Art Business

The Many Hats Artists Wear – Part 5

Following on from yesterday’s mini-blog, my job as an artist also involves the following:

Image from Pixabay

8. Research

When I paint an endangered animal, I like to know something about them, so spend a little time researching them and their habitat so that I can create an authentic setting in the illustration.

Part of building an art business also means researching merchandising options and retailers. My target audience is animal-art lovers! I am aware that not everyone wants to buy an original painting or print, but most of us like to wear t-shirts, use tea towels and notebooks, build jigsaw puzzles, etc.

With that in mind, I am constantly researching manufacturing options for New Zealand-made, natural fibres, non-polluting, sustainable, reusable environmentally-friendly products. I am so grateful that I can work with Digitees (https://www.digitees.co.nz/), who print my designs on 100% cotton ethical clothing (the adult clothing is 100% organic cotton too!) with eco-friendly inks.

Image from Pixabay

9. Uploading designs to merchandise

Once a design is digitised, it needs to be uploaded for merchandise. Although I have designs on three print-on-demand platforms (Zazzle, Society6 and Redbubble), I only load designs on Redbubble now, as I hardly ever sell anything on the others. Redbubble is also, by far, the easiest platform to use. It costs nothing for me to put my designs on items, but in return, the royalties are small, and I dare not push them up for fear of chasing away customers with excessive prices.

Recently I started to sell my work on 100% cotton t-shirts on my own store, which are printed and drop shipped by Digitees (https://www.digitees.co.nz/), a Kiwi business. I am also proud to be part of the Kiwi artist collaboration, doodlewear (https://www.doodlewear.co.nz/) and sell my designs on 100% cotton sweatshirts and hoodies.

My endangered animals’ designs are also printed as giclee prints and greeting cards. These are sold on my online store (https://www.bumble-beesartandcrafts.com/).

All this merchandising work takes considerable time – creating merchandise options and entries on the online store and Facebook are very time-consuming, but it needs to be done so that customers can buy what they like and when it is done, it is rewarding.

Tomorrow I will share some more of the ‘many hats’ I don on a daily basis. Today’s blog is the fifth part of a series of mini blogs, which I will post over the coming days.

I would really love to hear about your art business, or your thoughts if you are contemplating becoming a self-employed artist. As always, I am also keen to read any tips you may have.

Until then…

Illustration

Setting Up a Print on Demand Store

Store header

The last couple of months have been hectic. Unfortunately, in all the chaos, I forgot to blog last month.

Better late than never!

Please note: I am not being paid to review print on demand platforms. All comments are my personal opinion and are formed from my experience.

Stepping Out and Setting Up a Store

I am one of the most risk-averse people on the planet; however, thanks to Nina Rycroft (during her ‘Project Portfolio’) and her guest, Nic Squirrell, I was encouraged to set up my first Print on Demand store.

By setting up a Print on Demand store, I hoped to make, at least a part of, my living. Like many artists and illustrators, it is necessary for us to have multiple sources of income.

How Did I Decide On Which Platform to Use?

I read the FAQs on well over a dozen print on demand (POD) sites, and created a spreadsheet on which I could easily see the similarities and differences of the platforms, then googled reviews on these sites.

I decided to start on one of the smaller platforms, Redbubble.

My First POD Store

Since I was a complete POD newbie, I watched several Youtube videos and read a few blogs before setting up my Redbubble store.

To my technophobic delight, I found Redbubble to be a simple, intuitive site, easy to navigate, and in no time, I was uploading my artwork to my new store.

One of my favourite aspects of Redbubble is that you upload your illustration / design ONCE, enter the design description, and then you either:

  1. De-select the merchandise items your design is not suited to, OR
  2. Manually edit your image to make it appropriate for the merchandise items.

Save, and ‘hey, presto!’, a new design, and many new merchandise options have been added to the store.

What is the Hardest Part of Using Redbubble?

The most challenging and time-consuming aspect of creating POD merchandise doesn’t actually occur on the store platform.

The hard work takes place in the scanning and digital editing (digitising) of the illustrations.

I use GIMP, and am happy to report that this software is not only free, but can do everything that I require for editing illustration images.

I have watched many tutorials about GIMP on Skillshare and Youtube in order to get up to speed, but it has been totally worth it.

I am not a digital artist. I work with watercolour and coloured pencil (and occasionally ink). The next couple of paragraphs are about what I experience when I scan and digitally edit my traditional media pieces for use on POD platforms.

It can sometimes take a couple of hours to get rid of the background paper texture from an intricate, filigree-type illustration, but it is time well spent, when you see how good the images look on the merchandise. This extremely necessary step guarantees brilliant results. If you do not delete the paper backgrounds, the images look grainy and unprofessional as the paper background is printed onto the merchandise.

Be aware that the software cannot always differentiate between the background paper and the colour yellow or other pale shades. To those who use Photoshop, please comment if yellow is a problem for you when cleaning up artwork. I am interested to find out if this is just a GIMP issue or if it is a yellow issue.

I have theorised that my yellow watercolour paints are very transparent, and that other very pale shades are super transparent too, which may be why the software cannot detect a difference between the paper and the painted areas.

Please comment if you have some knowledge about this.

Another word of warning, if you use a cheaper scanner, although the scan will still be clear, you may find that the colour is either weaker, or that certain shades simply do not scan accurately. I love using Bright Opera Pink, and it makes the most gorgeous shades of purple when mixed with different blues (and amazing bright oranges when mixed with lemon yellow); however, my scanner does not read Bright Opera Pink. Any areas painted with this colour show up as an extremely pale, icy pink. I have to digitally touch up any work done with the more luminous shades. My scanner doesn’t even represent Quinadcridone Violet or Magenta accurately.

One day I will invest in a better scanner.

