Selling Your Art - How to Break Even and Beyond. | Zoe Collins | Skillshare

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Selling Your Art - How to Break Even and Beyond.

teacher avatar Zoe Collins, Art | Design | Illustration

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      The Project!


    • 3.

      The Research


    • 4.

      The Art!


    • 5.

      The Maths, Baby!


    • 6.

      Promote your Stuff!


    • 7.

      Set it up and Send to Print!


    • 8.

      The last Hurrah


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About This Class

If you love creating art, but freak out about the business of creating and selling art, then this class is for you.  

Zoe is an artist, graphic designer, illustrator and ‘creative overachiever’ who refuses to accept that artists can’t earn a living doing the things they love. You’ll learn key components that every creative business needs — a very small, but super important thing to implement in your creative business which will give you the confidence to keep moving, keep creating and most of all, make enough money to move from one project to the next.

It this class you will learn: 

  • To see your art as a sellable item
  • To create a product from your artwork (using one of Zoe’s creations as a case study)
  • To figure out how many items you will need to sell in order to cover your costs of production
  • To factor in expenses such as shipping, packaging and website listing fees. 
  • We will also talk about presales — how to sell an item before you have produced it. 
  • To repeat this process over and over again and apply this new skill to other art. 

You’ll be creating a beautiful printed tea towel that you can sell in your creative business, either online or in person. And, if all goes well, you'll feel energised and see your work in a way that you've always wanted to, but never quite had the confidence to. 

Meet Your Teacher

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Zoe Collins

Art | Design | Illustration


I am an artist, designer and creative curiosity who goes weak at the knees over all kinds of visual delights. I have a penchant for beautifully bound journals and can't stop making my own artist books with my treasured long-arm stapler and all kinds of papery surfaces.

I love chocolate, wandering aimlessly through the kinds of food shops that are packed wall-to-wall with unfathomable ingredients to dishes I will never cook (though I'll have a crack at eating most things); and singing loudly in my car, imagining a life as a backing singer for some kind of rad rock band in the 80s (but in reality, my range and tone are more reminiscent of a kids' watercolour set).

I currently live in Brisbane, Australia with my husband and kids and a very bad cat called Monty. No really, he'... See full profile

