I’m excited to introduce everyone to artist Emma Gray from Brighton, UK! I hope you love her whimsical work as much as I do, please make sure to show her Redbubble and her Folksy shop some love ♡! You can also follow Emma on Instagram (@em_menagerie) to keep up with her latest inspirations.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with art? What inspires you as a human and artist?
I live by the sea in Brighton in the UK and I sell my original paintings on wood and greetings cards in my Folksy shop, Menagerie. Most of my work is animal themed and I’m especially a fan of dogs. I often draw rescue dogs looking for their forever homes, and I take commissions for animal portraits. I also have a shop on Redbubble that sells prints and goodies like cushion covers, mugs and stickers (I’ve never grown out of my love for stickers!).
I grew up around various animals including a donkey, ducks, dogs and tortoises, all of whom I loved and found fascinating. One of my earliest memories was trying to make a dog out of clay I’d found in the garden, so the animal theme started young. I have a favourite photo of me as a toddler in a smock with more paint on me than there was on the paper and I also used to include unsolicited illustrations to accompany school homework!
I studied art history in Edinburgh whilst going to lifedrawing evening classes and selling paintings and mixed media work through shops and cafes. I’d received a subscription of ‘The Great Artists’ magazine as a young teen and art history was a passion, but, I sometimes felt like I was missing out on the creative journeys my friends studying Fine Art were making.
After university, I did a foundation course in art therapy and enjoyed how freeing it was to play and experiment using basic materials – big sheets of cheap paper we could tape together on the floor and crawl across as we made bold, imperfect marks with thick brushes, crayons and charcoal. It felt reminiscent of the joyful, present engagement with art that I had had as a child.
I continued to make for myself and for friends and family, working in various media including mosaic, printmaking and paper sculpture. But low mood had affected my confidence to sell to people I didn’t know and to remain motivated creatively. For several years I focused more on writing, and became involved with the local spoken-word short story scene.
A bout of depression in my thirties led me to a therapeutic art group, where, on the first day I painted pebbles. I managed to anchor myself more calmly in the moment with the activity and left with a intricately painted matryoshka pebble in my pocket. It seemed like a solid prompt to try to return to regular making no matter how I was feeling.
What began as a therapeutic pastime resulted in a growing collection of little painted animal pebbles. Inspired by Victorian cameos, I attached some to pins and ribbons to make brooches and these became my first listings in Menagerie. Wanting more space for detail, I later moved on to paint on wood. I enjoyed its warmth and texture and how the scalloped lasercut shapes I used provided their own frame.
Some milestones since I set up Menagerie have been some lovely galleries selling my cards and paintings, a piece being featured in Frankie magazine and exhibiting in the Artists Open House festival and Lewes Artists and Makers fair.
What past or current projects have been your favorite and why?
A favourite painting of mine is ‘Gratitude’. It features a crow with wings outstretched, surrounded by precious objects and was inspired by real life stories of crows who have gifted objects to people. I think we are living in an era that is particularly worrying politically. Bonds across species move me as examples of communication and empathy despite differences. I decided to go vegan two years ago and I think this has intensified my awareness of the sentience, instincts and intelligence of animals.
‘Gratitude’ began with an old mahogony frame that I found on the street. I cut a wooden panel to fit it and the shape leant itself well to the composition of the crow. The painting was also larger than the surfaces I’d been working on – it felt like I was stretching my own wings and taking up space. ‘Gratitude’ was the first image I added to my Redbubble shop – perhaps with hopes for a flying start.
Another of my favourite pieces that’s also available on Redbubble is ‘Swim Dog’. Earlier this year I set myself a daily art project with the theme of ‘strange creatures’. An unexpected outcome was a rediscovered love of drawing. ‘Swim Dog’ was inspired by a beautiful whippet called Yoji on Instagram. In one photo of him, he has his ears back and I imagined him in a bathing hat and old-fashioned swimsuit. The drawing includes three of my favourite things – sea-swimming, dogs and bad weather!
How has your experience been selling on Folksy and Redbubble? Any advice for new artists looking to start their own business?
I joined Folksy in 2012 and was drawn to it as a British company that’s also not so enormous that I might feel like a tiny fish in a big sea. The Folksy team have been great with championing my work on social media and including pieces in their Folksy Favourites and Gift Guides. I was also delighted to be a Featured Maker last year.
