Helena Nelson-Reed is a fine artist from the Chicago suburb of Woodridge, Illinois. Her striking watercolors feature dream-like images of goddesses. “The writing of Jung, C.S Lewis, Joseph Campbell and Clarissa Pinkola-Estes has influenced my approach to interpreting archetype, myth and folklore on a personal, contemporary level,” says Nelson-Reed. She attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago, but soon found that the traditional commercial art techniques she had learned were being outmoded by the computer. “Rather than learn computer graphics I chose to paint and for several years was fairly successful in Chicago exhibits and shows,” Nelson-Reed says. “The exhibit and outdoor show routine became impossible as our family grew, nor did it supply the income of a ‘real’ job.” She kept painting and exhibiting while pursuing her degree and new career. A few years ago, Nelson-Reed began to look into the opportunities for selling her work online. We recently asked her about that experience.
Q: What made you decide to begin selling prints of your work online using print-on-demand? What sites have you used?
A: I wasn’t getting much traffic on my home site, and giclee sales had dropped, along with originals. I had to do something with a minimal investment in order to reach a broad audience, so I investigated Fine Art America along with sites like Zazzle and Imagekind. These sites [Zazzle and Imagekind] are cluttered and geared to enthusiastic amateurs, not serious artists. Individuals clog the search engines with dozens of images, often pages. No matter what I did, my work never showed up in a search engine even when using my name. Who wants to surf through pages of manga cartoons, adolescent tattoo doodles and stupid message images? Nobody. Fine Art America has a nice presentation and features amateur and professional artists alike who are serious about their work.
I can market my original image along side the prints. I make necklaces as well and have sold a couple from Fine Art America. They don’t exact a percentage of these original sales which is a great bonus. I’ve had customers in Australia, the Netherlands, Britain and Canada, and one from Greece.
My S/N [signed and numbered] giclees run from $250.00 to $650.00, not practical for many customers. Fine Art America grants the option of affordable prints at excellent prices and several sizes. These don’t conflict with the high end S/N giclees. I protect my S/N customers by offering either partial elements cropped from the large image, or making it available only in very small sizes. Many are open edition, but for some, if a customer wants the entire painting and in a large size like the original, they must still order the S/N giclee from me and these are printed by someone in my area so I can oversee the proofing and production.
Q. What else do you like about Fine Art America?
A. FAA is user friendly and I’m an analog dinosaur. Good papers and ink. I ordered a few samples of my work from similar sites and was really disappointed. They looked like they’d been
cut out of a magazine.
Q. Have you tried any other POD [print on demand] sites? What was that like?
A. Despite making over $580.00 retail in sales on a well known print/mug/t shirt site in 2 months, the percentage and surcharges they took reduced my entire royalty to only $32.00 – not enough to cover more than three months membership fees. I’ve never seen a dime and consider them a real waste of time and effort. Plus the mindset of an uninformed audience means lots of image theft and seeing your thumbnails turning up on other people’s products and websites – for sale. Now I use only FAA and one other site – and that other site sells my work only as greeting cards, calendars and laminated posters with my name and the image title beneath. There’s been some cross over traffic and sales between these sites, which is nice.
Q. How long have you been using Fine Art America?
A. Approximately 2 years.
Q. Are you satisfied with the sales you are receiving from FAA?
A. Yes, but if I can increase them that’s even better.
Q. Do you feel that print sales helps or hurts sales of your originals? (Some artists may feel that prints of their work competes with the originals for buyers.)
A. It helps, without a doubt. I’ve sold more originals from FAA then my home site. I’ve one local gallery that represents me, and I know the owner personally. Other than that I don’t use them because galleries take too high a percentage –my paintings can take a month or two of daily work and to make less than minimum for that is ridiculous. Also there’s too much nonsense, attitude, politics and time involved working with them. I made approximately $20,000.00 in sales of original art from FAA last year and $12,000.00 since January. My paintings range from $900.00 to $8000.00 Art is a feast or famine business and I might not sell any more for all of 2009, but it’s a good start and I’m happy.
Q. Looking back, do you think you made the right choice, getting into print-on-demand?
A. Yes, it’s served me well and I’ve had repeat customers. My most recent sale was somebody who’d already bought an image of Rhiannon. She liked the small print so much that she contacted me and has just sent my her down payment and first installment.
Q. Any words of advice for our readers?
A. Good scans, the best you can afford. Sharpen and adjust at home, then order a small print so you can proof what’s being sent to customers. It might print a little different than on your monitor. If you put these small images in a bound portfolio, inside acetate sleeves, they make a nice way to present your work at shows (crowded booths) or when traveling.
Quality of your image. Recently I had a slide of older work scanned and out it on FAA. I’d seen the smaller print and was happy. Two customers ordered a large version. The printing capability of FAA is so exact that the tiny grains of dust and minute lint particles present on the slide when scanned were blown up along with the image. I was SO embarrassed! I take good care of my slides and didn’t even think to clean the slide first.
Many of the people on FAA are creatives or in the art business themselves. Many of my prints and several originals have been sold to other artists.
Finally, good service is imperative. Some artists make a rude, disorganized, or arrogant impression in their responses, probably without realizing it. Think about what you are writing, because this impression is the only way by which a stranger knows you. Many of my sales are generated by respectful prompt responses and simple courtesy. People remember and come back.
We invite you to visit Helena’s work at Fine Art America. You can also visit her home site here.