Introduction by Lou Simeone
Today I have the privilege of posting my latest interview with art licensing consultant and agent, Maria Brophy. I first learned of Maria's work last year, when I featured the artwork of surf lifestyle artist, Drew Brophy, here on Illustration Pages - I've been a loyal fan and avid follower of both ever since.
Can you tell us about yourself? What road led up to you becoming an agent and licensing consultant?
I was in the insurance business and did very well there. Then I met Drew Brophy and fell in love. One day he convinced me to leave my six figure income to come work for him so we could travel the world together. I said okay, and never looked back!
Did you have a lot of roadblocks when you first started promoting Drew Brophy’s work?
Yes, but I have to mention that Drew already was doing okay for himself. He had built up a reputation for being a guy who gets things done.
My first roadblock was: “How in the world am I going to figure out how to increase sales enough to pay me an income?”
I had to get very creative with creating multiple streams of income. And it took some time, but here we are, many years later and we did it.
We’ve had a lot of disappointments in this business. People who let us down, companies that didn’t keep their promises. But we have learned how to avoid those things now.
There are always going to be problems no matter how well you are doing, no matter how smart you think you are. Roadblocks are a part of life. But we navigate around them.
How important is it to you, personally, to love what you do for a living?
It’s everything. Why live your life doing something you hate? Life is so much fun, it’s such an adventure. There’s no reason to stay chained to a job if you don’t want to be there. Money just isn’t that important.
Many artists are working 40 hours or more at jobs they don't like to support themselves and their families. They can't walk away from their responsibilities. What kind of steps can they take that will help them fulfill their dreams of making a living from their art?
The hardest part about this question is that the answer is different for every artist. Illustrators, fine artists, commercial, sculptors, it’s all different from theme to medium to personal values.
There’s no one path. To a 19 year old I’d say skip art school and go straight into starting your art business. Take classes on the side to learn techniques but jump right into the business of it, before you get married & have kids.
If you’re married with kids, I’d say you might want to give it more thought. You have things to worry about. If you like the job you’re doing, then do your art on the side, as a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with that.
The life of a working artist isn’t for everyone. I used to think different, but now I know better. You have to be good at more than just art. You have to be good at marketing, talking to people, business.
The most important thing is this: if you are going to be a professional artist, you HAVE to treat your art business like a business. Make sure there’s profit in 100% of what you do. This is where most artists fail.
What are the most common mistakes you see artists make that get you frustrated?
Rarely is the art to blame when an artist can’t make it work out. It’s always everything else. They give their art away. They sign bad contracts. They are afraid to charge what they are worth. This all goes back to treating your business like a business – they fail to do that and it’s their downfall.
Is licensing suitable for every artist? Do you think there are artists whose work just doesn’t have commercial value or appeal?
Licensing is not for everyone. For licensing, your art has to appeal to the masses and it has to look good on many different products. That’s why abstract art rarely makes it in licensing.
When do you think is a good time in an artist’s career to begin pursuing licensing deals for their art?
Anytime is a good time, if their art is suitable for it. If your work is well known, you’ll have an easier time with it. But you don’t have to be known to be successful in licensing. There are many artists that are licensing their work successfully that no one has heard of.
Do you feel that there are licensing or promotional deals that can work against an artist - "cheapen" the artist's work?
I suppose so. It depends on who your fans are. If you are a hard core tattoo artist and you license your art for cheesy trinkets sold in gas stations, you might lose fans over it.
It also depends on your personal values as a person. If you are anti-establishment, and you license your work to a big corporation, then you might be considered selling out your values.
In terms of licensing and promotion, what's one of the biggest mistakes you've made to date?
We don’t regret any of the deals we’ve done that I can think of. My only wish is that I had more aggressively pursued deals that I might have let go too easily.
There's a positive aura about your company, "Son of The Sea". But we all know it's a battlefield out there and everyone has bad days. How do you stay positive and keep moving forward on days when you would love to just run away from it all?
Geez, we do have some bad days. I don’t want anyone to think it’s all roses and candy over here. Here’s the great thing about being in this business for over a decade; you go through enough up and down cycles that you come to trust that the bad days will pass. You learn to ride it out like a scary roller-coaster ride. You just let it be. And it passes.
