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Finding a Balance Between In-Person & Online Art Sales

Melbourne-based Illustrator, Renata Paton, teaches us how to sell art in person while managing multiple online revenue streams at the same time.

Good morning, and welcome to another edition of the Stay Sketchy newsletter.

With April just about over, you can expect the annual resurgence of “it’s gonna be May” Justin Timberlake memes on social media. Pro tip: ride this wave. Maybe your art style lends itself to a quick doodle or design involving the NSYNC icon that the Instagram algorithm will appreciate 👀.

This week we’ve got:

  • ⭐️ Renata Paton as our featured artist

  • 🎨 Cool color palette tools on the web

  • ✉️ Perks of having your own newsletter

  • 🤭 Some artsy memes

Renata Paton - Illustrator & Visual Artist

Courtesy of Renata Paton

📸 Instagram: gremren

🎁 Etsy Shop: etsy.com/shop/gremren

🎨 Portfolio: gremren.com

Moments where you have to make big life decisions are usually a bit stressful.

Especially when you’re in high school and you’re being asked to choose what college major you’re going to pursue.

Very quickly, you realize this isn’t just about choosing a major - it’s about choosing which path (out of hundreds) you’d like to walk down for what could be the rest of your life… *gulp.*

The seriousness of this decision is why people tend to look at you a bit sideways when you, a 17-year-old kid, tell them you’re thinking of pursuing a creative degree - maybe in Fine Art, for instance.

What are you going to do with a degree like that? They’ll always ask.

Ironically enough, they never seem to think you’ll do… art 🤔.

This scenario has played out in schools around the world for years, and it’s one that Renata Paton, a Melbourne-based artist, found unfolding around her when she was on the brink of graduating high school herself.

Courtesy of Renata Paton

Like pretty much every artist out there, Renata was a creative kid growing up. She loved hands-on activities like woodworking and pottery, and her friend group was made up of predominantly artsy kids.

When faced with the age-old question of “what do you wanna be when you grow up?” Renata felt the pressure that young creatives always feel when they’re asked this - maybe even more so.

This is because Renata had a bit of imposter syndrome.

She knew she loved art and creative pursuits, but among her friend group, she couldn’t help but think the others were better suited for that life than she was.

She admired her friends’ abilities and passions so much that she ended up doubting her own.

Refusing to compromise a creative future in its entirety, Renata allowed herself a small compromise, and attended Uni to pursue Communication Design with a minor in Illustrative Mediums. This allowed her to to study design and various aspects of art while still positioning herself to land a salaried job after school if she wanted to.

Communication Design draws a lot of parallels to Graphic Design, however, and after graduating, Renata found that she was competing for available jobs with those who had degrees in the more popular alternative.

Sidestepping the competition, she embraced the work she did for her minor, Illustrative Mediums, and landed a job in printing.

Renata worked there for a couple years editing files and doing basic design work for clients, but there were only so many hospital brochures she could print before she noticed her creative itch was no longer being scratched.

It was during this stint at the printing company that Renata took to drawing again. She did so in the evenings after work, and often times with Posca paint markers, which she quickly fell in love with.

It wasn’t long until the revived hobby grew into a full-blown passion, and Renata made a deal with herself to truly explore whether or not she could turn her renewed interest in art into a full-time business.

With the backing of her full-time job, she spent a year and a half developing her art style, learning new skills, and posting her work to Instagram… every single day.

Yes, for 1.5 years Renata made it part of her daily routine to upload something to her dedicated art account.

Even a year into her journey, Renata was still under 1,000 followers, and days where she’d get a single follower were still notable. It was during this first year, however, that she learned a lot about herself as an artist as well as how to edit content and engage with other artists on the platform.

Eventually, the hard work paid off.

Renata tried something a little different, and began illustrating more detailed pieces. This yielded a clear spike in engagement and, in time, pushed her over the 1,000 follower goal she sought for so long.

But it didn’t stop there…

Just a few days after she reached 1,000 followers, Renata’s following skyrocketed to over 10,000 people!

This huge swell of support, coupled with a few more months of growth, was enough to make her quit her job and finally embrace becoming a full-time artist.

