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Art in Unexpected Places

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I was hard at work painting a dog, a Shiba Inu to be precise which has been so challenging. They tend to look like a fox if you are not careful with their ears and their fluffy round faces.

I have painted her three times and each time she looks cute but each time she looks different. I know that if I wanted an exact likeness, I would simply take a picture, print it and frame it. Painting is an interpretation and so I persevere in capturing something…

In this case it’s the solemnity of her gesture. A dog who is completely Zen. Who has an almost meditative look on their face. But I have not gotten there yet.

The palette however and the bits of cards and notes, quotes, thoughts that populate my workspace were calling. So I went and cropped my palette, I took one of my mantras and scribbled it with a brush on a card. Glued it smack in the center (oh rules!) and then smeared some more paint on it.

Then I stuck it up on my wall. It’s today’s art piece: Alter Everything. A good reminder for when you are trying to depict instead of express. Surrounding it is a piece by Lino, a postcard about individualism, and my patron saint Charlie Brown.

Alter Everything Moodboard.

When you look at the things you discard in pursuit of perfection, rescue them. Let them guide you and make something for yourself. This is part of my quest for recovering the joy of making without rushing to post on social media. Instead, I’m posting on my online journal. I’m clinging to old school (while I can).

Are you always in “must create perfect pieces” mode or do you let yourself go on a tangent?

Is Etsy Worth it?

Is Etsy Worth It?

I have been crunching numbers. It’s my least favorite thing to do and as a creator it’s twice as painful because through the corner of my eye I can see my brushes and paints calling me. But I have no choice.

The question about dropshippers and POD companies pops up in every artist group I’m in and I usually have the impulse to immediately lecture and warn them about doing their due diligence before setting it up. It’s too easy to go on YouTube and find videos about setting your Etsy shop on autopilot. It must be possible but will you make a profit?

If you are considering starting an Etsy shop and wondering about dropshipping, I’d say, go ahead, it is the easiest way to test things and try out if your products have a market, but before you dive into all the advice in the universe, read on…

Sketch of a muslim girl taking a photo

Quick story

I had my own small business dream like many, but not all of us have the financial acumen to really see if your creations will turn a profit. We accidentally bump into a blog post or article about someone making six figures selling hair bows and all our brain cells explode. An idea emerges and we jump directly onto website and social media madness. We look for advice, buy courses, hire photographers and sort of calculate things. At least, that’s what I did and boy I worked hard.

Dropshipping for Etsy

In the age of POD where an artist or illustrator can create any product and put it up for sale in dozens of sites it’s easy to do things a bit chaotically. I chose to work with a POD dropshipper for my leggings and scarves. They are a local manufacturer and printer and I can drop in any time I want.

Photo of a girl florist

The day I sat down with a tall glass of lemonade and proceeded to make a huge spreadsheet calculating all the fees, the cost, the shipping plus the exchange rates (for me being in Canada) and sales tax I found out in horror that I was basically working for Etsy and for my Dropshipper.

A dropshipper might say: a print costs $10 and you can sell it for $20! But it’s not accurate. You have to add shipping, plus taxes, plus fees so if you want to make a profit you have to inflate the price. A quick search on Etsy and you’ll quickly realize you fall outside the acceptable price range.

I was making the art, doing hours of Photoshop work, uploading into the dropshipper platform, ordering samples, taking photos, creating mockups when needed, retouching and optimizing the photos, writing the listings, promoting and all the rest for so little money that it would have been easier just to set up a Society6 shop and just promote that. I was making basically no profit. At least things paid for themselves but all my work was unpaid.

Girl checking her phone sketch

No matter how you turn your numbers, Etsy’s fees are onerous. Now, if you are in the US you might have other issues but you have the advantage of having an affordable postal system.

In Canada, our postal system is among the most expensive in the world. So when Etsy started pushing for Free shipping, things got worse. Listings that had free shipping tended to appear first in search results. It’s understandable, I’m not moaning about that, we all like free shipping but then they added a fee to the shipping cost on top of that.

