My 9 biggest (and hardest) lessons from the first year of my art business

Around this time last year I took the first steps towards making Stories In Paper a business. It was something I had wanted to do for a long, long time. I’ve run a creative business as an artist and creative educator since 2008, but I had a solo show coming up in a local cafe and I wanted to focus it on papercutting. I had been making papercuts and shadow puppets for several years, and I thought it would be nice to make a small series of papercut bird images as part of the exhibition. A year down the line and this has led to my ‘Bird Spotting’ series, of which there are now 14 images, several other projects and lots of opportunities I never imagined! It was also really hard work, so to celebrate both sides of this year I’ve summed up my 9 biggest lessons (and hardest) lessons from the first year of my art business. As you can easily find better guides online to the practicalities of starting a business this is quite of a personal post, because I’ve really tried to focus on the biggest hurdles and successes for me as an individual in the hope they are useful to others too.

 

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-11-43-35
1. To make a strong portfolio

Now this goes against some of my deepest beliefs about creativity, which is that artists are constantly changing and your work will always evolve to reflect that. As much as I believe that is true, I decided that as I was trying to start a business creating a strong portfolio of fairly similar work will be useful place to begin. Simply put, if you want to sell your work it makes sense to have a group of images that people can see and instantly identify as yours. That is not to say you shouldn’t change and grow as an artist. I’m also not suggesting that you shouldn’t do different styles, but if you are going to do that it might be best to create a small series in each style, as otherwise your portfolio may look a bit bitty. This whole concept really troubles some artists I know, but I think in a society completely over-saturated with images, styled photos and advertising, people are much less likely to give time to someone’s portfolio or social media account if it doesn’t have a clear identity. I know my work is always changing anyway, I just try to follow through on ideas so I don’t feel the images I’m making are a bit random and unrelated to each other.

big-jellyfish-prints

2. That starting a business will cost money

I’m not going to lie to anyone here – setting up Stories In Paper cost me a lot more then I initially expected. From buying domain names, to printing business cards, sourcing packaging, paying for framing and services like getting prints and products produced… it all cost money. It was worth it, as I know I’ve now made enough to at least cover those costs. But I was only able to do those things because I put some of my own money in at the beginning to get me started, and then for several months spent most of the money I made from my art feeding it back into the business to create more products. Alongside this I have worked as a freelance workshop leader, a picture framer and a teacher. I think unless you have a lot of savings working while building up your business is the only way to avoid going into debt and putting yourself under huge pressure. I also just took small steps, for example waiting to see how an exhibition went and if it was good using some of the money to get greetings cards printed.

Etsy print test 01

3. That I could do most things myself, but not everything

To save on costs I did everything I could myself including photographing my work for prints, design, website building, framing and accounting. I also used free services whenever possible, read tutorials and blogs on how to do things, and occasionally paid for online courses to help me. Both ‘Work/Art/Play’ by Amy Ng of Pikaland and ‘The Art of Blogging’ by Alicia Burke were invaluable to me and well worth the small cost. Of course, all of this takes time and if I began to earn enough from my art I would seriously consider outsourcing the reprographics and accounting sides to other people because they are time consuming and I don’t really enjoy them, but for now that is not an option and I am definitely getting quicker with experience! However I decided to get products like the cushions and notebooks made for me, because I thought it was the better option at this stage then investing money and time into screen printing and sewing.

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-11-42-19

4. That promoting my work takes up a lot of time

Once I had invested time and energy into making art and related products, I was obviously keen to sell some so all my money wasn’t just sitting in boxes in my studio. This all takes up quite a lot of my time. I try to post on social media at least once a week, I (try) to update my blog regularly and send out newsletters to people signed up to my mailing list. I also spend time contacting organisations and galleries I might be able to work with, and writing things like press releases for the local papers. Alongside this there are things like planning and publicising workshops and classes, and keeping up with Etsy orders and emails. Promoting your work is so difficult, but I try to just think of it more as putting it out there so people who might be interested can find it, rather then seeing it as constantly pestering people. I also very rarely use my personal Facebook page to talk about my work, and I like to keep them a bit separate. I have struggled throughout the year to find the time to make new work, but I’m comfortable now with the idea that I might have a few weeks where I focus more on making, and a few weeks where I focus more on sharing what I’ve been working on.

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-11-42-44

5. To see social media as a way of sharing work, not creating it

So I mentioned social media above, and I could write an entire blog post on the positives and negatives of using social media as an artist. One thing I try to remind myself of all the time is that I am using social media to share the work I am making, not to motivate me to create it. Now some artists do a brilliant job of posting everyday and using social media like Facebook and Instagram as a way of keeping a visual diary or making daily posting into a project. I am not one of those people. I like to create intricate art and I enjoy working on several things over a period of time, as I talked about in my post On working slowly. Earlier in the year I did try to post on Instagram everyday for a while and I found that my feed looked really confused and wasn’t representing my work well. Now I post once a week and suddenly people are following me much more often, which I can only put down to posting (what I hope is) quality not quantity. I’m also not bothered if my number of followers drops or I get no comments, as I now know there will be another sporadic period ahead where I get more positive feedback from people, and this is what is really valuable. I now use Facebook to share events and products more as most of the people who follow me on that page are geographically closer, and Instagram to share work in progress or finished images.

