Blog: Finding Product Development Bliss

Surtex panelists Sue Todd, Toni Kemal and Ingrid Liss

Surtex panelists Sue Todd, Toni Kemal and Ingrid Liss

Last week I had the privilege of moderating a panel during the Surtex show that addressed artist licensing across the tabletop, gift and home decor categories, and it gave me a glimpse into an aspect of the product development process that I am often not privy to.

For 90 minutes the panelists—Ingrid Liss of Demdaco, Toni Kemal of Lifetime Brands and Sue Todd of Magnet Works—discussed how they look for artwork to license or buy and how they transform a two-dimensional image into a three-dimensional product. They talked about the particulars—how they spec artwork, how long a product typically stays in a line, the degree to which retailers are involved in the choice and application of artwork, and so forth. What struck me the most was the joy and enthusiasm all three had for their job, and the positive regard they held for the artists with whom they work.

Product development is a collaborative effort. The women talked at length about the relationships they’ve nurtured over many years with many artists and the satisfaction they derive from being able to produce, in collaboration with those artists, product that is both unique and marketable. They also spoke about their need and desire to constantly seek out new talent and new ideas.

Surtex is an ideal platform for that, of course, but so is social media and the old fashioned yet still extremely viable practice of cold calling and submitting work on speculation.

Artists, take note. It pays to research a company thoroughly to see if your work would be a good match with the type of product that company makes. Call, e-mail or research the company’s website to determine who the art decision-maker is at each company, because it tends to fall to different departments at different companies, and it isn’t always immediately evident who the appropriate person is. It is almost always best to submit jpegs, preferably without watermarks, for consideration. Try to maintain an updated website that contains a more comprehensive portfolio of your work, because if companies are interested in you, they often want to see a fuller range of what you can do. And it doesn’t hurt to follow up, after a decent interval.

And always be patient, and hopeful, because timing is everything in the art world. Todd noted that sometimes she sees a great piece of art that she instinctively knows will be successful, but which she cannot use at the given time. So she files it away for future consideration, and that is not a platitude for letting artists down easy. Sometimes the next great product comes out of a submission that was kept on file.

Demand for new product is incessant, and this is good news for both artists and the creative manufacturers who work with them. Together, they can rise to the challenge.—Allison Zisko