Art Licensing for Surface Pattern designers | Mel Armstrong | Skillshare

Playback Speed

  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x

Art Licensing for Surface Pattern designers

teacher avatar Mel Armstrong, Illustrator, Pattern Addict & Teacher

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Art Licensing Introduction


    • 2.

      Are you Ready?


    • 3.

      Getting Noticed


    • 4.

      Approaching contacts


    • 5.

      Customising your portfolio


    • 6.

      Contracts & Licenses


    • 7.

      Staying ahead of the game


  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class


I’m Mel Armstrong.  A surface pattern designer and illustrator.  

I’ve been lucky to have been licensing my patterns to a range of companies for a number of years and get asked a lot about how I go about approaching companies to license my designs.  

As a freelance surface pattern designer, licensing is the bread and butter of my income. It’s a great source of passive income. You can earn income from work you’ve already created, in multiple markets, globally.  But to get your work licensed you need to be proactive in your approach.  

In this class I’ll take you through some essential steps to getting your work licensed and to build your freelance business. 

I'll talk you through the following:

  • Are you ready?ensure you have everything you need to license your designs
  • Getting Noticedhow to ensure you’re visible enough for Art Directors to find you
  • Approaching Art Directors - learn how to find art directors and how to contact them
  • Customising your portfolio - learn how to refine and customise a collection for the company you’re approaching for licensing
  • Contracts & Licenses - learn the ins and outs of these important legal documents
  • Keep clients & stay ahead of the game - learn how to retain those clients for future work and stay ahead of the game


This class is for Surface Pattern Designers who are ready to approach their favourite companies to license their work. 

I don't take you through how to create patterns or collections in this class, so if you'd like to learn how to do this, please have a look at some of my other classes for some tips.

Happy Pattern Making!

x Mel


Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Mel Armstrong

Illustrator, Pattern Addict & Teacher

Top Teacher

Hello and greetings!

I'm a dedicated illustrator and surface pattern designer hailing from Wellington, New Zealand. My passion lies in crafting beauty, whether it's through illustration, patterns, sewing, or even assembling IKEA flat packs (yes, really).

Driven by an insatiable thirst for knowledge, I found my way to Skillshare. After discovering this treasure trove of learning, I not only delved into various classes but also found my... See full profile

Level: Intermediate

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • 0%
  • Yes
  • 0%
  • Somewhat
  • 0%
  • Not really
  • 0%

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.


