Exploiting Your Own IP

Some years ago when I was working in a shared studio, we attended a seminar led by WA Belmont BEC founder and facilitator, Carol Hanlon.  Carol made it clear that artistic talent will only pay the bills if we learn how to exploit our own intellectual property.  The fact is most artists make a living through income streams other than their own art work.

Craft has evolved from the early 1980’s when I studied fashion design and then became interested in surface design for textiles.  In Adelaide it was a hands-on art based way of learning at colleges like the North Adelaide School of Art, with lino printing, screen printing, dyeing and painting.  To learn a new technique we’d attend workshops, read how-to books and subscribe to magazines such as the iconic Textile Fibre Forum.

The advent of the internet, digital cameras, image manipulation programs such as Photoshop, CAD, and social media, has opened up a different world of opportunities not available thirty years ago.  Moving from a 100% manual labour practise to 100% digital has involved a lot of trial and error.

Go Wild! landscape bags
Go Wild! landscape bags, 100% hands on design and production

It started with blogging about the art process, then posting up pictures taken with my digital camera.  I came across the Etsy website and decided to trial selling online while keeping the gallery outlets going.  It soon became apparent that Etsy was more suited to multiples of an artwork, which is impossible to achieve with the hand made techniques I was using.  Each item has to be photographed in detail before listing.  I’d only used a professional photographer for selling work previously so it was going to be very expensive.

Eucalyptus Silk Shape

It soon became clear that a transition to online selling would cost more than it was worth.  The time and space to make the work, then photograph it, list it and then prepare for shipping became more cumbersome than just selling in galleries.

The first step to overcome was the one-off surface design process.  I experimented with photographing hand painted fabric and uploading to photo manipulation programs to make artworks that could be repeat printed on Spoonflower.  The samples looked interesting but I soon worked out the cost of the custom fabric converted to AUD, shipping it to Australia, then cutting and making up and selling online would push the price up.

Digital design from handpainted fabric, printed on organic cotton

After placing the Etsy shop on hold, and with a growing interest in street art,  I started using photography as a new tool for expression.  This year I started experimenting with photography for surface design (see previous posts).  These designs could be applied to almost anything.  Print websites such as Redbubble and Zazzle offer a range of blank products for custom artwork, and the pricing was lower than any work I could make myself.  The problem of product photography was also removed with the use of their sample images of my designs.

Orange Hibiscus Chiffon Tank Top
Eucalypso at Etsy: Orange Hibiscus Chiffon Tank Top

Drop shipping the items from where they are made lessens the carbon footprint.  I completely eliminated excessive use of raw materials in fabric, dyes, paints and water, through made to order.  The items at Redbubble are ethically made.  The only part of the process I haven’t resolved yet is sourcing all recycled or sustainable materials, though hopefully they can all be recycled.  The products that feature my artworks are good quality so should last for years if handled with care.

Orange Hibiscus Draw-string Bag

My hope for the near future is an eco print and clothing design site, so I can upload patterns as well as the artwork and have my designs made to order on sustainable fabrics.  Come on, Spoonflower!

So has removing the hands on crafting of the work from start to finish made the end product suffer?  I’m not intending to give up the hands on process altogether as it is an intrinsic part of being an artist, but this new way of production frees up time previously spent in repetitive, time consuming, and unsustainable tasks.  It makes my work more competitive and I can take control of my own intellectual property by potentially building a low cost artistic empire 🙂





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Artist in Adelaide, South Australia. I enjoy viewing and participating in street art and experimenting with photography for surface design.

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