Category: The Business of Art

Book Club: Artist As Brand Part 8 – My Website

My reading of Greg Spalenka’s Artist As Brand continues with section VIII. What Makes a Great Website/Blog.

I found the book for a great deal on the Nook.
Or you can buy it via my Amazon referral link
and give me a little kickback!
You can also buy direct from the author!

Blog vs Website

Section VIII talks about what makes an interesting website and blog.  I love the allusion to a website as your studio while your blog is a conversation and is more interactive.  That immediately puts into perspective how a website should reflect your style while a blog can be more conversational and more casual.

For those who don’t have much experience designing a website, this section has great tips on suggested sections (ie. About, Contact, Press, Newsletter sign up, etc.) and exactly why you’d need them.

Newsletter Strategies

Spalenka also presents great suggestions for writing newsletters. I always have a hard time figuring out what’s relevant and have had a problem having enough art to show (since my attentions/products were so split up).  My newsletter has gone quiet while I build up enough of a buffer of a new consistent body of work to talk about.

Example of Online Brand (from My Own Experience):

Shadowscapes – The Art of Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law immediately sprang to mind for me while I was reading.  She has a fantastic online brand identity and social media/website presentation. She must be have partnered with conversion rate optimization services to get more attention from people. Most impressively, she built most of this herself from the ground up, having been a computer science wiz before she became an artist.

Stephanie has a centralized shop on her site and I can always tell I’m on Stephanie’s sites when I see her dreamlike Celtic knotwork, watercolor textures, and soft color palette.  Her newsletter also has a similar feel and updates her fans on upcoming events, new art, new tutorials, and a monthly giveaway which all feels relevant and cohesive to her brand identity.

My Homework

These sections definitely got me thinking about how I want my Angelic Shades and The Fantasy Art of Angela R. Sasser sites to be different.

Angelic Shades Studio – Should be a vintage inspired theme with Art Nouveau flow and flourish.  Soft pale colors (blue, purple, light grey, and white).

Store should serve fine art buyers and my target audience (ie. fancy mats and framed art, postcards, greeting cards, etc.).

The Fantasy Art of Angela of Sasser – Should be elegant and sleek with just enough flourish to not make it too stark.  Black, white, or neutral with accent colors.  Words and images blended together to reflect my love of characters, stories, and narrative images.

Store should serve book lovers, gamers, and character fans. (ie. journals, bookmarks, playmats, dice bags, themed sketchbooks/storybooks, graphic novels, etc.).

Re-designing these sites with more of a specific identity in mind is definitely high up on my to-do list!

I’ve left out SO much concerning all the various resources Spalenka mentioned, so definitely go support Spalenka’s book/workshop if you are finding this blog series helpful!

Next Up: High Touch Venues – Conventions to Galleries

Artists and Health Issues

There has been a disturbing pattern emerging the longer I work a creative job, one I’m especially beginning to appreciate now that I’m in my second week of physical therapy for ‘repetitive shoulder stress’ and an ‘unstable shoulder joint’.  This occurrence after a year of ignoring shoulder aches and soreness was quite the wake up call for me.  The ability to use my arm is my livelihood and being incapacitated in any major fashion could be disastrous!  Luckily, my issue is only a moderate one which physical therapy is helping, but there is a bigger picture at work here.

Thinking back on things, I have gained about 15 pounds since I started working long hours at the computer and art desk.  I’ve had stretches of mental and physical fatigue caused by overworking, tight deadlines, and just being downright lonely.  Sometimes I’m so passionate and excited about my job, I just keep working and working without taking any breaks. Other times, I just can’t get motivated. There is no inspiration, and worse, I start to lose hope that this job is not worth the mental and physical pain it causes me.

I can’t help but feel much of the downturn in my overall health has come from a decrease in physical activity and social interaction.  I feel loads better this year now that I have made a concerted effort to change a few bad habits.  These are some of the things I’ve done that have helped to improve my health lately:

– Taking regular breaks. It’s so incredibly easy to just keep working and working in a job that you are so passionate about!  I learned the hard way if you don’t get up at least once an hour from the computer or art desk, you’re really doing damage to your neck, back, and shoulders.  Nowadays, I have to get up or damage my joint more.  I take a moment each hour to go and talk to whoever might be home, take a small walk around the yard, or to do a few Yoga stretches.  I find the Tree the Warrior, and the Cobra poses to be particularly helpful for my sore back and neck pains (and are pretty easy to do).

– Taking regular walks.  I don’t have a lot of time to run to the gym, so mainly I just take 30 minutes out of the morning and evening to go on walks.  There’s a gorgeous country road right near our house which I can walk on for this amount of time and never hit the end.  A plus side is the healthy population of hawks, squirrels, blue birds, owls, and wildlife that dart around me while I walk. It’s soothing for me to get away from the technology and meditate while I walk to the sound of nature.

