The Inside Scoop on Art Licensing: An Interview With Shari Warren

Published Jun. 23rd 2011

ShariWarrenAs a child, Shari Warren was never without a drawing or painting tool nearby. She was even voted the “class artist.”

As a college student, she studied graphic design and joined an art club where she could participate in weekly figure drawing sessions. . . always working hard to better her skills as an artist and designer.

Today, she’s a commercially licensed artist with many designs gracing retail stores worldwide.

Alyice: What has your road to artistic success been like?

Shari: I worked in the publishing and software industries for many years as a Designer and Art Director. During that period, I hired many different types of artists. . . from cartoonists to realistic illustrators to photographers.

I would sketch my storyboards for approval to the publisher and started working as a freelance illustrator on the side creating illustrations for greeting cards and magazine articles.

I decided to freelance full-time when the internet became commercially available. I designed my website showing my portfolio of artwork and soon received projects from all over the world.


Alyice: On your website you state that you enjoy experimenting with different artistic techniques, how does experimenting help you grow as an artist?

Shari: While I have spent years honing my art skills and style, I love to experiment with new mediums and even photography to explore new ideas.

Like many artists, I can get too comfortable in a certain technique. . . I am a believer in “Happy Accidents” that occur when an artist tries something new and the results can be creatively, very exciting visually!

Alyice: Has there ever been a time when an experiment went wrong?

Shari: Digitally, any “experiments that go wrong” can be deleted. A coffee cup ring on an original piece of art is forever, and has to be re-created from scratch.

Alyice: You tend to mix digital with traditional painting, how did this come about?

Shari: Before I got into art licensing, I created a lot of work for children’s books and educational materials. The deadlines were crazy and you were assigned anywhere from 25 to 150 illustrations at a time! YIKES!

Also, in publishing, there were many voices (designer, art director, editor, sales, etc.) in approving each illustration. For the most part, these clients also wanted the art quality of each illustration to be perceived as “hand-drawn and painted” yet still be digital to save costs at the printer.

Subsequently, there were many revisions, from “change the skin tone to be slightly darker” to “move the arm of this kid to be higher” to “can you make the shirt to be blue instead of green?”

So, I scanned in my hand drawn pencil or ink drawings, composed the illustrations in Photoshop and then painted them in Corel Painter where I could paint in digital watercolor, gouache, oil, art chalk or whatever! And. . . I never run out of paint!

Alyice: Do you have any tips for incorporating digital pieces into traditional artwork?

Shari: I like to paint fun and abstract backgrounds on mat board or canvas and then scan them in. Then I digitally paint on top of them in Photoshop or Painter.

I also scan in different fabrics or ribbon or other materials to use as elements or background textures, as well.

I think that every digital artist should use a Wacom tablet and stylus (or equivalent). It is important to show your “hand” in every piece you create.


Alyice: How did you get into licensing your art?

Shari: One day, I happened to be shopping at a little store called Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I was looking at an end cap of kitchen products featuring adorable artwork and said to myself, “I could do that! I should do that!”

So I did. . . I created a chef series with four chefs in a similar design and color scheme. I then did research for artist agents and began submitting to companies that specialized in this area. I found an agency that took a chance on me, they got me many contracts with manufacturers, and I was then motivated to created many themed collections.

Alyice: It’s been said that licensing one’s art means an artist is “working smarter, not harder.” Has this been your experience?

Shari: I especially love that licensing means “working smarter, not harder” (although, creating art for licensing IS hard work).

Having an image that you created many years ago, still out in the retail world on many different products generating income is bliss. Especially when a manufacturer renews your contract for an additional two years because the product is such a great seller. . . that is gravy!

Alyice: Getting a manufacturer to take notice of your work isn’t easy. How did you go about finding manufacturers to work with?

Shari: An artist who wants to go into licensing should take a really strong look at their art style and the types of images they like to create. They have to imagine what types of products their artwork would look best on, who would be their customers, and what the trends are.

They should be prepared to create “collections” based on popular themes with coordinating patterns and borders. Think about products such as gift wrapping, tableware, kitchen textiles, etc. Go shopping and see what is on the shelves.

Subscribe to trade magazines such as Giftware News and Gifts and Decorative Accesories, and go to trade shows like Surtex, Licensing Expo, and Americas Mart Atalanta, where you will find all the major manufacturers who license artwork.

Also read art licensing blogs, from people like Joan Beringer, Tara Reed, Kate Harper, and Lance Klass of Porterfield’s Fine Art. They are exceptional in providing up to date inspiration and information on art licensing.


Alyice: How can artists educate themselves so that they don’t get taken advantage of when licensing their art?

Shari: Read all contracts cover to cover and spend the money on a qualified lawyer to review all contracts and help you determine that you are getting a fair royalty. NEVER sell your copyright to any of your images.

Alyice: If you could share one tip with artists interested in licensing their own art, what would it be?

Shari: Believe in your talent and have a thick skin. Don’t take NO for an answer because a YES is waiting for you!!!

To learn more about Shari’s artwork and licensing, visit

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