How and Where Do You License Art? An Interview


This Interview with Lance Klass, President of Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing, was conducted by Alex Colombo and published in his The Moon From My Attic art blog:

I’ve been working on my first licensing collection. So far I managed to not throw away anything…however, some concepts didn’t work that well after I placed them on mock-ups or templates of real products. Creating art for licensing is actually a different type of design work and I am starting to adjust my ideas to fit. It’s a learning process like any other design field I have done professionally.For another, more experienced view on this challenge of creating art for effective licensing we can read up this very informative interview with Lance J. Klass, the founder and president of Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing. And although it’s not even close to Christmas yet, I want to also share a licensed image by Porterfield’s artist Janet Stever.

© Janet Stever

The Moon from My Attic: How long have you been doing art licensing?


I’ve been licensing artwork since 1985. I established Porterfield’s in 1994 as a collectibles company, with a smaller emphasis on art licensing. As the limited-edition collectibles industry went into decline, we focused increasingly on building a solid ‘stable’ of artists oriented toward the creation of art that could be licensed onto a very wide variety of commercial, retail products here and abroad.


TMFMA: What would you say is/are the exciting factor/s in art licensing? 
The purpose of our company is to provide manufacturers and producers of retail products with artwork that will increase their sales. When we’re able to do that, it’s very exciting. Personally, I get excited when I come upon an artist whose work has great potential, or when an existing Porterfield’s artist sends in artwork that’s beautiful, compelling, and on-market.I love it when a brand-new licensee comes in the door, when we’re able to license artwork to a really good company, when we’re successful at retail and especially when that’s reflected in high quarterly royalties.  And I love it when we receive samples of beautiful products which carry artwork licensed from Porterfield’s artists, and when I hear from those artists that they’re really happy with those products.It can be extremely gratifying for an artist to have his or her work reproduced on excellent-quality products, to see these products in stores and to hear from friends that they saw the products and loved them.  What could be better for a creative person than to have a very positive impact with their work?
TMFMA: What’s your view of art licensing exhibits such as Surtex? 

I think Surtex is terrific, and I’ve written an article on just how terrific I think it is, and why I have that viewpoint, on my blog at  For my money, there’s no other show in or around our field of art licensing that comes close to having the exposure, impact, viability and return on investment provided by Surtex.

TMFMA: Do you advise new artists to exhibit at Surtex or other art licensing shows to start off their career? And how many shows should they be part of to begin with?
I wouldn’t waste a nickel on other shows, at least not if you’re starting out.  If you’re very successful monetarily and have established yourself as a brand, then yes, try some of the other shows.  But if you’re not at or near the top of the market, then Surtex is the place to be.  As with any show, you want to visit it and walk it thoroughly before investing in exhibiting. So the first step would be to go to Surtex, speak to artists, licensors, agents, licensees, and learn as much as you can.
TMFMA: Please give us your analysis of Surtex 2011 and its market.

Surtex 2011 was a powerful and extremely successful show.  After all, it’s the largest art licensing show in the world. This year the number of exhibitors increased 23% over last year, and about 6,000 people attended.  That’s six thousand qualified visitors, among them creative, marketing and/or licensing directors and staff at companies that must bring in compelling new artwork for their products.  You can’t ask for more from a licensing show.

TMFMA: At Surtex an artist can both sell and seek art license opportunities. How does one decide what to sell and what to license?

It all depends on what you do, on your orientation as an artist and/or company.  If you create surface textile patterns or repeat designs for fabric, rugs, quilting and bolt fabrics and are prepared to sell your art outright, then you should be in that part of the show that focuses on SURface TEXtiles.  You’ll show your work to companies that buy designs outright, along with total copyright rights.  If you sell designs outright, you should also check out PrintSource, a show that’s designed specifically for artists, designers, and design studios that sell concept patterns outright to individuals primarily in the fabric and apparel industries.

If, however, you don’t want to sell all rights to your images and want to be able to license designs again and again, then you belong in the extensive art licensing section of the show.  That’s where I and my associates in the art licensing industry show the works of our artists.

TMFMA: In your view, what was of major interest to manufacturers this year? What were they looking for?
Bright, bold, uplifting, colorful, enchanting, inspirational and/or compelling artwork that will immediately catch the eye of a consumer who is a bit more reluctant to spend money because of financial uncertainty.  I was discussing with associates just the other day how art – really good art – is the best antidepressant. Good commercial art will not only sell products, it will do so by conveying a sense of beauty, calm, pleasure or escape to the viewer who feels a bit better just looking at the artwork and wants to bring that art, and the product it’s on, into their lives.
TMFMA: Based on your Surtex experience this year and your knowledge of art licensing, what do you think the main trends are for 2011-2012?

I try to avoid guessing at trends.  I much prefer studying the market, talking with licensees, seeing what’s selling and what licensees are looking for.  They’re the ones who guess for their companies, and I try to provide them with what they’re seeking. Actual physical data beats trend forecasting every time.

TMFMA: What advice would you give other artists that are considering the art licensing field and that want to exhibit in a show like Surtex?

Be as good an artist as you can. Study the market. Go into every large mall in your area as well as every big-box store, and look at every type of product that carries art. Study and learn. See what works. Look at composition, subject matter, color, saturation, format. Don’t paint for yourself, paint for women over 30 who purchase 85% of the consumer goods in America, buying products for their spouses, their children, their homes and themselves.  Then develop an extensive portfolio of such works. A few of this and a few of that won’t get you anywhere. Learn from experience what works, and then do lots more of it.

Learn Photoshop, if only because you’ll need to manipulate digital files of your art. If you’re interested in painting dry on Photoshop, study it and work hard at it.  If you paint wet, develop your photography skills or else find a good, inexpensive photographer to shoot your work.  Or if you paint small, learn to scan your own images.  You may even want to finish them digitally.  My feeling is that if Leonardo were alive today, he not only would be working on Photoshop, he probably would have invented it.

TMFMA: Any other useful info that you’d like to share about art licensing and Surtex?
Don’t expect to make a whole lot of money the first year and a half, simply because most companies license artwork way in advance of product release dates. Because of the sampling, marketing, production, shipping and billing cycles, expect royalties from your licenses to begin either 13 or 16 months out from initial date of license.  But if you work hard, study the market, paint for the target consumer, cultivate licensees and work harder and smarter, you’ll do well given time. Read my blog on The Business of Art Licensing and the articles that I’ve posted on our main Porterfield’s site as well as the blogs of other artists and agents. Learn as much as you can.Oh, and be sure to register your copyrighted work with the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress for that extra level of protection.
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