Level: All Levels

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1. Introduction: Well Hello! I'm Zoe Collins, an artist, illustrator and designer, who is absolutely driven by creativity and a desire to earn a living doing the things I loved the most. You, I gather, are just like me, creative output and ideas for days, am I right?. But the question is, how do we go from being a creative overachiever to killing it in business? Well... luckily for me and probably for you too, I married a guy who has over 30 years experience as an accountant (he's pretty old... hehehe. Don't tell him I said that!) He knows a lot about money, about how it works and how to keep artists like me and you, from falling into spasms of frustration every time we need to get our business on. In this class, I'm going to guide you through a simple yet very effective tutorial, combining artistic experience with business know-how. We are going to use one of our own beautiful works of art. We're going to find a supplier, apply our work to a product, and then figure out how many of those we need to sell in order to cover the costs of production. Then we take it one step further. We're going to figure out the maximum number of products we can sell, spending the smallest amount of money in order to move towards making a profit. This class is for people just like me and you. Dazzlingly brilliant, super creative, possibly prone to under-selling our talents... That kind of people ... the types who have one other important thing in common. We never give up. So, grab your calculator and pen and your beautiful work and let's do this! 2. The Project! : This project is all about art and money. We're going to apply a piece of art to a commercial product — a tea towel! And we are going to use basic accounting principles to figure out at which point this product will become commercially viable. Another way to frame this is to figure out how many tea towels you need to sell in order to break even and then move into profit. We are going to use the concept of pre-selling. This is where you create a product, you mock it up. You promote in Instagram or Facebook or your newsletter or word-of-mouth. And then you set it up in your web shop at the price we're going to figure out. And then you actually sell and collect the money before you produce. That way, your costs are guaranteed to be covered. Yeah, cool. To be successful in your project, it would be wonderful if you had an existing artwork or if you could create something that would work on a tea towel. It might be illustrative, typographic, funny, or just plain, gorgeous. You'll also need a calculator, a pencil, or pen. And to let go of any fears you might have around earning money. Because baby, we cannot be starving artists forever. We've got mouth to feed. In Lesson 1, we will research current tea towel designs and consider how you'd like your tea towel to look, sketching out simple design ideas. In Lesson 2, we'll create a find the artwork in your long list of excellent stuff that you've got hanging around. We're going to use a basic tea towel layout specification, which most suppliers have. And then we'll find your supplier. In lesson three, we're gonna do the maths, baby. Trust me, I will hold your hand the whole way. In Lesson 4. We are going to promote, we're going to use your artwork images. We're going to mock up your final design onto a tea towel. We're going to start using all kinds of process videos, whatever you can find, to talk about your tea towel. We're going to use Instagram, Facebook, email, whatever you like to use. We're going to talk about this thing. We're going to get it out there that you have something to sell. And Lesson Five, we will prepare your files for print and we're going to send it to your trusty supplier. We're also going to consider things like packaging, postage or freight and any other marketing materials you'd like to include, like stickers or postcards or even just a basic business card. Okay. We've totally got this Totally. 3. The Research: So we're here to talk lessons. As you can see, I've gone all corporate, I've got my button down shirt. Not ironed very well. And I've got my brooch, matching earrings, got my hair put into a corporate ponytail. YEAH! That's me, baby! You ready? Let's start.. All right. The fun part of any project is the research. My dog just shook the tripod. So the sun part of any project is the research, right? I could get lost. But let's talk details, Okay. Well, traditionally, well, you know, when I was a kid, printed tea towels were souvenirs that my grandmother collected. And when she passed away, we uncovered the mother lode of incredibly kitsch and occasionally beautiful specimens. I think that's why I've got such a place in my heart for tea towels these days. So in those days they were printed on linen and cotton. These days we have the ability to print very small runs onto linen, cotton, blended linen and cotton, Hemp and microfibre, which I'm told works well, but I just can't get past the gross feel of it and the fact that it's plastic, Polyester, It's a type of plastic. It ends up going into waterways and then our sushi. So there you go. There's a little bit of unauthorized advice on environmental issues. Okay, so now that we know a little bit more about fabrics we can choose to print on, Let's look at the designs. Here are some I have in my kitchen. And I also have a Pinterest board that I've collated for you to have a look at. Things to think about as you research — the printable area of a tea towel, the specifics of which we will nail down later on. But have a think about what kind of imagery you going to use within those parameters. Are you going to fill the entire, entire printable space as I did in this example. Or are you going to go for a more repeat pattern? The supplier I chose only printed on existing tea towel blanks, which was within a certain margin on the tea towel. Okay, you may find a supplier who can print edge to edge and sew the tea towels and Hemline for you. But any choice you make at that point, will of course affect your final costing and retail price. So. At this point, I'd like you to go and fill your eyeballs with beautiful tea towel designs and start sketching out your ideas. Or you could find a suitable artwork that you already have ready to go. And whilst you're at it, make sure you share your beautiful stuff in the project gallery, because my eyeballs are waiting for you. 4. The Art!: Okay, Lesson 2, we're going to find or create the artwork that you're going to use on your tea towel, okay? For a successful tea towel artwork or any artwork, we need a way in. Here is a list of