We’re all familiar with the adage of the “starving artist”. An assumption that making a living, from a creative or artistic hobby, is impossible. But is there any real truth in that old-fashioned cliche these days? Can you sell art online?
As our Success Stories have proven, building a fanbase of loyal customers is possible. If you’re an established or aspiring artist, there’s no need to live like Vincent Van Gogh. You can turn your talent into a lucrative online business.
In this interview, we spoke to an artist who has done that. Tobi Couture has not been in business for very long, but her art is generating sales and a loyal following.
Grab a coffee and learn how you too can start selling your own art using print on demand. You might even be up and running in time to catch the lucrative holiday season!
In This Story:
From Traditional Artist to Print-On-Demand
Hi Tobi, tell us a bit about your background?
“I went to Wayne State University in Detroit for my bachelor of fine arts. I always liked painting with oils, and I’ve shown paintings at a few places. I had some stuff on show in a little local shop, where I made a few sales. Selling online is another way to showcase my art on items like shirts, bags, purses, and more.”
When did you start using print on demand?
“I started in February 2021 when I stumbled across a video on YouTube about print on demand. It seemed like a great way to have my art out there on more items other than canvases and prints. People have more specific wants when they’re buying art to hang on a wall than, let’s say, on a mug.”
Tobi is living proof that you don’t need a ton of experience to start selling your art online. If you’re an artist, dreaming of making a living from your talent, this article should help.
Have you had an online business before?
“Since I’m not very business-minded, I signed up for eCommerce educational programs. I learned some tips and tricks and also watched Etsy and Printify tutorial videos. Once I made sense of what might work for me and what wouldn’t, I got into it.”
What is your niche?
Tobi’s store has an interesting and diverse selection of items. Tobi sells a selection of yoga-related merchandise. But there’s a lot of seasonal products and beautiful original artwork on bags and cushions too.
What do we take from this? Selecting a niche is super important for print-on-demand newcomers. But, it doesn’t have to be a rigid or permanent decision. Tobi shows us how, by branding herself and weaving various themes together.
A Different Take On Designs and Store
You don’t rely on only canvas and posters for your art. Can you tell us a little more about that decision?
“I like the idea of trying out different types of print-on-demand items. Canvas and posters are a popular and easy way for artists to reproduce their work, and I’ve done that before. But, I like seeing my art on things like bags, leggings, shirts, and dresses. I find playing with different layouts very interesting, especially on all-over prints. Print on demand is great for artists, especially those who, like me, paint on canvas.”
Unlike Tobi, artists tend to only use their art on wall hangings, especially if they do oil paintings. Tobi’s take is interesting and original, as she embraces all kinds of surfaces to print her artwork onto. The Printify catalog has hundreds of items that you can use to make your work shine. So don’t restrict yourself to flat canvases, think outside the box.
Your painted designs have a unique look. Could you tell us a little more about your artwork?
“I’ve always been into the idea of nostalgia. Some of the painted pictures on my products — like on the bags for example — are based on scenes from a pile of old photos that my grandfather took. He’s now passed away, but it was fun going through the old pictures. Sometimes when you see a scene taken inside of a bar for example, it can make you reflect on the good times that you’ve had with friends and things like that. So yeah, I think nostalgia is an overarching theme for my artwork in general.”
What made you choose Etsy for your store?
“I like Etsy because it has a built-in audience. There are already people on the platform browsing for items like yours. If you tag and add item descriptions, it is easy for customers to find you. People say that blogs can be a useful way to get traffic on Shopify, but I don’t have a lot of experience with that.”
Many successful merchants started their online business on Etsy. It is a smart move to focus on a site that has plenty of existing traffic. You avoid difficulties in web designing, search engines, and paid ads.
A No-Ads Marketing Approach
How do you market your Etsy store and products?
“I haven’t done traditional marketing yet. But from my Etsy dashboard, I see that a lot of interest comes from Facebook. I’ve had a Facebook Business page for a long time, even before I started print-on-demand.
I still do unrelated sales posts, as I did in the beginning. I’d post pictures of plants and succulents, with an accompanying post about how to grow them. But I also add in a post about my store once in a while. ”
Sounds like you’re more focused on a content marketing approach?
“Definitely. I started adding seasonal Halloween articles and some yoga-related stuff. I also added one unique theme each week and then used that theme to link to relevant items in my store.
I don’t only push products, I like to give people information and useful resources. I have tried a few Facebook Ads, but I’m more focused on putting out content that people will share.”
How has the content marketing approach worked for you?
“It’s been very great so far. My sales have come from people sharing my posts. My cousin recently shared some of my drawings that featured antique cars in a hobby group and I got lots of sales.
It’s important to get your designs into areas of the internet that are into your specific niche. Or at least people that would appreciate a particular design or aesthetic. I once got traffic from a mushroom-picking website, after someone posted a few of my drawings.”
You may have noticed that Tobi’s store and products are not in a single niche. Instead, she has developed a personal brand as an artist which allows her to go into different genres.
The takeaway here is that artists don’t have to pigeonhole themselves into a narrow niche. It’s possible to develop a character and brand around yourself. Instead, focus on getting loyal followers who appreciate your content and personality.
Which items have been the most successful?
“So far, my biggest success has been a joke clock I added to my store. I would always tell my yoga students about this clock I found really funny: The face has the word ‘Now’ instead of regular clock numbers. I decided to make one and send out emails about it. It ended up being pretty successful.”
Leaning Into Your Passion
You recently started a second Etsy store, tell us about it.
“My friend Aimee Fuertez – a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) – and I kept talking about starting a store selling nursing-themed clothing and accessories. I told her we could easily do it using print on demand. I explained that we would not need to keep stock or have to buy anything in advance. We could just try it and see if people would be into the idea. It’s going well so far.”
That’s an interesting niche! Tell us more.
“The second store is, Nurses PRN, which means nurses on-demand. It has about 28 items listed so far, including t-shirts and sweatshirts. We use a lot of public domain images for the artwork, such as vintage recruitment posters. We also have some specific slogans and logos for different types of nurses, e.g. Cardiology or OBGYN. We’re going to include different nursing fields.”
As Tobi correctly pointed out, the print-on-demand business model works well for small, niche, side-projects like their Nurses PRN store.
Sometimes newcomers worry that their business idea is too niche, and they won’t make sales. That could be well true, but as there’s no up-front cost from print on demand, it’s worth it to at least try.
What tools do you find most useful for your business?
“I use GIMP, which is completely free. I’m not that fancy when it comes to mockup programs. I actually appreciate the Printify Mockup Generator the most. The video tutorials are a nice touch, and I like the Printify Facebook page because it’s very active.
You can get instant feedback from other users, and people give you advice about their experience with different products and print providers. It’s a nice community to be a part of.”
Starting a business can be a lonely journey if you are doing it all by yourself. It’s very easy to doubt your ability and procrastinate your plans out of existence. It is important to connect with like-minded newcomers and ask for advice from seasoned merchants. Success stories like Tobi’s, helps you push through the self-doubt and find your own success.
Finally, any advice for newcomers to print on demand?
“I’d give a warning in advance about how much time you’ll spend working on your designs and business. For me, it doesn’t seem like work at all, so my advice would be to pick a niche that you love, rather than focusing on profit. If you enjoy doing it, it won’t seem like work — which is what we’re all aiming for right?”
Here’s where to find Tobi and her amazing work on the internet:
We Want to Hear Your Story:
We would like to thank Tobi Couture for taking the time to share his story with us.
Do you have a story to share with us? Write to us on [email protected] with a summary of your experience and how it will help other merchants like you.
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