How do you feel about your old art? Reviewing old work and a Redbubble revamp

Do you ever think back about your old work and feel dissatisfied? Like it just wasn’t your best work and you don’t really want people seeing it?

I’ve had a collection of pieces of my work on Redbubble for several years now but was really struggling to feel any enthusiasm about promoting them at all. More than a few weeks ago now I decided to go back and have a look and try to figure out if the work was really as bad as I felt it was, or if there was something else going on.

When I opened up my account and started looking through the work I realised that I actually quite liked a lot of the individual pieces, but that it didn’t feel like it hung together as a collection very well. In the years since I started using Redbubble’s print on demand service to sell things with my art on they’ve done a lot of work to the interface, and it’s now a lot easier to go in and experiment with things like the size or arrangement of work on a particular object, or to change the background. They’ve also released a bunch of new products (like backpacks!), and I simply had not been keeping track.

So I’ve begun to experiment with changing the background on related pieces so that they ‘fit’ together a bit better, and making the same design available on different colours. I am not sure if people will like these new versions any better, but I am certainly happier. For example the design above looks so much better on a dark background than it did on the paler one that I had it on before, and now kind of fits much better with the pink version – have a look at the backpack below.

The upshot is that, while I’ve not quite finished revamping my collection, I am feeling much better at promoting my works now. I’ve even been pushing some of my designs on twitter this month as we draw close to halloween. Like this one.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Building an audience: Redbubble, Threadless and Society6

When I first started this website I was thinking about different ways to try to make money out of my art. In the last few months I’ve been trying out a few different websites that enable you to do this, and now have profiles on Redbubble, Society6 and Threadless. All three websites work on the model that you upload high quality digital photos to the website which can then be printed via good quality digital printing on a range of products, which include wall art, T-shirts, bags, clocks, mugs and stationary. All three sites give clear guidance on the file types and sizes you will need for the different types of product.

I have been thinking about writing this post for a while while I get the hang of using these sites. They all have positive features and drawbacks, which I will probably need to make a few posts on while I continue to get the hang of them. Here are a few early thoughts:

Control over how your design looks products: For me Redbubble have the clear advantage here. Their interface means that you can change the size, and position of your art on the respective product. At the moment Redbubble is also the only site in which you can have your image appear as a repeated pattern on the the product without effectively creating a new design. It is also relatively easy to change the background colour of a number of products, which isn’t that easy on the other two platforms. The other two platforms are much more reliant on the work you do to prepare your files in the first place in ensuring that your image looks good on the products.

Building an Audience: All three platforms operate a kind of internal social media system where you create a profile which is visible to other people who buy or sell art through the sites. In all three platforms you can follow other artists and hope that other people will follow you. The advice appears to be that most sales will be made to other platform users, so collecting likes, followers and comments is a good way of monitoring if your work is being seen, and of eventually generating sales. I have found that so far it has been much easier to build a follower base in Threadless, and Society6.

Threadless runs a regular design competition which enables you to submit a design and invite other Threadless users to vote on your design, which is great fun. Designs with the most votes are likely to be featured on the main website. There appears to be a core group of people who participate in voting in these competitions on a regular basis, so it is a good way of getting your stuff seen. I have a design up at the moment, you can have a look here.

Society6 has an App (unfortunately only on iphones/ iPad at the moment) which functions a bit like instagram, which means that it is relatively easy to scroll through other people’s art and find artists that you like. Commenting and liking other people’s art is a way of drawing attention to your own work, and I have been relatively successful here in a short period of time.

I have found Redbubble less easy to negotiate when trying to build up an audience. While you can participate in challenges, forums, comment on people’s work and follow people in Redbubble I have not been particularly successful in getting my stuff seen there. I don’t find the website particularly easy to use in comparison to the other two platforms for this purpose. I am not quite sure why I am finding it difficult, and this may possibly be a ‘getting the hang of it’ issue. They have a new App which again operates in a similar way to instagram, and which looks good. Unfortunately at the moment you can’t log into it with your profile so it’s not helpful in drawing attention to your own work through interacting with other people (I have been told they are working on a log in feature – personally I think this will really help). That said, I have made sales to people other than my boyfriend, or my boyfriend’s mum, through Redbubble, so it’s not clear to me that gaining lots of followers actually translates into money in the bank.

