It seems this question is on many people’s minds again as I seem to have had it pop up in my inbox 4 times in the last month.  If that many people are wondering and emailed me, I decided it’s time to revisit the topic.

Is it better to have a consistent, recognizable style or can you create a variety of art and still succeed in art licensing?

I have talked with a lot of coaching clients about this decision and we’ve talked about it on Ask Calls in the past as well.  While there is no right or wrong answer, I can give you my perspective and hopefully others can chime in in the comments and create a great discussion.

Personally, I believe there are many successful artists that develop and stick with a consistent style and there are those that have a bit more variety in their portfolio – where the average person wouldn’t recognize the art was created by the same person if put side by side.  In the end, you have to decide what seems right for you, your business and your goals as an artist but my goal with this post, is to help artists consciously decide, and not decide by default (like I did.)

Option 1: Create a recognizable style to build your brand

If your goal is to create that name-recognized brand – like  Mary Engelbreit, for example, you have to develop a strong, tight and recognizable style. People have to see it and know, “Mary Engelbreit”. Mary is known for her black and white checks, cherries, cute characters and use of quotes in her work. If she started painting landscapes, it would confuse the market.  (You can see her work at www.MaryEngelbreit.com and even register for a free hour-long interview I did with Mary as part of the Art Licensing Info Monthly Ask Call Series)

Paul Brent is another great example of an artist who built his brand with consistent, recognizable art.  His coastal watercolors put his art and name on the map and are the cornerstone of his brand.  As his brand has evolved, he too has moved into other mediums and themes but creates new coastal art year in and year out, because that is what the market expects of Paul Brent.  (Learn more about Paul Brent’s work at www.PaulBrent.com or register for a free hour-long interview I did with Paul as part of the Art Licensing Info Monthly Ask Call Series at www.AskPaulBrent.com)  Paul is an advocate of artists new to the art licensing market, to create a look that is unique and makes them stand out from all the other artists in the field – hopefully he will add his insights in the comments as well.

I believe that this way of working is vital if your goal is to eventually build a strong brand that is known by consumers as well as manufacturers in the industry.

Option 2: Build your portfolio with a variety of styles

Another way to go, and the way I went by chance and not by choice, is to do a variety of themes and styles. I don’t span the entire spectrum of art from pure realism to completely abstract, but there is enough variation that not even my sister always knows my work is mine.  Some of my work that is more whimsical than others and some leans a bit more traditional.  It happened by chance – I would try things and see what manufacturers liked.  It turns out that many of my best clients like the fact that all my art isn’t obviously from the same artist, that way they can use me more than an artist who has a tighter style.

However I believe it limits my ability to become a huge, consumer recognized brand.  I enjoy the freedom to play with a variety of styles, themes and techniques and the checks cash the same so I’m happy.

I like to bring these issues up so artists can make a choice and not choose by default – as I did while “playing to see what the market liked.”  My brand is becoming known within the industry – with manufacturers – but I don’t think I will ever have a Mary Engelbreit or Paul Bretn sized brand with the general public.

So it’s up to you to decide what will make you happy and keep your creative juices flowing!

I welcome your comments and opinions on this – do you agree or have anything to add?

– Tara Reed

P.S.  If you want to learn more about branding, Paul Brent did an excellent teleseminar “Brand Yourself for Success in Art Licensing” – be sure to check out the replay.  He knows his stuff!