Here at B3, we take pride in making ourselves the artists’ choice for chainmaille supplies. As such, we find ourselves lucky enough to be surrounded by, well, chainmaille artists! Taking the leap from making chainmaille jewelry as a hobby to making it your profession is both enticing and a bit daunting to many of our customers. Knowing this, I decided to ask two of our artists/instructors (Kat Wisniewski of Elemental Art Jewelry & Vanessa Walilko of Kali Butterfly) who have taken the plunge professionally as jewelry artists to give me the best advice they could for those of you who might be thinking about taking your love of chainmaille to the next level. Not surprisingly, they both replied with ample tips, inspiring advice, and otherwise good solid information.
Below is all the information I could pack into this entry. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
This blog marks the first in a new series of blog articles we are calling “Ask an Artist”. Have questions you’d like to ask a chainmaille artist? Email them to me with the subject line RE: Ask an Artist at [email protected]. We’ll add to the series by asking YOUR questions to a chainmaille artist! (Stay tuned to our blog to find out who the next artist in the series will be, learn more about them, and tailor your questions to their expertise.)
Until then, enjoy this first installment (and its double artist answering action!)
In your opinion, what are the first steps someone should take if they want to start selling their work?
KAT: 1. Easiest and completely free is put up a FB business page and update it everyday with photos, comments, status updates!
2. Get business cards made! You have to pass out cards whenever you meet people or talk about your business. Get them printed at your local office supply store & cut them yourself with a paper cutter to save money or print them at home on business card printer paper.
3. Do a themed home show among friends & family to launch your goodies!
4. Try small local art fairs (booths can be free or minimal cost) to see how people feel about your work. You can learn a ton from engaging your customers & hearing what they like or do not like.
VANESSA: 1. Determine if what you want to sell is something you could make all the time without getting disgusted. I used to make beaded jewelry to sell, which didn’t work for me. I love the process, but it’s too time-consuming to have enough product to sell at shows. Chainmaille is quick, fun, and more suited for me. I still do beadwork for my wearable art pieces, but it’s not something I could do all the time.
2. Make sure that your work is priced appropriately. I make a plea to anyone who wants to start selling to value their work appropriately. Your time and your ideas are worthwhile – don’t sell yourself (or your craft) short!
How do you price your work?
KAT: Pricing is so important to my business because it is the perceived value of my work that indicates how exceptional it really is! I calculate the wholesale price in such a way that I still make a livable profit on each item, even if it’s sold wholesale and not at the higher retail price. The math is relatively simple:
True materials cost + The hourly wage I want to earn + Small % of overhead costs + What will get reinvested in business** (MULTIPLY this total by 2 to get your retail price.)
(**this includes money to buy more materials, packaging, office expenses. If you are a new or a relatively new business then anywhere from 15% to 20% of each item you sell at wholesale rates should be reinvested. If you are a more stable business with more of a steady flow of income than this amount should be higher & could be up to 40%.)
How do you promote yourself?
VANESSA: I’ve gotten pretty shameless, so I put my work in front of as many people as possible. I make a point of applying to every contest and show that I feel my art is remotely qualified for. I also have my work all over the web–Etsy, Sense of Fashion, Model Mayhem–anywhere they let you post photos, I will.
KAT: I promote my work through various mediums & believe firmly in saying “YES!” to every reasonable opportunity I come across. I state that I’m happy, successful, and give details about my goals & current projects, which I feel is a HUGE promotional tool, because other people perceive you as a successful person/business, which makes those statements come to fruition.
What small investment (of time or money) has had the biggest bang for you? Likewise, what investments (of time or money) have not paid off like you thought they might?
KAT: I got the biggest bang from buying at least a 10 megapixel camera & a small scale light box with mini photography lights to take decent photos to post. (Found mine on eBay!) I use a swing arm task lamp with a high output light bulb to get great lighting on my pieces. If people can’t see the detail/quality, then your items seem like they are of poor quality.
VANESSA: The answer to both questions is the same: art fairs. Artists need to research which art fairs they’re trying to get into. If you don’t, you could find yourself in a show where the audience doesn’t appreciate your work or isn’t willing to spend more than $5. I’ve been in a few of those and it’s brutal. However, if you do your research and find shows that are more suited to your work, they can be VERY lucrative.
Where do you find inspiration?
VANESSA: I wish I knew. Most of the time, I just get blind-sided by ideas that leap out of nowhere and attach themselves to my brain. Then they nag me until I give birth to them through my hands. There’s no one thing that inspires me–it could be a song, a conversation, or just a random thought while walking down the street. It’s a random process.
KAT: Other artists. I really breathe in all of the art I see and it really gets my mind reeling. I also walk my dog a lot, which allows me to organize all of thoughts in my head & develop the plans of attack as I get fresh air & a bit of exercise. Fashion is inspiring as well. I’m always interested in researching emerging & existing designers to see how they form fabric & other materials to the human body.
How do you avoid “burnout”?
VANESSA: I force myself to work on other things. Lately, whenever I’m stressed out about orders, I sew. Since I’ve been cranking out wholesale orders for the holiday season, I’ve been stressed out a lot. As a result, I’ve made something like 15 pieces of clothing this past month. That’s not even hyperbole; I made five pairs of leggings in a week. The best way to avoid burnout is turning that part of the brain off for a while and to learn to be okay with not working all the time.
Where do you do most of your work?
VANESSA: Sitting on my couch or floor, with all of my supplies sprawled out around me.
KAT: Sitting on my bed, back up against the wall with all of my various supplies spread around me & piled up next to me–within reach. Have to have Pandora radio going too!
What are you working on/most interested in right now?
VANESSA: Ah, thankfully most of my wholesale orders are at their respective stores, so I finally can devote 2+ hours a day to working on my Tiamat dress. It might take another year to finish, but it’s good to be making progress on it again. I also have three other ideas in the works–another chainmaille shrug, a scale maille capelet, and a geometric beaded arm piece. I’m not sure where inspiration comes from, but it’s always shooting ideas into my brain. It’s good.
KAT: Rubber fetish wear that can be worn as fashionable attire. I created a rubber fetish-style bikini purely on whim, because I was asked to contribute something to a summer bikini feature for a local gothic arts magazine and ever since my hands gave birth to that beautiful beast, I want to make more. I’ve always had a “dark side” and being able to outwardly express it has provided me a passionate freedom that truly drives me to create pieces that entice & spice up the everyday (& fantasy) wardrobe.
What B3 product do you find yourself coming back to again and again?
VANESSA: Um, is everything an okay answer? Working at B3 is both awesome and dangerous! If you want me to be specific, L16 AA. That beautiful blood red on my chainmaille jacket was made with rings from Blue Buddha Boutique.
KAT: Honestly I have a large variety of every material, tool, etc that B3 sells. I would have to say that I love having the availability of all the different ring sizes close at hand because as I am constantly inventing new projects that are extremely precise in how they fit together, I have to use & test rings that may be only 1/64″ different from each other, so that the finished piece fits my exact vision.