Sunday, 30 July 2017

Amazon Merch: Getting started

I like art and I'm also a bit of a geek, so I love the idea of combining the two and selling the result online.  In other words, using print on demand to sell my designs on t-shirts, canvases, mugs, pillows and anything else I can find!

If you're not familiar with print on demand, this is where the customer buys the product and then the item is printed to order and shipped to the customer.

A few months ago I discovered Amazon Merch, which is Amazon's print on demand service. It's still only available to buyers in the USA and you can currently only print on t-shirts, but I wanted to get some designs on Amazon ready for when the service is rolled out to the rest of the world and more products are available.

And of course I can sell on immediately.  

The first challenge with Merch is that it can take months to be approved (for me it was just over three months). So if you're thinking of trying it, apply right now (link). 

My application came through a week or so ago and as you have 120 days to get your first design up before your account is inactivated, it was time to get designing! 

You need to upload a .png file with the right dimensions and a transparent background. Amazon provide templates to help. That part is fairly easy. What is more challenging is... 

- Finding a design that will sell (there's tons of competition) 
- Optimising your product description so people can find it when they search

I'm still working on  these because it's early days!

Another challenge is the copycatting that goes on. If you do hit upon a popular design, the chances are someone will copy and undercut yours, so it pays to not share all your designs in one easy to find place. 

For this reason I'm only sharing one of mine here...

There are already  tons of t-shirts on this theme so it's not exactly risky.  (No, I didn't do much research before I came up with this one. I'll try harder next time!) 

As you can tell, it's early days for me. I always reckon the best way to learn is to just dive in and do it. After making so many digital products I love the fact I can make physical products, too. Great fun!

If you'd like to know more about Merch I recommend the Merch Entrepreneur podcast.

If you have any questions on Merch just let me know and I'll do my best to help.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Opening Night at the 25 and Counting exhibition

Wednesday 5th July 2017 and it's the opening night of the 25 and Counting exhibition at the Panacea Museum in Bedford...
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Yes, this is the 'woman' exhibition I've been mentioning for the past 6 months or so! The name has been changed to reflect the twenty-five plus women who are now contributing.

The exhibition is mostly on the top floor of this beautiful Victorian building, which was part of a religious community until just a few years ago.

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The aim of the exhibition is to make women's art more visible. This seems a noble enough aim, but once I found out just how little women's work appears in galleries around the world... well, I was shocked.

'Work by women artists makes up only 3–5% of major permanent collections in the U.S. and Europe,  and 34% in Australian state museums.'

To attempt to redress this balance, women are putting on their own exhibitions. And that is the goal of Ana Ortega and Sophie Atkins of NOHATcollective, who organised 25 and Counting.

I've written in previous posts about how I found this subject hard. It was so broad yet at the same time so personal. And for me, 'broad yet personal' describes the exhibition, too. Each piece tells something about an individual's experience of being a woman, whether that's her personal story...

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Wendy Matmough discovered Nike the goddess of victory was the symbol of her own home town, which resonated with her own experience of overcoming a difficult marriage.

...or an experience shared by almost all women around the world...

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... or more political  statements about about how women's rights are in danger of being eroded (One of the Monkeys on The Back of Womankind by Helen Jones - I didn't manage to get a photo of this one).

Each one is like a window into someone else's world.

Here's mine, it still seems surreal to see my own work hanging on a wall at an art exhibition!

Thank you and congratulations to Ana and Sophie.

The exhibition is open at The Panacea Museum in Bedford until 12th August.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Mixed media Art Workshop at Bedford Arts and Crafts Centre

I spend a lot of my art and craft time at home, learning from the Internet, so it was a real treat to go out for a whole day last Saturday. I went along to a mixed media workshop with a couple of friends from the craft group I attend and spent a full five hours of interrupted time just making stuff.

Yes, I did eat some lunch but I timed it to fit around my work's drying time!

The tutor was Lisa Tilley who is a textile artist at uoldbag as well as teaching at Bedford Arts and Crafts Centre.

The day started with Lisa talking us through her process for exploring and experimenting with a variety of techniques and materials. I found this really helpful because I've fumbled my way through a process for the last two exhibitions and it turns out I wasn't too far off track. Maybe I'm being a bit too hard on myself because it was based on the process I was taught as a design and technology teacher. That was a long time, ago, though!

The big lesson for me was to not be too concerned about the outcome in the early stages and just see what happens. I've also been a little hesitant lately about practical things like which glue should I use to stop my work falling apart? Why does my thread keep breaking when I try free-motion machine embroidery? Lisa helped me by answering lots of these questions.

Then we got stuck in to the making. The main techniques in the morning were batik and printing. Batik is 'drawing' with hot wax on fabric or paper, then applying dye, followed by removing the wax with a hot iron. Then you can repeat the process if you want to. Here's the first one of mine (blue dye on purple fabric):

With the printing, we applied (thick, sticky) printing ink to a plastic sheet then either removed some or put in objects to cover some of the sheet before pressing a piece of paper on top. Here's one where I scribbled in the ink:

I'd not used either technique before, so I spent quite a while just experimenting, to find out what was possible and how the materials behaved.

Once our work had dried it was time to layer it up, combine it or add embroidery (hand or machine). When I've tried this before I've struggled with composition. I'm never sure how to change a collection of objects into something that looks like a whole. So I did a lot of arranging and rearranging. 

I've been playing around with sewing and crocheting on paper this year, so this was also a good opportunity to pick Lisa's brains on how to approach this!

I decided I needed a theme and as I've been playing around with ink and lines lately, I decided on 'words'. 

Here's what I came up with:

Top right: a page of the script from the film Casblanca, with batik on top.
Top left: printing inspired by hand lettering or maybe a signature
Bottom left: Batik pattern inspired by some of the artwork on the Lindisfarne Gospels with hand embroidery on top.
Bottom right: A print of a feather with silver ink added on top.
Middle: Quote by John Dryden 'Words are but pictures of our thoughts' on thick paper with torn edges.

This was great practice at going with the flow, as this was a more experimental approach than I normally take. Usually I have the end result in mind when I begin.

It was a really enjoyable workshop and I learned quite a bit, too. If you're in the Bedford area I recommend taking a look at the programme on offer at Bedford Arts and Crafts Centre.

Next time I fancy trying lino printing!