Welcome, everyone, to another Artist Limelight article! We are so excited to present to you another (ALSC) artist! Today we spoke with Barb Tourtillotte, a creator with nearly 30 years of industry experience. Barb has worked on everything from fabrics and rugs to eyeglass cases and dinnerware and was excited to talk about her experiences in the industry, as well as what advice she has for future artists.

Q: Please introduce yourself and tell us more about what you do in your professional art career.

My name is Barb Tourtillotte. Last name is pronounced tour-till-oh or turtlelow, whichever is easier. After a dozen years as a graphic designer, I morphed into an illustrator and then a licensed artist.

Q: How do you describe your style?

The majority of my work is pretty tightly rendered watercolor, often with a touch of whimsy. I would say 90% of my work is old-school watercolor technique. I love a brush in my hand and the swish of the water. I dabble a bit in acrylics and digital design which I enjoy and have licensed, but most of my clients are looking for my watercolor look.

Q: What kind of products have you worked with?

Gosh, it has been across the board from fabrics, home decor, giftware, wall art, prints, party paper goods, rugs, garden flags, greeting cards, etc. There are certainly a few more products I would love to get my art on such as apparel, calendars, and fashion accessories. Fingers crossed!

Q: How did you find out about art licensing and what did you do to break into the business?

My first licensing deal was way back in the early 90′s with a fabric company who pursued me through my work in the quilt publishing market. I had no idea what licensing was and no idea what the contract meant, but I signed it and have been with this lovely company till this day. I didn’t pursue licensing for another 8 years (still not really comprehending what it was) until an artist friend asked if I would like to show with her at Surtex in 2000.

“I had 12 pieces to show. That’s it. I got my second licensing deal from that show a year later for gift bags, and it took off from there.”

Q: What motivates you to create?

I think it is in my blood. I have a lot of creative genes on both sides of my family – photographers, artists, graphic designers, architects. Since as far back as I can remember, I have always wanted to create something, whether it be craft projects as a kid, doodling on the side margin of notebook paper during classes, or sewing most of my own clothes in high school. I LOVE to create. Seeing something manifest itself on paper from just an idea is so rewarding. And the topper is seeing that image on paper become a dimensional product through licensing.

Q: Can you please tell us about your art-making process?

Often times a client will ask for a particular theme, so that gives me a jumping off point in the creative process. Other times, I may just sit and stare nervously at a blank canvas often praying for inspiration. I start with lots and lots of doodles and then move up to tighter and tighter sketches. I go through a lot of tracing paper. Recently, I purchased an iPad Pro and am blown away by the possibilities as I hear it can be life-changing creatively and it would certainly cut back on my tracing paper mess. But I digress. From the sketches, I use my light table to transfer the images to watercolor paper. Then I paint. I then scan the images into Photoshop – mainly I paint in icons as I need the flexibility to manipulate the images – layer them, and move them about depending on the product format. In my free time I paint fine art pieces of either tightly rendered images or abstracts which include the background.

Q: What’s your art background?

I attended college for 4 years, just shy of getting my Bachelors, and transferred to a professional art school for graphic design and illustration. I got a job right out of school working for a small design company where I did layout work and logo design. After a year, I decided to go out on my own and started my own design firm, Graphicworks. I spent a dozen years doing graphic design and book illustration (both technical and illustrative art for the quilting industry and preschool teachers market).

Q: What would you consider to be key to your success as an artist?

Being flexible, meeting deadlines, and being easy to work with. For me, though perhaps not for every artist, I found that it is also important to be versatile in your styles.

“Be true to yourself, but if you do have the ability to do more than one style successfully, that helps.”


Q: What’s an achievement in your career that you are most proud of?

Actually, it is what I just mentioned. Having a reputation of being flexible, meeting deadlines, and being easy to work with. I may not be the best artist around, but I am proud that I have achieved those other abilities.

Q: Who inspires you as an artist?

The Great Creator’s designs from a sweet, multi-dotted ladybug to the tiniest details of a flower are just a couple examples of the incredible inspiration in nature and creation. Hands down, my favorite human artist/illustrator is Norman Rockwell. Every painting is filled with emotion, expression… perfection. The year between high school graduation and heading off to college, I worked full time and I spent a large chunk of my income buying a signed, framed, collagraph of one of his works. I still own it and cherish it greatly.

Q: If you were starting over today, what is one thing you would want to know?