And you count your blessings. People often forget all the great things they have done or received. But if you sit down and write all the good that came your way in one month, you’ll be surprised at how long that list is.
Some artists might feel they should only have to create art, and the business side of things should be left to someone else. What advice do you have for people with this mindset?
The sad reality is that it’s hard to find a good agent, so you have to learn to do it yourself. If you have a family member (like a spouse or parent) who commits their time to managing your career, that’s the best scenario. But most people don’t have that. I know a lot of artists that are doing it all and doing it well. But they took time to learn.
Social media is still a big mystery to many people today. How can artists attract more viewers to their blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts? And more importantly, how much of their time should they devote to it?
Social media is great, but it can be a real time waster. So I think it’s best to be disciplined about it – spend 15 minutes on it in the morning and the afternoon, and don’t spend more time than that. You have to save your time for the truly important work; creating art.
I think a Facebook page is very effective, because it enables the artist to have “conversations” with their fans easily. And this is how you get more viewers – by commenting on their comments, by “liking” other people’s pages, and by connecting and sharing other peoples content, not just your own.
Twitter and Google + are also effective, and the same rules apply as Facebook – limit your time, share other peoples content, and comment.
"If I create it they will come." This is a myth that many artists might still believe. What are some good inexpensive ways artists can promote their work?
Learn how to send press releases. When you have an event coming up, say an exhibit or something special you’re working on, write a press release and send it to local and other relevant media. Get the press to talk about you. It’s actually very effective. There are articles that teach you how to do this online.
Another way, and this requires a lot more work and planning, is to collect email addresses and send occasional newsletters. Make sure you get their permission first, though. Over time your mailing list will be worth gold to you for so many reasons.
I could be mistaking but I don’t think I’ve come across Drew’s work on any illustration portfolio sites. We won’t name any specific sites, but what is your opinion of illustration portfolio sites?
Don’t really have an opinion on them, we haven’t really given it much thought. But I have seen a lot of really bad Drew Brophy knock-offs on sites like Deviant Art.
Time management can sometimes be a challenge. How do you keep all the “plates spinning”?
I wear so many hats, it can be crazy sometimes. But here’s how I get it all done:
I focus on the most important thing first. Everything else can wait.
I say no to things that don’t bring in enough money or that are charity freebies – we can’t sustain a business giving work away or wasting time on low paying projects.
I act on my impulses. This means that if I have a problem, and in the middle of the night I wake up with an impulse to do something that may be a solution, I get up and do it! I trust my instincts – they save me time and agony. Most people ignore their impulses – but that’s a huge mistake. You have to learn to trust your inner guide – you know more than you think.
What are some of your favorite books related to your profession?
The Graphic Artists Guide to Ethical Pricing, Success Secrets by Jack Canfield and Licensing Art & Design by Caryn Leland.
What are some of your favorite blogs related to your profession?
One really good one for licensing is Joan Beiriger’s Blog on Art Licensing – she shares a wealth of information.
Also Tara Reed’s Art Licensing Blog, ArtLicensing.com. She and I have written a book together for artists called How to Understand Art Licensing Contracts. She also has a ton of resources and advice on licensing art.
And my blog, MariaBrophy.com, that I write to help artists to create the career of their dreams.
And lastly, if you weren’t in this business what do you think you might have had an interest in doing?
I’d be a yoga instructor.
A big thank you to Maria Brophy for sharing her vast knowledge of the art business with the Illustration Pages readers. If you would like to learn more from Maria make a daily visit to her informative blog that helps artists to create the business and life of their dreams, MariaBrophy.com. And for more daily tidbits of wisdom from Maria, or to ask her questions directly, follow Maria Brophy's Facebook page.
Maria Brophy is agent to lifestyle artist Drew Brophy and is an art licensing consultant. She produced the television show, The Paint Shop with Drew Brophy and is co-author of the e-book titled, How To Understand Art Licensing Contracts.
Below are more links of Maria's to investigate.
Maria Brophy's YouTube Channel
Maria Brophy on Twitter
Surf Lifestyle Artist Drew Brophy
Drew Brophy Blog
Drew Brophy Store
The Paint Shop Blog