Contributor post by Elizabeth of CottageCraftsOnline
I’m 54, born raised and living in Rhode Island, and I am an artist. I’m also mentally ill. These four things define and make up my identity. I reference my mental illness because it’s important to me that I try at least a little bit to get past the bad vibes that those two little words often give off. For much of my life my creative work revolved around writing, as I did a lot of freelance work for local media and also attempted to write fiction – not very successfully. I’d always been interested in art and, while in college, was encouraged to pursue it by a professor. I put it aside until my 40’s when doing art became a form of therapy to get me through some hard times. Now I’m happy to say that I have an Etsy shop where I can sell my work, have shown my work in exhibitions, and even had a solo show in a Rhode Island government building. I cannot imagine my life without art.
One last little fact otherwise I will be in big trouble – I am owned by two cats who work as shop assistants. They often decide my working hours, but Maggie and Junior are a big part of my life and I think I can tolerate their ‘assistance.’
When did you open your business and what make you decide to do so?
I joined Etsy in 2008 as a buyer. Two years later I thought it’d be fun to open a shop and sell some of my work, but I wasn’t ready for it, or knowledgeable. My health was also causing difficulty. It wasn’t until I had my 2012 solo show, when people asked me if I sold my work on Etsy, that I realized that perhaps I should go back to Etsy and start selling my work. I started slowly and built up my shop to the point of having over 300 items – and I’m always revisiting the items to make sure they’re still relevant and interesting – I’m not afraid to remove items. I’m always delighted (and surprised a little) when someone likes something of mine enough to buy it and I always hope that my items go to good homes. Basically, since I am going to be creating art no matter what, I need a place to sell what I make. Etsy has been a good place for me to do that.
Tell us a bit about your products.
I primarily sell greeting cards and gift items. The gift items mainly are magnets, mini canvases and some other things. I’m going to be offering ornaments soon, and have contemplated other items. I have wanted to sell my larger work on Etsy but that’s something still under consideration.
My work is vintage style in the sense that I use original and reproductions of vintage ephemera and images, such as Victorian scrap, old photos, old newspapers, magazines, and other material to create a character that I connect with, and hope others do as well. I’m happy to hear when someone who purchased or received one of my items is totally delighted, and I love hearing that a card I made has been framed as a permanent keepsake.
The characters I create may look like they’ve come from the past but they are living very much in the present and often have strong opinions and desires. My job is to be their muse. Not to be pretentious about it, of course.
What inspires your work?
HUMOR! POP CULTURE! The Kardashians. Seriously. I am fascinated by pop culture and many of my pieces reflect that fascination. I was lucky enough to have my little Kardashian magnet featured in E! Online’s “Kardashian Fan Christmas Gift List” last December and I have no clue how that happened. As a child of the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s, a lot of my references go back to that period but I’m also very interested in what’s happening today. I’m inspired by music, film, and reality TV, geeky things, and Monty Python (though sadly Python doesn’t show up in my work). One thing I have to be careful of is to try to make things relevant across generations, and that’s hard for a 50-ish sort of person to do sometimes. I also have to be careful that my inspirations don’t come just from what interests me. At the same time (though people have said I should), I don’t want to be trendy just for trendiness’ sake. So as much as I want to make fun of, say, twerking I think not.
What are your future goals for the business this year? What is your dream for this business?
I would love to make more sales, doesn’t everyone though? I’d like to make a profit. But I doubt that’s going to happen any time soon. As I said earlier, I’m doing the art work as therapy and selling is a bonus.
My goals are realistic. I know I make a specialty project that really is for a particularly narrow audience. I call my audience Shabby Chic Culture Nerds. Or Shabby Chic with a twist. My work may look pretty and all that, but there’s usually a punch line somewhere. So, I know most people will not appreciate what I do.
I had a professional review my shop and while she made a number of good suggestions, she pushed me to be much more trendy and to include more products that didn’t ring true to me – at this time. Since almost everything I sell on Etsy is handmade (I have a few manufactured items from my designs), it has to make sense. I have to be able to make and sell a quality product. It also has to be cost effective to a degree, including the time it takes to make it and being able to price the item reasonably. For example it makes no sense to try to sell a handmade calendar for the $30 it costs to make it (I make them for Christmas gifts and people have urged me to sell them).
This year I’d like to introduce some new products, and one of them is about to make its debut. There are other products I’m thinking about – watch my shop for them (lol). I’m planning to include more gay/lesbian themed items as I find there’s a market for the type of card/art I make from gays and lesbians. I see it in my stats and also sales, both on and off Etsy. Not everyone wants modern.
My dream? Honestly? To sell products that make people smile and even laugh. Sure, I’d like to make a lot of money doing it, but my real desire is to make people laugh. And I know that’s happening.
What makes your business stand out from businesses that sell similar products?
I think the wit that imbues it. There are lots of vintage style art products out there. I just recently tried to help a seller revamp her descriptions and tags who does work sort of like mine. But it doesn’t do what I do.
