INTERVIEW: Licensing Artist Becky Schultea
Becky Schultea brings her faith into her art. She specializes in designing Christian products. I discovered her art on the web one day and fell in love with it because I couldn't stop scanning the careful detail she put into her three dimensional characters who were so cheerful and playful.
She was kind enough to agree to do an interview with me, and I'm so glad she did, because after hearing her story of "giving up" and then coming back, I thought it was a lesson for us all, since artists can easily be discouraged by the smallest rejection. But if we really want to succeed in licensing, Becky suggests we just need to be prepared, talk to people, and get the right technical skills. Becky's journey is a lesson to us all.
QUESTION: You worked in corporate training for years before entering gift design. Tell me more. How did you acquire your artistic skills?
BECKY: I've been an artist all my life, drawing on every surface imaginable as a kid. I honed my art skills all throughout school and got my "big break" at 19 when family friends who had started a Christian gift manufacturing business hired me to do some product design.
This company manufactured a variety of framed wall art featuring mostly stock photography with Scripture silk-screened onto the glass or the print. I was hired to provide original artwork for a variety of new products they were contemplating, like magnets, notecards, and other giftware.
I was hooked on gift design instantly and went on to work for the company full time for the next five years. It was there that I first learned about design cycles, merchandising, going to market, advertising, and deadlines - all invaluable lessons. After leaving that position, I designed and painted t-shirts for eight years for a gift store chain in Austin during the hand-painted clothing craze of the mid-80's/early 90's. In that environment I really expanded on the colorful, whimsical nature of my art, plus I gained training skills by leading a large team of "cottage" artists who painted the shirts I designed.
I was also very fortunate to be invited to attend numerous gift and clothing markets in Dallas to stay abreast of design trends. I was exposed to gift market trade magazines during this time, and that is where I began to learn about art licensing. I was convinced that was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. So, I left that job, took some more art classes at college, and put together my first set of card designs to submit to a publisher for review.
The rejection letter came within a week! I was so discouraged that I didn't send any more samples to any other companies...I just gave up! Really, really dumb.I didn't do any art of any significance for almost 10 years after that. I landed the software training job with a large corporation and began to really yearn again for a creative outlet, and more than once got in trouble for over-using clip art in my
training materials! Even though it was not a job in art, I will be forever grateful for the business knowledge and discipline that I gained there. While still doing training, I got a big break from a graphic artist friend from church who sub-contracted me to do a series of black and white drawings for a Christian activity book. I did a few odd illustration jobs, and then learned that the Christian Bookseller's Association convention was coming to Denver that summer. I was about to come full circle.
Attending that convention was a big turning point for me. Not only did I meet the owner and art director for my chief licensee Universal Designs there, but I was also exposed to and inspired by so many manufacturers and product lines that I hadn't known of before. This fueled my passion for pursuing work in the Christian market once again and I began to rebuild my
portfolio and research how to reach art directors in these and other markets. Then in late 2008, I found out my corporate training job was being outsourced overseas, and this was my opportunity to take a big leap to pursue artwork licensing. So my dear husband and I made some big downsizing decisions, and I am now happily working for myself trying to grow my business. It has been quite a journey, but well worth the effort.
QUESTION: You have an amazing colorful and playful collection of work based around Christian faith. I can only assume this is a personal value of yours. How did you decide to make faith a central theme of your art?
BECKY: Yes, the Christian faith is the center-point of my life, and knowing that I am loved and forgiven in Christ brings me great personal joy and contentment. This joy spills over into my artwork quite naturally, and I love sharing the encouragement I have so lavishly received. My early work in the Christian gift market set the course for the fusion of faith and art that continues in my work today. I definitely plan to continue my art career with faith as the central focus, and that certainly will include designing specifically for the Christian market, but my hope is to be able to make my work available for any number of products and projects, from fabric lines to children's book illustration and everything in between. No matter whether the project is "overtly" Christian or not, I hope to reflect the infinitely colorful and creative Creator I serve in everything I do.
QUESTION: A lot of your work looks three dimensional. Can you say more about your artistic process?
BECKY: I stumbled across my dimensional "cut-out" or "sticker" look somewhat accidentally several years ago while first using what was then called Fractal Design Painter (now Corel Painter). I was experimenting with the natural media tools in Painter and my new Wacom tablet, learning how to use the pressure sensitive pad to paint and blend colors digitally, and I started systematically going through the many tools in the program to see how they would affect my images.
While playing with the lasso masking tool, I cut a loose outline around a cartoon-ish image I had done, then "floated" it to a new layer. I then put a drop shadow under it so I could see how my cut outline looked, and realized when I saw it that it looked kind of like a sticker floating on the page. I loved the look, refined the process down to a science, then began to use it to make icons for the early web design work I was doing for our church at the time.
I completely quit using Painter for a few years, but I picked it back up but this time however, I expanded from floating single icons to cutting out entire complex images, then using multiple layers, backgrounds, patterns, and text to create the multi-dimensional style I have today. I still use Painter for virtually all of my digital illustration work, saving my work as a PhotoShop file if required by the particular art department I am working with.
