I first heard of print on demand and the potential to sell my art back in 2015 or so when I was following a blogger who sold phone cases with her art on them which got me down of a rabbit hole of learning more about potentially selling my art online, a thing I never explored or knew about before. Back then, blogs were still doing good, and my aim was to be lifestyle blogger. And Home Cyn Home was intended as such in the early days. I took the plunge into FINALLY getting started back in April 2017 and opened a Society6 and a Redbubble shop. Back then my husband ran into job issues and most of that year's theme was financial insecurities. The prospect of starting to make money from my art was appealing, and at the least I needed something to help me stay grounded and sane during that trying time. Looking back at my journey, I'm of course super proud but there are a few things I wished I knew when I first got started that probably would have helped me. I learned those things over the years of course, and let's face it, we all start ventures without being 100% prepared, and it's more than ok, that's what makes the journey more interesting. I just think those snippets I learned over the years could help someone get started today a bit more ready than I was without shielding them from making mistakes.
don't wait for everything to be perfect to start
Seriously, DON'T! I waited until I was sure I had it all figured it out, until I was sure my art was perfect. Turns out I had exactly nothing really figured out, and among the first few artwork I uploaded, there was this series of watercolor medallions that are cute, but quite frankly, not my best work at all.
You'll learn as you go, you'll get wiser with every steps, and no amount of "book smart" will get you there, we all learn through experience, and most importantly failures. You'll never know what your audience like, or what it is to open a print on demand shop until you start. You can read all about it online, from blogs, from Quora, and from watching YouTube videos, but what it really shows you is the insight of one person. Watch too many and you'll be completely confused before you even start.
be open to learning and constantly try new things
When I got started in 2017, I had basic skills, never tried creating a seamless pattern tile, and my watercolor digitizing skills were a bit wonky.
I had my first wake up call a few weeks after getting started. Back then I wanted to be onboarded by a company called "Daily Objects" who does print on demand in India (where I live) because I figured out it would be easier to buy products from them to use in my photo shoots, and I would anyway have more of my existing audience buy from them. I'm actually about a 100000000000% glad to have been rejected by them knowing how unethical they are in their process now. But back then, them making me upload 40 master files and sign a contract only to then tell me "Your work isn't neat enough and has pencil marks" was a blow to my self-esteem. To be fair a few had pencil marks, but not all of them, so I figured out I might as well turn this rejection (which again was a HUGE blessing) into a constructive criticism. If I was going to make this commercial artist thing work, I was better off learning how to edit my work digitally better. So, I turned to Google who in turn pointed me to Skillshare and Cat Coquillette's very first Skillshare class. I have since then taken or at least watched all her classes. If you are a surface designer or commercial artist, or aspiring to be, she is one of the teachers you must follow on Skillshare (among others). With Cat's classes, I learned how to digitise my work, learned how to recolor my artwork to create more versions of it and how to tap into trends. I also learned how to up my social media game, learned how to use Photoshop better, learned how to use the drawing app Procreate and created fun projects and designs along the way. I of course learned from other teachers as well, and as an artist, you never really ever stop learning new things, you just have to embrace it.
you'll only ever find your artist voice if you practice and create a lot of work
You probably read it over and over, how it's important to have your own style and own creative voice and create your artist brand from that. Trust me though, this is NOT the thing you want to worry too much about when you get started. An artist style or voice is not something that is suddenly bestowed upon you by a magic fairy/muse and you shouldn't wait for that to happen to take the plunge.
What you need to be doing is : create, create, create, and then create some more, and see where that takes you. In time you will notice you prefer using certain colors over others, or prefer a certain aesthetic in how you draw/paint things. THIS is what your artist style/voice is! And you only get to figure it out with time and practice. Oh! And don't worry about it evolving and changing over time either. You probably heard of Picasso's blue period. It was a time between 1901 and 1904 when most of his work was painted in shades of blue. Picasso's career went until his death in 1973. during the span of his life, he explored many genres, Cubism being only one of them. Not all your work will become a signature style, and you should never be creating anything with that goal in mind. The focus should be on having fun. Let people decide what like best.
