Artist Interview with Amarilys Henderson
Artist Amarilys Henderson explains how she built her online art business including Skillshare art classes, her own classes and selling merchandise on sites like Society6.
Amarilys Henderson Bio
Amarilys Henderson enjoys bringing the dynamic vibrancy of watercolor strokes to everyday products–from paper to porcelain. Her experience in print design influences much of her work, which found its renaissance in new motherhood and refreshed faith. You’ll find her curled up in her warm studio in snowy Minnesota.
Please tell us about your work?
I’m a watercolor illustrator and I monetize my work in three ways by selling, licensing, and teaching. I sell prints and select pieces through my website and Etsy. I license my artwork to large companies and manufacturers for surface designs on their products. And I teach watercolor and design on Skillshare.com. This all might sound like a lot, but each has its season and pace and I love to watch them all feed into each other.
What do you mean by “watercolor devos”?
Yes, that’s a word I made up! Go with it. Alright, I’ll explain. I started painting again—and enjoying it—after the birth of my first son. I was eager to regain my sense of self and connect with my calling. Being a new mom with little time to myself, I started combining my devotional time in the Bible with painting. Watching the paint soak into paper as I sought to soak in some spiritual truths became a fascinating practice that I started calling watercolor devos—short for watercolor devotionals.
Is Skillshare a good platform for promoting and
selling your classes?
My career path has been one that spun out step by step from selling to blogging to wanting to teach. As I looked at different platforms and considered whether to host classes on my own, I got real about how much time I wanted to invest into marketing. I knew that I wanted to plug into a larger platform and felt that Skillshare offered a vibe that I could jive with; it’s professional but not stuffy, focusing on sidehustlers and those who want to improve themselves, and the interface is approachable. I also saw that there was a hole in their content that I could help fill. I have thought to host more in-depth classes on my own site someday, but for now I enjoy contributing to a site with greater reach.
Can you give some advice for artists considering
creating their own online art classes?
Creating work and teaching it are two very different capacities. As you develop your teaching content, consider what were your own “aha” moments? What tidbit did you learn along the way that empowered you to continue? That is the kind of content that we all want in on! Organize your thoughts well, as if to present it as an old-fashioned outline or slide presentation. And lastly, take the spotlight off of yourself. The student viewing is seeking to walk away with something, but while many online teachers are seeking to be liked, this kinsman feeling comes when students feel engaged and cared for.
Is Etsy a good platform to sell your work?
Etsy—or any other online platform—is partnership, not a tool. They need to offer you exposure, ease in promotion and fulfilling, and ease at tax time. You as a shop owner need to provide quality products and customer service. I think Etsy has really amped their game in the last two years, making it a great support in creating listings, running sales, and encouraging people to shop the site. The obvious drawbacks are that the site is saturated with shops and the competition is high. I find, though, that those who like my work shop my work, and can add other’s pieces to their cart as a bonus.
Do you have any advice for someone interested in
selling their art on Etsy?
Be careful how you show your art. The resolution of product images is great on Etsy, but it also makes it easier to steal. Don’t show scans without a hefty watermark or better yet, show your work “in situ” within a frame or displayed in real life. I can offer this advice based on experience. A fellow Etsy seller found my work being used on products and asked me if it was without permission. I reported it to Etsy and though there were no legal ramifications, the listing disappeared instantly. I appreciated their quick assistance, but realized that we live in a small world where work is not respected as intellectual property.
Please tell us about your Society6 store?
I’ll admit that my Society6 shop is pretty well under-managed. It’s a bit of an afterthought as I’ve set it up to sell a few exclusive pieces. I thoroughly admire the robustness and quality of their product offerings, but the earnings are so miniscule I see it as a gift of convenience for my followers as I don’t have the mental bandwidth to seek manufacturing partners to whip up rugs, duvet covers and backpacks for me!
What does it take to be successful on Society6?
Society6 displays itself to a niche demographic—see their site to gain a feel for it—and if your work pairs well with it, go for it! I’ve seen quirky, cute, nerdy or indie work sell wonderfully there and have heard a fellow illustrators say it’s a strong portion of their income. You must be handy in Photoshop, resizing your work to the specific size requirements and orientations for each item they can print on. Create a collection of work that is cohesive, a strong vibe will read clearly on the site and you’ll sway the people who love it to stay on your page.
Is it important for artists to have a diversity of
income sources like you do?
Creative folks like to dabble, to explore! It’s our innate curiosity and love for creating that makes us run in a dozen directions. I have found that if you can’t explain what you do in a sentence, you’re going in too many. Strength lies in being steadfast at what you do while being flexible in how you do it. I constantly reevaluate my selling platforms, the ways in which I make money. I counter-balance pleasure and profit to check if an outlet is worthwhile. Our creative passion is something that’s critical to our work and when work starts to feel less like a labor of love… and just labor… it’s time to adjust. A niche for every style truly is out there, it just takes finding by way of genius, luck or (like most of
us) trial and error.
In an interview, you talked about how your art
career started slowly and the sacrifices you made,
can you give some advice for artists interested in
turning their passions into a career?
Yes, early on my career was more of a hope. But with the support of my husband and fans—and a conviction, a calling—I persisted despite it being financially difficult. I kept trying to find the formula to success that alluded my by a hair. I now know that it was just part of the process.
My advice? Do it! But. Take your existing passion and give it a shot… on a small scale. Test the waters and find your people. As you dive a little deeper and continually challenge yourself to take the next innovative step in your path, you’ll learn a wealth that online searches and books cannot offer— lessons that only experience can. And as you swim through unchartered waters, hold your heart close. So many are discouraged along the way, be it by comments, low profits or low enthusiasm, but if this entrepreneurial journey is for you, you’ll push through!