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Fast track art

By WADE DANIELS Staff Reporter Anyone who buys a Meade stationery notebook, or certain plates from the Franklin Mint, or even some American Greetings greeting cards, may notice the words “Art Impressions” next to the product logo. It is the name of a Canoga Park company that has become one of the nation’s largest licensers of art, selling the rights to paintings, drawings and photos to companies for use on products like T-shirts and mugs. The company’s stable of 50 artists worked on $82 million worth of goods sold in 1997, used on everything from toys to computer accessories and software to textiles. “Art Impressions has some of the very best artists we work with,” said Laurie Curran, director of licensing for Hasbro Games Inc., a Beverly, Mass.-based toy company. It uses the work of Art Impressions artists like Schim Schimmel and Ron Burns on some of the puzzles it makes. With $4 million in projected revenues for 1998, Art Impressions is among the largest art licensing companies, said Teresa Andreoli, senior editor of License!, a trade magazine. Art Impressions Inc. was formed in 1990 by Canoga Park-based Collectors Editions Inc., which sells original fine artwork and owns several galleries. Originally, Art Impressions made and sold its own gifts and other products in addition to licensing artworks. In 1996, Cindy Petrop, who had an art consulting business in Hawaii, was hired as president. At that time, she said, Art Impressions had only about 10 artists. It was co-run by Collectors Editions staff and its development was a low priority, Petrop said. When she took over, Petrop decided to stop all of the manufacturing operations and focus solely on building its artist roster. In some cases, Art Impressions found itself competing with manufacturing companies that wanted to use the same artists it was using on its own products. “Sometimes a greeting card company would want to license three images, but we could only allow them to license two because our own cards had the image they wanted,” Petrop said. Under her direction, the company started contracting with more artists so it would have art applicable to more types of products. The company’s artists are not exactly household names, but many have work that can be found on dozens of products sold around the world. Richard Ekstract, the publisher of License!, said the company’s choice of artists has much to do with its rapid growth. “They’ve done a better job in bringing in new talent than any other art licensing company,” Ekstract said. Granada Hills-based photographer Valerie Tabor-Smith has had an exclusive contract with Art Impressions for nearly two years. The royalties she receives are five times higher than with the company that previously handled her. She said that the company has done an impressive job marketing her work much of which depicts babies and toddlers as angels and fairies compared with other licensing companies she has worked with or investigated. “Many art licensing companies wait for businesses to come to them,” Tabor-Smith said. “Art Impressions looks for companies with products that an individual artist’s work suits.” Retail sales of art licensed products in the U.S. and Canada rose by 1 percent to $5.25 billion last year, while entertainment and character licensing fell by 3 percent to about $16 billion, according to The Licensing Letter, a trade publication. “Our art has an advantage in that it has a longer shelf life than a lot of movie characters,” said Cynthia Besson, vice president of licensing. In addition to searching for new artists and licensees, Art Impressions is working to create a brand identity that shoppers recognize. To this end, it requires that its name be “co-branded” on any product that licenses its art. That’s why some Meade notebooks, or certain Milton-Bradley toys will also bear Art Impressions’ logo alongside their own. As an entity that shoppers recognize, the Art Impressions name and logo might itself be licensed some day, Petrop said. “Today, the words ‘Tommy Hilfiger’ add value if they are put on a product,” Petrop said. “We’re building our name so that after some time the words ‘Art Impressions’ will add value.”

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