1st Quarterly Report: The $$ Lowdown

It feels a little gauche and taboo and unseemly and awkward, but this is a blog about making a living as an artist, so I thought I should start posting a quarterly earnings report. Transparency seems like the best way to answer the question, “Is the reward worth the effort?” For the sake of full disclosure, then, in the first three months of 2019, I earned … drumroll … fanfare … dun-ta-dah! …

$1.30!

Whoot!

It’s the 10% commission I made on the sale of two Spoonflower tea towels in February. It’s still early days, so I’m not terribly discouraged by this tiny, wee number. I kind of find it encouraging. I love hearing that artists are selling. It means that people are buying and that this whole artistic venture is not all for naught. If in two years I still can’t buy a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby with my quarterly earnings, then I’ll have to consider going in a new direction. But, until then, let’s see if we can make something happen!

To get the sales figures up, I need to deal with my Spoonflower shop first. I only have eleven designs in there right now, and I’ve done nothing to promote them. My immediate goals are to:

  1. add to my design inventory (Enough dawdling, already.)
  2. demonstrate how the designs can be used (Quilts, collages, etc.)
  3. create more tea towels because apparently everyone already knows how to use tea towels. I think. Maybe?

I was still a little perplexed myself, so I googled, “how to use tea towels,” and it looks like I’m not the only one! I found:

My favorite tea towel tip is in the video: wrap up a baguette like a burrito and hand it around the dinner table. Guests can rip off a hunk of breadular goodness while keeping the loaf unsullied. Love it! It’s relaxed, but refined. A nice way to be. It’s permission to eat with your hands!

from Studiopatro in San Francisco

Apparently Tea Towels are a Thing

ambrosia bite bannerOne night last month, my husband and I were watching Drunk History when my iPad pinged with an incoming notification from Spoonflower saying that two more of my Ambrosia Bite tea towels had sold. I gave a distracted, “Whoot!,” and went back to watching First Lady Dolley Madison tell the guys who were helping her save the White House’s national treasures not to roll up the portrait of George Washington like it was a “Jimi Hendrix poster.”

(If you haven’t seen Drunk History, and you can get past the swearing and hurling, it’s a great series. It’s given me a whole new appreciation for lip-syncing.)

The next morning it dawned on me that the tea towel buyer’s name had looked familiar, so I went back to review my Spoonflower statements, and, sure enough, the same person had put in a duplicate order last September. That was odd. I assumed that the first order had been a one-to-keep/one-to-give-away sort of thing, so why did they need two more so soon?

Poking around the web, I found that the buyers were hemming and selling finished Spoonflower tea towels on Etsy, and my initial reaction was, “WHAT?!?” I felt like my cat when he’s had an encounter with the neighbor’s yellow lab, and his tail freaks out like a bottle brush. Then I chilled out and acknowledged that they really weren’t doing anything wrong. I had been paid, and they were crediting the designs to “independent artists,” so not passing them off as their own. Probably not going as far as they should attribution-wise, but they weren’t stealing from any of us.

The good news: apparently my design is likeable enough to sell. Bad news: I don’t think I signed that design, and I’m a big dummyhead.

I’ve been surprised to hear Spoonflower designers say that tea towels are their biggest sellers, which shouldn’t surprise me because the one tea towel I’ve ever made is the only thing I’ve ever sold. Over and over again.

Nonetheless, I’ve never quite understood tea towels that are made out of linen or canvas. They’re fun and collectible, but I equate tea towels with dishtowels, and in my experience, if they aren’t made out of terry cloth, they just push the water around. Why would one want to own one if they don’t dry dishes? Am I using tea towels wrong? Maybe they aren’t supposed to dry anything at all? The real question, though, is, if they’re selling so well, what am I doing not designing more tea towels?!?

Ambrosia Bite tea towel detail
Detail of an unfinished Ambrosia Bite tea towel printed on cotton canvas. Designed, printed, and languishing in the studio since 2014.

I’ve had a print of Ambrosia Bites hanging around my studio for years waiting for me to hem it. I think it’s time to give it a good beta testing. If I wash it enough to soften the fibers, will it become more absorbent? I still want a tea towel to act like a towel, and they’ll be much easier to promote, if I find them useful too.

Ambrosia Bites duvet cover from Spoonflower
Spoonflower automatically shows a series of potential products with each design, but I’m not sure the recipe tea towel duvet is ever going to be a big seller. 🙂

“Who’s Your Professional Crush?”

Liz Craft and Sarah Fain posed that question on a recent-ish episode of their podcast, Happier in Hollywood (#73). They were identifying the differences between their “nemeses” and their “professional crushes,” people in their Hollywood circle who either irritated them because they succeeded by taking actions that Sarah and Liz found distasteful or who they wanted to emulate.

A professional crush, they said, is not a romantic crush, but is someone who is,

“doing everything you want to do and is a person you want to be. . . . Their success doesn’t get under your skin. Their presence does not grate on you. Instead, the heavens open up.”

I was surprised at how quickly I could pinpoint designers from the Spoonflower Community who fit those profiles. My nemesis shall remain nameless, but my crush is a gal who calls herself, “ottomanbrim,” a.k.a. Tina Vey.

First of all, I adore Tina’s picturesque handle, “ottomanbrim.”

Secondly, she’s a very kind person—friendly, approachable, and supportive of others’ efforts.

And thirdly, her designs make me swoon! Every single one of them. She has a mid-century modern vibe with this cool, linocut flair. Her patterns are hard-edged, but playful. She achieves what I strive to create—designs that are elegant and fun. She enters a lot of challenges and manages to maintain her style while adhering to the letter and spirit of the competition theme. Her style is so well developed and distinct that I can recognize her work in a crowd.

ottomanbrim designs
A sampling of ottomanbrim’s adoration-worthy designs from her Spoonflower shop.

Part of the reason that I abandoned the Spoonflower Challenge Play-to-Pay strategy was that my efforts were resulting in a disjointed collection of designs. Lots of one-off pieces. Since I was gearing each one toward a predetermined theme, I was taking myself down tangential, dead-end paths. They were fun exercises, but they didn’t really get me anywhere.

Tina, on the other hand, has managed to avoid those dead ends somehow. She has over 300 designs in her Spoonflower shop, many of which are challenge entries, and they all seem to work together. Even in their variety, it’s one, huge, cohesive collection, which seems like a very good goal to shoot for.

So, with that in mind, I’ve been working on a group of two-color designs that stem from my Black & White Wallpaper challenge entry. One color is always white, which, I hope, will be the hook that unites them. I’m going for whimsical, clean, and graphic.

two-color designs
Laying out prints of the new designs to see how they work and play together.

I shot for 30 designs initially because Spoonflower will let you sample in bulk for about a $1 a piece (versus $5, if you do them singly), but what I thought I could do in one month has taken three. I’m so excited about the results, though, I’m pooping pink daisies!

I have a palette in mind, but I think I’ll upload all of them in black and white, too. You can never go wrong with black and white!

“I’ve been forty years discovering that the queen of all colors is black.” – Henri Matisse