Monday, May 18, 2015

How I got into the licensing market/ - what is licensing?


Hi everybody, some of you may know me but for those who don’t I am a nerd and illustrator from Austria and I design a lot of shirts while also drawing comics and traveling back in time to fight Lovecraftian monsters from time to time.I have decided to start a series of tutorials/articles about my experience in the illustration business, in particular the shirt stuff I make. 

The topics I’ll cover will be:

1.      How I got into the licensing market/ what is licensing?
2.      Shirt pages out there
3.      What I’ve learned designing shirts
4.      Copyright
5.      Other ways to make money: Society 6, print pages, etc.
6.      How to stay inspired

And more!


In 2009, when I was 26 years old (I think), I moved from Austria to New York City to start studying Illustration at FIT (Fashion Institute ofTechnology) after I received a Fulbright scholarship which provides financial aid for people who want to do their post-graduate/PhD in the USA.  Ever since I visited New York City three years before during an internship at Bill Plympton’s animation studio, I made it my goal to return this amazing city. 

Below, me in a chicken costume with animator Bill Plympton at the premier of his movie "Hair High" in 2006. I was sweating like a pig in that costume!

When my classes started in 2009 I quickly realized that the scholarship money wouldn’t last forever; By coincidence I stumbled upon a design community/shirt shop called Threadless.
Threadless was my “gateway drug” into the licensing market. Back then it worked like this: The artist submitted a design to the community and in the following week the community voted and commented on the design; some of the community members would even go so far as to give feedback. After a week of scoring, the artist could see his/her final score and if it was really good, the chances of getting printed were higher – however, the final decision was made by the art directors not from the score alone. If the artist was chosen for print, he/she would be paid 2000 USD plus 500 USD store credit (the payment system has changed various times since then). 


During this time I also had a class at FIT called “Licensing” – a completely new word to me. Back then, I didn’t know yet that this subfield of illustration would become a new branch of income for me. Little did I know that years later, this branch became a tree – my main source of income! The teacher of the class, Cheryl Phelps, was great and gave us a fantastic definition of what “licensing” is: To be part of the licensing market meant to design for products – greeting cards, notebook covers, pattern designs for gift paper, shirt designs and more; if a designer got a good deal it might also mean monthly royalties for the rest of his/her life. Over the following years I would find out that my art style and the way I worked would be a perfect fit for this type of market. 


Anyway, back to Threadless. I looked at their printed designs and told myself: I can do that! I can make 2K, I’ll just draw a funny monster or whatever, no problem, they’re gonna dig what I do, right? So I made my very first design, “Godzilla Loves Mayhem– and it scored ok. Actually, it was a pretty good score for a first timer, but of course, it wasn’t enough to get printed. So I tried again. And again. 

I started to ask for feedback, I started to analyze the shirts that GOT printed, I tried to improve my concepts, my art – I started to research printing techniques and realized that I had to work differently in Photoshop so that the shirts would be print-ready in case they got selected.
It took almost a year and about 50 tries to get selected for print (by now, I have submitted more than 127 designs). During this year, I went through an amazing variety of emotions – disbelief that they didn’t select me, amazing bursts of creativity as well as artist’s blocks, lots of insecurity (they’ll never choose me, they hate me), but the most important feeling was determination. I just (sometimes half-jokingly) told myself: “One day, I’ll pay my bills with shirts.” I didn’t know it back then, but I was right. 

About one year after I designed my first shirt, two designs were picked up by Teefury and Shirt.Woot (more about them in another blog post). It was amazing, because up to a certain point I didn’t even realize that there were a couple of other shirt pages out there. I realized that it was important to spread my designs around and to stop focusing on just one company. At the same point, it was important to keep up the client work too – the shirt stuff was just an attempt to make a bit extra on top of my regular illustration work. 

Below left: "I eat pirates for breakfast", my first ever screen-printed shirt. Right: "The Hills are alive", my second ever screen printed shirt at woot.

Finally, one beautiful day, I finally received the big e-mail by Threadless: “Congratulations – your design got selected!” The e-mail went on to say: “Go ahead: Run around screaming in excitement! You deserve it!” This was exactly what I did. I felt such a rush of pride, accomplishment and joy! This is the design that was chosen, "A Day in the Life".

