What's the Best Investment For Your Creative Business? Advice from 5 Successful Artists & Designers

If you are (like me) still in the process of building your business, you know what it feels like to run out of something. Time, money, help from others... resources are limited, and you have to make tough choices every day about what you invest in. Do you spend the two hours you have free scheduling social media, or developing your craft? If you have a little extra money, what do you spend it on when there are so many things you still need to do?

Last month, I shared the first of a four-art blog series where I asked established artists & designers to share advice for those of us just starting out. Today is the second part, and it's a good one! Today, we're going to talk about what's the best investment to make when you are a beginning artist or entrepreneur. Below, you will find the sage advice of Stephanie Fehrenbach, Ingrid Sanchez (a.k.a Creative Ingrid), Ashley Rayne (a.k.a The Wild Hippies), Jessica Roux, and Monica Lee-Henell.

 
What's the best investment you can make in your creative business, when you're just starting out? We asked 5 artists & designers to share their wisdom! More at danielleandco.com.
 

You can check out their advice below, with a little description of each artist and links to their websites and Instagram. Let's get to it!


"What is one investment you recommend a beginning artist and entrepreneur make in their business?"

 
Stephanie Fehrenbach shares advice on investing in creative business, on danielleandco.com
Work by Stephanie Fehrenbach, shared on danielleandco.com as part of a blog series on advice for artists, designers & creative entrepreneurs.

Stephanie Fehrenbach

Stephanie is an Ontario based artist who works with oils, watercolors, and other mediums and who I've always especially admired for her floral paintings; they are just so vibrant and full of movement!

InstagramWebsite

Invest in your website for sure! Your website is a reflection of you and your art, so make it the best you can. You don’t need anything really fancy, just a clean layout that’s simple, easy to navigate and lets the art shine. I use Squarespace and I love it! You don’t need to hire a designer -  the templates are beautiful and super easy to use for a non-techy person like me!

Good supplies are definitely worth it, but that being said...start where you are! You don’t need everything to be perfect right out of the gate. You’ll gradually build up a set of good materials as you go and start selling more work. Don’t wait for perfection to get started. Buy the best you can afford and keep making your art.
Ingrid Sanchez shares advice on investing in creative business, on danielleandco.com
Work by Ingrid Sanchez, shared on danielleandco.com as part of a blog series on advice for artists, designers & creative entrepreneurs.

Ingrid Sanchez

Ingrid (or CreativeIngrid as you might recognize her) is a Mexican artist based in London, who creates a prolific amount of work that is so bold & vibrant. The process videos of her painting large florals & abstracts are so captivating, I always look forward to them!

InstagramWebsite

Seriously, the best investment is time. A lot of people ask me about the brand of my watercolours or the size of my brushes. That is not important, but practice is. Because I say a lot, “practice, practice”, people think I don’t want to share the “secret”, but this is the secret. It’s not free, practice requires time, a lot of it. It’s a huge investment because no one is paying you and sometimes it can feel like a waste of time, that is why patience has to be present.

I will say to the beginners to take different workshops with different artists in different styles. That will really enrich the practice. To the entrepreneurs, something similar - invest in knowledge, hire someone with experience to teach you how to do things, that will save you a lot of your precious time.
Ashley Rayne shares advice on investing in creative business, on danielleandco.com
Work by Ashley Rayne, shared on danielleandco.com as part of a blog series on advice for artists, designers & creative entrepreneurs.

Ashley Rayne

Ashley (better known as The Wild Hippies) is a hand-lettering artist who is all about the positive vibes! Her colorful, cheerful artwork is shared on Instagram & available on Etsy. Her sense of humor is what sets her apart from other artists online, for me!

InstagramShop

My advice to someone just starting out would be to take it slow. Do not go out and spend all your money on the newest tech, tools, or help. Make a list of everything you need, and a separate list of everything you want. Buy some entry level supplies until you are ready to upgrade. Buy only the essentials you do not already have. And take advantage of social media! Yeah, a website is great, but it can be expensive, and is a lot of work. Social media on the other hand is free and easy to set up.
Jessica Roux shares advice on investing in creative business, on danielleandco.com
Work by Jessica Roux, shared on danielleandco.com as part of a blog series on advice for artists, designers & creative entrepreneurs.

Jessica Roux

Jessica's work is subtle and lovely in a way that's hard to describe without having seen it first. With very consistent use of colors and technique, she focuses on nature in a unique way. What draws me in is how she illustrates animals with so much life and detail.

