I admit, I’ve been fooling around with another blog. (Don’t tell, but I think I enjoy this art one more. I mean, I can write about anything I want, from emojis to succulents.)
I’m here with news of a new pin drop. Two actually.
These designs are a little less universal than my usual work (aka plants). As I share these designs, I’ve realized not everyone gets it. This is fine with me. But if you’re confused and wanting to learn more, I want to you to be able to do that. These pin designs are me starting the conversation. You can choose to engage, or not. And if this isn’t enough, there’s always Google.
The design I’ll talk about first is Wrong Asian.
First, I have to give a shout-out to designer Linh-Yen Hoang. Her pin was the first time I saw this idea expressed on a pin (and I hope it won’t be the last!) If you haven’t seen her design, check it out! Last I checked, it was back in stock.
So What Does “Wrong Asian” Mean?
Wrong Asian is the more self-explanatory pin of the two. But again, I’ve realized I can’t just assume. Plus, there’s a lot of background to this pin and I like talking about it. This is a fun moment for me where my interests in art and sociology merge nicely. Get ready while I geek out for a bit.
Being a racial minority in America means you stand out. And when you live in a predominantly white neighborhood or go to predominantly white schools, your appearance can feel like a permanent spotlight.
Asians occupy an interesting place in America. Although Asian-Americans are often seen as having “made it” – into good schools, better paying-jobs and higher income brackets than their Black and Latino counterparts – they also face the stereotype that they are always foreign. Asian Americans may be considered a “model minority” (a myth btw) but they are also “perpetual foreigners.” This is clear in cases when second- or third-generation Americans of Asian descent are still asked “where are you from?”, expected to speak a foreign (Asian) language, and are asked for stories about “their country.”
But being seen as distinct and foreign doesn’t mean individuals are seen as distinct.
Non-Asian Americans often mix up Asian Americans, regardless of actual appearance. Even when this mix-up is a mistake, it can still be hurtful to realize that others see you primarily by your race. But there’s a reason we tend to mix up people of different races or ethnicities than our own.
The Brain Science Behind Mix-ups
People who grow up in neighborhoods with a large Asian population are better at distinguishing Asian faces, regardless of their own race. The same is true for individuals who have spent a lot of time around Blacks. Or whites. The difference is that white faces in America are everywhere, from our politicians to comedians to lead actors to picture books. Even if we don’t live in predominantly white neighborhoods, Americans are constantly exposed to white faces.
The good news is, even though the tendency to call on the “wrong Asian” is backed up by “science,” we aren’t stuck with this problem. People can get better. Spending time around people with different racial and ethnic backgrounds than your own improves your ability to distinguish between Black, Latino, or Asian faces. Even if you don’t live near or in diverse communities, one study finds that putting more effort into distinguishing between individuals improves facial recognition across race. Specifically, focusing on an individual instead of allowing our brains to simply place them into a category reduces the cross-race effect.
In other words, the human brain is smart. We can learn. We can do better.
I’m far from the only person who has written about this. If you’re interested in reading more, here are a couple pieces I recommend:
It’s been a few months since I wrote a “Starting an Art Business” post. And I’m happy to say this one will be the last. Not because I’m sick of writing these, but because as I continue to grow and make actual sales, the title “starting” is no longer accurate.
That being said, today’s topic still feels very much like a beginner topic, so I’m keeping it.
Remember how past “Art Biz” posts included a Stresses and Successes section? Well, this post is like a giant Stresses section. I’m talking about a topic that’s been a source of stress from the beginning.
The Brand Identity Crisis
For me, the most confusing part of starting a business was not the paperwork or website set-up – you can find people or use Google to help with that – but branding. There are dozens of how-to articles on every business topic imaginable, but no one can tell you how to do your branding.
That doesn’t mean people don’t try. You’ll find just as many articles on branding as you will on any other business topic, but no clear “right” answer. Brand identity is too personal for that.
Challenge #1: What is My Brand?
Honest answer: I still don’t know. “You do succulent art!” you might say if you’ve looked at my Etsy shop recently. But that’s assuming my shoddy branding has been effective. I started off as succulent-centered art shop and one year ago, I would have been perfectly happy to stay within that space.
Now my succulent craze has died down a bit. I can’t say whether that’s because I’ve had time to cool down or my windowsill has no more space for tiny plants. But my reduced passion for succulents is probably a realistic reflection. If I’m honest, I can acknowledge that succulents are a bit of a fad. And if my brand is based around succulents, what happens if they go out of style? What about people who like my art but don’t really care about succulents? What about my other interests? Believe or not, I like other things too! Shocking, right?
