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ArtMatters! The Inside Story of Art Licensing with J'Net Smith

There is often additional information on the recording that is not in this written interview.  Inspire yourself and listen while you make art.

My primary goal in these interviews is to inspire you with stories of people who make a living helping artists make a living making art and who consider it a real job. The art professionals I interview here have valuable tales to tell you about how to work with them.

The Inside Story of Art Licensing with J'net Smith

J'Net Smith
Jeanette Smith, founder and owner of All Art Licensing, is the consummate art licensing coach - she is passionate about helping you achieve a level of success beyond imagining. In just six short years, J'net turned Dilbert™ from a relatively unknown syndication-based comic strip into a 200 million dollar a year global brand. Then in 2000, J'net translated and expanded on her extensive experience to train, advise and license all types of creators. She has helped hundreds of artists, graphic designers, painters, photographers, authors, illustrators, design firms, fine artists, creative companies, non-profits and agents to maximize the power of their brands and talents.

All Art Licensing Logo

Today I have the pleasure of bringing you the backstory to
her company All Art Licensing through this interview.

A.C.T.: J'net how did you get started in the licensing business?

J'net/AAL: Licensing found me; I'm pretty sure of it.  I worked in marketing and advertising at the beginning of my career and moved from Seattle to New York City.  Why?  I just knew I had to.  There I met my mentor Ann Strunk, then a VP at Macmillan Publishing, who taught me the licensing business and a great deal about contracts and negotiations.  I will always be grateful to her for the time she spent with me in those early days, and her profound belief in me.
Once I learned about licensing, things really fell into place for me.  First of all, I got very excited because I really wanted to be involved with EVERY aspect of a product; from its initial concept and development, down the line to production, distribution, retail and, of course, customer purchase and satisfaction.  Licensing is such a terrific business model, as it allows many people who can't afford their own production and distribution to have products and brands on the market. It really facilitates everyone, such as artists, manufacturers and retailers, handling their area of expertise in order to create more wonderful types of product.
Now through licensing, I'm not just providing the brand strategy, marketing plan, advertising and sales function for new or existing products, but I'm also working with creators from the beginning to the end of the product cycle.  My first actual "licensing" experience was with a very good but boring English as a Second Language training course, and it was here that the light bulb clicked on!  I wanted to take this experience and work in the entertainment industry to market more creative products, such as art and characters, with a sense of style and humor!  This revelation actually led me to my position as Vice President Licensing at United Media, where I began marketing the Dilbert™ comic strip and characters for cartoonist Scott Adams.
In less than six years, I built the Dilbert™ brand from its infancy as a syndicated comic strip in about 150 newspapers to a global corporate icon with more than $200M in annual retail sales, two New York Times Bestsellers, 26 animated television episodes and 750+ products in more than 40 countries. Following the astronomical growth of Dilbert™, I left United Media to start my own business.
A.C.T.: Then how did you come to specialize in art licensing and open "All Art Licensing?"

J'net/AAL: What I learned from the explosive growth of Dilbert™ is that there are marketing "truths" that are valid for starting businesses, as well as building companies, brands and properties.  You can then adapt them and use them in different ways depending on the type of creative work you do, your target audience and your budget.  As a consultant, I have worked behind the scenes for many companies as well as coached individuals and companies to set up their own licensing systems and departments.
While attending the International Licensing Show over the years, it became quite evident to me that artists were an under-served market in the licensing arena.  Except for partnering with an agent, they had no one to help them build the bridge between fine art and licensing, or graphic design and licensing. And at the same time, finding and signing a good agent was becoming increasingly competitive.  Often artists thought they were ready for an agent. And in many of these instances the agent turned down the artist, not because their art wasn't good enough, but because the artist really didn't understand the licensing business and wasn't able to offer the agent the type of portfolio and skill sets that they require to immediately get started licensing their art.

Frankly, being an art lover all my life has also fueled this passion.  My parents were artists, as well as collectors who filled our home with beautiful pieces of art from all of their travels.
I really hate to see artists be so vulnerable in the business world.  And I want creators of all kinds to learn how to generate income from their talents through licensing, whether they choose to do-it-themselves or partner with honest agents that have their interests at heart. With these goals in mind, my desire was to specifically teach artists how to succeed in licensing through specially designed classes or one-on-one coaching. That's how All Art Licensing got started.

A.C.T.: What would you say is the biggest challenge in the art licensing field today?