I’m not anti-Etsy

Etsy is a good platform, it has everything you need to sell online. It’s the easiest entry point. You don’t have hosting fees or need tech expertise to get a shop running. It’s a great showcase for your product so if you already have a shop on Etsy keep it and use it as a testing ground. But I think it works best if you make products yourself, not if you’re dropshipping.

Sketch of easel and art materials

After testing POD and dropshipping I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s essential to have full control of production, cost, shipping, packaging and customer service. Of course, having an excellent product is essential.

  • Production: You built your process and workflow and streamline it as much as possible which will reflect directly on how much profit you will make.
  • Cost: By choosing the materials, the packaging, shipping company, employees etc. you can fine tune and optimize.
  • Shipping: You can find the best option and adjust shipping to maybe even offset the cost and offer “pretend free shipping”.
  • Packaging: Most dropshippers or POD will send simple packaging. Etsy shoppers especially, expect the packaging to be part of the experience.
  • Customer Service: You know how you made your product and if something is wrong, you can fix it and make sure your customer is happy, while with POD or dropshipping you can’t do anything. You either replace the product and absorb the cost, refund or risk a bad review.

So should I create my own shop?

I would encourage it, but as with Etsy you need to crunch the numbers. A quick example:

If you build a WordPress site you will pay approximately $8.30 USD per month for hosting if you buy over a 36 month period. The first year is only $3.95. I use Siteground*. You can add WooCommerce for to build your shop and build from there. The payment gateway I use is Stripe

Or you can try Shopify, Squarespace or Big Cartel (if you are in a country other than the US you have to check if you can set your sales taxes correctly) but bear in mind that you have a $29 – $40 monthly subscription plus fees.

Girl cutting fabric

Driving traffic to your own shop is a huge challenge and you need to be super strategic. It’s a hefty job which probably will take a lot of time away from your art making. Think about this when deciding Etsy vs. your own shop.

So then what?

My conclusion is: dropshipping is good as an income stream but not for building a business and on Etsy it’s a bit more challenging.

If your focus is on building a brand, putting your name on a product you don’t control and passing it as your own is not the best option.

Some situations I encountered were:

  • Printing my hand-painted patterns on to notebooks and a customer contacting me saying all the pages fell out.
  • Selling an XXL pair of leggings and the customer saying that I was selling misleading sizes.
  • A scarf that came out washed out.
  • My artist card that went out with an order and which costs $1 each was blurry and unreadable

Since other options are not available to me at the moment (buying my own printer, printing in large quantities, having a shipping station) I’m currently reorganizing my business and found a few workarounds to continue working with a dropshipper that is a good compromise.

I continue my search for that company that will be a good compromise between cost, ethical practices, work and profit.

What do you think? Do you use POD or dropshipping? Does it work for you?

Stay tuned for my post on how to choose a dropshipper that works for you.

*Affilliate Link

Creative women sketch

*Sketches are from a poster that never got made.

New Watercolor Work

Watercolor Hare by FlowArte

Back in February I decided to take a break from FlowArte and watercolor. Being self-taught, finding a style has been quite difficult. I love it all! I love pencil, crayons, ink, collage etc. So I went on a tangent and gave free reign to whatever rocked my boat. I got an iPad Pro which helped me practice a lot without the nagging feeling of “ruining and wasting materials”. It allowed me to work on many different styles and hone in to what I like most.

I really did give myself a lot of freedom to not pursue “one thing”. I stopped posting on my FlowArte Instagram and opened a new one, under my name. At first I kept it private and then I opened it up but it remained very small.

Then one day I realized that what was happening: I wanted to pursue personal work but I was expecting it to provide with an income and so I oscillated between painting things that I knew were a bit more commercial and things that only meant something to me. Let’s face it, I’m not a household name so peddling my art was like talking to a forest.

At first I thought I’d shut down FlowArte, but I felt a lot of resistance. Watercolor is truly a passion of mine but watercolor doesn’t work for some of the things that I want to create as my personal art practice So I converted FlowArte into a watercolor studio.

