Pin Backing Types Title displayed over image of scattered pin backings

 

It’s time for my first post of June and I’m scrambling to get it done on time. So instead of the lengthy “Starting an Art Business part 4” post I’ve been working on, I’m giving you all a little insider pin knowledge. Today we’re talking about pin backs.

Those of you with no interest in enamel pins can come back next week.

Pin Backs? Who Cares?

There’s a bit of a rivalry going on in the pin community. (Not really.) It’s been going on for centuries. (Maybe a few years at most?) This division is comparable to the likes of age-old conflicts like:

DC or Marvel?

Subs or Dubs?

Dogs or Cats?

Normal people coffee or Decaf?

Toilet paper roll facing up or Down? (The answer is up, you monsters.)

And that conflict is…

 

Metal Pin Backs vs. Rubber Pin Backs

 

If you’re a pro pin collector (or creator), bear with me while I drop some Pin 101 knowledge. Enamel pins typically have one or two posts with some type of back or clasp to secure it to a surface. But the question is, do you go with rubber or metal pin clasps?

Pin Backing Types Metal vs Rubber Pin Backs

Metal backs are probably the most well-known to the general public. They’re also called butterfly clasps/clutches and have those two little tabs you have to squeeze together to take the clasp off. But we all know those two tabs aren’t particularly secure. Sometimes you can rip a metal clasp right off without touching the tabs. Or was that just my childhood experience?

[]

Rubber backs, on the other hand, are a very simple piece of rubber with no intricate workings. All they require is a simple pull or push.

The first enamel pins I bought had rubber backs. Initially, I thought they were just cheaper to produce. But when I started making pins for myself, I found that no manufacturer (that I’ve come across so far) charges a different price for rubber or metal backs.

I ended up snooping, asking around, and Googling to find out, what’s the difference between rubber and metal backs? Is one better than the other?

Meanwhile, being already biased toward rubber and finding insufficient information online, I chose rubber backings for my first pin and pin set. All of my current pins have rubber backs.

 

Which is Better: Metal or Rubber backings?

I do have opinions on this topic now, not just a bias toward my first type of pin backs. But spoiler alert, the difference between metal and rubber backs comes down to personal preference.

The majority of pin makers I’ve purchased from use rubber. But I’ve heard others express a strong preference for metal. A few creators offer both. And while one isn’t definitively better than the other, there are definite pros and cons to discuss.

 

Metal Pin Backs

Other names: butterfly clasp, metal clutch, butterfly clutch, military* pin back, military butterfly clasp

Pin Backing Types Metal Butterly backs

Pros:

  • Metal backs on metal pins look more uniform
  • Butterfly clasp provides a slight lock
  • Better for securing pins on thicker material
  • Can customize metal color

Cons:

  • Doesn’t provide a tight fit or secure lock
  • Butterfly tabs can get caught in hair and clothing
  • Metal colors are limited

Summary:

Metal pin backs have the noticeable benefit of looking more uniform. Some people view them as more aesthetically pleasing. Metal backings can be customized to a limited extent by metal color. I have butterfly clasps in gold, silver, and rose gold. But typically no one will see the clasp except you. On the other hand, you do need to deal with the possibility of your clasp getting caught in hair, clothing, or scratching your skin.

The more important consideration for pin backs is security. Some people complain about how easily their metal pin backs have fallen off, while others report having no problems. Compared with rubber backs, butterfly clasps have a looser fit; they’ll never be completely flush against the pin needle.

However, metal pin backs tend to be better if you’re frequently removing and replacing pins, like me. While the butterfly clasp mechanism can get worn down, the back ultimately holds its shape better than rubber, which will stretch with extended use.

 

Rubber Pin Backs

Other names: PVS rubber pin back (this one’s pretty straightforward)

Pin Backs Rubber Backs

Pros:

  • Tight fit
  • Very secure on thin or textured fabric
  • Smooth surface is skin-friendly
  • Highly customizable
  • Better grip

Cons:

  • Harder to secure on a thick surface
  • Loosens over time and with movement
  • Security varies by quality

Summary:

In general, rubber pin backs provide a tighter fit. The hole in the pin back is made to fit your pin post perfectly. Some rubber pin backs are so tight that I’ve had trouble removing them at first. But the key phrase here is “at first.” Rubber stretches over time, leaving you with a looser fit, the more you remove and replace your pin.

And although rubber backs are pretty secure, they can also loosen if you have your pin on a surface that sees a lot of movement, like a lanyard or tote bag. But if you plan to leave your pin on a surface permanently, your rubber pin back is less likely to stretch. The rubber surface is also durable and won’t get caught on hair or clothing.

Another big draw of rubber pin backs is customizability. You can choose different colors and even special shapes. I’ve seen heart- and star-shaped pin backs and of course, Disney pins have rubber backs in the shape of Mickey Mouse heads.

 

Finally, I’d add that rubber pin backs have the benefit of a tighter fit on fabric. All pins have one or two sharp nubs next to their pin post. When a pin is pushed completely flat against its backing card, you’ll see a little indent next to the hole from this nub. In many rubber pin backs, you can also see a faint indent or two from these “nubs.” (Sorry if “nub” sounds weird–I don’t know what else to call it.)

To get a more secure fit, from your rubber pin back, you can press your pin tightly against a fabric surface so that the nub also catches the fabric. Then press the rubber back as tightly against the back as possible to secure with both the post and the nub. If this makes no sense, hopefully these pictures will help:

A pin on the left with two nubs (mine) and a pin on the right with one nub (from Shop Lizzy)

 

Pin Backing Types nub imprints on rubber backs
Nub indents on two rubber pin backs; multiple on the left because I don’t always stab in the same spot

 

Anyway, the point is that rubber backs can give a really secure fit.

 

What About Locking Pin Backs?

There’s another type of popular pin back on the market. No post on the different types of pin backs would be complete without it. They’re locking pin backs.

In the end, rubber and metal pin backs don’t have a significant difference in security. It’s possible to lose pins with both backing types. So collectors turn to locking pin backs. I’m not focusing on this type of pin back because a.) I’ve never used them and b.) they’re in an entirely different league. But I’ll take a moment to share what I know.

Locking pin backs are also called locking clutches, deluxe pin backs, spring-loaded clutch backs, or military pin keepers.

*I would assume these are the true “military pin backs” but I’ve seen people refer to both regular butterfly clasps and locking pin backs as “military.” So just make sure you’re seeing a picture before you purchase any “military” pin backs.

Locking pin backs come in two variations: flathead and ball head pin backs. They look exactly how they sound and function in pretty much the same way. In order to lock your pin into place, these pin backs have a spring, which you release by pulling the top (flat or ball) up while pushing the bottom of the back down at the same time. If this sounds confusing, here’s a quick YouTube video and one with a longer explanation.

Some locking pin backs require you to open the spring whenever you want to put the clutch on or off. Others just need a firm push to put on and a squeeze only when you want to take the pin back off. Apparently there’s a bit of a learning curve; you may need a few tries to get used to releasing these pin backs.

Locking pin backs are more costly and in most cases, you’ll need to purchase them separately from your pins. I definitely plan to try locking pin backs someday…but for now, I’m spending my money on new pins.

(And if you’re thinking I sure had a lot to say about locking pin backs for someone who’s never used them, well, my cheap research skills are top-notch. I once had a sketchy job writing product reviews for items I’ve never even touched. Don’t trust everything you read online folks.)

 

Which Do I Prefer: Rubber or Metal Pin Backs?

Although I’ve only used rubber backs for my pins so far, I’ve recently been tempted by metal. So much so that I’ve ordered butterfly clasps for my next batch of pins (currently in production). I’m not set on metal, but recently I’ve come across a problem with my rubber pin backs.

I move my pins around. A lot. Especially my sample set of succulent pins. I’m constantly sticking them in different places to take pictures. As a result, the backings have gotten noticeably looser.

