How to help your favourite artists

 
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As some of you know, I went through a big transition late last year that resulted in me quitting my successful day job as an Art Director at an up and coming Design Agency and moving back to my homeland in England to pursue a full-time career in my first love — fine art and illustration.

To say I’ve been ‘winging it’ since I landed in late June would be an understatement. I went from working a regular 9–5 job and cramming in my illustrative work on the sides to suddenly not having to do the office job and working at my own craft. My summer was spent hastily making in-roads into the local art community as well as boosting my online presence.

This creative industry that I have willfully thrown myself into is highly competitive to say the least, but now more than ever before artists and creatives in general have the means to make a living by selling their work online. Needless to say they are murky waters indeed, from print on demand shops who won’t release your funds until you ‘earn’ a certain amount, to those who wait 30 days for the funds to clear *cough* Society6 *cough*. It occurred to me recently that likely, those that follow my work hopefully follow me due to a genuine interest in my craft and a desire to support someone who is going after their dream come hell or high water. So I thought I would share with you some of these murky waters so you can make educated choices when you decide to buy artwork from myself or any other artist online.

Print on Demand Websites

Print on demand websites are basically sites where artists can upload their artwork and make them available on a wide range of products which anyone can then buy at any time. These items are then printed “on demand” and shipped to the consumer.

 
 
 Nifty Acrylic Blocks from Redbubble! Who knows what they will come up with next!
 
 

What are the benefits to the artist?

Passive Income:

Print on Demand sites are great because they allow the artist to earn passive income. After the initial setup a consumer can come to the site at any time and purchase a product. The artist doesn’t need to be present and the art tends to stay on there for ever and so can continuously earn the artist income.

Broad product offering:

The other fabulous thing about print on demand sites is that they generally offer products that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive for most artists to produce. Getting my artwork printed on a Tote bag, a notebook or mug would mean working closely with a printer and likely purchasing a print run of hundreds if not thousands of one item in order for the individual cost of that item to be affordable to the consumer. Needless to say this is a huge investment up front for the artist as well as a massive gamble. If you don’t sell all the mugs then you likely will not see that money returned. Print on demand sites allows artists to offer a wide range of products at no cost or risk to them. It means their fans can purchase unique gifts from an artist they know. Not everyone has wall space for prints, but they may have a need for a uniquely designed Tote Bag.

Sounds great! So what are the downsides to print on demand?

Time:

After spending however long creating the original artwork (my Totems for example take anywhere from 8–10 hours to create) you then have to upload your artwork to whichever print on demand site you’ve chosen. Depending on your internet connection and of course the need to upload a nice high resolution image for the bigger products they offer, this process can take at least an hour. Naturally, if you want it to look nice on all the products you also have to create different files for the different products to ensure your carefully crafted artwork looks good on that particular product. That can mean 20 file variations. These websites are great at offering nifty product uploaders that endeavour to make the process more efficient but a remarkable amount of an artist’s time can go towards formatting products rather than creating new artwork.

Profits:

I know a lot of people are hesitant to talk about money, especially in a world where certain pieces of art can sell for thousands if not millions and other artists will waste away into obscurity before they seen even a micron of success. But, that’s not me, if my clientele know what I earn, then they can make educated choices as to how to support me when they want to.

Here’s a quick example:

  • When someone buys a sticker of one of my art works on Redbubble I get paid £0.21.
  • When someone buys a tote bag of that same artwork on Redbubble I get paid £2.34
  • When someone buys an extra-large canvas print of that same artwork on Redbubble I get £23.63

The good thing about Redbubble is that I can control my markup on every single product type in my shop (for the record I markup from the base price by 35%), on other sites *ahem* Society 6 I can only mark up on a few items, others are arbitrarily set by them so I have no say in what profit margin I get.

In short — depending on what you buy on a print on demand website, know that the artist is likely only getting a small portion of that money. Thus the reason why we slavishly promote sales and new products as it really is all about quantity. It’s a nice passive income to get but it’s not going to pay the rent (not for me just yet anyway).

Etsy

Etsy is a nice inbetween print on demand and a real physical store.

Whats to love?

  • These are physical products that I can sell to you the consumer, therefore I cut out the middle man and see a better profit margin. For example if someone buys a greeting card on Redbubble I get £0.37, if they buy a greeting card from my Etsy Store I get £2.59.
  • I get to control the quality! On print on demand, I don’t see the end product so I can’t guarantee quality. On Etsy, that product has passed through my hands and I can assure its quality.
  • Fees are manageble. It costs 20¢ to list a product, and then when I sell something they also take a transaction fee of 3.5%.
  • I can offer variety — from originals to prints as well as opportunities for unique commissions.
  • I can communicate with you as an individual, if you have a question, need something tweaked, need help choosing — you can always message me!
 Etsy allows “downloadable” products a great way of offering digital colouring pages, that my clientele can download at any time and print off for their own uses.

Etsy allows “downloadable” products a great way of offering digital colouring pages, that my clientele can download at any time and print off for their own uses.

What’s not so great?

  • If I’m creating prints, as mentioned above, I now have to invest in a batch of 100 or more greeting cards for example, this investment will sit in my studio until I sell them all! Naturally I hope I pick the right artwork to print and that people are interested in buying them!
  • A lot of time goes into crafting the perfect Etsy listing, this goes from calculating all the possible shipping costs to where it could end up going to, to shooting stellar product shots and writing a search engine friendly description and title. Needless to say, in this day and age an artist has to wear many, many hats!

What other ways can I help artists?

  • Invest in Limited Edition prints from the artist, if they don’t have them listed on their website it doesn’t mean they can’t make them available to you! Don’t hesitate to ask!
  • Share, like, comment! With the changing of social media feeds to be “popularity” driven, some posts will not be seen on your feeds if enough people don’t like or comment on them. Therefore, if you like my work, or other artists work, then be sure to “like” it, “heart” it, comment and leave feedback or share with your friends. This all helps feed the machine and keep our posts visible to others.
  • Buy originals! A £200 piece of original artwork might seem like a lot but remember that is a one of a kind piece that will never be created ever again. Someone has slaved for hours to create it and used a lifetime of experience and skill to ensure their inspiration was brought to life.
  • Visit galleries, and communicate with your favourite artists. They are working hard on a craft that is often largely unappreciated (I’ve had a number of people say to me “now that you’re retired / now that you have all that time on your hands…” What!?) . They put their heart and soul into their work literally, so show them in whatever way you can that you appreciate their work. Even if you can’t afford to purchase anything, leave a comment, say hello, suggest a subject matter or share an inspiring photo — believe me, most artists will greatly appreciate this interaction with their followers.

I hope I’ve helped shed some light on the rather enigmatic world of the arts! Naturally I haven’t written about galleries, craft fairs and licensing here — maybe I’ll share that info in another article if anyone is interested!

Any questions? Leave me a comment!