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Choosing Which Products to Create & Sell as an Artist

See how London-based Ceramicist, Hannah Simpson, launched and grew her art business during a global pandemic.

Morning artrepreneurs! Welcome to another edition of the Stay Sketchy newsletter.

Yikes, another Monday 😬 - but that’s okay. We’ve got some great insights to share that’ll boost your art sales and take you one step closer to not having to worry about what day of the week it is anymore.

This week we’ve got:

  • ⭐️ Hannah Simpson as our featured artist

  • ✉️ Why email beats social media

  • 🤖 Good-to-know subreddits for artists

Hannah Simpson - Ceramicist

Courtesy of Hannah Simpson

📸 Instagram: hannahsimpsonstudio

🌐 Website: hannahsimpsonstudio.com

🎁 Etsy: hannahsimpsonstudio

If you asked most people what they were doing during the recent global pandemic, they probably wouldn’t reply with: “starting a business.”

But that’s exactly what Hannah Simpson did.

After graduating university with a degree in Fine Art, Hannah was ready to apply her love of scultping to a new post-academic journey.

She just needed to find out where to start.

As a student, Hannah created large scuptures made of metal and polystyrene that encouraged interaction and play. She enjoyed creating things that brought out a childlike sense of wonder in her audience, and wanted to continue that theme in her work after university.

But she wasn’t so sure on how to scale it all down.

Hannah had just got set up with a studio space and began exploring clay and ceramics when the pandemic hit.

Lockdowns and closures affected businesses and art studios alike, and Hannah ended up moving back in with her mom for a time.

Luckily for Hannah, her mom was also exploring a passion for ceramics & pottery and decided to place a bid on an old kiln listed for sale online. She won the bid and Hannah and her mom spent some time setting it up in a little garden shed in their backyard. Pretty much everyday thereafter, Hannah worked with clay and honed her ceramic-making skills.

Hannah’s large-scale sculptures from university always had a monstery vibe to them, so she decided to recreate that aesthetic in a smaller ceramic form.

With the dark times of the pandemic weighing down many people’s thoughts, Hannah hoped to turn something similarly scary (monsters) into something someone could laugh at.

The result was a big hit on social media where Hannah had begun sharing her work. The goofy backyard monster sculptures lifted people’s spirits, and Hannah began receiving inquiries from folks that wanted to purchase them.

She opened an Etsy store and eventually formed a proper business titled Hannah Simpson Studio.

Besides the monsters, Hannah began creating unique vases and lamps that people loved as well. These are still core products that Hannah offers in her shop today - each one made by hand and uniquely different from the rest.

As the pandemic receded, Hannah found and leased a professional studio space and brought a former intern-turned-friend & coworker with her to scale up the business.

Hannah has learned a lot about creating and growing a business focused primarily on ceramics and clay sculptures. Keep reading to see some of our favorite insights that she shared.

Courtesy of Hannah Simpson

Don’t Make Products with Low Price Ceilings

There are a huge range of products Hannah can create with clay, but she chooses to make just a few different kinds. This is intentional.

The approximate ceiling price of an item, or the maximum price most people will pay for it, is a significant factor when deciding what products to create and sell.

For instance, most ceramicists would have a hard time selling a flower pot for over $100. Many people just don’t see flower pots as being worth that much. Those same people, however, may happily pay well over $100 for a ceramic lamp which would take the artist a similar amount of time to make.

It’s a good idea to cast a broad net in the beginning, creating and selling all sorts of products, but you should eventually narrow your offerings down to the products that you enjoy making the most, are quick & easy to create, or can be sold at good prices that you’re happy with.

Courtesy of Hannah Simpson

Offer Workshops as an Additional Source of Income

When product sales slump and you’re not making the kind of revenue each month that you’d like to, consider offering workshops and classes to generate additional income.

Workshops are especially viable when you’ve already been working in a particular space for a number of years. Being a somewhat established artist with a track record of monthly sales and expertise in a given medium will reassure customers looking to take a class to learn something new.

At the very least, you should have a professional looking website that explains why people should sign up for your workshop.

Consider offering the workshops to corporate clients as well. They’ll poll their employees and fill the available spots without you having to lift another finger. Companies also tend to have higher budgets than the average individual customer, and can afford to pay more per seat.

Find a studio space to offer these sessions if you don’t have one already. Be sure to factor this into the cost of the workshop. In some cases you may even be able to offer virtual workshops online.

Remove Friction from Your Creative Workflow

Similar to how artist, Renata Paton, gave us advice on how to increase workflow efficiency, Hannah has provided some helpful examples of how she’s managed to streamline her operation over time.

  • Although most of her pieces are handbuilt (made with just hands and simple tools), Hannah recently acquired a potter’s wheel for her studio. Some of her more popular pieces are made up of shapes that can be more quickly made on the wheel, so this change saves her time.

