Monday, April 21, 2014

Behind the Virtual Storefront: Interview with Etsy seller ArtMobile

I discovered Marco's shop when I typed "Richmond, VA" in the "Shop Local" feature on Etsy. Marco Mahler's shop, ArtMobile, intrigued me because fine art mobiles like his are an unusual item to find on Etsy, and he takes great photographs of his work. His mobiles are fun and stylish, and pretty classy-looking if I do say so myself. His 3d-printed mobiles are apparently the first of their kind! Also, I don't see that many guy sellers on Etsy, so his shop stood out to me for that reason, too.

I hope you enjoy reading the interview with Marco. Turns out he's pretty business-savvy. I learned a lot from reading answers. Enjoy!

Marco Mahler of ArtMobile

Ternary Tree Mobile (Level 5) - 3D Printed Art Sculpture

1. Please describe your Etsy shop.
I sell ready-to-ship handmade and 3d-printed mobiles and take custom, consignment and wholesale orders.
2. What is the greatest challenge/strength of selling your category of items on Etsy?
To have my items show up in search results. Etsy has been getting more and more cluttered with various listings that don't necessarily relate to certain search terms.

Making your items available to a large number of people looking to buy handmade items. Etsy's platform is time efficient for listing and selling items. Most people don't buy something the first time they see it. With Etsy, they can add your items to their favorites and consider purchasing them later.

3. What is your most popular item and why do you think it's a bestseller?

Currently my most popular items on Etsy are a number of mobiles I make with acrylic glass shapes (also known as plexi glass). I'm not aware of anyone else making mobiles with acrylic glass shapes. I think I have a bit of niche within a niche with them.

4. Are you a full-time Etsy seller, and if not, approximately what percentage of Etsy revenue makes up your total income?

My main source of income comes from large custom mobiles. The sales I get from Etsy are are more like fillers for gaps in my work schedule. If I get too booked out with large custom mobiles, I temporarily close my Etsy shop.

Mobile 78 - Calder Style Mobile
5. How do you see your shop growing in the future, and what changes would you make to achieve your goals?

I've been thinking about making and adding larger, more expensive mobiles to my shop. However, I would be taking a risk by putting the time and cost of materials into making them without knowing if they will get sold.

The nice thing about making custom mobiles is that I get them sold before I make them, or at the very least, I get a 50% down-payment before I put any time and materials into making them.

6. Where does most of your customer base come from? Do you make targeted efforts to promote your shop?

I get most of my customer base from Google. I have a website with targeted keywords that I maintain regularly and add blog posts to. For many search terms related to mobiles, my website gets listed on the first page in Google's search results, sometimes even on top. From my website I link to my Etsy shop. I also maintain a Facebook page and a Twitter account.
Mobile 76 - Orange Black White - Calder Style Mobile
7. Do you sell your work at other venues online and/or at a physical location? How does Etsy compare to other venues?

I list mobiles on eBay from time to time, but I get better results from my Etsy shop. I do sell mobiles through brick-and-mortar shops from time to time, both as wholesale and consignment. Last Christmas season I had a pop-up shop at Modern Artifacts in Carytown [in Richmond, VA]. The obvious advantage of any sales through Etsy is that I get 100% of the sales price. With wholesale or consignment, I only get 50% to 70%, depending on the agreement I have with a specific shop.

8. What is the best part of running your Etsy shop? Most difficult part?

I used to have a shop installed on my website which I kept having technical difficulties with from time to time. By having a shop on Etsy and simply linking to it from my website, I don't have to spend any time on technical issues. I have found and connected with other people on Etsy who make mobiles and have had ongoing conversations with them over the years. We refer inquiries to each other from time to time.

9. Has running an Etsy shop helped you find other opportunities besides direct Etsy sales?
Yes, I have received both custom orders and wholesale orders through my Etsy shop, as well as requests to consign my mobiles at brick-and-mortar stores.

10. What advice can you offer to first-timers who want to sell on Etsy?
Take great photos of your items. Write descriptions that contain all the keywords for your items so buyers can find them. Don't just make your items available on Etsy. Try to branch out as much as possible and see what works. For example, last month I sold several mobiles on Etsy, but I also sold (via my website) and made two large custom mobiles, wrote a "How to make a mobile" article for MAKE magazine, and sold several 3d printed mobiles through a shop I have with a collaborator on Shapeways.
11. Anything else you’d like to add?
Stay in touch with what made you excited to make things in the first place.

Thanks Marco! Readers, let us know what you think of his awesome mobiles!

Ecdysis III in the shop!

