Designed to Sell

Next Day Art, an art licensing company based in Portland, Maine, is introducing 10 new artists and thousands of new images at the Surtex show. "Each of these artists is exceptional in technique or has something unique and different about his or her work that lends itself to branding opportunities," says James Meserve, president of Next Day Art.

Meserve remains optimistic that even in this economy, a market for good design will drive sales. "Once the stage is set for price, companies have to differentiate themselves on good design," he says.

Armed with a number of strong artists, Meserve expects to have a successful year, and he remains bullish on the licensing market for 2009. While he says he has seen the market for wall décor dip—a trend he attributes to the housing slump—Meserve says first-quarter sales in categories such as social expressions and puzzles have been strong. "We are still sourcing aggressively in these categories," he says. "They are traditionally categories that are resistant to downturn, and we are seeing growth in those segments."

Meserve sees uplifting, inspirational themes, echoing the recent presidential election and inauguration, as an emerging trend in the market that he expects to gain even more steam. "Nature, the environment and earth themes ... appreciating the environment and celebrating that are also big themes now," he says.

Meserve believes that while the market is challenging, some trends in the business have taken some of the guesswork out of the process of bringing product to market. As a result, products that make it to market are more successful and profitable.

"Many new manufacturers are launching because it is easier to print on demand, so we are seeing a lot more prototyping," he says. "New product launches are quicker and more cost-effective, and there is actually more preselling and pre-shopping for select accounts."

Control label collections produced for select retailers are a trend Meserve expects to see more of, and he is happy with the way the programs work. While the process may make the timeline longer for licensing agencies, he believes that, in the end, the process is more controlled. "There's already a commitment to the line," he says. "With collections not offered to regular channels that are private label, you have a line that is prebooked and presold. Retailers can bring it into the stores and turn product without having to take a huge position. It works for everyone."

Relationships with artists such as Helen Rhodes have helped Next Day stay upbeat. "We've had good momentum with her work," says Meserve. "Her style is naïve with a sophisticated color palette and a lot of layering. She capitalizes on the hand-made look, which makes her images very attractive for product areas such as gifts, cards, textiles and journals." Meserve says Rhodes' appeal is intergenerational, with her intensely rich colors, textures and patterns attracting the attention of young as well as older consumers.

At the show, Next Day will feature the work of Paul and Gina Fletcher, a husband-and-wife team from Cleveland with totally different styles. Gina is known for her bright colors and whimsical designs. "There's a real smile factor to her work," says Meserve. "It's bright, upbeat and perfect for the tween and juvenile market. She designs with textiles in mind."

Paul's contemporary wildlife works are more heavily detailed and are inspired by his love for animals and the environment. "His range is exceptional," says Meserve. "He has done a series of wildlife images in a safari style that are very contemporary and perfect for wall décor and greeting cards."

Next Day is introducing Medana Gabbard, an artist from Vermont who has a "fun sense of style and a contemporary Americana look that draws on her Vermont roots," according to Meserve. While her art is contemporary, her images depict a "peaceful, loving place set in earlier times," something that is likely to resonate with consumers in these uncertain times.

Louise Cunningham is another new artist for Next Day. A 26-year-old artist from Scotland, she has a "bright, bold and quirky" style that is distinct, and her images are a natural fit for textile and social expression product lines. "Her style is very whimsical, and we've had a great response from her work," says Meserve. "It's something this market needs."

The company also is introducing Stephanie Toral, an artist whose fluid florals are rich in color and imagination. "She works text into her art, and that's a trend we are seeing a lot of," says Meserve. "She takes images of nature but builds in emotion with poetry and messages of hope. I think this will be a big trend of combining text and images."

Geraldine Aikman, a fine artist and illustrator, also will be featured at the show. Her seasonal themes and patterns have roots in her New England base. "She has a playful spirit that's drawn from her bucolic background in a small New England town," says Meserve. "You can see that in her art, in the patterns and village scenes."

Among the other new artists signed is Eva Mautner, a San Francisco artist who recently designed labels for Belvedere Winery. Her color-drenched images of cats, dogs and other animals enjoying food, wine and life are fun and happy. "Her series of wine-tasting cats has been getting a lot of attention and interest," says Meserve. He expects more interest in her colorful interpretations of California wine country living to come from the show.

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