Making Money from Your Art

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At the Business Recovery Centers for the South Metro region of Washington County, I mentor business owners on how to become more profitable. 

Whether I’m helping a business owner land contracts with the government or guiding a restaurant through a new marketing campaign, all of my work is confidential and free. Yes! Since the BRC was funded with your tax dollars through the CARES Act, I might be the first time you’ve seen your tax dollars at work!

When I work with artists and photographers, I show them how they can make money over and over from one piece of art. No, I am not suggesting that the artist surreptitiously slinks through a slightly open window, abscond with the painting recently sold to Ms. X and resell it to Ms. Y. Instead, artists, graphic designers and photographers can license their work and get paid for that same piece of artwork over and over again. 

If you are an artist or photographer, you have copyright to your work. 

“Copyright protection exists from the moment a work is created in a fixed, tangible form of expression. The copyright immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author, or those deriving their rights through the author, can rightfully claim copyright” – www.copyright.com/Services/copyrightoncampus/basics/law.html.

There are two types of copyright:

  • “Poor man’s copyright” is yours after you complete your work of art. This is not defensible in court. 
  • Official copyright is granted by the U.S. Copyright Office. You can apply on their website: eco.copyright.gov/eService_enu.

Official copyright is defensible in court and starts at $35. This how the heirs of Marvin Gaye won $7.4 million from Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke. 

Now that you have copyright, you can license your art for reproduction and earn money from your art. 

OK, I might have lost you at the first turn. Let me back up but not over the roses next to the driveway. 

In Oregon, you can take a test and get a license to drive. This means the state of Oregon is giving you permission to drive on its roads hither, thither and yon. (Personally, I really like yon…)

When you license a piece of your art to a clothing manufacturer, you are giving them permission to use your art on a tee shirt or a hat. (Hint: you need to negotiate limited rights which means they can only use your art on Product A or Product B. If you give the company an unlimited license, the company may use your image on a variety of products.) The company compensates you with a flat fee OR royalties (which might include an advance). 

To build this kind of a business, look at companies in these niches because they are likely to license art:

  • Clothing and fashion
  • Footwear
  • Skateboards
  • Surf boards and Boogie boards
  • Greeting Cards
  • Stationery and office supplies
  • Tourist merchandisers.

I am currently counseling a photographer who is interested in licensing her exquisite landscape photographs of Sedona’s resplendent red rocks. She is collating a set of 10 images which she will present to the smaller, local greeting card companies to negotiate a limited license. Since she is an established artist with a recognizable brand, we are negotiating for an advance payment to her plus royalties. (Be aware that any advance is deducted from royalties until the advance is paid in full.) 

She could take the same photos and license them for calendars or mouse pads with an office supplies company. 

She is also a fluid artist, creating very flowing pools of soft pinks and purples which are perfect for surf boards, skateboards and boogie boards marketed to young women. Her next project may involve marketing her fluid art to those companies. 

And she gets to sell the same image over and over again. That’s how she will make money from her art. 

Now, how can I help you?