1. Art Licensing Introduction: Hello. I'm Mel Armstrong and I'm a surface pattern designer and illustrator in Wellington, New Zealand. I've been lucky enough to license my designs to a range a companies for a number of years. I do get asked quite a lot how I do it. As a freelance surface pattern designer, licensing is the bread and butter of my income. It's a really great source of passive income from work that I've already created. You don't actually need an agent to do it. In this class, I'm going to take you through some of the essentials for art licensing. First, we'll check if you're ready to license your work. I'll then give you some tips on how to get your work noticed so that art directors contact you. I'll show you how to contact art directors directly. I'll also show you how to customize a collection specifically for a company that you'd love to work for. Finally, I'm going to show you how to keep clients once you get them and how to stay ahead of the game. Let's get started. 2. Are you Ready?: Are you ready to get your world-class list? Before sending your work out there to get your work licensed, it's important to check that you are actually ready. Do you have the website? The website makes you look professional and serious about what you're doing. It tells the world that this isn't just a hobby, it's your job, and the website is a gateway into your business and all businesses need a website, so it's very important to have a website. Do you have a portfolio? You can have your portfolio on your website, or you can have it on other platforms, but a portfolio is there so that art directors can see arrange of the work that you've done. You can have a private one, you can have a public one, I suggests maybe one of each. But it's important that they can see the range of styles or range of work that you can do, and it leads to more work. Do you have a social media presence? It's really important in this day and age where everything is visual and online to have some social media presence. It's a place to be noticed and it's a place to connect with other designers and art directors. You don't have to be on every platform, you can select one or two and just focus on those. My main one is Instagram, I find it's the most visual and the best for this type of work. I also get a lot of work for Instagram, people contact me, art directors contact me when they say something. It's also a very good source of income. Do you have an understanding of licenses and contracts? It's really important that you do, because imagine if you sent some worker to an art director and they came back and said, "Great. I want the license your work." Let's go. The first thing you need to do is have a license, agreement, or a contract. If you don't know how these work, then it could be a bit tricky. It's really important that you learn how to understand them, and I will briefly go through this in a later video, but there are some other books as well that I can put in my resources document for you to read that will give you even more information about how to understand licenses and agreements. Lastly, do you want to expand your learning opportunities? I guess that's the reason you're watching this class. To learn how to license so that you can earn a living from what you love doing, and that's certainly what I am doing at the moment, and I find licensing is a great passive income for work that you've already done. Might've been a personal project that you've sent out to someone and they wanted to license. The same design can be licensed in different categories, different territories, it really does open up a range of earning opportunities. If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you are ready. If you didn't, don't worry, this course will help you get ready. Let's get started. 3. Getting Noticed: Getting Noticed. In this video, I'm going to expand a little more on your online presence as well as other ways to get yourself noticed. Being found by art directors is just one method of getting licensing work. As you know, clients won't just come find you, especially if you haven't put yourself out there to be found. They have to know you exist and see evidence of your skills. Planets have found me through Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and my website. Let's start with the most common source of work for me. Social media, Instagram and Pinterest have been a great exposure for me. I've been contacted by many clients, by these networks and gone on to license many designs this way. I feel it's really important to have a good social media presence. You may be wondering if companies will license the design you've already shown on social media, and the answer is yes. Some may disagree with me. It may even lead you to designing something more specific for them. As an example, my work for Walnut Melbourne, started when the art director saw a pattern of mine on Instagram. She wanted a collection similar to what she had seen but needed different colors and it had to be, it to fit right for little kids' shoes. I basically created a collection of patterns using the same icons from the original pattern, but with different colors and modified to fit nicely on kids' canvas shoes. When posting an image on Instagram or Twitter, think about the audience you want to see in order to get a license. For example, if you'd like to see your pattern on shoes, use tags that you think an art director for a shoe company might use when searching for shoes, you might use something like shoe design or kids' shoes. Keep your fade consistent and relevant by not posting personal images. Keep them for your personal account. Only post what is relevant to your business, so patterns, illustrations, works in progress, sketches, inspiration, etc. Publicity. Editors are always looking for fresh challenge. So, do your research and find magazine publications you'd like to appear, and think outside the square. If you're a surface pattern designer, you may think publication in uppercase might be the best fit and it is a great fit. But what about a home decor magazine or maybe you have a great studio at home and you'd like to show it off in a lifestyle magazine. These can all lead to new clients. You should also join art directories and enter competitions. Competitions such as the weekly Spoonflower Challenge has given me a great amount of exposure and has led to my designs being licensed to small clothing businesses, to fabric companies, as well as publication by Spoonflower itself in their magazine or in their blog posts. Your website. You website is your front for your business. So, it's really important that you have one and it's easy, it's simple, and it has relevant information. I have a blog on mine. I try and post regularly. In your blog, if you do have one, you should include recent work, what inspires you, tutorials, sketchbook work, your process and any achievements and awards. You could also ask other designers, if you can write a blog post to their blog and vice versa. It's a great way to reach more people, a different audience, and include links to your newsletter, and always include your portfolio on your website. I've had a number of lessons has come from people seeing my free wall papers that I post each month. This design here, the February wallpaper, caught the attention of a stylist in New York and is now going to be on wallpaper lining the walls of some New York