The Art of Branding for Freelancers

I found a great article that really goes through the Q&A about creating your own brand as a freelance artist. It has a great "how to" list of tasks for artists.


Brand creation is definitely an art in itself, and takes a lot of time to plan.

Don’t rush through this essential step of a freelancing career — having a brand can not only benefit you as a web professional, but also avoid fallbacks and can aid as a form of security.

No matter how big your business is — how big your client base, your team, or your popularity is — develop a plan, a brand around it if you haven’t already.

Then, stick to it, be consistent. It may also be helpful to take a step back if you already have a brand to analyze it. Can it be upgraded or further developed? Are you missing anything essential to your brand thus far?

article continued...

Special Interview with J'net Smith on Art Branding

Copyright © 2009 Greeting Card Designer

I was very happy that Jeanette Smith gave me the opportunity to interview her about what artists need to know about branding, since she is a licensing coach with 20 years experience in marketing.

Once a month, she also has a free Q & A class live on the phone and answers licensing questions.

Her next free class is this
Friday, October 30th
a.m PDT - or -12:00 EDT.

How to register:

1. Register at
2.Email with your question.
3.Put "October Free Friday" in the subject line.
4.She will send you a phone number to dial-in to the day before.

Here is the interview and additional resources at the end.


KATE: The concept of "Branding" can sometimes feel like just the latest buzz word. Most books on the topic seem artificial, or assume the reader should aim to be the next “Nike." Many licensing artists are put off by this, and want more realistic, practical advice of how to incorporate branding into their art goals. Can you redefine the meaning of Branding in a way a licensing artist would find useful?

J'NET: In very practical terms a brand can be defined as a name that is 1) Immediately recognizable, 2) Well-known and 3) Highly regarded within the general population

This I believe pulls the definitions down from the ethers. Not all artists want to build a brand or can become one. But when you are building an art licensing business, there are things you can do to increase your chances of having more of these characteristics and, in turn, you can generate more exposure and money.

A very small percentage will find success with a mass audience and broad name recognition, such as Mary Engelbreit or Thomas Kinkade. But there is money to be made well before you reach the iconic ‘brand’ level. I believe that getting significant recognition within a smaller or niche audience is very valuable and can be lucrative. If you are determined to become a highly recognized artist, one of your first goals will be to at NOT do things which will prevent you from becoming a brand someday. That is often harder than you think.

QUESTION: What are the 3 or 4 basic requirements an artist needs to create a brand?

J'NET: Kate, I believe you need the utmost determination, a unique and identifiable art style, plus knowledge of business and/or a trustworthy camp around you to guide you through the marketplace juggernaut. I know you are now going to say, “what about those artists who are incredibly talented in multiple styles?” My answer is that they can sample various styles and themes of art on their web site, with manufacturers and at retail, to see which attracts the most attention.

QUESTION: Can you give an example of an artist who at first did not have branding, and what you did to help them create branding? What were the main steps you took do accomplish this task? And at what point did you decide the brand had indeed "become" a brand?

J'NET: When you are trying to gain exposure and name recognition, I use what I call the essential keys to brand building.

• Know your audience
• Develop a strategy
• Create exposure
• Choose the right partnerships
• Build retail programs

Remember brand building, whether with a small or large audience, is a long-term process. Several artists I am coaching are gradually getting publicity and licenses, and with several new deals, and their sales success, the artists are able to negotiate better terms on their contracts. Your sales have to support and warrant the manufacturers doing these extras for you and it takes some time for this to happen.

Some artists have gained enough name notoriety within a target audience, such as scrapbookers or some type of collectors, to have the beginnings of brand equity.

I believe that deeply penetrating a niche audience and building from there will have more potential in the long-run and take less time than trying to be all things to all people from the onset. That strategy rarely works in today’s marketplace and climate.

I have one client who is building both an art licensing business and character based property. She is following my advice from coaching at every step and it is really working and growing the businesses. She is currently in negotiations for publishing and sponsorships, while debating whether to pursue leads from agents in animation or live action television. Furthermore, I wouldn’t even say she has a brand yet, but she is on her way. We are using all types of techniques to support the essential keys to brand building.

QUESTION:I read an article about a very successful artist who became disillusioned by a company she was working with because they were not invested in creating a "brand" around her line. She eventually left that company and went to a competitor, because they wanted to create a whole marketing campaign and brand around her and her products. This was a very smart move on her part. Unfortunately many licensees have their own worries and cannot spend time "creating" brands for artists. So how do we protect our own interests like she did? What measuring stick should we use to decide if a company is dropping the ball on our "brand"? What things should we expect and request of them while we are working with them?

