Art, Artists, Motion Pictures, Film, TV and Hollywood

Art and artists play a major role in the motion picture industry. From set design and construction to story boards, animation, special effects, computer graphics, and the art that adorns the walls of television and movie sets, artists are involved in virtually every aspect of the business. Hollywood needs and employs artists, but making a career move from artist to "Hollywood artist" is not an easy task. Competition is heavy and job requirements can be highly specific. Even geography plays a significant role in the forging of business arrangements between artists and the film industry.

Tom St. Amand is a case in point. A Southern California native and an expert in construction and operation of animated figures, his credits include "James and the Giant Peach," "The Hulk," Star Wars," "Jurassic Park," and more. St. Amand watched Sinbad movies as a youngster, he didn't focus so much on being entertained by the plot like people in other parts of the country. The fact that he lived where these movies were created made it natural for him to be more curious about how the monsters worked and looked so real.

Special effects continued to fascinate him as he went on to major in film at UCLA and take courses in animation while there. In addition, he sculpted and built figures at home on his own and when he was ready, took them with him on job interviews. He was first hired as an assistant prop builder, gradually received more significant tasks and responsibilities, did a stint at Lucasfilms, and finally ended up with his current production company.

According to St. Amand, a large percentage of "Hollywood artists" have at least some Hollywood background, if not by birth, by education. People who attend art schools in Southern California are much more aware of and tuned into the motion picture industry because they have easy access to production companies, industry-backed courses of study, and film business educators and professionals. They therefore enjoy a big advantage when applying for jobs. The artists who are most successful, says St. Amand, tend to have traditional art backgrounds in combination with technical/building abilities, illustration skills, and basic knowledge of how films evolve from ideas into finished products.

As for the art that is chosen to hang on the sets of motion pictures and television shows, that's pretty much of a Southern California thing too. Whitney Ganz of William Karges Fine Art in Los Angeles reports that set decorators shop galleries for art in much the same way that collectors shop galleries for purchases. Obviously, if a production is being filmed in Hollywood, set decorators will have neither the time nor the inclination to criss-cross the country for the sole purpose of locating art. They're too busy locating the other thousands of props that are necessary for creating multiple sets.

For decorators and designers who have no time to look, certain more formalized resources are available for providing art. For example, Film Art LA located in Hollywood lists an extensive client list on their website including feature films, television, commercials and more. Patsy Sultan, former owner/partner of Art Directions (no longer in business) says that standard procedure for film rentals was for set designers to pick out significantly more pieces than will actually appear on sets, transport them to the filming locations, select the several that work best, and return the rest. Rental fees were 10% of the art's retail value for the first week, 5% for the second week, 5% for the third, free for the fourth, and then the cycle began again (percentages were lower for very expensive pieces). Sultan adds that rentals rarely lasted longer than two weeks, and artists generally received about half of the rental fees.

Owner/partner Lynne Cohen of Art Directions says that at their peak, they reviewed about 150 portfolios annually and offered to represent about 15 of those artists. They rarely took on true emerging artists, but had done so on occasion. As for artists who lived outside of the Southern California area, Sultan says that unless they are able to transport and store a significant number of works in Southern California or already had an established presence there, costs of getting involved with Art Directions was prohibitive.

Pattee Stayrook, formerly owner of Art O'Rama in Santa Monica, now operating Beach Girl Design, continues to be involved with art rentals, curating, sales and image licensing for television and film sets, commercials, advertising and special events. Originally an art director at a Santa Monica gallery, she was inspired by a set decorator to get into this end of the business and continues to represent a number of artists.

Stayrook built her business by making cold-calls to set and production designers and was able to place art in a number of productions including feature films and music videos. The quantity of pieces rented per job ranges from two to fifteen with designers requesting everything from what Stayrook calls "bad seventies art" to tapestries and replicas of old master paintings. She has also made sales to members of production companies who see her art during the course of filming and decide that they like it enough to buy it.

Her credits include placing art in motion pictures like "Speed," "The Cable Guy," starring Jim Carey and "The Rock," starring Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery. Her art rents on a percentage of its retail value and is sometimes influenced by a production's budget. Per-piece fees average around 10% of retail value per week, with approximately half of that total going to the artist. Sales made on sets have been an outgrowth of the rental business and are accomplished by taking prospective clients directly to artists' studios in order to show the full range and scope of the work. Stayrook's artists are primarily from the Southern California area and range from established to emerging. She also works with artists who are capable of producing according to designer specifications such as size, medium, color, subject matter, and perceived age.

In summary, artists thinking about getting involved with any aspect of the Hollywood market should realize up front that unless they plan on getting semi-regular contract jobs or full-time work with production companies, rental revenues alone will rarely be enough to put bread on the table. If industry professionals take an interest in rented work that they see on sets, however, financial benefits can be substantial. And getting art onto the sets of major productions is always terrific exposure regardless of the fees paid. In the meantime, though, keep your day jobs.

divider line

Current Features

Services for Artists and Collectors


  • artbusiness on Facebook
  • Artbusiness on Twitter
  • Artbusiness on Instagram