Nearly 5 years later, with over 123,000 followers on Instagram and 191,000 on TikTok, Renata shares some of the insights she’s learned over the years.

Courtesy of Renata Paton

Tips for Tabling

A siginficant portion of Renata’s income comes from tabling at various art markets in her local area & around Australia.

After noticing a slight dip in online sales following the pandemic recovery, she plans to double down on in-person sales and put in extra effort to have an impact as a local artist in her community.

She had a lot of advice to share when it comes to selling at art markets.

  • Consider splitting the table with a friend - Entry fees at some markets can be intimidating. Instead of fronting the fee by yourself, consider splitting the cost with another artist and sharing a booth/table space.

  • Make a list of everything you’ll need - Don’t count on yourself to remember each and every item that will need to accompany you to the market. Without a written list, it’s all too easy to forget business cards, banners, display stands, etc.

  • Do a test set up of your entire table beforehand - A few days before the market, when you have everything you think you’ll need, set up your table at home. Display everything how you’d like and make sure you’re happy with the layout and spacing. Take a photo of it so you can quickly repeat the set up process the day of the market.

  • Charge all electronics and card readers - Don’t anticipate that your table will be located near an outlet. Any devices you need to facilitate sales should be fully charged before the big day. Consider bringing spare battery packs as a backup.

  • Consider a “please touch” policy - Renata noticed a significant uptick in sales when she removed her “display only” signs and employed a “pick & grab” or “please touch” policy. Allowing folks to handle her prints, enamel pins, and stickers runs an increased risk of theft, but it also increases the chances that customers will form a connection with a piece of art and make a purchase.

Courtesy of Renata Paton

Acquire Systems & Tools that Help Increase Workflow Efficiency

Like Renata, many full-time artists are independent business owners. Running any business by yourself can involve a lot of moving parts and quickly get out of control. It’s important to put systems in place to help you focus on doing more of what you like to do, and less of what you don’t like to do.

For Renata, hiring an accountant and using accounting software hugely reduces the stress she might otherwise feel when tax filing season rolls around.

Accounting software can help you track your income & expenses throughout the year, and will largely eliminate needing to dig through receipts or bank statements to see how much money you made in that time. Having this increased visibility into your business’s finances can really help to inform decisions you make on what you should change or what’s best to focus on moving forward.

Below shows Renata’s various income sources for 2023.

The “Other” category includes sales from collaborations, commissions, INPRNT, Redbubble, and other misc. channels.

A smaller item Renata recently invested in to spend more time making art and less time performing administrative tasks was a high-quality label printer.

With a majority of her income coming from online sales of physical goods that require shipping, hand-writing shipping labels started to become untenable. With a label printer, Renata can drastically reduce the time she spends packaging orders.

Maintain a Consistent Social Media Presence

From Renata’s story at the top of the newsletter, it’s clear that posting to Instagram on a daily basis was critical to her success early on. Similar to how doing reps at the gym builds strength over time, Renata was working out a creative muscle on a regular basis that ended up making her a much stronger artist than she was at the start of her journey. Holding herself accountable to post to Instagram each day was the driver for this.

Posting so frequently also increased her chances of eventually going viral. If, for instance, we compare the number of uploads Renata had at the end of 1.5 years to someone who only posted once per week, the math shakes out to Renata having nearly 550 photos & videos on her profile while the weekly uploader only has 78. The Instagram algorithm is always changing, but ultimately it can be boiled down to a “shots on goal” mindset - the more instances you put your work out there, the higher likelihood there is for one of those posts to blow up.

Lastly, maintaining a consistent presence on social media means you’re also engaging with other creators and artists there. Instagram likes to see you commenting and engaging on posts with other users. This is also a good opportunity to make connections in the space that can possibly lead to collaborations and new business opportunites. Additionally, participating in trending challenges will boost your account’s visibility among Instagram users.

  • Skim the “Tips for Tabling” section above to learn the various things you should keep in mind when selling at an art market.

  • Use systems & tools that help increase the efficiency of your creative workflow. Enable yourself to do more of what you like and less of what you don’t.

