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Art for Kids becomes more than just child’s play: from whimsical posters to sophisticated originals, the art market offers more choices for decorating the walls of children’s and teens’ rooms than ever before

Art for Kids becomes more than just child’s play: from whimsical posters to sophisticated originals, the art market offers more choices for decorating the walls of children’s and teens’ rooms than ever before – news

Ellen Sturm

When a couple finds out they are expecting a baby, they do many things to prepare. One is to carefully plan the nursery’s decor, from the furnishings to the bedding to the wall art. As that child grows, the parents continue to make the child’s room a safe and happy place. Eventually, the child wants to choose what style best reflects his or her personality.

Fortunately, at every step of the way, the art market offers wall art of all styles and prices for babies, adolescents, tweens and teens. “In general, the children’s furnishings industry is a growing one, and wall art and room decor is a big part of that,” said Jane Kitchen, editor of Kids Today, a trade magazine covering the children’s furnishings industry. “There is a lot to choose from these days.”

According to Nicholas Edgar, marketing director at Rosenstiel’s, “We have noticed a considerable rise in interest in children’s art recently, particularly over the last 18 months.” Recent events in the United States may be helping the niche to grow. “The trend toward cocooning is continuing in 2003,” said Anita Kirk, promotions specialist at Art in Motion. “Parents are looking to create rooms for their children that promote fun and give their child a sense of security.”

Although the economic downturn has made people more concerned about spending money, the housing and decorating markets have stayed strong as people want to spend more time at home with their families. Allison Dailey, associate product manager for Portal Publications, said, “There is an increased effort to make the home a comfortable, safe place to live. As parents strive to make this happen, decorating their children’s rooms with uplifting art is a top priority.”

Harriet Rinehart, founder of Rinehart Fine Arts, now part of the Bentley Publishing Group, tried publishing artwork for children’s rooms years ago and said one should also consider the “Grandma Market.” She said, “Grandmothers are investing in pretty, expensive pictures for infants.”

Parents Under the Influence

Children are as interested in decorating their rooms as their parents and are more knowledgeable these days thanks to the influence of the media. “Kids themselves take more interest than they did 10 years ago and at a much earlier age,” said joy Phillips, owner of Creative Images, where half of the company’s SKUs are exclusive to the Art4Kids brand. Artist Rudi Wolff of Big Flower Art, whose bright, abstract, floral works have been installed in children’s hospitals and schools, said, “Certainly for infants to possibly six years old, the parents are the buyers and the tastemakers, and from then on it’s the kids themselves. Parents can influence and shape their child’s taste by the art they themselves own.”

Fau Grana, president of Art:asap, a Manhattan gallery that frames a lot of art for children, said parents don’t always choose what kids may prefer. He remembers his daughter’s preschool class field trip to his gallery. He was surprised when the kids were more attracted to a showcase of Smithsonian abstracts than to a display of Mickey and Minnie art. “Kids want more vibrant colors, more modern and abstract images,” he said.

“Kids seem to have a new-found purchasing power–with an awareness of and distinct say in getting what they want,” said artist Kate Holmes. Kitchen of Kids Today said that companies are taking advantage of this and paying more attention to the eight- to 12-year-old tween market especially, because that group has been underserved and is at an age when they begin to have a say in decorating their rooms. “It is easy for parents to let [their children] choose an accessory like art,” Kitchen said.

Expanding Horizons

Phillips said over the last five years, retailers have realized the potential for youth accessory sales which has translated into more product in the marketplace than ever before.

“As a new mom,” said Holmes, “I distinctly remember the Pottery Barn Kids catalog being introduced. Its rollout was a watershed of sorts; for the first time, the mass market was offered a somewhat sophisticated art and decor product.” Holmes’ art is often chosen for kids’ rooms because of its subject matter and childlike perspective.

Art for children is now sold almost everywhere art or home furnishings are sold–gift and craft stores, bookstores, warehouse stores, catalogs, galleries, home stores and the Internet. “There has been an influx of major retailers creating their niche stores or lines for children,” said Jeff Kelly of Jeeto!, a design company that provides bold, contemporary art for children’s rooms. “Most are taking the expensive decor and attempting to translate it to a children’s room setting at an affordable, or somewhat affordable, price.”

Just for Kids

Traditionally, art for children is filled with soft pastel colors, friendly animals and children’s cartoon or book characters, such as Disney or Babar, and is often theme-based, around such subjects as animals or sports.

Kirk said Art in Motion’s artists Alex Clark and Emily Adams are very popular for children’s rooms. Clark’s work often uses countryside themes, animals and birds. “Spot the Sheep” and “Spot the Pony” as well as “Zebra on Safari” and “Lion on Safari” are created with a neutral palette and are surrounded by a type-style border. Adams’ children-inspired series features “My Pink Car” and “My Boat.” “This collection of six smaller scale images are perfect for a child’s room or for those young at heart,” said Kirk. “Emily’s artistic perspective encourages her to view subjects in a fresh and creative manner, enabling her to interpret a simple object with a unique and often whimsical approach.”

Rosenstiel’s has published a number of series of successful juvenile themes, including artist’s work and licensed characters. Some characters that have had recent success are Beatrix Potter’s “Peter Rabbit,” Cicely Mary Barker’s “Flower Fairies” and “Felicity Wishes” by Emma Thompson. “Where the character is not necessarily one recognized by grown-ups, we find that color and charm are the two keys to selling a juvenile image to them,” said Edgar. “Bright colors, happy faces and recognizable child-friendly activities within the pictures–such as characters making sandcastles, having picnics, being read bedtime stories etc.–all contribute to making a potential print successful.”

