Can Fine Artists Prosper on Etsy Without Doing Loads of Marketing? Absolutely, But Here’s What You Need To Know
by Thea Fiore-Bloom, PhD
Etsy for fine artists? That’s nuts, right?
Here’s why great, higher-priced artwork can be an advantage not a liability in the world’s largest craft emporium.
The makers of beaded earrings and the designers of the cutest of kiddy costumes are currently packed in tighter than capers in a jar on the craft side of the Etsy universe.
“Crafts is crowded and jewelry is horrifically bloated,” said veteran Etsian Sara Lawrence, who runs the Flutter and Twirl shop on Etsy.
Meanwhile, out beyond the knit rompers, on the arts side of the Etsy, lie acres of uninhabited galaxy.
Your kind of pioneering clients may already be there, browsing.
But Etsy sure isn’t a paradise for all artists.
Let’s first start by seeing if Etsy might be a good place for you to grow a high-end branch of your art business.
Are You One of the Four Types of Fine Artists That Thrive On Etsy?
1. Are you a new artist or an artist who is reinventing yourself?
“Etsy is especially great for new artists — no matter their age — to test the waters,” said artist, agent and author Lilla Rogers.
But Etsy can also be a supportive platform for seasoned artists who want to switch genres.
For example, maybe you’re a confident, abstract painter who works large but secretly wants to show your new, tiny architectural watercolors.
Etsy-land could be just the place for you to receive the affirmation you need to try out a new direction.
2. Are you an artist whose ideal audience is another county or country?
You know how some actors or musicians are big in Japan but not here?
The same can be true on Etsy.
And who really cares where you are “big” if you can pay your property tax or gas bill right?
“Etsy made my business global, said UK Mosaic artist Nikki Ella Whitlock.
I was selling a bit of my work in England but it wasn’t truly embraced, as it is on Etsy.”
My art gained especially great acceptance from American buyers who really seem to respond to my open-spirited creativity.”
“Opportunities, connections, and dreams I never thought would happen have come about there, Whitlock said.
Some of Whitlocks’s recycled, bioluminescence-inspired fused glass commissions are fetching thousands of dollars apiece now on Etsy.
Thanks to Whitlock’s finding her ideal market in “foreign” countries.
3. Are you an artist with big-ticket art pieces?
Etsy shop owners have blogged about a maximum price sweet spot that one shouldn’t venture over.
Many place that cap at $200.
But visual artists may benefit from not paying any attention to this advice from the very start.
Etsian Jessica Lucas’ first sales were in the $300 to $500 range.
Whitlock’s very first sale on Etsy was for £800 ($1,235).
“Everyone thought I was mad,” Whitlock said.
“An artist colleague of mine told me she loved to sell her silver pieces on this American site called Etsy.
I worked hard on photos of my work, then opened my Etsy shop in a day or so and put just one thing up on it.
I thought it was worth maybe £800 pounds ( currently about $1,000), so I tagged it for that and forgot about it.
Three months later, I got a notice from PayPal that there was an £800 credit in my bank account.
My piece sold to this lovely woman in Australia, and I haven’t looked back since.”
4. Are you an artist who doesn’t want to do tons of social media marketing?
Do artists such as Whitlock engage in ongoing social media marketing for their lucrative, meaningful, part-time incomes on Etsy?
No 10 pins a day on Pinterest, no analysis of views, no Instagram, no sweating over checking changes in favorited items, no Tumblr, no analysis of traffic paths to their shops, no thrice-a-day tweets, and so on.
This may be because they have fewer (higher priced) items to worry about.
But these fine artists must do something else right there to succeed.
What do they do then?
And why are they happy?
Etsy For Fine Artists: 9 Surprising Success Tips
1. Don’t Make Etsy Your Only Income Stream
“Etsy can be fantastic, fun and lucrative, but it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme,” Rogers said.
“Like any other business, if you want it as your sole source of income, it’s going to be serious work.”
Interestingly, every artist interviewed decidedly did not want high-profit, full-on Etsy.
“If I needed to make Etsy my whole career, I know I could push hard on the marketing and it would fly,” Lawrence said.
“But a successful full-time Etsy shop takes over your whole life; it’s stressful and it’s 24/7. I have other things I am excited about in my life, like family. The successful store I now have on Etsy is a source of delight.
It is one nice income stream, but not my only one, and I am satisfied with that.”
2. No “Schmalders” For You
What do you want to sell on Etsy?
Google the keywords associated with that work. Then do the same at Etsy.
How is your work different? Your work on Etsy needs to be original and excellent to bring in the higher prices you may want or need to charge.
“The more your art speaks of you and you alone, the better you will do on Etsy,” Whitlock said. If your work falls into a bloated area, such as ceramics, is there an alternative passion you’ve kept hidden? It might be all clear over in that area.