things I consider every time I start a new project: do I need to maybe start with a theme, a Christmas theme or Easter, holiday or something like that. Do I need just to think about the purpose of it? Am I advertising something or marketing myself. Maybe an event promotion. Or maybe I just want to create a beautiful artwork to entertain, inform, or educate. I also think very quickly in the process or early in the process about colour choices, because color is my thing. You could also think about style. Is it going to be geometric, narrative? Does it tell a story? Is it funny, organic, abstract, a piece of realism, whatever it is, make sure it is something that is truly yours. Do not, whatever you do, try to copy anyone else's style or work. Not only is that a breach of intellectual property, but it's just selling yourself short. Trust that your work is good enough. Come up with something to impress yourself. If you are really stuck for ideas, you could consider these. Maybe you could draw a map of your favorite city or a repeat pattern of your favorite animal. A portrait. A repeat pattern of things you'd eat or things you would use the tea towel to dry. A witty observation that you can turn into typographic design or maybe an alphabet. All of these options would create something pretty spectacular, particularly if you do them in your very own stunning, gorgeous, delicious style. Also think about your end product. Assuming you will be creating a digitally printed tea towel. You can use whatever media you like in as many colors as you like, as long as it can be scanned or digitized. And what I'd like you to do is upload any of your work that you're doing, as we go, into the gallery, I'm really excited to see what you're going to come up with. Oh, wait, one last thing that I should have mentioned earlier, a crucial element is resolution. If you are working digitally, please ensure you are working at a resolution of 300 DPI, which is industry standard print resolution. And make sure that your artwork is setup at 100 percent of the size. So if you're working with a 50 by 70 centimetre tea towel, I think in inches, that's approximately 20 by 27 and a half. Yeah, I totally Googled that earlier. So if you are working with that size, your file must be set up at that size at 300 dots per inch. Search your software's help file if you don't know how to do that. 5. The Maths, Baby!: Lesson 3. Okay, You ready? This is it! The first thing we need to do is check in with our supplier, have that decision locked-in. I've included a list of suppliers I know of, as a starting point for you. There are many variables here. For example, you could use a fabric printer like Spoonflower or Next State, to get a length of fabric printed. And then sew your own tea towels, or any other product really. For the purposes of this class and for the purposes of simplicity, we're going to talk about a supplier who prints onto ready-made tea towel blanks. If you wanted to go with the other option, you will just need to remember to factor in all the costs associated with that process. Find out how much your supplier charges to print one tea towel. My supplier's price for one tea towel was $20. The cost of one printed tea towel is what we will refer to as the unit cost, ok? 'unit cost'. Now, before we get too excited, Let's check out the definition of unit cost. Phil! PHIL!. Yoo-hoo! The unit cost is determined by the addition of all costs incurred to produce your items, divided by the total number of items produced. Thank you. Thank you, Phil. Seriously, I don't know what I'd do without him, honestly. So, a simple equation based on the tea towel that I have originally illustrated, designed and produced, starts with a 20 dollar costs from my supplier plus $100, which is two hours of my time at $50 an hour. And then actually $0 of consumable materials like paint, glue, paper, or canvas, et cetera. I didn't actually use any consumable items for the design of these particular tea towel. I just use my iPad, which is a cost that is an overall business cost, not a project cost, then I'm going to add 77 cents because that's a 2.2% site fee to list and sell my product. Okay. So let's just call that... a dollar. So at $20 plus 100 plus 0 plus 77 cents, let's call it a $121... $121 to produce one tea towel?. Obviously, that is way too much money. So this is where it gets interesting and this is where Phil and I can help you. We can reduce our unit cost by printing more tea towels. If I buy five tea towels, the cost from my supplier drops to $19 per tea towel. That includes printing, of course, if I buy 10, it's $18, 25 tea towels cost $16 per tea towel, And if we get 100 tea towels printed, the cost of print comes down to $15 per tea towel. So we've got that $101 figure plus $1500, which is 100 tea towels at $15 each, that comes to $1601. Divide that by 100 and our unit cost is $16 per tea towel if we print 100. Now this is where it gets really, really, really fun. I swear... No it really does. Okay, let's decide what price we want to sell our tea towel at. We're going to decide the retail price. That is the price we want to sell it to the end user. When I was producing my tea towel, I had a look around and saw a number of bigger companies and small businesses were selling the kind of tea towel I was producing for around $25. So I thought about selling my tea towel for twenty-five dollars and realized if I did that, I'd have a margin of $9 to work with. That wasn't really enough for me. Considering the time I would take to promote the tea towel, set it up in my shop, the cost of packaging and the materials for that, et cetera, et cetera. I knew I would have to up the price, and I knew I would have to do that with confidence. It is not every day that someone can buy an artwork by me or anyone for such an affordable price. So I did another little calculation considering the cost of tissue wrap, tape, mailers, whatever else I could think of, and decided on about thirty-five dollars per tea towel, That would end up being my retail price. And I was really happy with that. By that stage, I also decided to cut costs on wrapping and I spent a small amount only on mailers, and the rest was recycled or upcycled. I also happened upon a local shop who gifted me with leftover bubble wrap pouches, which was amazing. And I used leftover cardboard and wrap from my stash. This significantly reduced my costs and also thankfully gave my conscience a break while also giving me something else to mention as a point of difference to my offering. That is, I only use recycled or upcycled materials for packaging. I probably should also mention I'm talking in Aussie