J'NET: Whether dishes, gift products or a new book, manufacturers are depending on the artist, author or creator to contribute significantly to the marketing and branding that surround the products. So I agree that the artist you mentioned above made a terrific move. But you cannot just depend on the manufacturers to build your brand for you; you need to be creating your own plan to leverage each one of your licensing deals; this may include publicity, social media, live events, new product designs and more. As your success grows, you can negotiate a bit more to support your brand in every contract, such as prominent logo positioning, catalog bios, trade show booth space or events, public relations efforts, product or art autographing sessions, retail signage, catalog bio, and an online presence.

QUESTION: If we want to start creating a "brand" and be taken seriously, how many designs should we start with? For example, should we have about 100 overall designs that represent our brand broken down in to 5 collections? What happens if some of our styles are completely different? (ex:watercolor cats and digital forests) should we make them 2 different brands or just drop one for the moment?

J'NET: You start building a brand by creating collections that still truly fit together under a cohesive umbrella.

I like your examples…watercolor cats and digital forests…and I would indeed make them two brands or drop one for a time.
It’s always good to test the market with several art types, see where you get some traction, and then you can re-group and hone in on your brand, dropping the extraneous styles and images as you see fit.
Then build your exposure within a smaller audience and once you have a ‘brand’ there you can expand to a much broader audience. You will have what many call a ‘platform’ in which to build your brand. The more connection points between your character and your audience, the greater chance you have of being remembered.

The number of collections and pieces within each collection varies greatly by product category. For example, I was just speaking with a friend and expert in the stationery and tabletop industries who believes that collections must be very deep with lots of pieces. She mentioned that in tabletop, one collection might have 20-40 different pieces or more. However, other product categories, such as gift or home d├ęcor might only require 5-20 pieces of art in the collection. I think 10 plus collections is a good place to start, whether they are small collections or very extensive and deep.

QUESTION:If we want to develop a brand, what are some questions we should already have the answer to? And if we don't have the answer, that means we don't have a brand yet.

If the answer to all these questions is YES, then you are in the building process:

-Do I have a brand identity—a trademark or logo which is always present on my products and artwork?

-Is my art style identifiable? Does it bring the artists name or brand to mind immediately?

-Does my name hold equity within a target audience? Or the general public at-large?

-Is my art and design style on product consistent?

-Can I use existing sales results to help sell retailers or manufacturers to do a licensing deal? (Now that’s equity…)

Here is a list of information on classes and services J'net offers:

Free Friday Q&A Classes
Email your questions to J’net in advance at and then J’net answers questions during the Q&A class.

October Session
Date: Friday, October 30th
Time: 9:00 AM PDT / 12:00 PM EDT

November Session
Date: Friday, November 20th
Time: 9:00 AM PDT / 12:00 PM EDT
December Session

Date: Friday, December 18th
Time: 9:00 AM PDT / 12:00 PM EDT

LEGAL EASE: 3 free classes
Legal Ease ‘Three for Free’ Series
Legal information on copyrights delivered in a one-hour class format to give artists the legal information on Copyrights, Trademarks and Contract Language and steps you must take to protect yourself into plain and simple English. The series also talks about negotiation and practical steps to help artists in the licensing career.

Legal Ease 1– Copyrights
Date: Wednesday, November 4th
Time: 12:00 PST / 4:00 p.m. EST

Legal Ease 2– Trademarks
Date: Wednesday, November 11th
Time: 12:00 PST / 3:00 p.m. EST

Legal Ease 3– Contract Language
Date: Wednesday, November 18th
Time: 12:00 PST / 3:00 p.m. EST

See her schedule of other classes she offers on her website.

J’net Smith Inc.


Let me know and I'll do more. : )
Leave a comment below.

30 Tutorials for Designing Characters

Saw this interesting article full of character tutorials on the Vandelay Design website.


This post features tutorials for designing various characters and cartoons in Illustrator and Photoshop. Characters are often used for branding websites or companies, so it is certainly a useful skill.

Read full Article...

Create  a Super Happy Octopus Character

Cartoon Tutorial with a Wacom Tablet

Recommended Podcast: The Brand Show

The more I listen to this podcast, THE BRAND SHOW, the more I like it. It is 10-15 minute interviews from experts in different industries on branding, and most of the time I get something out of them applicable to thinking about developing an art "brand." You can listen online, or subscribe to the podcast through itunes.

The Brand Show
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