Alright, so 2 years are in the bag now since I decided to give this whole art thing a shot. I've learned a lot in terms of time management, improving my craft, improving my engagement and social media, and learning about my audience. I also know that I have a long way to go still, and I'm ok with that. I want to start my review with Market Collective since I just finished my most recent one!
Artisan craft fairs
I'm cheating a bit here because I'm going to start this in December, 2018 which was my first artisan craft fair. If you've been following my story at all, it all started at a craft fair in Millarville, Alberta where I said, "I should be doing this". I gave myself 1 year to build a body of work, get all my start up in order, and apply for a market, and do it...and I did it! I've since done 3 art fairs, all with the group Market Collective in Calgary, AB. I'll provide links below. I'm not here to brag about numbers, or anything like that. In fact, I have no idea if my numbers are any good in relation to other artists in the same art fair. All I can compare is my current outing to my last two outings.
Full disclosure, if you are an artist interested in numbers and a more detailed break down, contact me directly and I will be more than happy to share my actual numbers. For the sake of this blog, I will be referring to my numbers in terms of algebra.
In my first market, if | made X amount of money, then I made approximately 2X at my second show in May. This time, I made 3X. I look at that growth as a great personal success, and I am really only competing against myself. I met a lot of great artists in the last year at Market Collective, and I wish them nothing but success. I am only interested in how I can improve my own practice.
The first go was mostly just to dip my toe in the pool. The second time, I had a slightly better feel for what the Market would bring, and by the third market, I had established a good body of new work that I was really passionate about, and I think that passion shines through the work, thus people are really interested in it. The first market, I made fairly generic work about a subject matter I'm pretty passionate about. At my second market, I had more to offer and a few unique offerings as well, but by the third market, I had a body of work in a unique style that was true to me using a subject that is dear to my heart.
I am of course talking about relief printing, linocut. It's pretty much the perfect fit for my work and style. It also offers a really unique middle ground between original art and art prints. It's sort of like an original for the people. It might be a print, but each print is unique. Each print has the artist hand involved. Each print is it's own, and each print is...affordable. Accessible art for the masses is a really cool thing in my mind, and printmaking sort of exists in the sweet spot of a venn diagram. It checks all the boxes, and that means someone can have an original piece of art in her home without the huge price tag. It feels a little more honest to me than selling digital prints. Now don't get me wrong, I am not knocking digital prints, and still fully intend to sell them, but the audience interested in the digital print usually has a different agenda than the viewer looking at the handmade prints. Both have valid interests and desires, and I'm interested in connecting with both those viewers. I'm only trying to find all my audiences.
There are three audiences I have been able to establish so far.
Audience A, the person purchasing a digital print. This person is not really interested in being an art collector. This person sees an image he likes and wants the image for the wall. There are a number of motives. This person loves the subject, the style, the colours, or the work matches a theme in his living room. As this audience is more casual, she isn't interested in paying a large amount for work, and will simply move on to the booth offering the best price in the ballpark of what she is looking for.
Audience B, the person purchasing a handmade print. This person is looking for something handmade or rustic, having a vintage or classic feel, and is maybe a little more interested in collecting art, but either can't afford to or maybe she is new to collecting. This person wants to invest in your work, and he is usually interested in following it has he feels he has made a small beginning investment into the world of collecting. Both Audience A & B do cross over as well. I have people who follow my work from both columns.
Audience C, the person interested in purchasing original artwork, and is often only interested in your originals. This is the market I have yet to crack at Market Collective. In fact, to date, I have not sold a single original. To be fair, it may also not be me, it may just be the market. I don't see anyone really trying to sell originals. I do have them on display as often people are interested in browsing, and at times I have been very, very, very close to selling an original but then the person backs down at the last second. Because this person is usually only interested in originals, it's often an all or nothing proposition, so you don't just lose the sale of the original, they won't even entertain the notion of buying the far more affordable print. I suppose I could try to push the focus of originals, but that's a big gamble, as the buy in for a weekend is about $600 when you just look at booth price, taxes and parking.
If anyone has cracked this market in the same setting that I'm selling in (an artisan market, not a specific art fair), please, I would love to hear from you. Any tips or help would be greatly appreciated! My fear is that I would have to get all the work framed, and I know how costly that would be.
What did I do wrong?
Now, I will say this, I was projecting that I would do even better than I did, but I also started an illustration contract (that I am not at liberty to discuss yet) which definitely shifted my focus away from Market Collective. Some of my failures this year, I tried a new wall display system that epically failed! It fell down so often, it was just a mess by day 3. It worked great in my garage where no one came near it or touched it for a month. Live and learn. I transport everything in a pretty small car, and I don't want my setup to become too crazy. I want to find a wall solution that is simple to transport and looks nice.