Your merchandise images are only as good as your scanning and editing. In a way, digital artists have the edge over traditional artists when it comes to reproducing work.

What Do I Like About Redbubble?

I have already mentioned why I like the Redbubble system.

I also like the product range, which is smaller than some other platforms; however, all the items are well-priced and, I think, popular.

I like how clean the set-up is and how easy it was to learn to use it. It is very logical, and not technical.

So, Am I Selling Products?

Yes! My store is new, but I have made sales – long may that continue!

My Second POD Store

I am currently setting up a Zazzle store.

Zazzle is a very different beast to Redbubble. It cannot be compared to Redbubble as it is a considerably larger platform in every respect. I will give you the pros. and cons. as I see them.

Pros.

  1. Massive number of merchandise options.
  2. Huge variety of merchandise options – you can specialise, if you choose. For instance, you may decide to only create stationery items, or clothing and dress fabrics, or only household items. Or, like me, put your merchandise on the products you like and believe will sell – eventually! Quite a lot of people selling on Zazzle only sell t-shirts, or coffee mugs, etc. For those designers, Zazzle is a simple and easy tool.
  3. There is a great range of goods at different prices. You can purchase small, cheap items; or large, speciality items that cost a bit more.

Cons.

  1. I found that Zazzle was not as intuitive and simple to use as Redbubble. Redbubble is so easy to use that I initially felt very frustrated with the Zazzle system. Having stuck at it for a while now, I have accepted it for what it is, and am coping with the system and its requirements.
  2. It is not as straight forward as Redbubble if you wish to put your designs on a greater number of items. Although you upload your design once, there is no really quick way to create merchandise. For items that are in the same range, for example, badges, you can upload your design and it will automatically be available on different shaped badges, or badges made from the same material. You can decide whether to turn off this option. If you upload your image to a badge, it will not be available on t-shirts or tea-pots until you upload it to those items.
  3. Zazzle is a much more time-consuming platform to work on. I believe the system is this way because of the necessity to set up SEOs (search engine optimisation) for the products. Apparently, you can create product templates, but I was confused by the information as it did not seem to apply to the kind of work I was doing. As previously mentioned, technology is not one of my strengths, so if any of you know how to help me out with time-saving methods, I would love to hear from you.
  4. Description data is required for every merchandising item you choose. I have a system, and now am pretty efficient as I work; however, it takes many hours to create all the merchandise options that I may wish to use. Redbubble takes about 10 minutes!
  5. Redbubble has more colour options available for merchandise items. Only a selection of default colours is available on Zazzle, whereas, Redbubble has custom colour options for the majority of items.
  6. Because I am not American, it was a NIGHTMARE wrapping my head around the IRS tax form. God bless the New Zealand IRD – their tax forms are so much simpler to fill out!

I have chosen to continue building my Zazzle store because I consider it as time invested in passive income. I won’t need to do this again. I also remind myself constantly: NO PAIN, NO GAIN. Hopefully people will start to see my merchandise and like it enough to buy it. It will be worth the hard work.

I have sold only two items so far, but hopefully sales will increase as I add more items and designs.

Are You Thinking of Setting Up Your Own POD Store?

Nic Squirrell recommended that artists put their illustrations on as many platforms as possible. That is my goal.

After watching other POD artists, the general consensus was:

  1. Keep producing new work – this encourages repeat customers.
  2. Update your stores regularly.
  3. Upload to as many different POD platforms as you can.
  4. Upload your designs to as many merchandising options as you can; however, don’t be tempted to put your designs on all options, as not everything is suited to a particular design. Choose items that suit your work, and delete any merchandise you are not happy with.
  5. Advertise your stores. I try to share my store items 5-6 times per week. Apologies to my Instagram and Facebook followers who feel ad-bombed. I am just trying to catch that one person who is trying to find the perfect birthday gift for someone who has everything.

What is So Great About POD?

One of the best aspects of print on demand platforms, is that the artist does not have the expense of producing merchandise. Instead you upload your work, choose your products, sell them to the public, and receive royalty payments. The platform manages the manufacturing of the goods, shipping to the customer and the payment to you.

The royalties vary between platforms, so take the time to check all of them out.  

So, What Can a Print on Demand Store Mean for the Shopper?

These print on demand platforms are a great place to find gifts. They cater for everyone.

And Now…

For the time being, however, I am content maintaining my Redbubble store, and developing the Zazzle store.

Please Check Out My Stores:

https://www.redbubble.com/people/auntiebetty

https://www.zazzle.co.nz/store/auntie_betty

Even if you are not interested in purchasing anything, please feel free to like the designs and follow my stores. This helps move my store through the ranks, which hopefully will mean some sales.

If you are interested in purchasing any of the merchandise items, please keep an eye out for the sales. There are regular sales on both Redbubble and Zazzle.

If you purchase items, please feel free to email, message, Facebook or Instagram me with a review and a photo. It would be lovely to ‘meet’ my customers.

A Shout-Out:

I have a shout-out two Instafriends, who also sell their amazing artwork on print-on-demand platforms.

Please check out their stores too:

  1. Lise Holt Art: https://www.redbubble.com/people/liseholtart
  2. Squibble Creative Services: https://society6.com/squibble

This is my recent experience of setting up print on demand stores.

I have heard very good things about Society6, so hopefully, one day, I will start a Society6 store too. Some of the other POD platforms are: Threadless, Bucketfeet, Design by Humans, Spreadshoes, Bags of Love, Sunfrog, Café Press, Teerepublic, Spreadshirt, Teefury, Vida, Art of Where, Be Smart, etc.

Please comment if you have a POD store, and if you would like to contribute to any of my thoughts.

Please join me this time next month when I review a couple of lovely picture books. Until next time…