How i became a Self Employed Artist with Tips to start your journey!

This is a long-awaited blog post as I’ve been getting messages in regards to this for YEARS, SO, here it goes;

It all began back in 2013 – I’d just finished my first year at college studying Art which I decided not to go back to for the second year! I did ideally want to get a full-time job so i could start earning some proper money and going to nice places with Robbie, because at the time he was deffo the breadwinner in the relationship! I’d already been doodling for months, keeping certain pieces of art to the side and also using some of my favourite art pieces from college! – I’d previously heard about Etsy by friends and family so i was pretty keen on getting something started up so i had at least some extra money coming in! I got myself a full-time job as a waitress and the rest goes from here;

After getting a job and having some money come in, i finally set up an Etsy shop in early 2014 and opened a Facebook page for my art work too, i had my family and friends share it online, which meant my first few orders were friends of family or friends of friends, which was lovely!!
My first lot of prints were printed from my mums crappy printer, with rubbish paper too – thinking back i feel pretty bad about how unprofessional they were but as i was charging around £3 a print i had no complaints and everyone was so kind. I gained a nice following on the Facebook page and started getting commissions for A3 posters and gaining some very loyal customers who always purchased new prints!

Carry on reading for tips and advice –

Be Patient and Hard working

So, this is definitely one of the biggest things I wanted to mention, because i think a lot of people reading this just want to be told that it will happen over night which it most certainly will not (unless you’re real lucky!!)
Throughout the 6 years of working online and selling prints/t-shirts/mugs, I had to work a full-time/part-time job for the first 4 years, and that was HARD. There was sometimes months on end i would give up drawing and just think ‘it’s just not gonna work’ – but i always went back to it because it genuinely makes me happy creating art (and i assume that it’s the same for you!) It takes a lot of work and dedication, Creating art constantly even when you’re totally pooped! But it’s SO worth it.

Networking is Vital (sounds scarier than it is)

This was something i always use to read about when I’d be desperately searching for help on how to improve your business back in 2014 but i never actually understood what the heck i was meant to do (or even what it meant!) it is quite simply surrounding yourself and building a good relationship with people/friends/family so you get a loyal set of customers! Don’t feel embarrassed to ask for help on sharing your page or shop – nine times out of 10 people close to you would be over the moon to support you!
Another thing i use to do back in 2014 was Art swaps – I’m actually not sure they’re even still a thing these days but it would basically be swapping a couple of your prints with another artist and both of you sharing that on your social medias, meaning you gain lots of new followers with an interest in illustrations/art!
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and share your work with them! see someone who you think is inspiring? message them and ask if you can send them some of your work! It’s SO much more genuine than asking for a shout out!!!!

Be confident in your work

The great thing about art is there is technically no right and wrong! – your art is unique and personal to you, and you’ve got to be confident in it! Sharing your art work online (whether that be little snippets of a drawing, a doodle or a full piece!) is super important as it gets people viewing and discussing your work – it also helps with gaining confidence – it’s incredibly scary when you first start, but it’s 100% worth it if you plan on creating a business online eventually, so yes, share as much as you can so people see lots of work by you! Another big thing with this is when I first started up the Etsy i had countless people tell me to charge more for my prints, but because i just didn’t feel confident enough – i lost out! If people are telling you to charge more, do consider that, as it may be the case of you putting yourself down and not realising how great you are!

Commissions, Commissions, Commissions!!!!

this is super important as a good personal commission for someone is so lovely, there is nothing more pleasing than creating an individual piece of art for someone and them being over the moon about it!
One of the great things about commissions is that they’re usually shared online – which leads to their family and friends checking out your actual prints, which means your business is being seen by more and more people! (woo)
NOW – i would be lying if i said I’ve enjoyed every commission I’ve ever had & there has also been times I’ve turned people down as I’ve felt i couldn’t create the image that they had in their head (and nobody wants to be disappointed!) By the time you start commissions you should kind of have an idea as to the kind of art you’re selling and creating so you can clearly explain how you imagine something looking, as an example – a few years ago i was contacted by a lady who wanted a huge wall piece for her 5 yr old sons bedroom, she wanted it in colour and Space based – at the time i was only creating dot work in black and white – so i knew i wouldn’t have been able to create what she wanted, so even though i was going to be losing out on money, you really need to work out what you can create and be realistic!

Don’t let customers take advantage

Going on from the commissions part, I really want to stress to you how important it is to have a brief written up of how your commissions work so your customer understands and knows what they’re getting for the price. As an example – Charging a set price for a draft of the commission and then 1/2 changes to be made before the final piece, then explaining any changes will cost more! – this may sound harsh, but i once had a customer that clearly explained what they wanted, i drafted it up which they liked, and then they changed their minds and made me re-do the image THREE times at no extra cost – this really isn’t acceptable and at the time i really had no clue as to how this worked, so please make sure your customer is aware of what your commissions info is before agreeing to anything! Consider even creating a contract just so its all in writing too.

Be Impulsive, but not foolish

There were many times i came home from my full-time job and wanted to just hand my notice in there and then but the fact of the matter was – it would have been a really bad move! Don’t make any CRAZY decisions that could drastically affect your life in a negative way – now this isn’t saying don’t ever be impulsive with this, as that would be me being a hypocrite – but really think and work out if quitting your job is the best decision for the situation you’re in and work out if you have enough money coming in to be able to support you.
Of course, everyone’s personal situation is different so if you’ve been saving for months on end and have a nice amount ready, I’d say go for it, but just be very cautious with spending until you know where you’re at as there will be months you may not earn a penny!

Be understanding to your customers (even if they’re wrong)

There was times i really wanted to scream the house down at customers being unfair or just plain nasty – but you’ve really gotta keep your cool and be understanding. This was more so when i use to sell T-shirts and Mugs, there will be customers who claim they never received items (even when you have proof it was delivered) – you just gotta be kind and do what you can to ease the situation so they go away happy, you don’t want a bad name on your business so you’ve got to make the effort – even if it means you lose out on a bit of money sometimes.

Stay Unique

Try your absolute best to stay unique and think outside of the box! The way you create art may be very similar to a lot of other artist so its important what you do create is different! This means people will recognise your art when they see it and not just label it (as an example) as another ‘black work print’!

Self investment

Lastly, I just want to briefly talk about how there is so much time, money and energy that you have to put into this – it’s not quite as simple as doodling up something and listing it for sale. If you want to have a professional business you’ve got to spend money to make money, you’ve got to have a good quality printer (if you’re printing from home) suitable paper to achieve the finish you’re after, possibly Photoshop to edit your images for the best print possible & time!! Thankfully over the years you can improve different parts of your business so you don’t have to spend so much money to begin with, but it is something you’ve got to keep in mind!

I hope this helped some of you get inspired and be more prepared to take the next step of opening your own online shop!
If you’d like more info on what tools I use e.g printer type, scanner, paper – please do message me and I’ll go into more detail on the process of how i create the prints!

Best wishes,

Jemma 🙂

Check out my Etsy here!

Check out my Bigcartel here!

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