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using print-on-demand sites

My current moon themed illustrations.

Using print-on-demand sites can be weird. The sites themselves put forward a polished face. They curate their front page and featured works so that the tons of schlock uploaded by people doesn’t show up to represent their brand. To prove my point, go to one and use the search feature. Unfortunately, mostly garbage and copyright violations will show up(addendum: it looks like they’re making an effort to clean it up) and you have to sift through it to find the good stuff. Anyone can make a shop on them. Anyone can upload work. Anyone, so your work is swimming around with theirs, and you have to hope you’re found or that the site chooses to feature you.

It’s great that people have the option to see their own work used as functional objects like notebooks, blankets and so on, that you don’t have to wait to be discovered to see if you work hits a good note, but it does crowd the pool.

The currently popular print-on-demand sites also have different aesthetics. Redbubble seems to be a bit more illustrative, pop culture-ish, cutesy. While Society6 kinda has this Urban Outfitters thing about it. Lots of atmospheric pieces, abstracts and botanicals. Part of it even reminds me of early 2000s grungy-design phase(hell yeah, I still have all my dirty photoshop brushes!), but also mixed with your grandmothers damask couch. I like both and that they have carved out different brand identities.

I do prefer Redbubble’s image uploader and backend than any other POD site yet. Society6 offers some more complicated items, like shower curtains and drapes, but I find their image uploader a bit buggy which can be frustrating. Neither are difficult to use, but when you have a lot of designs to manage, any problems can make it tedious.

The other POD site I’ve been using is Zazzle. Zazzle, I think, has been around forever and still appears to be going strong, It hasn’t been choked out by it’s many competitors. Zazzle has the most product options by far, which is good but also sometimes overwhelming.

Zazzle is for moms(cool moms). I don’t say that as an insult. I’m just saying that branding wise, they push very middle class suburban friendly work. They also promote products like printing your baby’s picture on a mug and gifting it to a grandparent. Cute, and the type of thing that families love.

I’m not pushing my weirder stuff there. What I’m trying to do is release items like party supples or school stationary with my patterns on them. I seriously love the idea of some mom in Oklahoma hosting a Halloween party for her kids, seeing my creepy cute Halloween patterns on cups, paper plates and napkins in my Zazzle store, and then ordering them for a bunch of grade schoolers to use while they play the “Monster Mash”! So here’s hoping for that to happen!

Party like it’s Halloween

Like anything else, you need to give your storefronts regular attention in order to see results, which can be hard if you are an easily distracted person(that’s me). But if you do, it can work. I don’t make a huge amount of money from these shops, but once they are setup and running, they become a source of mostly passive income. These sites regularly run specials, offering coupon codes to use at checkout that will take a percentage off your order or give you free shipping. And if you’re extra thrifty and use rebate sites to get a percentage back from your purchase, Society6 is included in Ebates or other cheap people apps.

I started this post off by saying using these sites can be weird. To come back to that, what I meant to explain is that I think there is a bit of a prejudice against using them. It feels a little bit looked down upon in certain circles. I think the thought is that, if you’re work was truly good, then someone would have commissioned you or licensed your work. It’s a bit different now than it was in the early 2000s, when these sites were new and there was a lot of glory that went along with getting a shirt produced by Threadless or prints sold by 1XRun. I’m not sure when or if it changed, or if I’m conjuring that up in my head. If I am right, I think the stigma is fading. There are incredible artists using these sites to help themselves make a living. Of course, they don’t get a huge cut of the profits, but then they don’t have any of the hassle or cost of production.

This has been another ramble about art and internet stuff. It’s good to put my thoughts down in words. It allows me to examine them a bit more closely and see where I’m wrong or right. And enjoy the little ads I’ve sprinkled among the words! I’ve been playing at making better pinterest/instagram posts, more attractive ones, and these are the results.

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social media – being an artist on the internet

I am not an expert at this, by no means. I’ve been an inconsistent blogger, a late bloomer with a genetic scowl and an introverted disposition. I am not an internet personality. I have not charmed the art consuming masses. That’s fine.

Remember when this was the most significant scam young artists had to fear?

But I’m wondering what is the next relevant online venue for visual artists? Most current platforms have choked out our audiences with algorithms. Every once in a while they let your work show up in feeds, giving you a taste of what you could have exposure wise if you’d just buy an ad/create a paid campaign. I don’t know many artists that bother. In fact, hilariously, many of the ads that show up in my feeds are advertisements proclaiming they have the secret to boosting your art career, and you can have all their tricks and magic, if you just buy their whatever. It’s funny. Artists trying to sell and being taunted by ads created by people who can already afford to do what the average artist can’t: pay for advertising.

Also, I’m not going to snapchat.

I’ve noticed an uptick of scammy spam from grifters trying to trick artists into paying them to be on their websites/book. They lure with promises of exposure and plastic everyone-is-a-winner trophies. And they’re soliciting through social media, pretending to have made that new relevant platform artists can use to be seen again. Which is kinda silly for even other reasons. Whatever that venue is, or should be, has to not just be for artists. It has to foster those who may be interested in their work, but without being just about selling.

Maybe I’m old-internet-fashioned, but I still depend on having a website, because, in the end, this is where my work is, and I can always be found, regardless of the latest social media fad.

I’m also still not convinced that paid ads are the answer for visual artists anyway. They seem more useful to sell fad products like scented lipsticks and cheap bathing suits. I feel like paid ads feel insincere, and as a fine artist, your perceived authenticity is valuable. I guess it depends on how far you’re willing to let your product be viewed as product. It is, indeed, product, but presented more as a piece of jewelry in a display case than dish soap on a shelf.

