How to License Animal Images: 5 Tips

Dianne Woods licenses her images of animal art for greeting cards. Since I consider this a specialized design skill, I asked her to write an article about what is important, when creating her art. She was kind enough to agree to explain her approach to "animal art" and what tips she has to offer. Here's what she had to say:

By Dianne Woods Copyright © 2010
When I get fan mail from people who buy my cards, I'm surprised and flattered, but mostly curious. I wondered one day, “what would inspire someone to contact me?”

Even though my name is on the back of the cards, my email is not. Each buyer had to Google me, go to my website, find my address, write a note and then send it!

While I’m honored that they take the time to write, it seemed like a lot of effort to simply tell me they liked my art. Being analytical by nature, I assembled the set of cards that had inspired contact – each had an animal theme.

After studying the collection briefly, it came to me – these notes are not fan emails, they aren’t even about me. They are about the sender.

So I asked myself: "What is it about these animal images that connect with people?"

From this question arose five elements I think are essential for evocative animal art: Universal Appeal, Light, Design, Connection, and Emotional Impact.

1. Universal Appeal

If you have not had a tuxedo cat as a pet-companion some time in your life, you most likely know someone who has.

This painting of our cat Sunny was published as a greeting card in 2009 and is the piece people write to me most about. She reminds them of the cat they currently have and love, or a cat they had growing up.

One person, who was the caregiver for an elderly woman with a tuxedo cat, told how her charge had become attached to the image because it “looked just like her Frankie.” She was writing to ask if I knew where additional cards could be purchased as they had bought all that were available at their local store.

A piece is successful if the viewer is invited to participate personally in the viewing experience. As an artist, you will prompt that experience if you can speak to memories, thoughts and feelings that live within the viewer.

"The foundation of an effective image is light." -Dianne Woods

2. Light

For years I worked as a commercial photographer. In that time I learned that no matter the project, client, or subject being photographed, the foundation of an effective image is light.

And now, in my life as an artist, the same principle holds true.

The inspiration for this painting of a sleeping fox terrier was a photograph taken in the late 90s. I was working on the set of a magazine with down time on my hands while stylists prepped for the next spread. Always on the look out for a great shot, I found one – the editor’s dog Calder, asleep in a chair, bathed in light streaming through a window of the San Francisco loft in which we worked.

True, Calder is a force unto himself, but what makes this image interesting? The light. Directional light determines contour, it emphasizes texture and draws shape, it adds dimension and depth, it completes the unseen environment, and most important of all, the quality of light stirs up feeling.

If your art is representational – think about the presence of light in your piece. Where is it coming from? What does it emphasis? Does it evoke feeling?

"What is the 'punch line' of your piece?" -Dianne Woods

3. Design

Because you are on Kate Harper’s blog and reading this article, I take it you are an artist or have an interest in art. With that said, the third element on my list seems somewhat obvious and self-explanatory: Employ design.

Fill the space, or be conscious about the space you don’t fill. Provide your viewer with direction on how to move visually across the canvas or page including where you want them to come to rest.
Provide visual direction using line, mass, lights and darks, symmetry, asymmetry, repeating pattern and color. Have a focal point – what is the punch line or pay off to your piece?

In the case of my sleeping tabby, the pay off is the content expression on her face.

"Give your viewer something to keep the connection going." -Dianne Woods

4. Relationship

“The way in which two or more concepts, objects or people are connected” - this is the collection of words my computer dictionary assembled to define relationship. In the context of this article, I would add animals to the list.

The experience of relationship or connection within your art will draw people in more immediately and deeply; and, essential to greeting card art, inspire them to connect with others.

Create connection with eye contact, humor, charm, a concept or sentiment expressed, or a dynamic between two characters in your piece. It might simply be a rendering of something beautiful or evocative at which to look. If it moves you, you will most likely want to share.

Give your viewer something with which to identify and the inspiration to keep the connection going.

5. Emotional Impact

Whimsy, curiosity, playfulness, humor, contemplation, serenity, even sadness or regret, all embrace emotional experience.

The most fundamental of the five elements, emotional impact is also the most challenging to convey.

This is the element that will elevate your work, provide a more passionate experience for you in creating it, and last but certainly not least, emotional impact will make your art positively irresistible.

Note from editor: The perfect ending to Dianne's article arrived this week from Warner Bros. They asked for her permission to use one of her cards as a "prop" on the set of one of their popular sit-coms. Their stylist purchased the card of the cat peeking around the corner (above, "emotional impact"). Wow, what a thrill for an artist... talk about emotional impact!

Dianne Woods is a current artist and former commercial photographer with over 30 years of combined experience in the field of making and licensing imagery. Her clients include greeting card publishers, record companies, book publishers and magazines.

Dianne can be reached at
More of her art can be found at


Joan Beiriger said...

Great information Dianne for not only painting animals but painting any theme! Creating an emotional connection to others through your art is a sure seller for licensing on all products but especially true for greeting cards.

Congrats on having your art appearing on national TV!!!

marsha said...

Great article, and I love her work. Great post.

Carolyn said...

Animal lovers and pet owners have already got that special connection - when Dianne creates a rendering of a perfect expression or pose that reminds them of a loved pet, it goes straight to the heart. I can understand why people would seek her out to send fan mail. I would do the same!

Julia Harwood said...

Great article, thanks

Dianne Woods said...

Thank you all for these comments. Having inspired and talented colleagues is more meaningful than I can say.

Leyla Torres said...

Great tips and very clearly explained. Thank you!

Sheryl Parsons said...

Wonderful tips! All good to think about when creating art of any sort. I love your work BTW.

Ginger said...

Thank You for your wonderful helpful hints and advice! You're awesome!
Ginger Brady

Alex Colombo said...

fantastic article! so clearly written and very useful - it's applicable to any form of art and subject :) thanks to you both for sharing!

Sue B said...

Thanks for thought provoking advice and the accompanying images. After reading your thoughts on technique, your images really get our juices flowing!

darlene said...

I just discovered this informative post.

Wonderful tips - Thank you both for sharing.

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