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Building a Successful Art-based Business

Do you dream of making your creative hobby a side hustle or full-time business? You can! With Marin Gardner, we're exploding the myth of the "starving artist."

Your painting won first place at the local art festival, and someone wants to buy it. You’ve been selling Great Aunt Mabel’s secret recipe bourbon sauce at the farmer’s market, and you have back orders through next June. Everyone wants one of your knitted cap and scarf sets.

Many people look at their art and hobbies and wonder if they could turn them into either a lucrative side hustle or a full-fledged business, but they worry about little things like eating and paying rent.

Let’s bust the myth of the starving artist right now with Marin Gardner, the owner of Embercraft Creations. Gardner is a highly original artist, leatherworker and visual storyteller. She’s also an incredibly successful entrepreneur with a thriving business. 

Gardner started Embercraft Creations in 2017 as a side hustle and took the leap into full-time just two years later. She calls her leatherwork “a mashup between fantasy shieldmaiden and modern earth warrior with a dash of Norse runes thrown in”. Customers choose a rune engraving, and Gardner customizes each piece to help them manifest their goals or thrive during difficult times.

Great artists also need to be businesspeople

Gardner started her art career early, doodling, sketching and taking every art class in school. She even taught herself leatherworking and how to make chainmail so she could create her own fantasy prom dress. But being an amazing artist isn’t enough. She recognizes that artists need a business side to be successful. She calls it the wearing of “ten hats”.  Gardner is the graphic designer, marketing director, customer service supervisor, head of sales, shipping department forewoman and more. Creating the art is just one piece of the puzzle.

Key insights: the secret art of correctly pricing artwork

Gardner says learning how to price her work correctly was one of the most important lessons she has learned.

“Like many artists, I started out by pricing my products based on what I thought people would pay,” she says. Experienced artist friends taught her to account for the time she spent on each project and on business-related matters, materials, expenses, and, most importantly, profit. Gardner points to appropriate pricing as helping to differentiate her artwork from fast fashion.

“When I learned to raise my prices, I actually started to get more sales. That was a huge surprise.”

Growing a community – online and in-person

Gardner had just transitioned to full-time at Embercraft when the pandemic hit, putting renaissance fairs, an important channel and target market for her, on hold.  

She calls these gatherings, “pocket worlds, completely cut off from modern civilization.” This community has a deep level of appreciation for handcrafted products and unique art, making it a perfect match for her skills.

“When people visit a renaissance fair, they’re looking for something they’ve never seen before. Many come dressed in costume and they love to add layers of story to their characters. One way for them to accomplish that is to wear pieces appropriate to the time and legends. My products all have stories behind them, and no two pieces are the same, so it’s a perfect fit.”

But online community building is also important in today’s world. “I had to focus on building my online community before I had a chance to start going to in-person events. Luckily, I already had a pretty solid social following.”

One hundred percent of her 2020 sales came from her online community.

Leveraging social media to build a community

Gardner shares many social media marketing lessons in our video interview with her.  It’s well worth your time to listen in for more information on her methodology, how she manages her social network (to avoid exhaustion and burnout), and how she went viral.

  • Don’t focus on the “likes” – they don’t lead to sales.
  • Make connections. Strike up conversations.
  • Be authentic and show your individuality.
  • Connect and collaborate with other members of your community online.
  • Connect with Embercraft for in-the-moment “lessons” – Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube and Pinterest

Read our interview with Instagram influencer Chell Porter on the science behind leveraging your brand online.

How to scale an art business

An artist’s product is often an extension of the artist, which can make it very hard to scale or grow your company beyond a certain point. Gardner has maintained her sense of artistic integrity while continuing to grow with several creative and innovative strategies, including:

  • A members-only portion of her website
  • Online classes
  • DIY kits – Sold out at the moment BUT will be restocked on January 23, 2022

The importance of taking breaks

With so much to do and so few resources to do it, it’s no wonder that Gardner emphasizes the importance of self-care.

“To all the artists and creatives out there who want to turn their art into a business, my most important piece of advice is to TAKE BREAKS. Set reasonable boundaries and expectations for yourself and be your own good boss.”

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