Meanwhile, I have some pins from a friend that use metal pin backs. To be honest, these butterfly clasps are a little difficult to remove. I have to pinch the butterfly tabs and jimmy it around a bit to remove them. But those pin backs are SECURE. Even with the amount of traveling these pins have done from one surface to another, these pins still stick.

So forget my worries about branding and consistency; I’m testing out metal pin backs. Maybe in a few months time, I’ll have a clear favorite, but for now, I’m still on the fence.

Pin Backing Types Metal vs Rubber on Pins

 

Do you have strong opinions on pin backs? This is a super serious topic! Feel free to fight it out in the comments!

April Art Challenge Title card

 

During the month of April I participated in Faunwood’s April Art Challenge – a 30-day art challenge created by artist Miranda Zimmerman. Before you get too excited for me, just know that this was an informal art challenge that anyone could join. No awards or anything like that!

Zimmerman chose 30 prompts with the intent of practicing color. To use color was the only guideline, other than that, the prompts were up for your interpretation. Although we’re talking about artists here, so I wasn’t surprised to see a few black and white pieces throughout the month.

April Art Challenge - AprilColorsChallenge prompts

 

I took a look, decided the prompts seemed fun, and grabbed my pencils. Colors are an area of weakness for me too, so this challenge seemed perfect.

At this point, I should mention that Miranda Zimmerman does absolutely lovely black-and-white illustrations with a sort of dark, fantasy + nature theme. I definitely recommend checking her work out.

 

April Art Challenge…Start!

 

“I’ll do this but I won’t be too hardcore” was the theme of this challenge. After finishing Inktober last year, I knew I wasn’t ready for that level of commitment.

I started the challenge on time and made it about halfway through the month, and produced 16 pieces of art. I confess without shame that this number includes days when I combined multiple prompts to catch up. Whoops!

Overall the challenge was fun and I came out of it with a nice series of Ghibli patterns. For your viewing pleasure, here are my pieces from Faunwood’s April art challenge:

 

Day 1: A Dang Bunny, Obviously

The first day of the month was both Easter and April Fool’s Day.

I sketched out some stylized rabbits and then attempted to use this cool notebook made with Lokta plant leaves. Apparently it was handcrafted by a Fair Trade Women’s Co-op in Nepal and uses eco-friendly paper making methods. I also used this notebook for Inktober. Sadly, it didn’t take color very well.

The paper is super absorbent and has a delicate textured surface. Colored pencil (the body of the bunny) didn’t work because I couldn’t put much pressure on the paper without scratching away the surface of the paper. So I tried working with markers. They bled. Then I think I then added water to spread the color more evenly?

I finished the rabbit. That’s what matters.

Day 2-3: Analogous Color Palette/Pink as Shadows

Fortunately I was delayed but not deterred by the first day. After watching the first episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10, I had to do Miss Vanessa Vanjie Mateo‘s now iconic look.

April Art Challenge - 2 Miss Vanjie in progress
Miss Vanjie…

I chose two somewhat tricky prompts to combine, but the challenge (plus the indignity of Miss Vanjie going home first) fired me up.

…Miss Vanjie…

For my analogous color scheme (where you use only colors that are next to each other on the color wheel), I chose purple, pink/red, and a little bit of peach/orange. To stay within this color scheme, I took a few liberties with Miss Mateo’s look and used purple instead of blue for makeup and made her hair pink instead of blonde.

…Miss…Vanjie

I don’t know how she went home first, with those fun but slightly creepy mermaid Barbies scattered throughout her outfit. We better get more Vanjie in the future.

 

Day 4: Spores

By comparison, day four was rather dull for me. I added some of my little figures to give the piece a little more life. They’re a father and his two kids in the mushroom spore rain.

Day 5: Parasite

Here’s where I decided to draw what I wanted but try to tie it into the prompt. Studio Ghibli pins were (are still are) exploding in the enamel pin community and I caught the bug too. Hence this page of the tiniest Totoros from My Neighbor Totoro. These fit the prompt because…they would be super adorable as parasites and could easily take over the world.

Day 6: Gold/Silver

I was still in a Ghibli mood, so No Face (Spirited Away) with his fake gold came next.

Day 7/8/9: Gouache/Split-Complementary Color Palette/Mixed Media Insects

Ghibli again, but this time I combined three prompts! These are Ohmu or giant fantasy bugs from Nausicaa: Vally of the Wind. This movie was all about climate change before the general public even thought it would be an issue. It’s lovely, but then again, all Studio Ghibli films are.

The Ohmu are painted with gouache – a paint that’s very similar to watercolor, but a bit more opaque and easier to mess with on paper. I hadn’t used gouache since an intro art class in college, but still had a few tubes lying around. I ended up loving gouache. You’ll definitely see more gouache from me…once I find where I put those paint tubes again.

A split complementary color scheme involves choosing one color (i.e. orange), then taking its complement (directly across the color wheel from orange is blue – think Denver Broncos), and instead of using the complement, you take the two colors next to it (blue-green and blue-violet, or if you prefer just green and purple). So my color scheme was roughly orange, blue-green, and blue-violet. You can see that I didn’t stick too closely to these colors, but they’re in the ballpark.

Finally, to fulfill the “Mixed Media Insects” part of the prompt, I added pen outlines. Partly because I felt guilty about combining so many prompts, and partly because I enjoyed using gouache, I did three more mini paintings.

Two of the three mini paintings and some sketches

Day 10: Brambles

Then for the next four prompts, I got really lazy. These were all quick digital sketches done on my phone, all in the same day. Although I didn’t spend much time on each, just the act of sitting down and taking the time to make art felt so good this day.

I went literal with “brambles.” This was my warmup.

Day 11: Mineral/Crystal

Literal once again. An amethyst was the first crystal I thought of. An in-depth study of crystals would be really great for practicing  both color and light though.

Day 12: Earth Tones

I immediately went to the mountain landscape I draw often, inspired of course, by my everyday view of Pikes Peak.

Day 13/14: Color Matching from Life/Digital

And in case you were wondering what that everyday view looks like, I chose Pikes Peak once again for the color matching prompt. The colors were much darker than what I would usually choose when painting Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods, but the end result looked richer too.

Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods phone speedpaint

Here was the reference photo I used for color matching.

 

Day 16: Floral/Plant Study

I skipped Day 15 (Iridescence) and went straight for plant study. By the time I started this prompt, I’d already decided it would be my last. I took three succulents I’d recently beheaded and used them for my color study.

Unfortunately, I did these color studies at night in my dimly lit room. When I saw them in natural light the next day, the colors looked pretty different!

Extras

While I didn’t complete any more prompts, I went on to do two more Ghibli pages in the same style as the first three.

 

Soot sprites from Spirited Away

 

Ponyo sisters with jellyfish (Ponyo)

Keep an eye out – you may see these designs again in the future!

Are you thinking of applying to graduate school?

Whether you’re hoping to gain new skills or just need a break from the “real world,” we’re all equal on the application playing field. (Except when it comes to financial barriers, support structures, and your overall social and cultural capital. Lol. But what is this, a social justice piece?) We all owe our share of blood, sweat, and tears.

That’s where I come in. As a person who applied to graduate school just last year, I am now a certified expert. You’ll find that I am uniquely qualified to guide you through the process and can 1000% guarantee AT LEAST a 0% acceptance rate. You can’t get numbers like that anywhere.

So kick back while I reveal the inner workings of the graduate school application system: Sociology Ph.D. edition. This guide was created from real world data AND is mostly pictures. You can’t get that from GradCafe, can you?

The Art

When you embark on your grad app journey, you might think your goal is to get accepted somewhere. But don’t put that pressure on yourself. All you need to do right now is GET IT!

The following is a list of 10 easy steps to help you GET IT!

 

Step 1. Get pumped.