dollars here. It might be completely different where you come from. Whatever feels right for you, you go for it. Okay. All I'm doing is offering you the bones, the calculations so that you can apply that knowledge to whatever product you want to sell. It doesn't have to be a tea towel. Okay? I keep saying okay! *giggle So with our retail price of thirty-five dollars and our cost price of 16, let's figure out how many tea towels we need to pre-sell before we can go ahead and print 100 tea towels. The aim here is to cover our cost of $1600. This is what you do. You divide 1600 by 35, which is approximately 46. So you have to be able to sell 46, tea towels to cover the print cost of $1600. This will leave you with 54, tea towels that you've already paid for, that you can then sell for a profit. Cool, right? Now let's say you feel like you can't sell 46, but maybe you could sell 30. The price to print 30 is $16 per tea towel print, plus $100 of your time, plus $0 in material cost plus about a dollar. in uh... listing fees — 581. This comes to a unit cost of approximately $19.50 per tea towel, which leaves you with $15.0, margin if your retail price is $35. Now one step further— how many must you sell, in order to cover that cost? 17! So if you sell 17 tea towels, you have covered your costs and the remaining 18 tea towels will put you into profit. Yes!!! Cool. Huh?! So what I want you to do now is use your real costs. Go to your chosen supplier, find out their print costs, factor in your time at an hourly rate you're comfortable with, add in your materials, expenses, and use the equation to figure out your unit cost. Then take it that one step further to figure out how many you have to pre-sell in order to cover your costs. The equation is going to be written down in the notes. You'll be able to apply that equation to whichever product it is that you're going to produce and sell. A little side note. I actually design earrings as well. And when I did my first range of earrings, I was really slow. I had to set up files for print in a way that I hadn't done before and it was really quite fiddly. I was also learning how to use my iPad and software. And I was working with old artwork that I painted and I really had no idea. So I took all of these things into account and decided that I couldn't add in the cost for my time at that point because it would have blown my unit cost out of the water. So if this is your first foray into selling your work or if you're using your existing artwork, then I would suggest it is 100% okay to pretend for this one time that your time is free. Just for this one time. Or at least just allow what time it should take you to create an artwork suitable for a tea towel. When building a business and making money from art, small steps are better than no steps at all. At least if we give this a go this one time, a year from now, you will not be sitting around still wondering if it was worth it. In fact, I bet you'll already be onto your second or third or fourth product. And you will have learned so much that your profit margins will increase just for the fact that you're streamlining and working out the best way for you to get things out there. Once you have your price set, you can start to look at uploading your pre-sale item to your website. And as we get stuck into the next class — promotion — you can decide exactly how and when you are going to launch your exciting new product. Oh my God. Honestly, this stuff just makes me so happy. It really does. And that's it for this lesson. Thank God, right. Did you cope? So I want you to show me you work in the gallery, okay? You can use the space to figure out your costs. Ask each other questions. Go nuts! You have totally got this. Refer back to your notes if you get stuck. Good. Are we wearing the same shirt?! 6. Promote your Stuff!: I'm guessing you might hear the words self-promotion and die little on the inside. Or maybe vomit a little in your mouth? Too far? Sorry. But selling one's work must be one of the most confronting things ever, or just ugh...anyway... But you know what I'd learned? People who love your work, want to hear about it. So let's remind ourselves of that every five seconds or so, alright? And also, let's not call it self promotion. How about we call it storytelling about my stuff? He's my tried and tested formula. It has one step. Tell a story. Take your friends, family, and audience on an adventure with you. That's it. All right, I'll break it down a little bit. It's fine. I've been doing this kind of thing for so long for myself and for other people that I kind of might need to go and have a little think. Number 1, you need a lot of media. Lots and lots of visuals. Get out your phone camera, take photos of your process. Take photos of every step of the way. Take photos of yourself too, Okay? You're not just selling a tea towel, you're revealing your brand. Show people your mistakes. Show people your triumphs. Talk to the camera as if you're talking to your most fervent supporter, your mom? your Bestie? ... whoever it is, just talk to them like they're really there. Include your logo at every opportunity. If you don't have a logo, use your name and write it pretty! Simples! Mockups. There are plenty of free resources out there. So you can create a mock-up of your artwork onto an image of a tea towel or anything, really, whatever you can find, you can even create your own mockup. Make sure you give your audience an idea of what the final product is going to look like. Okay? So that was step one. We're into step two, which is: get excited! Whatever you do, don't be timid, don't be too shy. Be yourself, but don't apologize for your "intrusion" into people's lives. If they've signed up for your newsletter, they following you on Instagram or Facebook, then they want to hear from you, okay? Every five seconds remind yourself! Email your audience with weekly updates or daily even, if you're working on it for only a week or two. Keep up your energy. And a quick side note, if you're not excited about this work, then it likely won't sell. Maybe your excitement levels are stunted by your inner critic, possibly? If so, give her a little hug, pat her on the head seat here in the corner with a gentle, soothing, 'Not now, Edna!' ... It may be your excitement levels up there because you haven't produced a work that you'd be happy to have in your own home. Check in with those thoughts and see what comes up. So the third little bit in these promo step is to be humble. You're not the best artist out there, okay? But you are definitely super excellent at producing your work. And as I said earlier, your people want to see