Friday, August 8, 2014

Adventures in Selling, Part One: Hitting the Pavement

A few weeks ago, while visiting my boyfriend's family in Kentucky, I took my notecards around to some shops. It's been a bit more difficult than I imagined to get in touch with store owners to purchase my cards. I'll write e-mails, and sometimes I'm lucky enough to hear back that they're interested, or maybe my cards aren't a good fit for their store or it's not good timing. But often, especially when I'm using one of those fill-in-the-blank e-mail forms, I won't hear back at all and I won't know why. So I decided to "take it to the streets" and just drop in on store owners. Which I've heard you're not really supposed to do - it's better to make an appointment. But I did it anyway.

Zum Kartoffellager by Michael Sowa

One of the store owners wasn't in town, but I talked to her employees who showed interest in the cards and told me to e-mail her. One store buyer showed a lot of interest and took some samples and an order form. One owner immediately took six of my card designs on consignment! And one owner (who I'd actually e-mailed several months before but hadn't heard back from) anticipated my request before I even asked and told me she was too busy to look at anything (which she was, since there were lots of customers in there), but gave me her direct e-mail.

Kranker Hund by Michael Sowa

The day after my boyfriend and I returned to Richmond, I e-mailed the store owners from Kentucky to follow up. Then my boyfriend and I went to a grocery store to eat lunch and I griped about how, even with the luck I'd had with that one store taking my cards on consignment and a handful of other stores currently selling them, I didn't think it was possible for me to make much money. I felt completely pessimistic. I was tired out from the long drive back and depressed to come back to regular life after having such a fun vacation. I also didn't have enough income to cover the rest of the month and didn't know how I would generate it.

Later that day, I checked my e-mail. One of the store buyers from Kentucky had just placed a huge order! I grabbed a calculator to tally the order - 360 of my cards! I yelped with joy. It was my biggest order from any store so far. Financially, my month was covered.

For awhile, I was so excited. Then I wondered how I would make enough money the next month. Not every buyer was going to order so many of my cards. And then I remembered that I was running out of envelopes and I would have to order more before I could send out the order! I didn't want her to think I was unprofessional and couldn't ship my orders quickly, especially not such a big, important order. That night I slept fitfully and had dream-like worries about envelopes.

But, once I received my envelopes the next week, I packed up the order and felt this new and wonderful energy flow through me. I felt excited, confident, hopeful. It was fun to prepare the order, to neatly stack and wrap up the cards and organize them in the cardboard box. I went to FedEx and opened an account. I told the FedEx employee how I excited I was about it. She kept smiling. I'm sure not too many people come into FedEx excited about sending out packages. I tried to savor it, because one day I may not be excited about packaging and shipping out orders. But at that moment, I was doing exactly what I wanted. One big order had given me the hope I needed.

Mann mit Elefant by Michael Sowa

I now confirm my suspicion that not only do I have to get over my fear of failure, I also have to grapple with my fear of SUCCESS. Ever since I got more serious about selling my art five years ago, I've had this weird feeling that everything that happens to me is only because I want it or truly need it to. Every time I despaired that I couldn't make enough money from my art or just really needed an emotional pick-me-up, lo and behold I would make another sale or someone would offer me an unexpected opportunity. It was never a lot, but always just enough. Throughout my life, my parents instilled a sense in me that I was always supported by the Universe no matter what. But I wondered why it was never a bit more to take the edge off my worries.

Getting more than I expected with that notecard order gave me hope, but also terrified me. I think I've never received more than "just enough" because until now, I didn't feel that I could handle it. This wasn't always a conscious sentiment, but as I now approach the reality of going full-time with my various art businesses, I can see that I was always afraid of the responsibility it would bring. Running my own business takes risk, bravery, a whole lot of accountability, and a pretty steep learning curve. And that is SCARY to me. I guess it was usually easier to feel slightly in the dark, to not ride that crazy beast even though I was already half-gripping the horns and being dragged by it. I've been working through these fears, though, by learning more about business from reading books and online articles, having a meeting with a business mentor from SCORE (a business counseling service in Richmond), and contemplating taking some classes to learn more. At each step, I experienced the initial fear of having to face something new, then the ease of actually feeling like I can deal with potential problems that may arise.

