I recently caught up with illustrator Robin Zingone at the International Licensing Show in Las Vegas. Her fun and fresh designs have graced hundreds of products around the globe. She had lots of advice and insights to share for artists looking to expand their art-licensing portfolio.
Robin, your style is so unique, what do you use for inspiration?
Growing up outside of NY in the sixties was a visually exciting time. The modern architecture of Kennedy Airport and stewardesses that looked like models, the brilliant fashion that mixed plaids, florals and pop art, the over the top accessories of false eyelashes, fishnets and gogo boots. The music was sexy, the cars had lots of chrome, the furniture was sleek and simple bold graphics graced magazines and books. My style was influenced by an era, but my inspiration has no boundaries.The red fur on my dogs back, a purple cuff peeking out of a black jacket, white tulips in a white vase, the patterns in the grassy green lawn, the texture of the rope on our boat, a yellow garden hose, pink frosting on a chocolate cake, a goldfish in a bowl and my window on the world…my computer.
You’ve done both the Surtex Show in New York and the Licensing Show in Las Vegas, how would you compare the two?
In my opinion, Surtex is a show that showcases art licensing. Running concurrently with The National Stationery Show, many attendees are licensees that search for the latest and greatest art to license. The Licensing International Expo showcases brands and has an art licensing section that attracts a global audience, many from Asia and Latin America. Since I started in licensing I always considered my company a lifestyle brand so I cross between art and brand. Ultimately, I have had successful shows in both locales.
Why do you think your designs have such an international appeal and what are you most excited about regarding your brand?
When I was in school I did a stint at Parsons in Paris. We were supposed to be painting a lot and drawing a lot, but instead we were living a lot. Cafe au lait, croissants and Gauloises, white silk scarf with black leather jacket, cobblestones, tapestries, churches, stilettos with ankle socks, vespas, blue drinks in a jazz club, sculpture gardens and museums, cas anise, Grace Jones, gargoyles and Manet, cheese crepes, fountains and flowers, flowers, flowers. That summer changed the way I view the world. From Spain, Portugal, Ecuador, Israel, Canada, USA, Mexico, France and Italy…who knows where my brands will land next. Its exciting.
Are there any pitfalls to art licensing?
Yes. I think there are a lot of pitfalls. Signing contracts without an attorney. Giving exclusive rights. Knock off artists. Questionable royalty reports. Tradeshow costs for exhibitors. Contracts with no advance. Work for hire contracts. Costs of copyrights and registrations.
That said, there are many wonderful companies in this business of licensing that work together with you to build your brand. And that reward makes it all balance out.
Your style is so fresh and fun, is it hard to find good help? I know you spoke about your first designer Courtney being a perfect fit for you, what makes for a great designer?
My studio is located in Connecticut, halfway between NY and Boston. That becomes a problem looking for designers because most go to school in the cities and never return. When I look at portfolios I look for someone that understands white space, I look at how they handle type and their choice of fonts, I look at their design elements and drawing and most importantly I look at their palette. I ran an ad on Craigslist and got 80 responses. It broke my heart to know that that many designers were looking for work, but out of all of those candidates I only found one that would fit with the work we do in the studio…and Grace was a perfect fit. And then I found Lauren. And then I found Nora. And then I found Rebecca.
What advice do you have for artists just starting out in the business?
First and foremost…know that it is a business. Learn everything you can about the industry, meet people, ask questions, take classes…find a good copyright attorney. Secondly, in every chapter of my design and illustration career I always had some type of second job to fall back on…just in case. And lastly, be prepared to work long and hard so…love what you do.
What’s next for you, what new products can we look forward to seeing in the marketplace?
In 2011 I found an agent that really understood all four of my brands. Soon to be on shelves are bedding lines for robinzingone®, Cocomimilulu® loveMi™robinzingone and Girlygirl™robinzingone® in Spain, Portugal and Andorra. Stationery in Israel, baby products in Mexico, scrapbooks and greeting in the US and Canada, and back to school in Ecuador…more to come!
For more information on Robin you can visit her website.
Tonja Steel is a writer and co-founder of Working Girls Design, Inc.