For me personally, the exceptions to this (other then I discussed above) would be if you decided to do a picture a day for a specific period of time as a way to get your new social media account a bit more interest. Another idea would be to participate in a limited period social media project like Inktober, because it sounds really fun and you only have to sustain that momentum for one month!

sip_smallcommon-octopus_dark-blue

6. To not panic when I found people who were making similar work

Talking of social media, undoubtably one of the biggest challenges for me was overcoming the absolute panic I felt when I discovered an artist whose work was similar to mine or, woe betide me, better and they were more successful. I have never copied another artist, but I understand why people can be sensitive about that. But I do have influences, for example I love natural history illustration and I also love Chinese and Eastern European traditional papercutting. And of course in the age of Pinterest we all see hundreds of images all the time, and some of these beautiful works of at will inspire us (surely that is the point of Pinterest). I am inspired by pattern, intricacy and natural forms. So to put these together and create animals images with circular patterns in them was a fairly natural step for me to take in my work. But when I discovered other papercutting artists had done similar things I was crushed, and scared to carry on with my own journey in that line. But you know what? When I read about their work it turned out they had similar influences! And I think that is the key word, similar. Of course your work is similar to others, because if you make fairly accessible visual art this is a likely result. But if you came to that place independently, and you haven’t directly copied them, why stop making your work?  So I decided not to be stopped by fear, but instead to widen my influences and to incorporate things I was really interested in, because that is truly my own work.

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-11-43-14

 

7. To learn how to best motivate myself

When I went to see Oliver Jeffers talk at the Edinburgh Book Fair last year he said something along the lines of ‘The great thing about being self-employed is no one tells you what to do. And the terrible thing about being self-employed is no one tells you what to do.’ Motivating yourself is hard. Really really really hard. I am a very enthusiastic person in general, so my major weakness is burnout. I start things at full pace, and over time I get tired or fed up with working all the time, and it’s a real challenge to me not to lose enthusiasm for a while. Over the course of the year I had to take a two pronged approach to managing this. Firstly to avoid burning out I write a list of the things I want to achieve each month, and I try to make this realistic and add a list of bonus extras. That way I won’t be putting silly pressure on myself to accomplish completely unrealistic things. However I also have a big piece of paper on the wall where I write what I hope to achieve in the next few months with big fat Sharpie, and I cross these off as I do them. This helps me to focus on my bigger goals and remember when important deadlines are coming up. Sometimes this works. However some weeks I feel completely unmotivated and others I’m up working far too late. I’m just trying to learn from these mistakes and try to find ways to keep myself going, and accepting this will never be a perfect system! Also in the past I have motivated myself using fear of failure, which I think is ultimately a stressful and unhealthy way to run a business!

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-11-43-01

 

8. That sometimes I will want to give up

But of course, sometimes things have not gone at all well, and I have felt disappointed. Sometimes I have felt like I’ve worked SO hard and achieved very little. Sometimes I think my work is just rubbish and I feel embarrassed about it. Sometimes I think I should stop being such an idealist and get a ‘proper’ full-time job, and others I want to stop making art and dedicate myself to something less indulgent like becoming a humanitarian worker. I think these are all quite normal things to feel.

One way I’ve found to combat feeling awful when things go wrong is to keep a gratitude diary of all the genuinely touching responses I’ve got from people. I don’t mean every insincere thumbs up emoji or ‘Nice work’ comment on Instagram. I mean when someone tells you they have saved to buy a print, or commissioned a picture for a family member, or when someone you really respect gives you good feedback. It might seem a bit arrogant but it can help me out when the self-doubt about my work is crushing. I also find my Instagram feed is a good way of reminding myself how hard I have worked and how far I have come (obviously this needs to be used within reason, perhaps saved only for times of true art crisis!).

To combat my artist guilt I’ve looked for ways to raise money for charity with my work, or donated pieces to charity auctions. I find that teaching and sharing online tutorials are wonderful ways to share my passion for art with people, and I also try to use my skills and volunteer for local art events. I am also trying to make work that has meaning, and for me this is building up to using my art to educate about ecological concerns. Is this as good as being an aid worker? No. But as an artist with a small child it helps me to feel like I’m contributing to a wider cause and navigate the difficult ethical path this presents.