To anyone starting the adventure of their own online shop, I’d encourage you to expect and embrace the learning curve. It’s likely that along the way you will adjust your prices, modify your packaging, better identify your market and allow your creations to evolve. However, your customers shouldn’t be guinea pigs for products that are still in a stage of trial and error.
Unless you already have a big network, it can take time to get noticed and achieve sales, so it’s important not to be discouraged. Folksy has a lively forum where you can chat with other makers and share your work and tips. This can be a good way to feel part of a community and to up your profile. I’m quite introverted and not a natural self-promoter or networker, so selling under the supportive umbrella of Folksy has been helpful.
I would also say that it can help to put your art-selling eggs in a few baskets (I’m planning to start adding works to my neglected Etsy shop soon). I often hear of makers who, for example, have low or no sales at an art fair and lose confidence in their work when there were likely to be many factors unrelated to what they were selling that might have been at play.
Creativity can come with the gift of a greater sensitivity, but this quality can mean that a resilience needs to be developed when stepping into a selling and marketing role. Honestly, I don’t feel I’ve mastered this resilience myself, but I like the words in Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’ that describe the life skill of being able to ‘meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.’ Praise and perceived success can be motivating, criticism and perceived failure can be discouraging. Both can be fleeting and subjective. So, it’s important to try to hold on to that deeper sense of what drives you to create, and to sustain that passion and journey with regular practice.
I started selling under Redbubble this year and I feel glad and grateful to have just reached 250 sales there. I appreciate having this space for my more diverse work from portraits of comedy heroes to the unicorn-esque ‘Magic Ladyhorse’. The latter, inspired by a gemstone-loving creature from Philippine folklore, is my bestseller and one of my works that’s been featured on Redbubble’s homepage. The featured works have led to many more sales and this has been a good lesson in the value of exposure.
With Folksy, I get the chance to package up original artwork, include little extras like a greetings card and write a personal thank you to my customer. I miss not having this with Redbubble, but I do value the ease of merchandise being produced and shipped by someone else. When I make a sale on Redbubble, the buyer remains anonymous so the process can feel quite impersonal. However, I still enjoy imagining the ‘Someone in Sweden’ wearing their Lord Magpie T-shirt or who the ‘Someone in the UK’ might be who bought the Party Igor greetings cards (and who, apparently, shares my love of the absurd!).
Can you tell me a little bit about the creative process that goes into your painted animal pieces?
My oval paintings on wood are usually inspired by a photo of an animal. I think we are all hardwired in anthropomorphism to a degree from children’s book characters, and particular photos inspire imaginings of names, personalities and outfits. I’m not a fan of real animals wearing unpractical, restrictive clothing, but I hope my paintings are fanciful enough not to be promoting this!
I use lasercut wood that I buy from a Welsh company called Daisymoon Designs, whose profits help support their own menagerie of rescued animals. I tend to draw designs straight on to tracing paper that I can then transfer to the wood to get the composition right first time. I also sometimes use Derwent Inktense pencils to broadly lay down colour first, especially if I want a painting to have stronger hues. I use acrylic paints, small brushes and a paper palette so I can tear off a fresh new sheet for each piece. Sometimes I’ll add extra detail in pencil and fine pen.
Painting the eyes first helps bring a character to life for me. I’m especially drawn to grumpy looking animals in party hats, but I have a tendency to involuntarily mimic the expressions of who I’m painting. My face needs timeout after particularly morose subjects!
Most of my animal characters have names – they seem to name themselves. Sometimes I imagine larger back stories as I’m working, especially for a piece that has more of a folklore feel. Whilst working on my painting ‘Home’ featuring a white stag holding a nest in his antlers, a short story emerged that then informed details of the image. The story can be found in my Instagram feed.
What are you currently listening to?
I work in silence or listening to anything that feels like gentle, undemanding company. For me, BBC Radio 4 has this quality, as does Cerys Matthew’s weekly show on BBC Radio 6. I appreciate Cerys’ curious and celebratory delight for people, music and poetry and most of the music she plays (and often introduces me to) would be welcome on my own playlist. I also enjoy podcasts and a favourite is ‘The Mental Illness Happy Hour’ presented by comedian Paul Gilmartin. I’ve found this show full of insight, courageous disclosure and just the right amount of humour. What am I listening to right now? Squawking, squabbling seagulls roosting on the roof opposite. This is the soundtrack for most people in Brighton!
