Art Lessons

Art-ing is a hard business, and decisions about how and where to show and sell your creative work can be daunting. Should I do shows? If so, which? What about selling in galleries? Different factors but same question.  Online venues? Again …  you get the idea.

Even after you’ve done the research and made choices, you have to keep working to make the best of where you’ve landed – market yourself AND the shows, galleries and stores your work is in.

Sadly, sometimes despite your diligence and efforts, things fall apart. I just learned that my beloved greeting card sales rep is leaving rep-ping for greener pastures. And then another blow; the local gallery where I show my artwork and hold workshops has replaced the paintings in its windows with really big “For Sale” signs.

Village Shops and Galleries

Ouch! But I don’t think the lesson is that I should not have agreed to have Tam rep my cards or to show at the Village Shops and Galleries. I got many wonderful benefits from both, and even looking back I would have made the same decisions.

Greeting cards

But there are lessons in failures. First, don’t rely on one source of income from your art. If you only do shows, what happens if you break your leg, your car conks out, or you don’t get juried into the biggest show on your list? Or say you’re selling only online through one website and they shut down, or change their rules or procedures in a way that cuts your sales in half (hello Etsy).

Zazzle zebra sneakers

Zazzle stopped making sneakers and cancelled all of the sneaker designs artists had uploaded

What to do? Diversify! Look into the many different ways artists sell their work, ranging from in-person to on-line, in stores and galleries, to licensing or having sales reps, and more.

Second, be careful not to invest too much money or time in an uncertain venture. I could have rented space in the Gallery rather than accept a split from my sales, but without a proven track record of customers, sales and good staff support it just didn’t make sense. And I was careful not to pre-order too many greeting cards from the printer, so I’m not left with a mountain of unsold cards.

Finally, go in with your eyes open. Do the research, ask for references, talk to others  familiar with the situation you’re thinking about. Spend time at the shows you’re thinking of entering, or at the gallery you’ve got your eye on. Are people buying art? Are the fees or costs in line with similar venues?After that, weigh the risks and benefits and either back away or jump in and go for it.

Have you had an art situation explode on you? Looking back, would you have done anything differently?

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New greeting cards

As photographers and artists, isn’t the ultimate thrill actually getting down to work on our art? Of course, running an arts and crafts business involves so many less-fun tasks. Among other things, we need to figure out how we want to use our artwork and how best to sell it.

One way I sell my artwork is as greeting cards. The margin on cards isn’t large, but there’s an established market, and if you can tap into that the volume of sales adds up.

I sell some of my cards online directly on my Artfire Gallery and I also wholesale them to brick and mortar stores through my super greeting card sales-rep, Tamara Holland – who I must tell you just became the very first “Artist of the Month” at Calypso Cards, the company that distributes one of her lines of awesome cards.

As I take new photos and create designs from them, I select the ones I think are the best and most suited for cards. Then, when it’s time to re-order my best sellers from the printer, I add a few new ones. Without further ado, here are my five new greeting cards! First, my straight photo of a monarch butterfly sipping nectar from a zinnia flower.

Monarch on zinnia

Second is a photo of a Julia butterfly, also on a zinnia. I worked with drawing and other image tools for a vintage feeling.

Julia butterfly on zinnia

Next, two new hummingbird cards. I have several hummer cards in my line, but these are different, especially the one on the right, a hummingbird at an abutilon flower. I used several paint and other tools to emphasize the bright colors and the bird’s wings. I also worked to bring out the vivid, saturated colors of the image on the left, a hummingbird at Mexican salvia (sage).

Hummingbird at Sage and Hummingbird at abutilon cards

Finally, I included a painterly rendition of my photo of an egret soaring over a pond at the Oakland Museum.

Egret soaring

After the hard work of making the new designs, it’s such a thrill to open the box filled with the printed cards.  I’ve told you before about the local printer who I am so lucky to have printing my card line. Jayne and Bud at Cerrito Printing came through again, big time, for this latest order.

Do you sell your art as greeting cards? Many artists who sell at shows feel that offering cards cuts down on their sales of prints, although others think it’s worth it because a lot of people who would never buy a print will pay a few dollars for a card. What do you think?

Getting Prints Made on a Budget

An artist asked me for some ideas of how to get posters or cards printed without spending too much. A great question, and especially important for those just starting out. Here are some tips:

1. Local printers: People often assume that online printers will have lower prices than local print shops, but that’s just not true. For one thing, remember that you don’t need to pay shipping when you use a local printer. Also, if you’re selling your work you should have a reseale tax number, provide that to the printer so they don’t charge you tax.

In addition, local printers will likely offer more flexibility and personal contact than online services. Ask them what you can do to keep your expenses down, such as use different weight paper, order more cards or posters to bring the price per print down, batch your prints or cards onto a large sheet that you (or they) will cut to size, etc.  Find out whether they are charging you for any part of the workflow that you can learn to do yourself, such as file-setup.

Make a list of all of the printers in your area. Get estimates from each of them to compare prices. If you like one that charges slightly more, ask whether they will meet a competitor’s price.

Greeting cards

I wrote a post last year about my wonderful experience having my greeting card line produced by a local printer, Cerrito Printing.

2. Costco: I’ve spent a lot of time in online forums with professional photographers. A surprising number of them have the work that they sell printed by Costco, which generally has very competitive prices. Get to know the people who work at the printing division of your local Costco, and ask them about getting the best quality from your order.

3. Copy shops: see whether you can get a quality print at a copy shop, rather than a printer. The prices will likely be much lower. If the inks or paper they use aren’t archival, however, don’t misrepresent the quality of the print. Generally your prices for work that is not archival should be significantly less than when you’re using archival materials.

Monarch butterfly life cycle poster

I had this Monarch butterfly life cycle poster printed at a copy shop.

4. Online printers: Again, make a list of several online printers and compare prices. Remember to add in shipping charges, which vary widely.

Plan far enough ahead so that you can select the slowest, least expensive shipping option.

Search online for coupons for discounts or free shipping, and subscribe to their newsletters or Facebook business pages to get special offers.

If an online printer has a brick and mortar store nearby, find out whether they will let you pick up in person to avoid the shipping charge.

When ordering from an online printer that does business in your state, they will charge you sales tax, so before you order make sure they will let you scan and email your tax resale certificate.

Finally, figure out whether you really need to get prints made. Are you selling online? If so, you should be printing on demand when you have an order, rather than spending money up front for things that may not sell. If you’re planning to sell at craft shows, or trying to place your work in a gallery or store, figure out what you can realistically sell before ordering prints.

Do you have any other tips about how to save money on prints?