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Ronnie Walter is an American artist, who lives in South West Florida, and has been an illustrator for most of her professional career. She’s been freelancing for a long time, and also enjoys helping other artists figure out their own path, both creatively and professionally. Ronnie is the illustrator of 17 adult coloring books. She is also an author of the book License to Draw, an art business coach and has several online courses for artists to help them monetize their work. She’s a firm believer in not reinventing the wheel and wants other artists to learn from her mistakes and successes in her career so they can succeed as well.
What you will learn in this episode:
• Ronnie’s journey from jobs to freelance artist
• How Ronnie made it work juggling freelancing, licensing and a book
• Ronnie’s advice on finding clients as a freelancer
• The pros and cons of working with an agent
Ronnie’s journey from jobs to freelance artist
Ronnie says she was that obsessive kid that always had to be drawing. She just loved and still loves to draw. In high school, her art teacher was very encouraging, but by the end of college Ronnie ended up in a whole bunch of different, non-art-based jobs. In retrospect, however, that served her well because it gave her a lot of different skills, including sales and marketing, that have been useful for her subsequent art career. Her knowledge of business not only helped her get her first art job at a small stationery company, but when she left that she was poised well for freelancing. Over her 3 years there, Ronnie learned how to develop commercial products that were compelling and fun on a deadline. It was a party invitation company, and although imprintable stationery is now common on places like Etsy, it was innovative at the time. Design-wise, everything had to have a border and a white hole in the middle where the details of the invitation could be written, and it was this creative limitation that ultimately led to Ronnie moving into freelancing.
How Ronnie made it work juggling freelancing, licensing and a children’s book
Ronnies plan was to license her art, and at the time licensing was just coming onto the scene for independent artists. Companies were looking for artists to supplement their product lines and offerings, so Ronnie built a portfolio around creating work she could license. It was also the time of the scrapbooking phenomenon, so she was doing stickers, borders, background papers and the like for that, which also worked in her favour. She also worked a lot with the curriculum market, doing line drawings for worksheets and early readers. It wasn’t an easy time for Ronnie as her marriage was also breaking up, but she just had to make it work.
There were several lean years. With licensing, you don’t get paid straight away unless you get an advance, but even then it’s not usually enough to live on. What helped was an advance Ronnie got for the children’s book she’d made in a class, which she sent to publishers. Not only did they want to publish it, but they wanted a second companion book, so the advance from that helped her survive. The first book, Ready to Go, was about the routines of getting up in the morning and the riveting sequel, Ready for Bed, was about night-time routines. Although the books sold well and had good reviews, the imprint was disbanded and her editor was fired and then unfortunately died. Ronnie still has the books but hasn’t done anything with them as it isn’t a high priority for her.
Ronnie’s advice on finding clients to license to
Ronnie has some regular clients now but she’s always looking for more. She says to have a sustained career over several decades you have to stay curious and look at products with a different eye than other people. Her early sales training helped her to know how to present, follow up, present again and follow up again in 3 months. If you just keep doing that, eventually someone will like it. A big social media following can be helpful, but Ronnie says it’s usually as a tipping point rather than the main draw card. Social media numbers are not always authentic and are not a guarantee of more sales. You just have to focus on putting out compelling, authentic work that is meaningful for people so they have a reaction.
People come to art licensing in 3 ways
People come to art licensing in 3 ways: they’re a very good generalist illustrator, they’re great at patterns and designing art for products, or they’ve got a solo point of view or an art brand that is concept-based. If you are that last one, that’s where the social media following is crucial. Knowing which of those boxes you fit into can help you maximize yourself because being able to say who you are and also who you’re not as an artist is critical in licensing.
Ronnie’s Skillshare Licensing Course
Ronnie has a class on SkillShare about working out where you could fit in as a licensing artist. It’s called How to Make Money with Art Licensing.
Ronnie’s more indepth Licensing Ladder Course
Ronnie has a more in-depth course called The Licensing Ladder – Practical Steps From Portfolio To Product. It starts on
September 19 2017 (UPDATE: This class has been postponed due to Hurricane Irma, please sign up to Ronnie’s newsletter to get updates). It’s a small online class with live group calls with Ronnie. It’s aimed at artists that have a portfolio that’s close to being ready to show who want help with their next move.
As for licensing royalties, Ronnie says it’s hard to be specific about what to expect as it ranges from 2% to 10%. It depends on your category, level of retail, your artwork, who you are as an artist, the market etc. It’s not only the percentage that matters, either. The volume of sales is very important too. You have to weigh up all the options for yourself.
The pros and cons of working with a licensing agent
Ronnie and her husband Jim represented artists as agents for 12 years, although they recently dissolved that business. They let it go so Ronnie could do more of her own artwork, although she still coaches artists on an hourly basis and Jim is an artist business consultant. There are pros and cons of trying to get work as an artist on your own and of working with an agent, and it’s a big decision. Ronnie says different times in your life and career might make one more suited than the other. For example, a mother with young children may not have the time or headspace to sell her own work, and therefore working with an agent is a great option, but once her kids grow up and she has more time and business acumen, it could be a different story.
The benefit of having an agent is that they have contacts with manufacturers already. However, most of them are also going to be at a 50% commission rate, so you need to be comfortable with that, and have trust and clear expectations. Ronnie advises people to try it themselves first, get some licenses on their own, and see how it feels and then decide. To find an agent, do some research and detective work just like you would with finding manufacturers. You can also rent a stand at the US licensing show Surtex, and they have a list of agents on their website.
Connect with Ronnie
Connect with Ronnie on her website www.ronniewalter.com. Here you can find out more about her book License to Draw, find the Skillshare class or sign up for the more in depth live online class The Licensing Ladder that starts on the 19th of September.
You can also get a free 20-minute coaching call to see if working with Ronnie can help your art career.