By survey, the most acceptable format for licensed artwork is a ratio of 3:4 in overall rectangular dimensions. That means working on a flat surface (canvas, board, paper) that is 9″ x 12″ or 18″ x 24″ or some other multiple of the basic 3:4 ratio.
Yes, collector plates are round and there are lots of tall, skinny prints on the market. But most round uses of art (plates, coasters, and the like) are cropped out of square or rectangular pieces of art. And for every set of tall, skinny prints there are 50 sets of prints in standard dimensions. Remember that if you paint it round or in some specialized shape, you’re limiting the uses of the art and also limiting the possibility of licensing your art.
Very often, other ratios will work for art that you’re creating for license. You might want to try the standard card formats of 5:7 or 4:5 but they can be more difficult for creative directors and graphic designers to work with, tougher to crop correctly and less flexible overall.
Paint your image in the 3:4 standard format and it can cropped for a very wide variety of specific uses. Paint in the round or in odd shapes and there’s no way your art can be expanded by the licensee to fit other uses. You can pretty much assume that using a standard 3:4 ratio will increase your chances of licensing art by a factor of 10.
One artist that I know uses a very clever trick when she paints her horizontal rectangles in standard dimensions of 3:4. Here’s what she does. First she outlines the overall borders in which she’ll paint. She does this with a T-square, straight edge and fine pencil, making sure her lines are straight and her corners exact.
Then she uses those tools to draw in two other shapes that might be important to an art director, using mats that she’s created for just this purpose. These will enable the graphic design people at her licensees to crop each of her images from a horizontal rectangle to a vertical rectangle, a square or even a circle. This gives her licensees maximum flexibility in cropping her artwork.
You can do the same thing yourself if you wish, but it isn’t essential. Just make sure that your artwork is composed in a standard format and you’ll have greatly increased your chances of having your art licensed.
Lance J. Klass is the President of Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing, and has over 25 years’ experience in licensing artwork to companies that rely upon fine commercial artwork to create products that will sell well at retail, here and abroad.