More (lengthy) thoughts on printing.

I finished an entire painting on Saturday, which is a marked speed improvement over the last one! (I also discovered that I can paint while sitting on the couch, which is certainly comfier than the dining room chairs…will definitely try that again sometime.) But since my train of thought is still running down the Etsy + printing + prices track, I’m going to wait a bit for show & tell.

I really appreciate each of you who took the time to leave a comment on my printing post, and I’m adding Rosina‘s name into the drawing mix since she spent a pleasant 15 minutes talking with me in person about the post. In continuing the discussion, I’m going to take the liberty of quoting from the comments since I always like it when someone responds specifically to my question/point and assume that others feel the same way. I don’t know how many of you readers have Etsy shops, have made purchases Etsy, run another type of crafting business, etc., but I hope that this discussion will be profitable for you as well and that you won’t mind the big long post.

(Esther said)
My input, as someone who likes to buy art but doesn’t have a big budget to do so, is to raise the cost of shipping and require delivery confirmation. I don’t mind paying more for shipping if I know it will help it arrive safely. But I know I would have to swallow hard before I started considering $45 prints, especially for my kids’ room.

Delivery confirmation (and insurance) seems to be the way to go, so I’m definitely going to change my shipping policy! You’ve confirmed my fear that I am starting to price my friends out of my prospective market for the big prints, which is something I’d like not to do–I really don’t know how to handle that situation. But then again, I’m also hoping that the individual letters provide a low cost alternative.

(Meg said)
You should make whatever art you want to make to sell- it sounds cheesy, but as long as you enjoy making it (and aren’t just making it to suit a particular market) it will show through and people will buy it.

Meg, this is an important issue that deserves its own post sometime. Quite frankly, it can be really hard to tell when I am orienting my work more toward my own vision and taste and when I am orienting it toward the market. I think any artist struggles with “to thine ownself be true” vs. paying the bills, and an illustrator is even more entangled since he/she creates art to fill a need and needs usually come with restrictions. (The items in my Etsy shop are really more fine art than illustration, but the art training that I’ve had has primarily been from the viewpoint of the illustrator and it’s hard for me not to feel as though I am illustrating for an imaginary client, the Average Etsy Buyer.)

Plus, there’s the added temptation to take a look around Etsy and see what other people are doing that sells well–it’s kind of like doing marketing research. I am not referring to copying outright, but if folksy animals or sweet vintage children seem to be the ticket to 1000 sales, it might not be a bad idea to make some notes. Take a look at this post over on A thing of beauty…see any themes?

The downside is that it’s hard to maintain enthusiasm about a style or subject matter that’s not your first choice, and I think that the buyers can tell this (which you alluded to). Plus, certain categories seem so often-repeated (ink drawings over old book pages, anyone?) that it seems as though painting one more would be like writing yet-another high shool essay on Shakespeare. I do not at all mean to knock the creativity of the first five (or ten or fifteen) people who tried this technique or to say that it doesn’t look good. I also don’t mean to imply that you have to create stunningly original works each and every time or that you need to find a market niche to belong to. I just mean to say that the issue is complicated and that I would LOVE to hear some honest discussion about issues of inspiration, originality, and the marketplace.

(Lauren said)
Prints probably sell better on Etsy than originals. Especially when originals are priced as they should be.

Pricing is so hard! In the Etsy forums, I frequently see new sellers encouraged to raise their prices, which is undoubtedly the right thing to do as artists frequently undervalue their time. Uncle Ted made the perceptive comment that “People are hardwired to believe that high price equals high quality in art. Perversely enough, you will sometimes see sales go UP if the price is higher, because they assume that you are an elite artist.” I remember this from my marketing course, and I am sure that it’s true. But it is also intimidating to raise your prices by $100 (which you certainly could!) since it really decreases the pool of potential buyers.

I think prints generally do sell better on Etsy than originals because prints are a low-cost, low-commitment way of experiencing an artist’s work. Which brings me to…

(Monica said)
As a previous buyer of an original painting that I absolutely love, I think you can definitely raise your price on original art and have more of those available. They don’t have to be big, so you can still charge more and still be affordable, but the buyer gets the pleasure of getting an original work of art and I think that counts. I like prints, but when the costs of a print start creeping up too high, I tend to prefer to buy some original art or craft instead.

Monica, it is quite kind of you to say this and I do believe that I will be taking your suggestion…I think I’d like to offer more originals (with prices raised but not out of sight) along with some inexpensive gocco prints. This is where the big Alphabet print is again uncomfortably in the middle–expensive for a print, but not an original. I might end up phasing it out in the end. Sigh.