Dailey said Portal has had success with its inspirational prints, as well as images from children’s photographers Anne Geddes, Gail Goodwin and Mark Hill, artist Anthony Morrow and early 20th-century illustrator Bessie Pease Goodman. Two new baby collages, “Baby Girl Collage” and “Baby Boy Collage,” both released in May, are a new look for Portal. “Sweet with a handmade look, these images add a soft, comforting look to any nursery,” said Dailey. In January, Portal also introduced its “Young Adult Collection,” which is targeted to the teen market and features a range of images from sports to fine art.

Phillips said Creative Images’ glassless wall decor format is a natural for a child’s environment. This spring, the company’s Art4Kids brand launched the “Over the Top” line for the often difficult-to-please tween and teen market. “Here we take our core product a step beyond with three-dimensional elements for real excitement in kids art,” said Phillips. “Glitz, glitter, wheels, beads, leather, tulle and lace are all used to enhance the art for a fun look.” Wholesale prices range from $39 to $54.

Kelly, an artist himself, got the idea for Jeeto! while he was expecting his first child. He painted some fun pictures for his new baby’s room, and everyone who came to visit loved them. Jeff and his brother decided to create an entire line of paintings that used bright colors, instead of the traditional pastels, in order to fill a niche in children’s decor. Some of the company’s most popular canvases are “Hippo,” “Giraffe” and “Panda,” which range in price from $75 to $150, depending on the size.

Crossing Over

Parents are also looking at art not necessarily made just for kids, but that which appeals to parents and kids alike. “I’ve had parents who bought my ‘Wall Flowers’ for their baby’s room, only to have it end up in their own bedroom because they liked it so much,” said Wolff.

Bernard Rougerie, president of Rare Posters/Art Wise, said that while they haven’t done much to expand into the children’s art market, he is being asked more and more about images that could possibly grow in value for kids’ rooms. “People are thinking that maybe it’s worth investing in art that their kids might benefit from later on,” he said. “For example, a silly bright Brillo poster by Andy Warhol printed in 1970 sold for about $15 then. Now it fetches over $600 on E-bay.” In general, Rougerie said animal images sell well, such as “Four Monkeys” by Warhol, bright-colored whales, parrots, fish, cats and elephants by artist Walasse Ting, and Barnum & Bailey circus posters of trapeze artists and an elephant pyramid.

Jeff Jaffe, co-owner of Pop International Gallery in Manhattan, said many customers have purchased originals by artists Mackenzie Thorpe and Marco for their kids’ rooms. Thorpe’s abstract, simple work focuses on themes of love, hope and dreams for the future and features many animals. “Kids relate to his work, as well as adults,” said Jaffe. Marco’s neo-pop art has bright colors and abstract designs; he has been compared to Keith Haring. Thorpe’s work ranges from $1,100 to $18,000, and Marco’s ranges from $1,100 to $6,000. “Money is not an issue if it’s the right thing for their baby,” said Jaffe.

Holmes also said that although her art is created for adults, she has witnessed small children to teens respond to it while working at seasonal art galleries from Mexico to Massachusetts. Some of her most popular ink-on-watercolor-paper pieces for children’s rooms include “Dat Fat Cat.” Her art is published by Winn Devon Art Group in Seattle and licensed by Alaska Momma in New York.

Looking Ahead

“I think children’s art tends to follow parents’ tastes,” said Rougerie, so the art market needs to apply what is happening to adult art to children’s art as well. “With the current anti-arts mood in the country and funding for these areas all but dried up in our schools, it’s a difficult road,” said Wolff. “It’s largely up to adults to do the educating.”

Kitchen of Kids Today said the most difficult challenge for the art market is keeping tabs on kids’ tastes, which change so quickly. “You have to know what’s hot with young kids right now,” she said. Publishers said they plan on paying attention to styles and trends, making the art special and different enough to stand alone and offering pieces at all price points.

It will take a combined effort between artists, publishers and galleries to capitalize on the art market for kids. “Everybody thinks that children’s art should be the next big thing,” said Rinehart, “but my years of experience have been that parents don’t really want to spend the money, and kids just want pictures of cartoon characters and movie stars. It’s not as big as people fantasize or want it to be.”

But some say there is real hope. “There’s no doubt that fluffy, syrupy, kiddie art will continue to speak to the stereotypical mass-market consumers,” said Holmes. “However, I strongly believe that a more sophisticated niche market will emerge. Children today are highly aware of personal style and want products that reflect their growing sophistication, without sacrificing the specific ‘kid’ quality–a certain timeless, classic innocence filled with joy and raw imagination.”

SOURCES

* Art:asap, www.artasap.com

* Art In Motion, www.artinmotion.com

* Big Flower Art, www.bigflowerart.com

* Creative Images, www.crimages.com

* Jeeto!, www.jeeto.com

* Pop International, www.noninternational.com

* Rinehart Fine Arts, www.bentleypublishinggroup.com

* Rosenstiel’s, www.felixr.com

* Winn Devon Art Group, www.winndevon.com

By ELLEN STURM ABN Contributing Editor

COPYRIGHT 2003 Advanstar Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group