Not only is her artwork attractive and colorful but extremely popular among many jigsaw puzzlers too.
A good portion of Lori Schory's artwork is produced by Sunsout and cut into different shapes. You may also have seen some of her artwork produced by White Mountain.
We had an opportunity to do an email interview with her plus gathered many wonderful images - see below.
When it comes to jigsaw puzzles, more often than not, many puzzlers do not pay much attention to the artist, yours truly included. However, the more puzzles you do, you may tend to start favouring Artists like I did. The following is an in depth look at how this Artist's life gravitated towards a successful career designing jigsaw puzzle images. Special thanks to Lori Schory for sharing her side of jigsaw puzzles during an email interview.
Q. For our Readers, which state do you live in?
Southeastern Wisconsin. I was born in Chicago and raised in Park Ridge, IL
Q. Where did you grow up?
I lived in Park Ridge until I went to Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL, and enrolled as a Fine Art major. I graduated in 1981 with a Masters of Fine Arts degree and moved to New Jersey where I lived for the next 6 years. I went there to explore career possibilities in the art world in New York City.
Q. What kind of education do you have that gives you the abilities for your artwork?
I was introduced to art as a child, and grew up in a very artistic household. I was heavily influenced by my Mother and Father (both graduates of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn NY). My Father was an industrial designer and my Mother was a stay at home Mom, and art hobbyist. I was most influenced by watching my Mother paint portraits and still- lives and she would give art lessons to myself and my school-mates in our home. She taught us perspective drawing, rendering with various art mediums, and composition.
I spent as much time as possible in art and photography classes in High School and won art scholarships that allowed for the continuation of my art education in college. The art program at Northern Illinois University offered an array of excellent artists/instructors who introduced me to many styles of art and painting and drawing techniques.
In 1997, my eldest brother, Kenneth bought me my very first computer and graphics art software. At first I was intimidated, and didn’t have a clue as to how I would put it to good use. Eventually I hired a tutor who was familiar with Corel Draw and Corel Photo-Paint. His use of the program was geared more towards designing pamphlets, menus and business cards. I had to teach myself how to apply the techniques I learned from him to my needs and way of working.
Q. Did you travel a lot and which images were created as a result of your travels?
I have traveled but not extensively.
In 2011 I went to Ireland, England and Scotland with Diane Skilling (the owner of Sunsout) to take photographs for the Irish themed puzzles I designed for her.
We also attended the Licensing Show in London.
I have also been on several cruises which inspired me greatly. The Caribbean Cruise and Panama Canal cruise inspired many of my tropical themed puzzles.
The Alaskan cruise was also an inspiration just to experience another part of the world.
A trip to Fort Myers Florida also was inspirational for the more tropical themes in my work.
My return trip to New York City in 2004-- to attend the Licensing Show at the Jacob Javits Center was my introduction to art licensing. I met some wonderful artists and agents during that trip who have been an ongoing inspiration to me and helped me get through some difficult times while trying to establish myself and search for my niche in the art licensing world.
Lance Klass from Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing encouraged me to attend the Licensing show after I contacted him through email inquiring about how to get started in the art licensing business. I met Howard Robinson and Kevin Walsh at that show and they have also been very encouraging and influential in my pursuit of creating artwork for licensing.
Q. What did you do for a living before you decided to get into art licensing?
While attending undergraduate school, I was employed as curator of the Museum of Anthropology at NIU. In graduate school, I worked as an art instructor/TA. I also had a job as Merchandising Coordinator for a chain of 6 record stores. (Back when vinyl-records were the means by which people purchased music!) Gosh! I feel like a dinosaur! HA! While living in New Jersey, I sold color separations to magazine publishers for a printing company in New York City. I also tended bar while apprenticing for a local sign painter. I considered the craft of hand-lettering an art form of sorts and it truly was. When I returned to Chicago in 1986, I worked freelance for various sign shops throughout Chicago and the surrounding suburbs before venturing off on my own as “Lori’s Signs & Graphics” in 1988.