I don’t regret not starting with a clear brand. If I’d been too focused on branding and getting all the little details right like colors and fonts, I might have never started an art business. I’d still be puzzling over “my brand.” I’m sure this isn’t good business advice, but developing a strong brand, especially when it’s a personal brand, will take time.
Challenge #2: But I’m Interested in Many Things!
Having multiple interests is nice. Until you have to choose between them to develop a personal brand as an artist. I’m indecisive about little things like where to eat out for lunch. So you can imagine that choosing a focus for my art brand was like drowning in an ocean of possibilities. And still is, I suppose?
Since I’ve discovered Emilie Wapnick’s work, I’ve enjoyed claiming the title “multipotentialite.” In short, it means someone who has a wide variety of interests and needs to pursue more than one to feel satisfied. Emilie’s TED Talk “Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling” explains it better than I could. If the title speaks to you, it’s well worth the watch.
Starting an art business may be a good way to satisfy the artist side of my multipotentialite self, but art can be anything. I wondered if my art business should…
Run with the succulents theme (But I’m itching to do more)
Focus more broadly on nature (I’m from Colorado, that’s doable)
This point may seem hyper-specific and only relevant to art businesses…but there’s probably a wider application in here somewhere. In the months that I spent not writing for this blog post series, I went back and forth on this point quite a bit.
Original art is great. And the best for selling. It’s all your own work so legally, you’re 100% in the clear. But several artists I follow make a living off of fan art. Or at least, seem to do pretty well for themselves. I don’t really know anything about their finances.
I’ve heard artists recommend starting with fan art to build a customer base and then start doing original art once you’re more widely known. But I’ve also heard that artists who focus on original art sell better than artists who only make fan art in the long run. This is all word-of-mouth, but that sounds right.
Original art is more profitable, sustainable, and for me, more satisfying. But fan art is tempting for several reasons:
The pin community is all about fan art.
People buy pins to show off their fandoms.
Fan art = artwork with a built-in fan base.
Fan art is appealing, particularly the built-in audience part. As I write this post, it occurs to me that using fan art feels like cheating the system – what about the thousands of artists who have had to work their butts off to gain recognition (and often failed). But the flip side of that opinion is that fan art is a wise business choice. You see it when businesses jump on the latest popular fandom, with no evidence that they actually like show or books or movie. That turns me off from a business. But as someone who’s not particularly vocal about her fandoms, I wonder if I come across in the same way.
I also wondered if fan art would “water down” my brand. Then came my big epiphany: what brand? Did I have some well-established brand where everyone would be shocked if I went off and did something different? No, obviously. Not at all.
Fortunately You Can Learn as You Go
I may not have a useful list of tips today, but I’ll leave you with my mindset shift. A brand identity doesn’t have to be set in stone. I can experiment and play around and “discover” my brand.
Many marketers and entrepreneurs would probably hate seeing this advice circulated. And sure, if I wanted to hit the ground running, make a lot of money, and grow my brand as quickly as possible, I wouldn’t recommend this either.
….Buuut, it’s a bit like life. Are you born know exactly who you want to be when you grow up? Do you know right now who you want to be as you grow up? Lots of you probably thought no.
And who knows, maybe if I find myself starting a business again someday, I’ll be more set on the brand identity thing and have a clearer idea of where I want to go. Probably. that sounds likely.
Stresses and Successes
It wouldn’t really be a “starting an art business” post without stresses and successes, would it? So here’s a brief update of how I’ve been:
This whole brand thing
My website isn’t actually mobile-optimized so it looks super boring on a phone
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.
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.
I chose two somewhat tricky prompts to combine, but the challenge (plus the indignity of Miss Vanjie going home first) fired me up.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Keep an eye out – you may see these designs again in the future!
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
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?
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?
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).
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.
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:
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.
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:
Printing from Home
My printer is a nightmare, so I immediately cut this option.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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!
11 Things to Do When You Need to Sustain Creativity for a Long Time
This year I’m participating in both Inktober and NaNoWriMo. Those in the know will understand the horror I’m inflicting upon myself. But if that sounded like gibberish to you, it boils down to two back-to-back months of intense creativity.
Inktober is a daily art challenge for the month of October. By the end, you’ll have produced 31 ink drawings. This year is my first time trying Inktober, so I’m being lenient with myself. I aim to have at least 20 drawings by the time Halloween rolls around.