Subscribe to The Art Spectrum for more artist interviews!
This month The Art Spectrum is happy to announce its first ever giveaway featuring YANMOS!
As a brand, YANMOS has been growing over the past few years and I’m happy to support the brand, which creates many designs geared towards a green approach. Other designs are inspired by humor or pop culture.
The designer behind YANMOS, graphic designer Ioannis Moschou from Thessaloniki, Greece sells on many platforms, including Redbubble, Design by Humans, his own Eco-Labelled organic Teemill t-shirt store that makes t-shirts at a certified wind-powered factory, as well as his own website, YANMOS | Sustainable Creativity.
You can follow YANMOS on any or all of his social media sites:
ENTER TO WIN A YANMOS T-SHIRT OF YOUR CHOICE
This post contains links that I receive a small commission from at no cost to you if you purchase something
Many of us artists who are new to selling on Redbubble, or have tried to sell on Redbubble and have tried to figure out their niche and what sells best, and how and what to promote, often give up after a year or two, or even less. These 10 artists give their advice on how to successfully sell art on Redbubble and what has worked best for them.
Redbubble Artist @artiisan
“My most selling products are definitely phone cases, but also notebooks and t-shirts are very popular! My top selling design is Floral Dance. I have only had good experiences on Redbubble. The RB team is so helpful and really interested in promoting their artists! I’ve been featured on the RB front page three times in three months and they’ve also re-posted my work two times on their 160k Instagram account. When RB featured my work Floral Dance on their front page, my sales went crazy and now Floral Dance is one of the top selling floral designs on the site. I also do some marketing on my own Instagram account @art.iisan where I mention when there’s a sale on or just post pictures of my products. I also have other sites that I sell my designs on, but Redbubble definitely makes the best sales. But I should also say that I’ve been very active myself; I add new works almost weekly, post eye-catching product pictures on my Instagram and tag Redbubble in the pics. I also take part if Redbubble arranges competitions, such as last spring’s #Staycay design challenge. Try to build good visibility! 🙂“
Redbubble Artist @ednama
“I sell stickers the most on my Redbubble shop, especially the ones that have been featured on Redbubble’s homepage, such as this one. I promote my artwork mainly on my Instagram account, I share my drawing progress and interact with people in the comments. Redbubble is a really great platform that you can sell your artwork instantly, so your followers can buy your latest work! Besides Redbubble, I also sell self-printed products on Etsy, where I pack and ship the products directly to the buyers – I love to include a small thank you card within the orders, so to show how much I appreciate every single one of them!”
Redbubble Artist @vonplatypus
“My Redbubble bestseller is a design called Missing, which imagines the Loch Ness Monster being searched for through the milk carton ads that look for missing people. Being featured a few times in Redbubble’s Found section definitely helped make this design popular, because although I have the same design available on other sites like TeePublic and Society6, none of those have come even close to the numbers Missing has done on Redbubble. To be honest, I don’t do a lot of marketing of my designs – I usually find it more fun to promote the artwork of others at my websites TeeMagnet.com and Compete-tee-tion.com. This is probably partially because my focus with my artwork tends to be sites like Shirt.Woot.com, where you sell the rights to the artwork and it becomes their exclusive property. Although many find the rights issue to be a drawback, I find that it can be a real plus for people like me who are less active in marketing their own work – in a way, the site does it for you! It gives me more time to make new designs, rather than dwelling on things I’ve already created.”
Redbubble Artist @obinsun
“The most successful item sold in my Redbubble shop are T-Shirts of my design “Cat Got Your Soul?” As far as marketing goes, I have a neglected Twitter account and that’s about it. I make up for my lack of marketing by being prolific when it comes to producing art. The more I create the more my work gets noticed which equals more sales across all designs. I do sell on a variety of POD sites too, but most of my income comes through Redbubble, Threadless and Design By Humans. For Threadless I submit to contests as much as possible and with DBH I simply upload all my work just like I do with Redbubble. The two things that contribute most to my overall sales would be having a design featured on the Redbubble “found feed” and getting a print on featured on Threadless.”
Redbubble Artist @BeardyGraphics
“So, my Redbubble shop bestseller is this guy – “Blue Beard”. I use Instagram and Facebook to promote my illustrations & stuff. Sometimes Redbubble puts my art on their Facebook cover, or make a post about it. So it works, of course :). Also, I sell my art on Society6 and TeePublic. I think that sometimes sales in my Society6 store are more successful because they offer free shipping from time to time, but sometimes I think all of my shops share somewhat equal success.”
