Make More Money | License Your Art!

Fair Trade

The fine art of licensing offers a creative marketing venue for today’s resourceful artists.

by Rosemary Barrett Seidner

In today’s economy, artists have to be more creative than ever about marketing and selling their art. One less-considered option is licensing images for use in a variety of ways. Such art marketing can provide a regular, passive income stream for an artist in difficult economic times, as well as in the best of times.

Artist Bob Burridge has licensed some of his artwork to be featured on Thirstystone’s natural sandstone coasters, which are sold at Williams-Sonoma.


Many artists already offer reproductions of their original works in the form of more affordable prints and giclées, but it’s when an image is licensed for use by major publishers or companies nationwide that an artist’s original painting can generate income over and over again through royalties. Continue reading to learn more about licensing, or click here to go directly to licensing advice and resources.

What does license mean?

“Simply put,” explains Lance J. Klass, president of Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing in Sarasota, Florida, “license means the freedom to do something.” So when you give a company a license to use your art, you’re giving the owners the freedom or ability to use your art in a certain way, on a certain type of product, for a certain period of time, and with certain restrictions on usage.

“Another key concept,” Klass continues, “has to do with the difference between copyright and reproduction rights. While you own the copyright to your art for 75 or 90 years from the time you created it—whether or not you’ve registered that copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office—you also own the reproduction rights to your art. That means that no one can reproduce your art without your OK.”

How can licensing be applied?

Just flip through the catalogs that flood your mailbox or go to the mall, strolling in and out of stores, and you’ll see art used on endless products. Besides the obvious framed prints sold in home and decorating stores, you’ll see art on greeting cards, book jackets, posters, packaging, postcards, coffee mugs, wine labels, T-shirts, caps, ties, scarves, fabrics, clothing, clocks, gift items, sets of china and much more.

Traditional Manufacturers

There’s no question that some artists’ work is more suitable than others’ for licensing to major markets. California artist Robert Burridge has developed a national and international following for his bold, colorful still lifes, interiors and landscape originals, but he’s also been enormously successful in licensing images that have been reproduced on framed prints as well as commuter mugs (below) that are sold in stores such as Williams-Sonoma and Starbucks.

image of coffee mugs

Starbucks uses two of Bob Burridge’s images to decorate their commuter coffee mugs. Art licensing has no limits!

Kate Burridge, the artist’s wife, manager and marketing director, has this to say: “Licensing is wonderful—it’s like making money in your sleep!” Bob Burridge adds his best advice: “It’s so important for an artist to have a website—in most cases I’ve never met the people who have licensed my work. They’ve found me through my website.”

The artist’s latest licensed products are stone coasters marketed by Thirstystone (above) and tapestries produced by Simply Home (below). His website,, is a major marketing tool with purchasing options for copyrighted giclées, instructional DVDs, books, note cards and other products bearing his images.

Artist Bob Burridge has licensed eight images to Riddle & Company (now owned by Simply Home) for use on tapestries (this image).

The Wine and Spirits Business

Artist Bob Nugent, after creating a triptych for the labels of a three-bottle collector’s set for Imagery Estate Winery in California, formed an intriguing collaboration with winemaker Joe Benziger. As the curator of the Imagery Estate Winery Artist Program, Nugent has the pleasure of commissioning art for the labels. He seeks out young talents as well as recognized masters, the result being one of the world’s most impressive wine label art collections. The more than 200 original paintings are on view in the winery’s tasting room gallery. Imagery pays its artists a standard honorarium, regardless of their fame.

There are numerous other wineries that use original art for their labels, as well as Brown Forman, which produces a limited-edition Woodford Reserve bourbon commemorating each year’s Kentucky Derby. For the last decade, equine artist Celeste Susany has been commissioned to paint the original artwork for use on the bottle wrap of the Early Times Mint Julip commemorative Derby bottle (right). (Image credit line: Brown-Forman Corporation)


User-Generated Commerce

San Francisco artist Eric Joyner (below), well-known for his fantastic narrative paintings featuring the antics of toy tin robots—and donuts—has, like Burridge, found a beneficial way of marketing his work; however, Joyner has chosen a somewhat different route and works directly with CafePress, an online leader in user-generated commerce, and its subsidiary, Imagekind.

Based in San Mateo, California, CafePress makes it possible for an artist to transform artwork and ideas into new revenue streams and diverse products that are sold in the artist’s free online shop to buyers worldwide. The artist selects the merchandise to be offered, sets the price for each item and is immediately in business—with neither upfront costs nor inventory to manage. CafePress prints each item on demand as ordered (whether the buyer wants one or 1,000), handles all payment transactions, ships worldwide, handles all returns and exchanges, and offers customer service via e-mail or toll-free phone. Once a month, CafePress sends the artist a check reflective of the profit on all his or her sales.