Finally I have tried to remember why I make art. For me this is so many things, but ultimately making art feeds me. It is so important to me that without it I feel a huge loss. So although the business side of it all – with its inevitable dance of successes and failures – may get me down sometimes it’s something I have to do to enable me to keep on making art as a major part of my life.

sip_spiny-starfish_16

9. That I don’t need to prove anything to anyone but myself

So this concludes my post, and I’m going to leave you with my biggest lesson. That I do not have to prove anything to anyone but myself. No one really cares if you don’t post on social media for ages. I don’t think I have to ‘win’ at being an artist and manage to make my living out of it completely. Actually, I know the likelihood is that will never happen. One day I might just feel like I am done with Stories In Paper and I really want to do something else (marine biology is a big contender for my attention these days). And that is ok. Because I’ve realised as an artist, as a person, you have every right to grow, change and move on. All I want is to know that I tried, that I enjoyed it and that I didn’t hurt others along the way. So that is what motivates me into the second year of Stories In Paper, because it will definitely have it’s challenges but it might also be really good too.

Shadow puppet theatre book

As it’s Halloween I thought today I’d share this tutorial on how to make a shadow puppet theatre book from my old blog as it might bring someone else some joy!

Throughout my different ‘phases’ as an artist (of which there have been a fair few!) I have always made little theatres and ‘rooms-in-a-box’. Something about making a tiny world to tell stories in makes me really happy. This small paper theatre isn’t too complicated in its construction, and it allows you to create changeable background layers so you can make as many different stories as you like. Its based on a theatre book design, and inspired by Victorian paper theatres or toy theatres.

Please decide for yourself if your child is old enough for the activity and supervise them while creating. I just enjoy sharing creative ideas for people of all ages 🙂

shadow-theatre-materials

To begin, fold a piece of A3 card in half horizontally.

shadow_theatre_01w

Draw half of your theatre front shape on to this. You are going to cut this window of card put to make a symmetrical shape, so remember to put it against the folded edge. I made mine with the curves of traditional theatre curtains.

shadow_theatre_02w

Cut out the aperture (window) and open it up to reveal your theatre front!

shadow_theatre_03w

shadow_theatre_04w

Make sure you are using the rough side (the side where you can see your pen marks). Measure a piece of tracing paper or clear baking paper so it covers the window and leaves plenty around the edge. Glue this with a glue stick, and then add cellotape to hold it in place.

shadow_theatre_05wshadow_theatre_06w

Now repeat these steps several more times, but cut your window as a plain rectangle instead of a curtain shape. Attach the tracing paper. These will be the backdrop layers you slide in to make your set 3D, and the back of your theatre and will create that lovely spooky effect.

shadow_theatre_07wshadow_theatre_08w

To make the concertinas for the sides, take two pieces of A3 card. Fold using the instructions below as a guide. When finished you should have two identical zig zags of card.

folding01folding03folding04folding05

folding06

folding07folding08folding09folding10

After all that boring folding you get to do the fun bit and decorate the front of your theatre as you please! I attached another piece to the top of my theatre to give it a better shape. I wrote ‘Shadow Theatre’ and covered mine with a simple pattern in white pen.

shadow_theatre_09wshadow_theatre_11wshadow_theatre_10w

shadow_theatre_12w

Use a glue stick to attach the zig zag sides to the front. You want the first fold of the zig zag to be against the edge of the front frame, like the image below.

shadow_theatre_13wshadow_theatre_13aw

Glue the back panel on. Your theatre will now be freestanding, ready for backdrops!

shadow_theatre_14wshadow_theatre_15w

Create as many different backdrops as you like. You could cut shapes out of card, draw on to the tracing paper with pens or crayons, or stick coloured cellophane down with cellotape. Think about what will block the light and make a silhouette (card, paper, pen lines, sequines etc) and what will let the light through (cellophane, tissue paper, stamping holes with decorative hole punches for example). Note: depending on the opacity of your tracing paper the light may not shine brightly through all the layers, in which case only use one or two layers in each backdrop.

Note: scalpels are very sharp. They should only be used by adults and you should always use a cutting mat!

shadow_theatre_16w

Using some of the left over card, cut several thin strips of card, 2 inches longer then the height of your theatre. These are the sticks for your puppets. You fold the tops over so you can hook them on your theatre top while you are using other puppets. If you are going to use your puppets a lot it might be best to use something stronger. Very thick card like mount board or wooden dowels work well.

shadow-theatre-rods

Now make your puppets using the left over card from the middle of the frames, and attach to the sticks.

shadow-theatre-puppets

Shine a torch behind your screen, turn down the lights. get your audience comfy and start telling stories with your theatre!

shadow-theatre-07wshadow-theatre-show-01wshadow-theatre-show-05wshadow-theatre-show-04w

12 things I learnt from opening my Etsy shop

A few months ago I opened my first Etsy shop. I have never tried to sell my work through an e-commerce website, and I didn’t know very much about it. So I thought it might be helpful to other artists or makers if I wrote about the 12 things I learnt from opening my Etsy shop, in the hope that my lessons will save other people time!

Of course there are lots of other online e-commerce or market places you can use to sell you work, and I wasn’t sure if I should use Folksy instead. However, as I am just starting out I thought Etsy might be a good site to try first, as they have so many users and I was hoping I might find an audience for my work through this. For the sake of this article I’m going to talk about Etsy as that’s the platform I use, but I think you could apply most of these points to any other online shop platform.