Getting paid: Both Threadless and Society6 pay through Paypal, and there doesn’t appear to be an option over the currency you are paid in here for either site. As both sites are American, I will be paid in US dollars, while living and designing things in the UK. Redbubble again is the winner here – you can choose to be paid directly into your bank account and you can also choose which currency you want to be paid in, which definitely works better for me.

Tax: For all sites you are responsible for paying income tax in your own country on your earnings. You may also be responsible for paying sales tax in the countries in which your art is sold if you make enough sales to take you over the relevant country’s tax threshold, although they appear to collect VAT so it’s not entirely clear. I am not sure what this mean at the moment, I have some more research to do here.

Those are my thoughts this morning – I am sure that there will be more to follow. I would love to hear about other people’s experiences about using these platforms.

 

I entered another Threadless competition…

So I entered another design to Threadless. Threadless have a rolling competition that you can enter your designs to and get the Threadless community to vote and comment on your stuff. It’s lots of fun, and helps other people get to see your stuff, which may help you build a following and possibly sell somethings. I entered the design below this time, which unfortunately is anatomically backwards, but never mind.This is the photoshopped, finished off collage of this piece here. I’ll write a blog soon about how I got there.

If you click on the link here it should take you through to my entry, where you could vote for it, if you wanted to.

Sunshine on my heart, a cool t-shirt design

You can buy my stuff here. If you wanted to. Just saying: Threadless Redbubble Society 6 

Work in progress – from start to finish

This is a post I have been thinking about for a while, but I haven’t quite had the time to pull everything together. It’s a kind of start to finish look at a single piece of work. So here goes….

First there is a sketch, which in the case looked like this:


The majority of my art work then basically involves me sitting for some time with sketches and and a pair of scissors. I normally end up with a kind of white silhouette in reverse of the original sketch. I really like these, I think they are really elegant in their own right and am thinking about doing some work based on these alone. Let’s see.


After this stage I use these white bits of paper as stencils for working with different kinds of coloured paper to build the final image. This results in a series of movable pieces coloured paper that I can start to place together in different ways to form the final image. With the magpies in this case I used pritt-stick just to lightly glue them together as the whole magpies were much easier to move about than the individual bits. Here is the skeleton of the magpie image.


Then I will probably add some paper flowers, which are becoming a bit of a signature feature. I have stockpiles of these. I have cut so many of these now that I can cut them free hand, without really paying too much attention, in front of the telly.

I like to back most of my images up on different kinds of cloth. This image below is backed with a white Kashmir silk scarf that I bought while on holiday with my sister in Dubia. Most of my work involves physical materials, things that I can feel and manipulate directly with my fingers. I am becoming increasingly aware of how excited I can get about different textures in my work – in this image I particularly like the contracts of the smoothness of the paper against the very delicate pattern woven into the silk. Now I take a digital photo.

Two for Joy Raw

Finally, just at the end I will jump into photoshop and do a few tweaks. For this one I very slightly brightened the photo and increased the contrast. I then added on a sepia filter to warm it up slightly, and I finally added in some text. The final image looks like this.

Two for Joy - final

Available on a range of things here at Redbubble.

 

Buying my own swag – experiences with Threadless and Redbubble

Tote bag from Threadless


Over the last few weeks I have ordered some of my own swag from Threadless an from Redbubble to have a look at the quality of the products and to see what the experience of being a customer to either platform is. As far as the quality of the products goes, I was happy with the things I received from both organisations. The tote bag in the picture at the top of this post was from Threadless, it feels really solid and strong, the colours of the digital printing are really good.

 

Tote bag from Redbubble


The blue tote bag above is from Redbubble. I would say the quality is similar, the digital printing again is really nice and the cloth is a little softer which I prefer I think. 

I think the main difference has come in the form of my experience of getting the products shipped to me in the UK. Redbubble appear (from one experience so definitely not a systematic exploration) to have world wide shipping sorted out. I ordered things last week and they are all already in my sweaty excited hands.

Threadless unfortunately do not seem to have this cracked. I think I made a mistake in the early stages of ordering – you can opt to pre-pay surcharges and I didn’t do this as I didn’t quite realise I needed to do this (if you live outside of the US do this). Two of my items are now floating around the uk postal system somewhere. I contacted Threadless’ customer service team for help with my undelivered items and let’s just say I had a very frustrating interaction with someone who didn’t seem to understand my problem, or didn’t care that the did give me a second tracking number, which I had not seen before, so I could work out the problem for myself. I am not trying to work with the courier, having had to find contact details for them via google, to find out what I need to do next – I think I need to pay a customs charge, but not really sure as neither Threadless nor the courier have actually contacted me directly to tell me what to do next. So basically I’m having to do far more detective work than I have time for to get my hands on my own products. I am hoping this is a one off shipping problem, and not their general approach to customer services as it is pretty disappointing so far.

