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The craft of selling crafts 

January 15, 2018

Contributor

Crafts are having a moment. People have been lapping up everything artisanal, with crafts being sold left and right at popups, fairs and workshops, even major malls that acknowledge the niche.

The penchant is understandable: aside from the visual pleasure of art—whether calligraphy, doodles, or watercolor, to name a few—there is something innately personal about something hand‑made and unique. Every stroke of brush0o on paper, every corner off a sheet of cardboard and every drop of ink is a whisper from the soul of its maker, and when you hold a piece of their art, so do you hold a piece of their heart.

The craftsman, particularly in this setting, is two‑faced. Aside from dealing with the creative side, they also play the role of an entrepreneur.

We asked four outstanding ladies in this field for some tips from how to get started with selling, market to the public, and eventually turn a profit.

Abbey Sy

Abbey Sy is a visual artist, published author and entrepreneur rolled into one. Her bestselling books include The ABCs of Hand Lettering, The ABCs of Journaling, Hand Lettering from A to Z. Recently, she launched ABC Magazine, a publication for artists, crafts and makers. Visit her site, her new YouTube channel and her Instagram to see what upcoming events, workshops and publications she has up her sleeve. She will also be a speaker at Graphika Manila this February, along with 11 other artists.


Alexis Ventura

Alexis Ventura is a calligrapher and founder of two major things in the local craft scene: The Craft Central and Ink Scribbler. The Craft Central is a growing brick‑and‑mortar specialty store for all your crafting needs, as well as a platform for local artists to showcase their own crafts. The Ink Scribbler, on the other hand, is a modern calligraphy and design agency. For your art supplies fix, visit The Craft Central at Greenbelt 5 and SM North EDSA. For your design needs, you may read about and contact the studio through www.inkscribbler.com.


Aencille Santos

Aencille Santos is a watercolor and graphite illustrator whose subject matter usually deals with nature and celestial bodies. She has conducted participated in art markets and conducted workshops, all while working as a communications executive at a five-star hotel in Manila. Check out her works and stay updated on her upcoming events on Instagram and Facebook.


Kat Santos

Kat Santos is a calligrapher and watercolor illustrator, with a particular interest in designing wedding stationery. She got her start with her artistic pursuits through a request from an online accessories store, and now she’s got both local and foreign clients (in fact, she was the one who designed the wedding invites of Camille Prats and VJ Yambao!). You can catch her on Instagram as @thepapercat.


There’s no one formula to succeed in the creative industry, but the recurring constants in their stories include commitment, artistic and business know‑how, and marketing.

Here’s a little summary of what they said.

Step 1: Decide on your purpose for setting up a creative business and commit to it

You may be interested in freelancing, doing commissioned artworks, giving workshops, or setting up a (physical or online) store. After which, take a long look at the pros and cons of having to monetize, and then evaluate the skills you already possess and what you still need to learn.

Ventura shares that the business opportunity for Craft Central emerged because she conducted numerous beginner’s workshops on calligraphy. “There was a need for more accessible and affordable craft supplies, and because of the workshops, I automatically had a captive market,” she told SparkUp. “We started with calligraphy supplies, but the long-term goal was to encompass all sorts of crafts, and to be a hub for other crafters to sell their products.” Meanwhile for the Ink Scribbler, she envisioned an agency with a team of people making art.

On the other hand, Sy was able to utilize not just her artistic skills, but also her business and marketing know‑how when she started making money from her crafts in college. Apart from her freelance design work and major in Advertising Management, she sold tote bags as a creative outlet as an undergrad, which also gave her firsthand experience: “I was a one-woman team—designing the bags, painting on them, dealing with online transactions, taking photos for the shop, doing accounting. Looking back, that really gave me a lot of background on how e‑commerce now works.”


Step 2: Decide on whether you want this as a part‑time or full‑time job

You may also want it as your bread and butter, or as something on the side, but be prepared with a solid plan, fallback and money saved up, especially for the former.

Sy was juggling freelance creative work while in a corporate job as a fresh grad. She eventually quit her day job after weighing her options, but made a compromise to herself: “I said if I couldn’t survive after a year, I would go back to corporate. Three years later, looks like I’m here to stay and never to go back to the four walls of working in an office.”