Q. Have you always identified yourself as an artist?
Ever since I was a youngster, I loved to paint and draw. I was inspired by watching my Mother paint with watercolors and oil paints in our home-- and she also took me to Park Ridge Art League meetings and outdoor art exhibits in Park Ridge Il. The art league regularly invited visiting local artists to their meetings.The visiting artists would demonstrate and openly discuss their artwork. My Mother also took me to the art Institute museum in Chicago and to art galleries to see the works of artists throughout history and contemporary artists. As a child I had an easel with a large roll of white paper and plenty of materials with which to sketch and draw. That and a set of Prismacolor colored pencils were some of my favorite “toys”. My parents had an extensive library in our home of drawing techniques, artist biographies and art history that I loved to page through and read.
In High school (Maine South) I had some wonderful art and photography instructors. They, too, were a great inspiration for me and whenever possible I would spend extra studio hours in the art classroom and photo dark room. I won many awards and art scholarships that inspired me to continue to develop my art skills in college. I dreamed of being a successful fine-artist making my living painting anything I felt like painting. Perhaps I was a bit idealistic as a younger person, and I was repeatedly warned that I should have a back- up plan if I were to attempt to pursue a career in art. Like marrying a prince! HA! All kidding aside, I did consider becoming a college art instructor but that never materialized.
Q. How did you become interested in art licensing in the first place?
Before I got into art licensing, I was self- employed for many years as a sign painter and mural artist. I worked freelance for many sign shops throughout the Chicago area and had a shop of my own in Lake Geneva, WI. I also painted realistic murals in peoples’ homes. While working in the Lake Geneva area I hand lettered many boats, stock cars and vehicles for contractors. I also hand-painted many bill-boards which included pictorials.
After losing my sign shop in a fire in 2001, I was eventually forced into finding another way to employ myself as an artist. At that time... I was also employed traveling the South painting signs and murals for theme restaurants owned by Carlson Restaurants Worldwide. I traveled from West Palm Beach, Florida to Dallas TX and beyond whenever there was a new restaurant under construction.
The same year I lost my shop in the fire, I lost my travelling sign-painting job due to 911. After the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the theme restaurants were sold off to private owners who didn’t require or care about paying extra to have lettering done by hand in their establishments. I tried to keep my sign painting business going, but the invention of vinyl letters made my craft extinct, and I couldn’t compete with the cost of vinyl letters vs hand lettering.
The writing was on the wall that hand- painted signs were not the wave of the future. I said to myself, “Reinvent yourself or else!”
While exploring different ways to make a living as an artist, I was reading the 2003 publication of “Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market” (a guidebook for freelance artists) and I came across an article written by Lance Klass (Owner of Porterfields’ Fine Art Licensing) about the world of art licensing.
After reading his article, I had a strong feeling that this was the direction I should head into if I was to reinvent myself in an art-related field. I couldn’t imagine trying to work for someone else in a non-art related field. I knew I would be facing a huge challenge, and I would need to educate myself as to what kind of art I would have to create in order to be marketable in a completely different field from the one I had been in for so many years.
Q. Who were/are your biggest influences and inspirations in the art licensing world?
At the 2004 art licensing show in New York City, I met Lance Klass (the author of the article I mentioned). Had it not been for Lance, I never would have attended the 2004 Licensing Show, and I would not have met people like Howard Robinson, etc. I stumbled upon both Howard Robinson and Kevin Walsh’s booth the very last day of the 3-day show. Howard took the time to look at what little artwork I had to show him and he then gave me the phone number of Elaine Citron of Cypress Fine Art Licensing to contact.
I mentioned to Howard I was looking for an agent to guide me and represent me as I didn’t know where to begin in this strange-new-world I was investigating. I would have to say these folks were top on my list of people who are responsible for giving me the strength and encouragement to make my art licensing career develop into the reality it is today.
One thing led to the next, and when I eventually contacted Diane Skilling of Sunsout Inc. to see if she might be interested in my art for her jigsaw puzzles, she nearly knocked me over when she said, “yes!”. She gave me my very first assignment designing a Hummingbird shaped jigsaw puzzle. That opportunity was a huge stepping stone for my inspiration and self-confidence making art for jigsaw puzzles. Diane Skilling has since become my best customer, and she and I have learned to work in sync together. Working on art for her was a huge challenge at first as she was very strict about what she was looking for. Working for Diane made me work extra- hard to learn to create the type of imagery puzzlers are looking for.