Then November is NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month and is exactly what it sounds like. The goal is to produce 50,000 words. I’ve accomplished this goal and “won” NaNoWriMo the past two years, but have yet to produce a completed novel.
I love short, intense creative challenges like this, but two consecutive months can no longer be considered a “short” challenge. Typically you’d have time to prepare yourself, do a little planning, and charge forward. NaNoWriMo is 8 days away and I still have no novel plans.
So I decided to step back, gather some resources, and figure out how I’m going to make it through the end of November. And while you may not be setting yourself up to jump through ridiculous creative hoops, maybe you’re struggling with this question too:
How Do You Sustain Creativity for an Extended Period of Time?
I’ve compiled a list of 11 tips staying consistently creative, whether you’re doing an Inktober- Nanowrimo marathon, need constant creativity for your job, or just want to get your creative juices flowing again.
1. Take Breaks.
When I get busy, it’s easy for me to completely fill up my day. I’ll keep working and multi-tasking on something because “I’m busy,” and I need to be working. All too often I fall under the false impression that being busy means being productive. And it’s plenty easy to stay busy.
I’m taking breaks, I tell myself, as I eat lunch and read books at the same time, or stare at my phone when I get up to refill my coffee. But these days take their toll on me. I know because after one of these needlessly busy days, I’ll finally lay down to sleep and my mind will be buzzing.
While I may have taken breaks from my freelance writing or studying (that darned GRE), I never gave myself a mental break. All the mental processing I didn’t get to do during the day hits me full force right as my head hits the pillow, and then I can’t fall asleep either.
Hopefully, you don’t do this to yourself. Because going non-stop all day is the best way to kill your creativity.
Get some exercise. Work out. Take a walk. Try kickboxing (I’ve been wanting to). This may not sound like practical advice for someone facing a time crunch, but it’ll do wonders for your life. As someone who finally got back into a workout routine a few months ago, I’m still surprised at the benefits.
I’m a morning gym person – not one of those 5 am people, just a modest 8 or 9 am – and here’s what happens after a workout:
I’m also super-hungry, which leads to eating, which results in more energy.
I’m super-chatty – notice how every just seems “super”?
I’m better prepared to sit at a desk for extended periods of time.
I’ve already crossed one thing off my list and feel super-productive – already!
And, you know, there’s research that suggests being active boosts your creativity too. Apparently, the results are a bit more nuanced, and consistently active people (like athletes) benefit from exercise more than non-active who suddenly try exercising to boost their creativity. So the moral of the story is, start exercising now.
3. Defend Your Creative Time with Your Life.
Seriously. To accomplish anything you need time, particularly focused, distraction-free time. Treat creativity with respect and give it the time it deserves. Don’t give in to friends asking you to hang out during your writing time – just convince them to do NaNoWriMo with you!
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield stresses the importance of approaching art as a professional. A pro, he asserts, shows up every day, no matter what, all day. “By performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work, [you] set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that [will] produce inspiration.” Sounds good to me.
4. Get Rid of or Get Away from Distractions
I work from home. But most days, home is pretty distracting. Even when I try to close my door, my dogs feel the incessant need to go in and out of my room nonstop. Cinnamon feels particularly entitled to entry. It’s really just better to leave the door open. So when I really need to focus, I get out of the house.
If it’s artwork I’m trying to do, packing up all my supplies to go to a cafe would be annoying. Having people stare at me also messes me up. So for Inktober, I’ve gravitated toward morning or night hours. Early in the morning – before I work out or on days when I skip the gym – the house is quiet and anyone who’s awake is still groggy. At night my dogs are in bed or passed out elsewhere, and everyone else is winding down.
But living creatures aren’t my only distractions. My phone is a notorious offender. So sometimes I throw it across the room (onto my bed) to rid myself of its temptations. The satisfaction of literally throwing away your distractions is also worth it.
5. Notice the Details.
Don’t be distracted, but do notice the details. Easy, right? Well, this tip is for inspiration time, not work time. Eventually, your well of creativity will start to run dry. Rather than trying to produce something out of thin air. Go for a walk and pay attention to your surroundings (that way you’re doing tip #2 at the same time).
Notice what’s around you. Is there artwork? A ridiculous conversation going on behind you? Strange smells? Try to engage all five senses, but use “taste” at your own discretion.