  • Hannah leaves a dedicated space in her studio set up for photographing and filming content. She has several rolls of colorful paper up on a wall behind a table that can quickly be pulled down to serve as various backdrops. Leaving lights, backdrops, etc. set up in a designated location can save tons of time. The alternative is to repeatedly set up and break down a mini-photo studio each time you want nice photos or videos of your art.

  • Hannah has an accountant and is working to hire an administrative assistant to take over all admin duties (emails, order processing, customer service, etc.). Outsourcing these duties allows her more time to make new designs, fulfill more orders, and grow the creative side of the business in new and thoughtful ways.

Courtesy of Hannah Simpson

TL;DR
  • Don’t create low-priced products if the same amount of time can be used to create products you can sell for more.

  • Consider offering workshops to teach others how to get started working with your go-to medium. You can also use them to teach a signature style or method of creating. If you’re limited by your location or finances, try hosting a virtual workshop online.

  • Find ways to remove friction from your creative workflow. What systems can you put in place to make your life easier and accomplish necessary tasks in less time?

Additional Tidbits
  • Hannah has accomplished so much in a relatively short amount of time by adopting a philosophy of “what can I do today that’s going to help me tomorrow?” Instead of getting stressed out about the big picture, she breaks down her long-term and short-term goals into manageble chunks and adds them to her schedule. She asks herself, “what didn’t work today that I can tweak and try again tomorrow?” Making incremental improvements each day ends up looking like you’re making massive leaps forward when you zoom out and assess progress over the timespan of years.

  • Hannah created the brand, Hannah Simpson Studio because she didn’t want to just be known as “Hannah Simpson, the artist.” She always knew she wanted to work with a team of people and so creating a professional brand around her creativity was the best way for her to do that. The business also allows Hannah to create some distance between her personal and professional lives. Instead of always producing work as an independent artist, it instead comes from the small business and the team that she’s created.

  • Hannah is beginning to offer new pieces in scheduled product drops that she announces on social media and in her email newsletter. People that are on her mailing list get notified when a new wave of products are released to her shop which allows these loyal fans a chance to buy before the crowds from Instagram learn about the new items. The monthly product drops tend to garner more engagement and drive more sales than when new pieces are added to the shop as they’re created and listed without much fanfare. If you’d like to start announcing your own product drops in an email newsletter, read the next section “Why Email Beats Social Media,” or click here and create a newsletter for free today.

Hannah’s Tech Stack
Why Email Beats Social Media ✉️

Imagine a scenario where the social media account you spent years growing gets hacked.

Maybe it gets suspended on accident, or Instagram changes their algorithm and begins suppressing your content.

In these scenarios, you’re back to square one and have to start all over. If you lose your account, you’ll have no record of who your followers were, and even if you did, there’s no easy way to contact them all and ask them to follow you somewhere new.

In many cases, completely losing a social following could be devastating to an early artist or creator.

Letting the success of your art business be determined exclusively by the whims of social media companies implies huge risk.

The best way to counter this risk, is to create a mailing list of your followers’ email addresses, and to reach out to them occasionally in an email newsletter.

Email newsletters are a professional means of mass communication to your most loyal customers and fans.

Better yet, there is no way for someone to take your mailing list away from you. No algorithm changes will prevent you from communicating directly with these followers of yours.

In this sense you truly own your audience’s attention, whereas on social media, you’re only borrowing their attention (which can be lost at any time).

Email marketing can also drive sales far more effectively than social media can. It’s way easier to sell new art by letting your mailing list know about a new product drop than it is to announce it somewhere on Instagram and hope people rush to your link in bio to buy.

Fortunately, you can start your own mailing list & make your own newsletter on Beehiiv for free - and not for a limited amount of time, but free forever.

If you DO, however, want to take advantage of one of their payed tiers that offer more features, the button below will give you 20% off your first 3 months with Beehiiv after a complimentary 30-day free trial.

Whether you want to send your newsletter weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even just a couple times per year, adding this one feature to your business might be the lowest-effort, highest-return change you ever make!

Subreddits You Should Be Aware of as an Artist

Some of the best places for advice on niche topics are Subreddits. Asking questions and speaking to folks in these various communities can yield a lot of helpful insights that you might not find elsewhere. You may even find some customers that want to buy from you as well!

  • r/ArtBusiness - A place to discuss everything related to the business side of art: from dealing with clients and contracts to marketing, social media and merch production.

  • r/ArtistLounge - A place for artists from all art-related Subreddits and beyond to come together and discuss art, their lives as artists, art culture, and share advice and techniques.

  • r/Commissions - A place for artists, writers, musicians, animators, etc. to advertise their services and commissions.

  • r/ArtStore - A subreddit for artists to link their stores, sell their wares and connect to people looking to purchase original art or hire artists for commissions.

  • r/LearnArt - A free art learning resource built on the principles of free education and art access to all.

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Thanks for checking out another edition of Stay Sketchy. Catch you next week! ✌️

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