You’ve decided what you want to do with your life, to a certain extent. You’ll be going to school for the next few (or several) years. It’s going to be everything you’ve ever dreamed of.

applying to grad school comics: excited woman in a pink sweater imagining what graduate school will be like

 

Step 2. Get overwhelmed.

Okay, this is harder than you thought. Realize you have no real criteria. You just want to go somewhere good. And you know there should be faculty you want to work with. That seems clear enough until you start looking. How do you define “good” exactly? And do you really need to look through every single faculty member’s web page?

applying to grad school comics: woman at a table in front of a laptop looking frustrated

 

Step 3. Get help.

Connections are a thing. Your former professors know a lot of things. Conversations are good. Apparently you’re lucky that you can use websites and not microfiche. After some pointers, it’s back into the trenches for you.

applying to grad school comics: illustration of two women talking at a table. Woman facing us has two thought bubbles showing her true emotions

 

Step 4. Get choices.

You’re now a master at navigating sociology department websites. Except NYU. Theirs is confusing every single time. You have your top choices. Your list of schools is starting to mean something.  But let’s be honest, there are multiple lists, and Word docs, and excel spreadsheets. Organization is a farce.

applying to grad school comics: three simplified figures with a placards that represent different schools. The first school is a yes, the second a no, and the third simply has a question mark.

 

Step 5. Get worried.

That deadline is sooner than you thought. Did you ask for rec letters yet? You’d better hope that last professor says yes.

applying to grad school comics: woman sitting in front of a laptop looks stressed. Papers, notes and writing utensils litter the desk. The upper right corner reads "Dec 1" in green dripping font.

 

Step 6. Get to work.

Your letter writers want a draft of your personal statement? Let them know it’s going to messy af. Write that in a hurry. Then agonize over your CV. And statements. And the difference between a personal statement and a statement of purpose. And the arbitrary (lack of) standards between programs. Couldn’t they all have agreed on a standard definition, for your sake?

And that program asking for two statements? Who do they think they are? (A top school, that’s who.)

applying to grad school comics: woman in the center of an illustration mimics pose from the painting "the scream". Background is a green swirl with objects like papers and coffee in it.

 

Step 7. Get those first applications submitted!

Triumph at last! You feel a swelling sense of accomplishment followed by a creeping …concern. Its name is The Next Deadline. How much do you really need to tailor your statements to each school?

applying to grad school comics: happy woman in a silver gown occupies the center of the illustration surrounded by yellow sparkles. The background shows a "Submit" button being clicked with a computer mouse.

 

Step 8. Get to work overachiever.

You tell yourself this next round of applications will look even better than the first. You turn into an editing monster. But you really can’t tell if there’s a difference.

applying to grad school comics: woman sits in front of a laptop with fire for eyes and medusa-like hair flying in every direction

 

Step 9. Get over it.

The other deadlines rush up in no time. You submit your work rather uneventfully and suddenly the whole process is DONE. You feel a little empty. Grad school applications have drained you of everything. Promptly forget about them and move on with your new, application-free life.

applying to grad school comics: woman in a red sweater, glasses, and dark brown hair pulled back in a bun walks through a background resembling a child's illustration with grass, flowers, and an apple tree

 

Step 10: Get…Accepted?

React with shock when a school gets back to you far earlier than expected. Exclaim out loud that you’re not ready to find out yet! Then mash your finger against that screen immediately while holding your breath.

applying to grad school comics: the top of a smart phone screen shows that the user has received an email from "A University" regarding her admissions decision. In the foreground, a woman closes her eyes while reaching out to open the email on her phone.

 

Note from the Real Author

Hello everyone, Monica here.

Hope you enjoyed these illustrations. This was my real life at the end of last year. This is also my way of announcing that I’ll be heading to graduate school this fall. For the next 5 to 7 years, I’ll be attending a Sociology PhD program at Indiana University Bloomington.

I’m excited to finally be taking this next step, but don’t worry, you’ll still hear from me on this blog. Figuring out how much time I can dedicate to art and blogging in my first year of grad school will be an adventure. But nothing new.

Fitting art into the cracks is just part of any non-full-time artist‘s life. I’ve made my peace with it.

See you again next week,

Monica

 

Kickstarter isn’t always convenient. It takes a lot of time. The funding isn’t guaranteed. You need to follow the Kickstarter’s requirements to get approved and pull off a successful campaign. And then you need to give Kickstarter their cut. It’s not surprising that many creators would rather stay away.

 

Preorders as a Way to Fund

Many artists in the enamel pin community open preorders. But generally, preorders don’t perform well unless the artist is well-known and/or there’s a good discount included. From what I’ve seen, preorders aren’t a good way to gather funding for production.

But there’s another beast known as “necessary preorders.”

 

What is a Necessary Preorder?

I’ve only seen necessary preorders pop up in artists’ shops recently.

Necessary preorders require a certain number of orders before the project can go into production. The seller will only run necessary preorders for a set period of time. If they don’t receive enough orders by the deadline, the project will not be made and all customers will have their orders refunded.

It’s essentially an independently run Kickstarter. For many products, Kickstarter and other crowd-funding platforms act as preorder facilitators. Yes, backers may help bring a product to life, but in most cases, they expect to receive the product as well.

A necessary preorder is arguably more transparent in being all about the product. Naturally, there are several reasons why you might consider a necessary preorder and several reasons you might not.

 

Benefits of a Necessary Preorder

 

You retain control.

On your shop website, you run the preorder campaign any way you want. There are no limitations to the rewards you can offer to customers, no set formula to follow, nor any obligations to continually update your project.

 

No fees.

Because you manage the entire process yourself, you don’t owe fees to anyone. Every cent you make can go directly into your project. Plain and simple.

 

Flexibility

On a crowdfunding platform, you’re tied to a specific funding goal and deadline. But on your website, funding a project quickly means you can access your funds immediately and get your product into production faster.

Timing is also up to you. If you don’t quite meet your goal by the deadline, you might choose to wait a day, make a final promotional push, and encourage a few more preorders. Or you might decide to foot the rest of the bill yourself and start production. While having this flexibility is nice, be sure to communicate clearly with your customers so you don’t come across as unreliable. This leads in nicely to the potential drawbacks of running necessary preorders.

 

Drawbacks of a Necessary Preorder

 

No established platform to drive traffic to your preorder campaign.

Whenever you fundraise on a platform, you benefit from the built-in audience that comes with it. My Seasonal Succulents Kickstarter received 46% of its pledges from people who discovered me through Kickstarter. If you choose to run a preorder campaign on your own, you don’t receive the perks of additional traffic from a platform.

 

More marketing required for you.

You need to put more effort into two levels of your marketing efforts: design and traffic. Naturally, you need to do extra promotion to get the same amount of visibility that your project would have received on a crowdfunding platform.

But you also need to consider the layout of your preorder page. Kickstarter comes with a pre-built structure designed to lay out the details of your project clearly and concisely. Backers are usually familiar with Kickstarter’s layout too, so they can quickly find the information they need.

Your necessary preorders need to be displayed prominently and made distinct from any regular products. If your preorder is listed just like any other product, you risk visitors glossing over it or misunderstanding its purpose.

 

You have the burden of more perceived risk.

Crowdfunding platforms don’t just come with an audience. They’ve also established trust with consumers. Most online consumers have heard of sites like Kickstarter, Indigogo or GoFundMe. If your project doesn’t get funded, visitors know the site is reputable and can count on receiving their money back.

When purchasing a necessary preorder, the consumer has to trust you as an individual business. This is an additional and perhaps the most significant barrier to a purchase. Ways you can reduce this barrier include showing a clear track record with positive reviews, similar products, and successfully funded projects in the past.