Suppenschwein by Michael Sowa

One thing I've learned thus far is that since I'm running my business, I have to be happy with the way I'm doing things - even if in a parallel universe another me would be working faster, harder, and smarter. I have to deal with my own weaknesses and champion my own strengths. I have to decide when I need to take breaks and when I need to push myself more. I also have to decide whether what I'm doing is worth my own time and energy, and learn to say no to people and activities that sap the energy out of the goals that really matter to me. This last thing, learning to say "no," has been difficult because I hate to disappoint people, but ultimately I was hurting myself by doing things that caused me resentment because they were not really how I wanted to use my energy anymore. I also have to battle with my own rigid thinking and old habits, and re-think decisions in a fresh way that makes more sense in the moment.

After I gained self-confidence with the big card order, I started to visualize how I would direct my card business - what I really wanted from it. I pondered what it would feel like to be someone else stumbling upon my cards for the first time. I suddenly had ideas for new illustrations and different card lines I wanted to experiment with in the future. I thought of it as a long-term venture where I would have fun trying lots of different things and seeing what worked.

The paintings I've been showing throughout this post are by a German artist named Michael Sowa. His work is cute but unusual, absurd and artfully created, and each painting contains an entire world.

Painting by Michael Sowa

I discovered his art at a store in Rochester, NY (my hometown) called Poster Art. Every time I went in, I would find myself attracted to a postcard and then I'd turn the card over and see his name. This is what I want with my cards - to be that thing you discover unexpectedly, that charms you and inspires you to imagine. To be a little peek into a larger world. I hadn't thought of selling my cards in this way before. I thought of them as another outlet for the art I already make, as well as an approach to affordably get my work into the hands of many people while making some revenue. But thinking of the cards in this other way made them magical - elevated them to something that could truly impact people, even in a small way.

Tigerhasse by Michael Sowa

It's wonderful to feel excited about life after a period where you didn't even know you felt a bit numb. I want to follow that excitement and see where it leads. Even if it gets scary sometimes.

Join me for more notecard shenanigans in "Adventures in Selling, Part Two," coming soon!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Behind the Virtual Storefront: Interview with Etsy Seller One Strange Girl

Next up in this series are the lovely vintage finds of Janine Sodano, of One Strange Girl. I found Janine's shop through the Etsy Local search feature for Richmond, VA, and thought she would add an interesting perspective with her fun antique objects. Read on!

Janine Sodano

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

My Etsy shop focuses on vintage postcards, pictures and ephemera and a few handmade items that are vintage inspired. I am a lover of all things vintage, second hand and good old junk. You can always find something wonderful in them.

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

There are a lot of vintage Etsy sellers, and many that focus on postcards. I am able to acquire mine fairly cheap so that allows me to price them for less than most sellers.

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

The holiday postcards sell well. Especially the smaller holidays....St. Patrick's Day, Memorial Day. I think they appeal to a wide variety of people. Due to the low price, it's a nice way to have that vintage, shabby, antique style without spending a large amount of money.

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

I am not currently a full time seller, but plan to be this fall. Right now Etsy is only a supplement to my current income allowing me to spoil my children a lit bit more. :) 

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

I would like to expand into more areas of the antique business and I think focusing and promoting my shop will help accomplish that.

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

Most of my customers are generated directly from Etsy searches. I do have a nice base of repeat customers and I love that :) Lately I have been promoting on Pintrest. I haven't see a huge uptake in traffic, but I'm hopeful.

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

I used to have an antique shop, but the overhead was costly. Now I just sell on Etsy. I like it much better. 

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

I enjoy finding the next great thing. The key to my shop is that I love what I list. It makes me happy. I can't sell anything just to sell. So when I find a buyer who likes it as much as I do - I'm happy.

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

Not that I can think of. But honestly I haven't looked,

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

Do what you love, what interests you. Find your niche. And always, always respond promptly to your customers. Your impression is just as important as your product.

11. Anything else you’d like to add? 

Thank you for this opportunity and I wish something like this was available when I started. :)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Past Illustration Highlights and Newly-Released Prints

If I don't blog about something right away, sometimes I forget to share it. So, I'd like to peel back history and show you a selection of illustration commissions I worked on since last summer. 

One of the illustrations from a wedding invite I illustrated for my friend last year. She was born in the year of the Dog, and he in the year of the Horse :)

Another commission from a friend - a watercolor picture for his son who was born in the year of the Snake.