So, once you’ve chosen which platform you want to use, signed up and finally settled on a shop name what next? I hope the 12 lessons I learnt from opening my Etsy shop below offer some help to make your own shop become a successful place to sell your work!

To research similar shops and sellers

I’m sure there are lots of people like me who know they want to open an Etsy shop, and so have spent time browsing all of the many wonderful products available, liked shops and items and assumed this is sufficient research. Etsy, like every market place, has its on conventions and I realised it’s best to try to research these without getting distracted and ending up shopping. I wrote a list of all the features I thought my shop would have, for example: papercuts, nature images, prints, cushions, greetings cards etc. Then I specifically looked these things up and under each heading made notes about the angles and settings of the photographs, and also the details of the products that the sellers had included in the descriptions. It wasn’t the most exciting activity, but I think it helped to make my shop seem informed and professional, and I’m sure this makes people feel more confident about spending their money! It also helped me see what I don’t want to do, which really helped to inform my next point.

 

IMG_9046

To use my Etsy shop to sell specific products at a certain price range

As I spent time looking at other papercutting artists on Etsy I realised that my work was quite different from many. There are LOTS of people on Etsy selling handmade papercuts at extremely low prices, which I just can’t afford to do. I also saw that there is a big trend for papercuts of a certain style, often featuring quotes or motifs. Now its not that I don’t respect these artists, but my work isn’t like this at all and it would be silly of me to try and fit into a trend that just doesn’t suit my style. I was also surprised at how little people were charging – for digital prints especially – and knew that I wouldn’t be able to make my time or money back if I did this. I thought about this, and came to a few decisions.

Firstly, I decided that I wouldn’t sell my original papercuts on Etsy because I know the price of my originals would seem too high in this setting and I would find it difficult to find customers. Therefore I decided instead to sell prints, cushions, bags, cards, notebooks and other products with my images or designs on through Etsy, and for now to sell my originals in exhibitions and galleries until I can set up a space on my website for original artworks. Secondly, I decided to sell my products at a price which meant I would make a bit of a profit! There is a whole post I could write about this, but simply I decided to price my products at a level that would reflect their quality, rather then trying to cut costs in the quality to appeal to a different audience. I may not make as many sales, but I am hoping that the people who see my art and love it will be happy to pay these prices to support my work if they can afford to.

 

Notebook styles

To use high quality images of my products

It becomes clear when looking at Etsy that high quality, clear images are extremely important. This is something I am still working on myself with the money and resources I have available. Ideally I would like to get a professional photographer to photograph my products for me, but at this early stage in my business it’s not something I can afford.

Instead I use my digital camera which is not the best as it’s quite old. However I use a high quality image setting (at least ‘L’ (large) or ‘RAW’), and then photograph using the ‘Manual’ setting so I can control the white balance, f-stop, shutter speed and focus. I also try to use natural light, but as this isn’t always possible in gloomy Cumbria I also have a cheap studio light with a daylight bulb and light diffusing cover which I have found extremely useful over the last few years. Sometimes I just also use my smartphone camera which I have found extremely useful for taking photos of products day to day.

Finally I edit the levels of my images with the open source image editor GIMP (again I’d love to use Photoshop but can’t afford the monthly package at the moment). I then export my images as a high quality .png, but will make these a smaller size and save them as a .jpeg for uploading to Etsy.

I’m not a photography expert, but if you’d like to know more you can learn more about all of these things easily through online tutorials – that’s what I did! As I said, my images aren’t the best and I could still improve my lighting consistency and colour levels, however hopefully for now they will do and will appeal to customers rather then put them off!

 

Etsy print test 01

To ‘style’ the images of my products

If you are buying something online what would you want to know? I would like to know what is looks like obviously, but also how big it is, if it’s a bag or cushions how it opens and closes, if it’s a notebook what the paper is like inside. Therefore when I took images for my Etsy shop I made sure I thought about these things and used a variety of angles. However, what else might you be wondering? Maybe, will this work in my house? How big will that print actually look when I’ve framed it? I’m not very comfortable with the term, but I do think ‘styling’ the products in my photographs is a really good way of answering those questions for the people who visit my shop.

It took me some trial and error with all of this to find a way of styling my photos that I felt comfortable with. I wanted my work to be accessible to people with different tastes, so I decided that bright natural lighting, a light background and simple set ups were important. I also chose to use plants in many of my images as I love houseplants, and they represent a lot to me about how inspired I am by nature in my work and my life. Finally I found that if I chose a few of my favourite objects like ceramic plant pots and vases that I’ve picked up charity shops or the blankets from my sofa, they worked well with my images because – of course – I really like them and everything I choose to live with or make has a similar ‘feel’ to it. A cheap and easy answer to the problem!

