Making Merch - Unhelpful Habits that need to go: Part One

Posted by Julia Hutchinson on

I’ve been making and selling my art as merch since 2008. Artist Alley, Holiday Art Fairs, Etsy, Shopify, Redbubble, I’ve done a bunch. 

I’m also a perfectionist and over-thinker. Because I want every decision to be the “right one” I over-analyze until my head explodes. I make up these Rules or Habits that I stick to, even after they’ve stopped serving me.

Here’s what I wish I knew before starting out and some Unhelpful Rules that need to go. This is specifically for artists who want to make their art into merchandise to sell.

Unhelpful Rule Number One: Each new product gets its own unique art

I used to feel like the designs I draw can go on one (and only one) product. And that it’s somehow disingenuous to reuse the same art on multiple products. Otherwise the design becomes overused and not special. But that’s simply not true.

Here’s an example for how I used to do things. In 2018, I made a pet bird sticker sheet consisting of 9 drawings of common pet birds. I sank hours into the project, researching a selection of breeds, deciding on the poses, and carefully labeling each one. They came out awesome. I had a sticker manufacturer print out a bunch and had them for sale at artist alley events.

But once my 9 bird drawings were made, I didn’t do much with them. Turning them into this one sticker sheet product was as far as things would go. I had this idea like, somehow the designs would be less special if customers could get them on whatever product.

The customer has a problem

But let me tell you: customers don’t care about the rules you create in your head. What they DO care about is whether YOUR art can solve THEIR problem.

People look for products that will fit their need at a particular point in time. The lady who is looking for a funny greeting card is going to walk right past the parrot shirt no matter how cute it is. Cuz right now her brain is zeroed in on greeting cards for her parrot friend. She’s focused on solving that “problem”.

It sounds obvious but it bears repeating. To go back to my example, the customer has already decided if they are a “sticker person”. You can’t change that. No matter how cute your art is, they’re not going to buy it if stickers aren’t their thing.

So when you’re deciding what to offer in your shop, don’t be limited by the rules in your head. Be open to a bunch of different products as storage space permits.

And If you’re uploading the design to one of the print on demand sites, there’s literally no excuse not to put your design on every product they have (see my article on Redbubble Tips and Tricks). Provided the design is big enough. Which leads me to my next big Unhelpful Rule, to be continued in Part Two.


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