6. Take Notes.
Or sketches, memos, audio files, or whatever medium works best for you. While you’re noticing all these details, you’ll want to be ready if inspiration strikes. And just tucking the idea away in your mind in the hopes that you’ll remember it later is only effective 50% of the time, if that. Take it safe. Dig up the built-in notes app on your phone. Keep a little notebook at your bedside. Just don’t let the ideas get away.
7. Find Your “Inspiration System.”
I’m stealing the idea of an “Inspiration System” from Asian Efficiency because it really resonates with me. The gist of it is this: you know what inspires you, so intentionally put yourself into inspiring situations.
What works for you? It might be getting away to explore a new city or going on a long hike. Or you might find inspiration in something as simple as music from a particular artist. I tend to go through intense phases where I listen almost exclusively to one artist, over and over again, and then lose interest and move on. My latest was, surprisingly, Demi Lovato. Don’t ask me why.
8. Quantity Over Quality (Or Create, Create, Create!)
As a perfectionist, I know the feeling of getting stuck trying to produce that one amazing thing. But especially in creative challenges like Inktober and NaNoWriMo, the point is to produce. To get into a daily creative practice. No one’s submitting their NaNoWriMo draft to an editor as is – at least, I hope not. Creativity requires practice, editing, and repetition.
Most famous artists were surprisingly prolific. Van Gogh created an estimated 900 works of art in his lifetime. Monet boasts 2,500, and Picasso is at a shocking 50,000. Can you name all 50,000 Picasso works? Have you ever taken art history class where the professor gave you a full list of every work Picasso ever made? Of course not. Because some of them flopped, and that’s okay.
9. Develop a Routine.
Did you catch that mention of a “daily creative practice” earlier? That’s important. It takes one to two months to develop a habit, depending on the complexity of the task. But following the same routine helps. Just like working out first thing in the morning helps you remain consistent, choosing a consistent time or place for your creativity will help you keep going.
10. Seek Out New Experiences
Here’s another tip that seems to contradict the previous one. Stick to a routine to get work done, but try new things for inspiration. Listen to new music, try a new food, or read a book that you normally wouldn’t. Even with an “inspiration system,” new experiences give you a new perspective, surprise your senses, or force you to remember what it’s like to be a beginner again.
You know how some authors seem to churn out novel-after-novel using the same formula? I wonder if they truly enjoy producing these novels or if they simply don’t make any effort to try new things anymore and this is the result.
11. Find Your Community.
No matter what kind of creative work you do, there’s a community out there for it. Anything from tree shaping to element collecting (as in elements from the periodic table). If you’re stuck, just Google it. One of the parts of NaNoWriMo that I love best is the enormous global community. You can find local Wrimos (the slang for people attempting NaNoWriMo), communicate in moderated chat rooms and forums, and even attend write-ins in your area. While we weren’t the largest group, I loved going to write-ins when I lived in Busan, South Korea.
Is this list helpful to you? Do you have any other strategies to sustain creativity? Let me know in the comments!
Best of the Week
Every week of October I’m highlighting one of my Inktober drawings. This week I did a lot of Sumi-e or Japanese Ink Painting. My favorite of the bunch was the bamboo. You can see more on my art Instagram @monicartsy.
It’s already over two weeks into Inktober – that’s halfway through! The realization that I’ve reached the midpoint inspires both relief and a slight panic. As in, yesss! I’ve made it this far! and wait, have I actually done 16 drawings already? There’s only 14 left, and I’ve been lazy for the last few days!
But being 16 days in, I have a rhythm (most of the time) and have my favorite tools within easy reach. Here’s a list of my favorite Inktober tools so far:
FYI, this post contains affiliate links, so if you decide to try the same materials, I get a small commission at no extra charge to you. For more information go the bottom of my About page.
Faber-Castell Pitt Pens
Faber-Castell pens have been my favorite since high school. Honestly, I now realize that I haven’t tested a wide variety of pens, because I’ve mostly stuck with these. However, my sister has tried more pens than I have and these are still her favorite, so there’s that.
I usually opt for a set with four sizes: Small, Fine, Medium, and Brush. I’m a super detail-focused artist so I use the small and fine pens the most, but I have to take a second to brag about the brush pen. Brush pens are exactly what they sound like – a pen with flexible brush-like tip. They’re flexible and really satisfying to use.
My set of pitt pens is pretty old and all in various stages of drying out or running out of ink. I no longer have a Fine-sized pen. But I make do, for now.