There are more working artists now than there has ever been before, all vying for the same relatively small audience, or trying to figure out who their audience is. Couple that with the massive talent out there as well… The audience for ultra absorbent paper towels and cheeseburgers is much bigger.

Free webinar, but not so free online course in how to grow your career as an artist. Shouldn’t schools be doing this instead?

Then there is SEO. I think the sites that get the best SEO results are the sites promising to tell you how to use SEO. You’re confusion gets you there to see their banner ads. In fact, I may just get more traffic to my blog because I’m talking about SEO for artists.

I know one thing for sure. If you don’t share your work, no one will see it. I don’t mean that in a ‘build it and they will come kinda way’. Google analytics proved that wrong to me. But still, if you don’t share your art it can’t be seen.

Friends who started their art careers before the internet was such a big player: what exactly did you agonize about when it came to finding an audience or patrons? I’d like to think there was simply less existential terror over it, since you didn’t have Facebook or Instagram to even consider, but knowing human beings, I’m sure there was some common horror.

I wish we were all more free of the fear of failure, financial ruin and desire for approval. But yet, those fears are probably part of the allure. Double edges and all that.

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noise pollution – what do you listen to while working?

Lately I’ve been developing a strange relationship with sound and making art. For months now, I’ve been addicted to listening to podcasts, but I suddenly can’t handle the noise.

My attention span gets scattered, and I grow anxious and find a hard time staying on task. This is something I have to figure out in order to make my studio time productive. Music has never been an important companion to me, unlike almost everyone else I know. When I do try to listen to music, it’s usually through a streaming service like Spotify, and I find the ads disruptive. What I find the most satisfying to listen to music wise is still downtempo-esque music and murder ballads. Murder ballads are songs passed around communities and through time to tell stories of local tragic crimes, mostly murders, hence the term. You’ve probably heard 1 or 2 before and didn’t realize it. Here is a link to my collection of them on Spotify.

Sometimes I force myself to work in silence, just for the contrast, or to not allow myself to be tricked into feeling like I have company through the sound of a tv show or audiobook. When I do this, I’m glad that I did. The same while driving. The quiet gives me more room for my own noisy head. Actually, silence isn’t the right word. I think I mean natural noise. The sounds of everyday life. For example, it’s hot today, but I can’t stand the sound of the air conditioner running. I shut it off and opened my windows so I could hear the city. I’d rather be sweaty than feel like I’m stuck in some sort of vibrating box. I don’t feel like a part of the rest of the world when I can’t hear it. I think I have a similar relationship to light. Real sunlight is a salve and artificial just does not cut it.

I used to listen to old time radio plays, horror and detective ones, while painting, but then moved on. I might cycle back to them, try to find some new unearthed series, specifically Australian ones. I’ve made posts in the past here where I shared some of my favorites. Here is another link to check to them out, if interested. I’ve noticed OTR has gotten a boost in popularity lately. You can find them on Audible and Spotify and probably other places as well. Looks like content providers have realized they are copyright free, and they can still make a buck or two off of sharing them.

I’ve moved on from audiobooks for the time being because of the cost and also because I was coming across too many badly narrated ones. Again, my tastes tend to the macabre, and I seemed to only listen to trashy true crime novels. They’re like documentaries but just for the ears.

Then I discovered podcasts! I’m always a little slow to catch on to the new thing(no shame, I can be crotchety). I’ve been listening to true crime podcasts for years now, but before the current explosion of new ones. I mainly listened through blogtalkradio, and specifically True Crime Radio(the websleuths associated podcast) and True Murder by Dan Zupansky. Yes, I’m linking everything. Those two have been around for a long time, in internet years, and are not formatted much like the newer popular ones. True Crime Radio was/is formatted more like an up to the minute, true crime news show. True Murder features a journalist interviewing other true crime authors about their books. These are pre-Investigation Discovery channel podcasts and sites. They were good road trip company, except maybe not at night.

I know that Serial is the pod that kicked off the recent true crime fervor, but I haven’t listened to it. I’m childishly contrary and can’t make myself give it a try. Luckily, I have many to choose from instead lately! The ones I listen to the most are The Vanished(concentrates on missing persons cases and actively trying to solve them), Thinking Sideways(true crime but also about mysteries, does a bit of debunking which I like), Generation Why, In Sight, Thin Air, In the Dark(about the Jacob Wetterling case, incredibly well done and ethical), Accused, Court Junkie(unique in that it covers more current cases and their trials), Misconduct, Queens of Crime(a little different in that it is made by women who are actual producers on true crime shows, but not so sanitized like a pod made by an actual tv network), Casefile(Australian podcast that did a phenomenal series about the original night stalker), Twisted Philly(the title says it all), The Unresolved, Murder Dictionary(not so serious and often crass, but still very funny/women led without playing on that ‘girl friends’ trope), Small Town Murder(another comedy one), Bowraville, Unconcluded, Mens Rea(Ireland specific), Judge and Jeremy and I could go on and on and on….I left many out, but lately these are my faves. Or were, when I could stand listening to podcasts.

The 2 themes I see continued in my listening habits are 1. creepy crime stuff and 2. storytelling. I guess I need a story, like at bedtime. Just not with pictures! I need to keep my eyes busy elsewhere.

If you have any favorites to share, please do. I could use the change in routine. And if you have experience this weird sound anxiety and figured a way around it, please tell me how!