Early this year, I sold out of both Ecdysis I and II prints which had pinkish color schemes. I just made a new edition, but this time with a green and blue color scheme. It's in the shop now, hope you like it!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Behind the Virtual Storefront: Interview with Etsy Seller SarahYoung5

I've been a seller on Etsy for almost seven years (!) When I first started my online shop, Sprout Head, I thought it was a way for me to quit my day job and just focus on art. Well, seven years later it is still only supplemental income -which I'm grateful for - but not enough to live on... yet. I've been doing quite a bit of thinking about my various art businesses, as you might've already read in my previous post. Earlier this month, I taught a workshop on Etsy Seller Basics at the VMFA Studio School, and I wanted to give workshop participants an inside glimpse of the business aspects of Etsy sellers working in various media. I interviewed some Etsy sellers and would like to share some of their insights with you as well!

I plan to make these interviews a running feature on my blog, called "Behind the Virtual Storefront." There are many people out there who currently run an Etsy shop or want to start their own businesses, so I hope this will be helpful to them. For those who don't, I hope you just enjoy looking at fabulous art and reading what these awesome artists and sellers have to say!

For my first interview, I have chosen Sarah Young, of the Etsy shop SarahYoung5. She is an artist, puppetmaker, and printmaker who lives in Brighton, England. I first discovered Sarah's art as examples in the book "The Printmaking Bible: The Complete Guide to Materials and Techniques" by Ann d'Arcy Hughes and Hebe Vernon-Morris.

Interval by Sarah Young - Vinyl cut
I fell in love with her print, "Interval" - isn't it beautiful? Her work is whimsical and full of fantastic patterns and colors. Read on!

Sarah Young

1. Please describe your Etsy shop and your personal outlook as a seller.

My Etsy shop sells mostly tea towels that you can cut out and stuff to make cushions, toys or doorstops or use just as tea towels. I also sell hand printed relief and silkscreen prints and some digital prints.

2. What is the greatest challenge/strength of selling your category of items on Etsy?

I think it helps that my tea towels have more than one use, are light, (very postable) and are quite cheap.

3. What is your most popular item and why do you think it's a bestseller?

I think it is Felix the fox, closely followed by Hester [the Hare]. I think it's a strong design, and foxes have been 'in', very popular for some time now!

Felix the Fox Tea Towel / Cloth Kit - A silkscreen design by Sarah Young

4. Are you a full-time Etsy seller, and if not, approximately what percentage of Etsy revenue makes up your total income?

No, I do a lot of other things. Difficult to say, but maybe 30%. It's definitely been very helpful, and has got us through some very lean periods!

5. How do you see your shop growing in the future, and what changes would you make to achieve your goals?

I'd like to see it as an outlet for new ideas/products. Hopefully alongside good selling work as well. Though hopefully the two aren't mutually exclusive! I have to do the work, but also I haven't devoted very much time to understanding how to use Etsy in the best ways. The classic problem of too busy working but not enough time understanding how or being able to promote or sell. I would like the prints to do better and have recently put up a series of small alphabet silkscreen prints, so will be interested to see how they are received. I will be putting ceramic work up in the future also, but I'm not quite sure whether to have a separate shop or put it all together.

B is for Bonfire- Alphabet Silkscreen Print

6. Where does most of your customer base come from? Do you make targeted efforts to promote your shop?

UK and USA mostly. I do treasuries now and again but that's about it. I need an elf.

7. Do you sell your work at other venues online and/or at a physical location? How does Etsy compare to other venues?

Yes, art fairs, galleries, shops and my own website. They all seem to work well together. They help promote each other.

Hester the Hare Tea Towel / Cloth Kit - A silkscreen design by Sarah Young

8. What is the best part of running your Etsy shop? Most difficult part?

The potential for getting seen by such an amazingly wide audience, being able to have interaction with your customers/ people who like what you're doing/ fellow Etsy sellers. Although this has all been online, so far, for me, I think some of the little bits of contact or encouragement have been really lovely. It's not faceless and you don't feel alone, even if you feel you use only a tiny amount of Etsy's potential.

9. Has running an Etsy shop helped you find other opportunities besides direct Etsy sales?

Quite a few shops and galleries have approached me via Etsy.

10. What advice can you offer to first-timers who want to sell on Etsy?

I don't feel I'm in a very good position to give advice as I haven't done all the things I'm sure I should be doing with Etsy. But do your own thing, from the heart.
Probably keep it simple, though I don't! 
Try to make it a personal experience for your customers, it does take more time, but I usually just feel quite grateful that they want some of my stuff!

11. Anything else you’d like to add?

I know it has changed peoples' lives for the better, and I think the people behind Etsy can't ask for anything more wonderful!