J'net/AAL:  Art licensing equals a small percentage of the overall licensing industry, but to those manufacturers who depend on art and design to create products it is essential.  I believe the biggest challenge in the industry is really the match-making.  Whether an artist wants to go-it-alone or find a reputable agent, the actual connection of the right art - with the right manufacturer - at the right time - is difficult at best, yet very rewarding.
A.C.T.: Who succeeds in art licensing?  Is it a profitable business?

J'net/AAL: Artists who are passionate about seeing their art on products in the marketplace, and who are prepared to focus and learn the necessary skills to be in art licensing field, will reap the rewards. There are hundreds, even thousands of successful artists in the licensing business. Many of them have transferred over from the areas of fine art, graphic design, cartooning and illustration.  There is room for all types of art.  Most newcomers to the industry are familiar with the biggest art licensor's such as Mary Englebreit and Thomas Kinkade, who started in the business a long time ago.  And many of you may also recognize the names of Debbie Mum, Paul Brent, Jim Shore, Flavia and Suzy's Zoo...all of whom have repeatedly made the top 10 art licensor's list, with incomes in the millions, according to License! Magazine (

What many artists don't realize is how long it will take to create a profitable business.  You really need to do your research and make sure this commercial industry is for you, and then give it 2-3 years to get established (note my 20 Rules of Art Licensing: Rule #4). 

A.C.T.: What services do you offer? Who do you work with and how do they benefit from your services?

I have services and products for every budget level and stage of the business.  For those with limited funds my blog, combined with my Professional Creator's Licensing Series (PCLS), is a very affordable way to begin your education. The PCLS audio courses come with very detailed presentations.  The complete beginners series (PCLS 1-4)  is more than six hours of art licensing training, covering an introduction to the industry, how to create art collections for manufacturers and agents, sales, negotiations and contracts.  It's very comprehensive and many artists have started their business with this series.
I also have audio courses that cover trade shows, annual business planning, character licensing, and legal issues - copyrights, trademarks and contract language.  In addition, there are many art licensing topics I've covered in my 60 minute Ask J'net Q&A sessions. New intermediate level courses for those who want to continue their learning include: Doing More Deals and the Manufacturer Mindset.
Other artists want one-on-one coaching to evaluate their art for licensing and help them develop a personalized strategy. I do this in my 3 hour SmartStart Session consultation, that starts with the artist sharing their artwork, background, goals and aspirations, through documents, art files and web sites. I spend one hour reviewing the art and all types of information from the artists before we begin.  Then we have a two-hour phone consultation, which is also recorded, to provide the artist with an evaluation of their art, plus a strategy for building their business. Artists are amazed at the amount of information I can assess and deliver in this time frame. The response has been tremendous. And depending on what an artist needs to get to the next level in their business goals, whether negotiation skills, finding an agent, developing collections, sales or all of these, that's exactly what they will receive.

The benefit of these products and services is that you can cut through the clutter and get right to business.  I have been told by clients that the SmartStart Session alone saves 2 or more years of research and planning.  It is really my most popular service, as the format can be adapted to fit the individual needs of the artist.  I'm often told that by listening to the recorded session at a later date the artist will pick up new pieces of information they didn't catch the first or even the second time listening. I have coached many artists who went on to find an agent, and many who chose to represent themselves. 

A.C.T.: Are there many fine artists in the field?

J'net/AAL: Yes, there are lots of artists both in the field and pursuing the industry.  But I don't want the competition to deter artists from giving it a try.  If you love your art and know it will sell on product, especially if you have proof from your own gallery, etsy, juried art shows, and direct customer sales, then consider art licensing as a possible new revenue stream. With some thought and planning, you may be able to have your gallery and licensing business too.  Everyone is different in terms of where they are at in the business cycle, as well as how they want to spend their time.  So I have to say it all does really depend on many factors.  I help artists evaluate their goals and options, and then provide advice and training to achieve those goals, as quickly and affordably as possible.

A.C.T.: What kind of product categories should a fine artist consider putting their work on?

J'net/AAL: This really depends on the type of fine art, as well as the subject matter. Some products lend themselves to art that tells a story.  Other products, due to their size or shape, may require art that can be re-purposed.  This means extracting elements and then designing the product using the various artistic elements.
Many artists start out with products in the stationery and gift product categories, such as note cards, stationery, stickers, greeting cards, calendars, journals, recipe cards, magnets, mugs and book marks, and then expand into the areas of home d�cor.  Other areas of entry include scrapbooking (though this has slowed down tremendously), fabrics and infant products.
A.C.T.: What are some of the biggest challenges for fine artists when considering licensing their artwork?

