Monday, June 22, 2015

Idea & Concept

Welcome to my article series about my experiences in the licensing market and my process. I will publish new articles on 1-2 weekly basis. This weeks post is a short insight into my experience with finding ideas.

Boy, have I learned a lot  about the importance of a good idea over the past years. In order to tell my stories, my comics have run anywhere between 4 and 66 pages; before I began designing shirts I didn’t consider “one-image-cartoons” to be my strength (and I still don’t). Designing for shirts made me change the way I told a story and  learn to tighten up my ideas. The following list represents the most important things I’ve learned when designing for shirts (and illustration in general):

The idea has to be clear
The ideal idea for shirts works with one image. However, since I came from comics, I learned to mix sequential storytelling with clear, shirt-friendly design (“raster designs”). 

The idea should touch something in people’s hearts: Humor, melancholy, happiness, delight – anything that makes the viewer go “Awwww” or “Wow” or “cool” etc. You can test an idea by showing the rough doodle to a group of friends you trust and see how they react. I always wait for a big laugh to confirm that my idea might be good. Making doodles is important! I wrote a whole post about it for next week :)

For me, the most important journey has been to find my niche: that one thing that made me recognizable to others - others might call this “finding your style”. I want to underline that finding your style is a journey – it’s not something that happens overnight. You find it by drawing a lot, by designing a lot, by failing and succeeding (much more failing). You find it by asking for feedback from other people who you respect, by trusting their feedback and by being modest. You find it by being interested in the world, in other people’s work and by being persistent. There is a chance that you will never feel like you’ve arrived at a style, and that’s ok, too.

Finding the Magic Zone

One: Themes you love

Being a huge nerd has been a great point to base my style/concepts;  I adore comics, video games, movies and RPGs. I love certain character archetypes from popular culture: Ninjas, zombies, wizards, zombies, killer rabbits etc. So I began to center my designs around things I loved, which is the best thing you can do because it will show in your designs that the things you draw are also the things that make you laugh (or cry or whatever). So start there! Start with the topics/themes you love and that make you happy. Below is stuff I love :3

Two: Themes people love

From there, find out what big groups of people love. Finding the intersection between the things you love and the things people love shouldn’t be too hard. For example, I love ninjas. Many other people love ninjas. SO I make many shirts about ninjas. Another example: I love the fucked up dreams I have sometimes – most people can’t relate to my dreams because they are very subjective. So I don’t draw (many) shirts based on my dreams (however, that doesn’t stop me from drawing them for fun in my sketchbook).

Three: The commercial factor

Once you have an idea, ask yourself: Will it work well on a shirt? Will people get it within a few seconds? Some designs work far better as posters, cards and prints in general than shirts (which is fine) – others are perfect to be worn on a chest. In addition, ideas that are “timeless” will sell far longer than super-current designs. For example, my ninja designs still sell well after many years. My “Parks and Recreation” design relating to a specific episode doesn’t sell at all anymore. You might want to keep that in mind.

The intersection between those three factors (What I love, what people love, commercial factor) is the magic zone that will get you a potential best-seller.
 Finding the "perfect idea" takes practice and sometimes luck. It took me a few years to "get a feeling" for ideas that work well. Be patient. Try and test ideas. Stay true to yourself. Find the magic zone ;)

Friday, June 05, 2015

Exclusive rights vs. non-exclusive

Welcome to my article series about my experiences in the licensing market and my process. I will publish new articles on 1-2 weekly basis. This weeks post is a small overview over the different types of terms and conditions at various shirt pages. It's a bit of a dry topic, but starting next week I'll talk more about my art process, promise!

Exclusive rights vs. non-exclusive

A lot of the shirt pages I have previously mentioned have different contract structures. I have to admit that I haven’t read them all completely, but it’s important to understand what rights you’re giving up.

The good news is that almost all of the daily shirt pages leave the full rights with the artist. When accepted by a page, they just get the right to sell it for a certain time period which is stated in their terms of agreement. Keeping full rights is really what you want to aim for if possible – because it means you can use a design FOREVER and EVER and EVER! :D That means that you could make money with it when you are already enjoying your retirement – assuming that the online shirt market is still a thing then. How cool is that?

Sometimes I am ok with giving up full rights: Woot is one of my favorite companies to work with for that. And even with woot, you have the option to get the rights back with their less exclusive contract models. The cool thing with woot is that if your design gets accepted as a daily they make their payment of 1000USD up front on the first day of sales, and - this is even cooler - after that you still get paid 2 USD/ unit sold (status April 2015).

Threadless changed their model about a year ago (status 2015): Artists now keep full rights to their art (Threadless used to take full apparel rights) – except in some cases with themed competitions (more about that below). They even increased the minimum payment of royalties recently.

There are some pages out there that take full rights and only pay you an upfront amount once (no royalties). So no matter how well/bad a design sells, you have a guaranteed amount of income. If the design sells really well this can be bad for you - but if the design sells really poorly you’ve still got your payment in the end.

Themed Competitions

Some pages, like Threadless and woot’s “Derby”, offer themed competitions, . Themes can be stuff like “Cartoons”, “Halloween”, “spring”, “cats” and stuff like that. I sometimes like to take part in these because it gives me a point to start from when searching for design ideas.

Sometimes shirt companies partner up with corporations/companies/movies etc. and start a themed competition revolving around that. Usually, it means that the shirt company has a deal with their partner giving them the license to use their characters. Carefully read the terms of agreement because very often you sign the rights of your design away just by participating. Some people might see it as a chance to get a foot in with a big company like Disney, Marvel, and many others – I personally prefer not to take part in these competitions because I am not a big fan of “work-for-hire” work models. If your design gets chosen, the payment can be pretty good – but in some cases it is far below average of what a hired designer would be paid.

Final tips:

-        Read the terms of agreement of the page you’re submitting to (especially the part about usage rights). Usually they are listed via a link on the submission page.
-        Try to decide which contract model works best for the design you’re submitting. If you’re really attached to a design, consider choosing a model that enables you to keep full rights (like with most “daily shirt pages”).
-        If you take part in a themed competitions, read the terms of agreement carefully: You might give up full rights!