When I approach an illustration project, I typically make a few sketches in a notebook, but then I do everything else on the computer. I don't scan my sketches into the computer - the sketches are just to give me the overall design or character
details. Once I have the general concept, I just paint right on the canvas of the Painter program, create my dimensional elements and characters, paint whatever background or coordinating patterns I need, and style the text I may be incorporating in the design. At that point I pull together all the pieces I created and lay them out in a file with the dimensions and resolution I need for the final project.
QUESTION: You have an extensive collection with Universal designs. How did you acquire your first license?
BECKY: On that fateful trip to the Christian Bookseller's Association convention in 2005, I met the owner/art director of Universal Designs while wandering the gift manufacturer's section, and much to my surprise she took time from the sales floor and sat down to talk to me. I had come to the convention armed with a pile of cute business card-sized mini-CDs I had produced to pass out and they contained my portfolio in PowerPoint format, but for some unknown reason I didn't think it would be necessary to have a physical portfolio available to show to anyone. Having worked these conventions in the past, I knew how busy everyone could be, and I guess I didn't think anyone would spend any substantial time with me.
Thankfully, as an afterthought, I had thrown a small collection of prints of my OLD work in a pitiful little notebook in my bag I had with me on the convention floor, and when Universal's president sat down with me to talk, she asked if I had anything to show her.It was impractical to pop my nifty CD into a PC, so I sheepishly and apologetically showed her my collection of old unorganized artwork. Despite having broken every guideline for a face to face meeting with an art director, she actually liked some of the things she saw and was very encouraging to me overall. She suggested I keep creating new work and keep in touch. I took that to heart and over the next year I had amassed a fairly hefty number of new illustrations, all in my emerging dimensional layered style. The CBA convention was in Denver once again in 2006, and this time I was armed with a nice printed portfolio of my new work as well as an updated collection of portfolio CDs. This time when I met with Universal's president, I had all new work to show her. She once again sat down with me, and this time she pointed out a couple of specific parts of illustrations that she thought she could work with, and after sharing with me some of Universal's art guidelines, asked me to send them to her for licensing.
That was the beginning of what is now a steady stream of licensed products featuring my art including bookmarks, postcards, posters, and most recently, coordinated gift sets consisting of pens, magnets and key chains. I am very happy with the licensing relationship we have built and nurtured over time, and I am seeking and hoping to establishing such relationships with numerous other gift manufacturers.
QUESTION: What mistakes did you make -- if any -- that would be helpful for other artists to learn from?
BECKY: I certainly made numerous mistakes along the way, but something practical that I would encourage artists to do is to learn more of the technical side of your craft. I am, for the most part, a self-educated artist, and I neglected learning some of the more technical aspects of graphic design & digital illustration like properly preparing images for printing.
PhotoShop is the industry standard. I have developed some workarounds and have muddled through and learned some lessons the hard way, but it would have been preferable to have been better prepared.On a more general level, please understand that nothing happens very quickly in the licensing business. It was almost two years before I received my first contract after my initial meeting with Universal. It is very easy to get discouraged, especially early on when you have been working so hard to reach art directors and get feedback on your submissions and nothing seems to be happening. Keep at it - don't give up. Keep growing as an artist, sharpen your craft, research your market, and:
"Stay true to your values and goals, and success and satisfaction are sure to follow. -Becky Schultea"
Karla Dornacher - Her Blog
Diane Knott - Her Blog
Mary Engelbreit (probably the artist that has influenced me the most):
-Design book: Artist's & Graphic Designer's Market
-Design tip that saved you a lot time: Mastering layers to maximize control and the eye-dropper tool for color management - I know those are old hat to most digital artists, but they are relatively new to me and found by trial and error and after years of frustration and ignorance.
-Way to get feedback on your designs: Blogging, Critique group Illustration Friday this weekly illustration challenge is a wonderful venue for expanding your portfolio and networking with other illustrators
-Technology You Use: Dell Studio PC, Wacom Graphire3 pressure sensitive pad and stylus
Lexmark X6150 printer/scanner/fax combo,Corel Painter v. 11, CorelDraw, Corel PhotoPaint.
-Companies you like to work with: Universal Designs, Inc, Aimee Asher
-Companies you wish you could work with: Legacy, Lane, Clothworks
-Recommended side-job for artists during dry spells: After school art programs, Continuing education instructor, Real estate photographer
-Message or quotation you have on your bulletin board:
"Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4)
-Website you visit often for Design information: A Girl Who Creates - Holli Conger's blog. Holli is an illustrator and now licensed artist who shares a lot about her process and the business of illustration and licensing. Holli's must read set of articles chronicling her journey into full time freelance illustration: "Becoming an Illustrator"
-Blogs you read:
Geninne's Art Blog
Notes from a Cottage Industry
A Girl Who Creates
Where Women Create
My Messy, Thrilling Life
-Art Vacation location: Santa Fe, New Mexico!! - one of the world's greatest art cities. Endless array of galleries, spectacular weather, gorgeous surroundings, awesome Pueblo-style architecture, Native American culture, best light I've ever experienced for painting and photography!
See great photos of Becky's Studio Transformation!Website: http://www.beckyschultea.com
"Just Bee'n Me Blog
Digital Boutique: clip art and scrapbook kits
CafePress: calendars, notecards, t-shirts