InstagramWebsite

Having a great computer setup is important to me - a big, color calibrated screen running Photoshop, Illustrator and Lightroom, a Wacom tablet, a high quality scanner, and a fine art printer are all great investments to make that will reward you for years to come. 
Monica Lee-Henell shares advice on investing in creative business, on danielleandco.com
Work by Monica Lee-Henell, shared on danielleandco.com as part of a blog series on advice for artists, designers & creative entrepreneurs.

Monica Lee-Henell

Monica's work feels ever-evolving, but always in a beautiful direction. I've followed along with Monica's work for years, and her vibrant, moody abstract and floral paintings always make me stop scrolling in Instagram just to admire them for a moment.

InstagramWebsite

Photoshop and a good understanding on how to use it. Whether you are taking your work online, creating your website or reproducing your work, good Photoshop skills are worth every penny.

The answers from each of these artists are different, and at first may seem contradictory. What I take away is the importance of picking something to focus on and invest in. As opposed to picking alllllll the things to invest in, and feeling overwhelmed and scattered. When you have limited resources, it's better to do 1-3 things really well than 4-15 things mediocre.

This is advice I'm taking with me into 2018! I spent 2017 trying out a lot of new things and experimenting. While I think full video tutorials are awesome and fun to make, I realized they doesn't play on my strengths and took a lot of time away from painting and blog writing. Those are the very things most crucial to my work! So, I'm letting the idea of weekly video tutorials go. Instead, I'm going to focus on quality blog content and building my online shop. This also keeps me from rushing out and getting expensive video equipment, and helps me to use what I already have.

Stephanie recommended using Squarespace as an affordable way to have an amazing-looking website without the cost of a designer. I absolutely agree; Squarespace is what I use too, and it is so clean and intuitive, I can't recommend it enough.

What's one investment you are making in your business? How have you narrowed down your focus, to be sure you're directing your resources where they are needed? Please share in the comments below!

- Dani

How To Set The Mood for Creativity: 5 Artists & Designers Share Their Wisdom

I love (love!) getting a sneak peek into other people's business. It feels a little voyeuristic, but I want to see it all; their studio or work space, the supplies they love to use, the mistakes they make, their habits - all of it. It's not just to be nosy; I also gain a lot from the wisdom and experiences of other artists! Particularly, those who are more established, or who might have reached a level with their work that I'm aspiring to.  Also, I'm a little nosy.

If I gain so much from this, I'm guessing you might too. So, I wrote down a list of four things I wish I could ask the artists I really admire... and then I just went ahead and asked them! Never hurts to ask, right? I was really excited when five amazing artists who I have followed along with for years in some cases responded! They include Stephanie Fehrenbach, Ingrid Sanchez (a.k.a Creative Ingrid), Ashley Rayne (a.k.a The Wild Hippies), Jessica Roux, and Monica Lee-Henell.

Not only are these five artists really talented; they are also really different from each other. With the unique perspectives they offer, I think this four-part blog post series is going to have something to inspire anyone - so please keep checking back for more!

 

 
How do you set the mood for creativity? We asked 5 artists & designers to share their wisdom, and how they create a space ideal for fine art inspiration, freelance illustration work, and productivity. From small things like a hot cup of coffee, to bigger things like establishing a routine, get inspired by these accomplished artists. More at danielleandco.com.
 

Guys, they put so much thought into their answers and I know you're going to enjoy reading them as much as I have. I've taken those four questions and turned them into four separate blog posts, so we can really get in-depth with each one; today, we're asking how they set the mood for creativity.

You can check out each of the answers below, with a little description of the artist and links to their websites and Instagram. Enough from me though, let's hear from them!


"What do you do to set the mood for creativity?"

 
Stephanie Fehrenbach shares how she sets the mood for creativity on danielleandco.com
Work by Stephanie Fehrenbach, shared on danielleandco.com as part of the How Do You Set the Mood for Creativity blog post.

Stephanie Fehrenbach

Stephanie is an Ontario based artist who works with oils, watercolors, and other mediums and who I've always especially admired for her floral paintings; they are just so vibrant and full of movement!

