(photo by In her Image Photo)
A little over ten years ago, after successfully transitioning from my full-time Social Work career to a full-time artist career (it took about 3 years of weening), I got an opportunity of a lifetime. DEMDACO, a beloved and well respected manufacturer of gifts that “uplift and inspire” found my work on Etsy and contacted me. They proposed a partnership, one where we’d create a one-of-a-kind collection of wall art featuring my work. The gift industry, they told me, didn’t have anything like my work at that time. They loved my mixed-media style of paintings, and how I paired them with meaningful messages.
Now, I had NO experience licensing my work at that time. Licensing wasn’t on my radar AT ALL and I wasn’t even sure how it worked. At that time, I was working hard building my online audience through Etsy and blogging. My book, Taking Flight, had just been published, too. I was shipping my prints on the daily, selling originals at art shows and online, writing magazine articles, and teaching at art retreats around the world. I was over the moon that I was making enough money to be a full-time working artist – a dream that I (against all odds) was living into reality. But licensing? I wasn’t sure.
(I was doing a lot of art shows at this time, 10 years ago)
The DEMDACO thing intrigued me, however. At that time I was saying A LOT of yeses to opportunities that came my way, and I figured a collection of wall art with DEMDACO would be a great way to dip my toes into the licensing world.
Ten years later, I can say with certainty that that little toe dip into licensing changed my life. The Kelly Rae Roberts Collection™ with DEMDACO launched at the Atlanta Mart in January 2009. It was a collection of my paintings, beautifully reproduced on wall canvases. Nothing else, just canvas reproductions in small, giftable sizes. It wasn’t a huge collection, but it was mighty in its impact. Before I knew it, we were launching an extension to the collection. And then another. And another. And another.
The products and my art spread like wildfire. People responded to my the collections with kindness and so much enthusiasm. Before I knew it, we had gift collections. Home decor collections. Holiday collections. Garden collections. Jewelry collections. Kid line collections. And the ever popular gift book collections.
(me, with baby True, 2010)
At the height of all the buzz and momentum, I was a new mom. John had just finished grad school. We had just moved back to Portland where we were remodeling a home. Life. Was. Full.
And now here we are, exactly 10 years later. My products are still going strong, sold in boutiques nationwide. I am in awe of this journey and incredibly grateful to DEMDACO for their vision and commitment over the years.
(Me, and my art on giant signs at the Atlanta Mart, Jan 2010. My first trip to the mart)
Years ago, if you had told me that I, a person who had never painted before, would not only become a full-time working artist, but that I’d have products out in the world – that would become a sort of loving army of ambassadors, radiating out messages of Hope – I would have thought you were out of your mind. But the Universe and Spirit gave me a divine whisper, and many nudges to follow those whispers. I’mgladgald I tuned in, listened, trusted, and took some small steps and some leaps, too. And now here we are.
To celebrate my ten years of partnership with DEMDACO, I’m heading to the Atlanta Mart this week – the same place where my first gift collection launched all of those years ago.
I imagine there will be emotions, a toast of celebration. Lots of hugs. Gratitude. In the early years I was told by so many folks in the industry that I shouldn’t expect a long career in licensing, that trends come and go quickly, usually within 18-24 months. But the good folks at DEMDACO and I held a different vision, one drenched in possibility, and we’re gonna celebrate our success this week.
Thank you to all the retailers over the years that have invested in my collections with DEMDACO, and to all of you who have supported the products by purchasing them. Here’s to many more years of creating meaningful products that inspire, encourage, and remind us all of our courageous humanity.
PS: For those of you interested in reading (and seeing products) about the early years of my product launches, head on over to Yearly Recaps and start with 2009 :).