The practice during the last few months has paid off, I’m more confident in my drawing and I have taken a couple of classes to move away from my puritanical view in which I resisted mixed media. I always thought of mixed media as those super chaotic sketchbooks with vibrant colors and stuff pasted on to them, but I realized that, hey, one can use everything and it won’t look like a mess.

Nature

In particular animals have been on my mind. Last year I stopped eating animals for good. It has become super important to me. I don’t label myself as vegan (I don’t label myself as anything really… ) but I have made important changes in the way I shop, I buy products that don’t test on animals and do not buy products with leather or fur. I also remembered the number of animals that have been part of my life. How I never shied away from taking care of them (when they gave birth, after getting hurt, giving them medication, cleaning after them) I realized that my love for them is profound and not just a simple “like”. I started drawing them more and more.

Watercolor Rabbit by FlowArte

Portraits

The first time I attempted a portrait should have discouraged me forever. I tried to paint Vivienne Westwood. I most likely still have that disastrous thing somewhere to remind me that practice does wonders. I paint my heroes, mostly writers and artists. Usually people whose work I refer to often. Here below Camille Claudel.

Camille Claudel Watercolor Portrait by Luisa Nino

And so, as the summer arrives I’m working on creating new pieces. I’m also looking for animal sanctuaries to visit and see if I can paint on location and continue creating more new watercolor work.

Note to fellow artists

It’s so hard to accept that each one of us has a different rhythm. We see how fast other people seem to advance in their careers and we feel left behind. March, April and May were truly dark months. I felt close to giving up because I could not focus. But allowing myself to just practice, play, explore, draw on the iPad without prejudice, has helped me understand my own pace. It will take as long as it will

Now I have decided to create a clear division for my work.

Watercolor will live here FlowArte and my personal practice will live in my publication: Recipes for feeling more and under my name here. My personal practice involves a lot of writing and it was also a problem to reconcile what I wanted to write about and what FlowArte represented. So I moved that part.

My goal is to produce more new watercolor work than in previous years choosing a limited number of subjects and refining my color palette. You can expect more process posts, prints and soon open commissions.

In the meantime, there are original works for sale in my Etsy shop.

Have you had to pivot an important project?

Original Art Studio Sale

floral bouquet vines2

I’m thinking about the final scene in the movie You Got Mail. When Meg Ryan stands alone in her empty bookshop after the chain bookstore forces her to close. I always found that scene heartbreaking even if in the realm of rom-coms she hit the jackpot. Any business closure has a bit of sadness. It’s the end of a story and though maybe it’s a simple transition into something else, it feels a like abandonment or a loss.

Being a freelancer or an entrepreneur has a lot of pitfalls. You collect life-lessons along the way and I have collected a lot. The most important one: Follow your instinct not the advice. Don’t give up too soon but also, be aware of sunk costs and make sure you cultivate self-compassion because if you don’t instead of learning you’ll be frustrated and unhappy.

I wrote about this earlier this year and I will share more on my newsletter, about what’s next but for the moment, FlowArte’s existence as a small business has come to an end is on hiatus. The Etsy shop will remain open for a while and I might be inspired to create new legging designs but it won’t be my main focus. I will focus on art and process.

Originals are looking for a new home

Original watercolor paintings are currently on sale in my brand new Etsy shop. All these are one of a kind, single available artworks that are searching for new homes.

Luisa Painting
Original floral pattern

Original art has a certain feel. It comes from someone’s hand, someone’s space, someone’s particular moment to your hands, your space your moment. It becomes part of your world. Choosing an original artwork is as personal as art can get.

Luisa Paints
Floral Bouquet



The Mystery of Unfinished Projects

Unifnished Projects

Some projects have been in my head for most of my life. They have never even set foot outside my skull. Other projects happened without intention or reason, they just took off.

Some of the projects that came to life indeed were big, others very tiny, so tiny that I don’t even recognize the effort or fact that they were completed. Others began and stopped by accident.

For some there was serious commitment on my part, for example: I had a podcast way before podcasts were a thing. It was a DJ set where I played my most snobbish music discoveries to a live audience of… very few. But I was there, every weekend, with my MP3’s, my headphones and my intro.