Cronan Minton of White Mountain Puzzles was also a very strong influence when he decided to accept some of my early art for his line of jigsaw puzzles.
Elaine Citron was hesitant at first to represent me as I didn’t have a portfolio of the type of artwork she was accustomed to or able to sell. After finally agreeing to work with me, she spent hours and hours on the phone with me --directing me and educating me as to what type of art I needed to create for her markets such as wall décor, greeting cards and garden flags to name a few.
Elaine taught me how to research products on my own and study what kind of imagery works best for different types of products before even beginning to create the art.
Elaine agreed to represent me non- exclusively which allowed me the freedom to explore other areas of art licensing on my own.
Elaine was able to license some of my early art primarily for products outside of jigsaw puzzles.
That was my first introduction to actually earning income as an art licensor!
Q. Why did you end up mostly licensing jigsaw puzzles?
I found that over time, the artwork I was doing for jigsaw puzzles matched my style and sensibilities best, and I could work more freely with a wide variety of subjects. I enjoy telling a visual story through my imagery and that was most appropriate and encouraged more in the world of jigsaw puzzle art than in other areas of art licensing. Other areas such as fabric designing, decorative wall art, or home related products relied more on current trends, and didn’t allow me as much leeway for creative expression. It’s like anything else... you do it long enough, you find out what you are best at. For me it was jigsaw puzzle art and the positive feedback and repeat orders I was getting from my customers that inspired me to focus mainly in that area. Also, I began spending so much of my time designing for jigsaw puzzles that I didn’t have extra time to design for other products as well.
Q. What other products have your licensed artwork?
I have licensed my art for quilting fabric, wall décor, thermal tumblers and light switch plates, tile murals, mural wall paper, bath décor, cross-stitch patterns and greeting cards, T-shirts, coasters and decorative clocks. Also, stationery and those decorative stained-glass window décor. None of those areas were very lucrative for me as I never licensed enough art to those companies to make it profitable. I guess that's the reason they usually preclude the word artist with starving! Ha!
Q. How many puzzles have you licensed over the years?
I have licensed over 300 jigsaw puzzle designs since 2006 when I licensed my very first design to Sunsout Inc. (15 years ago!) Many of my designs have expired their usual 3-year contract but some have stayed in the marketplace for over 12 years. There are instances where a company will re-license an expired design that had been licensed by another company, but that doesn’t happen often. I save pictures of my licensed designs in folders on my computer by year, so I can reference how many puzzles I have licensed in a year and of which puzzle images were licensed in what year. This year I have licensed 26 new jigsaw puzzle designs. I just counted 30 in my 2020 folder. It takes me anywhere from 2 days to a month of 12-hour days (or more) to complete a design. Now that my library of objects has grown, time spent masking and digitally enhancing images is shortened which allows for finished pieces to be completed much faster. For instance, if I am asked for a collage of butterflies...I can put that together very quickly because I have a library consisting of hundreds of butterflies already ready to be digitally placed into the design.
Some designs require me to go out and research a particular theme which involves time away from the computer to collect the imagery necessary to complete the design. In which case the art may take a month or even longer.
Q. What is your advice to anyone wanting to get into art licensing?
My advice to anyone that would like to make a career from art licensing is to start out with enough money saved to live on while you are trying to find your niche. I would say at least two years of expenses.
Either that... or have another source of income so you can focus on creating a lot of art work with less pressure and stress.
Study products in stores that use artwork on them, and see where your artwork might be fitting.
If Licensing shows are going to be happening...try to attend the shows’ art licensing section. Surtex (in NYC) and Licensing (in Las Vegas) are two shows I have attended which were helpful.
Create a large body of artwork for the given area of art licensing you would like to work in. The more artwork you have to show the more likely some of it will be accepted.
Research the different companies and find out to whom you should send your artwork.
Contact the art directors of the different companies and introduce yourself. Ask them if they would like to see what you have to offer before sending low resolution images of your artwork. Read up on art licensing. Books about art licensing can be found at Amazon.
Read this article by Lance Klass of Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing: https://www.art- licensing.biz/ Go to art licensing agents’ websites and study the artists they represent. Be prepared to have your artwork rejected more times than not. Don’t give up if your art isn’t accepted immediately. Be willing and able to make adjustments to your artwork if the client wants to make changes. Deliver revisions to your client in a timely manner and be dependable and easy to work with. The client is always right. Do not try to argue with them or convince them you know better what will work for them.