CD art I created in pen and ink for Caitlin Currie's "All A Dream" EP. It's a really cute album featuring Currie's melodic folk-pop vocals and guitar and ukele playing. Check her out at "Fallen Love Records," a label "dedicated to friendship and pop songs" based in Ontario, Canada. I just visited the site and her EP is temporarily sold out, but maybe they'd print more if you ask nicely.

A linocut cover and disc art for the band "Hallelujah Hill Quartet," a gospel group from West Virginia. This was commissioned by a couple whose grandparents, led by Ella Hanshaw, had formed the musical group in earlier years. Ella loaned them her old tapes, which they digitized and inventoried, going through hundreds of hours of listening. The result is this special album, showcasing the band's heartfelt spirituals and performances in churches all across West Virginia's hollers. At the moment, it has only been circulating among friends and family, in the hopes that one day it will be picked up and distributed by a record label.

In April I created this map using watercolor and pen and ink for The Visual Arts Center of Richmond. They used it for their spring Open House celebration to highlight the day's events and activities. If you notice, there is a cow flying near a white tower. This is in reference to the building's historical use as a dairy.

A poster I created for a craft show coming up this weekend in Richmond, VA. I used digital coloring for the first time, which was fun.

Here are pieces from my art show "Return" which I exhibited last year at Studio Two Three. You can view all the pieces and their accompanying poems here. Archival reproduction prints of the art are now available through BuyOlympia and I've just listed them in my Etsy shop, Sprout Head

BuyOlympia is an online and retail shop/gallery originally based in Olympia, Washington, but relocated to Portland, Oregon. They started out to help sell the creations of their artist friends online, and have expanded to include artists around the world. BuyOlympia has always been super-supportive and helpful to me ever since I met Pat, one of the owners, when I lived in Portland in 2008/09. I encourage you to check them out and find other cool goodies from their roster of artists. I try to keep my shop stocked with all 20 reproductions of my art that BuyOlympia prints for me, but my inventory may fluctuate. So if you can't find the print you want, please order it from BuyOlympia.

I hope you've enjoyed seeing these past projects! Most of what I've created after June of last year has been commissions for other people, so it's a nice change to be making new art for myself these days.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Unmotivation, Gustave Baumann Woodcuts, and the "Bloom" Giveaway Winner!

I must admit that I've been lazy for the last week or so. I hate the word lazy. Okay, I've been in a rut. But that's not exactly true. It's not artist block. I have ideas, I have some direction, I have materials ready.

Unmotivated. That's the word. Whenever I feel lazy or unmotivated it's usually because I feel tired out (probably from travelling to Philly a week ago to do the Punk Rock Flea), or I'm in limbo because I need to decide on something but I'm afraid to or not ready to yet. Also, recently I spent a lot of my time cleaning and organizing my studio and finishing up older projects. I wanted my physical space and my head space to be clear and ready for new things. Now I'm ready but still feel unmotivated. Argh! I blame it on the heat.

Aspen Money, 1929 / 1946, Color woodcut,12 7/8 x 12 13/16" by Gustave Baumann

I have an art show coming up in November, and I've been trying to plan on what I want to create for it. I have two threads of ideas that I'm not sure will mix well in one show, so I tried to choose between them because I only have so much time to work. It was really hard for me to decide! For now, I'm going with the theme of landscapes and city scenes. I've taken lots of photos in the last few years and I want to translate those into linocut prints to reflect the beauty, spaciousness, and colors of the places I've seen.

Plum and Peach Bloom, 1912, Color woodcut, 19 3/4 x 26 5/8" by Gustave Baumann

It feels a bit scary to me because most of what I've created in the past has been infused with more of my own imagination. I wonder if my landscapes will seem devoid of my artistic personality (ha ha, there's my ego creeping in!) I am also feeling a bit daunted by producing this body of work because I will be working with more colors which will take more time and planning. I have to find ways to simplify the images if I'm to finish enough work for my show! I want to get the right amount of detail but also capture the essence of the image. All of these are challenges, but I think that they will stretch my artistic muscles. I'm taking a lot of inspiration from the woodcuts of Gustave Baumann, one of my favorite printmakers. When I look at his work, I am reminded that it doesn't matter whether the image came from my imagination or not - it just matters if it has life in it. An artist's job is choosing what and how to depict something in order to give it that special life. Baumann's work is very recognizable as his own, even though there are lots of landscape artists out there.

