*An excerpt from 2001 Artist’s and Graphic Designer’s Market.
Julia Cairns had been painting landscapes for a number of years in Botswana, Africa when her husband was hired to teach at the University of California at Davic. Because the landscape in California wasn’t as inspiring as that of Africa, her work changed. She found herself adding whimsical figures to her landscapes. Selling her work in a new country was also challenging. She didn’t know where to start. “You can go to all the art galleries in Botswana in a pretty short period of time, but there are just too many of them in the U.S. You can spend forever marketing your work and have no time to do it.”
Cairns searched through the pages of Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market looking for an agent to do the marketing for her. She found just the person in Shirley Henschel, owner of Alaska Momma in New York City, to whom she mailed a letter and a series of photographs of her artwork. Cairns’s work had a freshness Henschel knew she could sell. That was in the mid-1990s, and the two have never met. Thanks to her relationship with Alaska Momma, Cairns’s work is now available on a variety of backdrops: refrigerator magnets, posters, needlepoint sets, thermal beverage holders – ten licenses in all. Based on a 5 percent royalty on the wholesale selling price of the item, Cairns’s income from licensing is a modest $12,000 per year, but the potential is there for much more.
This money supplements her earnings from selling originals and illustrating children’s books (Henschel was also her agent in contacting a book publisher) and allows her to be a stay-at-home mom. What does it take to win a licensing arrangement? “Most art is not usable in licensing,” says Henschel. “It may be very good art, but the colors won’t reproduce well. It may be banal – looking too familiar. The style or subject matter has to be forward-looking so it will catch people’s interest. When I look at art, I think, ‘Can it provide a direction for the market, or does it reflect an existing direction in the market?’ If the answer is yes, then I’ve got something I can sell.” With her art showing up on jigsaw puzzles and magnets, Cairns admits she experienced a few moments of concern that a spate of inexpensive reproductions of her images would lessen the value of her originals, but she’s become philosophical about it. “I’ve been in a number of museums where the gift shop has van Gogh place mats, and no one thinks any less of van Gogh’s paintings for it. The por chap, he didn’t make any money in his life. I’d rather make the money now, while I’m still very much alive, and the money helps support my painting.” She adds that the licensed items make her work “accessible to people who cannot afford to buy the originals. Perhaps, some of those people will eventually buy one of my paintings.