Secondly, I did too much salon style hanging. Next time I have a stab at this I will look at hanging maybe 3 or 4 pieces that pull people in and keep the small stuff on the table for people to look through. You will always have pinnacle pieces that people love. For me, I can think of about 3 or 4. One of my all time favourited pieces is my Great Horned Owl Watercolour. I say favourited, because it is not one of my favourites (the curse of being an artist in any genre), but people love it, so I drag it out like a hit single during the encore. In fact, I received a compliment on it this weekend from a friend and when I didn't say anything she assumed I was being crass and said "but you already know that". Honestly, it isn't me being crass, I just don't like talking about the piece because it isn't one of my own personal favourites. If I took 2 comparable pieces done around the same time, I'd much rather showcase my Osprey nest over the owl.
A few more minor issues with my booth, maybe a bit too much clutter on my table, and I posted work on flip through stands in front of my table that were often totally missed. In the future, I'd like shelves that could elevate the work.
What did I do right?
For everything I am still doing wrong, I hope there are still things I am doing right! Firstly, this speaks to the audiences, I feel I have tapped into more audiences than before. But how do you get an audience that has very little understanding or appreciation of traditional printmaking mediums to not only understand the process but also buy into it? Video of course! I compiled a short 12 minute video of some of my better process videos from instagram, and ran them on a loop on my tablet. This was so great. Watching people's eye's light up when they had that epiphany was just magical, and then, when their eyes dart over to the block of the rhino lino in front of them, and the carving tools, then they see the print on the stand next to the block. Even though some people still asked, "do you have that print in a bigger size", they definitely realized the error of the mistake when I pointed out that the block size can't be manipulated to make bigger prints. But hey, if anything, this just exposes to me that I need bigger 3 sister prints :D
I had a lot of variety. People like to have the power to choose. I'm not just talking subjects, I'm talking papers and inks. Ink colours will definitely be something more on my mind for the next time. I think when I start to have the time to move into reduction lino, that could change things for me as well, and bridge the gap and remove the need for colour digital prints and I can just focus 100% on handmade prints while also appealing to the broader digital print buyer. But that is off in the future!
The other thing I do right is make live art. It really is a great way to engage your audience. I would like to see anyone challenge this point. People love seeing the process of actual art being made. It gives your audience a better sense of connection to the work. I know this because I am that audience. I love watching other artists work as well! I love watching people execute any skill that I don't have, I even love watching artists in my same genre because we all have differences and similarities in how we work. Process videos truly are a thing of beauty. Now, watching it live, well now that's an experience. It's the difference between owning a CD and seeing the band play, and who doesn't want a live rip of a show they were at?
The last thing I want to talk about is making network connections with people. I think this is so important, it really establishes a sense of community and belonging, and you get leads and tips on things that you wouldn't otherwise get.
The other, other market
There is one last thing I'd like to touch base on for any artists reading this and that is to establish and understanding that a Spring market may be different than a Christmas market. The thing I didn't exactly clue into until halfway through Saturday is that a lot of people at Christmas fairs aren't there shopping for themselves. They are shopping for other people, and you will sell A LOT of work that's for "my mom, she loves blue jays". I think it's important to know that going in, because the dynamic from a Spring show to a Xmas show is so different. Spring shows are mostly people buying for themselves, and I think it's easier to sell art to someone buying for themselves. Buying art for someone else is hard to do. I know I did better than I did in the Spring market, but I also had way cooler content I was offering. Had this been a Spring show, I think I may have sold 4X or even 5X worth of art. I had the content to do it, and I certainly had a lot of people pass up on work because they weren't there for themselves. But don't underestimate the value of after sales online. Last spring I had a woman pick up an additional 50, three sister lino prints, that she was using to fill boxes for her own side hustle. The online after market is big, and that leads to my next point in the year in review!
Social Media and Online Shops
Spring was a big time for me. I almost doubled my sales from Market Collective 1 to Market Collective 2. I knew that to really grow further, I needed to start developing an active following online. Since June, I have grown my Instagram from a mere 100, dwindling, barely engaged viewers to nearly 1700 followers as I right this today, in December. Now that's not the biggest growth ever by any means, but it's growing every day, and it means that if I produce quality content, post it to my shop, and post about it on social media, I WILL GET SALES DIRECTLY FROM INSTAGRAM. That's huge! Do you know when I posted from start to completion about my Wee Otter print, I sold about 14 prints. Many of those sales weren't just otters. Often they were otters and a Danger print, or 2 others. The point is, that by making a good product people wanted I basically increased my income for that month by about 15%. I Sold 2 of my 5 inktober drawings as well (I had to stop short due to a project). So online sales, while still very modest at this point have opened my eyes to just how professional this venture can truly become if I'm smart about it, and | create good content that people actually want.