Tom A'Hunting, no date, color woodcut, 11" x 13 1/2" by Gustave Baumann

I love the way he captures light, and his subtle overlays of color. I tried to count how many colors he uses, and it's usually at least 7 different colors. Whew! 7 colors in one linocut print is a lot for me. I'm going to try to simplify down to 4 or 5 if I can. But we'll see.

Cherry Bloom, 1917, Color woodcut, 9 5/8 x 11 1/4" by Gustave Baumann

His landscapes are so spacious. They make me feel calm, like I have infinite space to breathe within them.

White Desert, 1930, color woodcut, 9.5 x 11.125" by Gustave Baumann

I also love his artist's seal - the open hand on a heart in the middle of his signature. So cute! Man, I need a seal.

According to my Pomegranate book of Baumann postcards, Gustave Baumann (1881-1971) was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States when he was 10. When he was 16, his dad left and it was his responsibility to support his entire family! He began full-time work at a commercial engraving house and took night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. If I think I have it hard sometimes, it's good to remember that some artists had it WAY harder. I'm also thinking of artist and illustrator Wanda Gag, who was put in a similar position when she was young. I'm just plain wimpy compared to them. Baumann later worked at an advertising studio, and also travelled to Munich to study at the School of Arts and Crafts. In his mid-thirties, he moved to multiple cities on the East coast and then finally settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lived for more than 50 years. I love that even though Baumann had a hard start, he really took his life into his own hands by making a living as an artist, attending school, travelling, and finding the place he could truly call home as an artist and person. And his work is AMAZING.

A Lilac Year, 1949, Color woodcut, 12 1/4" x 13 3/16" by Gustave Baumann 
One of my favorites!

I can only strive for my landscapes to possess a bit of the magic that Baumann's did. It's time for me to get back to work!

And sorry I took forever with this, but I would like to announce the winner of the "Bloom" print giveaway:


You've won my "Bloom" linocut print! 

Please get in touch with me and let me know which color scheme you prefer: good_old_fashioned_smell (at) hotmail (dot) com.

Thanks everyone for leaving comments. I was inspired and encouraged by all of you, and will take your suggestions into consideration. I already have plans to print on tote bags, make more zines, and do some black and white linocuts! Actually, most of your suggestions were ideas I was considering anyway, but you all gave me a push. Thanks so much!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Re-Released Books - "Genius (Love)" and "non sense"

I was inspired by a couple of readers who responded to my "Bloom" giveaway post (and speaking of which, I'll announce the winners in my next blog post). They mentioned how much they liked my zines. Encouraged by this and as part of my ongoing effort to simplify my life, I've re-released new versions of a zine and a chapbook that were out of circulation for a long time. 

The zine "Genius (Love)" has been out of circulation for 4 years because I never found the time to screenprint the covers! I decided to re-do the cover so I can just photocopy it instead. 

While it's not quite as fancy as before, it's better to have a zine in the world than not at all, in my opinion. 

I also re-did the cover and hand-binding for my poetry chapbook "non sense." The original version took an incredibly long time to make each one, and after awhile I just never felt like doing it. So I linocut-printed the cover instead of making an individual cyanotype for each one, and I simplified the binding. 

The binding is a modified version of the "Two-Sewn-As-One" binding that I found in "Creating Handmade Books" by Alisa Golden, a book that I highly recommend to beginners looking to get into bookmaking.

Both books are available for purchase in my Etsy shop:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Golden Moth 2nd Anniversary...and a Special Discount!

In early February of 2012, I launched my Kickstarter campaign to produce The Golden Moth Illumination Deck in a limited run of 300 decks. In mid-June of that year (2 months later than I had planned) I sent off the first decks to generous Kickstarter backers who supported me. It has now been over two years since it all began. Little did I know that the Golden Moth would sweep me up a whirlwind of fluttery wings and deposit me back on earth as a changed, and hopefully wiser, person.

I mailed deck #254 out of 300 last week, which means I only have around 40 or so decks left for purchase from the original edition and I'm keeping a few for myself. Last week I went through all of the remaining cards and finished sorting out the printing variations/errors so that the remaining cards would be ready for corner-rounding. 