Another project was my personal blog in Spanish that ran for eight years.

I completed two novels, completed as in: I typed 50,000 words for each and then never looked at the manuscript again. Then I wrote a few stories that got published in a couple of literary journals.

In the category of mini-projects, I complete a portrait now and then. I complete a collection of leggings, I complete a surface pattern design. I complete a tote bag. All these should count as finished projects but why can I only focus on the huge projects that I really, truly want to do and I just don’t?

Unfinished project mess

It’s baffling. When I take a walk these are the projects that roam my thoughts, I see them clearly: what I want them to be, why I want them to be but then when I get to my desk, I do something completely different.

Of course I’ve heard all the mantras before:

Just start

Better done than perfect

Progress not perfection

etc. etc. etc.

But mantras don’t change a thing. When we have a project  in mind that is too important for us, the biggest fear is usually that it will not turn out like it exists in our minds due to lack of skills or an unclear roadmap. In my case: I will lose steam and leave it unfinished. And it’s the unfinished project that stresses and depresses me to no end. So, as my anthem song says:

“Finish nothing you start,
and start nothing
you think you’d continue”

-Piano Magic

The trap is you want to build the skills before taking the plunge but then you never feel ready. We then have two options:  start or abandon. If you start, chances are the project will not look like in your mind and you will be discouraged thus abandon. If you abandon immediately without even trying, the project will nag you FOR YEARS.

So what to do?

I want suggestions! Do you have a huge project in your project box that you are afraid of tackling? What is your project management style?

Do you just dive in? Do you shuffle your workspace? Do you consult with others?

Can you help me think outside the box?

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The Mystery of Unfinished Projects Pin for Later

Digital vs. Analogue illustration

Life before the internet

An artist I follow asked on Instagram if when drawing digitally (on iPad or other) if it feels like cheating. I just had to comment but then the thought continued all day.

To me it does feel like cheating and it shouldn’t.

The thing is, I enjoy digital drawing and painting a lot. I remember when I first took a drawing class the instructors encouraged us to use pen and not pencil to commit to our marks, to not second guess everything and not strive for perfection. It made sense to me. But this anchored me to a pesky belief that I should always commit to what I draw and the undo is a sin.

So the question: Is analogue art more valid, authentic… better than digital?

Well, as Alfred Eisenstaedt said, it’s the eye, not the camera. In my very personal opinion, one has to have the skills to draw and paint, the tool shouldn’t matter that much.

A good photographer will shoot great pictures with a disposable Kodak camera. Probably not under extreme conditions but the composition and the story will get told. If you can draw something on paper with just pencil, chances are that you’ll be able to draw very well on iPad. Even with the undo button at our fingertips.

One of the few mediums that are hard to correct is in fact, watercolor. Acrylic, oil and gouache can be painted over and cover a mistake or a change of heart, you can use liquid paper to cover up ink. Of course you can use an eraser for pencil. But digitally you can change things as much as you want until you achieve “perfection”.

Sometimes I wonder why we strive so much to try to get that “traditional media” texture digitally. The market for digital brushes is booming. I guess it all comes down to “productivity”. It’s definitely faster, easier to export, easier to deliver.

It’s simply part of the unstoppable tech revolution whether we like it or not.

 

Skillshare for Creative Thinking

Best Skillshare Classes for Creative Thinking

Learning online has become an addiction for me, however in the beginning I was constantly striving to try to recreate the same thing that the teacher did.

Quickly I realized that this wasn’t how I liked to learn. I am not a project based learner. I need to understand the thinking and creative process as I struggle a lot with coming up with new ideas. Technique aside, you can become the worlds most capable watercolorist but if you want to illustrate things, it takes more than drawing skills.

These teachers are a class a part and set the bar for other Skillshare teachers. I personally don’t like “tutorial” style classes. I watch those on YouTube, but a teacher’s thinking process is what makes these valuable.

If you’re like me and you want to skip the “how to paint a _____” and more how to create your own _____, these are the best classes and teachers. Plus a couple of classes that are just too useful!