hotels. That's pretty cool. That came about from her saying, my wallpaper, my free desktop wallpaper and now it's going to be at your wallpaper. That's pretty cool. Newsletters. Whenever I contact art directors, all companies initially, I always ask them if I can put them on my newsletter list or if someone has contacted me for work after the work has been completed, I ask them if they would like to be on my newsletter list to be kept up to date with any new work and the future and 99 percent of them will say, yes. I have a newsletter just for art directors and I have another list for everyone else. The reason for this is, I don't want to include things in my newsletter to art directors that isn't really relevant to them. So, that's a small one newsletter, all it really contains is new work that I think that they would be interested in. Where as my other general newsletter has pretty much everything else that I share. I share blog posts, I share my desktop wallpapers, my competition wins, my Etsy shop, all that stuff that art directors may or may not be interested in. Now, you may think it's going to take a while to build it up but start with one and watch it grow over time. When I first created my newsletter, I was like, oh, this isn't going to work, but it did and has grown to quite a large listener. Most important thing is never add someone to your list without first getting permission. You can, aside from it, but not being polite, it can get you in a lot of trouble. I also recommend using a marketing automation program like Mailchimp. You can use Mailchimp to link it up to your website, so when someone signs up, it's automatic. They can also opt out easily if they want to. You can create campaigns and create a template so that your newsletters that always consistent and recognizable. You can also say steps to help you work out what's working and what's not. Emailing. This approach has worked well for me. I have gone out and I've found a company that I like that I think I would like to work for and I have found their contact details and I have cold e-mailed them and this has resulted in work for me. Sending a simple and well written e-mail can be quite an effective way of having your work discovered. Ensure that you include, why do you think your style complements their products and why you'd like to work with them. Always attach a couple of low resolution images, many collection mockups, and provide a link to your portfolio. I also use Dropbox as a showcase feature to share a collection with someone. The great thing about this is, you're not sending images in the e-mail and a showcase Dropbox is private and only accessible to whoever you send the link to. It's a great way of sharing what you don't want the rest of the world to see yet. You just want this specific art director to see and it displays it really nicely. After you've e-mailed, you should always follow up. I recommend e-mailing again maybe two weeks or four weeks after your first e-mail. Try to do it without sounding pushy or a nuisance, and maybe only follow up only one or two times anymore, you'd probably be considered a nuisance. Snail mail. I love this method, by the way. It's similar to e-mailing. But this way you can actually leave them something a little bit special, something for them to remember you by. If they're not ready to work with you, they will have a reminder. I suggest something like a notebook or a calendar for their desk, or even a print for their studio wall. That way, in months to come, they might see that thing on their desk and go, oh, that would be perfect for the project that I'm working on right now, and then get back in contact with you. If you hadn't sent something through, they would probably forget about you. I just think that's a really nice way of being remembered. In the next video, I will talk about how you can actually find directives and find out their contact details. I will see you then. 4. Approaching contacts: Of course, clients are not always going to come to you, so you need to reach out to them. This, I find is one of the best methods of getting your work licensed, and you just need to have the courage to do it. The first thing you need to do is work out where you would like to see your work, such as home decor, children's products, fabric, clothing, wallpaper, stationary, where you dream of seeing your designs. You also need to work out what companies you would like to work for, find companies that you think your designs would fit nicely with, that you match their aesthetics. Edit some worksheets to the resources section. You can download these and fill out your desires, what companies you want to work for and what you want your products to be on, and this will help you then moving forward. When you go about finding the context for companies, there is a number of ways I do this. The best way is to find the name of the art director or submissions agent for the company that you wish to work for. Often, companies will have a submissions guideline on their website, and in this case, it is very important that you follow the guidelines. For example, he is the Robert Kaufman website and I am going to show you how easy it is to find a submission details. You just go to the contact us page and then click on artwork submissions. They have these very specific guidelines on how you should submit your work to them and I highly recommend that you follow those guidelines. You can also find people on LinkedIn, which is a great way of finding people. For example, if I type in art director Kmart Australia into Google, look what first comes up. Kate, she is the art director, Kmart Australia and I knew this already, but I I just wanted to point out how easy it is to actually just Google an art directors name and find them on LinkedIn. Trade shows are obviously an awesome way of finding people, if you're lucky enough to be able to go to one. Just pick up the phone and ring a company and find out the name of the art director, don't be scared, just do it. You can also look on their company website, you can quite often get quite a lot of information from their website. You can find an e-mail address and send them an e-mail. It has taken me years to build up a list of contacts, which is probably why so many people are reluctant to just hand them out. It really does pay to do your research. It also shows them that you are being proactive and that you really are interested. Staying organized. Once you get this list of contexts, you need to stay organized with them. I have a spreadsheet and I use this to record all my contacts that I've found, their e-mail addresses, phone numbers, etc. Also, I keep a record of when I contact them so that I can make sure that I am not haunting them too much, with following up on emails that I have already sent, that is important. In the next video, I am going to talk about how you can customize your portfolio or a collection of designs to send to the company that you want to send your stuff to. See you there. 