 

Tips for Running a Necessary Preorder

 

  1. Be crystal clear.

Necessary Preorders Water Drop Crystal on a rock

Ensure everything is crystal clear from the start. There are many opportunities for visitors to misunderstand or misinterpret your project. Necessary preorders simply aren’t very well-known. If you don’t believe me, just do a Google search. Marketers aren’t even talking about necessary preorders yet (or if they are, their SEO is too low to show up in search engine results).

You don’t want users misunderstanding and expecting your preorder product to be sent out immediately. Take care to also explain that the project is not guaranteed to be funded. Customers should be sad, but not shocked if your project doesn’t make it.

Regardless of the outcome, the most important point you’ll want to stress is what happens with their money. Clearly state that if a project isn’t funded, you’ll completely refund everyone’s orders. It wouldn’t hurt to mention this multiple times. You want to emphasize that funding this project carries no risk for your customers.

 

  1. Consider your timing.

Necessary Preorders old antique clock on rocky ground

Choose the right length of time. This is easier said than done. You’ll want to choose a time frame that isn’t so long that your customers get sick of waiting and pull out. But your preorder period can’t be so short that you don’t have enough time to promote your project. Give people time to find your project and be clear about your deadline.

There’s no single “best” length of time for a necessary preorder. This will vary by the nature of your project and your reputation as an artist. Do you already have an extensive network and social media following? Or will you need more time to reach enough members of your target audience? Expect some trial and error. The default for Kickstarter projects is about one month.

 

  1. Social media is your friend.

Necessary Preorders: Smartphone that has blue screen with the word Social on it, faces, and various social media icons, laid on top of a white keyboard

Since you need to promote your preorders even more than you would on a crowdfunding platform, use social media to your advantage. You can find just about any audience on social media. Even businesses who target consumers aged 65+ use Facebook.

Connect with your following. Ask them to support your project, if it’s of interest to them and ask them to share for a snowball effect. While you could do extensive research into what makes for effective social media marketing, here’s a crash course.

  • Create fun, interesting, and relevant
  • Use images and video.
  • Post consistently.
  • Craft attractive headlines.
  • Don’t forget to include an ask (CTA) in your posts.

 

  1. Create a community.

Necessary Preorders: Light and dark blue speech bubbles in a cluster

People enjoy the community aspect of crowdfunding projects, but you don’t need to use a platform to encourage community. On social media, email lists, or in-person, communicate with your customers and followers. Although you’re not obligated to provide updates, your customers will appreciate being kept in the loop. There’s a sense of progress that comes with project updates. They can also double as promotion opportunities to remind people about your project and generate more excitement.

 

  1. Give evidence of past success.

Necessary Preorders: magnifying glass on old book

We touched on this when we talked about risk, but don’t be shy about showing off your past successes. A strong track record goes a long way, whether in the form of concrete numbers or social proof. Numbers you can highlight include number of sales, past projects you’ve successfully funded, or existing products that are similar to your necessary preorder.

Social proof brings in others and has more weight than your own word. You’ll want to provide evidence of satisfied customers in the form of positive ratings and reviews. Another powerful way to accumulate social proof is by partnering with bloggers, social media influencers, or media outlets. Coverage of your product, specific project, or business as a whole builds trust with your target audience.

 

 

Necessary preorders can be a helpful, independent way to fund your projects. But they require a lot of groundwork and additional promotion, particularly for small businesses. Have you tried necessary preorders for yourself? If so, what was your experience?

 

 

Kickstarter projects are all or nothing. If a project doesn’t reach its funding goal, it’s canceled and backers never see pledges taken out of their account. But in my first Kickstarter, I received funding for 2 out of 4 pin designs. How?

I used stretch goals, but perhaps not in the way Kickstarter intended.

The crowdfunding venue distances itself from stretch goals as not being an official part of the platform, but acknowledges their existence and value. But now creators are using stretch goals differently.

 

What is a Stretch Goal?

Kickstarter defines a stretch goal as “a funding target set by the project creator beyond the original Kickstarter goal.” These additional funds often add perks or upgrades to the existing project, like improving binding on a self-published zine or higher quality game pieces for a board game. They may also be separate from the project. Extra stickers, a free pin, or a bonus comic strip are all stretch goals I’ve seen creators offer.

That’s not the kind of stretch goal I used. I’m talking about stretch goals as a way of running a Kickstarter project.

Most projects on Kickstarter have one clear goal. They either get enough to print 500 copies of that comic book, record and produce that album, produce a revolutionary new type of ramen…or not.

Smaller projects are different. If your goal is to produce a set of 10 enamel pins, you could take the all-or-nothing route too. All 10 pins or nothing! Risky, but that’s the nature of Kickstarter.

But what if instead, you could collect funding for just some of the pins? And you didn’t have to meet your end goal to put some pins into production?

That’s the mindset behind using stretch goals for your entire campaign strategy, rather than just the extras.

 

How Does a Stretch Goal Based Campaign Work?

Rather than just write about it, let’s look at two examples. First, take my finished campaign.

 

A screenshot of my completed Kickstarter campaign, featuring an image of my 4 succulents in cups designs (with 2 additional color variations for a total of 6 pins)
My Completed Kickstarter Campaign

I planned to create a set of four succulent pins based on seasons. I set my initial goal at $200 to cover the cost of a single pin. Being my first Kickstarter project, I wasn’t confident that I could get all four pins funded. Setting the official funding goal for only my first pin design was less risky. Nothing is guaranteed in a Kickstarter campaign of course, but I was much more likely to raise $200 than $1000.

I launched my project on March 5th and successfully funded the first pin March 12th – in exactly one week. And it turns out, stretch goals were the right call. The second pin design was barely funded – right before the project ended on March 28th.

 

A screenshot of Reboops' Kickstarter project for 20 Overwatch-inspired enamel pins
Reboops’ Overwatch Pins Kickstarter

Now let’s look at a couple of on-going projects. My good friend Reboops just launched her third (!!!) Kickstarter campaign. She’s aiming for a massive set of 20 pins based on characters from the game Overwatch.

As of this writing, she’s funded 11 pins (out of 20). Like my campaign, her initial goal was only set for a single pin. In this case, she isn’t planning any stretch goals beyond the set of 20, but has added extra pin designs to previous Kickstarter campaigns as she met her original goals.

 

A screenshot of Shirley Jackson's Chinese Zodiac Animal Kickstarter, featuring an image of 3 pins: Horse, Sheep, and Monkey
Shirley Jackson (Lioninthetrees)’s Zodiac Animal Pin Kickstarter

Do all pin Kickstarter projects work this way then? No, and Shirley Jackson’s Chinese Zodiac enamel pins are a great example of a more traditional approach to a project. In this series, she aims to fund three pin designs and 12 zodiac animal screen prints.

Her stretch goals include two different color variants and an extra enamel pin (related to the Chinese Zodiac story). Although these are “stretch goals,” they’ll definitely get funded. This project was just released this morning but has already met its main goal! But I absolutely love Shirley’s work, so I can see why.

Update: A couple hours later and all but the final stretch goal has been funded. Woah.

Update #2: All stretch goals funded before I could get this post online!

 

Full Funding Goals vs. Stretch Goals

While traditional campaigns aim to fully fund a project, stretch goal-based campaigns fund a project in steps. Neither is necessarily better than the other, but naturally, they both have pros and cons.

Full Goal Pros:

  • Crystal clear goal
  • Easy to understand
  • Less likely to have unexpected costs/insufficient funds

 

Full Goal Cons:

  • Higher risk
  • Greater possibility of no funding

Running your campaign with your full goal as your official goal doesn’t have any significant advantages or disadvantages. It’s simply the default. Your audience will see exactly what your goal is, with no opportunity for confusion. You also inherit the all-or-nothing risk that’s inherent to the Kickstarter platform.

If you truly need the full amount of funding for your project, or you aren’t willing to create only a part of your project, use full goal funding.