J'net/AAL:  Three areas provide the biggest challenges for fine artists.
First, fine artists may find it challenging to change their thinking from creating a complete scene and story in a full picture format, to the creation of central images, elements and possibly patterns, all of which can be used when designing various products.

Second, technology is a cumbersome obstacle for many artists. Some are able to get excited and learn the computer skills and technology necessary to work in the art licensing arena, and others get by with a little (or a lot) of help from their friends, colleagues or business partners. Whatever works!
Third, there is definitely a challenge of balancing the fine art side and the new - more commercial - licensing portion of your business.  There are branding and distribution issues, if you want to continue to have sales in both high-end galleries and mass market retailers, not to mention the pure time management factor.
 20 Rule Logo 5
You can save yourself a lot of frustration by readings J'Net's 20 Rules for Starting Your Art Licensing Business

A.C.T.:  Why did you choose to become a mutual affiliate* of A.C.T and how do artists benefit from A.C.T. programs and services, whether or not they want to license their art?

J'net/AAL: I think that most artists create income from multiple sources, and if they don't, they really should.  So I want to support artists in all of their creative and revenue making endeavors.  Artists may want to do licensing, but they also have a gallery business for their originals, or have a good business at juried art shows.
As I got to know Aletta and learn about Artist Career Training, it became clear that our philosophies about helping artists, as well as how we work, are complementary.  We both provide artists with solid business advice and information in our specific, but related fields, as well as thorough and thoughtful coaching.  I was excited to find a like-minded professional who could help my clients in areas of their art business that are not my expertise. We both have clients who have benefited from our connection, in fact, all clients who have been working with both of us, have been thrilled with their combined results.  That's exciting!

J'net is a knowledgeable and accessible coach. Here are just a few situations where her guidance and knowledge can save you time and money:

You Want to be Your Own Agent
Why pay an agent if you don't have to? It's not for everyone, but many skilled and resourceful artists are learning how to agent their own art by doing some or all of their own marketing and licensing. J'net will show you how to save as much as 50% of your income stream on agent fees by tackling it yourself. J'net will guide you, every step of the way, from that first deal to that multi-million dollar international contract. If you think you have it within you to create a great business as well as great art, then get trained by J'net, since no one will sell you like you will sell yourself.

You Want to Find an Agent
If you want to find a fantastic agent for your particular art style, one that can help you reach your licensing goals, J'net can help you find the one that's right for you. Those fantastic agents are out there, but competition for them is growing, so get J'net on your team and speed up the process. She will teach you how to get "agent-ready" and stand out from the crowd, as well as, showing you how to work with your agent for maximum effectiveness and efficiency.

You Already Have an Agent
You may already have an agent, but you want to be better informed so you can get the most out of the relationship. Or you have an agent and are finding that your business isn't what it should be. A growing area of our business is advising artists on how to maximize the artist-agent relationship. J'net can teach you how to work with your agent, manage expectations and get the most from the relationship by being a knowledgeable and well-informed client. You will see your business grow or you can move to a new and more profitable relationship instead of excessively spinning your wheels. J'net can evaluate the situation, advise and guide you to new heights in a very short amount of time.

If you want a solid foundation for your art licensing, register here for your Smart Start session:

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* FTC Disclosure: When we find people like J'net who have deep, proven experience in a topic that will help you make a better living making art, we put them front and center.  When these fine folks offer services and products that are first class, sometimes we agree to help each other get the word out to you with an "affiliate" arrangement, which means that we will earn a small commission for referring you to their resources.
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Aletta de WalContact:

Aletta de Wal
Author of the Forthcoming Book:
"My Real Job is Being an Artist: What You Should Know Before You Quit Your Day Job (Or Get One)"
Artist Advisor
Art Marketing Strategist
Artist Career Training
(650) 917-1225 Pacific Time
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Thanks for reading our free publications: ArtMatters! interviews and editorials; Artist Career Training Tip-of-the-Week on art business, art marketing; and Art Business Library Tools to Help Artists Make More Money. Library of Congress ISSN# 1552-9428.

*FTC Disclosure: When we find artists who have deep, proven experience in a topic that will help you make a better living making art, we put them front and center.  When these fine folks offer services and products that are first class, sometimes we agree to help each other get the word out to you with an "affiliate" arrangement, which means that we will earn a small commission for referring you to their resources. Those are marked with an asterisk.

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