I want to start off by first saying that when you surround yourself with amazing, supportive, and caring people, they empower you to take the risks that otherwise you wouldn’t take on your own. Progress does not happen in a vacuum.
So many things aligned over the past few months, but first there were the friends and family who lifted me up with their seemingly endless encouragement. Every time I posted a photo of a craft I made, or talked about what I’m working on, someone was there to say that I should take it further. That I should make more, keep going, or even sell my work. Earlier this year (think springtime), J sent me a link to this Craft Entrepreneurship Program through Etsy and NYC Small Business Services. The requirements were minimal — you basically had to have one handmade item ready to sell. So when the applications opened, I submitted my linocut and nervously waited for what I assumed would be a rejection. Well, in August I made it to the phone interview and then found out I was accepted into the program! Classes started one week later.
The program was a whirlwind, lasting 2 weeks and 5 sessions, all right outside of working hours. I was one of 30 (maybe 40) students, mostly women, mostly older, and probably 90% also had full-time jobs. The class was led by an Etsy entrepreneur and a former teacher. She ran us through everything from time management to product photography to branding and marketing. While I’ve written before about how much I love to craft, and why I do it, I have never taken it more seriously. I knew that if I wanted to sell my work, I’d have to really make it something that I would want to invest in. So I dove in, learning about paper and techniques and inks, interrogating every friend who might know something about what I was doing — whether on the business side (what do you think of these shop names?) or on the printmaking side (how do you clean your blocks?).
In the second and final week of the course, I finally listed my items and pricing (after working through a pricing formula provided by the program). I still felt so far from being able to show the shop to friends and family. I still had to figure out so many things like how I was going to package the art and ship it. I had to hammer out my shop policies (what if it gets lost in the mail? What if it arrives damaged? What if the buyer is unhappy?). Not only that but I was scared of being judged and feeling unworthy. Me, a person with zero professional training, selling “art”. But then I got an email that read, “Congratulations on your first sale!”
I shit my pants.
Just kidding. But I felt something akin to that happening in my brain. It was the middle of my workday, the day before my final CEP class. It took my entire lunch break to stop my head from spinning long enough to think about what I was supposed to be doing at work.
The buyer was a woman in The Netherlands. It felt both extremely validating and terrifying that this person I didn’t know on the other side of the world looked at my art and loved it enough to buy it. Well, if the first sale was going to be a trial, it might as well be a trial by fire.
Fast forward to today. It’s been over a month since I made that first sale (and it took about a month for the package to arrive at its destination — thanks USPS!). My shop is up and running and I’m working on new things every week, whether that means carving a new print, sketching out an idea, taking product photos, or improving my packaging. It’s been so exciting to have this little fledgling in my care. It’s so far from full-grown (and who knows if it will ever get there?), but it’s all mine: my spirit and aesthetic, carefully curated to reach out and hold someone else’s hand. Okay that was really corny but that’s how I feel so… I’ll just leave it there.
But back to the beginning. Honestly, I wouldn’t have made it this far if my friends and family hadn’t been so supportive. I didn’t believe in myself or the work that I did. I loved it, but I also wrote it off. Without the encouragement I received, I wouldn’t have taken that plunge to start a shop. I almost didn’t! But then there was also the fantastic Craft Entrepreneurship Program that walked me through the steps it takes to open a shop. I would have been so lost without all of these things. Or maybe it would’ve just taken me a really, really long time to get to where I am today. So if I’ve gotten one thing out of this, it’s to support the dreams of the people you care about. Or even people whose work resonates with you; you don’t actually have to know them. And it’s not just art. It could be anything, really, small or large. Sometimes we grow so afraid of failure, we don’t even see the potential success that’s right around the corner. Sometimes we just need someone to tell us to take a peek.
The Smudgery is an Etsy shop of charming, handmade linocut art prints. Please check it out if you haven’t yet!