CafePress handles Joyner’s T-shirts, note cards, mugs, clocks and other items, while Imagekind, which operates on the same principles, prints top-quality reproductions of his paintings. Both companies offer custom framing to the buyer. Imagekind, founded in 2006 and based in Seattle, offers the work of 50,000 domestic and international emerging and established artists; and CafePress boasts 61/2 million shopkeepers and members, and 11 million visits per month. On Joyner’s website, a Store link takes you directly to his CafePress and Imagekind online stores.

Eric Joyner, whose narrative paintings feature toy tin robots and donuts, works with Internet company CafePress, which handles his T-shirts, mugs, clocks and note cards. An online subsidiary, Imagekind, prints quality reproductions of his paintings. Artists can post directly to both companies’ online shops.

The Literary Community

Award-winning Illinois artist Richard S. Johnson, known for his romantic figurative paintings, landed a contract some 20 years back, as one of only a handful of artists to create images for the covers of Harlequin novels—a relationship that lasted 15 successful and financially beneficial years. (With the art market’s return to realism in more recent years, Johnson once again turned his attention to working with galleries.)

“It’s interesting to note,” says the artist’s wife and manager, Gail Johnson, “that Harlequin pays a cover artist the same amount the company pays an author of a book.”

A World of Possibilities

There’s so much potential for finding fresh, new outlets for your work while maintaining your integrity as a fine artist. The bottom line as far as marketing your art is concerned: Think outside the box.

Advice About Licensing Agreements

As with any licensing agreement, whether made with a website, a publisher, manufacturer or retail company, it’s advisable to follow the experienced advice of Lance Klass, president of Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing in Sarasota, Florida: “Read every sentence, every word—and if you have questions, get answers.” Getting answers may require meeting with a copyright attorney, licensing agent or agency or accessing information, on the copyrighting of art, available through the Library of Congress.

Mr. Klass lists the most important inclusions in any license:

  • the names of the specific works to be licensed
  • what specific products the art will be reproduced on
  • the producer’s or publisher’s written agreement to put your copyright notice on every product sold and on every advertisement or brochure for any such product that bears your art
  • the countries in which the product will be sold
  • a period of time (six months to a year) during which time the company has to bring to market (produce and sell) products with your art, or else give up its right to use your art
  • a termination date for the agreement, generally two or three years after it’s been signed
  • an “indemnification clause” which says that the company will protect you from any lawsuits that might arise from any business activities that in any way relate to products carrying your art (so that you’re protected if, say, a child swallows a product with your art on it and the parents sue)
  • a statement saying you can cancel the agreement if the producer/publisher doesn’t abide by its terms or goes bankrupt
  • a specific statement of any nonrefundable advance payment to be made to you against future royalties, the specific royalty percentage to be paid to you on a quarterly basis, and the requirement that each royalty check be accompanied by a clear statement of how the company came up with the royalty amount
  • your right to have the company’s books audited at your own expense to make certain the company has paid you what is due.

NEVER allow the licensor to do the following:

  • gain the copyright for any of your pieces of art
  • gain full and complete reproduction rights to any of your art
  • gain the right to sublicense your art to other companies without your having to approve and sign each specific sublicensing agreement
  • gain ownership of your original works of art as part of the licensing agreement (this means that you would not be able to reproduce an image of that work ever again, even in a book on your work).

A fairly standard licensing agreement states that the company will pay the artist a royalty of 10%, not of the retail price but of the price for which the publisher/manufacturer will sell the item. These payments are usually made to the artist quarterly.

Resources for Information Licensing Art

Together these books will provide the information you need to get started licensing your artwork:

  • Licensing Art and Design: A Professional’s Guide to Licensing and Royalty Agreements by Caryn R. Leland. Paperback, 128 pages, $16.95. Allworth Press. 1995. This book does an excellent job of introducing artists to the world of licensing. As it was published in 1995, some of the other information is outdated.
  • Licensing Art 101, Third Edition: Publishing and Licensing Your Artwork for Profit by Michael Woodward. Paperback, 224 pages, $19.95. ArtNetwork, 2007. Woodward covers how to negotiate fees for licensors’ services, approach various markets, prepare a presentation, exhibit in trade shows, and protect your rights as an artist. Some 300 contacts are listed, including art licensing agents and publishers of calendars, greeting cards and books; as well as 100-plus resources such as legal organizations, magazines, trade shows and websites.

Author Rosemary Barrett Seidner is a director of Miller Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio, and a freelance writer.

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