I am here to share fresh-from-the-battlefield reports and lessons.
As you know by now I have opened an online shop for the summer, and recently I extended my offerings through Society6 to expand my product line. In the process I also put myself to doing promotions but in a way that is (hopefully) not too hard sell. I want to be noticed but I don't want to annoy people. And so far it looks like I have managed to hit upon a sweet spot. Never had my Facebook page ever been so busy! And I am even surprised by people who surfaced from years of zero interaction to click a thumbs-up, a heart, or a wow, sometimes even taking the time to leave a comment.
I know the whole thing will not be an overnight success. It needs to ripen, gain its own momentum, find its own pace and place in the Grand Scheme of Things. But it is very heartening to receive the first few reactions and responses. A droplet perhaps compared to the oceans of fans and followers that fully-established artists typically have, but I don't care about the comparison. I care about those who were first to say that they see something good and inspiring and possible with what I have put out. That is all I need to keep me going. That is enough to keep my hope sustained. (The handful of sales that came in were valued as much as, if not more, for the vote of confidence they implied than the actual monetary profit -- the profits at this point will really be small. For anyone venturing along a similar path, be ready for that and take it in stride. At most they will cover a good portion of your groceries, and that's not something to sneeze at.)
So, here is a simplified list of steps on how I got from point A (people appreciating art) to point B (people buying art).
The most important first step, ever. Create a body of work.
Everything really begins here. That you invest the hours making your art, that you continuously practice. It doesn't always have to be a big major work. It can be a series of small pieces, squeezable in half-hours through a day or a week. Make with your heart, make it for yourself. My rule on whether a piece is good enough to sell is asking myself, "will I hang this on my own walls?" It is also a good way to make sure that you are making pieces for yourself, instead of somehow trying to make something that appeals to more people in the hopes of attracting more buyers (Done this. I ended up throwing away what I made because they did not have soul.). If it resonates with you, then it will resonate with the kind of people you would want to buy your art in the first place.
Create and maintain a relatively active social media presence. Share your process and progress.
This motivates you and those who follow your progress. You inspire and are inspired.
It also keeps you on your toes to keep moving forward, to keep doing something. Because while we are doing our art for ourselves at first, later on we let them go out into the world, and we become more aware of the way we affect and influence others. There are people out there who might be waiting for a sign or a message, and you and your art might just be the instrument that the universe has been waiting to wield.
I have lost count of how many times I have been told that my art brings joy to a person's newsfeed. That in itself already gives me a sense of fulfilment. How often can we claim to have brought joy with something that makes us joyful as well? It is happiness without sacrifice or compromise - such a rare thing nowadays.
Sharing my process, or even answering queries on techniques and materials, makes me feel like I am doing my part in spreading the right kind of influence -- towards arts and creativity, to making with the hands, to paving the path towards a more authentic life.
For visual artists: Instagram has been a great help in getting me into the radar of the local art community, getting invited to events, and getting followers who may easily be missed out by Facebook. I find it also easier to maintain and I get more responses there than my Facebook page. Tip: use relevant popular hashtags in every post to come up in searches and recommendations.
Create a separate website for your "trial" shop.
A website, as opposed to a social media page, has the advantage of presentation. You can customise and design it to reflect the creative identity you want to be known for. You control the navigation of how visitors will see your art. You also own the space, in the sense that there are no distractions of ads or other links that don't really need to be there -- you can limit or simplify the sidebars and such. You can design it so that only YOUR art are the images. It's your own online visual gallery and thus you and your work should be the centrepiece.
Also, not everyone are users of social media sites and often one has to be a member to view even a public page. A website is an open-to-all place that people can visit without commitments or requirements that can often turn off potential customers.
I use this site : http://weebly.com
But I have friends who also recommend: http://wix.com
As early as now, start an inventory list of your art pieces.
It can be a very simple list. The important thing is to keep track. This was something I did not do early, because I thought having a shop was still a long way away.
First of all, I was slightly shocked when I counted how many pieces there already were. It is easy to think you never have enough, or that nothing's really good enough. But then you finally do an inventory...
Also start figuring out a pricing structure. People WILL ask at some point how much your pieces cost, and how much it would cost for a commission. Don't be like me who put it off until I was cornered. *guilty grin*
Extend your reach and offerings through sites like Society6.
Now this part requires a bit of "backstage" work. Also some technical abilities. So if you are fortunate enough to be able to ask someone well-versed in the language of pixels then take advantage of it. But I will share here the DIY version so that there are no excuses of not moving forward. Basic equipment : a computer, a scanner. But if your artwork is larger than a scanner's screen then you will need a digital camera (a camera phone will do -- details later). And then you will need a lot of Patience.
1. I scanned everything that will fit into my scanner. Nothing can beat the quality of a scan. I experimented but finally set the dpi (dots per inch) to 1,600 minimum. (If it's too large then it exceeds the required size of Society6).
2. For the large artworks I took photos with my iPhone using Camera+ app, quality settings at High. But the problem is that it cannot take as high resolution as a scan so I can only edit for selected product sizes. I also tried using my DSLR but same thing -- image would not take anything higher that 5000 pixels per side. So I am currently resigned to offer the designs for my large artworks on selected products only.
3. I cleaned up and edited each file to the required sizes in Pixlr, which is a free download. It can handle the large file sizes (which I discovered PIcMonkey could not -- it has a limit). I don't have Photoshop and even if I did I am not good at it. Pixlr can do enough edits and I love it so far.
4. I uploaded each file to Society6, which took time because of the file sizes.
5. I did daily posts on the products using various strategies:
- matching a piece/product with a quote
- matching a piece/product with an actual daily life experience
- a bit of creative writing to highlgiht the unique features of a piece/product (See image below.)
- talking about process while featuring a product/piece
- direct promo announcements when applicable (such as the recent Free Worldwide Shipping)
- announcing when new pieces are available and featuring those pieces
And in each post, a link to the shop is always provided.
I'll probably come up with other strategies as I go along. But what I wanted to achieve here was generate awareness and interest without bombarding. I also want to show that art has a place and space in everyone's life.
The miracles : As of this writing there have been 9 purchases from my Society6 shop and a few more to come soon (as buyers have informed me ahead of their intentions). Sales of my original pieces also somehow got influenced by the visibility of my Society6 pieces -- I sold more than 10 originals in the past week alone. My gratitude is immeasurable.
Then there is a friend who extended me a lifeline for June so I didn't have to drown (or to literally be a Starving Artist)... May a thousand blessings shower upon her!
Questions or comments? Let me know :)