June 10, 2014

Charlotte artist Caroline Simas licenses faith-based work to global retailers

The founder of Multiple Blessings learned her best business strategy was outsourcing tasks that kept her from creating.

Retailers attest: there aren’t many artists like Caroline Simas.

She’s a mother of four and incredibly prolific. She’s got design chops and business savvy. And rather than gunning for a gallery wall, she’s found a way for her designs to appear on products worldwide.

The difference-maker: Simas licenses her work.

In Caroline Simas’ home studio, a large bookshelf holds the fruits of her labor: dozens of consumer goods bearing her designs – from tumblers to notepads to calendars – most of which include a Bible verse or faith-based message.

And in the past six years, the Charlotte-based artist and mother of four has grown her business from a line of greeting cards sold at a local shop to an extensive line of hand-made designs that appear on hundreds of products sold around the world.

Simas creates designs using a mix of watercolors, acrylics and embellishments, ranging from painted lace to small sticks to Scrabble letters picked up at a flea market.

In licensing her work, she retains the copyrights and essentially rents those designs to companies that work with consumer-goods manufacturers. She then gets a royalty on the sale of each item that has her artwork on it.

Simas says most of her royalties come quarterly and usually range from 5 to 8 percent.

Licensing is a way to build a brand. For example, a paisley pattern of pink and teal, with a Bible verse, that she created could end up on candles, notepads, even garden tools.

“You know what’s interesting about her?” says Kim Livengood, spokeswoman for Tervis, an insulated drinkwear company that has sold thousands of products with Simas’s designs. “Most artists aren’t business people. She is both.”

Her road to art

Simas studied elementary education – not art – and spent six years in the classroom, first in Charleston and then at Charlotte Country Day School. She stopped teaching a few weeks before her first child, Walker, was born.

But she continued to give art lessons to children over the summer in her garage.

After her second child, William, was born, Simas started the Creative Palette, a custom painting business. She painted murals on children’s bedroom walls, in playrooms and in nurseries. A woodworker made step stools and children’s tables and chairs that she would paint.

Then, after finding out she was pregnant with twin girls, she put her business on hold. But while on bed rest, she hand-painted the birth announcements.

“I had so much fun painting and designing on paper (that) a friend encouraged me to ... match Scripture with art on paper,” Simas said.

It wasn’t long before Simas had created several dozen greeting cards, which a friend sold at her home art show.

Within a week, the co-owner of 3 French Hens, a gift shop in Cotswold, had commissioned her own batch for the store.

Fun and faith resonate

Simas launched her official business, Multiple Blessings – a nod to the twins whose birth inspired her entrepreneurship – with a greeting card line in 2005. Soon, a half-dozen local shops asked to carry the line.

She attributes the popularity to the fact that most of the Scripture-based cards at the time used stock photography of waterfalls or serene landscapes, not hand-painted designs.

“We have other artists who do things with words, and they have a folk-art feel. She took it to a different place,” said Alan Goldstein, co-owner of City Art Works, a gift shop located across from Park Road Shopping Center. “She uses color a lot. It’s bright and fun. ...And the religious Christian part ... there’s a lot of people in the community that it resonates with.”

By 2007, juggling motherhood and logistics – printing, warehousing and shipping – was too stressful, Simas said. That’s when she looked to licensing.

Her first contract was with a company that sold baby linens. She picked up more clientele after renting a booth at Surtex, a New York trade show for art and design that manufacturers attend to peruse artists’ portfolios.

“The first time I was at Surtex, I got signed for fabric and stationery and several gift products,” Simas said. “And from there it just started growing and growing.”

In 2012, Tennesee-based licensing agency Courtney Davis Inc. contacted Simas. The agency had been watching her growth for more than year and was interested in representing her because of her faith-based artwork.

The boutique agency, which only represents just more than a dozen artists, takes a sizable portion of her sales, she says, but in exchange, they’ve opened doors to relationships with many of their manufacturing clients, which number in the hundreds.

Sabrina Frey, an assistant professor of marketing of interior design at Queens University of Charlotte, says a major part of their curriculum now is teaching students how not to be a starving artist.

“You have to be able to market yourself,” Frey said. “Because no matter who you are, you won’t be successful if you can’t get the word out about you and your work.”

For Simas, licensing removes some of that marketing burden, allowing her to focus on the part she most enjoys: the art.

The freedom in outsourcing

Simas may be free-spirited with a paint brush in her hand, but she has a standing weekly schedule that allows her to successfully juggle her roles as artist, wife and mother.

By licensing her work, Simas has more deadlines to meet. She’s already designing for products that will be released in 2015.

On Mondays, she tackles marketing, social media and emails. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are for creating.

And while Simas works on Thursdays, her part-time graphic designer scans her creations and sends them to her agent. She also outsources her bookkeeping, tax prep and website design, and has hired a studio assistant.

“Life is too short not to try and do what you love,” Simas said, “because if you can develop that into a career, what a gift and blessing.”

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