Agreeable Gray, Art Licensing, and Success – feat. Kelsey McNatt of Kelsey M. Designs

December 8, 2020

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If you’re considering licensing your artwork, this episode is for you! Kelsey Mcnatt of Kelsey M Designs is coming on the show to share her experiences of collaborating with retailers. She’s giving us all the deets on how she finds and pitches to companies and what that collaborative process really looks like. Plus, Kelsey is getting real about the pros and cons of licensing and how she makes the best of every no she receives. 

Let’s be friends! Find us on Instagram @bizbirthdaybash.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started as an artist.

Kelsey (1:31)

I’ve been doing art for a really long time as young as I can remember. And my dad was actually a hobby watercolor artist. And he actually like worked for American Airlines, but painted on the side. And so I grew up watching him paint, and just always loved it. I never actually did anything with watercolor up until 2013. But I always knew I wanted to be creative and do something with my career that way. So when I went to college, I majored in interior design. And then we were wanting to move to Colorado. And I didn’t have a job yet. And so I started just painting and practicing and teaching myself and kind of just got started doing it that way and fell in love with it. And then I kind of took off from there people were like, inquiring how to buy stuff. So I decided to just open up an Etsy shop. And here we are.

Tell us about your business structure. II know you have an Etsy shop and you do licensing, are those your primary revenue streams?

Kelsey (5:56)

So probably about, especially this year, this year has been absolutely like, huge for, like the growth of my business last year, and this year, Etsy is probably 70% of my like total revenue, and then the rest is probably like 15%, Minted, 15%. licensing, mainly just because I do have so much with Minted. And once you kind of get product on there, and you get those like monthly commissions that do end up paying out very, very well. But the art licensing is very like long games, so stuff that like was happening maybe last year, and maybe just getting paid for it this year. So you have to like really be willing to like wait out those paychecks.

What was your first licensing project and how that did come about?

Kelsey (7:26)

Well, so Okay, this is kind of trying to think about this earlier. So minted, actually, I got my first greeting card and target in 2018. And that kind of just once I started getting those commission checks for that, I was like, Oh, my God, like there is, there’s something there like this is I’m not even doing anything. It’s such great passive income. So I was already wanting to kind of look into that. And I had started doing some of it. I was pregnant that year. So it was like, all over the place. But I had really wanted to get my stuff in Hobby Lobby. And I had no idea where to begin. So I started just googling, like, trying to find a contact within Hobby Lobby. And like, actually had found they do have, like an artist like the portal, like submission portal, and I had put together this whole thing and was really excited about it. And then like, a couple of days later got like a big fat like, no, like, that’s not the route we want to go or whatever. And actually, it was like two weeks after that. 

I had a company reach out to me in my Etsy shop, and has sent me this whole long thing about that they’re just a company that does art licensing, and that they work for Hobby Lobby and Kirkland’s primarily. So I talked to her on the phone and we got set up and they’re just like a small like mom and pop style like company and they were also sweet. And so I got set up in the fact that like I sent them she had actually kind of gone through my shop and starred like a whole bunch of pieces that she thought would be great for like keeping a database and so I formatted those all to her. And then they will do like buyer meetings every like quarter or specialty buyer meetings for certain things like kids art. And so that’s kind of how I got started with them and they are like my main main company that I work with. I do have a couple of projects and certain pieces on some other websites or some with some other companies but they’re the main ones that I work with. And I think of the first piece that I got up to it that’s been it’s been like about a year and a half working with them and so it’s just that long game again.

Elisabeth (9:51)

So that’s really cool that they reached out to you on Etsy and when they did that, did you freak out first and think is this like a scam? Are they gonna trick me Because I know sometimes with those really long-form emails when somebody is like trying to reach out to you about something I always get like the heebie-jeebies? I know that sounds super silly, but were you kind of like chewing your nails, wondering if it was legit?

Kelsey (10:15)

All of my licensing stuff has come through Etsy. I’ve not pursued any like myself, but have paid up paid out. Most of the ones that have seemed like legit are always ones that they’ll provide their website. They always say, if you want to take this off of Etsy, here’s my email, please feel free to email me. And I always feel more comfortable, like taking it off of Etsy anyway and just going through email. And so if they provide all of those like things and like contact information, it seems a little bit more legit. And, and she was willing to talk to me on the phone because I just I had so many questions and like she was having to explain a lot to me. So yeah, there, but there are some scammers. You got to watch out for that.

Do you work with an agent?


I don’t. I work directly with licensing companies.

Let’s talk about contracts and payment structures. Are most of your jobs non-exclusive? What’s the overall process like and how do you agree on terms?

Kelsey (12:09)

Exclusive means that you are basically giving over the rights in a way to them, you cannot sell it on your own, you cannot have to license it to another retailer to sell it, like they want the exclusive rights to the piece. 

And then nonexclusive means that you can have multiple retailers selling it or you can also continue to sell it the way that so the majority of the work that I have been doing is a 5% royalty rate. And those are specifically like Hobby Lobby and Kirkland. And then places like HomeGoods or TJ Maxx who are doing massive volumes, those rates are a lot lower, so maybe like 2%. 

