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38 40 Animation Mar April

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A feature on our ethos, the art and artists we represent, and how the client experience is key

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38 40 Animation Mar April

  1. 1. licensing profile “People like to buy from people” Russell Singler It’s not very often we get to live out our childhood fantasies in real life, but that (it appears) is just what Russell Singler has done. As the owner and brains behind The Animation Art Gallery – Europe’s original animation art specialists, and the publishing company Flip Editions, Russell has converted his childhood love affair with cartoons and comic books into a licensed art gallery and publishing company that is attracting worldwide collectors to its door. Sarah Orton reports But prime sites equal huge and end all and I still don’t, but it is a overheads and Russell has had to very important tool of the job.” make some pretty tough business In fact the web is part of a very pro- decisions over the years. Having set active marketing package: “We’ve Spiderman in the rain by John Romita up the business 11 years ago with two never just sat there sipping our fizzy partners, after rising through the ranks water. We are all about building of the Disney stores and then working relationships, we phone, we email, we in a North London gallery, Russell has mail, we put on fun events and we “P eople like to buy from people,” bought both partners out and is now always do follow up.” says Russell Singler, right at the sailing the ship alone. He has also For a gallery that works hard at beginning of our interview. This refocused the workforce to a motivated developing long-term relationships, might sound like an obvious thing to and tight team. perhaps it is surprising that after an say, but it is a mantra that has held The “This place is a monster and it does eight month analysis of website hits, Animation Art Gallery’s leading position soak up resources. You have got to go 85% of purchases are new customers. in licensed and animation art. through the journey – there are no On the other hand, perhaps it’s just Russell says you don’t have to be an short cuts. Some people can make it another very good reason for every intellectual giant or even the owner of and some people get eaten alive. I’m gallery in the industry to run an up-to- some intellectual property to work this looking to open more galleries, acquire date website in tandem with their philosophy out. “People want to either more licensed properties and really gallery, to capture both new and long- buy from a gallery that they like and work the wholesale side, the retail and standing customers. trust or buy from an artist that they like the web.” The often repeated view that and trust. It’s that simple, that is the Russell believes at the heart of being licensed art is somehow demeaning to formula we have followed all the way a successful retail gallery is the ability the artist really doesn’t stick with the through.” to flex and adapt. “The minute you get galleries approach to developing art for He has a great memory for cosy – that’s when you should feel publishing. Many of the artists that remembering who has bought what. “I nervous, you’ve got to be open to Russell is working with are highly never want customers to say ‘It’s OK’, change and keep flexing, otherwise respected fine artists who just happen because I feel so passionate about you will get set and unable to adapt to paint or draw Superman and what I sell.” and grow.” Thomas the Tank Engine rather than The Animation Art Gallery, in Great Russell has had a website from day florals and landscapes and their Castle Street, London is undoubtedly one of the business. In the early days, originals are selling for tens of what you’d call prime retailing, just one he found the biggest challenge was thousands of pounds. street off the shopping Mecca of just telling people how to turn on their The fact that Russell works with Oxford Street. computers! “I never saw it as the be all some extraordinarily talented artists is 38 picture business MARCH /APRIL 2007 w w w. p i c t u r e b u s i n e s s . u k . c o m
  2. 2. licensing profile markets and Russell said it made sense to spend the company’s marketing budget in other areas this year. The fundamental principal of ‘buy a piece of art because you love it’ is a key mantra: “We have lots of long term loyal customers who have bought from us and now realise that they have something really valuable. But I still think customers should buy the art because they love it first and as an investment second.” A stunning image of Spiderman in the Rain by John Romita is a great example. The Animation Art Gallery sold 55 of a 99 edition published by a licensee in the States. They were first sold in the gallery for £600 framed, but by the last ten the gallery was selling them for £1,500. Now it’s on the wall for £3,500 and on the secondary market the image has fetched £5,000. “We just knew this image was fab Thomas at the station and we will tell our customers if we believe the art has an ‘appreciative value’. But we still tell people to buy no coincidence as he has developed draws the gallery visitor into every something that they love! That is our contacts with all the big hitters in piece of art, from which they can glean strength as a gallery. We are not licensing, securing some impressive a fascinating fact about who created it, interested in merchandise, we are not worldwide licensing deals. how it was created and why. interested in ‘not bad’ images, we want If you take one of his hugely to offer some really knock out stuff.” successful artists Steve Kaufman – one Paul Mellia ‘Artist to the stars’ has of Warhol’s main assistants – the been another enormous success story pedigree is there. He sells $11 million with Thomas at the station selling for dollars worth of his originals a year and £29,000. The Animation Art Gallery looks after The gallery still does very well with him in the UK. the original cels and drawings from Unlike other galleries, who are Disney and vintage Warner Bros (the talking about genres and explaining things that Russell says “made us the difference between impressionism famous”) but now they have created a and abstract, the education process at whole genre of art that can feed the The Animation Art Gallery is in the type nostalgia. (Continued over) of art and the artists behind the work, not in the characters themselves. Kaufman launch party packs the gallery Bugs Bunny, Thomas the Tank Engine, Superman and Mickey Mouse The basement level was until – need little introduction, but the artists recently given over to a framing and the process behind the creation of department, but Russell has tuned into the art does. As well as the limited the huge retail potential of this space. edition giclée versus originals He still offers a framing service, but message, Russell needs to know that uses “fantastic” off-site contract his staff can talk confidently about the framers. The gallery has also invested key processes of producing animation in state-of-the-art technology to create artwork that might be sold in the limited editions for both the gallery and gallery – be it original production cels, Flip Editions. limited edition cels and serigraphs or Russell quickly realised the sericels. complications of running a publishing A staggeringly simple marketing company alongside the retail operation technique, but one which is often and appointed a distributor with missed in the gallery environment, is excellent worldwide distribution for all every piece of art is hung with a neat of Flip Editions’ products. They already little synopsis alongside. This helps to have an established network of 4,000 create ‘a story’ around each piece and wholesale buyers in the art and gift Hello Kitty w w w. p i c t u r e b u s i n e s s . u k . c o m MARCH /APRIL 2007 picture business 39
