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Prints Charming… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes is reminded this week of the buoyant wall art category when it comes to licensing.

This week a couple of new product launches that I have been involved in reminded me of how wall art seems to be an increasingly popular and buoyant category for licensing.

Things have moved beyond the poster when it comes to wall art and consumers seem to be seeking out bespoke art to add a personal touch to their home décor. A number of specialist companies have carved a significant niche in the category by developing licensed ranges in tandem with hand picked artists, while a number of artists and illustrators have developed their own direct to consumer business. In the case of artists, sites like Etsy have made it easier for them to sell product directly.

Vice Press is a good example of an art-focused company which has nurtured good relationships with licensors and artists. I work with the company and Aardman. This week it has launched the next wave in the series of Wallace & Gromit art prints.

Its approach is to secure the licensing rights to a franchise like Wallace & Gromit and then recruit a number of artists to develop art collections in their individual styles. It has launched new artwork from Andy Fairhurst and Florey. Andy Fairhurst has created his take on Wallace & Gromit A Grand Day Out, while Florey has used A Close Shave for his inspiration. Florey’s prints are mini sized ones which appeal to consumers with less wall space available to them. In this latest series of prints Shaun the Sheep has been added to Florey’s collection with a bonus print. In addition, one of the prints featuring Shaun and his flockmates has been developed creatively so it could be hung underneath a companion print featuring Wallace.

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Two of Vice Press' Shaun prints are able to be hung individually or paired together.
Two of Vice Press' Shaun prints are able to be hung individually or paired together.

The two prints work individually, but the fact they can be paired together is a good example of companies like Vice Press thinking about home display and how consumers might want to use the prints. Both artists have created long running series with Wallace & Gromit which helps from a sales point of view as Vice Press can re-market to past purchasers while the artists are able to build up a following.

Vice Press is a business built on a passion for art and the subjects they feature. This passion helps in the marketing of the products as the Vice Press team sees things from a fan’s perspective and is aware of ways of reaching fans in non-traditional media. For Aardman this is a great route to market and helps underpin consumer loyalty to the characters. The products are well thought through and bespoke, giving fans a good quality product to buy into.

As noted earlier marketplaces like Etsy have allowed artists to be more proactive and to sell their artwork directly to consumers. This has helped create a vibrant artist creator community. I tapped into this on behalf of one of our clients, Rebellion Publishing, which owns the legendary footballer Roy of the Rovers.

Roy of the Rovers is seen waiting at Melchester train station in a print from PrintsbyPablo.
Roy of the Rovers is seen waiting at Melchester train station in a print from PrintsbyPablo.

Roy has been re-launched for the 21st century through publishing and there is a new style Roy designed for younger readers. However, there is a strong fan and collector market for Roy of the Rovers. Rebellion has recognised that some of these fans are interested in original art and as such we have developed a number of collaborations with artists.

The latest of these is a limited edition print with artist PrintsbyPablo, which has a distinctive art style and is very active in the football market. Its house style features footballers in team colours waiting at a local train station. We took this theme and PrintsbyPablo has developed a Roy print featuring Roy at Melchester train station.

One of the attractions of working with artists like Pablo is to experiment with new art styles and in this case to feature Roy alongside ‘real’ footballers and football teams. This helps strengthen Roy of the Rovers’ links with football fan culture and partnerships like this one can lead onto other opportunities.

I also noticed through social media this week that King & McGaw has announced a new print series featuring L.S.Lowry. King & McGaw has developed a strong business working with museums, galleries and archives to develop affordable art such as canvases and framed prints. It runs a mixed economy working with museum shops offering physical product, but also print on demand options, while it curates collections for retailers such as John Lewis.

King & McGaw is a great example of category experts in licensing which, like Vice Press, know their subject well and have worked hard at nurturing relationships with the heritage sector. This type of licensing is not always about the best price – it is about building a rapport with the institutions, getting to know their collections and making selections based on market insight. King & McGaw takes account of consumer trends including trends in home décor and adjust its ranges accordingly.

Ronnie Wood has built up a fan following for his artwork.
Ronnie Wood has built up a fan following for his artwork.

The art and artist market is a very diverse one. This point was well illustrated this week by another notification I received via social media. Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood has launched a new art collection, or certainly new to me. I think Ronnie sells his artwork in a number of ways including direct selling, selling originals and working with third party distributors. The new series I noticed this week features Ronnie’s bandmates and is billed as a collectors’ series. The prints that are sold on Ronnie’s store are individually named, numbered and hand signed by Ronnie.

Ronnie is a very talented artist and has built up a fan following for his artwork. This is in addition to fans of the Rolling Stones who follow him and would, of course, find this series particularly appealing. This is another great example of how art can be a fantastic way of creating products that provide fans with individual experiences and products that have an exclusive feel to them.

A small range of The Repair Shop merchandise is on sale in the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum gift shop.
A small range of The Repair Shop merchandise is on sale in the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum gift shop.

Outside of the world of art I managed to visit the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum in Sussex this week. I would recommend a visit to the Museum. It is home to a fantastic collection of rural buildings that the Museum has preserved, restored and repaired. Perhaps for this reason it has become the home of The Repair Shop, which is filmed in a barn at the Museum.

The barn obviously ticked the box for no publicity as you are not allowed to photograph it. There is a small range of The Repair Shop merchandise on sale in the gift shop, along with one of The Repair Shop illuminated signs – you are encouraged to take a snap of the sign. Ironically the sign isn’t fully working and in need of a visit to The Repair Shop itself!

Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.

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