Be proficient in a digital art program so you can provide high-resolution artwork to the client that is the correct size for their product. I happen to use Corel Graphics Suite/Corel Draw and Corel Photo-Paint however the industry standard is Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photo-Shop. If your artwork is not created in a digital art program, know how to present high quality representations of your artwork to the client.
Equip yourself with a high-powered computer that can handle large files if you are creating art for jigsaw puzzles as they are often times very large files. It is good to have a technician who is familiar with that and can assist if you run into technical difficulties.
Work with an agent if you find one that will represent you, but note you will pay them a percentage of your advances and royalties for their hard work. If you can sign a non- exclusive contract with an agent, you will be able to license to companies on your own as well as through your agent.
Keep accurate records of your contacts and all business dealings and follow up with them in a timely manner. Be certain to keep good records of your expenses and earnings, and understand the tax-implications of being a self-proprietor. You will have to pay estimated taxes quarterly, and you will have to pay your own social security taxes in addition to income tax.
Get a good accountant. If you are fairly young, contribute now to an IRA and SEP savings plan. You will be glad you did when it comes time for you to retire.
I spend so much time isolated in the studio and I was never a solitary type of individual. One drawback of the art business is isolation. Make the conscious effort to get outdoors and make time for socializing with friends as much as you can.It's a tough business and it's not for everyone but it can also be very rewarding!
Work hard...be polite and pray a lot!
Q. “Where do you get the photos for your designs?”
I like to take photos whenever I am out and about. It seems that everything and anything is fair game for me to photograph as I never know what I will need in the way of objects to include in my designs. I am constantly adding to my “library” of masked objects. That is, photographs that I digitally remove the object I want to save from its background, and enhance it to make it the best it can be for a potential design. When I finish isolating the part of the photo I want to save for future use, I save the object with a transparent background in a named folder where I can find it again when I need it. I have hundreds of folders on my computer from “Barns” to “Trucks” to “Kittens” to “Flowers”, etc.
I go to flea markets in search of unique and interesting things. That is oftentimes things that are vintage or antique-- as I find they have more character than newer things. I photograph toys, tools, barnwood, costumes, shoes...you name it. Thrift stores, museums and garage sales are also great places for me to find interesting things to photograph.
I love to include animals in my puzzle designs. Especially ones with character and personality that shines and make the designs come alive. To acquire photographs of different animals I like to go to the county fairs, dog shows and cat shows and wherever else different animals can be found.
I spend a lot of time in the various animal barns at the fairs taking hundreds of photographs --striving to capture the personality and different expressions of the animals.
It is oftentimes a huge challenge to get the right shot...and to get the animals to cooperate!! It is oftentimes a huge challenge to get the right shot...and I enjoy the challenge of actually getting a good photograph that is in focus! If it appears that the animal is smiling or has a funny face...that’s even better as that can add humour to a design.
Those are the photos that inspire me when I’m thinking of new designs and funny animal images are attention-grabbers and can delight and amuse the puzzler.
Sometimes people send me photos of their pets for me to potentially use in my designs. They get a “kick” of my making their pet “famous”!
I also use photographs in my designs because for me it is a much more efficient way of working. I used to hand-paint all the objects in my designs for jigsaw puzzles, and found that method to be too time-consuming.
When I design for a jigsaw puzzle, I intentionally use many-many objects in order to make each of the individual puzzle pieces interesting to look at. I prefer lots of objects in a puzzle design over large swatches of a single color or texture. My thought is that complexity of design gives more clues for the puzzler to find in order to match the pieces together..
I prefer realism over abstraction, therefore photographs are the best way I know how to capture true realism.
I used to spend up to 8 hours painting one realistic butterfly!!! Some of my designs have 50 or more butterflies in them. I would be in the poor-house painting butterflies if I depended on hand-painted objects for my designs.
Oftentimes, the art director will want changes made to a design. (“Take out the black cat and replace it with a yellow one”—Or put a red barn in there instead of a white one” for instance) By working digitally...I can quickly make revisions without having to start the design over from scratch every time a change is requested.