  3. 3. licensing profile The big event biggest global brands to give permission Russell is a huge believer in the ‘retail to produce an art programme, so how experience’. But this is not some does Russell do it? superficial American retail experience – “It’s a two way street and in their case he simply believes in matching new it’s not totally about dollars. They want animation art launches with animated our product because it adds weight to gallery events. “We are particularly proud their global multi-million dollar brand. We of our special events and have run more provide an angle that they can’t than 40 in a decade.” necessarily create themselves.” The latest spectacle was a ‘Meet the And unless you can afford to fight a creators of Mr Benn’ evening at the end very expensive lawsuit, Russell believes of February, which saw joint creators artists and publishers should not hide David McKee and Rollo Films founder behind the ‘artistic interpretation’ label. Clive Juster signing a new collection of “It’s about responsible actions, it Mr Benn artwork. As with all the special signposts legitimacy. A licensee should Steve Box and Nick Park signing at the launch events the evening was accompanied by be in a favourable position because they free-flowing drinks and a ‘linked theme’ – One of those is a worldwide deal for the know how to ‘tow the line’ and ‘do things an opportunity for guests to dress up and artwork of Hello Kitty: “It’s the first time this by the book’, there is a great comfort in be photographed in a Mr Benn costume. incredible icon has ever been offered as that. If you haven’t signed up to anything artwork and we’ll be offering images from and are ‘winging it’ you’ve just got to 1974 onwards. I’m really excited about it, hope all the time that you are going to get especially as it’s a worldwide deal.” away with it.” In addition to the imminent launch of Over the last ten years, brand owners artwork of Peppa Pig, this summer will see have woken up more than ever before to the gallery going up a gear again when it is the fact that there is money in licensing the official sponsor of the Artists’ Alley at the their brand and brand owners are keener Star Wars Celebration Europe event in July than ever to find partners with integrity. at ExceL in London. The gallery has ‘some “There has been a real shift for a lot of the really big plans’ and plans to work with brand owners. They want partners who movie poster master John Alvin and Star are championing the brand rather than Wars artist Lawrence Noble. just making money out of it and ‘doing David McKee (right), the artist behind Mr Benn Under license with Chapman their own thing’. Everything I do has to be The ‘one that they are still talking Entertainment, the company has just with the brand owners support.” about’ saw the gallery with bars at the launched the Fifi and the Flowertots official The great thing about having the retail window, the Rock n Roll House Band art programme, with The Animation Art and wholesale side is we have a very dressed in stripy prison gear, with beer Gallery publishing signed and small edition clear picture of what is and isn’t working and pizza from the restaurant next door to sizes of 25 worldwide. and selling at retail level. “While it is cake launch the official ‘Graceland’ artist Joe Russell is also onto the and eating it – it means we can offer Petruccio. phenomenon and plans to work with the support and education at the wholesale The Thomas & Friends art programme artist Pete Fowler this year, appealing to the level.” launch saw The Fat Controller reading his huge community of people who collect vinyl Although you know a lot of blood, favourite Thomas & Friends stories with monsters and visit the play lounge on sweat and tears has gone into building Paul Mellia signing his commemorative Carnaby Street. The Animation Art Gallery and Flip limited editions and his incredible Thomas So how does Russell select a newly Editions, Russell quickly relaxes back into at the station original canvas displayed in licensed publishing programme? “Selfish ‘big kid’ mode as we reach the end of the the window. reasons mainly!” he grins, “I just go for stuff interview: “I spent my childhood watching Wallace & Gromit have also seen I like. I’ve grown up loving certain characters cartoons, playing games and reading appearances and signings by the original and stories and then it hits me – why isn’t comic books and have made a business creators, Nick Park, Peter Lord and Peter there any artwork for this?” Indeed, the out of it. Selfishly it’s surrounding myself Sallis. company’s trademark strap line is ‘Artwork with stuff I love. I just get a real kick out of The Mr Men art programme included a you grew up with’. selling what I sell!” Q & A with Adam Hargreaves (Roger’s Russell says the Mr Men launch was a And just like the Tom Hanks character son) and the appearance of some giant good example of this. It occurred to Russell in Big, Russell is strangely happy to view sized Mr Men characters. The nine week when he was reading a Mr Greedy book to life through an adult’s and child’s eyes. ■ show attracted up to 400 people a day. It his children that the giant’s plate, with the featured a big memorabilia collection on sausages, peas and potatoes would make a display, some fascinating story boards great picture. “I felt all tingly, knowing it about the characters and the whole would be a great piece…” four years later experience moved some of the visitors to and having gone through CPLG and Corian tears – as they re-lived their childhood the deal was done. The initial Mr Men series memories of the Mr Men. included five book scenes and the business This year is going to be ‘a big one’ for is now launching another ten. The Animation Art Gallery as the company Boundless energy and an incredible has signed a number of deals for artwork knowledge of the licensing market could Mr Men launch with appearance of Adam that haven’t yet achieved art programmes. never be enough to persuade some of the Hargreaves and characters 40 picture business MARCH /APRIL 2007 w w w. p i c t u r e b u s i n e s s . u k . c o m