Dip Pen and Ink
I use a very basic dip pen handle with a couple different nib sizes that aren’t worth linking to. I might have purchased them back in college when my professor said that they were more legitimate than the Faber-Castell pens. I’m still not very competent with a dip pen – using one still feels a little awkward – so I have no plans to go out and find a better quality pen anytime soon.
When I use a dip pen, I go to the only two inks that I have. I did look into them when I first bought them and found that they were decent student-grade inks. They are Higgins Black Magic and a Higgins white ink.
Odd Assortment of Miscellaneous Pens
Finally, I have a smattering of random pens that I occasionally use, mostly ones I picked up in Korea. These are also running dry, so by the end of Inktober I should probably get new pens or commit to my dip pen.
Thanks to the class I took at the Bemis School of Art, I now have the materials for Sumi-e ink painting. On one hand, sumi-e is more like painting than drawing. On the other hand, Sumi-e is definitely ink, so expect to see a few Sumi-e pieces before Inktober is up.
I didn’t plan on using Sharpies…but one day I was craving a bold line and my dried out brush pens were doing the trick. Enter Sharpie permanent markers.
Best of the Week
Each week I’m highlighting my favorite Inktober drawing. This week is me running into a couch. (The ants in my dog’s beard was a close second though.) I was chasing my dog without watching where I was going. It seemed like a nice, ridiculous moment to illustrate. I had a bruise under my eye the next day.
It’s been one full week of Inktober so far. And while I’m loving it, keeping up is a struggle. As I mentioned in my last post, this is my first time doing Inktober. But the idea of dedicating one intense month to creative pursuits isn’t new to me.
For the last two years, I participated NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month, for those of you not in-the-know). Producing 31 ink drawings might seem more manageable than writing 50,000 words of a novel, but it all depends. In the end, both creative challenges seem to be about making time to pursue the art you love – which is far more difficult than the creating itself.
I do each drawing – usually late at night – and post them to my Instagram account. I’m a bit more verbose than I usually am on Instagram, because there’s almost always plenty to say about your artwork.
On Subject Matter & Prompts
I decided before October started that I didn’t want to follow the prompts. I mean, they’re cool, but there are plenty of topics I want to draw, and I didn’t want to be limited by a prompt. What if one day’s prompt just sounded really boring? I wasn’t going to lock myself into anything.
But now, seeing the Inktober drawings that the community is posting, I realize how fun it is to see other people’s interpretations of the same prompt. I’d like to try following the official prompts one year.
This year I do have a loose theme, which can and has already been interrupted by tragedy and holidays.
Sometimes I wish I’d chosen a theme that was more focused or more exciting, but the one I chose is “Home.” Hence the succulent and dog drawings you’ve seen recently. You can look forward to Colorado Springs scenery and other homey scenes. I have a long complicated rationale for choosing this theme but I won’t go into it today.
As I’ve gone through this week of Inktober, I’ve had to think about how I want my system to work. So I’ve set guidelines for myself. For some artists, this probably seems strange and unnecessary, but sticking to system works for me and helps me take Inktober seriously.
1. No posting judgment.
I’ve found myself almost constantly wanting to criticize and explain what I view as shortcomings in my work. It pops up naturally, even something as simple as “oh this one isn’t that good.” The negative comments and excuses keep up a steady stream in my mind:
“I was too tired today.”
“I messed up on that spot.”
“The ink started to run out.”
“The material didn’t react how I expected, so it looks a little weird.”
And so forth.
Luckily I caught myself in this negative spiral, so rule number one is no posting anything critical about my work – nobody really wants to hear it anyway. But I’d be perfectly happy to hear others’ honest opinions and critiques.
2. If I made it, I post it.
This rule deals with insecurity too. It’d be easy to only post the artwork that’s “good enough” and of course, that makes sense. It’s what every artist does, isn’t it? But for Inktober, and just for Inktober, I’m ignoring my filter. I won’t skip a day because I don’t think my drawing for that day is good enough. A day with no Inktober post will just mean I didn’t make the time to draw that day.
3. Skipping days is okay.
Skipping is difficult for the perfectionist in me. I committed to this challenge, so I need to go ALL THE WAY! RIGHT? Well, maybe if I wasn’t planning on doing NaNoWriMo next month. A month of daily ink drawings followed directly by a month of roughly 1667 words a day sounds more painful than fun.
I have a confession to make. The drawing I posted for Day 4 may be dated 10-4-17, but I actually made it October 5th. I didn’t draw anything on October 4th, and to make up for it, I did two drawings on October 5th. You’re probably thinking, okay who cares? But this forced me to consider what I’d do when I missed more days. Did I always need to make up for them? Should I only post according to the number of drawings I made? Or post according to the true dates?
