Branding Art: from Surf Boards to Greeting Cards

Copyright © 2009 GC Designer

What do surf boards and greeting cards have in common? Everything.

When I first read the story of Maria and Drew's surfboard design business, Son of the Sea, Inc, I felt like I was reading about my own life: years in manufacturing, working day and night and then finally stumbling upon licensing and a whole new career. There is nothing in their story than cannot also apply to the card and gift industry.

Son of the Sea is a family owned business run by Drew Brophy and his wife, Maria and they have 30 active licensees including everything from beach towels, boogie boards, pen kits, sunscreen to greeting cards!

Drew creates the art while Maria handles licensing, marketing, and runs the operation. They have a wealth of information for artists on their website Business of Art tips.

Maria and Drew made a great success out of branding their designs and I wanted to ask them more about that.

KATE: An article on your website called How to License Your Art tells a great story about how you made your transition in to licensing. What happened in your licensing career that eventually made you feel "branding" was important? (That is, compared to just getting licensing contracts "without" trying to create a brand)

MARIA: Artists have to see themselves and their art as a brand. A strong brand will see greater sales than a weak brand. Licensees want a strong brand that going to sell best. The stronger your brand, the greater your ability to attract top quality licensees.

Assuming an artist is already licensing their art, what are some simple, free things they can do, to create or grow their brand?

MARIA: Most artists don’t promote themselves enough, but they can promote themselves without spending much money – it’s just time. Here are some ideas (we’ve done most of this):

1.) Get the media to write about you. Contact magazines that have readerships that would be interested in what you do, send them your information, and explain why their readers will be delighted to read about you and you art. For every 10 you send you might get 1. Not bad!

2.) Create YouTube videos of you creating your art (like Val’s Art Diary) – we gain new fans daily from this

3.) Create a way to get involved with public events so your artwork and your name and your personality will become known by many. Team up with charities and enjoy getting press that way.

4.) Encourage your licensees to do color full page advertising campaigns that include you, your art and your name. (We’ve done this with Sector 9, Indo Board, Nirve, etc.)

5.) Make sure that hang-tags or other appropriate attachments are placed on your licensed products – these should include your name, art, biography and website.

6.) Write a blog that large numbers of people will follow (like Australian artist Hazel Dooney)

7.) Create a movement with your unique techniques or methods, and show others how to do it (Drew’s taught his techniques to thousands)

8.) Get yourself involved in media, TV. shows, local cable channels. There are so many ways to do this.

9.) Do a tour promoting something BIG that will attract a lot of people, make sure you let the press know in advance, so you are written about in newspapers and magazines. (Like Wyland and his whaling walls). The people you meet in these places will never forget you and will be loyal fans forever.

You have some excellent advice for artists on your website and you also say how important it is to go to the licensing show and take the seminars. Other than the nuts and bolts (legal topics, etc) what ones were the most inspiring to you? What did they say to you that you hadn't heard before?

MARIA: I don’t recall any being inspiring – although it’s been a few years! But the most important seminar at License Show was also the most boring – “The Anatomy of License Agreement” – because it is necessary to learn as much as possible about the legal aspects of licensing. It’s not only necessary, it’s crucial.

Many people are in two camps about whether to buy a booth at shows. Some believe they can get just as many contracts without doing a show. How critical do you think it is to do a show, in terms of your branding? Is it really worth plunking down $5,000 or more?

MARIA: We’ve exhibited at the Licensing Show for many years, and usually we’ll get many new contracts from it. However, last year was a bust, due to the economy and low attendance, and so we are taking a year off from it. But, definitely, being at License Show gave us the opportunity to talk face to face with people that we would have never gotten to meet had we not been there. I think it’s important to exhibit there only when you have a steady brand and you are completely ready for licensing.

On your site, you have a humorous list of stupid advice you've gotten from smart people, and you say how you think artists should only take advice from people who've already achieved the goal you are reaching for. Where did you get advice on branding? and what did they teach you that you didn't already know?