Onwards from Threadless
Starting from this point, stuff started to happen on a regular basis. Just a few weeks later, Threadless chose two more designs and other pages started to print my designs, too. It took months and months – maybe even years until I stopped believing it was all just a big coincidence and I actually was good at what I was doing. 
To summarize the most important points from this article:
-        Be ready to try out new things (like I did with licensing)
-        Listen to feedback and try to learn – if your new branch isn’t working right away, keep trying, you might be doing something wrong/haven’t found your audience yet
-        Be determined as shit. If you give up after the first failed attempt, you may as well crawl into a corner and curl up forever ;)
-         Never completely rely on one branch – always try to have a few different branches so financial problems don’t steal your sleep (as mentioned in my article, I kept on doing client based work next to the shirt stuff)
-        Finally: Be a great artist to work with (don’t be a dick;))

NEXT TIME: I'll tell you a bit more about the shirt pages that are out there.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Tutorials coming soon

I get tons of questions about my process, the shirt market and my inspirations all the time. I have decided to create a series of tutorials/articles about my experience. Publishing should start within the year :) So, HUZZAAAA, this blog is not dead!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Kirk Fu!

First of all, I apologize for the long break in the updates! I will try to get back on track with blog updates.

My first collab with my friend Max Werschitz will go on sale tonight, 27th of October at Teefury, 11 USD - I am doing a give-away at my fb-page, so check it out and be ready! Art prints are available here.

Max had the idea for this shirt a while ago and agree to work with me - I used the power of "Cute" to realize his idea.Below is the initial sketch I sent him, in case you're interested. Max is mainly responsible for the font design of the title.

Friday, August 23, 2013

RIP Christian Moser

I want to tell you about my friend Christian Moser. He was an artist from Munich, and made wonderful art. He drew quirks and bad habits humans have in the form of cute, adorable monsters. He published many books at one of the biggest publishers in Germany. He was 47 years old, and unfortunately he died of a heart attack on August 13th. I want to share a few thoughts about him before they fade away with time. Before I forget them.

How I met Christian

 I met him around 2001, at the Comicfestival in Munich. My dad drove me there (I was 17 years old) and Christian was one of the jurors in a comic competition for young people. I drove to the festival and realized I hadn't won  (later I realized that they had forgotten to pick up my comic pages from the postal office, so it hadn't even reached the competition which was quite sad back then). 

I tried to make the best of the festival and stood in line to show my portfolio to Reinhard Kleist. The line at his desk was so long, so I switched over to the shorter line: Christian Moser's line (I never told him that :-)). He was super nice to me, promised to look at my portfolio. Later, I met him outside and he gave very usable feedback. When I left, I almost forgot to say goodbye (my dad reminded me). 

A friend for every comic festival

We started to have e-mail contact, where he turned out to be a caring, supportive friend. At my next, big festival, "Comicfestival Erlangen 2002", I knew NOBODY except Christian. He took care so that I would have social hang-outs at the festival. He invited me to gatherings with other cartoonists and managed to get me a ticket to a rather larger comic party. He made sure I took a cab home that evening. He was like a big-festival-brother.
From there on, it became tradition to meet at every festival, to drink coffee, walk around, check out museums and talk about life, comics, etc. Hanging out with Christian were my "calm moments" at the festival, because he was a calm, friendly human being. We only saw once a year, but it was never strange to see him again. 

Good friend

I think it was Comicfestival Erlangen 2006 where we took a train from Nurnberg to Munich to get home (Munich was his last stop, I had 4 more train hours to go after that).  During the train ride, we had a great conversation about life and love and so on.  When I came home, I got an e-mail by him telling me that he thought of me as a good friend now. And so did I. 

(Below: The art he made for the back of my 2007 comic "Xoth". I love to look at it. He was so talented.) 

Our last hang-out

Time passed by, and from 2009-2012 I spend 3 years in new York, so I missed a few festivals. But when I returned in 2012, I managed to visit the Comicfestival in Munich in 2013. I am more than happy that I got a last chance to hang out with Christian before he passed. We had coffee and food at one of his favorite cafes (I forgot the name).  Christian told me about an idea he had for a book featuring my work: He wanted me to create a nerdy collection of my art, with some new comics about my nerd life. He said he would help me edit it, and maybe even introduce it to publishers. I was super excited about this project.
Later we walked to the Robert Crumb Q&A with Crumb and his wife being there life. We enjoyed it a lot, and made fun of embarrassing  people during audience questions. We agreed that there is always at least one embarrassing audience member. One of the reasons why I don't like panel discussions very much.  

