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.
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?
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
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”
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?
Have you heard that Forest-Bathing is a thing? There’s no denying that a walk in a forest or even a park, is beneficial. It can’t NOT be. It’s silent, it’s solitary, it’s peaceful, it’s full of things to discover, things we don’t see every day. Most of these discoveries we keep to ourselves, we wonder how the tree got its bark, how a leaf falls, why do mushrooms grow in a certain patch of land, but we rarely announce it to the world. Maybe we take a few photos, but ideally, we wouldn’t be doing that.
In January I started my small business project with the help of a local organization. People come together and we follow a course to write a business plan and then we follow a sales course. I recently started that one, which is a HUGE step away from my comfort zone. I have to talk to people. I usually only write to people. I am terrible at small talk and at superficial conversation. I favor long deep conversations one on one, preferably over coffee (not a bar), or a walk. So a sales course huh? It’s compulsory if you want to keep your grant. Well, it’s going to be four months in which I will have to get over my introversion and my shyness. But this is a good thing (says the person who recently finished a YA novel titled Optimists Die First).
The noise and the changing landscapes
There is a rabbit hole, a never-ending, endlessly entertaining, bright and shiny path of noise and psychedelia called “being an entrepreneur”. If you were online, or blogging around 2006, you might have fallen through it and still haven’t emerged. Those were the days when the term pro-blogger was born and people started creating info-products. Where shopping carts were easier to install and the notion of “leaving your day job” “doing what you love” brain-washed us into thinking it was easy or that it was the ideal state of being.
I’ve tried on several occasions to create a business relying only on what is available on the internet. It seems so easy, until you start doing for real. When people tell me, you should give me a crash course on selling stuff online, I laugh and say, you have no idea what it takes. Because I didn’t have an idea myself.
I did what everyone else was doing: get a mailing list, be on all social media channels, follow like this and like that, create content per channel, write, work like crazy, listen to podcasts, take great photos etc. Until I finally realized that what “works” for some, doesn’t work for others.
I do it the quiet way and it’s hard.
I have been working steadily behind-the-scenes, I’ve written a 43 page Business Plan, I have hired a graphic design firm to help me. I’ve worked on my designs, on my Etsy shop and my Shopify shop. I’ve invested money, which is something that wanna-be entrepreneurs don’t want to do, especially if they want to build a business online. I’ve printed prototypes of everything and through that, I’ve pushed myself to try different things in watercolor.
All this trying to silence the comparison-monster that shouts every time I look at Instagram. How can some people publish a book, film thirty or more online classes, launch a home decor line and maintain a shop, on top of having kids? I’m still trying to perfect my Photoshop retouching skills for my watercolors.
The good thing is that since I quietly opened my shops, people have been purchasing leggings and scarves. I have gotten great feedback and my friend Amanda even filmed a couple of videos wearing my Ultra Floral design.
I tell myself I could do more but I also remind myself that if I do things my way, chances are they will reach a finish line. If I try to do things like other people, I will feel disconnected and I will abandon my projects. This should be in the Luisa Handbook.
So I am launching Flowarte like if I were in a Forest. Walking slowly, observing, taking the time. Even if during my sales course they said you should be selling 80% of the time. I say, sure, but not yet. I’ll get there. I’m moving towards that goal a little every day.
Meanwhile I enjoy the summer, which gives me the strange impulse to try painting flowers again.
Take a peek into my shop, fun colors, lovely textures, high-quality fabric printed right here in Montreal!