My greeting cards use dry wit to make a point about pop culture that I don’t think many other artists do. I made the mistake years ago of finding quotes and sayings on the internet and using them – then I realized that everyone else was using them. And they were boring ME. I don’t want to rely on canned inspirational sayings in my work, even though I know there’s a big market for it. I want to make sure that I use humor that’s semi-original (because there really isn’t anything original in culture), and that it comes from ME, even if I’m referencing something I saw or heard in the media.
That’s where I think I’m different. I think I’m also different from a designer who does work that’s based on 50’s graphics and over the top humor in that I may poke fun at things but it’s gentler and not so obvious. I won’t do bawdy humor, I won’t use profanity, and I refuse to use my art to make religious or political statements, though people have suggested I do so. Originally I used a lot more ambiguous statements in my work but not too many people other than myself found that funny so I’ve eased off from doing that.
What I think really makes my particular style of product different from similar products on Etsy is that it’s all, for the most part, handmade, one by one. Not a moneymaker but it’s satisfying.
Tell us a bit about your work space. Do you have a separate studio?
I wish. I should have said that that was my dream. I live in a 2 1/2 room apartment in an apartment complex for the elderly and disabled. My apartment is my studio. I have work stations throughout the department but though I would like to keep them for specific tasks, I find that projects move around from station to station and that I might work on a collage on canvas while sitting on the couch with a cat on my lap. It’s a flexible space, stuffed with art supplies, and I have to work hard to convince the building’s inspector that I’m not a hoarder (though most artists are hoarders of one sort or another). Things are organized so that I can find them (50% of the time), and there are times when I’ll rediscover something I put in a very safe place (so that I couldn’t find it). It’s cramped, but it’s what I have and so I work with it.
What have you learned since opening your business that you wish you had known before hand?
I’ve learned to not try to be deliberately trendy but to chart my own course even if it’s not the most popular course I can follow. I’ve learned to be sparingly influenced by all the online marketing and e-commerce advice out there. Most of it’s right – for a moment – but not necessarily lasting. Just because a guru says it doesn’t make it true – for me. I’ve learned to measure the time I spend promoting my work and not to go crazy using promotion threads on teams. And I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how many FB and Twitter followers you have if they don’t read what you post.
Any advice for those thinking about selling on Etsy?
Some of my advice is going to be tough and maybe mean.
Be prepared to not sell something on the first day you open your shop.
Research your product and make sure you price it high enough to show that you think it’s a quality product (something which I’m still learning) worth the money someone spends to buy it.
Invest in quality materials to make your product.
Try to be different – don’t sell the same baby hats and diaper covers, the same scarves and hats, the same cheap jewelry, as other people do.
If you’re pitching your wares to everybody, you’re wrong – you need to determine who you think wants your product and it’s not everybody.
And just because someone says you should sell on Etsy doesn’t mean you should. If you’re only making the same thing everybody else is, using the same materials, and selling it at the same price, you’re better off not investing the amount of time you need to spend to make it even a mini-viable business. Stick with craft fairs in church basements and VFW halls. I’ve actually given this advice to people who have asked me (including the daughter of one of my best friends who makes lovely little crocheted animals but I know she would have a hard time managing a business).
You’ve got to determine your audience, you’ve got to be prepared to make something that’s not seen all the time in search results, and you’ve got to be sure you know everything you need to know about your product to be able to write interesting descriptions and be able to market it appropriately. Again, it’s not everywhere. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Etsy did a great article recently about how to determine your social media personality. I’m still figuring it out.
But most important, if you open a shop on Etsy it’s got to be to sell something you’re passionate about. Something you’re thinking about most of the time. And you’ve got to invest time, lots of time, to make it happen.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do to unwind and have fun? Do you have any hobbies?
Well, art is my hobby and my job.
I’m passionate about music. People are always surprised to find out the breadth and depth of my musical interests. I’m not a musician – that train passed by long ago. But I listen to everything from Medieval chant to 20’s/30’s British jazz to disco (something my older brother wishes I wouldn’t) to bluegrass gospel to ‘normal’ classical music and the like. I won’t listen to hip hop or rap, and much of today’s music bores me. And I’m discovering new music all the time. My best job ever was working for a rock radio station back in the 80’s.
Part of my disability makes it difficult to enjoy reading, which is a real loss in my life. When I can read, I love British mysteries, Shakespeare, books about pop culture, and yes I love to read dictionaries and encyclopedias. And history. I am an unrepentant holder of B.A’s in English and History, and an M.A. in American Studies, so you can see where my interests come from.
I love crossword puzzles and Scrabble. I dabble in doing New York Times crosswords but the Wednesday puzzles are the hardest I can do successfully.
I love walking and biking.
And playing with the brats, I mean cats.
Where can people find out more about your business?
My Etsy shop – www.etsy.com/shop/rhodyart. I also have an FB page at facebook.com/rhodyart which is where you can find me posting things about art and sometimes history that interests me. I have a Pinterest account that I try to keep updated – pinterest.com/rhodyart. I’m also starting to sell things on Fine Art America http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/lin-collette.html.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Motto: “Accept, Adapt, Adjust”
Quote: My favorite quote of all kind is from the novel “Dune”
“Fear is the mindkiller.” I just wish I could remember to remember that when I’m fearful of stretching myself in my art
I think you’re probably tired of my forthrightness, and I tend to go on and on. I like to talk as you can guess lol.
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