Ask the Experts

Q: How does one go about finding someone with the expertise to manage the business end, so I can just produce the artwork?

A: Joanne Olds, president, The Buffalo Works

The best way to find an expert in our field is to do your homework. There's no easy way around it. That means taking it very seriously and talking to many people on all sides of the fence. You should talk to successful artists who have been in this field for a while, as well as lawyers or accountants who work with these agents/experts. Talk to the manufacturers to determine who they like dealing with (buying from) as an agent. You also can contact LIMA and ask if it recommends anyone in particular or if it can provide other contacts. Don't forget to ask these experts themselves. Who would they recommend if they are not interested or aren't seeking to add another new client? Remember that this person/company will be representing you and your life's work, so choosing the right one is imperative.

Gwynn Goodner, founder and president, Studio Voltaire

The best thing an artist can do is produce work. That is how you generate a library of images, and an artist with an array of work is more likely to attract an agent to manage the business. Of course, there is the side effect of having lots of work for customers to license. Make sure you are ready with a good portfolio of at least 20 to 30 pieces before you look for an agent.

If you are looking for an art representative, it is important to put yourself out there. Go to shows such as SURTEX and Art Expo and talk to people. You may not be permitted to show your portfolio on the show floor, but take it with you and pass out a lot of cards. A smart agent will see quality work on your card and set up another time to meet. Be sure to follow up with any contacts you make. When you meet an agent, go through your portfolio fairly quickly. If an agent is interested, he or she will slow you down to get a better look. And by all means, make sure the work you are showing is available to license. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a portfolio of gorgeous paintings that are all sold with no digital files or transparencies available. Always make good quality transparencies or scans of your work before you sell it, because once it is gone, it is goneā€”and a small digital photo just won't cut it for reproduction.

Direct mail is another method to get an agent. There are dozens of printers who do a nice job on four-color postcards, and prices are very affordable (I've had printing done for as little as $50 including shipping). Have a postcard made with one or two of your best pieces and send it out.

Agents are always on the lookout for talent. If there is an art festival or similar event in your area, consider participating. A place where an agent can have access to a large number of artists is an attractive opportunity to meet talent.

Have reasonable expectations when you meet art reps. They have a vested interest in seeing your work succeed, but it always takes time. Work has to be cataloged, put into presentations, shown around, selected (usually by a slow-moving committee), color separated, and proofed, and there are a dozen other steps before it sees daylight in the stores. Be patient, and good things can happen.

Should an art consultant be contacted before hiring an art rep?

Olds: This depends on your situation. If you are brand new to the business, then it's a good idea. However, many agents/representatives either can give you the same advice and/or have people on staff who can help you. Sometimes this is provided with their service, and sometimes they can bill you separately for it.

No matter how long you've been in the industry, I strongly recommend hiring an outside expert to obtain objective advice from a successful expert in the industry. It's just good business. Even the Fortune 500 companies hire outside consulting/ industry experts when they need it.

Goodner: I don't think a consultant is necessary. A good agent will be able to give direction and work with artists to help them create successful images. Artists should listen to what their rep suggests and put it through their own filters to create salable work using their own aesthetic voice.

It has always been my understanding that an art consultant was someone who assisted hospitality or corporate clients in selecting art; basically helping less knowledgeable people or people who are unsure about art selection.

Artists and agents should be pretty art-savvy already and should be able to work together with their collective knowledge to develop a strong strategy for licensing.