In my opinion, the story I am telling and the attractiveness of the composition are key aspects of a good puzzle design. I think the final designs are just as engaging when I use photographs as when I hand-paint the image--. The time I save by not hand-painting objects is used to tweak the composition, lighting, contrast, etc. to strive to make the overall design as attractive as I can make it.
Q. How do you come up with such creative ideas?
A lot of my ideas come when I am either getting into sleep-mode or just waking up. I go to bed thinking of a particular idea... and wonder how I can enhance it. Then if I'm thinking about that before I go to sleep...I often wake up with a creative solution!!!.
First of all, I think of a setting...much like a theatrical setting for my "story". Then I go into a dream world kind of state of mind and think about all the "characters" in the "play". It is really quite invigorating and inspirational! It puts me in a very positive frame of mind!
I love to tell a story that can be interpreted in many different ways. I love thought provoking with my critters and settings rather than just simple dazzling imagery.
I strive to give puzzlers more than just a pretty picture to assemble. I like to think I inspire thoughts and conversation along the way.
My images....I like to keep them overly "happy" or "calm" as to create an atmosphere that allows a break from the real world. I like to create a sort of meditative image that encourages the puzzler to spend some time in a pretty/happy place away from the daily news!!!!! I strive to make people smile, and perhaps even laugh while puzzling.
Q. Do you love your job?
YES! I DO LOVE my job and I don’t see myself getting tired of it. Of course, there are times when I feel as though I’ve already covered all the bases, and that there isn’t anything new I can come up with. Artist blocks are common for all artists, I think. The best part of the job is when I receive an assignment and an idea comes to mind quickly. I just start working on the idea, and as it comes together it becomes more exciting and enjoyable. The best part of the job is when I finally come to a point when I think the design is finished and the concept is presentable. At that point I send it off to a client for feedback or approval. Just because I happen to love a new design doesn’t guarantee the customer will like it as much as I do. In this business one has to accept rejection as well as appreciate acceptance. I love my job the most when I receive a reply from my submission, “I love it!” “Let’s Do It!”.
If a design sent to a client is rejected, try not to take it personally. It may be that your design just isn’t what the client is looking for at that particular time or they may already have artwork that is similar.
When I am working on a fun jigsaw puzzle design and everything is falling into place, I find myself smiling while working. I can also find myself laughing out loud when a perfect expression on a certain animal in the piece gives extra punch and humor to the piece! When I see a positive post on one of the jigsaw puzzle groups on Facebook that shows someone putting one of my puzzles together alone or with friends... or posts a photo of a finished puzzle I’ve designed... that brings me great joy as well. The fact that the process of assembling one of my designs in jigsaw puzzle form brings people a sense of peace and accomplishment makes me love my job even more.
Q. Do you have one Favorite image?
I would have to say that one of my all-time favorite designs is the one I’ve attached. “Bobbing For Apples”! I just love the overall happy feel of this one. So far it isn’t an all-time best-seller, but I do love it. The Lions shape is also one of my favorites. I created it when we first learned of covid spreading everywhere and the Lion roaring expresses how I felt and continue to feel about the virus and the effect it has had on the world. The two designs are licensed to Sunsout, Inc. Coral Reef Majesty was licensed to Ravensburger in 2017 and has sold very well. It has since expired its license, but may be picked up by their division in Germany. I am still hopeful and anticipating a contract from them. Snowmen sold very well for White Mountain Puzzles, but has finally expired. I believe the Snowmen ran for 12 years! It is currently available to another puzzle company if interested! I am sorry I could NOT pick just ONE!!! HA!
Q. What other hobbies or activities do you enjoy?
I love baking homemade granola and sourdough bread...and I am way into gardening. Both veggies and flowers! I have a little cottage in Southeast Wisconsin that I have been renovating since 1989. It needed a LOT of work but I love my little cottage-home and the nearby lake and the change of seasons.
Q. Can you share some personal thoughts with us?
As my dear Mother said..."with Lori...what you see is what you get!" She knew me best of all, and was a great influence on my artistic endeavours! Dad, too. It's been a crazy ride but I am so grateful that I have such sincere fans on your groups pages. That gives me great joy and inspiration to continue creating new jigsaw puzzle art way into my retirement years. I am 65 now. Believe it or not! HA!
Special thanks to Edna Mefford for photo credits
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