– Visiting a gallery and being social.  Internet friends keep me sane, but getting out of the house once a week to visit the local gallery helps me to meet other real living, breathing people who I can talk to, who are generally just as interested in art as I am.  After long hours working alone, it sometimes feels like my life is passing me by while I’m toiling away trying to make a living at an unappreciated, underpaid job.  A coating of stoic disapproval starts to settle on me and I have to shake it off by getting OUT, or risk getting really demotivated for my work.  I’ve started attending local art organization meetings recently as well, which has been great for meeting other artists trying to make a business out of their artistic identity (we are not alone in our insanity!).

It’s also been nice gathering a group of friends on Skype once a month for a ‘drink and draw’ event.  There’s just something nice about being able to listen to people I don’t see often and draw random stuff.  Using Skype also leaves your hands free so you can talk instead of type to chat!  Great for actually getting art done at the same time.  This has been especially nice when I can’t afford to go to the local drink and draw because it takes gas and parking fees and, you know, finding a way to drive back later once I’ve sobered up.  Drinking in the comfort of one’s own home is (theoretically) safer.

– Working in a studio vs. working at home. Today was the first day of working at a small rental studio instead of at our house and I can already feel the productivity juices flowing! (Pics and video to come soon!)  The space is a modest $200 a month ($100 since I’m sharing with my mom).  Being there instead of at home has allowed me to focus solely on creative thought and the projects I have to work on, whereas at home, I am always compelled to clean the house (considering my workspace is my bedroom and office AND studio, it’s very easy to fall into chaos).  I also get distracted by what other family members are doing, or am around negative influences that don’t provide the encouraging and positive attitude I need to maintain my level of productivity.

Another perk of the studio is that I can talk to the other artists there and not feel like a hermit.  I can also talk to any customers that wander in and peddle my wares directly, which helps to put a face on my work, and theoretically encourages them to buy.  I plan to add classes at the gallery to my repertoire of skills and activities as well, which will give me valuable practice at conveying ideas to others.

So I hope that this has been helpful to anyone who might be reading this and has found that the work-at-home freelancing artist is not near as glamorous as you expected it to be.  Good luck to you, and remember to take regular breaks!  I wonder what kind of health issues related to your creative work you all have dealt with and how you have dealt with them?  Please share in comments!

The Importance of Self-Critique

This new year has me feeling very introspective of late.  There are 11 more months ahead of us and I have been thinking how I really want to make this year count towards making an improvement in my life and my art.  I’ve already mentioned a possible career shift, and this has moved me into vastly unfamiliar territory where I can no longer just ‘get by’ doing what I’m doing at my current skill level.  A veil of soft, plushy dream blanket has been torn away to reveal the cold, hard facts I need to realize about myself and my work.

If I want to compete in a competitive business like concept art/licensing/whatever art job I might want in the future, I’m going to have to be able to compete with people who are already in the business.  I’m going to have to sit and take a look at my own work and honestly ask myself the question “Are you as good as them?”.  I’m going to have to be the one to face up to the weaknesses in my work and make myself do what it takes to improve.  I am no longer a child nor am I a student in a classroom.  I am an adult, an independent, self-employed artist and nobody else in the world is going to make me sit and study and do the work it takes to improve except little ‘ol me.

It’s so easy to get trapped in what’s comfortable. So easy to say “yeah I’m just not good at that”.  But that is not how an artist becomes better (and it’s not how you get an art job either).  There are too many people out there who have great skill and passion.  If you have even less passion, what makes you think you’ll be picked over that passionate person?   Maybe you will, but I prefer to hedge my bets with a little more than a ‘maybe’.

These thoughts have equaled a downturn in productivity for more than a few months now, but I feel like I’m finally finding my balance again.  I’ve started doing a few studies a night now or taking time to just sit and collect inspirational references and think about what they can teach me about my work.  While the studies I’m doing right now aren’t masterpieces by any stretch of the imagination, they’re helping to build the visual vocabulary I have been lacking for whatever reason.  I’m also finding the lack of a particular strength is no longer my focus (and downfall), but rather filling that lack.  It took a lot of brow beating to get to this point, but obsessing over what exactly was lacking for too long put me in a downturn that I almost couldn’t dig out of.  It’s time to fess up.  Time to put my kicking boots on!

And on that note, I did a MEME.  I’m considering this my visual ‘strategic plan’ for what exact actions I want to take to become a better artist this year.  I may not get it all done this year, but at least I’m finally starting the process, and that is sometimes the most difficult part of improving!

(Click to Enlarge)

If you’d like to take the Artist’s Oath to Improve with me, you can download the blank template here!
I hope my triumphs and failures help somebody out there.  I hope I have the energy to keep going!
But I know it’s all going to pay off if I can keep this ball rolling.
To our success!