5. Customising your portfolio: Once you've found a contact, send a letter of interest, an email, or snail mail, along with a collection of work you've customized specifically for them. Customizing your work to fit. So once you've researched your company and you have a good idea of what the company does and the style, it's a good idea to customize your portfolio to fit before approaching them. And ask yourself, "Does your work fit the aesthetics?" To do this I will create a petting collection that I think will fit their aesthetics. Or I will find examples in my existing portfolio that I think are a good fit. In order to present your collection to them, there's a number of ways you can do this. You can create an electronic PDF or e-book. You can send them a link to your website. You can use a Dropbox showcase, or you can create a physical lookbook. This one's handy when you going to a trade show. But if you do send a physical lookbook, make sure you include something like your business card or postcard and include a self-addressed envelope if you want it back. Just a few tips on your collections. Your collections should have at least five to ten patterns. Keep your mockups relevant to the company. So for example, don't send them a shoe mockup if they sell water bottles. When you're emailing them and attaching images or attaching a collection, make sure it's low resolution. Same with if you're displaying it via your website or via Dropbox, it should still well low raised you don't want to be sending them high-resolution images and include all your contact details on every page. And in the next video, we're going to briefly talk about pricing contracts and licenses. See you there. 6. Contracts & Licenses: Contracts and Licenses. A contract is an agreement whether oral or written, whereby two parties bind themselves to perform certain obligations. Contracts are used for pay for higher jobs or commissioned work, not necessarily for licensing. So if you do government's path, usually the client will have a contract that you can sign. If not, you can prepare your own, and my advice for this is to read the graphic artists guild pricing, and ethical guidelines handbook. It has a section with templates you can use as a base, which you will need to modify to suit you as the clients needs. Do not start a project without a contract. What is a license? A license is the right to sell or rent artwork or design for a specific use, and period of time. It's in your best interests as a service designer to license your work rather than sign away your rights, or work for hire contracts. A licenses is great for work you've already created, and you retain the copyright. So what is in a license? It's important to include what product the design will be on, what territory, what length of term, how many years, the royalty amount, and when it will be paid. For example, will it be paid quarterly or six monthly? The advance amount, and the signatures, and dates of both parties. It should also state that you retain all the copyrights into the image. I recommend writing one out, and having it at your disposal ready to go. I do also recommend having a lawyer look over it. I'm not on a lawyer. So I highly recommend getting someone to look over it for you if you can. I'm not going to dive too much into pricing, as it really is a class on its own. It's actually taken me years to get to the point I can say I'm comfortable with the process I quote. There's a lot involved. It's influenced by what product it goes on, the territory, how long. I've had a bit of help from my agent as well as licensing through them, has given me an idea of what to price work, and for different categories, but as a freelancer, I've worked out what I need to earn in a month to get by, which has helped me begin to work out, and hourly rate. Then from there I can work out, taking into account how many licensing agreements I get in a month. I can come up with a ballpark method of determining what process I can quote, and what is there for me, and the never underbelly Neil work. I've had to negotiate down quite often, but it's best to stay up high, and unload a few [inaudible] really go up, you stop there. There is lots of passing information in graphic artist guild handbook. So once again, I highly recommend investing in this book. I also recommend doing Peggy Denny skill share class on pricing. I've put it in kind of resources fall for you. Just a few words about rejection. You will get rejections. You'll get many, but don't see them as rejections. See them as lessons on how to improve yourself the way you approach clients, and the way you negotiate. Don't dwell on them. Move on to the next one. I've worked in the creative industry for most of my life, and I can say I've had many rejections, more than I can count. I was an actor, and I was taught by some industry professionals that, for every ten auditions, if you get one job, you are doing well. So that's nine rejections out of ten auditions, but then when I did get that one job, and I always get that ratio of jobs, it was always enough to forget about those other nine rejections. I also learnt that I wasn't getting rejected because I was bad in what I did, I didn't get the job because I wasn't the right fit, and really who wants to work on something they don't fit. So try and see rejection as redirection. In the next video, I'm going to discuss how to stay in the game, and keep clients. 7. Staying ahead of the game: Before I send you off into the world of licensing, there are a few things I want to say about what to do once you've established some clients, how to keep them, and how to stay in the game. You may feel as if the industry is flooded with talented artists and you wonder if you'll fit in. My answer is yes. If you are hard-working, love what you do, take value in your work, then in the words of Lilla Rogers, "People will buy your joy", offer something different. Sometimes, this means just being yourself. Keep your website up to date, stay present on social media. This doesn't mean you have to sign up to some "Get 1,000 followers in 10 days" type of things. Start thinking about the numbers and think about the quality of what you're putting on there, think about your tagging, what you're putting in your comments, comment on other people's stuff, and post often. Then, social media will look after you. Collaborate with other designers, look at your work and yourself from the perspective of someone else such as an art director. Keep in contact with clients. Once you've established a relationship with them, send them cards at Christmas time, add them to your newsletter list, actually get their permission, and if you haven't heard from them in awhile, it's always nice to just touch base with them and let them know what you're doing. Enter competitions and try and win awards, have marketing goals. The ultimate goal is to get clients and projects. Think of some smaller goals that will help you reach your ultimate goal. For example, sending out one mail out once a week. Start small. A great place to start when you're new to licensing is to approach small businesses, little start-up companies. They are often in need of freelancers for their designs, and you are probably the perfect match. You can find many of these small businesses on social media, such as Instagram. Larger companies can be difficult to get into without having an agent, and finding the right contact details can also be a challenge for these larger companies. That's about it. Thank you for watching. I hope you have learned a lot about licensing, and are now brave enough to send your work out. I think you are. There's room for all of us. I'm sorry if my voice has been really annoying, and I promise that the next class we will have lots of designing in it. But until then, happy pattern-making and see you.