Redbubble Artist @5mmpaper
“The design I sell the most is an 80’s retro Memphis inspired pattern, and mostly on phone cases. The sales increased drastically when RB featured this product on the homepage, and I am still selling it well as it is also featured in pattern design suggestions by RB. To promote my work I mainly post my work on Pinterest, and I also submit my work to groups when I upload new work. I don’t really use teams that much. I also sell on Society6 and find I sell a bit more there, and also a larger variety of designs. I feel that with really good texts and keywords on S6 you can make a bigger difference in terms of showing up in the search results. The kind of products I sell on RB are also different from S6. On RB I sell more lifestyle products such as phone cases and notebooks, and on S6 I sell more home decor products such as pillows.”
Redbubble Artist @EricFan
“My best-selling piece on Redbubble is Space Sloth followed closely by Music Man. At the moment I haven’t been doing a lot to promote my work, since I’ve been busy with a lot of book projects. In the past I mostly used the usual social media platforms for promotion: Facebook and Instagram primarily. The staff at Redbubble have been very helpful as far as gaining more exposure, by featuring my work on the Found page, and in some of their blog postings. I sell my work on a few other sites, namely Society6, DenyDesigns, Displate, Caseable. I’ve had good success on Society6, I think because (again) the staff have been very helpful about featuring my work, and they have a good system for generating traffic with their curator program. The curator program allows other users to “curate” other artist’s work and post it to sites like Pinterest and blogs, for which they receive a royalty from each linked sale.”
Redbubble Artist @aterkaderk
“I sell the most of my coffee cup sticker. It’s a flower pattern and drawing I made for fun one day. I didn’t have to do any outside marketing. I know sharing posts on Instagram and Pinterest can really help people, but I was surprised when I started selling lots of stickers after a few months. I was lucky enough to eventually have my coffee cup sticker reach the trending pages, and eventually it got to the first page. Then, I got featured on the front page of the site and since then I’ve been starting to sell phone cases, shirts, and notebooks here and there.
I definitely think selling content that can reach a wide audience is helpful, as well as having lots of different items. Stickers are the easiest to sell because they’re cheap and people buy a few at once. I make a decent amount of money from my other sticker sales combined, but it’s not really one design in particular besides the coffee cup. From my experience, having one product that does really well can make you the most money.”
Redbubble Artist @evasabrekova
“My top selling works include Lighthouse, Redbeard, andMeow Meow Meow. People buy them on stickers very often, but also on t-shirts, pillows and canvas prints. I am not in any groups, because I don’t have much time for being active in social networking 🙂 Somehow two of my works entered into the Found page, and one on the main banner of the site and it increased sales significantly. Maybe it’s because Redbubble follows me on Instagram and sometimes likes my work? In any case, all advertising and promotion of my work I do on Instagram.
You can also find me on the websites Design By Humans (registered a couple days ago, so too early to say about success) and the Russian website maryjane.ru (not bad, but most selling works are differ from RB) and pinkbus.ru (a few sales).”
Redbubble Artist @AdamSpringer
“My most popular popular piece is “River.” The items I’ve found sell the most are the more traditional, be it canvas or paper prints. However Redbubble is so interesting because they let you place your artwork on so many different mediums. I love when I sell a throw pillow or clothing apparel because I know that person is going to be interacting with my work more intimately. In this day and age having a social media presence is a key tool to help sell artwork. If a popular Youtube star reposts about your work it helps sell your product tremendously. It all comes down to who you know! Other places I have found helpful to sell art and interact with the community are coffee shops, bars, etc. Its a good place to meet people who are interested in art and have good conversations.”
Title your work with a descriptive and catchy title.
Tag your work with words that accurately describe the work, and use as many multi-word tags as possible .
Descriptions are picked up by Google and other search engines – be as descriptive as possible.
Join and participate in Redbubble groups and become an integrated part of the community.
Promote your work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Stumbleupon, WeHeartIt, etc. Using tools like Tailwind for Pinterest can be invaluable.
Buy your own work to sell in coffee shops or other local businesses, or to give as gifts and show off.
Journal often to let people know what you’re up to or that there’s a new design in your shop.