My heart is sick and my stomach churns. I’ve been looking into selling my art in various places online, and in the process my whole view of the art market has been shattered. I used to go to etsy and see the amazing, colorful paintings for hundreds of dollars, and I would think to myself, “Wow! That’s beautiful. And it’s such a simple idea. I could be making this kind of money, but I don’t want to copy this person’s style.” The swirling, curling tree branches and the texturized flower petals against a vibrant background always catch my eye.
Last week, I read about a woman who sells knitted things on etsy and makes about $9000/month (with a crew of 15, but that’s her take-away from the store). Turns out she used to knit things, but in order to meet demands, she’s been buying the knitted portions wholesale from India, and her team sews on decorative additions to the items. A number of commenters said things like, “She needs to get off etsy!” Granted, it got under my skin for a moment. I was upset for the people who work very hard to produce special handmade pieces and wait around for even one to sell, but she had some very good points for marketing. Presentation is everything. Hire a professional photographer and some models for your work. Compare your photo beside all the others that come up with your desired search terms and look at it from the eyes of the consumer. Would your picture catch your eye? It’s great advice if you can afford that kind of thing. The paintings that catch my eye are all staged nicely with the perfect wall color, lighting and maybe some furniture to show how elegant the piece will be in a home.
So I’m on this mission of finding places to sell my art, and I like the way ebay is setup to prepare your shipping labels when the order comes through. I poke around the auction listings to see how much people are asking for artwork. I see the same style paintings that I thought were super gorgeous on etsy being sold for a fraction of the price. I’m skeptical. The items are coming from China and being listed as originals. I imagine mass production of poor imitations being advertised with someone else’s photo. When I click through, I notice things like “92 sold” and “100% positive.” If they’ve sold that many of just one piece and maintained the 100% positive feedback, people must be getting what they expected from the picture and description. What gives?
I return to etsy for further investigation. While I didn’t find identical photos, I do remember seeing the exact listings from ebay on past searches in etsy. I did, however, find many different “artist” selling paintings that followed the same formula. My heart sunk, because deep down I know I can’t compete with crafts. Crafts are meant to be duplicated, and while each is handmade and not completely identical, each iteration follows the same successful pattern to reduce labor time and increase marketability. Why give up on something that will bring you hundreds of dollars a pop when people are still willing to buy it, even knowing that it’s not unique. The dozens of people with this work hanging on their walls will probably never cross paths.
So today I’m filled with love and respect for the original works that sit untouched month after month, year after year, waiting for the right person to find something more than popular appeal, but a genuine connection.
To paraphrase Daniel Dociu: People are naturally curious. They want to know what’s going on in your head. If you only give them what they ask for, you give them nothing. Do your work and the public will respond.