If I were to go back in time, I certainly would have started in the licensing field a decade earlier. I think licensing may have had its heyday in the 80′s and 90’s and I missed it by a dozen years because I didn’t understand what it was. So that would be the main thing – to have learned everything I could about licensing early on.
If we are talking about starting in licensing NOW with what I know, in all honesty, it would be that it is not an easy business to get into. You REALLY have to work hard to get established and though it certainly can be done with grit, perseverance, and tough skin, besides having good licensable art, it is a trek. That I would want to know- it can be done, but it takes work.
That being said, it is the best decision I have made in my career. I feel so honored seeing my art on product, and I especially love the people I have met in the industry.

Q: What is the most valuable thing to you in the community?

First of all, the ALSC idea is BRILLIANT! With the way the licensing trade shows are going, this is the way of the future. I can only see it growing in leaps and bounds over the years as the industry catches on to how easy it is to see the beautiful artwork of hundreds of artists, and how, compared to the trade shows, is so reasonably priced for artists to get their images out there.

“TIP: Do submit your artwork whenever there is a Challenge on ALSC. A great opportunity to be seen by art directors!”

Q: What is one goal that you would love to achieve in the next five years?

I have a couple of companies I have been trying to license with for over a decade now and would love to work with them. I think my 5-year goal, however, is to work exclusively with just a handful of really great clients in each product division that I can give my all to and work together to turn out great product lines.

Q: What advice would you give to those starting out in the licensing business?


Don’t rush out of the gate before you are ready with a good, solid portfolio of licensable images such as Christmas, coastal, fall, spring, florals, everyday themes. It may take a good year to do this, but you want to make a good impression from the get-go!


Read books, follow blogs and online groups, invest in portfolio consultation, walk the trade shows, go to artist workshops.  Make those cold calls and do online research (LinkedIn and ALSC are great for this) to find out who the art directors are and if your work looks like a good fit.
A bit about artist etiquette and this one goes for all artists – newbies or seasoned. It’s okay to ask artists who have been licensing for a while about their experience but do be respectful about your questions. It typically isn’t okay to ask other artists and agents for their client contact information. Just like any business, contacts are proprietary information and it makes for an awkward situation when you ask. Doing the legwork yourself is a major part of learning and growing in this business. Sorry if I sound like an ogre but in speaking with other artists about this sticky situation, seems it needed to be addressed. :-)

“Never stop learning! I continue to learn about the business, technology, legal stuff, etc. relating to licensing on a daily basis.”


Do you enjoy marketing, negotiating, cold calling, paperwork, contracts, etc.? In other words, all the business side of it? Or do you prefer just doing the creative side? If it is the latter, you definitely want an agent. Seventy-five percent of your time will be doing the business side if you rep yourself. I personally like wearing a lot of hats and keeping my hands in all aspects of the business, but many artists don’t.


Don’t give up too soon and don’t give up your day job too soon!   As I said, it often takes years to get established in the industry.  Work on your art after hours and weekends (you love creating anyway, right?) to build a strong portfolio.
Have you read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert?  A lovely read!
And I love this quote from Richard Branson -

“Never go into business purely to make money. If that’s the motive you’re better off doing nothing.”

Happy creating!

About Barb Tourtillotte / Barb Tourtillotte Illustration
“I have loved creating art as far back as I remember including ‘sketching’ on my bedroom walls as a child (that didn’t go over well). I majored in graphic design and illustration in college and ran a design business for a dozen years before moving over to the illustration field. It’s been nearly 30 years now since I began licensing to manufacturers of textiles, books, paper goods, giftware, wall art and ceramics. I am so thankful to have this career that I love and for all the wonderful relationships that have developed because of it.” ~ Barb Tourtillotte

16 responses to Barb Tourtillotte ~ Flexibility, Meeting Deadlines, & Art Licensing

  1. And to think, I walked my first Surtex show with you way back when. Love it that we’re still friends now and you are still inspiring the check out of me! You GO girl!

  2. After reading this article, I respect and admire you even more! (if that’s possible). Thank you for sharing your experience and your insight. You are such an inspiration.

  3. Thanks Barb for sharing your knowledge and advice. Your artwork is beautiful!

  4. Nice article… lovely artwork!

  5. Thank you for sharing your story. I love artist’s stories and we all have one!! :)Thanks for the inspiration in your lovely art

  6. So inspiring!!!

  7. You are such an inspiration Barb! Thank you for sharing your journey with us all.

    • Thank you so much for the opportunity, Cherish. It was an honor to do this interview with you!

  8. Great article, and lovely work, Barb!!! Truly appreciate hearing your story!!!

  9. Great frank and warm advice for anyone in any stage of licensing. Thank you Barb. It’s always fun learning which roads lead artists to licensing and yours provided a solid foundation for building your gorgeous portfolio.

  10. Barb, Wonderful read, great advice and I LOVE ‘Big Magic’ !

    • Thank you, Deb! Isn’t Big Magic the best? I have both read it and listened on audio. A must for all creatives!

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