* * *
Thanks for joining Sarah and I today! I'll post more interviews soon! 
xo aijung

Busy with Business

These days I've been thinking a lot about my art businesses. I have several: creating art and crafts to sell, running my Etsy shop Sprout Head, wholesaling my notecards, vending at craft shows, doing illustration commissions, working on getting published in the children's book industry, exhibiting my personal art in galleries, and maybe you could also count teaching art workshops.

I tend to work in bursts of activity, sometimes focusing on one thing more than others, and sometimes trying to do many at once. I've had a few people criticize me for doing too many things. Sometimes I feel like a freak because I find it so difficult to focus on just one thing, even if those things are related. I find inspiration in working in so many ways, yet I also know that it's hindering me from really excelling at just one thing and being as financially successful as I'd like through my art. On the other hand, I think that everything I mentioned has also fed each other in very important ways.

Last year I bought a book called "The Right-Brain Business Plan" by Jennifer Lee of Artizen Coaching. (Jennifer also just came out with a new book: "Building Your Business the Right-Brain Way.") Admittedly, I did not get far in the book because I didn't devote the time to doing the exercises. Which is probably my biggest problem - I don't devote the time for planning important aspects of my businesses. In the past, I tended to have an idea, figure out how to execute it, and throw it out in the world in an unsustainable, hit-or-miss fashion.

Last week and this week (April 14-18), Jennifer is running a Right-Brainers in Business 2014 Video Summit, and I've been watching the interviews with several creative business owners. If you're quick, you can also watch for free by clicking that link (each interview only stays up for 48 hours, unless you upgrade your subscription.) Listening to so many (mostly) women business-owners speak has really got my mind turning! I was especially moved to hear Lilla Rogers say that it's normal for creative people to want to do many things, and there's nothing wrong with us for being that way. I was inspired to hear Alicia Forest, whose business hit her first million, say that she takes the summers off to be with her family. She said that it's possible to run your business and also make time for the other things you value, even if that means that it takes more time to grow the business.

So what I'm realizing from the summit is that it's wonderful to be myself and that I want to be more focused about my goals, but also know that it takes time and experimentation to be successful. I want to stop making each goal into this perfect ideal, and start with what I have and work up to it.

Another book that is really helping is "The Now Habit" by Neil Fiore. He writes about the psychological reasons why people procrastinate, and techniques for overcoming it. His advice to take 30-minute chunks of time to "start" projects (rather than focusing on finishing) has already been super-helpful. It is so much easier to work on something when I'm not criticizing myself for not having finished it already. He also recommends making a commitment to doing enjoyable activities - in fact, doing so will actually make you more productive because you won't be burned out or resentful of your work.

Back in the winter when art centers were asking me to submit teaching proposals, I told everyone I was taking the summer off. Initially, I wanted to be able to travel. But on a deeper level, I just wanted some space. Space to breathe, think, create, or do whatever I wished. I actually didn't really know what it is I wanted all that time for, but I wanted to make sure that nothing would hinder me from doing it!

Now that I've moved to a new apartment with my very own studio space (I swear I'll post pictures soon!) I am really glad I made that decision to create space. After the SCBWI conference, I planned to take that time to create a children's book dummy. But now I'm re-thinking it, because if I devote that time to just creating the dummy, I will almost certainly have to get another job by summer's end. Now I'm thinking about devoting this summer to pushing my art businesses in very concrete ways. If all goes well, my income will continue to grow and I will be that much closer having art-making as a sustainable business.

I'm still in the thinking stages of all this, but my ideas are flowing and I feel much more energetic, partly due to the warm spring weather in Richmond. But I think that my new mind-set will pave the way for some great things to come!

* * *
What about you? Have you ever felt "stuck" in some area of your life, and realized that you had to change your own thinking or actions for things to get better?

Monday, March 3, 2014

I Attended the SCBWI Conference in NYC!

Whoa, it's been over 3 months since I last posted here. Where have I been? Well, I feel like my brain has been floating somewhere above my body, wanting to come home. I got caught up in a whirlwind of trying to sell my notecards, tabling at craft shows, celebrating Christmas with my family, and then starting a second part-time job.

In early February I began getting ready for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference in NYC that I have been thinking about for over a year and that took place at the end of February. Then there were two fires at my apartment and my boyfriend and I had to move out immediately (don't worry, everyone was safe and we hardly lost anything). I almost decided not to go to the conference, but  realized I would be seriously depressed if I didn't go and would not know what direction to take with my illustration. I spent a week packing and moving to a new apartment, then furiously prepared my portfolio, printed promo postcards, and worked on my artwork for the Illustrator's Intensive Workshop that I was to attend before the conference. Our assignment was to depict a scene from Snow White which conveyed a unique perspective on character and setting.