Here are the last remaining cards on my shelf:

Some of you might remember when they took up a kitchen counter and two tables:

Back in 2012 I had arranged for my printers, Parcell Press, to print and trim the cards for me but I had decided to sort, collate, and corner-round the cards and assemble the boxes by hand in order to cut down on my costs. My boyfriend, parents, and a handful of friends helped me out as well. Before I received the cards, I had envisioned assembling all 300 of the decks within a relatively short span of time, maybe a couple months. After a couple of months of almost losing my mind from the pressure of delivering 127 Kickstarter rewards, I decided from then on the decks would be assembled in periodic small batches. I would spend literally hundreds of hours doing the aforementioned tasks for the next two years.

What led me to this situation was severely underestimating the time it would take me to do these tasks by hand. Why, oh why, did I not time myself in making a prototype from start to finish? Take corner-rounding. Each card has 4 corners to corner-round. Each deck consists of 75 cards. That's 300 corners per deck. That's 90,000 corners for 300 decks. Let me repeat that: NINETY-THOUSAND. Hmm, when you break it down like that, that's a lot of corners and a lot of potential shoulder pain.

Here are some other fun Golden Moth statistics: 

* For my Kickstarter campaign, I was backed by 127 people. Most were from the US, and 31 of those people lived in my current hometown of Richmond, VA. I also had 10 international backers from Canada, Australia, England, Singapore, Italy, New Zealand, and Norway.

* I raised $4,800, $800 more than my funding goal!

* 102 decks were purchased through the campaign.

* For the other Kickstarter rewards, I sent out 194 postcards, 67 notecards, 39 bookplates, 26 screenprints, 111 pieces of small original art, and gave 7 Intuitive Card Readings (like tarot readings but using the Golden Moth cards).

* I've given at least 30 Intuitive Card Readings to people using my pre-Golden Moth deck prototype, which was much smaller with loosely-drawn black-and-white images. I've given an estimated 50 or more readings to people in-person and online using the published Golden Moth deck.

The other day when I went through my Kickstarter campaign report to tally up these numbers, I read through the list of backers again. I re-experienced the amazed, encouraging feeling of having friends, relatives, and strangers donate money because they believed in me and my project. At one point during the midst of Golden Moth assembling madness, I told the people closest to me that if I knew it would be this hard, I might never have done the project at all. I don't handle stress well to begin with, but producing The Golden Moth Illumination Deck has been, to date, the biggest and most overwhelming project of my life. Now I look back and affirm that the statement was true, that I probably wouldn't have done it if I'd known.

And so I'm really glad I didn't know, because the deck has also been one of the most far-reaching and positive projects of my life. I made some new friends and became closer with friends I already had through the project. I've had many people tell me how much they've enjoyed and appreciated the deck, and how it has brought some clarity to their lives. I am very thankful for that. This has also been the most "collaborative" project I've ever done. The cards take on different meanings with each new owner, and their use and purpose goes beyond just me. I love that about the deck.

So I'm forging ahead with the next step. I would like The Golden Moth Illumination Deck to reach an even greater audience. I plan to make a larger commercial run of decks so that I can lower the per-unit cost of producing the decks and get more decks into stores and other venues. I don't want to do any more handwork on the decks in order to free up my time for promotion and creative energy (as opposed to corner-rounding). I also plan to revise and expand the handbook.

To celebrate the 2nd Anniversary of the Golden Moth and to pave the way for this new expansion, I'm now offering the limited edition deck in my shop, Sprout Head, for a $5 discount - from $50 to $45. Added to this, I'm offering a super-special (and super-short) sale in my shop that ends on Wednesday, June 15th. Use the coupon code FLYAWAY upon checkout and receive an ADDITIONAL 10% off your entire shop purchase! If you apply this to the deck, it will cost only $40.50 - that's $9.50 off the original price! Remember, you must apply the coupon code upon checkout or you won't get the additional discount. If you've been waiting to get your hands on this limited edition handmade version of the deck, don't delay or else they'll soon be gone!

I'm also offering a sweeter discount for those of you who already own a deck. If you complete this short survey, you are eligible to receive a coupon code for 20% off your entire store purchase. This coupon will expire on August 31st. To take the survey, click here. Please respond by the end of June if you want your feedback to be incorporated into the creation of the new deck and handbook. If you do not want to take the survey but would still like to provide feedback, feel free to post comments on this blog or leave a comment/message on my Golden Moth Facebook page:

Happy 2nd Birthday, Golden Moth!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Follow me on Bloglovin'

Another way to make your life easer - Follow my blog with Bloglovin. Bloglovin' is a site where you can add your favorite blogs and discover new ones in one easy-to-track feed.