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When Religious Faith Meets Licensing

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!

Contact Info
"Just Bee'n Me Blog
Digital Boutique: clip art and scrapbook kits
CafePress: calendars, notecards, t-shirts

Thanks Becky!

New Book Review: Lettering & Type

Copyright © 2009 Kate Harper

When I discovered the new book: Lettering & Type: Creating Letters and Designing Typefaces, by Bruce Willen and Nolen Strals, I was drawn to it because it included contemporary lettering ideas. Lettering books can sometimes fall into two extremes: either being too traditional, or limit themselves computer fonts. This book seems to bridge the two without making us feel we have to learn the serious art calligraphy in order to do good lettering.

Just like the greeting card business is being challenged by emailing and E-cards, calligraphy has been challenged by the endless amount of homemade and free handwritten fonts all over the web. To me, this is an exciting time, because lettering has become more expansive and creative, pushing many boundaries in all different directions. This is exactly why I like this book. It treats all lettering as valid and interesting.

Since calligraphy is really a lifetime art which requires extensive study, and is often taught from person to person, I'm glad the book kept the history "brief," outlining the time line in simple boxes and graphics that quickly moved forward to the present.

Even though it was only a few pages, my favorite section of the book was on the topic of distressed type. It recognized it as a legitimate lettering style and explained that when two letters appear distressed the same way, it doesn't look good and comes across as just another font. That presents a challenge. I agree, and in fact, when I make fonts out of my handwriting, I often use the lower case and upper case as different versions of the same letter, not necessarily different case sizes.

I find the most interesting books on lettering to be ones that include informal handwriting and casual lettering, and this book covers both subjects. It also includes the classical instruction on traditional lettering, but it's also full of fun images, and it is a welcome sign to the modern designer.

For more information and reviews on this book, you can visit the amazon listing at
Lettering & Type: Creating Letters and Designing Typefaces ,
by Bruce Willen and Nolen Strals

Americans Plan to Send More Cards This Year

Survey Finds Americans Plan to Send More Holiday Greeting Cards This Year in Place of Gifts

BERKELEY, CA--(Marketwire - December 2, 2009) - This holiday season, many Americans are planning to save extra cash by sending a greeting card in lieu of a gift. Whether employed or not, about 20% of Americans are planning to replace some gifts with greeting cards, according to a new research report commissioned by photo cards and thank you cards retailer and conducted by independent research firm Kelton Research.

Results Summary

--  20% of Americans are planning to replace some gifts with greeting
cards this year
-- 43% of Americans prefer a greeting card from a loved one over $10
-- 53% of Americans display greeting cards at least through the holidays
-- 42% of Americans hold onto holiday cards as a keepsake, such as in a
photobox or scrapbook

article continued...

66 Places That Artists can Build an Online Presence

Here is another "must read" article by Artist Moshe Mikanovsky: "66 Websites for Artists to build an online presence."

He has put together an extensive list of resources on how artists can get online exposure, even if you don't have a website. He also notes which ones require fees, commissions, or are free.

His categories includes: Gallery Portfolio sites, Online Portfolio Sites, Artist's Online Communities, Licensing Networks, Print on Demand, Art Forums, Artist Directories and Social Networks.

This article is a follow up to another article he wrote about how companies do online scouting on these sites, to find art to license. Moshe has done his homework and interviews people to find out what "really works" for artists.

Most Unusual Christmas Cards: Editor Picks

Greeting Card Designer Blog's

Out of over 250 christmas cards submitted according to guidelines, blog author Kate Harper selected 20 "editors picks" finalists by how unusual they were. Choices were based on off-the-wall surprises, pushed limits, a new twist on the old, or interesting design challenges. Also important, was if the card evoked an emotional response and it's marketability. Kate's "why it works" comments included with each card. Out of the finalists, Kathy Krassner chose the "top pick" for the most unusual Christmas Card.

Kathy Krassner, Editor-in-Chief of Greetings etc. Magazine, chose the most unusual Christmas card. She has been writing about the card and stationery business for more than 20 years. Greetings etc. Magazine is the industry's leading trade publication for greeting card retailers.


Atheist Christmas

Artist: Andrew Shaffer.
To Purchase:

Comment by Kathy Krassner, from
Greetings etc. Magazine:
The card that actually elicited an audible "HA!" from me ... was the Atheist Christmas card, which I've chosen as the winner of being the "most unusual."

I really like how the designer has chosen a vintage-looking, illustrated snowman and typewriter-type font, then paired them with a completely unexpected message.
This card is a winner both for its artistic design and its clever, humorous versing. A very nontraditional card, obviously, but I believe it is marketable to a younger, perhaps urban or college-town demographic ... and to just about anyone with a good sense of humor.


Radical Rhymes

Artist: Peter Henry
To Purchase:
Special Features: Printed on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Rainforest Alliance certified stock, manufactured with 100 percent post-consumer fibers.
Why it Works: Shock value of mixing odd things with Christmas. You can tell this artist thinks a lot about playing with words in a new way.

Watercolor Christmas

Artist: Linnea Design
To Purchase:
Why it Works: No one expects a box of watercolors inside a card. A great card to give to artists.

Daring Dog

Artist: Stacy Beck
To Purchase:
Why it Works: Witty Humor, simple but effective graphics and color. Dogs are popular. Minor adjustment might be to make the nose a darker solid red (to match the solidness of the ornament) with a slight glow around the solid red shape.


Tattoo Santa

Artist: Kate Boesch
To Purchase:
Why it Works: Fills a need for modern Christmas Card humor. Eye contact from the character bonds with reader. Possible character adjustments might be to distinguish figure from background, blend brown colors on body and face. Maybe a second version could be of a big belly Santa.