 

IMG_7399

To set up a business bank account

I know this is a bit of a boring one, but I realised if you are setting up a business where you want an online shop you really need a business bank account. Not only is it useful for your taxes, but it makes it so much easier to track your business incomings and outgoings. Etsy will also ask for an account to take their fees from and to put money into each month from your sales, so it’s best to do this bit first. This sounds easy but it took me ages to decide which bank I wanted to set my business account up with, and get round to arranging it all. Eventually I chose a bank that had a branch in my town so I could easily get out floats and pay cash in from fairs and stalls. I had to go to a meeting with the business advisor to set it all up, but I preferred this to just setting something up online as I got to ask questions (I always have lots of questions!). One tip, when they send you all the information about setting up your online banking do it immediately! I got really confused as I just chucked everything in a pile, and then it was a bit of a headache when I tried to set it all up properly so I could start using my card and taking payments online. It wasn’t hard to solve, but being organised from the beginning would have saved me time I could have spent making art.

 

Blackbird in Blackberries scene small

To title and tag my products correctly

As I said earlier, Etsy has a very specific system (or algorithm) for searching their database of products and shops. Unfortunately with Etsy it seems to be much like Ebay – the main search is conducted by title relevancy. When I first set up my shop I wanted it to be simple and classy, so I just titled my images with their names. But this won’t help anyone to find your shop, and if you want to find customers through Etsy’s huge number of users (one of the main reasons I chose it) then you have title your work well. For example, when I titled  my prints their actual names such as ‘Blackbird in Blackberries’ people would probably have only found my work if they had typed in ‘Blackbird’ or ‘Blackberries’ or ‘Blackbird blackberries’. Which is a bit weird and unlikely. Now that it is titled ‘Bird papercut – Blackbird in Blackberries – print from an original handmade art work‘ it doesn’t sound or look so nice, but it is much more likely Etsy’s algorithm will find it.

However, Etsy also allows you up to 13 tags to use with each listing. A ‘tag’ is a word or short phrase that describes your item, so it opens up the things that people might be looking for. These are really important, but I didn’t use them for a long time because I saw them as an unnecessary extra and a bit too crass. Now I know that tags are a tool to help people find your shop and buy your things which, let’s be honest, is the whole point in putting all that work into setting up your shop! Since I’ve made these changes the number of people who find my shop through Etsy every day has risen significantly. You can read more about how titles and tags work on Etsy here.

 

To have lots of ways to share my shop

Of course I knew early on that you can’t just rely on Etsy or any other online marketplace to get all your sales for you. Another good way to get people to visit your online shop is by sharing your work, your inspirations and your daily practice with them through social media, online and in person. For Stories In Paper I have an artist’s Facebook page, an Instagram page, a Google+ account and a Pinterest account where I share my work. I also have a blog (this one) and a website. I have a mailing list who I email regularly with updates and offers when I run them too. To encourage people to visit my shop I often offer discount codes, sales, and give away items in competitions or offers. It all takes a lot of time, but without these things even the people that know and like my work would forget to visit and see what’s new. It’s really not easy either, it can feel a bit arrogant or pushy constantly self promoting, or sometimes I’ll work hard in publicising an offer and get no response. But I do now think it’s essential to remind people (nicely and without the hard sell) that your shop is still there.

Finally I have business cards and postcards with my Etsy shop web address on that I take to every show or fair, as people may not buy something at that moment but they might pop back another time if they know where to go. I carry these everywhere in my wallet by the way, because I can’t count the number of times people have asked and I’ve had to scribble my email address or website on a piece of paper which I’m certain they are more likely to lose or forget. All of these things have finally begin to result in sales from my shop by people I don’t know, and I can promise you this is very exciting indeed.

 

To only sell products I feel confident about

I am quite a perfectionist, so it took me a while to get my prints, cards and other products printed exactly as I wanted them, and I am forever making changes to improve them. A big part of this this is that I know if I were to sell anything I thought was less then perfect it would make me really worried the customer would think this too! If you are taking people’s money and sending them something, you need to have confidence in it as they haven’t been able to look at it in a shop setting and make the choice themselves. I know we are all shopping online a lot these days, but I feel like the people who buy things from me have placed a great deal of trust in me and I don’t want to let them down. It’s a lot easier to ask for another set of proofs then it is to worry someone won’t be happy with the birthday present they ordered from you I think!

 

IMG_7419
To accept I would need to spend money to get started

In some ways I was quite naive at the beginning of this venture, and I saw using an e-commerce website as a wonderful free way to sell my work. What I’ve now learnt is that any kind of business will require you spending money to get started (I find it less stressful to look at it as ‘investing’). With Etsy there are very low initial costs – you just get charged $0.20 USD for each item which you have to renew every 4 months, and they take 3.5% of the selling price. However, I wanted to sell a range of professionally printed products with different images on them. This meant buying at least 3 of each print, getting bags and cushions made and shipped, and getting a batch of 200 greetings cards printed. None of this was free, and because I only got things done in small batches due to my income it wasn’t particularly cost effective.

