I have met/befriended a local artist who sells his watercolors on the national /international level. He is very successful. His work sells quickly. He deals in originals and prints. He prints not only paper prints but prints on other surfaces (any surface that will support a printed image is fair game) and has acknowledged his prints make up a fair part of his income from the sales of his artworks.
My artist friend. I will call him one of my mentors, was shocked when he learned that I was selling only originals. He was shocked that I was not selling printed items. He said he was shocked, in part, because he thought my images were so good that they deserved to be sold more than once AND he said that he thought my designs would have greater value in some cases if they were printed on other surfaces.
I have been avoiding the notion of prints for a few different reasons. #1 as a seller of originals I wasn’t really sure which original to pick to make prints of. #2 I do not have extra cash lying around to invest in printed merchandise as well as storage space to keep the printed merchandise in prior to its sale. #3 what if the images I chose did not sell? I doubted my experience picking the right printable images that would sell as prints. I knew enough to know that an image that is popular as an original may not sell at all as a print depending on what you printed it on.
My mentor took the time to point out a couple of my images that he favored. He told me why he favored them, why he thought people would buy the image and he showed me how he would cut/manipulate the images so that they were smaller (note that over half of my designs are designed to fit on a long rectangle as I specialize in silk scarves) so that they would fit on other shaped items such as square coasters. I am so grateful for his advice. I am honored by how much he likes and supports my work. I am in awe of his ability to sell his work on so many surfaces. I was unbelievable grateful and very scared of his advice.
How do I start this printing piece of my business really. My $5K start up company does have money saved up but it is saved for the purchase of back up machinery (I am using an 35 year old serger/sewing machine to hem my pieces and when it breaks a new one will be very expensive). I was overwhelmed at having to invest dollars in having someone make printed items for me – what if they did not sell. What if I was stuck with a thousand dollars worth of unsellable merchandise. I know I should think positive, but I did not like my odds.
So, I watched many YouTube videos of successful makers. I analyzed what they were selling. I debated my choices. I finally made a few decisions. Because they are no cost to me, I decided to reinvest time in a few print on demand companies I had worked with previously (Fine Art America, Shop Vida and Spoon Flower). Print on demand (POD) companies allow you to provide a photograph image of your design (for free) and the company (which takes most of the proceeds for doing the work) sells the images on items their patrons choose. The POD company does most of the work. The artist generally makes $1.00-$15.00 per sale. You can make other arrangements with the company but if you want items to be competitive and sell you will keep your commission margins very low. All 3 of these print on demand companies cater to a different audience type. All 3 carry different items for sale for the most part. There is a little overlap. Through constant social media promotion on my part (this did take up my time and time is money) my pieces started to sell. As I thought, some of the images that were selling as prints were not the ones that had received top social media attention as originals. I was glad I had not invested in 150 facemasks of the black octopus as the blue octopus face masks were selling quite well. But wait – would the black octopus sell better than the blue octopus if they were printed on coasters? Then Covid-19 hit big time and The Great Pause hit the USA. POD factory work stalled. Shipping got delayed. It started taking 30+ days for my patrons to receive merchandise from these POD companies. My patrons were calling me to speed up their POD orders. I had no control over the POD work or shipping policies. It was negatively affecting my brand. I had 0 control. I knew I had to change up this idea. I knew that printing was the way to go – printed items are cheaper. If made into usable items they become practical (think coasters or kitchen cutting boards or t-shirts). But I also learned that I didn’t know enough to make wise printing decisions.
After continued thought, I came up with a solution that eased my nervousness about printing. I invested in a good printer Epson XP-15000 (I love this printer. My prints are superb. It will not work on a very commercial level as it can not print super fast but when I get to the point that I need something to print quicker I will be paying someone else to do my printing). I bought good paper. I took the advice of my above mentor and chose Moab 140lb 300gsm 2 sided paper. I can not believe how good the print quality is on this paper. It is really superb. I purchased a Cricut machine (Cricut maker model). In essence I have become my own POD company. I am starting small with bookmarks, stickers and gyclee prints. My investment of $800.00 for the above supplies allows me to start my voyage into printing without the worry of having unsellable inventory. It is allowing me to experiment with which of my design lines to see what sells the best. It is allowing me to create give-aways/promotional items to existing clients. It has greatly reduced my stress level as I am in the made to order business vs. the storage of merchandise business.
Yes, I do need to be braver and believe in myself and my art more. Yes, I do believe I am headed that direction. But for now, I am working on a level that I can handle and learn from. My artwork is going places. It is just a matter of time. My next purchase will be a sublimation printer so I can print on additional surfaces. I am so relieved to have made the above decisions. It allows me to plow forward with my business goals.
Due to Covid-19 and all of the people staying home I have also started a YouTube Channel “Karla Kay Art”. The link is on my website. But this is another story that does not involve printing so much😊 I will make a different blog post about video making.