That said, branding still does matter when you are a commercial artist, so if your brand's focus is on colorful art, avoid uploading black and white ink drawing you might be doing in your spare time on Instagram. If a black and white design is too good not to upload then sure go ahead and put it in your shop, but it doesn't mean you need to promote it. Curate what goes on social media or on your website/blog to match the general tone of your brand.
it's more than ok to have several income streams
I read a lot of questions about "Which print on demand platform is best" on Quora. My answer to all of said questions, is that each platforms has their pros and cons. The perfect PoD does not exist. What's more each of them has their own unique style and target audience, so you might as well upload on several of them right away because what sells on what platform might not sell on another. There is a watercolor dragonfly stickers that sell over and over and over on Redbubble but that doesn't sell much if at all on Society6, Teepublic and Threadless. Selling on just one platform will limit your income potential a lot. My advice is to get started on 2-3 in the beginning and join new platforms regularly. Some will do great, some others might flop. Over the past 6 years I joined several platforms that no longer exist because they went bust or changed their focus. I also pulled the plug on Zazzle because it was too tedious for me. Started an Etsy shop that didn't work out well enough for me to keep up with it and there are several PoD I have a presence on and never made a sale on so far. It's part of the game, not everything will be a hit. Along with selling art on PoD platforms, I also teach classes out of my home, earn affiliate money from this blog, earn from answering questions on Quora and have a Patreon account with cool exclusive printables and wallpapers for my patrons.
don't limit yourself
Back when I first heard of selling art on products, it was because a blogger I follow : The Wonder Forest, was selling phone cases on Casetify.
I somehow imagined myself selling phone cases and I thought that was all there was really. I think my initial non-seamless patterns were all really thought with the idea of selling them as phone cases. Fortunately after joining Society6 I realised that there was scope for a lot more. And every single one of my attempts to join Casetify failed (another blessing).
I see those questions on Quora a lot too : "Is it profitable to sell art on t-shirt" or "Should I sell t-shirts"? From the look of it, it seems t-shirts are the new phone cases and a lot of people seem to be under the impression that they should focus on that alone. I think I even saw questions like "Should I enable other products in my Redbubble shop or stick with just t-shirts". If you want to really grow as a commercial artist and surface designer, never lose focus of the fact that you are selling art, NOT t-shirts or phone cases. So don't limit the scope of your designs to just one type of products because you might end up also limiting the number of shops and ventures you can join later on. Case in point, in NONE of my shops are phone cases the hot seller item I believed it would be when I first started. I sell mostly art prints and cushions on Society6, stickers are the bulk of my sales on Redbubble and I sell mostly t-shirts on Teepublic and Threadless. having a diverse portfolio of designs that include patterns has enabled me to start selling on Raspberry Creek Fabrics, which does fabric and wallpaper and EXCLUSIVELY relies on seamless pattern tiles. Deny Designs, Society6's sister site that focus on wholesale onboarded me last year with a number of patterns too.
don't expect to make a lot of money quickly
The internet is divided in two camps when it comes to selling on Redbubble and Society6 (and other PoD) : - It's easy money because it's passive income
- It's a scam because those sites are saturated, don't do it.
If it was ever so simple and black and white! The truth is that it's not easy to make money quickly, but not impossible to sell at all either. It's better not to expect being an instant success when you start selling anywhere, online or offline. Building a business takes TIME, period. With selling on PoD, you want to go in for the long run and treat it as a marathon race, not a sprint. Your success widely depends on how much of your time and effort you put in in the first place. You'll need to show up everyday, even if nothing happens, with no likes, encouragements or sale and keep going at it, day in and day out until it goes somewhere. And if you are dedicated, motivated and really love creating art and patterns and show that to the world, things WILL happen, not all at once, but over time. Which is why the point about having several income streams and not putting all your eggs in one basket stands rock solid and remember those who succeed at anything are usually the ones with the most grit and perseverance. Accept you will fail, and will fail a lot, get up, learn from your mistakes and keep going. That's actually the secret sauce recipe to success in general, selling your work on PoD included.