 

Stretch Goal Pros:

  • Higher chance of success
  • Less risk
  • Good for risky or less popular projects
  • Generates excitement throughout the campaign

A stretch goal set-up is perfect if your project is flexible and you’re unsure about your chances of success. A project targeted to a very niche audience, a relatively new creator, or a project where the first goal really is your primary goal are all good candidates for stretch goals.

With your initial amount set far lower than your full project goal, you’re far more likely to guarantee some amount of funding.

But one of the most notable but overlooked benefits of running a stretch goal-based campaign is excitement. Traditional projects have two high points: when your project is fully funded and when the campaign ends (and the project begins).

Stretch goals create several high points throughout your campaign. After meeting your first goal, backers can still look forward to the next goal or their favorite one. But note that this only works if you’re consistently meeting stretch goals throughout the campaign.

 

Stretch Goal Cons:

  • Less urgency once you’ve met your official goal
  • Partial funding may not be enough for actual costs

When planning a campaign based on stretch goals, not getting fully funded is a definite possibility. So be sure to set each goal high enough for each additional reward. When I give this warning the example I have in mind is my own campaign.

Because my campaign barely hit my second goal before it ended, I was able to offer that my second pin design to backers. I’m really glad I could. But on that last day, one person canceled their pledge. Kickstarter didn’t change the total amount to reflect that dropped pledge, so in reality, when funds came through, I’d actually raised a total of $389 and after Kickstarter fees, received $353.

On one hand, I’m glad my second design was “officially” unlocked and I could but it into production right away. But the funds just covered manufacturing costs, and I was left to cover remaining expenses like shipping myself. That’s the kind of oversight that I expect would be less likely with a full goal Kickstarter.

 

In the end, one type of campaign isn’t better than the other, but they suit different needs.

If you have a project (like enamel pins) that can be broken up into smaller goals and don’t necessarily need to be released as a complete set, a stretch goal-based project will work just fine.

But if your project needs the total amount of funding to be successful, can’t or shouldn’t be split into parts, or you want to manage a simpler campaign, full goal funding is the way to go.

 

Banner of 7 plant pin designs. From left to right: zebra plant in a red pot, golden sedums in blue and pink teacups, sedum in a glass, sedum in a paper coffee cup, and 2 sedums in blue and purple mugs

Last month I started my first Kickstarter campaign. I shared, promoted, and actually created a content strategy to get the word out. And it was successful!

Last week, I finished shipping out Kickstarter rewards. Unless there’s a problem with any orders, the process is over. That batch of 20-some Kickstarter rewards was technically my second art sale. Thinking about it that way, a Kickstarter may have been a bit premature. But I’m glad I tried it and naturally, I learned a lot.

There were several little moments of excitement and accomplishment throughout the process: getting my first backer, getting more backers, anytime I got a backer actually, and then figuring out and successfully accomplishing the logistics.

Before I address what I learned from running a Kickstarter, I thought I’d go into why I decided to start a Kickstarter project in the first place.

 

Why Start a Kickstarter?

Other than for the money? I decided to venture into the world of crowdfunding because:

  • Pins are expensive
  • Pin makers run successful Kickstarter campaigns all the time
  • Pin sets are far easier to produce at once with some support

Kickstarters are common in the pin creator community. First, seeing all these pin makers on Instagram showed me it was possible. For me, this occurred at two levels: in the abstract, seeing pin makers I follow online, and in person, as one of my dear friends successfully ran two massive (and massively successful) Kickstarter campaigns.

Crowdfunding also felt like the best way to produce a set of pins. But there’s another benefit that I didn’t know about at the time.

Kickstarter projects generate excitement and urgency. I’ve experienced this as a backer, but there’s a sense of pride in being able to bring a project to life with your purchase or donation. Kickstarter creates a community in a way that preorders in a shop cannot. As a backer, or someone on the fence about backing, you can follow along with a project’s progress and if it’s successful, feel like you too had a role in that success. Which, well, if you backed it, you did.

While running a Kickstarter was fun and exciting and new, I definitely feel a sense of relief now that it’s over. My campaign funded two out of four pins in the series. I’m satisfied, but looking back, there are certainly things I would have done differently.

6 succulent pin designs on a purple gradient background. Designs feature succulents in different cups: teacup, glass, paper coffee cup, and mug

Lessons from My First Kickstarter

Remember how I said this Kickstarter was only my second art sale? Yeah. In retrospect, I might have told myself, hey, isn’t it a bit soon to be running a Kickstarter? Maybe it was. But it also turned out fine.

That doesn’t mean I would repeat the process as is. Here’s what I learned:

1. Build Your Audience First!

Here’s how I began my campaign. I created my Kickstarter project and set my campaign period shorter than the default amount (because I’d read/heard that shorter campaigns tended to do better and I was impatient). Then after the project was already underway, I began reading up on how to run a successful campaign. And the one thing all experienced creators were saying was to build up your audience first.

Whoops. I suppose I’d been trying to do a little network-building by creating and building up an art Instagram account. But my following was and still is moderate. If I’d heard this bit of advice first, I would have waited before starting a campaign. Or worked harder to build a large following.

2. Set Higher Funding Goals.

I remember once finding a Kickstarter project to fund a single pin that was listed at $900. $900?! I could produce at least four pins at that price! I set my own project goals at $200 per pin, a very reasonable amount, I thought.

Reasonable, but maybe not for Kickstarter. While I knew about Kickstarter’s fees and thought I’d factored them into account, other costs added up too. In case you’re wondering, Kickstarter charges a 5% fee plus payment processing fees (3% + $0.20 per payment). I didn’t make the mistake of not charging for shipping, but I severely underpriced international shipping costs. This one’s (halfway) on me, international buyers!

There were also multiple components of the packaging that I hadn’t considered. Bubble mailers, individual pin packaging, backing cards, business cards, label sticker paper, and shipping labels all cost something. I haven’t calculated what the actual cost per person came out to yet, but I know it was more than what I charged.

Moral of the story: $900 for a one-pin Kickstarter project isn’t so unreasonable after all.

3. Get Your Packaging Ready Early.

I started out with a rough idea of how I wanted my packaging to look. But I was slow to actually purchase the supplies. This was a mistake because I couldn’t just go out and buy everything in a single afternoon. Everything is cheaper and comes in more colors online. I wasn’t even able to find all the parts I wanted for packaging at local stores. So when my pins arrived a little early, I was still waiting on pieces of my packaging.

While my orders didn’t experience a delay because the pins arrived earlier than expected, it would have been much easier to get everything together early.

4.. There’s a Payment Processing Period.

Bonus tip! After your Kickstarter project is successfully funded, there’s a 14-day payment processing period. Fortunately, I learned about this through a friend before my campaign ended. Because my project was relatively small, I ordered from my manufacturer before receiving my Kickstarter funds so it wouldn’t be as long of a wait.

 

Kickstarter has its place, but I don’t plan to run another campaign anytime soon. But creating a Ghibli pin set does look like fun…

 

 

Money stresses me out. And thinking about how to monetize something I love – art in my case – has always seemed stressful too. You can probably list all the typical concerns I had:

  • Monetizing will make your hobby feel like work.
  • It won’t be fun anymore.
  • You’ll do it because you have to, not because you want to.
  • Your work won’t be as good if it’s done for money and not some higher artistic calling.

These ideas were weirdly ingrained into my subconscious. Probably because I kept hearing these messages from people and the media and that amorphous blob we might call society. Don’t we generally accept these ideas as true, at least for some cases?

Let’s Talk Artists and Money

Monetizing Your Interests
“Morph”, oil on canvas, 2013.

The relationship between art and money in particular is a tricky one. On one hand, we have the starving artist trope. What has contributed to this idea are the dozens of now-famous artists who were never appreciated during their lifetimes. On the other hand, we have abstract artwork selling for millions of dollars while the general public looks on and scoffs, “my child could have done that!”

