My sister was recently in Portland for a week helping to get my parents moved into their new house.   Our goal was to get all of the boxes unpacked and things put away – at least temporarily – before she left.  We were like organized tornadoes – unwrapping everything from pots and pans to family heirlooms.

In one of the boxes, we came across some things that had been our grandmother’s.  Christine unpacked this swan, held it up and said, “Mom – this was grandmom’s right?  I remember it being on her dresser.”

My mom replied, “Yes, it’s an ash tray.”

As you can imagine, we did a bit of a double take.  We had always thought it was a little knick-knack that required dusting and never considered that it had any other function.

Looking at it closer we conceded that sure, it could be a mini personal ash tray.  The tail was shaped and at an agle to hold a cigarette and the ashes would go in the body of the swan.

After a good laugh, I started thinking about this ornate swan from the perspective of product development and art licensing.

When my grandmother was a young wife, she was told smoking was good for her and pretty much everyone did it.  So it makes sense that there were more products on the market for smokers then (other than cigarettes of course) than there are now.  I could just picture it – she probably had a set of 8 swans that she could use to fancy up the table if she had friends over for tea…

I texted the picture to my mother-in-law and asked if she had any of these as well.  She didn’t but she did tell me about a HUGE ash tray she got as a wedding gift – personalized with her name on one side and her husband’s on the other.  I can assure you we received no such gift…

In today’s marketplace, there isn’t a lot of call for art and design for ash trays – especially not porcelain swans.  In my grandmother’s day there were no cell phones so all the cell phone cases and laptop skins many artists are creating would have been met with puzzled stares.

It’s important to keep your eye on what is current and what is up and coming when it comes to product design and art for product design.  Creating art that will appeal to today’s consumer is the key to success in art licensing.

Here’s to your creative – and timely – success!

– Tara Reed