve made as a creative business owner.
How YOU can enter the Licensing World
If you’re like, Well, shoot, how do I get into licensing? There are some really easy ways to get your feet wet with licensing.
Print-on-demand sites are a great way to start. You can open shops on Society6, Creative Market, or any other platforms like those. You upload artwork and people using keyword research and trend research can find your work. You get cut a commission or royalty based on whatever the royalty exchanges are for artists on those different sites.
Another great place to start is downloading the free free guides and checklists that Julie and I are offering. The first is “7 Ways to License Your Artwork.” Licensing is a massive industry; it’s not just prints that you can hang up on your wall. It goes into the music industry, the cinema industry, clothing, bedding, home goods and SO MUCH MORE. Getting a sense on what categories you want to be in is a great place to start before you even start reaching out to brands and agents.
I have another free guide called “Is Licensing for Me?”. This checklist of reflections questions will help you determine if licensing is a good fit for your personality and your business goals.
Who is Julie?
Julie has over 25 years worth of experience in the licensing industry, starting with creating a licensing program for Nickelodeon from the ground up. She eventually began her own agency where she worked with some really big celebrity designers like Nate Berkus and Dabney Lee. She finds the work, pitches the brands, negotiates, and reviews contracts. She is a wealth of knowledge and wisdom!
Brand + Brand
After some time working together, Julie and I combined our expertise to help other creatives build their own licensing career. And that help comes in the form of our online course called Brand + Brand.
The course has over 20 hours worth of video content handouts. We teach you how to pitch your work, how to find people to pitch to, how to create repeat patterns, and so much more. This is such an in-depth topic and we know we had to make it into a course because people literally pay thousands and thousands of dollars for a coach to help them navigate this industry.
Links & Freebies
Is Licensing for Me? Worksheet
7 Ways to License Your Artwork
Get access to my list of favorite art supplies and business tools here.
My Spotify painting playlist
My Floral Watercolor E-book
The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Watercolor
Understanding Color Theory
How to Set Up a Watercolor Palette
10 Tips to Improve Your Watercolor
… and for even more tutorials, subscribe to my YouTube channel!
Join my Patreon community! You have a variety of fun options to choose from like:
- Watch my YouTube tutorials ad-free
- Get early access to the tutorials before they’re released on YouTube
- Patreon-exclusive tutorials
Head on over to Patreon to get all the fun details.