InstagramWebsite

I find having my space set up and ready to go helps so much. So I’m not spending too much time cleaning or getting organized before actually getting down to work. Music is a must for sure! I find now, especially as a busy new mom, I can’t wait for inspiration to strike. I just have to take the time to work whenever I can. I think that’s the secret to creative living. Don’t wait for it. Just show up and make something, and keep doing that as often as you can. You’ll have good days and bad days, but I find actually making work is what inspires me most and gives me new ideas.
Ingrid Sanchez shares how she sets the mood for creativity on danielleandco.com
Work by Ingrid Sanchez, shared on danielleandco.com as part of the How Do You Set the Mood for Creativity blog post.

Ingrid Sanchez

Ingrid (or CreativeIngrid as you might recognize her) is a Mexican artist based in London, who creates a prolific amount of work that is so bold & vibrant. The process videos of her painting large florals & abstracts are so captivating, I always look forward to them!

InstagramWebsite

My working space is sacred, it has to be clean and organized. Before I start painting I smudge the space with palo santo, sweet grass or any herb I’ve collected in my trips, and meditate. It doesn’t has to be very intense, I am happy with a quick one just to open myself and the space for creation.

After this I am ready to go. I like working in silence during the mornings, but after lunch I usually play some music or listen to a podcast, my favorite:  ‘Art for your ear’ with The Jealous Curator.
Ashley Rayne shares how she sets the mood for creativity on danielleandco.com
Work by Ashley Rayne, shared on danielleandco.com as part of the How Do You Set the Mood for Creativity blog post.

Ashley Rayne

Ashley (better known as The Wild Hippies) is a hand-lettering artist who is all about the positive vibes! Her colorful, cheerful artwork is shared on Instagram & available on Etsy. Her sense of humor is what sets her apart from other artists online, for me!

InstagramShop

Working from a home office has its benefits (it is oh so convenient for parents with little ones at home), but it also has some major challenges. It can be a real struggle to get yourself into the working mindset, or getting yourself out of it when your family needs your attention. It isn’t as easy as driving to work, powering through the day, and then shutting down when you come back home. Working from home means you need to stay motivated and driven. It is much easier to just lay in bed for an extra 10 minutes (or an hour) in the morning. Much easier to take an extra long lunch break. Much easier to be distracted.

Keeping motivated is crucial to your productivity. I have a few small rituals that I do to get my mind and mood in the right place. First thing I do in the morning is make sure the house is tidy and clean. I can not focus when my mind is distracted by a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Once the house is clean I make myself a big cup of tea - earl grey de la creme green tea is my go to - and head upstairs to my office. I will then sit at my desk and prioritize and expand on my daily task list (I make a quick list the night before that I work from). After writing out my schedule for the day, I light some sage and smudge (cleanse) my office and myself. Smudging really helps my mind relax and get focused. Finally, I turn on some noise - a pod cast if I am painting, my favourite playlist if I am doing some graphic design, or instrumental new age trance music if I am doing anything that involves reading and/or writing. All of this in combination get my creative juices flowing and makes for a very productive day!
Jessica Roux shares how she sets the mood for creativity on danielleandco.com
Work by Jessica Roux, shared on danielleandco.com as part of the How Do You Set the Mood for Creativity blog post.

Jessica Roux

Jessica's work is subtle and lovely in a way that's hard to describe without having seen it first. With very consistent use of colors and technique, she focuses on nature in a unique way. What draws me in is how she illustrates animals with so much life and detail.

InstagramWebsite

Every morning starts with walking my sweet pup, Molly. It’s wonderful to get to spend that time enjoying some fresh air and spending time with her, and it puts me in a good mood to get work done. I love listening to podcasts while I illustrate - I’m into science, design, true crime, and history mainly, but here’s a bunch of my favorites: Science Vs, Reply All, Ologies, Natch Beaut, Lore, Invisibilia, Every Little Thing, Criminal, Creative Pep Talk, 99% Invisible, and 2 Dope Queens. I listen to music when I run out of new podcast episodes. I love checking my Spotify for my Discover Weekly playlist, and they recently made me a “Your Time Capsule” playlist that literally sounds like they stole my middle school mixed CDs. It’s got some No Doubt, Pink, Green Day, Destiny’s Child, etc on it, and it’s perfect do get some serious drawing done.
Monica Lee-Henell shares how she sets the mood for creativity on danielleandco.com
Work by Monica Lee-Henell, shared on danielleandco.com as part of the How Do You Set the Mood for Creativity blog post.

Monica Lee-Henell

Monica's work feels ever-evolving, but always in a beautiful direction. I've followed along with Monica's work for years, and her vibrant, moody abstract and floral paintings always make me stop scrolling in Instagram just to admire them for a moment.