So somehow, artists are both dreadfully poor people with no hope of making a decent living AND mysterious beings who have the ability to become millionaires with a well-placed scribble or paint splatter. Obviously, the reality is far less exciting. But these tropes exist in my head (and probably yours) nonetheless.

The Mythical Artist: Creativity as Sacred, Special, and Limited*

Another myth is something we might call the sacredness of art (or any creative act). Artists (or writers or musicians) don’t simply create. They lay around and wait for “inspiration” to strike, and when it does, they become incredibly prolific and produce masterpiece after masterpiece. At least, until that inspiration dries up.

*Doesn’t this title sound like a journal article? I think I’m ready for grad school.

I Can’t Do It for the Money

So with an image of art as a divine act and confusing messages about my ability to ever make money with art, I never thought too seriously about running an art business.

One, I had other things to do. Two, because I doubted my ability to produce great art under pressure. If I had to wait for inspiration, how could I create art on demand?

What if doing art for money killed my creativity?

Or I accepted a commission but then didn’t have any inspiration?

Or worse, what if my art turned out no good and the client ended up hating it?

But now, having started an art business, I worry about none of that.

 

How Do You Get Over the Fear/Discomfort/Stress of Monetizing Your Art?

I can’t know exactly what will help you get over any discomfort with monetization, but there are two points that helped me: having a real product in mind and keeping my focus where it needs to be.

A Real Product

The final push that led me to start an art business was my desire to create a specific product: enamel pins. As I began setting up the foundation for an enamel pin business, it became a natural step for me to sell other forms of art.

Currently, I’m selling prints and pins. I don’t do commissions, which were the main source of my past worries. But in the future, who knows? I know now that “commissions” for me will never look like some broad, undefined art project full of uncertainty. If I offer commissions, they’ll be a specific product I know I can produce, like pet portraits or witchsonas, to name a couple products I’ve seen other artists offer.

Having the physical product in mind made it clear exactly what I needed to do to get into business. Now I’m well on my way, with one pin currently in production and up for preorders, and a pin set in progress.

Profit is Not the Focus

The second change I needed to start an art business confidently was to not focus on profit. I’m sure this may sound naive or like a luxury to some. But I don’t mean you should only do art for art’s sake or that you shouldn’t sell or market your work. I’m talking about changing your mindset. Shifting my focus away from monetizing has freed me from any concerns about inspiration, productivity, and enjoyment.

I still enjoy doing art, because I do art that I enjoy. I’m not especially worried about inspiration or productivity. There are days when I’m full of ideas and keep reaching for my sketchbook to capture them. Then there are days when I’m too busy with work and other projects to muster the energy for new ideas.

Then What Is the Focus?

I’m running an art business for myself. It’s my way of pushing myself to make art more consistently. I don’t expect to make a significant amount of money from my artwork, and maybe that’s the starving artist trope still talking, but I’m okay with it. This is a side hustle, not my main gig.

But You Still Need to Do the Work

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sending my art out into the world and just hoping someone will buy a few prints. I’m serious. Otherwise, I would have stuck with social media and left out the art shop. Just because my mindset isn’t centered on money doesn’t mean my business isn’t. Think of this split as the difference between a company’s vision and values vs. their business goals.

My vision is about producing art I love. But my goals involve getting this business off the ground. I like what freelance writer Christina Vanvuren says about goals. Wanting to make $5,000 a month is nice. But “making $5,000” is not an action you can take. Actions you can take include designing and creating products, building an audience or following of potential customers, and promoting your work regularly.

In content marketing, your primary tasks are creating valuable content and promoting it. You should spend 80% of your time on one and 20% percent on the other. Guess which one should take up 80%?

Promotion. Good marketing practices say you should spend far more time on promotion than content creation. Because your amazing content can’t do a thing if it’s left alone in the dusty corners of the Internet.

My Turn to Work

While I’m still drawing, painting, or designing pins every day, the most important daily task for my art business right now is promotion. And that’s what I’ll do with you now. It would be hypocritical of me to say “promote yourself!” and then not mention any of my projects, don’t you think?

I could tell you to follow me on social media at @Monicartsy (on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Vero) OR ask you to visit my Etsy shop OR even preorder my first enamel pin (this cute little Zebra plant that’s only available at a discount until March 14th). But instead I want you to focus on my biggest project right now: an enamel pins series on Kickstarter.

Monetizing Your Interests - "Succs in Cups" Seasonal Succulent Enamel Pin Kickstarter layout with 6 pin designs arranged on a light purple gradiant background. The left two designs are yellow-green succulents in 2 blue and pink teacups. Center two designs have a succulent growing in a glass and another darker green succulent growing in a paper coffee cup. The right two designs feature succulents in a blue mug and purple mug.

True to my current plant-hoarder branding, I’ve designed a series of succulent pins. Part of the appeal of succulents is that they’re cute and you can plant them in all sorts of cute containers. Don’t deny it. I personally love seeing succulents in cups. Currently, I have succulents growing in teacups and cocktail glasses. So I ran with that idea and added fall and winter variations.

Right now the fall paper cup might be my favorite, but I’m also really satisfied with the stars added to the winter mugs (a last minute change suggested by my sister Alyssa).

Monetizing your interests - 2 winter succulents in mugs designs, one blue mug and one purple mug with a gold star design on the outside

I’m really not much of a salesperson – I was never any good at those school fundraisers with all the cool prizes – and in any case, funding or preordering one of these pins is your decision. Maybe you don’t want to fall into the black hole that is enamel pin collecting. I can respect that. It’s too late for me, but good on you.

But I’d still love it if you took a look, and if you like what you see, spread the word to your friends.

Help me with that promotion!

 

 

This post is part of a monthly series where I record my process of starting an art business. I’m sharing this process as I go so I capture all the little stressors and small victories along the way. Here’s a real-time look at one person’s journey to starting an art business.

Mindset and Reflection

This month, it was unexpectedly difficult for me to write this blog post. I started drafts several times and then postponed my work. I even pushed back my schedule (this series is supposed to go live the third Tuesday of every month). And then I split it into two blog posts.

For this half of my February posts, I’m focusing on art products. I’ll cover:

Art Prints

Digital Downloads

Enamel Pins

Pin Manufacturer

 

What Kind of Art Should I Sell?

I knew my answer immediately. I started an art business wanting to make enamel pins. And that’s what I’ll do. But pins are expensive to manufacturer and can take up to two months to go from design to product-at-your-doorstep. So my question became “what else can I offer while I’m waiting on pins?”

The first thing that came to mind was art prints.

Art Prints

Every artist seems to sell art prints. And why not? They already have the product and it seems only natural for an artist to sell straight up artwork. But on the other hand, I was thinking, “does anyone buy art prints online?”

Obviously they do. But was it a big market? Even as an artist, I’ve never purchased an art print online. I’ve never had the desire to. I still don’t. But I have purchased prints and artwork at galleries, art walks, and events. An artist friend of mine said she’s the same way.

So with some reservations, I decided to give it a try. Because selling prints is easy right? Well, yes and no.

How to Make Art Prints

After I decided to sell art prints, I realized I had no idea how artists do this. Where do they print their artwork? What are the cost-efficient options? What kind of paper do they use? What printing method is best? And oh my gosh, how am I supposed to ship a print without it getting bent or outright crushed?

In retrospect, I was a little dramatic. But suddenly, it seemed like there were a million things to consider. Maybe if I’d purchased online prints before, I wouldn’t have had this little crisis. When I stopped wondering and started looking, I found four options:

  1. Printing from Home
    My printer is a nightmare, so I immediately cut this option.
  2. Printing from an Office Supply Store
    Think FedEx, Office Depot, or Staples. This option is very cheap and typically uses laser printing. (Home printing is usually inkjet.) Their paper options are limited, but at some places (or possibly all?) you can bring your own paper for them to use.
  1. Printing from an Online Business
    There are probably several businesses like this out there. Many are photo printing businesses, but the one I found was mentioned on an Etsy forum and offers fine art prints as well. I won’t mention their name yet since I’m still deciding on whether I like this service.I received free print and paper samples from this company, but unfortunately they were all photo paper. In the end, I decided to just buy a few fine art prints to see if I like them. I’m really hoping I do.
  1. Printing from a Local Print Shop
    This is probably the most professional option. You can usually get giclee prints, which are very high-quality and more likely to be considered fine art. I haven’t looked into this option because I only found out about it recently. I also don’t need fine art quality prints for Etsy.