Another thing – I submitted a design to a Threadless competition this week- it’s the first time I’ve ever done something like this – if you had a spare moment I would really appreciate your votes, which you can submit here.

Getting out there to sell my swag.

Still here 2

A few weeks ago I launched some of my creative things out into the world through setting up shop on both Threadless and Redbubble. I can’t imagine this will surprise anyone, but since setting up I have sold one thing, to my boyfriends mum. So I’ve not exactly been a roaring success, which is ok because I’m still learning how to do these things.

I have been investigating how it is that people actually sell stuff on these forums and one of the things that seems important, which I doubt will come as a surprise to any bloggers out there, is raising your profile within the community that uses a particular site. Threadless has a nifty way to help with this – it has a rolling competition which allows you to submit a design for other members of the community to vote on. This will allow other people to see your style as you invite them to rate your stuff. If you win, I think your design may be selected to be printed up and sold on the main website, which would be pretty awesome. In any case I think this is quite a fun thing to do.

So, to that end, I’ve just submitted my first design to Threadless. I would really appreciate it, if anyone reading this had a moment, if you could pop over there and vote for my new design (pictured above).

Business for bohemians by Tom Hodgkinson

One of my guilty pleasures over the years has been reading the books of Tom Hodgkinson. I read both How to be Idle, and How to be free while I was studying and working in a relatively competitive environment and found them to offer both light relief and an idea about a different way of living. I may have not quite got to that different way of living, but the idea persists for me, a number of years later.

I was pretty intrigued to know what he would do with a ‘how to’ book of business. The core theme of Hodgkinson’s body of work has concerned working out how to do not very much at all, and how to ensure that what you do do is enjoyable and mind enriching. Tax returns and VAT aren’t either of those things, so I imagined it would be a stretch to continue in the same light style.

Business for Bohemians is actually a pretty sensible, pretty amusing book about starting a creative business. The book is in part an instruction manual, with very sensible advise about writing a business plan and keeping accurate and up to date accounts. But in the main it is memoir of his own attempts to publish a magazine, run a coffee shop/book shop, organise cultural events and run online courses. His style is self deprecating and aside from the numerous name drops, funny. He is generously candid about all of the mistakes he made along the way. The message, I think, is something along the lines of ‘look at the mistakes I made so that you don’t have too’. Anyone looking for serious advice about accounting, tax and VAT should look for something far more specialist. As a guide to beginners thinking about what it is they are trying to do, and what they are trying not to do, it is I think very helpful.

Quick review: Body of work by Pamela Slim

I’ve not blogged this week as I’ve not really been at my best, and have been doing the ‘one thing at a time’ thing this week. I’m not going to do a long piece now should be back tomorrow with something a bit more interesting. I have, however, been enjoying the book Body of Work by Pamela Slim. She’s written a book about what work could mean in what is now a rapidly changing situation. The style of working that involves a job at the same place, in the same career path, for the majority of your career is becoming less common and indeed less possible to sustain. Many more people, through choice or necessity, are developing ‘portfolio careers’ with multiple strands, gigs and projects. I think this can leave some of us feeling a bit disoriented, and unsure exactly how to shape that kind of way of working in a way that may make the most of our varied talents.

I really liked Pamela Slims approach to thinking about this. In the book she makes the argument that over a lifetime we should look to create a Body of Work – so a collection of different projects and occupations that form a substantial contribution to society. I think what I particularly liked about this is how she writes about finding your own narrative. The book has a series of mini projects and exercised throughout the book that are designed to allow you to gain a sense of what your own narrative may be and how to tell that story about your body of work. I think in the past for me this has been a difficulty, I have worked in academic research in a number of areas, and tried to nurture my creative interests outside of that, and everything felt a bit bitty (I’ve recently found out there is a name for people like us, ‘Scanners’). Pamela Slim suggests that everyone should have a ‘Side Hustle’, which is very sensible, but some of us have more ideas for side hustles than time to really work them. I think the idea of working out what you narrative is can really help with that, as it can allow you a framework to work out which projects are worth prioritising, and which ones can wait a little. I am now working much more specifically to attempt to create more space for the creative interests and skill development. I think this book is another step in helping scanners or multipotentialites make sense not only of who we are but also who we can find a way of working that fits more naturally with our way of being. So in sum, I liked it.