(Mackenzie said)
And I second the original art thing, too. Have some prints available but original art, even if it’s teeny tiny is a HUGE draw (at least for people like me). Multiple products at multiple price points – have some more affordable prints and more lucrative originals and you can draw a wide range of customers, says I!

“Multiple price points” is a phrase that I’ve seen in a number of places, and it seems to be the key. I won’t forget this!

Uncle T, I don’t take issue with your keen business sense or your well-informed comments. Artists probably ought to talk with businessmen more often…I think it can often be viewed as selling out when it’s really just a source of selling wisdom. Right?

I don’t think I’ll change Paulabirdy at this point since it causes a small blip of recognition and, well, I just happen to like it. But if I was starting all over again, I’d just be Paula Gibbs.

I’ll quote you on Return on Investment, though, since I think it is a very necessary point for the independent artist:

With all the pressure on you, you will simply not keep something up that doesn’t pay back. What you need to do is say, “my time is worth $20 per hour, on average for each sale I am putting in around 10 hours of worth, therefore, I will charge $200. This means that you need to cut out all the bottom prints. Your intuition is absolutely correct.

I think that the problem with this concept is mainly an emotional one. The artist is keenly aware that his/her product is not as necessary for daily life as a hard drive. No matter how well-reasoned the arguments for the place of beauty in one’s home, the art market still feels like a luxury market. And when you feel as though you are selling something non-essential, you don’t want to ask people to pay a lot because you’re afraid they won’t. And then you’ll be stuck with the 10 hours of unpaid work, and at least $5/hour is better than $0/hour.

Of course, my impressions may be shaped by the fact that I leave in a community where people are usually cheerfully scraping by. I don’t know what it’s like to have neighbors with BMWs and expensive leather couches and Chanel handbags. I have seen these places and know that they exist, but my experience with this type of buyer is so limited that I find it easier to cater my work toward what I know than that which is unfamiliar.

Hopefully you won’t all think I’m a moron after reading this or that I’m completely money-driven. This blog is my place to think out loud right now, since I find that putting thoughts into words is a really good way to clarify them. If you have any other comments or want to continue the discussion, please please feel free to chip in. I do love feeling as though we are having a discussion instead of just leaving comments.

Oh, and you probably thought I forgot! The winner of the little drawing (thank you, random number generator) is…ROSINA.

And no, I did not rig the results just because you gave me some yarn. :)


6 thoughts on “More (lengthy) thoughts on printing.

  1. Hi !

    Since you mention my post @ “a thing of beauty…”, I think I can comment on a few points here. A lot of interesting things have already been said as regards to your concerns, so I’ll just stick to what has not been said :

    I don’t think you should try to list EVERY single letter on your etsy shop. It gives the impression that somehow you specialize in “letters + birds” – which is unfair – but having 2 or 4 listings for instance (letters from A to L and M to Z…) or even better to my mind only one listing where you would tell people they could choose whatever letter they want and have a picture of your “Alphabirdybet” as an example would be enough. You could refer to your flickr where you would have an album with all the letters for example for people to see exactly what they are buying, but really all those letters in your shop give the impression that you found yourself a very tiny “niche” and that you are trying to get the most of it. Also it gives the impression that you only can draw birds, not that it is a choice of yours. It is limiting the way people might look at your art, as if you could only do one or two things, whereas it is clear from your blog you are a very creative person and can do a lot of things and be very good at them.

    Although they are not the same things, your alphabet letters basically are just one thing and it makes it look like you’re listing the same print over and over again.

    Even if you don’t have more than one page for the moment in your shop, it will be better since people will be more aware of your different styles and of what you have to propose.

    I have a lot more to say, and I’m writing to you @ etsy because it will be too long a post here in the comment section, and I apologize if what I have just written seems negative as it is in no way intended to be…


  2. Anne,

    You win the most thoughtful comment award (x2, including your convo). You have obviously put a lot of thought into what you’re saying and spent quite a lot of time poking around my blog, which I really appreciate. After re-reading my post, I wondered if I seem critical of your 100 Artists list–which I am NOT. I spent a long time looking over the list quite happily, and I noticed that you selected a number of shops that I had never heard of. I can’t imagine how long it took you to put that together!

    Your suggestion about limiting the number of alphabet letters is very interesting and not one that I had thought of. I do want to make sure that it is possible for the buyer to see each individual letter, since each one features a different bird or birds. But, all those letters really fill up the shop and I think you’re right that they make a pretty strong visual statement as to what to expect from Paulabirdy.

