On the Surface


Do you have time to make art, then go out and sell it? Are you comfortable defending your own work from critical clients? How well do you know what’s selling and what’s trending?

The experts who had all the answers were Marty Segalbaum, President of MHS Licensing in Minneapolis; Sam Abell, President of Courtney Davis, a 30+ year-old licensing firm based in Franklin, TN, and Julie Ager, Licensing Director of Artist Designs Group in Crownsville, MD.

Distilled from questions posed by Conference Session moderator Jeff Grinspan, here are some of their professional observations —

"Sam-Abell_01"Q: What’s your best advice to artists thinking about getting an agent?
A: Sam: Success largely depends on how much time you’re willing to put in. It takes years to build up relationships (with clients). Finding and establishing those relationships is not an easy job. I’m up at 6 am and in my office by 7 every morning.

Q: Where to find an agent?
A: Marty: At SURTEX. There are lots here. In fact, if an agent is not at SURTEX, you might not want them as your agent.

Q: Should a first-timer go with a smaller or larger agency?
A: Marty: If you require a lot of communication, smaller is better.

Q: What makes for a successful relationship between artist & agency?
A: Julie: Be an artist who’s easy to work with.
Be flexible. I run from “fine art” artists who hold too tight to their art.
Realize that this is a marathon, not a sprint. This is an 18-24-month process. If an artist is going to burn out after 18 months or so, we don’t want to get involved. There’s quick money out there, but that’s not usually the deal we want. Give an agent two years to show what we can do.

""Q: What should an artist not do?
A: Marty: Do not send me an e-mail saying, ‘”Tell me what to paint and I will.” Show us your vision of what, for example, your art will look like on (a product).
Sam: Don’t send us to an outdated website. And don’t make your website password-protected. Make it easy, or I’ll just shut it down and move on.

"Julie-Ager_01"Q: Any pet peeves about artists?

A: Julie: An artist who doesn’t have reasonable expectations about money. Remember, $1 million at retail is actually $500,000 at wholesale. The artist’s net would be $12,500, of which maybe half goes to the agent.
To make a living, think Middle America. Volume sales come from Middle America. We don’t want you to lose your individuality, but the product has to sell.
If a piece of art belongs in a museum gift show, I’ll give it a pass. Great art is not our business. Our business is to help manufacturers. Think about that before you start out on this marathon. Go into licensing with your eyes open!