Business bites: Ethics and affiliate marketing

When I set up this blog one of the things I was interested in learning about was if it was really possible to earn a living by being ‘online’. I’ve been exploring how to do that and have read one or two (badly written) books about earning ‘passive income’ that didn’t really help me that much. I’m not going to name names, but I felt that had probably been written at speed, possibly as an attempt to create a passive income product in themselves, and lacked practical detail.  Both had an underlying passive aggressive tone that suggested that anyone who wasn’t trying to set up their own online empire was basically an idiot. This is of course rubbish. There are many splendid and enjoyable ways of making a living that don’t involve owning a website.

In the last 2 weeks I’ve been looking at the idea of affiliate marketing and found a bit more concrete information. The idea is that you can sign up for an account with programme like Amazon associates  and they will then pay you a small commission every time they sell something through a recommendation you make on a blog or other social media platform. For Amazon affiliates the process is that you open an account that will allow you to search for products that you have used. It will then generate a link for each product that you select. The link has a special bit of computer code in it that will connect to you and your account. You can then use this link in your blog posts – if anyone clicks through from your blog and goes on to buy the product you get a little kick back.

The psychological principle behind this is a simple one. People are more likely to buy something when someone they know and trust has already tried it, liked it and recommended it. I studied the principles of persuasion through my PhD and I think the evidence then (8 years ago now) was pretty strong in suggesting that personal recommendations will be far more successful in selling a product than advertising alone. So the psychology behind this is pretty straight forward, however it does leave the affiliate with an ethical problem. The more things you link to, the more your earning potential increases. This in itself isn’t ethically problematic, but it leads to the temptation to link to just anything you happen to see while browsing. Given that the principle is based around trusted recommendations, it’s a breach of that trust to link to things that you’ve not tried, or that you don’t like or didn’t find helpful. So I think it is possible to be an ethical affiliate, and but it takes a little thought about what you are linking to.

I opened an account last week (it was very simple to do this – I’ve linked the site above). I’m going to be using affiliate links in the blog to see whether in reality you can make much money this way. My blog currently generates very little traffic so I’m not setting high hopes for this experiment, but will update you if I turn out to have been wrong on that. My ethical line on this is that I’m only going to link to products or books that I have used or read myself AND have found helpful.

 

Business bites: bank accounts

I’ve gained a load of new followers this week. Hello! So lovely to see you over here. For the who are new (which is the majority) one of the threads running through this blog is a exploration of how easy it is to start up an online creative business from scratch, and from a very small initial financial outlay. I had been experiencing quite a lot of anxiety at work and was looking for ways to reduce my hours and put at least some of my working efforts into my own creative projects.

As someone who has always worked for someone else, I have no previous experience in business, so am learning as I go along what is possible, what is difficult, what is confusing. I’m taking a social sciences approach to the research, reading books and talking to people. This week I’ve been getting myself snarled up in the finances side of things. At the moment I’m not making any money, so I’m not too worried about the confusions here, but there is a lot of confusion. I’ve been reading this book ‘Refreshing simple finance for Business’ by Emily Coltman,which is very helpful, and I have learned the following;

Running a tiny business on my own which brings in at the moment very little money (nothing at all) means I can set myself up as a sole trader. This means I don’t have register as a limited company at companies house, or get an accountant. It does mean I have to register my self for tax purposes after the end of the tax year in which I started the Magpie, and will need to do a self assessment, pay tax on my income, and probably some extra national insurance. So far, so clear.

However, this book, along with others, advises that while you can probably use your own bank account, it’s better to have a separate one to keep you business transactions separate from your personal ones which will make the end of year accounting much easier. This is where I hit problems. Most basic current accounts don’t let you use them for ‘business purposes’. So I looked at ‘Start up’ business accounts, and there are several that will allow you to bank with them for free for the first 18-24 months while you are getting up and running. However to apply for one of those you need to give an estimate of your anticipated annual turn over (um…) and have a business plan (should probably have thought about one of these) and you need some tax reference numbers that I don’t understand (possibly don’t have yet). So I’m going to need to go to a bank and talk to someone about what I need to do. I will let you know how I get on.