I recently heard someone describe himself as a “born-again artist” and I have decided that I am totally stealing his line. Here’s the story…
I joined the ranks of the unemployed in July during some big cut-backs at the company I worked for and so I did what any normal person would do. I went to Texas. (OK, so maybe the trip had been planned for a few weeks and the timing was just coincidental) While I was there I had dinner with an old friend and as we talked about what I planned to do when I got back I heard myself say “I’m tired of making money for other people, I want to make some for myself,” as I said it I realized it was true, and in that moment I was born-again as an artist.
For me it wasn’t such a drastic change. I had been working as a glass
artist for a while, the job I had lost was making glass bead charms for Chamilia, I was just deciding to take creative control and sell my stuff, my way. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, what I didn’t know was that the big challanges would be stuff I had never dreamed of.
Handmade goods are becomming more popular and more people are deciding that they want to throw their hats in the ring. The closet crafters are coming out, hoping to make a little extra money with their hobbies. I truly believe that this is one of the ways the internet is changing the world. Everyone with a computer has a global marketplace in their living room. It makes even the wildest things seem possible, but I digress. I am writing today to share some of the lessons I have learned in the last five months so that, if you are someone toying with the idea of joining the internet artisan movement, you maybe won’t be blindsided with the same things that hit me.
First surprise? Making stuff is the easy part. Unless you have a marketing team living in your closet you will have to develop a few new skills. The big three are photography, product descriptions and advertising. Chances are, even if you have friends who are great at taking pictures, you are going to have to learn some of it for yourself. You can’t always rely on other people to be around when you have something new to put up on Etsy. I’ve come a long way since I started, I can now take semi-interesting pictures as well as crop and color-correct them so that they actually look like the piece I am trying to sell
instead of a semi-distinct grey-ish blob. Then you have to figure out how to describe the piece. Part of the charm of buying handmade is being able to tell your friends about what you bought. As a seller, you have to figure out how to make it interesting and personal in fifty words or less because the average internet shopper has the attention span of a cracked-out squirrel. (I’m exaggerating here, but not by much.) THEN you have to figure out how to get people to even find your website. I’ll write more about this one once I’ve figured it out myself, ’cause I’m still working on it.
Next surprise? You need attitude. Not pretentious art-snob attitude or turtleneck-wearin’-more-artistic-than-thou attitude, no you need a confident attitude. I’ve taken all sorts of classes and learned how to do all sorts of things, but I never learned how to be an “Artist.” I drove my husband crazy for the first month or two asking “How does this look?” “What do you think of this one?” “Does this sound good?” until I finally figured out that *I* am the boss. It’s my stuff, and if I like it – it’s good. Don’t ignore constructive criticism, suggestions or requests, but always remember that if you please yourself, the end result will be better than if you tried to please everyone else.
Third Surprise? You will want to quit. Frequently. I love what I am doing. I am happier than I have ever been. I still want to quit every few weeks. I don’t know how long this part lasts, though I can say “more than five months,” but every once in a while I have a day where I think “This is never going to work. I don’t know what I was thinking, I should just get a job at CVS.” It happens to everyone, and it gets better. This is where friends come in handy. There is nothing wrong with calling your friends and telling them that you are having a craptastic day and you need some moral support (although if it happens a lot you may want to spread it around to different friends and family so that one person doesn’t have to keep telling you how great you are). I also recommend finding a local group of artists you can join. It makes a huge difference when you can talk to other people who have been through the same stuff you are going through, and sometimes compliments from strangers mean more than compliments from friends.
If I have made all this sound kind of grim, I apologize. I don’t want to discourage anyone who thinks they might want to do this for themselves. Since I have written about all the hard stuff and nothing else, here’s one more:
The final surprise. It’s wonderful. It is liberating, it is joyful and it is exciting. For every down, there is an up. I truly truly love what I do and the hard stuff gets easier. I don’t go crazy right before a show any more. Listing on Etsy no longer brings me out in cold sweats. And, best of all, I get to see people smile when they walk away with something I made. It is pretty much the coolest thing ever. :)