You also need to package your items, so you need to include the costs of buying plastic envelopes, printing thank you cards and business cards, and the costs of any other packaging like information sheets or print edition certificates. Finally there was the cost of backboard for prints, envelopes for cards, and essential packaging items like padded envelopes, labels and tape. In total setting up my stock for my Etsy shop cost me about £500, which I was happy with as I also needed these products for art fairs and exhibitions. A cheaper way to get started might be to print your own digital prints, but a professional printer and inks is also very expensive, so you would be best getting them done this way if you knew of a local printer who would do them for you on demand.

 

Wren print image

To package and present my products in a way that looked professional

I know this sounds quite easy, but it took me quite a lot of work to make sure I had packaged my prints and other items in a way that looked somewhat professional. For example, presenting a print sounds like very simple task, but I had to spend some time looking at other artists prints to feel confident about my own. Each print is packed backed onto a piece of archival quality mountboard, and I also include a printed information sheet explaining the quality of the print, and thanking the person for supporting my work. Each print is hand titled, signed and numbered. Once everything is put together it goes into a cellophane display bag with a self sealing tab. It takes a certain leap of faith to order the minimum 100 or so cellophane display bags you have to buy together, but compared to wrapping each print in cellophane sheets it will save so much time. There aren’t many other ways of presenting a print to keep it clean and in perfect condition, but if you are worried about the environment like me you can get bio-film and polypropylene clear display bags to present your cards and prints in which are supposed to be biodegradable. I then pack the print between two pieces of card in a padded envelope so it doesn’t get damaged, and include a handwritten thank you card. Finally I print each address and add this to the envelope with a ‘Please Do Not Bend’ label and a Stories In Paper sticker.

 

IMG_8510

To leave time to package and post orders

Another learning curve for me was the realisation that it actually takes quite a lot of time to prepare all of these items ready for shipping and to take them to the post office. One of the answers I’ve found is to allot a few hours to prepare and pack prints and cards at once (putting on music helps to stop it from seeming like a boring task!). I think though that there are so many other places that people can easily buy mass-produced objects which don’t support makers that it is important to be prepared to make a little bit of extra effort if someone wants something packaged in a certain way. I’m always more then happy to do this, as I really appreciate people supporting my work and a little bit more effort won’t take too much of my time up. Ideally what I would love to do is develop all my packaging and thank you cards so they are hand printed, but it isn’t something I’ve had the time to do just yet. Like everything, I’ve realised these things only become really stressful if I don’t leave myself time to do them, but you have some control over this as Etsy does let you define how long you need for shipping and you can set it to ‘Vacation Mode’  if you need a break for a few days.

 

Postcard set 02

To be patient!

I didn’t expect my shop to take 5 minutes to set up, but I was surprised by how much time it has taken to make the products, order them, photograph them, style them, list them and promote them! And I didn’t think I’d be making huge sales within a week, but it has taken a while for people to slowly start finding my shop and this has involved a lot of time and effort on my part to publicise and share it. So I guess the biggest lesson I have learnt is that it’s essential to be patient, and to have other sources of income as relying on your new Etsy shop to help you pay the bills immediately is going to cause worry and frustration. I now understand that a part of every business is just putting the work in and waiting for this to ‘pay off’ financially. But I have really enjoyed setting up my Etsy shop and I love making my art, so in that sense I don’t feel I can really lose.

I hope that has been helpful to some of you, and if you have any questions or other useful suggestions please feel free to share them in the comments below. Thank you for reading!

August’s free starfish colouring page

Once again I’m happy to share my free colouring page for you to download and use! This month I’ve made an image of a rock pool, with a starfish at the centre.

Aug colouring page 03

Recently my work has become more and more focused on sea creatures and marine life. I am amazed at the diversity of life in the sea, and I recently discovered that round 70% of the earth’s surface is covered in oceans, and it is thought that up to 94% of life on our planet is found here. A little bit closer to home I’ve spent this summer researching the marine life near me by visiting the Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s events, and learning everything I can about life in the Irish Sea.

Screen shot 2016-08-14 at 15.24.22

 

Therefore this month I decided to make a drawing of a rock pool, featuring a common starfish, sea anemones and seaweeds. A few facts about starfish: they are actually called sea stars, and are not a fish but an Echinoderm. There are around 1500 species of starfish which live at all levels in the ocean. They don’t all have 5 arms, for example the sun star has up to 40 arms, and if they lose a limb it regenerates (although please don’t test this out as that would be terrible!). Finally they don’t swim but ‘walk’ on the hundreds of tiny tubes underneath their body. Basically they are awesome.

August colouring in page Starfish

As always you can download this page HERE for free for a month until September 15th, and then it’ll be replaced with something new. If you would like to share your finished page please use the hashtag #storiesinpapercolours so I can see it too!

Aug colouring page 04

Happy colouring!