InstagramWebsite

I am a coffee drinker! Even if I’m not sipping something about having the smell and warmth in my hand sets the mood. I do listen to podcasts but am very careful to make sure they don’t set the wrong tone in my head, if that makes sense! So sometimes I just listen to romantic music. When I am really problem solving or need complete concentration, I need silence though!

I found it so fascinating that two different artists referenced smudging their spaces with sage or other herbs, to prepare it for painting. This has never occurred to me, but I'm intrigued and happy to experiment with it! Overall, what stands out to me is how we use rituals (even if it's just a cup of hot coffee or a walk outside) to get in the mindset for creating work. Creativity is all about having the space and ability come up with fresh work, and I loved reading about how others do it. Too often, I feel like I'm cramming work in between grocery shopping and soccer practices, and then feeling frustrated when it isn't coming to me naturally.

Also, those were some great podcast suggestions! I love listening to podcasts, and definitly added some new ones to my list.

How about you? What's one thing you do to set the mood for creativity before you work? This week, I challenge you to join me in being more intentional when creating a space and time for work. Find what works for you! Making sure you have a cup of tea to sip, trying to work a different and quieter time of day, putting on some great music or cleansing your work area - please let me know about it here or on Instagram!

- Dani

Launching an Etsy Shop, and Making All Those Decisions

I've spent the last three (maybe four...) years meaning to open an Etsy shop. It’s been on my “in 6 months” list the entire time. This summer, I decided enough was enough and I would slowly start to set it up, giving myself a goal of just two weeks. Wouldn't you know it – that night it was live! It just suddenly clicked. It wasn't all perfect, though - despite having read 20+ articles and guides on the topic, I wish I had been more prepared for the amount of decisions that needed to be made right in the moment. Today I wanted to share what they were, and how I ended up where I did.

 
Tips on Making Intential Decisions When Setting Up An Etsy Shop

Tips on Making Intential Decisions When Setting Up An Etsy Shop

 

Decisions To Make When Opening an Etsy Shop

  • Types of items to sell. I don't know about you, but I have so many things I want to do someday. All the ideas sound like fun,  it was challenging to realize I was never going to get this thing off the ground if I didn't narrow things down. One thing really hanging me up was whether to sell digital or physical prints. There are so many of both on Etsy, but there does seem to be a shift toward digital over the past 5+ years. Some of the pros and cons I had to consider were:
    • Theft of digital images. Having your artwork so accessible to someone else digitally can be nerve-wracking. There are so many stories of someone's work being ripped off, and having to prove it was yours first. It took my realizing that there is risk in putting yourself and your work out into the world no matter how you do it, and without risk I wasn't ever going to achieve anything.
    • Customer service. Buyer's having the option of printing at home can be great - it's convenient, they can re-print if something goes wrong, and it cuts down on cost. However, no matter how much you emphasize in your listing that they should use archival inks and a quality paper, many people won't. And when the print doesn't look or feel great, they will be disappointed. Even if it isn't your fault, when they go to leave feedback it could end up reflecting poorly on you. Once you send that digital file, it's out of your hands!
    • Managing expectations. Similarly to above, it can be hard to manage a buyer's high expectations. Colors can look different on a computer screen than in your hand, and so a physical print may not always be exactly what they had pictured when they purchased it. Likewise, with digital files a buyer may not realize what software they have on their computer, or what file size they have space for, or that it won't look quite as good printed on regular weight computer paper.
    • Shipping costs and packaging materials. While Etsy still takes both a listing fee and percentage of the sale on digital items, there is almost (or actually) no cost to selling a digital file to someone. However, selling a physical print not only means packaging and mailing it to a buyer but doing so with cute packaging and in a sturdy, safe way that ensures it gets to it's new home without getting too banged up. I went ahead and bit the bullet, and bought in bulk a lot of packaging material in different sizes including clear bags, sturdy mailers, and cardboard inserts. I even printed some postcards with a pretty design on it, as a freebie to include.

Ultimately, I knew I had artwork I felt compelled to sell as a physical print; it just felt right that way. I also knew I wanted to eventually add seamless patterns available to download, because I enjoy making them so much. I decided I would diversify my offerings to have both for now, and eventually could roll back on a type of listing if it wasn't doing as well.

 
Art prints being packaged for shipping!

Art prints being packaged for shipping!

