Starting an Art Business Brand identity Title card

 

 

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)
  • Turn toward social justice (just check out “Campus Climate” or “Delusions of Diversity“)
  • Or try…fan art?

 

Challenge #3: Original Art or Fan Art?

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:

Stresses:

  • This whole brand thing
  • My website isn’t actually mobile-optimized so it looks super boring on a phone
  • Not many sales – am I not growing fast enough?
  • Producing more pins is expensive
  • How will my art business fit in during grad school?
  • Debating a starting new Kickstarter and how the timing would work with my move

Successes:

  • Decided/gave myself permission to experiment!
  • Hit 7 sales on Etsy! (even though I worry about not making sales, each sale is exciting)
  • 3 reviews on Etsy!
  • New Ghibli pins arrived
  • New backing cards were satisfying to make and turned out beautifully
  • Opened a Storenvy
  • Bought Monicartsy.com domain for potential future plans

You can look forward to individual posts on some of these topics and that new “Running an Art Business” series within the next couple months!

 

Other posts in Starting an Art Business:

 

 

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:

Starting an Art Business Prologue Title image

This year is off to a good start…because I’m starting an art business!

I’m careful to say “starting” and not “started” because I’ve yet to open a store or create a product. But even though I’m still in the foundation-building stage, I’ve started to make moves.

One of the first changes you’ve probably noticed is that you’re on a new website. MonicaHeilmanArt.com will be the new home for this blog and my art portfolio. My former blog site, MonicaHeilman.com, is now dedicated to my freelance writing business and digital marketing (my writing niche).

I wanted my first original post here on MHA to be about these changes. But when I stopped to think about how I could make this post valuable for you, dear reader, I thought why not do a series on starting and running an art business?

But If You’re New to This, Why Are You Writing about Starting an Art Business?

Short answer: Because if I waited until I felt like an expert, I’d never write anything.

Obviously, as a new business owner, I can’t tell you about the 10 Best Ways for Artists to Market Their Work or How I Made $6,660 in One Month! but I can share my successes and struggles as I go.

There’s something fun about going along for the ride and following another person’s journey. And right now there are a lot of minuscule things that are confusing and difficult to figure out. Later on, I’m sure I’ll forget all about those little struggles, but maybe someone else coming after me will have the same questions. And they’ll be able to come here, see my messy thought process and relate. Then hopefully find some answers.

So once a month I’ll give you an update on how this art business thing is going, the roadblocks I’ve faced, and my progress. In short, this is the FAQ that no one asked for. Because when I’m a rich and successful art entrepreneur (said no artist ever), I won’t remember the details that stressed me out in the beginning. You’re welcome in advance.

My hope is that someday this series will be able to serve as a blueprint for one way someone might go about starting an art business.

 

Origin Story: Motivation for Starting an Art Business

Since this post is a sort of art business origin story, I’ll go into my motivation. This will probably be the fluffiest post in the series, but I’ll go into the nitty-gritty details in later posts.

So motivation. I’ve loved creating art my entire life. But what pushed me to finally start an art business?

I’ve already written a little bit about this topic in my New Year’s post. Amid my spin on New Year resolutions, I also wrote about the negativity that discouraged me from doing anything with my art.

But along with those negative messages, I’ve received positive comments. These have built up for years without me even realizing. From overt, amazed reactions to my art from friends to remarks from my dad that are so subtle I almost don’t register them for what they are–encouragement. But the comments I remember the most are the ones that just assume I’m already successful:

“Where’s your Etsy store?”

“What are your rates?”

I’d humbly reply, Oh I don’t have a store. Actually, I don’t really sell my work. But those comments always left me thinking.

What finally pushed me over the entrepreneurial line wasn’t a big motivational moment or a massive show of support from family and friends. It was enamel pins. That’s right, enamel pins. Way to shatter the emotional lead-up. I’m talking business today.

 

Pins, Pins, Pins!

Starting an Art Business. Group of 5 enamel pins displayed on a canvas tote bag. Top row has two Steven Universe pins (Peridot and Garnet), while the second has a heart with crystals coming out of it, No Face from Spirited Away, and an Eevee (Pokemon).
Pins from Pinyatta, Just Peachy, Alagaesha, and Jennifairy

I’ve fallen fast and hard for the enamel pins trend. And I blame Reboops aka my childhood friend Rebecca. My first two pins were gifts from her. She hit me with my favorite fandom, Steven Universe. I retaliated by stalking online pin shops for Black Friday deals and getting her back with Sailor Moon and Overwatch.

But I didn’t stop there. I ended up buying pins as Christmas gifts for my sisters, Alyssa and Mandy, and myself. (You can’t blame me–it was Black Friday and free shipping was involved!)

Starting an Art Business a set of 2 food pins from KimChi and Just Peachy on a wide, green and pink backing card. One pin is a chip dipped into guacamole that reads "You're so extra" and the other is a donut with the words "come for me" below it. Donut come for me.

Then one day, Reboops asked my opinion on whether she should try making pins. She’s an awesome artist who already has an Etsy store and does tons of artistic things. She was my secret artistic rival as a kid.

Obviously I said YES.

100%.

GO FOR IT.

Then I said making pins sounded fun and it was her turn to say YES-100%-GO-FOR-IT. And both our minds started churning. That’s how I imagine it anyway.

