An Emotional Investment

Wild Apple Studio places a high value on standing apart from the crowd. "We have historically tried to differentiate ourselves by being very selective in what we show," says director of licensing Jeff Grinspan. In the current economy, the art licensing company wants to be an even more valuable resource to its manufacturer partners.

"Retailers and manufacturers have to be as innovative or even more so in this economy to convince the consumer to buy. There is so much pessimism that you have to appeal to people's emotions," he says. "Licensed products make people feel good. Consumers may not be buying new carpeting, but they might buy a new shower curtain if the images on the product make them happy."

Rather than "dumping art into the marketplace" Grinspan says Wild Apple works closely with manufacturers to engineer art and get ideas flowing. "We want to be viewed as a key resource to help manufacturers understand the business. At Wild Apple, we make a conscious attempt to marry the right kinds of art with each manufacturer's needs. Wall art acts as a barometer, so we can really see what consumers want," he says.

The art licensor has an in-house creative team of designers and art directors. Sarah Adams, Laurie Chester, Mo Mullan and Sue Schlabach have a variety of backgrounds and styles, ranging from funky and retrospective to floral and natural. "Our artists are willing to re-engineer images, so when a client says 'I love this, but can you do it in a blue background,' we can very quickly turn it around," he said. "In a tough economy, it's important to react quickly to trends and our artists help us do that. It gives us a bit of an edge."

Wild Apple recently added designer/illustrator Victoria Johnson to its talent pool. Johnson's work has a fresh, youth-oriented look, according to Grinspan. "There's a real shift in the marketplace from an earlier generation of consumers," he says. "Traditional florals and landscapes aren't resonating with younger consumers. Victoria's images are more about form and color. When she does a floral, it's very stylized and decorative. Maybe there's a silhouette. It's a look that would be comfortable in a store like West Elm."

Wild Apple is pursuing licensing opportunities for Johnson's images on paper products, including bags, boxes, storage and journals. "It's at the top of our list," says Grinspan. Home d├ęcor is also a natural fit for her work. "Accent pillows, area rugs, shower curtains, kitchen accessories and tabletop are all areas of tremendous interest."

The company also is exploring a broad range of juvenile categories for the images of another artist it recently signed, Winky Wheeler. "Her art is fun and whimsical, whether it's unicorns or giraffes. We are looking at bedding, wall art, pet products and publishing," says Grinspan.