Don’t be fooled by the sound of a side hustle, though. “Art on the side is no walk in the park,” says Aencille Santos, who manages to maintain an impressive clientele and hold workshops, despite being busy with her other commitments. “My Sundays are sacred. It's my art day. I make sure to stay at home and paint, whether it's a huge piece or just quick exercises. A schedule keeps me disciplined. I finish all my corporate-related tasks on weekdays. I am also blessed to have colleagues and a boss who are very supportive. My workshops will not happen without their support.”


Step 3: Consider collaborating

For larger‑scale projects, there may be the need to collaborate with a team. Ventura made The Ink Scribbler into a design agency, so as to lessen the workload and delegate tasks. She says, “That way, it is more sustainable and reliable and less prone to burning out, as compared to being a freelance artist.”

Sy also manages a small team that she up or downsizes according to the demand for her work: “Right now I have four members, but we will be back to just two soon. They’re assigned per brand—let’s say, one is in charge of shop operations and another is in charge of workshops and events. But again, it varies depending on the type of work that is heavy for a specific time period. I have two assistants for the shop this quarter because it’s the holidays.”


Step 4: Utilize the online sphere to get your business out there

All four ladies mention social media and digital marketing as having a part in their artistic endeavors, particularly Instagram. “Instagram proved to be a powerful tool for promoting my work and, later on, the services I offered,” says Kat Santos. “What worked for me was consistently sharing and engaging with followers by responding to their comments and questions.” Sy shares the same sentiments about engaging with people on social media, mentioning that most of her current work projects are from Instagram: “The thing about social media is as much as numbers make a big impression overall as a brand, it’s really engaging with your followers that keeps the numbers at a good pace.”

Aencille Santos advises consistency and genuinity: “For social media, consistent content is king. You have to let your audience in on your authentic journey as an artist--your struggles, your skillsets, your new discoveries… Know your niche then expand from there. Don’t force yourself to abide by a trend or a certain style just because. From there, you get your work out there for everyone to see via social media.”

Ventura considers the online sphere as the Ink Scribbler and Craft Central’s first home, having started as a blog and Instagram account. “The Craft Central started as an online store and only after 2 years did we take the opportunity to have a brick and mortar store. This is still our main space to announce our activities and events. We build the community and encourage our patrons by reposting their works on our account.”


Step 5: On the touchy topic of pricing

One of the most mystifying aspects of the creative industry how to price your art. Kat Santos had initially thought she didn’t deserve to charge much, but then asked fellow artists for advice: “I often got told to charge a price I was comfortable with, but to remember not to undersell. In order to do that, I researched on how much other artists were charging, just to get an idea, and made adjustments accordingly.” She mentions that it was hard at first, but “in the process of underpricing your work, you pull down not only yourself but the industry itself.”

Sy mentions that there is by default no standard for how pricing works, instead mentioning several factors to consider before deciding on a final price: “I started out pricing like, P500 for an invitation, what was I thinking? But again, you gotta start somewhere. Eventually I learned to price better based on time, energy, resources, and of course, skill. At this point I have my manager to thank because she helps me price my work in a feasible way. It’s also important to consider the client budget and of course the reach of your work. This topic is generally taboo but I recommend naming your price based on how you find your work to be in terms of value. It will increase over time.”


Step 6: Smash self‑doubt (or, fake it ‘til you make it)

Much easier said than done, but even established artists experience the all‑too‑familiar pang of not being good enough. Kat Santos had been hesitant to accept the art commissions she had been receiving from sharing her work online. “I was reluctant at first because I didn’t think my work was good enough, but I eventually started taking [them] after leaving my job.”

Ventura also shares that self‑doubt was her biggest challenge when she started, especially after having been faced with online bashers criticizing her work at one point. She now advises, “there may already be a lot of artists and enthusiasts delving into art, but try not to compare yourself too much. If you are determined, you can always make space for yourself. Just keep one doing what you do, frequently and relentlessly.”


As Aencille Santos says of all the effort that takes place behind the scenes, “It’s the hardest part, yet it’s also fun. It’s all about marketing and public relations applied to your art. It’s about reaching out to the audience that love, and may love your work.”

Success is not guaranteed and there are surely hurdles to overcome when first starting out with a creative enterprise, each completely dependent on your own unique situation. But by all means, go for it if you believe that your purpose and passion for art are worth the effort.