Artist BJ Lantz Talks About Licensing

I ran across BJ Lantz's art, and was impressed with her professional style and the way she represents her line on her website. I asked her to do an interview for this blog to share her experiences.

While this is a lengthy interview, I’m posting almost all of it, because BJ shares intimate and honest experiences, such as the day she found herself crying in the bathroom at a tradeshow. We’ve all had those moments, and it’s refreshing to hear the truth of what artists deal with at times.

I was inspired by her story because there are days when the art licensing journey is hard, but Bj didn't let that hold her back. At times, I laughed out loud at her stories because I've had some of the same bitter, humorous, crazy and sweet experiences as she did.


Artist: The Impressionists painters, the best and my favoritea hang in the D'Orsay in Paris, and are "La Pie" by Claude Monet and "Snow at Louveciennes 1878" by Alfred Sisley

Design tip: Smart Sets in Photoshop. I posted a tutorial on my blog.

Technology you use: Mac (Dual 2.3 GHz Power PC G5), Epson Perfection 2450 Photo Scanner, Epson Stylus Photo R1900 printer, HP 1220C printer. I also have several peripheral hard drives. I am using Photoshop CS4, Illustrator CS3, Bridge, and QuarkXpress. I have Painter, but get rather frustrated when trying to learn it. It is a deep program.

Message you have on your bulletin board: Dream Big. Live Fully. Live Well. Laugh Often. Love Much.

Podcasts you listen to:

Art Vacation location: In September I am heading to Squam Art Workshop in New Hampshire.

Contact Information: BJ Lantz Illustration & Design website is email: She also has a Blog


How did you decide to "go it alone" and not use an agent?

When I started, I had heard some horror stories about agents not getting artists work and how you were tied to them for the length of whatever contract you signed, etc. I felt that I had the marketing skills to do it myself, or to at least try to do it myself before committing to an agent.

I've done OK so far; I always kind of wonder if I had the right agent if I might go to the next level because I am getting to where I am spread pretty thin. But at the end of the day, I'm not willing to give up the money yet. I am such an A-type personality I would probably drive an agent nuts. And I am happy to say that over the years I have met plenty of artists who love their agents and are very happy with them.

Is it harder to get in the door when you represent yourself?

No, I don't think so.

Are certain product categories are more conducive for long term income?

I consider paper products the "low hanging fruit,” easier to get into for the most part than say, ceramics. It is also easier when you're just starting to get in to smaller companies.

For long term income, don't count on anything being long term.

Companies turn product designs so fast these days it is amazing. You cannot predict what design will hit and stay in a line longer than another would.

I have had a paper plate design out there that got blown out on all kinds of ancillary products and has really hung in there for a couple years now, providing some nice checks.

However, I have an entire ceramic giftware collection that debuted this January that was 50% by the July show. I am sure I won't see a dime past the advance. The company told me that they had had to mark down a few new collections because giftware was just plain soft at the moment.

What was your journey into art licensing?

I went to a local community college and received a degree in Advertising Design and Graphic Art. At that time, no one used computers for design and there was no such thing as email, Fedex or even fax machines.

What I really wanted to do was editorial illustration, but living in a little beach town and not NYC, the wisest choice seemed to be to take a job in an advertising agency. I made a good career out of being a graphic designer for nearly 11 years before I opened my own graphic design studio that flourished for two years.

After that I spent a year as a creative director, a marketing director and as a developer and editor-in-chief. After that I returned to freelancing for six months before succumbing to taking a job with a professional music theater as their assistant marketing director.

On the morning of September 11, I drove to work in the rain wondering if I should give my notice that day or wait until the following Monday. Of course everything went to hell and back that day and I decided to give up my job and went back to freelancing full-time. I swore I would never again take a "real" job. So far, I have been fortunate that I have been able to keep that promise to myself.


I thought about illustration and how much I had loved it in college. I researched greeting card companies and found a publication called "Greetings Etc." which started me thinking. I also saw an ad for a studio Lakeside Design * an hour away from me that specialized in design for the greeting & gift industry. (*Lakeside no longer accepts outside art).

One day my mother called me to tell me about an ad for Lakeside Design and they were looking for a freelance artist to send work to. I fired off my resume and a cover letter waited for the call that was sure to come. It didn't come. I was puzzled, so I called and was told that the owner was busy and was quickly brushed off.

I called again the next day and amazingly, the owner herself (Joanne Fink) answered - and tried to brush me off just as quickly. She said. "I've got a stack of resumes two inches thick on my desk and I haven't had time to look at them and I am leave for a show in Chicago tomorrow " I told her she needed to shuffle my resume to the top and read it on the plane.

Guess that got her attention because we ended up talking for about 15 minutes and I hung up with an appointment to meet with her when she returned. She was barely through my portfolio before she gave me a project.

Through Joanne Fink I discovered the licensing industry. I was astounded by the fact that I could create an illustration or design and sell it over and over to different companies. While I continued working with my commercial clients, I freelanced graphic design to her for nearly two years while building my portfolio and attending trade shows and learning as much as I could about the greeting, gift and stationery industry. She was generous in assigning me a wide variety of projects so that I was exposed to different facets of the business.