  • Be consistent on social media. Post regularly, engage often, and make friends with other creators when possible.

Additional Tidbits
  • Renata always keeps an eye out for local wholesale or consignment opportunities. Wholesale and consignment models are similar, but wholesale shops will pay upfront for your work, whereas consignment shops will pay you as your work sells (typically at the end of each month). Whenever another artist in Renata’s area mentions restocking at a particular store, it’s a good indicator that this vendor supports local artists and that they may be open to working with new creators. In cases like these, Renata will make a point to write down the name of the shop so she can reach out to the owner at a later date. Writing down the names of gift shops and other creative-leaning stores that she passes while driving is another way Renata sources wholesale/consignment opportunites.

  • Renata is actually in the process of moving away from Etsy and starting her own online store using Shopify. There are a number of reasons for doing this, including avoiding the associated Etsy fees, but one of the primary reasons is because she found that one of the most searched terms that was bringing people to her artwork was her own business name & Instagram handle, “Gremren.” This was a flattering and exciting moment for Renata, and it told her that there was enough demand in organic search engines to support an independent store.

    Having said that, she still recommends artists start out on Etsy, and even consider maintaining an Etsy shop as a supplemental store if they choose to open their own online shop someday. This is because Etsy greatly simplifies the collection and remittaance of sales tax - especially VAT tax in the UK - so selling within one’s own country through their own website, and selling internationally through Etsy, may be appealing to some artists.

Renata’s Tech Stack
  • Adobe Photoshop - Editing for print prep & cleanup

  • Adobe Illustrator - Illustrative vector work (sticker & enamel pin design)

  • Adobe InDesign - Zine making & cohesive design of branding assets

  • Square (+ Square Card Reader) - Payment processing at markets

  • Snapseed App (iOS & Android) - Photo editing app to make content photos appear more professional

  • CapCut App (iOS & Android) - Video editing app for Instagram & TikTok

  • Rounded - Freelance accounting software (Australian-focused, although equivalent software exists in the US & UK)

Cool Websites for Building a Color Palette

Colormind.io - Colormind is a color scheme generator that will help you come up with agreeable palettes for your next piece of art or design work.

Adobe Color - Adobe Color is a more advanced tool that will allow you to build your own color palette based on a variety of different color harmony settings.

Coolors.co - Coolors is a palette generator that falls somewhere in bewtween the above two options in terms of capability. It’s a bit gamified, so it’s probably the most fun to use, but it may lack some of the nuances of Adobe’s tool.

All options are free to use, so check ‘em out!

Why every artist NEEDS their own newsletter ✉️

The simplest step an artist can take to improve their sales is to create a mailing list.

That’s right. Not a huge following on Instagram or TikTok, but a modest - or even small - list of email addresses belonging to dedicated fans.

Why is this so valuable?

  1. Customer Retention. Don’t just get a sale then send that customer back into the marketplace maelstrom 🌀. Capture their email. Establish a longer term relationship with them. Build hype for upcoming projects. Sell to them again in the future! Maybe they’ll become a collector of your work 👀.

  2. Platform Independence. Don’t be beholden to the algorithms of Instagram, Etsy, Facebook… A mailing list is completely platform independent. You control the narrative, and if you decide to change the platform you use to send your newsletter, you can just export your entire mailing list and take it with you wherever you go. It’s yours forever 🤩.

  3. Cultivate Relationships. Use your newsletter to create long-form content for your fans. These folks love your work and might want to hear more about your process than what you squeezed into your latest Instagram caption. This can even lead to new business opportunites and partnerships down the road 🤝.

If you’re asking yourself where you can get started, look no further than this newsletter! Stay Sketchy is built on a dedicated newsletter platform called Beehiiv.

Beehiiv was created by the developers that made the Morning Brew newsletter into the media giant it is today (so they sorta know what they’re doing). It’s got a ton of tools that help you grow and better understand your audience.

The best part is that you can make your 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!

Let’s close out today with some artsy memes

u/virgodawn - Reddit

holycat.co - Instagram

u/Globallad - Reddit

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