MARIA: The best advice was actually just watching what other successful artists do, such as Wyland and Shepard Fairey. At some point we realized that what we were selling, Drew Brophy art, was a brand. And that was an important distinction, because we then focused on nurturing our brand.

In order for a brand to grow, it has to have a story and a purpose for it to be relevant. That actually came easy for us, because Drew is an engaging character who surfs, paints, plays music and travels the world. And he shares his techniques and philosophies freely to help others as well. People love to see that someone (Drew) is “living the dream”; because it means that they can, too. And that became our brand message – “Living the Dream”. We are continually growing this brand, and we won’t be satisfied until 1 in 5 people in the U.S. Know Drew Brophy’s art and name. That’s our goal.


Artist: Chris Lundy – I love his last painting, the sheer size of it. It’s really impressive to see in person.

Conference or show, and why: The Sacred Craft Show – it’s a core, authentic show in Del Mar every October in the surf industry.

Design tip that saved you a lot time: Bill Barnfield, an old boss of mine in Hawaii. He said, “take the time to do it right the first time – it’s easier than having to do it over again.” Every one of my paintings is a process and I just have to do the time. Doing it right the first time, not cutting corners, saves a lot of trouble later. This was the best advice I ever got early in my painting career.

Way to get feedback on your designs: Ask a kid – they are brutally honest.

Companies you like to work with: I enjoy my relationships with Escape Camper Vans, Converse, Nirve Sports, Indo Boards, Coastal Classics. Actually, most of my existing licensees are great to work with.

Companies you wish you could work with: Fender Guitar and an airline company that would have me paint a jet.

Recommended side job for artists during dry spells: Apply your art to what your other passions are – if you love motorcycles, find a way to incorporate your art into that field. I love surfing, so I’ve painted a lot of surfboards and it’s brought in a lot of income.

Message or quotation you have on your bulletin board: This is Taped to the wall above my desk: My Mission: To Inspire Generations of People to Live their Dream Life

Blogs you read: I’m on TED.COM almost every night getting inspiration from the many speeches posted.

Twitterers you follow: Felixe La Flamme, Hazel Dooney, many more

Art Vacation location: I travel all over the world, to different spots, and then paint it. I’ve been greatly inspired by a trip to South Africa, and the Mentawais Islands. There’s so many great places….Next year, we’ll spend the summer somewhere in Spain. Looking to do a home swap got any friends there?

Son of the Sea, Inc. 208 Calle de Los Molinos Suite D, San Clemente, CA 92672 Office: 949-366-5236 Cell:949-678-8133 www.sonofthesea.com www.twitter.com/mariabrophy


Joan Beiriger said...

This is truly awe inspiring story and I absolutely love Drew's art. Thanks for interviewing them Kate!

Anonymous said...

Great article and thank you for sharing it with us!
Someone very smart told me recently "don't look at the 95% of people who failed and didn't make it, no one remembers their names anyway! Find and look at the 5% that makes it, and learn from them by example"
I just added Maria and Drew to my list of 5% to follow in the Art Licensing!


Unknown said...

thanks so much for sharing this. I love all your posts, but this one came at the perfect time for me. I've painted murals for 12 yrs - now a back injury limits me, so painting more 'commercial' art. This interview gives simple tips that even I can follow!

Maria Brophy said...

Kate, thanks for the opportunity to be on your blog. Drew and I appreciate it, and we are glad that this interview may help some other artists.

Keep up the great work!

Tara Reed said...

Thanks Kate - very interesting and inspiring!

Tara Reed

Kevin said...

Very helpful information. As we are trying to build our brand for Haleiwa NorthShore articles such as this are especially pertinent. Thanks!

Artguy Chuck Hues said...

I'm inspired from that too! Thanks Kate!!

Becky Brocato said...

great interview! i love to hear about success stories with art.

FAVREAU said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences & your wonderful art!

Patti said...

I have a property I am looking into branding. It's good to see what others have done.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the info. It sounds pretty user friendly. I guess I’ll pick one up for fun. thank u
camper vans sales

Anonymous said...


I think the sharing of information is invaluable and I am grateful and appreciative!

Maria M.

Todd Ridge said...

Great advice!