Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be licensing artists

snobot-bThe following is a letter I just posted to one of my Yahoo groups–“The Art of Licensing” to be specific (note: if you’re a professional illustrator who wants to get into licensing, JOIN THIS GROUP!).  Those of you who know me know how much I loathe typing, so I’m posting the note again here ’cause I hate to see so many keystrokes go to waste.

Hi, everyone–


I feel like I need to apologize or explain my absence from this board this last year.  Truth is, my heart just isn’t in it anymore.  And by “it”, I mean art and licensing, not the group!


When I first started out as an illustrator, waaaaaay back in 1982, I, like many illustrators, went to work for a big company–in this case, Hallmark, and then Current.  The money and benefits were great, and if you could stomach the politics, it was a good way to make a living.  Then, in the late 80’s, it seems like all the employers woke up and said “Hey!  If we make all the artists work freelance, we can pay them half as much and skip the benefits”.  And that was OK–I got to work at home, the politics were (mostly) a thing of the past, and the money was still pretty good.  Art directors would call me up and describe what they needed from me, I’d do it, and they’d send me a check.


Now, whenever I speak with an art director, she seems to be doing the job of six former coworkers, has no time to plan anything, and is one flat tire away from a complete nervous breakdown.  This past year I’ve had, for the first time in my career, clients go bankrupt, fail to pay me, and cancel jobs already contracted.  Sure, licensing is great if you hit it big, but frankly, I’m sick and tired of doing tons of work on spec, and hoping that someone picks it.  And then paying about what they would have paid for a freelance work-for-hire piece.  Plus, I absolutely SUCK at marketing myself.  I’d rather chew glass than cold call a potential buyer.


Yeah, I should probably look into getting an agent.  If I can find anyone that’s OK with me not creating any new work for a while.  I’ve started a new business–see www.iFobot.com — and I’m soooo much happier now.  Just got back from the Buyers’ Market show in Philadelphia (that’s a show like Surtex but where craftsmen sell their work wholesale to galleries) and have more orders than I can fill.  Some contacts from CHA are already starting to work out, and I’ll follow through on them, but after that, I’m out.


Speaking of Buyers Market and CHA–it was a real eye-opener how inexpensive they were and how lovely, helpful and accommodating the staff were compared to Surtex.  I just gotta groan every time I read a new message about Surtex.  They remind me of that routine Lily Tomlin used to do as Ernestine, the phone operator–“We don’t care.  We don’t have to.  We’re the Phone Company”.  Small wonder they’ve lost over half of their exhibitors.


Thanks for letting me ramble.  I’ve been wanting to get this off my chest for a while.  I will miss seeing you at Surtex this year.  If there’s one good thing that came out of all of this, it’s the many wonderful friendships that have developed with other artists over the years.  Best of luck, and I hope you all make it really big this year.





6 Responses to “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be licensing artists”

  1. March 4, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    I get it. Hurray for you! You are destined to be a happy junk celebrity!

  2. March 4, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    great post, I agree 100 percent!

  3. 3 Jan Gregg-Kelm
    March 4, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    All I can say is “AMEN SISTER!”

  4. March 4, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    Boy I don’t know where to start. I feel your pain without having ever licensed a piece. I have spent the last 20 years just trying to do Advertising and Editorial Illustration. Thanks for sharing, but now I just may need a really strong drink.

  5. March 10, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    No kidding. Realizing that a tradeshow *any tradeshow* is a catch-all for those who want to augment their marketing. However, tradeshows aren’t the end-all-be-all like they love to claim. I’m finding so much more opportunity without rolling out the welcome mat and waiting for them to arrive.

    Too bad I wasted more than $30k on expenses. Tough lesson.

  6. 6 Nami
    February 28, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    Hi Amy,

    Thanks for sharing your journey. It is remarkable how you completely “reinvented yourself”. The fact you left illustration for sculpture art, a bold move.

    I am an illustrator in the process of reinventing myself, as well. Change is hard, so your story is inspiring. Thanks for sharing it.

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March 2009

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