  1. Odd Bodies by Tom Froese
    This is a brand new class. I was recovering from surgery and binged watched it, but it was so compelling that I had to get up and do some of the exercises. The result was surprising. I never thought I would be able to ever break free from the “eight head” figure.
  2.  Casual Hand Lettering: From Drawing To Digitizing with Linda and David
    I had watched other lettering classes in which being exact with extrema points and pixel-perfect (is that still a term?) rendition were overwhelming to me. I love casual and loose. This class is short and to the point. I loved it!
  3.  Radical Typography: Using Hand-Drawn Branding for Expression & More with James Victore
    This is one of Skillshare’s earlier classes, I hadn’t watched it because I was still stuck on the step-by-step thing. James Victore is so direct you have no choice but to go and make a mess in your studio. Result: this mug, which is more an art piece than a simple ceramic thing to drink coffee from.
  4.  Expressive Illustration: From Ideas to Execution with Roman Muradov
    I love Roman Muradov’s work. This is a step-by-step class but what makes it more compelling is his initial thought process. The word lists and how he comes up with a concept for an illustration. The result is breathtaking.
  5.  Design For Meaning: Creating Effective and Artistic Book Cover Designs with Peter Mendelsund
    Again, a master sharing his thinking process. From reading a text, finding the keywords and coming up with a concept. The stuff jealousy is made of.
  6.  Draw Your Life: Intro to Illustrated Journaling with Mimi Chao
    Super fun class if you want to document your life in images and drawings.
  7. Leveling Up Your Art Game: The Elements & Principles of Design with Dylan Mierzwinski
    What to do with inspiration? Sometimes we endlessly collect images and then we don’t know what to do with them. How do you use them? And how do you self-critique? Here Dylan shares her process of how she takes her inspiration to finished pieces and how she uses the elements of design to evaluate the work.
  8.  Fit Your Pictures to Various Social Media with Minimum Effort with Agnieszka Kobylinska
    Huge time saving process!
  9.  10 Quick Tips From A Pro Designer with Lindsay Marsh
    As a non-designer and someone who does not aspire to be one, but requires just the basic tools to create my own promos and marketing material, this super short class gave me excellent tools.
  10. Kickstart your Creativity: Introduction to Mood Boards with Nancy Hermann
    Again, as I am someone who curates and collects a lot of stuff: images, quotes, photos, etc. This class helped me distill moodboards into something I can make my own.

The process of finding your style, your voice, your OWN way of doing things is quite difficult today, despite having all the resources available. Having so many choices means being able to see what others are doing and it’s difficult to not be influenced. This is why these classes have made a huge difference in my learning this year.

Thank you to all the teachers who have put their hearts into their teaching!

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Skillshare for Creative Thinking Pin for Later

Advice for New Creatives

WorkSpace October

I find it realistic to say that you will only get good at your craft after a minimum of two years of hard practice.

Quantity does not mean quality.

If you crank out ten drawings,  maybe one is really good, the others were just warm-ups.
The one that is really good, I should make it again at least another five times to make it outstanding. Or maybe make a composite. It’s valid. Either way, the first version needs revision, like in writing. Everyone needs to rewrite.

That’s the one that should go on the website.

I started posting every little drawing I made, the good, the not so good and the ugly.
It’s difficult to contain oneself when making something. You want to show it, you want the accolade, the reassurance.

Creation can never exist alone.

But how did creators manage before the internet?
They weren’t obnoxious like we are now, pushing everything online.
They honed their skills. This is why it’s fascinating finding the papers of a writer or creator (although little by little there will be less paper to find and only unaccessible hard drives will be left).

Then comes the question of style and originality

How many years of practice must you have before you find your style?

According to Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Co. it took her two years before being comfortable with the originality and authenticity of her designs.

Everything is valid

Personally, I find the biggest obstacle is my tendency towards “purity”. The “do it from scratch” mindset. “To be original”.

I understand that everything comes from something else, but for some reason I have no problem accepting this from other people’s but not from myself.

Yet with the internet it seems that even before beginning anything, I want to see what other people are doing it and thus begins the war with myself about wanting to do original work but never feeling certain if I’m doing things the way “I’m supposed to”.