What is Artfire? An Artist’s Point-of-View

ArtFire - Buy Handmade - Sell HandmadeA few months ago, I’d never even heard of Artfire, but had already been a vested user of Etsy since 2008. Now after plenty of fiddling over at Artfire, I feel confident enough to talk about its usefulness for artists.

What is Artfire?

Like Etsy, Artfire is a community marketplace for handmade and vintage items who offers community forums, item collections, and groups to join. The main difference in philosophy being that Artfire allows you to plug external websites much more in your own listings and pages, unlike Etsy, which discourages such practices. The other difference is of course the fact Etsy is far more entrenched with greater press coverage.

Artfire is catching up, though! If their constant marketing campaigns, helpful articles, and numerous twitter accounts is any indication of how much they’re putting into making their site known. They also offer their members discounts at CHA (Craft and Hobby Association) and VIP discount cards at Joanns Fabrics (10% off regular and sale price items)!

Selling on Artfire

Much like Etsy, artists can post listings of items, sort them into browsing categories, and find buyers for their handicrafts. Where Artfire differs in this respect is that listings have no expiration date. A user must ‘check in’ at Artfire to keep their listings higher up in the search results, which weeds out the people who post listings and leave them there without maintaining them.

– Prints and Fabricated Art Items
Another quirk of AF I’ve found is that if you’re selling art prints, cards, or any other pre-printed open edition item utilizing your art, they have to be a run of 500 or less while Etsy hasn’t set a number, to my knowledge. This isn’t much of a problem for me, however, as I’d be happy to even reach that amount of sales per item!  With the number of open edition prints listed on AF, however, I suspect this policy isn’t heavily enforced.

– Seller Invoice System
AF boasts a pretty full featured invoicing system for sellers, including itemized invoices where you can check off each stage of payment, packing, and shipping as it happens with a field to enter an item’s tracking number. This number is automatically emailed to your customer when you enter it, making these invoices pretty handy for taking care of your customer all in one place!

– Feedback and Non-Member Buyers
One big difference between Etsy and AF’s way of handling transactions is the fact that AF also encourages you to do what you need to do to make a sell, meaning customers don’t need to have an AF account to buy! They can simply use AF’s shopping cart feature. This means you don’t get feedback or karma from the transaction, but that doesn’t seem terribly important on this site, despite the fact users can still leave detailed feedback on your shipping, quickness, item quality, etc. Because there’s no final value fee taken out when a sale is made, it’s easy enough to cancel the order and relist with no loss of money, should you have trouble with a non-paying buyer.

– Promotional Coupons

Another extremely useful feature of AF is the ability to create promotional codes. While you can do this on Etsy, Etsy restricts your coupon codes to only a certain percentage off or free shipping. AF’s coupon code functionality is more robust with the ability to tailor your coupons to a percentage off and free shipping, but also allows you to apply coupons to seller-defined studio groups and price ranges, the order total, or even specific items. Coupon codes are also another premium member feature.

– Other Useful Features
If you’re a user of Etsy, AF makes it easy to download your CSV file from Etsy and import all of your items with only a few tweaks required! This is a premium member feature, however.  You can also batch edit your listings, move them en masse to new categories, and take advantage of a detailed vacation mode that allows you to leave your items up, but auto-responds with your ‘away’ message. Unlike Etsy, which simply hides your items completely from listings until you disable it.  There’s also a ‘sales mode’ that allows you to discount everything in your shop at once.  Sales mode and vacation mode are both non-premium features!

Crunching Numbers

Another major difference between Artfire and Etsy is the fee structure. Artfire charges a flat monthly fee (I pay $5.95 thanks to a beta deal I got, but standard pro rate is $9.95 as of this entry) while Etsy charges 20 cents per listing for 3 months and takes 3.5% of your final sale’s value. If you’re hosting a large amount of items, AF can be really useful for keeping costs down each month.

As for sales numbers, I’ve noticed a greater number of handmade craft items and cards selling here rather than my prints and original art, but it’s still great to get the exposure on my artwork along with everything else. I have a feeling that as I grow my shop and become more entrenched in this community, these sales proportions will change!


One thing I absolutely love about AF is the ability to customize the color theme and style of our shop pages! I’ve included a screenshot of mine below. Most of the customization is, again, a premium member feature.

See my Artfire shop in action!

See my Etsy shop in action!
Final Thoughts

Rather than choose one community over the other, it’s easy enough for me to maintain both my Etsy AND Artfire shops with AF’s import feature!  The amount of sales I’ve made via both communities have made them well worth investing my time in and will only continue to increase their usefulness as another means of income the longer I use them.

Interested in joining up as a premium member at Artfire? Use my referral link! We’ll both get a free month plus be entered into a drawing for a free DSLR camera for both of us!♥

I’m also a member of the Artfire Fantasy Guild, so drop on in and say hello!  I’d love to see some familiar faces there.:)