I created a linocut. Here it is in the process of being carved:

In New York, I took the subway to the Grand Hyatt Hotel for the pre-conference Illustrator's Intensive. I was nervous and excited and couldn't really visualize what it would be like. I attended an amazing interview session with Tomie DePaola and Cecelia Yung. Brett Helquist and Paul Zelinsky also gave great lectures. There was a panel review of some illustrations that workshop attendees had submitted. Certain observations surprised me, such as how it wasn't as important how technically-skilled the artist was - what mattered most was whether their image conveyed an authentic sense of character or mood that would make the reader care.

When it was time to have the small group critiques of our Snow White pieces, I hoped my work would hold up a little bit to scrutiny. It did not. I think my reviewer said a few good things at the beginning (I remember her using the word "elegant"), but she said that the characters looked too similar, the scene was too dark and didn't convey a sense of glowing candlelight, the image was hard to read from far away, and it would be nice if there was some color. Another woman in the group had created a woodblock-looking piece that had color but also a strong sense of black-and-white, and my reviewer said that hers was much more successful. She also told me that I am competing with black-and-white greats like Chris Van Allsburg, so my work has to be as good as that.

I took notes on all she said and tried to be objective about it, but left feeling dejected. My reviewer did counter that hers was just one opinion, and every art director would have a different one. Still, I cried later that night. I felt very overwhelmed. I wondered if I was really cut out for children's illustration after all. I felt badly because black-and-white work and linocuts are usually my strong suit, so what did it mean if someone told me I wasn't good enough? Granted, when I compare my finished piece alongside the work-in-progress I can see how the ink filled in some of the white areas I carved, making the printed version look darker than I had intended. I plan to re-work the piece so there is stronger contrast.

The next morning at the conference, Jack Gantos spoke and he was hilarious and awesome. At lunchtime I forced myself to talk to someone because I didn't want my shyness to get the better of me. I talked with a guy I had met the day before, and we looked at his portfolio and then I asked if he would look at mine. Months of anxiety over creating the "perfect" portfolio had resulted in serious procrastination, so I had put my portfolio together at the last-minute using images I already had. From all that had learned so far, I knew my portfolio did not possess the characteristics that were essential to an effective children's book portfolio. But he said I shouldn't be so hard on myself, that I hadn't originally created most of the pieces for the purpose of children's illustration, and that their objectives were different. He was right, and I realized that I wasn't a horrible artist. After that, my mood brightened.

One message that seemed to come up again and again was the fact that every children's book writer and illustrator has to work and revise, work and revise. Fail, fail, and repeat. It all just LOOKS easy once it's in print on the page. All you see is the fruits of the labor. But the real job is actually hard work! It's fun, too, but it's definitely work.
 Here is the eagerly-awaited Picture Book Panel with Arthur Levine, Shadra Strickland, Oliver Jeffers, Marla Frazee, Raul Colon, and Peter Brown.

By the time the 2-day conference was over, I was so inspired by the great community of artists and writers that so strongly desire to reach the world with their art. I want to be part of this community for the rest of my life. This is just the beginning of my journey. I feel a much clearer sense of purpose and I know what I need to do to improve. I also want to get back to the soul of why I'm doing this. I am looking at picture books with a different eye, thinking about how I felt when I was a child and what drew me to the stories and the characters. What made the books that I keep on my bookshelf today such a lasting influence. The conference reminded me that it's all about what we pass on to a younger generation, what we choose to give.

I was SO inspired, that I quit my job a few days after I came home because I wanted to devote myself to creating a new portfolio and a children's book dummy. I felt such a sense of relief that I am getting back to the heart of what's important to me and that I won't have to rush around so much. Of course there are practical concerns that I'm not sure how I'll work out, but for right now I'm not going to think about those. My decision feels right for me now, and if challenges arise I will work them out. Isn't that what artists do - find creative solutions?

So my advice to all creatives out there - just KEEP WORKING!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Notecards are Here! And there's a Holiday Sale - 15% OFF!

The last couple months have been a whirlwind, and I totally neglected to post pictures of the brand new notecards I had printed last month! Thanks to some of you kind readers who voted, I gathered the images with the most votes and had them offset-printed by the very amazing James River Press, in Richmond, VA. Brooke was my contact for this project, and she was wonderful to work with! I also want to give a shout-out to my aunt who helped me a LOT through the process of deciding to print my notecards. She has always wanted me to create notecards of my artwork because it's an affordable way for people to own my art, as well as a great way for me to sustain a living income while having time to create more artwork (let's hope she's right about that!) She gave me so much encouragement and practical advice for embarking on this notecards business. Thank you!