Surprise Holiday

Artist/Company: Mean Cards for Many Occasions To Purchase:
Why it Works: A marriage of humor and simplicity. Character is drawn in such a skilled way with few lines, and yet we feel the person is real. Because we don't know if the character is a man, woman, boy, girl, baby or senior citizen, it doesn't limit the market.

Image of so where do you put the star?

Shoe Sentiments

Artist: Collene Kennedy
To Purchase:*
Why it Works: Unique idea of making a shoe tree, women's market, inferred text rhyme. Possible adjustments might be putting the shoe tree on a white background so their interesting details stand out more.

Mod Holiday Box

Artist: Cathe Huynh-Sison
To Purchase:
Special Features: Soy ink
Why it Works: The artist has created a feeling of festivity in a simple collection of shapes and colors beautifully assembled. Detail makes you want to explore each shape, since there is no predictable pattern.

Snowman with Cats

Artist: Jennifer Lambein
To Purchase:
Why it Works: Must be enlarged to appreciate (click on image) Artist has an amazing amount of detail and symbolism. Cats are popular and these cats have unusual faces. The idea that a Snowman is carrying around a bunch of cats is really different.

Scratchboard Scene

Artist:Kay Murphy
To Purchase:
Why it Works: (Must be enlarged to appreciate - click to see larger version). This scratch board artist makes us feel like we just entered her three dimensional magical world. Viewer can almost feels the artist's snow on their face and wind blowing. Card evokes an "experience" as the message.

Naughty Nice

Artist: Monica Lee
To Purchase:
Why it Works: Unusual texture and brilliant colors with interesting layout of lower half of body. Humorous theme of being naughty adds mystery.

Funny Frog

Artist: Jennifer Mally
To Purchase:
Why it Works: The frog trying to make a hopeless attempt as masquerading as a partridge in a pear tree is funny.

Pointy Santa

Artist: Linnea Design
To Purchase:
Why it Works: The triangle Santa is a witty design surprise. Smartly done. Feels warm.


Penguin Love

Artist: Gwen Francis
To Purchase:
Why it Works: Simple warm color choices and graphics, shows love from a penguin's perspective.


Magic Music Batik

Artist: Sue Duda
To Purchase:
Why it Works: An unusual mixture of Batik art & a musical instrument theme. Possible adjustment might be to make images on left have angular edges so they are more distiguishable as trees.


Simple Success

Artist Audrey Ascenzo
To Purchase:
Why it Works: A Return to a traditional theme, which is always a big seller, but what makes this unusual is the artist succeeded at only using 2 colors (and mostly black) to create a feeling of holiday festivity. That's very difficult to achieve.

Black on Back

Tatiana Rusanovska
To Purchase:
Inside: Blank
Why it Works: At first glance this may seem like a typical Christmas card, but when you really analyze it, the artist has solved a design challenge: Using a black background on a Christmas card. That's tricky to pull off.


Artist: Moshe Mikanovsky
To Purchase:
Why it Works: This isn't a Christmas card, but I wanted to include it because it's a seasonal card with unusual imagery. The watercolor stained glass effect is very interesting and well thought out.


Artist:Melissa Galitz
To Purchase:
Special Features: Handcrafted
Why it Works: This card doesn't really fit into an unusual card category, but I wanted to include it, because of the beautifully designed handwork. It is a gift and a card in one.

Close up of front:


Artist: Meredith Wagler
To Purchase:
Why it Works: Again, this card doesn't quite fit into the category of unusual, but it is an interesting layout with very few colors. The simple snowy top draws us down to read the text at the bottom, that has a heart felt contemporary theme of what people experience around the Christmas holiday. (Click on image to read text)

- Thanks to all the artists who submitted their designs -

~ Books on Christmas Card Designs ~

Christmas Cards

Kate's Greeting Card Designer Booklets on Amazon

You can support this blog by ordering e-Booklets that are a compilation of different articles on this blog starting at only .99 cents! They can be read on your kindle, ipad, ipod, cellphone, or your computer. Free samples and lending options available.


Get Your Greeting Cards Into Store. A If you already make your own greeting cards, this book explains how to get your cards into stores and sell them sell nationwide. Included are guidelines on: how to price your cards for a profit, how to get professional feedback, where to find a sales representative and and what industry standards you should follow. All the information is also applicable to gift items, such as magnets, journals, calendars, collectibles, etc.


Booklet on Unusual Ways To Market Greeting Cards, and 22 places to get your designs featured. A 20 page booklet on how to get your cards noticed in non-traditional ways. Everything from why you should send cards to your dentist, to how to get special features in national publications. Great tips for designers who are starting out and want to get their cards into the hands of people beyond friends and family. Special Section: Submissions guidelines and contacts for 22 Gift Industry publications and professional gift industry blogs that seek out new greeting card designs to feature for free. (5,000 Words and 17 greeting card images included)


Booklet on 7 Mistakes Greeting Card Writers Make A list of 7 things to avoid when submitting greeting card verse to publishers.

Includes a list of card publishers and their guidelines, links to writer interviews, articles, card samples and other current resources. 20-page booklet and 2,300 words and 8 Pages of Card Samples.


Booklet on 20 Steps to Art Licensing that is a list of suggested steps to to take for getting into art licensing. How to license your art to companies that publish greeting cards, and manufacture coffee mugs, magnets, wall hangings, kitchen items, and dozens of other gift items. This booklet covers 20 basic steps from how to prepare your art, to what companies to contact. It includes topics on: How to find agents, classes and what trade shows to attend. There are extensive resources on social media, licensing community groups, and lists of interviews with professional designers (5,200 words).

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