It was great to see him again. I feel lucky, because I have some fresh memories. I keep on remembering our conversation in the cafe, and our giggling during the Crumb panel discussions. 

On August 16th I got the e-mail by one of Christian's friends. I couldn't believe it. I cried plenty. Crying is so good in situations like that. A good friend of mine was my crying buddy for the evening. I am not used to losing friends yet. It's a bit of a new experience for me. It kinda sucks.
That's it. That's the most important stuff I have to say. I am not so good with words, but I felt it was important to get it down before it all fades and becomes the shadow of a memory.

My condolences to all his close friends, his family and anybody who knew him.  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sketches from NYC

I am back from NYC, and I am glad to report I managed to do some doodeling in the city. It always takes me a bit to relax and find a nice place to draw. I need to have nothing to do that day, no appointment, and I need a save corner where nobody can look over my shoulder. I found a lot of those places, specifically the locations the city put up those tables and chairs unrelated to a cafe or restaurant - like Madison Square Park, Bryant Park and around 34th street. Here are some of the results. 

Dude trying to take a nap at Bryant Park, completely sunken into himself. 
People chilling on a sunny day at Bryant Park.
Peeps playing chess at Bryant Park.
Hungry peaople waiting in the long line for Shake Shack at Madison Square Park.
People who already got their food from Shake Shack. They seem satisfied.
The lady hat two furry things on her lap. First I only saw one dog, until the other started to move. Such cute, fluffy fur balls.
My favortie place to draw at Metropolitan Museum of Art is the African/South Pacific Mask section. Unbelievable great cartoon characters.
That statuette at MET cracked me up. She seems so pissed.
More chilling people at Bryant Park.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Going to NYC!!!! YAY!

Weeeee, guys, I will be going to New York for 10 days this week, so be prepared with little updates. I will be eating tons of food, go to museums, see old friends, say hi to artists at MOCCA, go life drawing - hopefully I'll be able to relax and not think of all the work I'll be missing.In the meantime, check out this old lady I drew as my homework for Stephen Silver's class (memory sketch from lady I saw at the market).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Character Design Class #2

I am in my 6th week of the Character Design Workshop with artist Stephen Silver (watch the trailer for the class here)and still enjoying it. What I appreciate most about the class so far is that it really motivates me to draw stuff I am terrible at drawing. I have always avoided those things, the classic stuff: Hands, feet, heads, faces, animals.... and I have always gotten around it by drawing very cartoony (don't get me wrong, it took a lot of work and passion to get there...but I have always had a hard time constructing bodies, etc.).

So I have started to draw almost every day, and I draw stuff that looks terrible because I am bad at it. But that's ok, because nobody will ever see those drawings. They land in the trash right away because their only purpose is to build new connections in my brain that will make it easier to draw.

Character Design Class Feedback

As for Silver's class, we are about to create a full turn around of our character. We have been working on an adaptation of the Jekyll and Hyde characters so far. I have taken the characters to a sort of Lovecraftian NYC 30ies setting, where a character based on Lovecraft is my Jekyll, and a weird, dark demon-ish entity summed by the Necronomicon is my Hyde.Below you can see my approach to "Liebkraft", my Jekyll character, a young author living in 1930ies NYC. Stephen Silver chose his favorite out of my sketch and gave some suggestions with red marker, as always. Essentially, the most important thing for me to consider is breaking up the shapes, creating diversity within the shapes and maintaining the volumes of the arms/feet/etc - clarity is very important, and I know I get lazy with that sometimes.

As some may imagine, I have more fun creating monsters as opposed to human characters, below you will find Silver's draw over of my Hyde characters, which were heavily inspired by tribal mask culture. 
Here are Silver's draw over of my approach to a character called "Bowler Hat Man", which was an exercise to create caricature off an image.
And below you can see my shaky approaches to exercise hands, eyes, ears, etc. This is the first time I actually dealt with the way an ear is build up. Seriously, how did I never look at ears more closely before? I still need a LOT of practice for all of those body parts.