In December of 2004, I was underemployed and pretty broke, but wanted to give a present to a friend who was a fan of fantasy and fairies. I decided to try to “DIY” something for her and I used some craft floral supplies and twisted up with a cute handmade gift of an ear wrap. It was one of my first times making a “do-it-yourself” present but she was excited to have something that let her express herself and her interests. Seeing her excited, I got probably more excited and was instantly hooked on the feeling of knowing I’d made something for someone that made them that happy.
Since I wanted to keep that feeling going, I took my designs to local brick and mortar stores I thought might be interested. (Internet stores weren’t quite “the thing” back then that they are now.) I quickly found local metaphysical and nature spirituality shops where I thought there would be people who would love to wear things that let them imagine they were some kind of nature-being and they went head over heels for them. Feeling great about it, I quickly registered a business so I could do things ‘legit’ and pay my taxes on sales and then started my own ‘store’ as a roving merchant at local Renaissance events. I still remember some of the people I met all those years ago and the way their eyes lit up when they put on something I made and looked at themselves and felt special.
At that time I also saw the potential to raise funds for charity and started putting some of my sales aside. Like a lot of folks, I wanted to do what I could in the world to make it better, but didn’t have a ton of spare money to donate on my own. Thankfully, my profit margin was so great on my wire art pieces, that I was able to divert a couple hundred dollars a year to charity as well as making a little income, myself. I loved everything about the situation from meeting people and having fun making things, to knowing that what I was doing was also going to be able to help people in times of need.
I ended up moving house a couple years later and continued to move every couple of months or years. I had become a homemaker by that time, but didn’t really enjoy it. Making and selling my artwork to folks had become how I kept myself busy and happy but, not ever really in one place long enough to put down roots with local retailers or at craft markets, I tried to sell exclusively online. In 2006, I opened an Etsy shop, but I never sold much. I didn’t know a lot about marketing and using social media for promotion didn’t really like using social media anyway. I really missed just talking to people face-to-face and selling online really seemed to be all about numbers, stats, and ROI. So, I did a few sales here and there, but mostly the artwork I kept making was just piling up because I wasn’t doing enough savvy marketing to find people to buy it. After a few years, I finally just composted and recycled most of the things I’d made because I was running out of storage space. I still get pretty bummed out thinking about it.
Things changed for me in 2014, but in a totally unexpected way. I became disabled and a single parent all in the same year! I decided it was time to find a career with a stable, reliable income, but my only professional experience was art and, for me, that meant going back to school. Needing a way to make ends meet while studying, I settled down in one area and converted my more-hobby-than-business into a business-business. I started selling in again in local retail shops and committed myself to learning more about online selling and marketing so I could sell more effectively. However, after more than a decade mastering my style of wire art, I also was ready to mix things up a bit.
I had started getting interested in things like terrariums and dollhouse miniatures, which led to rediscovering my childhood love of dioramas and I decided to try my hand at one. My goal was to make a beach diorama for my mom (who had loved to come visit me during the five years I lived in Honolulu.) I began watching Terrain Wench videos to learn about terrain- and diorama-making techniques and completed my gift after a couple of first attempts and have been incorporating aspects of miniatures, dioramas, and terrain art into my work ever since.
By Spring 2018, I had been taking stabs at a few social media campaigns while balancing my studies, but still hadn’t managed to start making even a tiny reliable income on art yet. I had just completed an online marketing class at university and was making plans to officially relaunch my business with a total change of structure, though. One of the biggest changes was a planned reproducible line of diorama jewelry. Not only was I looking to create options for people who liked the OOAK gallery and boutique work I was posting about occasionally on social media (at less-than-gallery-prices,) but I was thinking about the changes I could make to my work that would make it easier to measure for algorithms so I could increase my exposure and, thus, conversions. After all, I wasn’t trying to make the art I wanted at this point, I was trying to make products that would sell.
That was at that point that I realised how miserable I was. I was essentially creating a plan to spend 80% of my art time marketing work, and the mere 20% left, essentially manufacturing reproduction goods instead of creating. I wasn’t making the one of a kind pieces that I wanted to anymore. I was limiting myself on what kinds of things I would or could make to make sure my online presence would be “cohesive.” I was also starting to post sappy, upbeat, click-baity things to my social media to meet the formulaic expectations of posts that “do well”. They didn’t sound like they came from my mouth and they weren’t the kinds of things I liked to read. The whole situation… sucked.
What had happened to all this? I used to have fun making art, but now all I did was obsess about SEO and algorithms and stats. Even though selling online provided the theoretical potential of a greater, or even semi-regular income with enough time and dedication to brand building, it’d take hair-pulling misery until I got to that point and then I’d have to keep doing it to maintain that momentum. If I got there at all.
I was looking at the boxes of art piling up again and already had a few trays of jewelry and decor pieces that I was wondering if I should just toss or donate. But I loved that I’d made them and thought for sure there was someone who would want them– I just didn’t know how to reach them. Or… I did know how in theory with months of social media marketing and targeted ad campaigns until the right person saw my message… but I hated doing it so much that I couldn’t bring myself to do it anymore.
That’s when I quit professional art. Well, mostly. I decided to withdraw from all of the retail locations I’d worked with, save one that’d been super fun and wonderful to be a part of. But any work commitment that was stressful, I was ready to let go of! As of the decision to begin gifting my artwork, I figured I was about 1 year away from getting into a tech career where I’d have a stable and healthy income and I’d rather spend that last year doing something that felt wonderful (like gifting my art to people who loved it) than burning up hours on social media marketing for goods and products I didn’t really care about, especially when anyone who’s sold artwork online knows, the return would doubtless be humble (at best) to the time investment. It just wasn’t worth it to me.
Now, it’s my hope that people who have been following my work online will pipe up and request some of my art for their own and that news of this weird person just giving away art will spread organically and then if there’s more people who like my work, that they’ll be able to ask for some too. I hope that people who get some art from me or who like what I’m doing will feel inspired to do good in their communities or will donate to my collections jar for worthy causes if they’re able. I hope that I’ll have fun making art again and that you’ll have fun seeing it and receiving it, and that together we can do a little good in the world through charitable giving. If you’d like something like that too, then please check up on my website or follow one of the MeandrousArt accounts on various social media platforms (links below) where I’ll send alerts about gifts I’m hoping to give.
Thank you for learning about Meandrous! If you’d like to get in touch with comments or inquiries, you can reach Meander at firstname.lastname@example.org or share your thoughts and comments on the Meandrous blog.