And then you do have your exclusive and non-exclusive. So I have a couple of different ones I so with the main company that I work for, which is curated American artist, if I haven’t said that, but they allow me to continue to sell anything that gets picked up in my shop, which is what I prefer. So technically, it’s exclusive to like Hobby Lobby in Kirkland. But I still get to sell it. So it’s kind of both in a way. 

But if they do pick it up, I then can’t turn around and pitch it to another retailer. Yeah, so it’s a little strange. I’ve kind of gotten in trouble a little bit with like, trying not, not that I was trying to double-dip, but I just didn’t like I had submitted a piece to a Minted competition for a target greeting card. I did not think it was going to win. Like I was really just like, you know, like trying to see if it would. But I had also submitted it through my company and I guess Hobby Lobby was interested in it and had started mocking it up. When I got the email that was like, Oh, you’re gonna be in target. And I was like, Oh, crap. So then  I had to turn around and I was like, Okay, well, the bigger payout is a target. So I’m going to keep the greeting card with them. And then I had to turn around in this kind of like, I am so sorry like this is I really didn’t think that this was going to happen. So I just have to be very careful. Try not to have my fingers in too many pots.

What were some of the things that surprised you or were challenging about art licensing?

Kelsey (26:12)

Definitely, the timelines, like I had always like known it was a longer like a process. And you know, these people will even like, tell you upfront, it could be a long time. But like, I guess I didn’t really realize how long until it I actually got into it. And some of them will even with like Minted, you know, Minted for a long time, would be like payout quarterly on commissions. Now, they like Target pays out monthly on my commission report, which is awesome. But even some of the like purchase orders just like having to wait for it. And by the time you even get a purchase order, sometimes it can take like four or more months for it to even be in stores. So like, one of my pieces that just landed in Hobby Lobby, like my sunglasses, I got that purchase order back in June. And then I think at first popped up in the store, maybe late October. So it’s, it’s been a while for me even when I got paid. And of course, you want, you want it to be in store so it can sell out so you can get another paycheck. And then, you know, this one that I’ve been doing with IKEA, I started working with them in January of this year, and the piece isn’t even going to be in stores until April of next year. And that’s if the pandemic doesn’t like mess that up. 

How do you define success in this season of life?

Kelsey (30:11)

 I don’t even know where to begin. It’s hard. This was always a side business, you know, and my career was always, like, I’m still I’m just so passionate about my job. And that’s why I have not gone full time. I’m definitely at the place where it’s maybe something to consider, like, for my sanity, because I could definitely be full time at this point. But I do I love my job. So I think right now success for me is just like, trying not to. I don’t even know like, it’s, I’ve hit revenue goals that I like, never in a million years like weaved would have been this year, you know, and that kind of started last year. At C’s, like a whole, like, I’m just really passionate about Etsy, too, because I feel like people like Mac talk it a little bit. But like, I just had, like, so much success on the platform. And to me that is like, I’m proud of that. So that’s successful. But I think just being successful and, you know, my career and being a mom and then running a business and trying not to cry.

What advice/strategy tips do you have for someone who hopes to get into art licensing?

Kelsey (35:26)

I think that the main one that people should probably focus on first and foremost is making sure that you have your own aesthetic and style. And you’re not either all over the map. We have lots of things I know, for me, I paint, like everything, you know, a little bit, I paint kit, art, and construction vehicles and travel. But if you look at all of my work together, I feel like it all has the same style. And you could, you know, maybe not know that it’s mine necessarily, but it all looks like it came from like the same artist. And retailers really like to have that because you start developing relationships with these retailers, and then they will come to you and have like, be able to do work. So like, I’ve had my company send me emails, and they’re like, kind of like what the construction vehicle stuff. Right now they are pitching for Scott living, which is like the Property Brothers. They’re having like an art line. And so they’re wanting me to work on a couple of things for that. So they’ll come to you for certain projects. If you have a very clear, distinct style that your retailer loves, if that makes sense.

Kelsey (39:18)

The last thing would just be, you know, I, was too scared to, like, to start reaching out to people. And then when I did reach out, it was a rejection but like, not letting that you know, like dissuade you but you can reach out to people. I mean, Google’s your best friend just google like art licensing companies, or I know that when I work with like, they always love getting new artists. So it’s, which is curated by American artists. And then I reached out to her a couple of weeks ago when I was doing like a face like an Instagram Live thing and like yeah, send him my way. So but they’re great and honestly like you can find so many on Google you Like licensing like agents, but if you don’t want to go that route, because this is mainly like, I don’t have stuff on like products mine stuff is just on our like, like framed artwork right now. But if you go into stores, like even like home goods, you know, and you see a cute little like art illustration on a mug or a plate, like flip it over and see what that manufacturer is and then go home and google it because sometimes you can find stuff and like, they will have like artists submissions, or you can find like an email contact that you can like reach out to and like don’t be afraid to just like pitch yourself.

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