In these cases, I follow one rule:
“Research less”

If I feel the urge to binge on other people’s work, I allow it but I almost clinically monitor my reactions to what I’m watching.
Is it:

  • admiration?
  • curiosity?
  • fascination?
  • wonder?
  • Do I want to send a note of appreciation?
  • Do I want to bookmark, pin, send to my sources of inspiration?

Or… do I feel
* Jealousy
* Misjudgement
* Mockery
* The “Oh my god I will never be as good as…”

By monitoring my reactions, I know when to stop researching and start doing.

Editorial work is important in everything.

You shouldn’t edit your own work. Get a fresh perspective as soon as possible

Don’t be hard on yourself, just be honest.

Avoid thinking about making a living with what you’re currently doing.

It distracts, it makes you think about what others would like.
Just remember: 2 years of practice.

I wish I had followed my own advice when I bought my first set of watercolors. Periods of self-doubt would have been less about doubt and more about curiosity.

If you’ve been making art for a while, what adivice would you give your younger self?

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Advice for New Creatives Pin for Later

Alejandra again…

I once made a Pinterest board with photos of my board of directors or mentor tree as suggested in Elle Luna’s Skillshare class but I never actually printed any of the images. Instead I have been insisting on creating small graphite and watercolor illustrations of them in different styles.

Alejandra Pizarnik

Like Alejandra, who I’ve painted realistically, I’ve drawn her in pencil and in ink and her photo is the only one I printed and pinned on my wall. I have read her books, her diaries tirelessly. She is an icon of Latin American letters. Tumblr is full of quotes by her yet, she is one of the most dangerous poets to love. She suffered from a beast of a depression that kept her awake night after night, she wrote and wrote about fear, loneliness, agony, she searched for the precise word each time, and found that sadly sometimes there is no precise word.

She took her own life at the age of 36.

Despite her sadness, it feels alright to admire her and make her words mine, even in all their brutality.

Being highly sensitive, means the amplification of everything, sounds, smells and emotions. In our culture we tend to run away from “negative” emotions so much that it feels like a race without a finish line. What I do, and this is a spin from MBSR is to sit with those emotions, even if they feel overwhelming and let myself channel them into whatever shape they might take.

If they make you write, draw, sing, cry, scream, so be it. I don’t think it’s beneficial to try to trick ourselves into false positivism anymore than to reach for the numbing effect of our phones, our remote controls, a glass of wine, a pill, etc.

When I read Alejandra’s diaries it feels like a dark hole starts pulsating outwards, so much truth, so much feeling. An intensity disguised as non-intensity.

And as such, I unconsciously draw her again and again.

 

Montreal Brunch

Montreal Brunch sketch

One of the most intriguing things I’ve come across is how patient Canadians are when it comes to brunch.

On Saturday I went for a walk along Rue Notre-Dame and stopped to borrow a couple of graphic novels at the St-Henri Library, then went for coffee. Right across the street of a (what I assume is) a trendy Montreal brunch/diner place. The line-up was long. They are willing to wait outside under the burning sun (or freezing cold) for breakfast. I don’t think any breakfast is worth it. I remember in Mexico, the line-up was usually that long but there was no option, there are so many of us. You were destined to wait, always.

I snapped a picture and then proceeded to do a practice sketch. It was mostly to test using sumi ink and transferring this into a composition into Photoshop.

I’m happy with the result, despite the perspective being  wonky.

Montreal Brunch sketch

You can see the pencil sketch at the bottom, then using my lightbox I added some washes of ink, lettering and a bit of texture.

I have been using several techniques for transferring inked drawings to Photoshop but the quickest I’ve found is this one. Also Dylan’s class on Skillshare is super helpful.

I’m starting to appreciate more and more the joys of using sumi ink to get interesting washes and textures that I can colorize in any way I want. I will be posting some more experiments soon.

Meanwhile, have you visited my portfolio? You can see a few examples there.

Brunch in Montreal Sketch

Finished coloring everything in Photoshop. If you’ve been to Arthur’s in St-Henri, do you recommend?