15% off my Etsy shop this week

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Summer sale 16 promo image

I’m going to add lots of new things to my Etsy shop next week, so I’ve reduced all of my prints to £20, and just because it’s summer I’m also offering an extra 15% off until Saturday 13th August*. All you have to do is enter the coupon code ‘SUMMERSALE16’. Have a great end of summer!

* Please note the offer doesn’t apply to commissions.

9 lessons I learnt from doing my first art fair

At the end of July I took the exciting step of having a stand at an art fair. The thought of art fairs has always been a bit scary to me – having to pay money for a stand with no guarantee of making it back, and even worse having to stand in front of your work all weekend and watch people looking at it or hearing what they think about it…pretty frightening in my book. Now I’m not exactly a stranger to art fairs and their ways as for about 5 years I was on the committee of the British printmaking festival Printfest, and had visited many others. So this year I decided to go for it, and worked on the basis that no matter what happened I would learn something. And indeed I did. So here are my 9 lessons I learnt from doing my first art fair.

1. To make a stand that catches people’s eye

art_fair_01a

So the art fair I went to was a lovely place, full of kind and friendly artists. Art fairs are a great place to build your network, I had lots of interesting conversations and found out so much useful information. However, it would be naive of me not to acknowledge that at it’s most basic an art fair is a market place. You’ve not only invested time and money into creating your work, but you have the costs of the stand, travel and any other products you’ve had printed or made for the event. And everyone is in the same boat, all 40 of you. Rather then feel competitive, the best thing you can do is try to make your stand catch people’s eye.

For me that meant first looking at how my stand related to the rest of the room, and making sure that my strongest pictures were directly in the line of sight from the doorway. I chose to have a primarily blue colour palette for the work and products I was selling (and because I’m really into blue at the moment). I also decided only to exhibit original artworks in a similar style and the same medium. While I understand the argument that by having lots of styles or subjects on offer as you may appeal to more people, I am in the early stages on building up my business and I wanted my stand to have a clear, coherent message about my work.

I realised props can also make a big difference to how easily people can see things from afar. I used a picture shelf to display my postcards so they were visible before you reached my stand, and also propped an example of each of my greetings cards up rather then having them flat on the table. I used a small shelving unit to present a few of each of my products like my cushions, notebooks and bags, and kept the rest in the storage room to avoid my little stand seeming overcluttered. Finally I brought in a high stool – like a breakfast bar chair – to use as my seat. This was really good as it had space to store my till box underneath. Also when sitting I was at the level of the customers rather then really low down, and when standing I could use it as a little table. I will definitely be taking it again next time.

Next time I’ll probably take a slightly different approach and make sure I utilise every bit of the wall space available as this is precious. I’ll also bring a lot more original work then I need but plan it so various things are the same sizes, as I spent a lot of time panicking about how rubbish my carefully designed stand would look if I sold something!

2. To display contact information clearly

I think that having a stand at an art fair is valuable in several ways. One of course is to sell your work. But since I knew this is often quite difficult, I wanted to view having my stand as primarily about finding people who might be interested in my work. Many art fairs will have a sign with your name on, but I think one of the best things you can do I think is to bring your own with your name (or the name of your company) and your website on it. Have business cards on hand to give out, but also have your contact details clearly displayed somewhere as well. I didn’t do this and regretted it, as I can easily remember the websites on the two people opposite, who printed them in a big font and displayed them under their name. Another thing I wish I had done was to make something to go along with this information describing my medium as ‘Handmade papercuts’. It would have saved me having to tell so many people that they were made by hand and not by a laser-cutter!

3. To offer a variety of different publicity materials

art_fair_03

If you imagine that your stand is a chance to meet and talk to people directly about your work, you realise what a brilliant publicity opportunity it is. So many other ways to passively promote your work to the world like Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites may only catch someone’s attention for a second, whereas at a fair you can talk to people for 10 minutes about your work and what you do! When you have a small stand it can feel a bit frustrating if someone talks to you for ages and then walks away empty handed, but then all you need to do is make sure they have something in their hand – your card! The way I see it, they may not have bought your work this time, but they might put your card up and one day they might end up getting back in touch with you again. For this art fair I made a new set of square business cards at Moo.com, which I loved because you can print lots of different designs at the same time. This doesn’t only give people a chance to pick their favourite, but it also gave me an indication of what was more popular. I also had a free promotional postcard left over from my last exhibition, and a small framed biography which included my website address. Finally, I had a mailing list form that people could sign up to, and I encouraged them to do so by offering a free print in a prize draw if they joined my mailing list. Before the fair opened I had a twinge of worry it was all a bit too self-promotional, but so many people walked away with my business card over the weekend I feel I did the right thing.

4. To prepare my presentation

I spend so much time thinking and talking about my work it didn’t even occur to me that it might be sensible to prepare what I would say to people! But as the weekend went on I realised that I only got a few valuable minutes of people’s time, and that I should use it well. I guess at the beginning I was probably seemed enthusiastic but also slightly insecure or hesitant for fear of seeming arrogant. However I realised that although I wanted to be genuine and myself, it was also important to get across the points I wanted to make about my art, and to do that with confidence. Really you’re giving a hundred little presentations in all those friendly conversations, and in another context I’d never go to a presentation without preparing it.