 

Right now I tentatively plan to go with the online business, as long as the fine art prints I ordered turn out well. The Office Depot prints I ordered were available for pickup the next day and the paper quality wasn’t bad, but you could see the difference in color. Going with the online business means higher print prices and slower delivery, but the quality seems worth it. Or I’ll offer a couple different paper options in my Etsy shop.

 

Digital Downloads on Etsy

Prints aren’t available in my Etsy shop yet, but there’s a quicker, cheaper alternative: digital downloads. In theory, digital products are excellent for a business owner. After you’ve uploaded the product and made your listing, it’s basically passive income. Buyers make a purchase, download the files, and do all the printing themselves.

In practice, I’m not sure how well this works. There are thousands of digital download listings on Etsy, so I suppose someone is buying them. But I get the sense that products with a specific purpose sell better than art prints. To test this idea out on myself again, no, I don’t think I’d buy downloadable art unless I really, really loved the artwork or I had a specific use in mind for the print.

But I did see an adorable set of tea labels that I would consider buying. Even more so if I had sticker paper and a decent-quality printer. Gift tags, banners, greeting cards, and bookmarks also seem to be more popular in the realm of digital downloads. You’ll probably see me trying out a few of these in the future.

 

Enamel Pins

Here’s the product I’m really excited about. Because I have a lot to share. Mainly that my first enamel pin is currently in production!

Art Business Products - Zebra Plant Succulent pin mockup

It’s a zebra plant, naturally, and is similar to the first plant in my “Mini Succs in Pots” print. Here was my process:

  • Create pin design
  • Struggle immensely with digital art
  • Research manufacturers
  • Contact manufacturers for quotes
  • Choose and get started!

Designing an Enamel Pin

For me, designing can be split into two stages. The fun, idea generation part and the painful struggle to transfer your design into a digital form part. But before we get any further, I’d like to make sure we’re all on the same page. Because if you aren’t into pins yet, you might be wondering…

What are Enamel Pins?

You can look at a picture of a pin and get it, but when you’re designing a pin, it helps to understand the manufacturing process. In a pin mockup, the line art acts as a barrier to separate the colors.

Art Business Product - ReboopsDesigns Sailor Scout Enamel Pin Designs
Used with permission from ReboopsDesigns

Manufacturers create a mold with the line art acting as raised barriers. Then they fill in the recesses with the right colors. So no gradients or colors without a line separating them. You also want to avoid fine details to ensure that manufacturers can get enough color into the recess. The way the colors are filled in depends on the manufacturing process you use.

Soft Enamel vs. Hard Enamel

All the pins I’ve purchased have been hard enamel pins. Here’s the difference.

With soft enamel, each section only receives one coat of enamel paint. The result is an uneven surface with metal ridges (line art) higher than flat colored sections.

To make hard enamel, the colored sections receive multiple layers of paint until the filling reaches the top of the metal mold. The top surface of the pin is polished for a smooth finish.

I strongly prefer hard enamel pins. Soft enamel often looks a little messy to me, especially if it’s a big design. But they have benefits too.

Soft Enamel Pin Pros
  • Cheaper to produce
  • Greater range of color
  • Colors possibly more vibrant
Hard Enamel Pin Pros
  • Very durable
  • Smooth surface looks cleaner
  • Looks better (in my subjective opinion)

So although soft enamel pins cost less, I think the quality of hard enamel is worth it. That’s why you may see pins with a big price difference. People usually advertise hard enamel pins as such, but may not specify when a pin is soft enamel.

 

The Quest for the Perfect Manufacturer

I already went into my digital art struggles in part two of this series, so now let’s talk manufacturers. I’m about to drop some insider knowledge on you. Ready? Finding the best manufacturer is every pin maker’s struggle. You want a company that’s easy to work with and has a low ratio of B grade to standard grade pins.

In our digital, always-online age, you’d think this would be easy. Couldn’t you just Google “enamel pin manufacturers” and look at reviews?

No. You can’t.

Pin makers are strangely secretive about their manufacturers. I guess it’s best to keep your manufacturer to yourself so they’ll continue to have a low turnaround time? Is that it? I don’t really know, but I’ll keep mum for now too. But this only applies when you work directly with Chinese manufacturers.

There are several pin businesses in the US and Europe. Except they all use Chinese manufacturers too. They’re middlemen, so you’ll only end up paying more than necessary. The benefit is that you receive a more customer-friendly experience. They usually have prices displayed online, extensive explanations of their manufacturing process, and several samples of their prior work.

Here’s a list of businesses I considered:

Shoutout to Zap, who will touch up your design for you, and Night Owls, with the most adorable website ever.

But in addition to these four businesses, I considered four manufacturers I found through Alibaba. I asked for quotes from these four and Night Owl (who doesn’t have prices on their website) and heard from four out of five companies. Zap, Cooper, and Stuck Up all have prices listed on their sites, so I used those for comparison.

When working directly with manufacturers in China, the language barrier and shipping costs are two things to consider. Personally, I didn’t have any trouble with the language barrier and found it almost comforting to work with someone who’s not a native English speaker. Maybe I’m just missing Korea. I only had one awkward moment when a manufacturer referred to “shipping” as “freight” and it took me longer than it should have to understand.

Shipping will naturally be more expensive but since productions costs are generally lower, the overall cost is more competitive than most American or European manufacturers.

One thing I like about working directly with manufacturers is that you get to see the cost breakdown. Your design mold will be around $60 to $80 and the cost per pin ranges from $0.50 to $2.00. Keep in mind these prices are only based on the manufacturers I contacted.

Stresses and Successes

Since yesterday’s post included this month’s Stresses and Successes, I have nothing to report…except that you can now reserve a Zebra Plant Pin for a discounted pre-order price! It would mean a lot to me if you took a look.

See you with another art business post in March!

Art Business Product - 3 Zebra plant pin mockups listed in a horizontal row: black lineart, gold plating mockup, and black nickel mockup

Other posts in Starting an Art Business:

 

 

I did it. I started an Etsy! Last month I said I was starting an art business and now I have the physical proof. Done.

Art Business Etsy Shop Storefront

Well, not even close. But rather than look ahead, this post is a moment to pause and look back. To take stock of my progress and then keep on going. To be honest, it’s a little annoying. In my last post, I was high on motivation and the thrill of starting something new. Now I’m in the trenches. I’m not interested in stepping out and reflecting on my progress because I have so much more to do – why don’t you just let me work? But I set up this schedule for myself, so here I am, writing this post even though it’s already a day late.

The big accomplishment of the past month was launching my Etsy shop last week (which you can find under “Monicartsy”, just like any of my social media accounts). But even before that, I was doing a lot of work, even if I didn’t have anything to show for it yet.

Stresses and Successes

Each month I’m writing out my “stresses and successes” as a quick way to identify what was really stressing me out at the time and document my wins. Here are this month’s stresses and successes:

Stresses

  • Figuring out what to sell (other than pins)
  • Not knowing where to start with art prints
  • Choosing the “best” way to print art
  • Not knowing how to ship art prints
  • Digital art, in general.
  • Struggling with line art in Photoshop
  • Worrying I wouldn’t be able to provide the right file type to manufacturers
  • Whether I needed to learn vector art
  • Whether I needed to learn Illustrator
  • Being a perfectionist about my pin designs
  • Writing this post!