    I am a bit skeptical about offering just one letter with a link to the others, however…Etsy does not allow html links, so it would require the viewer to copy and paste the URL into his/her browser, look at the options, and then come back to make a purchase. This sounds minor, but in my experience requiring the buyer to put extra effort into the buying process is a sizeable turnoff. I think a better option (which you hinted at in your convo) would be to split my shop in two — Paulabirdy for the letters and bird-related items, and PaulaGibbs for the more varied art/illustration. This would give me the advantage of building recognition under my own name (Uncle T, that’s probably your advice as well) but require yet another re-branding and a new round of business cards, etc. I am unfortunately very easily bored (or hard to satisfy) and this is already my 2nd Etsy banner + business card set since I opened shop in October, so I feel as though I need to finally stick with something! But after thinking over this all morning, I think two shops will probably be the best in the long run.

    Your critique of the fabric + print cards is also well made…they are based on some handprinted and handsewn cards that I did two years ago, and the real fabric versions were much nicer and more tactile than the laser-printed ones. The cards are also more craftsy and less artsy than my other items (those and some other printed cards on sale), and they stick out like a sore thumb. I plan to have a sale on the ones I have in stock and not order any more.

    I really like your idea about trying some more interior design-y drawings, especially since I tend to sketch imaginary bedrooms in my spare time. This sounds silly, but one of my big problems is getting all of the sketches on the same page to turn out well. I tend to have a chair that I really like, a coffee table that’s okay, and a couch that’s terrible. I’m planning to start offering some little Gocco prints of small sketches so that I can isolate the one(s) I like and leave out the rest…but this probably just means that I need to draw more and get better at it. :)

    My husband also has some ideas that I want to pursue and I’m working on what will hopefully turn into a children’s book someday, so I feel as though there are a zillion ideas floating around in my head like balloons. But this is good!

    Anne, I really appreciate your thoughtful commentary and think that it is very rare for a stranger to write so thorough and helpful a critique of one’s work.

    Thank you.

    And feel free to keep commenting. :)

  3. Paula,

    it did not seem as though your comment on my post was critical, just wanted to make sure it was clear I did not pick artists just because they were power-sellers or successful – some as I said had not sold much yet.

    But I understand how it might be tempting to look and watch for patterns, although in art as in movies (or books, etc) there is no magic combo, and what might work for some might not work for others since I really believe – and most people do – in doing what you feel like doing, what you are good at and basically what “your thing is”. There is already so much room for improvement and evolution in one’s field.

    As for the letters, I also get it that all the photos should be visible on Etsy, and my first thought was to have like 4 listings but that was me not doing my maths properly – and not even thinking about it in the details – for the best thing would than be to have 6 listings with 4 or 5 letters each (A to D, E to H, I to L, M to P, Q to U and V to Z for instance) so that you would actually be able to post a picture for each letter. I have seen people post up to 5 photos per listing so that would make the deal.

    And thanks for your nice compliments, it is just that I spend so much time on Etsy, and as an outsider – someone without a shop – I sometimes tend to see what could be improved for someone to get more visibility… And it is also true that I have chosen to dwell on the positive – my blog is really about “oh, gee this thing is awsome, look !” – and constructive criticism will always be directed towards betterment and improvement…

    take care,


  4. Anne’s suggestion for the letters is great! I’ve seen it before where you could put one letter as the main in the listing, and then use the other photos of the 4 or 5 you get to show the whole alphabet and other details. Do it like a custom order thing, more. Customers wouldn’t have to click over to another website, but they would have to remember to put in the comment box which one they were looking for.

    I agree that knowing your market is a tricky part of being an artist. My brother did a community art project in high school one summer and his stuff was sold at the end, and I did remind him that our small midwestern city might not be as into lino-cuts of Bob Marley and robots as he was, even if he was pushing them beyond kittens and teddy bears. There are definitely themes and patterns on that list (and I own an Ashley G original ink drawing on a vintage book page, so I definitely shop within those themes) but sometimes doing what is unique to you will get you noticed because you stand out from the list, or are doing something new. I love the birds and don’t think it’s a trend that will go away quickly, but you never know when you’ll be able to predict the next trend, so you don’t want to get too stuck and be left behind.

    Another thing that’s useful on etsy is setting up categories for your shop (and sorry I haven’t clicked over to see if you have) where you can put different series/topics of illustrations, if that’s something you decide to do, so you don’t have to worry about the first page being full of just one thing.

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