Tara Reed Designs – Celebrating 20 years in Art Licensing

artist Tara Reed in 2004, 2007 and 2009

It’s hard to believe that 20 years ago this week I incorporated my business in Oregon, 2 weeks after moving back with my then 11 year old son and in the middle of a divorce. It feels like forever ago and yesterday at the same time. The pictures through the years are certainly a reminder that yes, time has passed and I’m getting older.

artist Tara Reed in 2011, 2012 and 2014

I had done some licensing, but didn’t know it by that name, with EK Success from 2000 to 2003 in the scrapbooking industry. But I mark my “start” in the industry as 2004 when I exhibited at my very first trade show – The Licensing Expo in June 2004.

artist Tara Reed in 2015, 2022 and 2023

As I mentioned, I was going through a divorce so I decided to register my business as Tara Reed Designs – Reed being my maiden and current name. I’d been “Tara Cowper” for 13 years so I hadn’t given much thought to the actress Tara Reid. That was about to change in a big way.

In 2004 the Licensing Expo was still held at the Javitz Center in NYC so I headed east with equal parts art in my portfolio and butterflies in my stomach. I shared a booth with a good friend (I’m not sure she wants to be named so I’ll keep that detail to myself) and we rolled the dice.

You know how they say that no matter how much you prepare the completely unexpected will happen? Yeah… it did.

The actress Tara Reid had an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction on the red carpet shortly before the Licensing Expo so I had a LOT of people come to our booth curious to see if it was her. All I can say is that has continued throughout my career and I’m glad I don’t have long blond hair or it would be even trickier. This is also why I’m “artist Tara Reed” on most social media – it was the easiest way to distinguish myself from the actress!

Hollywood actress name issue aside – that first show was a big learning experience and got me my first two clients. Maybe this could work!

For 14 years I exhibited annually at Surtex, The Licensing Expo or both, trying to figure out where I fit in the industry. I attended the Gift Show in Altanta, tabletop shows in New York and Hobby and Craft shows in California.

From 2008 – 2015 I taught artists about the business side of art licensing through eBooks, classes and coaching.

I’ve seen the industry go through a few big shake ups: the market crash in 2008 that rippled through retail and changed things forever. Another economic dust up in 2012 and then the most recent COVID years of life and supply chain disruption, the ripples of which are still being felt today as many retailers and manufacturers continue to go out of business.

  • I’ve changed my art style, improved my computer skills, built relationships and networked and tried different things.
  • Some things worked, like selling digital art for crafters on Etsy and other sites, some things didn’t.
  • Clients ebb and flow with the amount of art they license vs. buy vs. do in-house so it’s important to be in tune to the changes and always looking for opportunities.
  • It takes a good work ethic and self-motivation to work from home for 20+ years.
  • Building a network of other artists and entrepreneurs has been a lifesaver in both good and challenging times.

It gave me the time and place flexibility I wanted when my son was in school. I enjoy learning new ways of connecting with consumers through art and helping manufacturers make products that sell.

Art licensing has been the perfect union of my creativity, love of painting and my business background (any Nittany Lions out there? Smeal College of Business 1990 Marketing alum here!).

I’ve been fortunate to have the support of family and friends through this journey, as well as a therapist or two because mental health is a vital ingredient to succeed on your own!

My current focus is in the fabric design, sewing and quilting world. Back to my scrapbooking photography roots but now the photos are primarily for blog and social media posts. I’m leaning into YouTube with sewing tutorials and have added “video editor” to my list of skills.

I’m still licensing my art, learning new things and trying to decide what I want to be “when I grow up.” As my sister recently said, “What’s old is new again” – referring to me talking about trying to figure out where I want to go from here.

Thank you to all of my amazing clients, the artists and agents I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know and all of the customers who resonate with my art and buy and use products it is on.


4 responses to “Tara Reed Designs – Celebrating 20 years in Art Licensing”

  1. Thanks for sharing your story. And congratulations! I love your YouTube videos and have made some items using your clear concise videos. Wish you all the best going forward!

    1. Thank you Brenda and I’m glad to hear you’ve been inspired by some of my projects. 🥰

  2. Christy Avatar

    Funny thing. I haven’t really kept up with Hollywood for years. Just don’t care for newer movies and shows, so I was confused for quite awhile why google and you tube kept trying to spell your last name wrong. What the heck. Who is this blonde chick?? At least even though it kept changing my spelling, your stuff still popped up and wasn’t too hard to find the videos I was looking for. Love your art and you have such a gift for explaining how to do things. I’ve enjoyed learning from you.

    1. I love everything about your comment! It’s been a challenge for sure – there’s also a “Tara Read” that has been in the news before too but that has only been a blip of google confusion. 🤣

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