Successes

  • Continued to make and post art consistently
  • Started an Etsy!
  • Cleaned up 2 art pieces digitally to get them print-ready
  • Listed digital prints for sale
  • Received sample prints from two companies
  • Started a business log/journal
  • Finished my first pin-ready design in Photoshop
  • Figured out Pantone colors
  • Inspired to sketch out tons of pin ideas
  • Created a short list of possible manufacturers
  • Compared manufacturer services and quotes
  • Choose a manufacturer!
  • Negotiated effectively for add-ons
  • Received and approved my pin mockup for production!

 

Digital Art, My Nemesis

Digital art was probably my biggest struggle this past month. So traditional artists, sympathy? Digital artists, keep on doing your thing. (But I guess maybe it’s the digital artists who can really understand what that beginner struggle was like.)

Digital art is hard! You might remember that not too long ago I was at scribble level. I’m still learning and nowhere near proficient – maybe just good at hiding my flaws. But a pin design is a pin design. No way to dress it up. It is what it is. If a line is squiggly, it’s squiggly for everyone to see.

Now it feels weird, but I had a serious I’m-not-sure-I-can-do-this moment with line art. I couldn’t get my lines smooth, any scanned artwork looked super messy when I opened it up in Photoshop, and none of the “Tips for Smooth Lineart” articles were helping. I had no idea how I was supposed to finish a clean pin design, let alone convert it to a vector file in Illustrator. Everything was overwhelming. I was probably pretty tired too.

I messaged a pin maker friend to let out my angst. But she kind of ruined my moment.

 

Oh, my lines aren’t completely smooth or straight either lol, her message read.

My manufacturer actually accepted a jpeg file – they didn’t even ask for .psd!

 

Just like that, my worries were invalid. I finished that stupid pin design and even though I wasn’t sure I’d use it, I finished. I finished my first pin design.

Now I’ve made a handful of pin designs and it’s no big deal. Lol.

 

Stay Tuned…

This post was a little shorter than usual, but that’s because I just wrote a massive 2000+ second post for this month. So if you have any questions about the Stresses and Successes here, hold on. Chances are they’ll be answered in tomorrow’s post. Keep an eye out for it!

 

Other posts in Starting an Art Business:

 

From February 3rd to April 29th, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center is showing two video installations by Chiho Aoshima: City Glow and Takaamanohara. A Japanese pop artist with ties to traditional media and themes, Chiho Aoshima’s work is unique and strange. As one of my art idols in high school, Chiho occupies a special place in my heart.

Aoshima’s work is considered Japanese Neo-Pop. On the modern side, she draws inspiration from pop art in the vein of Takashi Murakami and anime films. You can certainly sense similarities to Hayao Miyazaki’s iconic films, but make no mistake, her work is very distinct. But naturally, Chiho Aoshima also draws from historical and cultural roots. She names ukiyo-e or 17th-century Japanese woodcut prints as a significant influence. Think that universally recognizable “Great Wave” piece by Hokusai.

Chiho Aoshima post: Hokusai's famous The Great Wave woodblock print with a massive wave on the left and a small Mount Fuji in the distance, seen underneath the wave.
Katsushika Hokusai “Under the Wave Off Kanagawa” or “The Great Wave” 1830-32 woodblock print

Aoshima also draws heavily on Japanese Shinto mythology, with her work Takaamanohara translating to a Shinto word for “heaven” or if you want more detail, ” the plain of high heaven.”

 

Surprising Facts about Chiho Aoshima

Although I loved Chiho Aoshima’s art in high school, my research at the time wasn’t exactly extensive. There’s a lot I didn’t know about the artist and some of these facts might surprise you too.

  • Chiho Aoshima is not a formally trained artist. She earned her degree in economics, then did a 180 and taught herself to use Adobe Illustrator.
  • She was hand-chosen to be part of Takashi Murakami’s art collective, Kaikai Kiki (an easy name to remember for any Drag Race fan). Murakami is a well-known Japanese pop artist who established a “superflat” style of pop art.
Takashi Murakami self-portrait titled Kaikai, Kiki, & Me: On Blue Mound of the Dead, featuring cartoon image of the artist and two tiny cartoon characters (Kaikai and Kiki) standing on top of a pile of mostly blue cartoon skulls
Takashi Murakami, “Kaikai, Kiki, & Me: On the Blue Mound of the Dead”, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, Taken at Busan Gwangbok Lotte Gallery 2015.
  • Aoshima’s work is darker than I remembered. I’ll get to this later, but both City Glow and Takaamanohara have dark undertones, one more overt than the other. It caught me off guard.

City Glow

I might have gone into the exhibit backward, but I began with City Glow, Aoshima’s older work. It was pouring rain and thundering when I entered.

Chiho Aoshima City Glow Room with wide video art installation projected as a narrow rectangle along the right-hand wall. In this freeze-frame, there is a light colored skyline of plants and distant buildings, set against a dark purple sky. It is raining heavily.
Freeze-frame of a room with Chiho Aoshima’s City Glow, 2005, Video installation, at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

The dim room carried a long projection across the wall. Sit on one of the benches or beanbags (which I love by the way) you can’t even get the entire piece in your line of vision. Stand against the back wall and there’s still too much to take in at once. This a common theme in Chiho Aoshima’s animations.

City Glow takes up close, right in front of, or even within the scenery. Leaves, flowers, and small creatures loom before you, establishing a sense of scale. You are but a tiny part of this scenery, craning your neck upward to even see the tips of blades of grass. The opening scene places you beside two enigmatic figures. You learn later that they are anthropomorphic buildings, blank-faced creatures that move much like trees in the wind.

Chiho Aoshima City Glow Opening scene of City Glow video projection. The projected animation is primarily green, covered with animated plants. In the foreground, there are two anthropomorphic buildings with anime-like faces.
Freeze-frame of Chiho Aoshima’s City Glow, 2005, Video installation, at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

The next piece, Takaamanohara, has similarities to City Glow, but get ready for your eyes to be even more overwhelmed.

Takaamanohara

After watching full seven minutes of City Glow, I didn’t know what was going on. I wanted to watch it again, but there wasn’t much time before the museum would be closing, and I needed to leave time for Takaamanohara. In the next room, I found longer, more expansive video projection. The size of the two could have been the same, but Takaamanohara spanned a wide landscape. Instead of being surrounded by creatures that tower over you, the viewer takes on the role of distant onlooker.

Chiho Aoshima Takaamonohara freeze frame of a colorful city of anthropomorphic buildings against a bright, highly saturated blue and pink sky.
Freeze-frame close-up of Chiho Aoshima’s Takaamanohara, 2015, Video installation, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

We are spectators who see natural disasters from their insignificant start to the destructive finish. But like City Glow, different elements compete for your attention. It’s Where’s Waldo? meets I Spy, but with movement and no indication of what you’re looking for. There’s a sense that you’ll never be able to take it all in, never be able to notice every detail, even when those details should be obvious, like a giant, monster-like woman scaling a building.

But you’re not alone in your spectator role. The sentient buildings sway and move and turn like slow giants to watch events as they unfold. The experience is bizarre and surreal.

Chiho Aoshima Takaamonohara freeze-frame showing the video projection at an angle, focused on a cluster of anthropomorphic buildings on the far left end of the screen, all turned to watch something in the distance.
Freeze-frame of Chiho Aoshima’s Takaamanohara, 2015, Video installation, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

After Takaamanohara, I went back for a second viewing of City Glow. It’s more immediate, the messages a little more obvious, but there are parallels. Despite the cute faces and hyper-saturated colors, there’s a definite tension and you can’t quite shake once you’ve felt it. Even after all is well again, with rainbows and fairies and sparkles, you know that if you stay long enough, the fires and monsters will return.

I don’t quite know how I feel about City Glow and Takaamanohara. But I have a nagging urge to go see them again.