I went through a big transitional period a few years ago. I lost a parent and my other parent had, and still has, advanced dementia. At this time I thought I really wanted to sell myself as an artist (life’s too short etc. etc.), and only an artist. So I thought it might be a good idea to earn money by selling my work on products, t-shirts, bags etc.
N.B. This is not about selling art through an exhibition or gallery, or selling prints online, which I consider to be quite a different thing.
Here are some things I learned:
1. Selling products is REALLY hard. People want a lot of attention and customer service when buying things. You have to deal with load of enquiries, occasional returns, postage issues and payments. It’s a full time job, even if you aren’t earning a full time wage to begin with. And the most difficult thing is promotion…
2. Promotion is a massive deal, getting people to even stop and look at your work over anyone else’s is super difficult. For ages I didn’t get a single sale, and when I did it was for really topical stuff that was high on a search at that time. For example, I had done an Olympics print and a corgi print that were both very popular around the 2012 Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee.
3. Knowing that I was adding to all of the stuff in the world was difficult for me. When you’ve cleared a house with 30 years worth of all of your family’s stuff you have a different view of people’s possessions, which is really hard to get over. My parents were hoarders and I’ve thrown out so many things that were important to them, which has made me really sad, but I just don’t have the room to keep them. I’m not much of a consumer either so I found it difficult to buy into something that wasn’t really me. I don’t buy much from Etsy (maybe a few zines a year), most of my clothes are from charity shops and I’m not really into buying the latest gadget on the market, so I felt a bit hypocritical trying to sell my own products to people.
4. It’s all about figures, margins and profits. A friend of mine who thought that it would be fun to get into the t-shirt business and ended up saying to me that they didn’t realise that they were just “getting into the rag trade”. What they meant by this was it’s all about quantities, margins and profits. You have to work out a load of numbers and see how much of a return you might make on your products. The worst case that I’ve experienced with this is greeting cards. If you try to sell them to a shop they usually want to buy each one for 60p-90p and they usually sell for £2.50. You cant really get greeting cards printed for less than 90p each, so it’s really not worth it, unless you sell them yourself. You also have to work out how much your packaging and postage will be for each product, as well as if people buy multiple products in one go. And I just couldn’t force my brain to work that shit out.
5. I wasn’t making artwork anymore, and this made me unhappy. Instead I was spending more time sorting out my shop, talking to customers, packing things up and going to the post office than I was making work, which is all I wanted to do. I make work because there is something inside me that drives me to, and if I’m not getting my ideas out I can get quite down. I also really enjoy experimenting and trying out new techniques, which doesn’t really fit with selling products in the traditional sense.
This is obviously just my own personal experience and I really hope that it does not discourage you, if it’s something that you were thinking of doing. I might even change my mind and begin selling my art as products in future. Change is the only inevitability.
I have some really good friends who successfully sell products and make and sell work that I really admire. It’s just something that isn’t quite the right thing for me at the moment.
There are so many success stories out there about selling arts and crafts online that I think it can give a warped view of how it can be, so I though that it was important to share my experience.
There are some great aspects to selling and if you do it right and put in the time and effort you can have a great business. I just think that it’s really important to make sure that the things that you spend your precious time on this earth doing are really worth it to you in the long run.