License to Draw
A simple strategy for getting my brushes into the biggest studios in the world.
“Sometimes, you just have to trust your gut and burrow your way in.”
No time to read? Listen to a recording of my reading of this week’s issue above.
I try to remember what I read, but a lot of it just doesn’t stick. I can usually recall big ideas, though. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, he writes about moments when products or ideas/concepts go from obscure to ubiquitous. One of the catalysts for this change is what Gladwell calls ‘Connectors’: people who “link us up with the world.” If a connector talks or writes enthusiastically about something, their vast network of friends and followers is likely to check it out.
I remembered this one idea from the book when I launched my brush business.
This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it has definitely become more noticeable with the rise of social media and the
hellscape bustling, busy spaces most of us occupy online.
As I mentioned in an earlier issue of this newsletter, I was fortunate enough to enjoy some mini tipping-point moments thanks to a few connectors who mentioned my brushes on Twitter early on (Paolo Rivera, Greg Smallwood, Ian Mcque …). Their kind words drove a lot of sales, and so, I continued to employ my strategy of sending brushes to other artists with sizable followings and luckily, the trend continued.
But I had a new goal in mind: I wanted my brushes to be officially linked to big studios, publishers, and creative agencies. In other words, I wanted bulk licenses, purchased and signed for by major clients. The credibility this would inevitably bring to my brand was important to me not just for clout, but to truly separate me from the pack.
So here is what I did:
On Twitter and Instagram, I began following story and animation artists at Disney. I narrowed things down to a few individuals who would be the most likely to enjoy using some of my brushes to suit their personal styles.
I emailed custom, curated brush sets to these artists, with specific recommendations for how to use them in their work.
After a week or two, I checked in to ask if they were happy with the brushes. They were.
I asked them to share the brushes with other artists in the studio.
After another couple of weeks, I collected some good testimonials.
I asked for the name and contact info for a studio manager, then emailed this person with a message that read something like this:
A number of your artists are using (and enjoying!) my Photoshop brushes for their official Disney project work. (Testimonials inserted here). Normally, the total cost of a single-user license for all of my brush sets is (X dollars), but I would like to offer you a bulk license for your entire studio at a discounted rate of (Y dollars), so that all of your artists can take advantage of the same tools. Additionally, any new brush sets I release will automatically be sent to your studio at a further discount.”
Hence, bulk licenses for KyleBrush were born and I could now add this claim to my website: “Kyle’s brushes are the official brushes of Walt Disney Studios.”
(Continued after the break)
This method of ‘infiltrating’ a studio and making a licensing deal might seem obvious, looking back, but believe me, I didn’t think it through carefully or have a real plan of action. I was winging it, one day at a time. For each of the steps listed above, I remember thinking, “Okay, THAT worked. Now what?” And then I would just try the next thing. Very professional!
Sometimes, you just have to trust your gut and burrow your way in.
I repeated this strategy for Weta Digital, Sony Pictures Imageworks, and other studios. Then, I began advertising bulk licenses in my shop and was certain to mention these well known companies as happy bulk license owners. Over time, I sold bulk licenses to The Martin Agency, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, MICA, Towson University, Disney Imagineering, and many more businesses. As my “official” big-name client list grew, so too did all other aspects of my now not-so-little business.
By this point, brush sales were already my main source of income, but suddenly, I found it nearly impossible to make time for commissioned illustration work. It seems cool to casually drop the phrase, “passive income,” and make it sound like money is just pouring in with zero effort on the part of the earner, but it’s not that simple. Passive income, at least for me, was the result of very active production, promotion, and communication.
I was not prepared to manage this rapid growth. It was time to automate, delegate … and spend some money. This will be the topic of next week’s issue.
Thank you + a new feature
Thank you so much for reading this newsletter. I see the subscriber numbers go up every week and it is really encouraging. I appreciate you taking time out of your schedule for these small essays.
Speaking of time, I’d like to save you some. Even a 5-minute read can sometimes feel like a big commitment when our inboxes are already full. Going forward, I will be making audio recordings of every newsletter. This week’s recording is free (you will find it at the top of this issue). Future audio editions will be available for paying subscribers ($36/year or $5/month). You can listen while you drive, take a walk, do the laundry, or maybe sketch a layout for your next brilliant picture book. The written newsletter will remain free — don’t worry! — but I do want to offer some extra value for those who are kindly giving me some of their hard-earned money.
Subscribe for audio versions of every issue + new goodies coming soon.
Whether you are a free or paid subscriber, you have my sincere gratitude. This experiment has been more successful than I had hoped and I will continue to strive to make it worth your time to read (and now listen).
Resources for You
John Hendrix’s opening remarks on illustration’s impact on our culture from the ICON event in Providence, Rhode Island, 2012.
Marshall Vandruff’s excellent FREE intro to perspective lesson from his full video series (worth buying, if you like good, clear instruction):
Watching Charles Schulz draw characters from Peanuts is magical.
Take care of yourselves, take care of each other, remember to be kind. Ciao for now - Kyle
Kyle, it's so nice to hear your story... I bought your MegaPack back in 2014, and have loved them ever since!