and sometimes in art licensing, it doesn't work out

tammie bennett's vase and striped wallpaper

back in 2013 when i first decided to go for it and signed up for surtex, i made a list of dream companies i wanted to work with.

most of those companies did not stop by my booth at SURTEX, but i did send my information to all of them either before or after the show. 

one night around 10:30pm, chris and i were sitting on the couch, sort of watching tv, sort of responding to emails when i got an email that made my arms go numb.  it was from the founder of one of those dream companies.  asking me to design a collection for the company.  oh.  em.  gee.  

i interrupted chris, grabbed his arm, and said "company x wants me to design for them!!!"  and i think i squealed and i definitely did a little victory dance.  i was a little shaky and a lot excited.  

a couple months went by with less than stellar communication on the part of the art director(s) and i felt a little bit left out in the dark with hardly any art direction at all.  just "create a collection you would love".  that sounded awesome, and it WAS.  i created exactly what i wanted to buy.  i got giddy just from looking at some of the pieces in the collection.  i turned it in with glee and excitement.  and i waited and waited for feedback.  i got some intense feedback (take out that flower, make the pattern more random, take out that blue, etc).  i made all the corrections and turned them in.  and waited.  and waited.  

a month or so went by and i got a personally written card from the founder of the company thanking me for working on some art for them.  i thought it was a little strange that it said "some art" when i had designed an entire collection.  but i pushed that thought aside and thought, "how nice to get a personally written note from such a busy person!!" 

a couple weeks later i got an email from an art director that had never given me feedback during the project.  that art director said they had had to make some changes in order to make the collection more marketable.  i get it.  they know what sells and what doesn't.  this happens all the time in art licensing.

the next paragraph stated that they would understand if i didn't want my name attached to the collection any longer.  that kind of took my breath away a little bit.  why wouldn't i want my name attached??  i began to tremor as i opened up the attachments.  oh. em. gee.  the collection was unrecognizable.  barely a trace of my designs, of me, was left intact.  now i understood.  no way would i want my name attached to this.

as i said earlier, it is very common for companies to ask artists to change things in order to make the product more marketable.  you may have to use colors you would never use.  you may have to make the monkey eat a taco while wearing sunglasses.   i've seen some crazy asks from companies.  so i get all that.  but here, it wasn't ME making the changes.  i would have gladly made the changes if they had just asked.  the style of these edits wasn't even in the same realm as something i would make. it was no longer created with my hand. 

i debated back and forth about what to do.  i had been SUPER excited to have my name attached to a collection with this company.  they were on my flippin' dream client list!  but i couldn't stomach my name being attached to the art any longer.  i wouldn't have been able to promote it on my blog or take a picture of it in the store because i wasn't proud of it any longer.  it wasn't mine any longer.  i actually felt bad for the designer who had changed the collection to the point in which it became almost unrecognizable to me.  the poor dear did all that work and wouldn't be getting any credit for it if my name was attached.  

so with a sad heart, but also with knowledge that i was doing the right thing, i replied that i did not want to be attached to the collection any longer.  

i'm not telling this story to complain or whine. at all.  i'm telling it to artists out there who think it is so easy to get a collection to market.  i'm telling it to beginners in this business to know there are hiccups and hurdles on lots of the roads they'll travel.  be prepared to change your work.  be prepared to use colors that you might not be fond of using.  be prepared to let go of some design elements that you really wanted to use.  but also know when it no longer is a good fit and it's time to walk away.  i must add that i did get paid for this project as per our contract. maybe that made it easier to walk away, knowing i had been paid for my time and work. 

i'm full of gratitude that i got to design a collection that i LOVED working on.  i loved the feeling i had while creating it** i wouldn't take any of it back, except maybe i would have pushed a bit more to get feedback so i could have made the edits myself.  

if you have any similar stories i would love to hear them, but please leave out any identifying details.... i don't want any mudslinging here.  just stories supporting each other as artists in this journey. 

**kevin smith said almost this exact thing in a podcast i heard recently.  he was interviewed on how to be amazing and it lived up to its name.  it was an amazing and inspiring podcast interview.  kevin's a genius.  don't listen to it if you don't like curse words though.  he drops the f-bomb about every 4th word.  but in between all those curses is some flipping wisdom.