My thoughts on Etsy
One of the most infuriating things about being an artist is that every method of trying to get your work out to the client involves someone trying to take a cut of your work. One of the biggest reasons many have flocked to online sales as well as other avenues isn't just due to the broader audience, but I'm not sure if you are familiar with the fine art gallery system, but it is an absolute mess! 50% commission fee would be considered on the low end of commissions in most gallery settings, and while I am not calling out every gallery, I have seen a lot of galleries that do nothing to really earn that commission. The galleries tend to drive up the price of art for the consumers just so that an artist can make a decent amount off her own work. This seems to be the trend in all artistic endeavours, but I think visual arts and music are really good examples.
That brings me to Etsy, they certainly aren't "commission" free. They take a little piece of the pie (even off my shipping fees) and then they pressure vendors into providing free shipping to American clients and to compensate for this, we are supposed to increase our prices to everyone (not just American clients). If you don't believe me, just view Etsy's policies on SEO prioritizing and free shipping to the USA.
Their direct suggestions have been to "increase prices on smaller items", which means, if you're a buyer in Canada or the UK, or wherever, Etsy suggests to small business owners that we charge you more for our products so that American clients can have free shipping. Does this seem fair to you? Many Etsy sellers were up in arms over this. Of course this was around the time I was just getting on board. The reason I am using etsy is that my webhost only allows me to feature 10 items on my shop unless I want to pay an additional $30 a month for an unrestricted shop (which I haven't researched much, but I BET YOU, they will still find a way to take a cut from my work even if I'm paying an additional $30 a month). And of course let's not forget VISA and Mastercard, they get their 4% cut as well.
So for now, Etsy makes sense, until I research my host a little further and see if they have additional fees tacked onto my sales, because at this point it may be worth it to switch as I am selling enough off of Etsy, that it should cover the cost so long as there are no additional processing fees (which there probably are). The downside to switching to a web based shop is that I don't get that sweet, sweet Etsy traffic...buuuuuuut since almost (if not) all of my traffic is driven to Etsy from my Facebook page and my Instagram, the Etsy SEO and traffic are kind of meaningless. I mean I get a lot of shop favourites from it but that's about it.
It can be tough starting all this stuff out on your own, but I want to be open and transparent with other artists as to what you can expect if you decide to try this for yourself.
Price increases and sales
I want to be open and honest about this. I have been flat out undervaluing my work for the last year. I've been doing it to get the work out there, to build my audience, grow my metrics and reviews and give some legitimacy to my practice. I will level with you, I often hear the comment "this should be way more than this" about my art. Well maybe, but I still want my work to be affordable. One of the things beyond aesthetic that I love about printmaking is that it makes handmade art accessible to people who don't have huge bank accounts. I love seeing new families at my shows purchasing some of their first new art as a family and getting really excited about the fact that it's basically an 'original'. So while my prices will increase, they will still be fairly reasonable. This will allow me to concentrate on making less, high quality prints with smaller print runs (so basically quality control). It will also help me sell multicolour prints at a reasonable price that will make it worth my time.
That said...I have a couple of prints that just never performed as well as I thought they would!!! Stay tuned in the new year for some sweet deals on these prints as I look to clear my inventory!
Plans for year 3
1. Going into my next year, my plan is to shift my focus away from digital prints and over to linocut. In order for this to be a successful venture, I'll need to think in terms of colour. I love linocut, it's how I think now in terms or artwork, but I'm also working strictly in black and white. Watercolour definitely fills the colour gap for my audience, so if I am going to shift my focus towards lino, I need to start diving into reduction and multicoloured lino blocks.
2. I want to continue to develop my watercolour and digital art skills. I realize this is contrary to what I just said above, but I do still want to work in ink and wash, and I want to look at the possibility of making a new portfolio that is geared specifically towards children's book illustrations.
3. I would like to continue to grow my social media with a focus on local. I really learned this year the importance of an audience that has an interest in quality content. I'd also like to develop stronger local relationships, both with interested buyers, as well as other local artists.
4. I want do more illustration work! I still have a day job! I am starting to make some real money here, but I am still what you would call pro-am.
My next item is a question to you. Is there anything you would like to see more of in my work? Is there something you're not seeing that you would like to see? Like to see more tutorials? Like to see more process videos? Please feel free to leave any feedback!