Recently I looked online for a hanging mobile for my kitchen.
My Google search turned up one giant, cold, minimalist Calder imitation after another.
I call them “Schmalders.”
So I went over to Etsy.
The good news? Not a chilly Schmalder in sight.
The bad news? I had hit the other extreme — pages of puffy sheep suspended from fluffy felt clouds.
At the bottom of one page, I spied a mobile of vibrant, yellow ginkgo leaves serenely photographed mid-sway.
Clearly, the mobile’s maker, Lawrence, had researched her niche.
“This was my second Etsy experiment,” Lawrence said.
“The first was jewelry. The second time around, I did more homework and saw the market for my kind of mobiles was wide open.
So I said, ‘Let’s see if anybody likes these,’ and they did.”
3. Include Low and High Priced Artwork
“If you need more constant income, I would encourage you to sell your original art alongside reproducible art (which you can sell at a lower price point),” Etsian Jessica Lucas said.
“Most of my prints are made to order (high-resolution giclée prints). They are quick and easy to have produced on demand in Toronto.”
She charges $60 for an 11-inch-by-14-inch print, including the shipping cost.
4. Write Story-Based Copy
At her Etsy shop, Flutter and Twirl, Lawrence tells a brief yet evocative story for each different kind of leafed mobile she has for sale, be it cherry blossom or Japanese maple. She concisely describes how each tree is special to her (thereby personalizing her copy).
Then Lawrence incorporates a small vignette as a product description that allows the prospective customer to see and feel what it would be like to own this piece of art:
“The Large Golden Ginkgo Leaves mobile sways and twists in your favorite corner casting leafy shadows above the chair you like to curl up in with a good book.”
With one sentence, Lawrence has placed one of her mobiles in your home.
Inhabitable stories equal sales, especially on a personal site such as Etsy.
5. Fine Artists on Etsy Need To Craft an Inviting Bio
Write your bio in the first person and include personal details.
(You don’t have to let people rake through your underwear drawer to write a bio with some personality.)
If you need help on this pop over to my writing coaching page, I have a package just on buffing up your artist’s statement.
Include photos of yourself at work in your studio.
Scatter them amongst your product photos or use one image of you at work as your avatar.
Or add an easy-peasy, one-minute gallery tour video to your Etsy site.
6. Fine Artists Need To Use Great Photos
Whitlock agrees: “Spend hours on photos. You need to be able to convey through a computer screen how you would see a piece as you would in the flesh, from many different angles.”
Take a class.
Buy or borrow a good camera.
Learn how to shoot with natural light and experiment with photo-editing programs.
This article has good photo tips for Etsy store owners.
7. Ask: Is Etsy the Right Neighborhood for You?
Research Etsy itself.
Browse its forums and its rules and regulations to see if it’s a good fit for you.
Start by reading articles in the Seller Handbook.
Sign up for Etsy’s blog.
Read articles by people who don’t work for Etsy.
This piece by Drew Kimble on Skinnyartist.com brings up Etsy’s dark side.
If you are sensitive to outside authority occasionally sticking its big nose into your business Etsy might not be for you.
8. Do At Least This Much Marketing To Sell Fine Art on Etsy
You gotta do some marketing.
Best way to go? First, create a great website that is yours alone.
Ideally, it will contain a blog to usher people toward your Etsy site.
Whitlock’s self-built site is a good example.
And if you want to succeed on Etsy, unfortunately, you must learn the tedious art of focus keyword tagging.
Here’s a great one minute video on it.
For tips on tagging and other must-knows on the business side of Etsy:
9. Be Patient, You’re Building A House Made of Art
Top Etsy seller Angela Di Cicco writes on her blog, Angela’s Artistic Designs:
“Be patient and flexible. In the beginning, I didn’t have any sales.
Building a business is like building a house.
It has to be done one careful brick at a time.
It is a process.
Be comfortable with the process.
In no time at all, you will have added to your knowledge pool.”
If You Don’t Open An Etsy Shop You Still Win
If you research even one of these 10 options and never open an Etsy store, you still win.
The work you put into setting up PayPal, learning more about photography, SEO and shipping will do double duty by bettering your regular art business.
As Lilla Rogers said:
“Most importantly, whether you want Etsy to be your one way to make a serious living or a single, meaningful income stream, remember great work sells, so keep making great work.”
What do you think? Let me know in the Comments below?
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- or How To Sell Your Art in Museum Stores.
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- 51 Blog Post Topics for Heart-Centered Artists for 2020
The quick video version of “Etsy for Fine Artists” to share with a friend:
This article was originally published in the 2015 issue of Professional Artist Magazine.
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