While I met some of my initial contacts in the industry through her, I quickly developed my own marketing methods and became busy enough with my licensing career that I had to stop freelancing for her. While I cannot credit the progress I've made in the last five years to her, I am completely grateful to her for those first couple years of education and introductions. They were indeed invaluable.


From the beginning, it didn't take me long to realize how tough and competitive this industry is. I actually cried in the bathroom at the first Surtex I attended; I thought, "No way can I compete with these fantastic artists!" But I got over it. The first few years were especially difficult because I was juggling a full-time freelance graphic design business with building an illustration portfolio and marketing myself in the gift industry. Not much was coming in the way of royalties so I had to keep up the graphic design. Once I built up more licenses and therefore more royalties, little by little I let my graphic design clients go and I haven't had any commercial advertising clients in nearly three years.


I would have to say the hardest part about getting off the ground was marketing myself to the manufacturers and getting the appointments at the shows. In the beginning, it was hard to get them to take me seriously. I was a newbie. I can understand from their point of view that they hear from a lot of artists and not all of them are professional. This, while still not my favorite part of the business, has gotten somewhat easier. I can only say that experience and a track record has helped there.It is very hard to wear all the hats, but in the end I love what I do and wouldn't have it any other way.


My advice to anyone struggling with this career path is that if you really want it, determination and persistence will pay off. While I had a mentor, and am very thankful for that, I didn't learn everything from her and I believe that what got me as far as I have to date has been my fierce commitment to succeeding and not wanting to get a "real" job!

What is your overall approach to keep licensees coming back for more? Or do you instead go look for new licensees?

Manufactures are a fickle bunch. They might love you for a project, then decide to move on to a different look, or you just aren't producing anything new that they want. I think it is a balance of trying to hang on to the licensees you have and finding new ones.

You have to try to do both. When I was a graphic designer, I would get a client and then they'd keep coming back with all their graphic design work. Licensing doesn't work that way. You're only as good as the last design they cared for.

What the best and worst experience you ever had when trying to market your art?

My worst experience was at the Atlanta show. I was meeting with a manufacturer and I arrived early, just as he was exiting the back of his booth with another person.He said, "Oh, hi our meeting is at 11:00 right? I'll see you then." and walked off with the other person.

I wandered around for 5 minutes and came back. He still wasn't there, so I stood around awkwardly trying not to get in the way until he returned 10 minutes later. I sat down and I handed him my portfolio.He didn't sit down, he didn't look through it, he actually did the 2-second fan the pages, handed it back to me, and said, "I'm looking for product concepts, come back when you have some of those." And he exited the booth, leaving me sitting behind the curtain, amid the boxes with my portfolio in my hand and a stunned look on my face.

I left that meeting, and headed for my next one and was told that she wasn't there, but they expected her any minute. So I wander around the showroom and suddenly spotted her. I walked up, extended my hand and said, "Hi, you're probably looking for me - BJ Lantz - we have an appointment." She said, "No, I'm looking for so & so." I said, "Oh, did I get our appt. time wrong?" She finally focused on me and said, "Who are you? Oh, yeah, I remember, uh, well, we could sit down for a minute until so & so arrives."

We sit on a bench outside the showroom and I hand her my portfolio and start into my intro spiel and she looks up, apparently sees so & so and slides my book off her lap and onto the bench and walks away - without or word to me. Then I walked up to her, got right between her and so & so and said, "Apparently you are far to busy to keep the appointment you made with me. When you're ready to have a professional meeting, please give me a call." And I held out my card.

She blinked a few times, then excused herself from so & so and apologized to me and said something about showing me around the showroom "since I was there". She did a quick little tour and excused herself. Never did see my work.

The best experiences is that I have had many, many good meetings that have turned into some nice projects with nice people. I would say the good experiences have far out-weighted the bad.


Sipiweske Quilts said...

What a wonderful interview! My son is an artist and has moved home to try and "make a go of it" . . . unfortunately there are so many different avenues that you can take, that he is having trouble focusing on a particular goal. BJ has that focus and has made it her career - I will be sharing this interview with my son and maybe he will be able to identify with some of BJ's experiences. Thank you. - Marlene

Tara Reed said...

What a great interview and great person you picked to give you the '411' on licensing - BJ knows her stuff and is as wonderful a person as she is an artist. Thanks for postin the whole thing!

Tara Reed

Unknown said...

Wonderful interview!!! BJ is such a wonderful artist and she has always been an inspiration for me.....lovely interview!!!

She also is so helpful to people starting out in Licensing...she is a wealth of information!!!

Karyn Servin said...

Enjoyed the interview so much. Thank you for the great interview.

sue z said...

Hi Kate,

This is a great interview with BJ. I love BJ's artwork, she is also a kind generous friend and colleague. It is not always easy to market oneself. BJ has found her way.

BJ....Thanks for sharing so candidly, I also have ended up crying in the bathroom at some of those trade shows over the years.

Thanks to you both!!!

Kathy said...

Thask BJ -- your interview is so enlightening, yours is such an interesting story.. I want to hear more now! :)


Patti said...

Wonderful interview! There are all kinds of people out there and I think you have to have a pretty thick skin. I also think her persistence really payed off. You have to really want it...and not get to discouraged by the negative.

Anonymous said...

How sweet of you to share your most vulnerable moments and experiences that would leave most people running off in tears. You have inspired me. It's so easy to get discouraged but when I do I'm going to reread your article. Thank you!