I get a lot of emails from students and artists starting out who are looking for advice or interested in doing interviews. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to answer everyone who writes. Please don’t be offended if you don’t hear back from me. Below I have answered the most common questions I get asked:
(If you have a question you’d like me to answer, send me an email with the subject “Answer My Question”. If I get a few inquiries on the same topic, I’ll add it here and let you know.)
About patterns & licensing:
I did a tutorial on Design Sponge that shows the most basic, no-computer-needed, way to make a pattern design. You can see it HERE. For help making repeats in Photoshop and Illustrator, I suggest checking out the book Mastering the Art of Fabric Printing and Design for some good tutorials. When creating a pattern I start by drawing all the elements or motifs by hand with a black pen into my sketchbook. Then I scan the elements and bring them into Adobe Illustrator. I use the Live Trace feature which turns my drawings into vectors. This allows me to easily color and manipulate them. For making the repeat, there’s usually a lot of trial and error. I usually make a grouping of my elements and figure out the best way to repeat that group, and then I fill in any blank spaces. The newest version of Illustrator has a very helpful pattern tool which helps you create a tile as you work.
There is no easy answer to this question. Personally I think the best way to get licensing work is to let companies know you are out there. Get on design blogs like Design*Sponge and Print & Pattern, send samples to companies you like, self-promote on twitter, enter competitions. Show your work as much as you can on the internet. I have been fortunate to be published on a lot of blogs which has led to companies contacting me for work. There are also trade shows you can exhibit yourself in like Surtex and Printsource, but they are very costly and could be the wrong market you are trying to reach. If you are terrible at promoting yourself, you can consider getting an agent.
After graduating school I got hired to make digital pattern designs for the My Little Pony style guide. I didn’t really know how to make a pattern at the time but I had a lot of experience working in Illustrator and eventually figured it out. At the time I was drawing directly into the computer using a mouse. I became pretty good at making patterns and I was hired to make patterns for many of the other Hasbro guides as well like The Littlest Pet Shop, Playskool, and even Transformers. The art director I worked with at hasbro, jess Rosenkranz, suggested I check out Surtex one year with her to see the trends in the market and I saw individual designers selling patterns they made. It gave me the idea to try making patterns with my own drawings and start selling them to companies.
When I did Surtex many years ago when I was just starting, I sold my patterns for $500 each and lost all the rights. It was a beginner’s mistake. Since then I’ve learned that I don’t want to sell my designs for a flat fee. Instead I want to license them and get a percentage of every sale that happens with the product with my design. That money is called your royalties. Royalty percentages in my experience are usually 5-8% of the retail price.
Sometimes a company will give you an advance which is money you get upfront to cover your expense of making the design. This is money you get to keep no matter what happens. It’s sort of like insurance. If the company doesn’t sell any of the dishtowels with your design, you still get to keep that money. When you get an advance, you have to earn back that money before you can receive royalty payments. Here’s an example:
ABC Stationary hires me to make a pattern for a journal cover. The contract says I will get an advance of $1500 and royalties of 7%. Now I have to look at the retail price of the journal. Since the retail price is $8.00 and I’m going to get 7%, that means I’ll get approximately .56 cents for every journal sold. Immediately I get paid my $1500 advance so I am happy. So now to receive royalties on top of my advance I will have to sell enough journals to cover that $1500. That means I have to sell about 2,678 journals ($1500 divided by .56) to start receiving royalties on a further sales.
There are instances when I still sell a pattern for a flat fee. When I do that, I think about what it’s going to be used on, how many products will be made and how it could positively impact my career. Based on those factors, I come up with a price.
About publishing books:
When I’ve made proposals before they have been 2-3 page pdfs that I’ve sent to editors through email. You can also print and send them through snail mail. Your presentation is extremely important. You want to make this proposal look well-designed, engaging and decorated in the style of the book you are hoping to publish. Your grammar should be perfect. Usually editors, not art directors, will be reading it. They will notice an error immediately. I’m a terrible writer and my grammar is awful so I always have someone proof read my proposals before I send them.
The first part of the proposal (a few paragraphs) should describe your idea. What is your book about? Describe your voice and aesthetic and what you purpose is for making the book. For example here’s the first two lines from our opening paragraph proposal for The Exquisite Book:
The Exquisite Book will be a project based on the Surrealist game called the Exquisite Corpse. The book will be a modified version of the game, played by one hundred contributing contemporary fine artists, illustrators, designers and comic artists….
Next talk about who the audience will be (one paragraph):
This book would appeal to hip 20-40 year olds who follow contemporary art, design, illustration or read non-superhero comics. They shop at stores like Urban Outfitters and read blogs like Design*Sponge and Grain Edit…
Mention successful similar books (one paragraph) :
The most similar recent publication is Beasts! published in 2006 by Fantagraphics. Ninety artists contributed an illustration of a different beast for each page. The book had tremendous success and Fantagraphics is working on a second volume…
If format is important, mention what you are thinking:
We would like this book to have an unconventional format. The connecting horizon line in all of the images would make it a perfect candidate for an accordian book…
If your brand can expand beyond just a book, it’s always a plus to add that in. Could this become a series? Could some of the artwork be turned into stationery? Could there be a contest, website, or product (tote bag, poster series, toy) that could be created to promote the book? For The Exquisite Book, we created an accompanying journal with artwork from artists from the book. We also had an exhibition of the work from the book.
Finally, end with a bio (a long paragraph). Brag about yourself! This is not a time to be shy. Editors will take snippets from this text to try to sell the idea to the rest of their team so make sure to give them plenty to work with. If you have a blog, lots of twitter followers, won awards etc, mention them. Even if you’re well-established, you can’t assume they already know.
Lastly, if you have any samples spreads you can send to give the editor an idea of what your book’s content and aesthetic will be like, that could be helpful. Make sure to keep the file size small if you’re sending it through email. The easiest files to look at are pdfs or jpegs.
There are submission guidelines on every publishers’ website. HERE are some for Chronicle Books. They do eventually look at every proposal they receive but it takes some time. Sometimes it helps to know somebody who has a connection to an editor to make an introduction for you and speed up the process. But if you don’t know anyone, it’s okay, it just might take longer.
You can also try getting your idea on a blog. For example, a mockup for a children’s book Eli, No! was posted on Grain Edit a couple years ago. The publishing house Abrams saw the post and contacted the author/designer and made an offer for publication. Now you can buy the book everywhere!