it. They want to be a part of your story. Step number 4. Tell a story. What is the artwork? What does it mean? How did it come about? My artwork, for my tea towel started as an assignment. It then morphed into a bit of an intuitive exploration on my iPad, because I was learning how to use it. I was working with shapes and colors and themes that were playing out in my life at the time. There were references to my family, a global pandemic, hope and above all, it just had my powerful and almost absurd use of color, which is something I'm known for. Step 5 is the process, process, process, process video, video, video. Take lots of process videos. Take us on your adventure with videos of you working, time lapses, overheads, unboxings! OMG, people love that stuff! Pull some funny faces when things go wrong, pull some funny faces when things go right! Get onto it, you can do it. Step 6, use all the social media you are comfortable with. But most importantly, I want you to use this as a way to build your email list because that is the best way to talk directly to the people you know want to hear from you. We're in this for the long haul — we're running, we're building a business, not just one project. Step seven, be strategic about how and when you release the item for sale. When I ran my tea towel promo, I gave people loads of snippets and teasers for approximately one or two weeks. Then I gave them a few days to get excited. I ramped up my storytelling for a few days before I even opened the shopping cart. And then I did not stop talking about that tea towel until I had hit my golden number of items I had to sell, in order to cover the production cost of 100. I closed my shopping cart seven days after it launched, and I sold 87 towels with the rest given as gifts to family for Christmas. and a couple returned by a customer who would over ordered, which ended up being quite good because then I had a couple that I could use for promos and prizes for little competition that I wanted to run. Again, we're thinking the end game, we're building our business. So I'd love to see what you're doing for promos. Chuck them in the project gallery, show us what you've got. Use that space to practice, practice, practice. I'm here to give you any feedback ... if you want it... Or... I can leave you alone! 7. Set it up and Send to Print!: Lesson 5 is about file preparation. File preparation is not tricky, but it is crucial to get it right. I mentioned in Lesson 2 that when creating your artwork, particularly if you're working digitally, you must work at the size of the finished print at 300 dots per inch. If you're not working digitally, then you must scan your artwork at a high enough resolution that you can reproduce it digitally at 300 DPI. If you're not sure what all that means, don't stress, just follow the instructions in your software help file to set it up. The next step is to contact your supplier or look at their website for file preparation or production instructions. My supplier had very little information on their website, so I had to put in a phone call and I sent an email asking for their production guide for designers, which they sent over promptly. If you do this, if you make the phone call that is, not only will you get the information quickly and accurately, you'll also be able to get a feel for the supplier and see if they're going to properly look after your job. Again, with my supplier, I had to send back the first test run they did as it was not a great outcome. Be sure to ask them what their policy is on outcome. You do not want to be trying to sell poorly printed merchandise. Ugh. I can't honestly think of anything worse. Here are the specs I used: 300 dpi, RGB color, 50 centimeters by 70 centimeters, tea towel with a printable area of 36 centimeters by 53 centimeters. Pretty cool, right? That went well. I cannot recommend highly enough that you use a local printer, someone you can have a conversation with, as these specifications can sometimes be flexible, sometimes not. One phone call to my supplier, I learned a tiny little trick that made my tea towel zing on the printer. I don't even know why they didn't tell me to start with, but these are the kind of things and the kinds of conversations you have to have with suppliers in order to get the best out of them. Rightio! I think you're ready to hit, send my friend, get onto it. Take a deep breath... Now, whilst that is brewing, get yourself organized and into gear, baby, we're going to post some stuff out. You need to research postage rates, figure out how you want to package your product, and consider other little marketing materials you can include to tempt your loving customers to return again and again. And don't forget to update your project in the gallery and let us know how it's all going. 8. The last Hurrah: Giddy up my friend. You've finished. May I offer my sincere congratulations. If you're anything like me, you have a pretty short attention span for these things. So how about we have a little project debrief, which is a very important step in any project. What did we do? We learned a bit about tea towel design. We did some art out onto fabric kind of bizzo, you know. We came up with an artwork that is truly ours and that we truly love. We worked with the supplier either local or online. And we did some raaad maths! Yeah! The promotion was all kinds of ... well you know ... it was a bit fun a little bit cringy, but mostly remember, it was only just telling stories about our stuff. Then we finished up with the technical jazz to get our beautiful thing printed. I'm really proud of your efforts. I'm not even kidding. It really wasn't that long ago that I did this for the first time myself. So I kind of remember what you've been through. Now if there's one thing I really want you to take away from our time together in this class, It's this: The Maths will always be here written down for you to come back to, reacquaint yourself with and apply to all kinds of projects. If I'm allowed another, I truly hope you come away from this class feeling confident and energized to take on the world one money-making project at a time. Each time you produce an artwork and each time you decide if it's going to be something for sale or something just for the love of doing, you'll be one step closer to becoming the arty business person. You truly want to be. Dude, did I mention I'm proud of you? Now please, upload your details into the projects gallery on the class page so we can all shower you with the praise and attention you deserve. And also leave me a review and follow my profile for more adventures making art and making money. Love you work