Here's the enormous offset lithography press:

And my cards all packed up in cardboard boxes - 20,000 cards total! That's the largest quantity of my artwork ready to be put out into the world!

Here are the cards displayed at my first craft show of the season, Handmade Market in Raleigh, NC:

I'm very happy with them...

I have a SALE going on in my shop through Sunday, December 15th, so you can get some cards for yourself with a 15% DISCOUNT! Please use coupon code YAY2013 upon checkout in my shop Sprout Head. You must use the coupon code, otherwise you won't receive the discount! I'm selling the cards individually, as well as in discounted packs. 
The image on each card is printed on a matte recycled paper which gives the artwork a beautiful, soft finish. The back of the card lists the title and medium of the original artwork. These cards are suitable to write your own greetings inside to give away, or you can choose to frame them as prints. The 5 x 7" card is a standard size for a ready-made frame.

You can currently find my cards in these stores:
Lemon Tree in Portland, OR
Harmony Society in Carlisle, PA (actually, I'll be shipping the order tomorrow but they'll get there soon)
Archimage in Rochester, NY (this also just *happens* to be the amazing shop my parents, aunt, and uncle opened up 30 years ago)

I also have prints and/or zines available at the following shops:
Pinky's Boutique in Janesville, WI
BuyOlympia in Portland, OR
Little Paper Planes in San Francisco, CA

If any of you dear readers know of a shop where my cards might make a good fit, please leave a comment with the shop name and their website if they have one. I'd like to get my cards into many shops around the country.

And I promised a giveaway of 12 notecards to one randomly-selected person who left a comment and their e-mail address in the Notecard Vote from last post. The lucky winner is:
 Joy Chu!

Yay! I swear I didn't peek when I picked the slip of paper with her name on it, but I felt very pleased to have picked my teacher from the online Children's Book Illustration class at UCSD Extension I took earlier this year. You can also read her blog Got Story Countdown, a great blog with advice for illustrators. Joy, I'll be e-mailing you very soon to ask for your notecard selections!

One Last Note:
I'm not sure if I'll have time to write another blog post before the end of this year, so if I don't I'd like to wish everyone Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year! 

Personally, this year has been challenging for me in both positive and negative ways. I've done a lot of evaluating of how I have been living/working/art-ing and how I would like things to grow or change. I realized that it's too difficult for me to keep up with all the different kinds of things I'm doing and I need to focus better and cut back on some activities while making more time to rest and rejuvenate. It's important for artists (and everyone) to have periods where not much happens, so they can be open to ideas and have the energy to embark on new projects. 

Some of the changes I want to see happen won't go into effect until several months into the new year because I've already made prior commitments. And some things are hard for me to change because I have trouble saying no to requests people ask of me, or putting on hiatus activities I'm already involved in. I'm trying to be more conscious of these tendencies and learn ways to be kind to myself so I can sustain the artistic life I want, while also being able to support myself materially. It's a difficult balance and a continual process. Maybe some of you are also going through a similar struggle. I wish everyone a bit more *peace* in their hearts so you can truly shine as the person you are.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Vote on Notecard Images - Get a Shop Discount & Enter into the Giveaway!

Hi Everyone!

I am in the process of launching my next business venture: the creation of greeting cards using my artwork. I've compiled a bunch of possibilities, but I need your help in deciding which make the cut. Here are 48 images to choose from. I know that's a lot to look at, but I wanted to include a diverse array of images. I will ultimately choose from 20 - 30 designs. Please let me know which images YOU would choose if you were picking out a notecard. Keep in mind who you might be shopping for and for what occasion. Some occasions might be very specific, such as holiday cards or for graduation, birthday, etc. Some might just be to say hello to a friend, or maybe you would buy the card for yourself just because you like it! Please write your choices in the comments section, 10 - 30 images would be helpful. You may write just the number of the image and/or the title I've given each image.

As a Thank-You, for anyone who leaves a comment I'm offering 15% off your total purchase in my Etsy shop, Sprout Head. Please leave your e-mail address if you're interested, or you can e-mail me directly with your e-mail address: so that I can send you the 15% Coupon Code. If you don't leave your e-mail, I'll assume you're just being helpful and don't want to take advantage of this offer. Also, everyone who leaves their e-mail address will automatically be entered into a Giveaway for a set of 12 of their favorite notecards. This won't happen until I get the notecards printed, which hopefully will be by the end of October. I'll probably make my decisions on notecard designs once I get at least 20 comments.

Thanks so much for your input!