In reality, she got started right away and I got stressed out. But before we get into my stress, I have to go on a tangent about Reboops making awesome progress already! I see you, rival! If you like Sailor Moon or general cuteness, you definitely need to check out her Kickstarter.

It’s already guaranteed to be funded, but I want her to at least get to Sailor Mars. You can go ahead and support her now because I’ll catch up later.

 

So I started seriously considering an art business online because I want to make pins. But now I’m planning art prints, keychains, and well, still looking into what I’d like to offer.

Stresses and Successes

Each month I’m going to include a list of stresses (apparently you can use the word this way) and successes. I can already see how some of my stresses were silly and unnecessary but I genuinely struggled with them for a while.

And my successes may not always be big wins, but they’ll be a list of accomplishments and steps I’ve taken in the past month. So for this half-month:

Stresses:

  • Coming up with a business name
  • Wondering what username to choose for my new Instagram
  • What kind of art to post on Instagram
  • Not having a consistent art style
  • Choosing a name with domain availability
  • Separating my art blog from my writer website
  • Creating a storefront
  • Etsy or Storenvy?

 

Successes

  • Created a new, simple domain name (monicaheilmanart)
  • Moved my art blog to the new site
  • Set up SSL (https) on my new site
  • Did a lot of blog transition grunt work (replacing broken links, setting up redirects)
  • Started an art Instagram
  • Began posting consistently and building an audience
  • Created an art Twitter and Facebook
  • Drew a few preliminary pin designs

I won’t go into all of these points, but here are the main ones and how I’m dealing with them:

Business Name

I was surprisingly stressed about creating a business name. Partially because if I didn’t have a business name, I couldn’t start any of the other things on my list! I also placed a lot of weight on Instagram and my Instagram name, because my thought process went like this:

-> Want to make pins

-> Need an art business to make pins

-> Need a strong online presence as an artist to have a successful art business

-> Instagram is awesome for online presence and artists

-> Need the perfect Instagram account

-> Perfect Instagram account requires a cute, preferably witty name that people will remember

As a result, I have a couple notebook pages crammed with business name ideas and word association lists. I went to my sisters and forced them to come up ideas with me. I then made a short list and checked to see which of those names were available as a .com domain.

Finally, I ended up going with “monicaheilmanart” for my domain and using “monicartsy” as my social media handle. Monicartsy was the name of my original Instagram and I definitely spent no more than two minutes on it.

And you know what? I feel just fine about these names. Since I don’t have one specific type of art I’d like to sell, these names give me to freedom to go in multiple directions or even make significant changes in the future without feeling like I’m not staying true to a name.

Buying a Domain

To be honest, buying a domain was probably completely unnecessary for an art business. Several platforms like Etsy, Storenvy, and Big Cartel let you host a beautiful storefront right on their site. But I already had one website that I wanted to split into two.

MonicaHeilman.com started off as my art portfolio back in college. I started an art blog on the site too, but then abandoned it. When I began freelance writing, I added my writer information and clips to that site and started blogging again to keep the site active. But it was making less and less sense to host an art blog on my freelance writer website (although I did write about art for one client). I’ve wanted to separate my art content from my writing business for a while, and starting an art business was the perfect opportunity to do that.

I know I’ll continue blogging about art and it was no problem to add another domain to my existing web hosting plan. I’m already comfortable running a website and owning a domain is kind of fun. So for me, an art website makes sense, even though I plan to use other platforms to sell my work initially.

Etsy or Storenvy?

Both! I agonized over this for a bit until I read an article that said there was no reason you can’t do both. And so I will.

Etsy is so well-known that it’s the easiest way for people to find your shop. They charge listing fees and take a percentage, but name recognition seems worth it.

I discovered Storenvy though other enamel pin shops and really liked the layout. Their storefronts look like an independent storefront, not just a user’s profile. Storenvy also has a marketplace similar to Etsy’s where you can discover other creators and buy their products. Another big plus is that Storenvy doesn’t charge any listing fees, so I’ll be able to leave up as many products as I want indefinitely. That sounds pretty good.

I’m sure that later, I’ll have much more to say about each platform.

Art Style Inconsistency

I’m still unsure about this one. Finding your “own style” is a big concern for many artists. I’ve through several stages with “style”:

  • Searching for my style
  • Believing that nothing was original so trying to create your “own style” was pointless
  • Creating whatever I wanted not caring about consistency
  • Realizing that consistency is vital to marketing yourself
  • Accepting that a style doesn’t have to limit your work

Since I stopped searching for a style to call my own in high school, maybe I’ve stagnated on this front. But your art style seems to have a way of creeping up on you. On my new Instagram, my only criteria for the art I’ve been posting is that a.) it’s interesting and b.) it’s good. Curating for quality has turned out more consistent than I expected. I lean toward detailed work focused on lines rather than shapes. Or maybe it’s just all the plant drawings. Those create consistency too.

Starting an Art Business Zebra Plant Scratchboard with an Xacto knife and scratch on the right. Background is reddish-brown wood.

Conclusion

So at this point, I’ve gone through the process of setting up a website and social media accounts. I’m posting and creating art more consistently, while also following existing online art businesses I admire.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, kudos! This post was a long one and I might keep the others in this series shorter and more focused.

Are there any topics you’d like to hear more of or questions you have so far? Let me know in the comments!