Next time I’ll just write a list of main things I think are important to share about what inspires me, my technique and what I hope to do next. I’d also jot down some questions I could ask people as conversation starters such as ‘Do you make art?’, ‘What’s your favourite medium?’, or ‘Have you worked with papercutting before?’, as often people will wait for you to speak first and then happily engage in conversation with you (of course, if they seem like they don’t want to talk and just want to look then quickly and politely retreat!)

This may all seem horrible and contrived, but I have to remind myself that these are techniques I used with teaching at the beginning to help me stay focused on what I needed to achieve with the lesson/ workshop while also being friendly and avoiding awkwardness. The more you do it the easier it becomes until it’s a natural process, I am just much more shy and awkward about my papercutting then I was about making giant puppets!

5. To help people to visualise my working process

I think helping people to visualise your working process is really important, especially if you work in a medium that people tend to be less familiar with. Some of the visitors to my stand had never seen a papercut before, and I got a lot of questions about whether I had made them on a laser-cutter. I brought in a half finished papercut, and this was useful but obviously it wasn’t the environment to bring in a surgical scalpel and show people my art in action.

In future I think I’ll make a timelapse video of myself creating a papercut, and have that displayed on an i-pad (or something similar that I can afford to buy!) If you don’t have the budget or feel comfortable using digital technology you could always just photograph your process in stages and print this out to use in your display. It really helps to have something to refer to when describing how you make your work, and I can imagine it could be used for printmaking and lots of crafts too.

6. To look for opportunities to promote other things I do

People may not leave with one of your pictures off the wall, but I tried to think of all the things I could do to promote the other areas of my work such as my Etsy shop and teaching. I noticed that lots of people are interested in papercutting as an art form they would like to try themselves, so I made sure I’d organised a date and venue for a papercutting workshop before the fair. I handed out flyers for this on my stand, and I had lots of people take them. Obviously this only works if the fair is local to you, but you could always have a blog with tutorials or  even offer online courses that people can sign up to from anywhere!

7. To connect with other artists

It can be such a hectic, busy experience doing an art fair, and you might find you are stuck to your stand all weekend. However, it’s such a great opportunity to meet other artists and learn about collectives and opportunities, as well as just make new friends. I didn’t plan this at all, so in the end my friend was kind enough to man my stand for a bit so I could see what else was on display. Next time I’ll ask someone to cover me for at least half an hour each day (obviously I’ll repay them in favours and cake) – but it lets you meet the other artists and sit down and have a lunch break (really important!). I had other artists add me on Facebook after the fair, and I made sure to added their Facebook pages and instagram account too.

8. To document my display

If like me you are sharing your experiences on social media and through blogging then it’s really important to document your display well. I was feeling tired after the set up (mostly due to going to bed at 3am!) and I was too busy during open hours, so I only remembered to take a photo or two. I really regret this, as I wish I had taken a series of images from lots of different angles that I could have used on my website and this post. It’s also really good as a reminder of how you set things up that you can then refer to next time. Also it’s really hard if you are a bit camera shy like me, but it’s a good idea to get someone to take some photos of you with your work…luckily my friend did that for me because I didn’t think about this at all (big thank you to Kate Kirkwood for these photos!)

9. To see it as an investment into my business

Ellie_Kendalarts_Exhib_2569s

I’ve sort of already said this, but once I stopped worrying about selling work and started seeing it as an investment into publicising my work and getting it out there, I felt like I couldn’t really lose. Obviously art fairs are expensive, so I would recommend researching the fair before you apply and ideally trying to visit beforehand to make sure its appropriate to your work. It could be disheartening and make you lose confidence in what you’re doing if the audience just isn’t right for your work, and no one wants to lose money. But as this was my first art fair I felt like the learning experience and the chance to show people my work was the most valuable aspect of the weekend.

Phew, that was a long post. I hope it was useful to some of you are who are considering doing your first art fair, and if you have any other suggestions please leave them in the comments below. Good luck!

July’s free colouring page

So on the other side of moving house, here finally is July’s free colouring page (and technically also June’s because I didn’t manage to do one.)

Recently I have been exploring a sea creature theme in my papercutting, which I am absolutely loving. I feel like there is an endless amount of beautiful creatures to discover. This month I have drawn a jellyfish for the colouring page, which I hope you enjoy colouring as much as I enjoyed drawing it! You can download it HERE until the 15th of August.

June colouring page jellyfish

July 2016 colouring page 04July 2016 colouring page 02July 2016 colouring page 03

I’ll be replacing this with a new colouring page on the 15th of August, and this month I will make sure I do (no excuses like moving house this month!).

As always if you do use the colouring page and would like to share it, please put it on instagram using the hashtag #storiesinpapercolours so I can see it too.

I hope you enjoy it!