I decided I’d let myself skip days. But doing a quick, rough drawing is preferable to skipping a day altogether. I won’t get stuck in a mindset of having to make up for missed days like this is some sort of homework assignment. But if I find myself wanting to do multiple drawings in a day, I won’t stop myself.
Best of the Week
While I’m producing so much art, I might as well show it off. For each week of October, I’ll highlight a best-of-the-week piece. This week is Day 2’s zebra plant!
What to Do if Your Dog Won’t Let You Work: A Practical Guide
Working from home can be pretty awesome. But it’s also ridiculously distracting. And most of the time, my dogs are part of the problem.
When your dog needs your attention, nothing matters. Not schedules. Nor deadlines. Nor client calls. Your dog has decided that she needs your attention right now. And she’s let you know by strange high-pitched bark-whines, sharp swats to your leg, or jumping up and down repeatedly.
So when your dog won’t let you work, what do you do?
Fear not, as an experienced work-from-home dog parent, I have developed several tried and true strategies for working with a needy pet.
Strategy #1: Lap time.
If your dog is under 20 pounds, the best option may some low-maintenance cuddling. That’s basically what sitting in your lap is like. Continue to type away while reaching down to give your dog the occasional stroke. Your dog will also function as a living, breathing heat pack, which is excellent for cold and rainy days.
Side effects of this strategy may include an inability to use the restroom, get up to find snacks, general muscle stiffness in the legs, or pins and needles. In severe cases, sit your dog down to have a serious conversation about limits.
Since my dog is a cuddler, most of the time this works best. But if your dog doesn’t get as much enjoyment from being in your mere presence – and absorbing your body heat – as mine does, read on.
Strategy #2: Break time.
Sometimes your dog bothering you can be a good thing. Because instead of brushing them off, you might stop and realize that you’ve been sitting in the same spot for quite a while, and maybe it’s time for a break.
So follow your dog’s lead and run around. Fake chase them around the house. Play tag. Stretch your own legs while making it seem like your sole purpose in getting up was to give them attention. They’ll love it.
Although this strategy is excellent, I caution you against using it too often, which can lead to chronic unproductiveness and where-did-the-time-go-itis.
Strategy #3: Food break.
Your dog’s attention-seeking antics might also remind you that you’re hungry. In that case, how much work did you think you were going to get done anyway? You can only be so productive on an empty stomach. And usually that means not very productive.
Instead, take your dog to the kitchen where both of you can enjoy a well-deserved snack (at least on one party’s end, anyway). If for whatever reason you have reservations about giving your dog a treat at the moment, give them a “healthy” treat like a vitamin or one of those teeth brushing bones. They’ll love it just the same.
Excessive use of food breaks may result in canine chubbiness.
Strategy #4: Work laying down.
Okay, here me out. I realize this may sound like a bizarre, not-very-useful strategy, but in my dog’s case, it works. Whenever I’m laying on my stomach, my dog likes to come over and lay on my butt. Apparently I’m pretty comfy. I’m not going to question it.
So occasionally, when I need a change of pace, I’ll grab my laptop or a notebook or a book and lay down to work. It’s only a matter of minutes before my dog follows suit.
Strategy #5: Mild threats.
So far these strategies have all been nice. Go along with whatever your dog wants, I seem to be saying. What a pushover parent, you might be thinking, but you’d be wrong. Sometimes I threaten my dog. Mildly. It’s important to note that these threats are mild.
Of course, you can tell your dog no, or keep them in a separate room, but those are pretty boring suggestions in my book. You can figure out the boring strategies on your own. What I’m suggesting, if you’re fed up with your dog and not in the mood to cuddle, is to be a little passive aggressive.
Sometimes, while my dog is sitting in my lap and my legs have gotten tired, I’ll run my fingers through Lhasa Apso hair and note that I should probably comb her soon. Suddenly, she’s perfectly willing to leave. You might also mention baths, cutting toenails or other necessary activities that your dog finds distasteful.
So don’t let your dog prevent you from getting your work done. From cuddling to breaks to cautionary words, you can find a strategy that works for you.
Disclaimer: Of course, some dogs seek attention excessively because of issues like separation anxiety. You should definitely consult a professional, or at least a more reputable source if your dog’s behavior is serious.
Here are a couple resources that make me question my dog parenting legitimacy, but are also useful: