Friday, January 30, 2015

Exploring the Options (During a Deep Freeze)

Frosted Treetops
Letchworth State Park
©Mike Deuel Bronson Hill Arts 2014

Last week, I touched on the difficulty of finding an effective, and cost-effective, method to locate buyers for our works. And, a huge "Thank you!" for all the feedback and information regarding your experiences!

My experience with Etsy, Zazzle, and Fine Arts America was disappointing. I've been "developing" a website for 3+ years and have yet to find my stride with it, but thought that maybe, just maybe, I could fine-tune it & set up a PayPal cart. It would be simpler, right?

A couple of big problems with that: I am not technically proficient when it comes to coding & it is really kind of ugly once you embed the PayPal buttons/options next to your artwork.
Icy Sunrise
From Our Front Porch
©Mike Deuel Bronson Hill Arts 2007

Looonnggg story shorter: came up with as pretty a design as I could for the buttons & the "View Cart" button. Tested them. The cart button worked & the others did not. Ouch. Another couple of days wasted. Apparently, it has something to do with site verification and HTML coding into the site. Yea. I got this. Um, I got not a clue. HTML coding is on my list of things I'd like to learn, but this is needed now. The other probable issue is that, for some reason, despite the copious cost of using GoDaddy, I do not have a hosting service?!? So, back to the beginning. Again.
A Winter Viewing
Letchworth State Park
©Mike Deuel Bronson Hill Arts 2014

Then what is the next move? Do I keep the website & just try to find a different cart platform through a 3rd party site? Do I follow Crystal Allure's lead and upload the site to the blog? Would still need a cart option. So, do I simply drop the website & use a 3rd party site instead? 

This then comes back to being 1-in-a-million artists on any given site & keeping the fees under control, so as to keep the prices of the products under control. Print-on-Demand sites are out, so it also means keeping a steady inventory of inks, papers, mats, envelopes, shipping materials, etc., for any possible orders. And, again, how to reach out to the world?
Frosty Fir Fingers
Our Backyard
©Mike Deuel Bronson Hill Arts 2013

I thought that I'd have had more insight to offer this week, since I thought that the PayPal buttons would solve one major dilemma.

That being said, however, here's the intended plan, in no particular sequence:

1. Use Pinterest and Facebook for "advertising". Pinterest offers business accounts & I have switched my account over, but, I haven't had an opportunity to explore the details of the features & abilities of the business platform. I will keep you posted.
Winding Winter Way
Letchworth State Park
©Mike Deuel Bronson Hill Arts 2014

Facebook is threatening to become more difficult to use for advertising your products. Rumor has it that if you try to link back to your own commercial site, they will drop the post, unless you want to pay for advertising. I say "rumor" because I haven't tested it per se. However, I do know that if you want to link your page directly to your website, Facebook will charge you an advertising fee. Articles that I've seen indicate that Instagram, as a part of Facebook, will most likely follow suit. 

Pinterest, at this moment, is seemingly not taking this approach. So far.

2. Use a site, such as Square Market, as a 3rd party sales platform. They offer a lower transaction fee than any other, including PayPal, and do not take any other fees for the web storefront or sales. 

And, if I decide to ditch the website, the look of the storefront Square Market offers is clean and simple. They, most likely, do not have the following and exposure Etsy, Zazzle or FAA do, but that really is irrelevant, since those sites are overwhelmingly overloaded.

Alone at Niagara-on-the-Lake
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada
©Mike Deuel Bronson Hill Arts 2005
Part of my reasoning for dropping the website is that, while it's paid for the rest of this year, I've hated supporting GoDaddy since the beginning. I dislike their advertising for exploiting the female body and, recently, a tastelessly cruel ad involving a lost puppy and selling him. And, honestly, I haven't gained anything from using them for the basics. Again, like Etsy, I do the work and they reap the fees. Unless, of course, I want to pay for more features. Hmmmm...

3 Inventory: I am obsessive out of the gate. I have so much inventory that I've accumulated over the last 5 years of doing this, I sincerely doubt that I'll need a whole lot of anything for quite a while. But, that's me, the borderline hoarder!

So, for this week, this is the plan. Let me know what you think of it or any of your experiences!
Ice & Fir
Our Backyard
©Mike Deuel Bronson Hill Arts 2013

The next quest is finding my "brand" and what exactly is that?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Finding an Effective Platform

Silhouette in Field
6x8" Acrylic on Canvas Panel
©BEDeuel Bronson Hill Arts 2010

As artists, the most difficult things are to get enough studio time in our everyday lives and finding a way to get our creations out to the rest of the world.

We can look at other artists' works and truly appreciate all the time, effort, and love that is applied to our artworks. We can realize the value of everything done by any other artist, and are grateful for the reciprocal realization.

But how do we find the audience beyond our (not-so-) little cloister that can also grasp the value of our passion? Especially an audience willing to compensate us for it.

Don't misunderstand me: I'd do this even if I never made a penny on it. I wouldn't trade the tranquility I experience in the studio for the proverbial million dollars. But, it would be nice to make a bit to supplement the income, or even enough to not have to work at the "day job". 

3.5x3.5" Water Soluble Paints on Canvas
©BEDeuel Bronson Hill Arts 2014

There are the Etsys, the Fine Arts Americas, the Zazzles. And a few hundred thousand other artisans on the sites. What I've noticed is that the truly successful shops & sites have the investment of scads of time in both the marketing and the production of items. 

That, unfortunately, is not a commodity that most of us are able to lavish. I learned this the frantic way around the holiday season.

It was so exciting to receive my first orders from the Etsy shop! And, to boot, it was for note cards that would help Another Chance Pet Rescue! Then a couple of more orders followed for large & multiple pieces. Wow!

Kitty Minions
5x7 Watercolor on 140# Canson Paper
©BEDeuel Bronson Hill Arts 2014

And, then reality hit hard: between full shifts at the "day job", I needed to print, assemble, and package the orders. And while I had done some prep work on the items, I just wasn't satisfied with the templates. So of course, I had to redo them. It took the full 3 days to get things done and shipped. And shipping packaging presented a challenge, too: do you have something to ship a flat 16x20" matted print right in your house or studio? I sure didn't! Never even crossed my mind. It's the little things that make you stumble at times. And stumbling can be exhausting.

Digital Photography
©Mike Deuel Bronson Hill Arts 2013

Throw all this together, job & art business, with the holiday season, and try not to feel very overwhelmed. 

Happy Holidays
Digital Drawing
©BEDeuel Bronson Hill Arts 2014

I decided at that moment that it was time to go with a POD (print-on-demand) site. I just couldn't keep pace, especially since sites like Etsy are very demanding in regards to timelines. I also realized once the payments hit the bank, the money didn't come close to covering the costs involved. Etsy is in business, too, and knows how to make a profit. Being a newbie, I was naive in how I set things up. POD seemed so much easier since you only need to upload your images, add your margin & their cut to the base price, and they would do all the heavy-lifting. Yea... no. Not only would the cost to the customer be exorbitant for an "unknown" artist, the process of uploading the images would require reshooting all artwork and trying to guess what sizes your work would be printed based on the large number of required pixels. 

What exactly is an 8x5.73" print? Who will want that? I cropped it to a 7x5". And I can print a 7x5". Back to the starting point!

The odd thing is that of the orders I received, only 1 was through Etsy directly. The rest were from connections on Facebook (which is a whole other issue of late!).

So, why am I on Etsy, then? Why am I paying fees to them for minimal exposure & for me to do all the work? Yes, the name of Etsy is a "be-all/end-all" of online markets, but, it's a huge pond with a few large fish and a whole lot of little fish. Pretty sure that I'm just plankton right now.

After a good amount of reading, and contemplation, & consultation with my marketing cohort, I've come up with a plan on how to do this. Will it work any better? I don't know. But, it should create some extra time & money so that I can get back into the studio. 

Which was the whole point of all of this anyway!

What are your experiences with sites like Etsy and PODs? I'd be interested to hear about it.

Covered Bridge
4x6" Water Soluble Pencil on 140# Strathmore Paper
©BEDeuel Bronson Hill Arts 2011

Friday, January 16, 2015

Another New Year Begun!

Puppy Love
5x7" Watercolor on series 400 Strathmore Watercolor Paper
©BEDeuel Bronson Hill Arts 2015

I can't believe that it's been 5 weeks since my last post. I dislike letting the blog go unattended that long. It's a great to make contact with others & exercise the writing "muscle". It's also a fun way to not only debut new works but to share failures, solutions and successes.

Which is why I want to share my last commission of 2014. That was finished in 2015. Halfway through January, 2015. 

Yep. A harried end, and a slow start. But, it was a good start!

The customer requesting the pet portrait was preparing to give it as a gift for one of her customers. The original photograph that she gave me to use was a posed portrait. I started to work with it, but, was unsure as to why we would want a painted portrait of a photographic portrait. 
Formal Pose Attempt  #1

The colors and textures were stronger in the photo portrait but she had also texted a really sweet picture of the dogs that was truly perfect for a painting. 

So, the sketch was redone. We liked the more casual pose. 

Casual Pose Attempt #2

From there, my usual process went forward: sketch, scan, print on watercolor paper, paint. Photograph the process along the way to get a truer perspective of the image. And, that was crucial in this case.

Stepping back a moment to the printing on watercolor paper:  I'd been using a more basic watercolor paper for images that were really designed just for note cards. But, I had to be very careful to not overwork the paper, or it pilled too easily. This time I wanted to try to see if a better grade of paper would work to prevent that, especially since the final product was the painting, not a print. Sometimes the marketing is just that: marketing. But it did. I used a 400 series Strathmore watercolor paper vs. a basic Canson paper for watercolor. 

The first few steps went along fairly smoothly. Laid the darker color down, some highlights, and shading. From there, it was time to add the lighter colors and texture.

Dark Underlayment


And, that's when I created ghost dogs. Yikes... This is, also, why I was very happy that I'd used a better paper! I did not want to start over again, since I was satisfied with everything else to that point. Plus, to compound the goof, for some reason, the images became flat.

Ghost Dogs

The camera showed all of that. It helped me to step back and "see" the problems more thoroughly, which in turn made the solutions easier to find.

It really was  simple: mix a light yellow/red brown, lay it down and go back with a more diluted white. The water  that diluted the white paint picked up enough of the brown to eliminate the ghost faces. I also purchased some fine line brushes which made it easier to create the texture around the mouth. My love of chiseled brushes had to be set aside. Then a straightforward "outline" solved the dimension problem. You can see it in the final image at the top & the bottom.

Flat Non-Ghost Dogs

Today, I hope to hear how the recipient likes the final painting. And, I hope she likes it as much as I liked making it. 

P.S.:  Thank you to my customer for her incredible patience! Next week, I'll touch on some of the changes in our systems that had to occur in order to not run into that severe a time-crunch again.

Final Product!

First Day of Spring & Indulging in Art

Rose-O-Shannon Progression Acrylic & Water Soluble Wax Pastel © BEDeuel Bronson Hill Arts 2015 With our part of the world being ke...