 
  • Images! Of all sizes and types! This I was actually prepared for, but ended up changingthings at the last minute when I didn't love how it looked. I recommend looking at other shops you intuitively are drawn to. For me, that included Yao Cheng Design and Emily Jeffords (two amazing artists - see photos of their shops below!). That can give you clues on if you prefer the look of shops with or without header images, what sort of logo stands out to you, etc. For now, I have a raindrop design in watercolor textures chosen to represent what it is I sell and to be a little "neutral" in terms of audience. I anticipate changing it, but for now I'm just getting started. For a logo, I wanted it to connect with the header image and otherwise kept it simple - someday, I hope to whip up a fancy logo! I had a lovely college student I worked with take some head shots a couple of years back (thanks, Patricia Wall!) and have used this one as a profile picture ever since. Also, that pineapple shirt is still one of my favorites. 
Emily Jefford's Etsy Shop

Emily Jefford's Etsy Shop

Yao Cheng's Etsy Shop

Yao Cheng's Etsy Shop

  • Deciding on a consistent “look”. I tested out a few "mock-up" images of blank picture frames, and put them side-by-side to see which I preferred. Originally, I tested out using a variety of mock-up frames all in one color, but I realized I was missing that clean, consistent look I prefer from other shops and which has a higher-end, more polished look. However, when I've added digital pattern & clip art packs, I've gone with a different look completely in order to showcase what those packs include. I may eventually find a compromise, to help them blend in with the other listing images - let me know if you have any suggestions!
  • Setting up for future plans. While I'm open to seeing what works and what doesn't, I also have some future ventures planned. If you're setting up a shop or website now and know you plan to head things into a particular direction a year down the road, you might as well make sure your current set-up will work for it to. You don't want to have to re-do everything! I would recommend looking over your "big future idea" list (if you don't have one, jot those down asap!) and see how your current work can be moving you towards accomplishing those goals.
  • "Categories". I'm still torn about this one! I started by listing physical prints, and set categories based on their theme (geographic, fruit & vegetable, floral & botanical). When I went to add digital prints, I realized Etsy limits each listing to only one category; so, I couldn't have a digital image of a head of lettuce, for instance, in both a "digital" category and a "fruit & vegetable" category. I wish I had thought that out a little more, ahead of time!
 
On the left, you can see the categories listed. All of the main images for each listing have the same visual look, using the same or similar mock-ups.

On the left, you can see the categories listed. All of the main images for each listing have the same visual look, using the same or similar mock-ups.

 
  • Determining pricing. Ugh - this is a tough one. On the one hand, there are sellers on Etsy listing almost anything for dirt-cheap. On the other hand, you want your work to be valued and to be compensated appropriately for your time and skill. I wish I had an easy answer to this one; balancing the value of your work with competitive pricing is daunting. My personal opinion is that there are many buyers out there who understand value, and that listing your work at a reasonable price will indicate to them that it is of good quality.
  • Having various price points. One of the main reasons I felt compelled to list both digital and physical prints is to be able to offer a variety of price points to a variety of shoppers. A digital print can be sold for only a few dollars, and a physical print can reach a much higher price point depending on size. Since I'm just starting out, I want to see what works best for buyers and adjust over time.
  • Whether to use an online print service, and choosing paper and sizes. After some research, I realized I don't have the budget for a good enough home printer to produce the quality of prints I want to sell, not to mention the archival ink and 100% cotton paper! While printing at home would give me the advantage of quickly producing prints "made to order", using an online printing service means they do the work and have the fancy equipment so I don't have to. So far, I have used FinerWorks and had a good experience. I did invest $25 in a sample pack of their papers, but it came with a giftcard that reimbursed me for that money on my first order. While the process of having prints made online has gone smoothly, choosing papers is just plain hard! My first order turned out lovely, but I plan to try out some different fine art papers next time.
 
Comparing paper samples from FinerWorks

Comparing paper samples from FinerWorks

 
  • The amount of competition and feeling overwhelmed. Isn't this true for every artist or crafts-person, no matter how you share your work? The struggle of being your own unique, authentic self or catering to what appears to sell. Personally, I believe both are achievable with a little compromise. I've just opened my shop this summer, and as I was warned would be the case, sells are very slow. I am not feeling bad about it, though! If you're feeling down about your success, the best advice I can give you is what I'm giving myself: Just keep doing the work. The rest will come.

A few sources of inspiration

If you’ve also been trying to launch a new endeavor for what seems like forever, I hear you and I’m sending you all the hard-working-go-get-‘em vibes! What decisions are you making right now?

- Dani