Today I did something which I am REALLY scared of. ;)
I AM PETRIFIED OF PUBLIC SPEAKING!!! In a room full of talented illustration students and their amazing teachers.. in my third language... UGHHHHHH!!!!!! So naturally I was very stressed and forgot a lot of the content but I do hope that I got my message across which is.. go and do some creative stuff peeps!
Here is my talk as it should have been with some pictures and tips which helped me along the way. ;)
My name is Viktorija and I’m Latvia born, London based illustrator and designer-maker behind AndSmile.
I feel that I'm still figuring out a lot of things and finding my voice. But I'm really happy where I am right now. In no way I am trying to preach that this is the right way to do things but it's one of many ways and it did work for me. :)
My work is sold in over 25 shops around the world (Singapore, Australia, US, Canada, Netherlands, Belgium my goodies even popped up at Royal Academy) & was featured in magazines such as Mollie Makes, Flow, Caboodle and many fabulous blogs. I worked on wedding invitations, brand identities, drew hundreds of portraits, did workshops, collaborated and worked with great companies and met a lot of amazing people along the way.
I’m having the most amazing time as freelance illustrator and that wouldn’t be happening if I didn’t open an Etsy shop.
I loved drawing since I was little but only at the age of 14 it finally dawned on me that people got paid to do that for a living and I decided to become an illustrator! :)
I went to study illustration at the University of Bedfordshire, it was an interesting 3 years of exploring, experimenting and trying to find my voice. We had great teachers who invested a lot of time and work into us. But there wasn’t much practical advice of how the industry worked now, how to make money, so basically how to be a commercial artist. So when I graduated in 2009 I still loved drawing but had absolutely no idea what to do with my life or how to find work as an illustrator and I moved to London. :)
When people ask me how I started to do what I do for a living my answer always starts with: “ well, I’ve opened my etsy shop in 2009.” The bit which I skip is that didn’t sell anything. I didn’t invest any time or thought into Etsy Shop and it didn’t work. The second time I opened my Etsy shop it was a different story. It was 2011 and I was absolutely miserable in my luxury retail job and I was planning a great escape into a creative wonderland. In these two years after graduating I’ve tried to find any creative job, tried to build my portfolio, sent work to agencies and did all the stuff I learned in University and it wasn’t successful. I was trapped in my “temporary” job when I realised that if I didn’t change something at that point I probably never would. So I quit my full time job and went part time. And that’s when the light bulb moment happened. ETSY!!!! If companies didn’t want to commission or hire me maybe my work could appeal to general public? I didn’t need to invest in the website/hosting or time to build a standalone platform. There was a huge customer base, cheap listings, seller handbook and community waiting for me! Completely risk free.
And since I didn’t want to come back to full time luxury retail job I gave ETSY MY ALL!!! I developed a small line of postcards, printed them, took lovely photos, uploaded to etsy and nothing happened. Then I decided to try making wearable illustrations, like brooches & earrings to appeal to a wider audience. They were all about foxes, animals, pandas, people faces.
And I started spending hours, days and months, reading etsy handbook (which is amazing and always up to date), searching etsy forums to find more information, tips and advice on how to develop the shop. I updated the shop, played with names, tags, photos, re arranged the shop and spend hours networking there.
I set up twitter and instagram accounts where I shared my creative process, daily life, drawings, new products and directed everyone to my Etsy shop. And sales started to roll in slowly, each month I sold a little bit more than previous moth. I met more people online, I gained some loyal, returning customers.
And at the same time I spend A LOT of time constantly working on my listings, names & tags, tweaking and playing around. But I was very determined and there was absolutely no way I would quit, so even when I felt down I would keep going.
Some people have spikes in sales, super popular products and it’s amazing! And I hope it’s the case for everyone of you who will start the ETSY shop I wasn’t one of them, my shop grew slowly and gradually over the years, with a lot of hard work behind the scenes.
The beauty of Etsy is that everyone is there! Buyers looking for lovely gifts, shops for new products to stock but also it’s a fabulous directory of illustrators, designers & makers so a lot of bloggers, writers and people in other creative industries are there. My work was kindly featured by many awesome bloggers, I got found through etsy, done some interviews and made fantastic connections. So your etsy shop is not only a place where you sell your work but also where you showcase your work and you can and should use it as a platform to grow your career from there. Make sure you have great photos, good tags, product descriptions & names. And also more of kind of work you want to do in the future.
Add any relevant information to your about page, link to your portfolio & blog (if you have them), make sure people who are interested in working, buying, commissioning you can find more of your work, your email, information and contact you super easy.
Two years ago, in 2013 I realised that my Etsy grew so much that I could only keep up with orders and I realised that it was time to quit my part time job. It was a bit of a risk but I had a feeling that without investing more time in Etsy & my illustration career things would stay where they were. It was summer and from my experience on Etsy I knew that sales would start growing towards Christmas and it was perfect timing to push the shop onto the next level. And so I did, once again I worked as much as I could, posted away on social media, developed new products, took custom commissions, basically said yes to everything! I had the best Christmas at Etsy ever and came January I was ready to see drop in sales and even had an idea that I always could find a part time job if this didn’t work out. However my etsy shop grew so much that come January & February I still had sales, people still wanted to buy wholesale from me, commission custom work and things just kept going.
I made sure I worked on new products & developed collections, explored different drawing styles. I kept updating my etsy shop, worked on about page, banners, wording of the listings, tags, everything! Included all information people might be interested in (how I work, materials, if I did wholesale, would I accept commissions, where to email me, where to find me on twitter, instagram, facebook etc).
So my Etsy shop became not only a showcase of my products but also of my work. I knew that growing Etsy is opening doors for other type of work, for interesting projects, workshops, collaborations and if used correctly could help build a career as an illustrator.
I love freelancing! I love to be my own boss, I am so excited about each working day, about all the amazing and sometimes unexpected opportunities that come my way. But it helps to have a clear vision of what kind of work you want to do and where you want to go.
To be honest I enjoy working on my own but I do have a group of friends/creatives with whom I can discuss any creative or business worries, so having a business/creative club and support is really important.
Another thing I learned in these years is a tip from Iggy Pop: “ DIVERSIFY YOUR INCOME.” As my career & business is set mainly online and internet is changing constantly we have to adapt with it. So if one income stream dries out it's nice to have a security net and worth working on it in advance. :)
And etsy is perfect for that! Selling direct to customers is an ace income stream, also a way to spread word about your work. At the moment I sell directly to customers, wholesale my goods, sell at pop up craft fairs, take personal commissions (like portraits or small business logos/headers etc) and commercial work. Freelancing is awesome but it’s so hard to slow down when your job is your passion (it seems to be a widespread problem in illustration/handmade/creative field). Having great work ethics is really important however taking some time off is essential. Also.. do some exercise! I can’t stress that enough. Look after your back/shoulders/wrists, your body will thank you and it will enable you to have a long lasting and fruitful career (as well as happy + healthy life).
My top tip is do what you love, don’t wait for someone to give you permission or validation, don’t take any shit or listen to people who tell you that you are not good enough, you will not make it, that it’s just a hobby, there is no money in it, make good work to the best of your abilities, keep going, be nice to people & remember that there is enough space for everyone.
THANK YOU FOR READING! :)