• Selling Artwork and Calligraphy

    The new year is the perfect time to take the leap and start selling your artwork or calligraphy. This blog post will answer several questions you may have, such as when to know you are ready, where to sell, and how to price. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask in the…

    Gold Foil Wedding Invitation Suite | The Postman's Knock

    Selling artwork and calligraphy is simultaneously one of the most satisfying and frightening things you will ever do, which is why I think it’s a subject that is worthy of examination. I realized this should be a topic of discussion when I received an email from a designer who had just added calligraphy to her line of services. In her email, she expressed trepidation at this step. She essentially asked: “How do I know if it’s good enough to sell? I am scared people will look down at me because I don’t have a long history as a professional calligrapher.”

    A Guide to Calligraphy Inks | The Postman's Knock

    As you know from my recent blog post, as a 26 year-old, I don’t have a long history as a professional calligrapher, either. Remember: at some point, no professional calligrapher had a long history as a professional calligrapher. However, I am immensely proud of the calligraphy/design business I have built, and I thought you might benefit from my response to the designer’s email. Here are my main tips for selling your artwork and calligraphy; and if I left anything else, you are more than welcome to ask me in the comments {because others probably have the same question!}.

    Forget Formality

    My first recommendation to any person who wishes to sell their artwork or calligraphy is to throw formal qualifications out the window. I remember feeling very inadequate when I first started offering my services and artwork for sale because I did not have a college degree in fine arts. I felt like I should be wearing a scarlet “E” on my chest for “English degree”. One day, though, Hernán came home from grad school and relayed what his {native German, stereotypically to-the-point} professor had told him: “Classes are useless, and therefore so are degrees. You can learn anything you want through books or the internet.”

    Typography Art Envelope Tutorial | The Postman's Knock

    Of course, I don’t agree with that statement in all cases, and I’m sure you don’t either. But it was just what I needed to hear. Up to that point, I was limiting my artistic growth because I had labeled myself as a “literature person”. Here’s the thing, though: people will buy artwork and calligraphy if they like it. No one is going to ask you what your formal qualifications are, particularly if they have seen your work. The question is never “have you …?”. It is always “can you …?”. Case in point: two months ago, when Quarto Publishing approached me about working on a typography how-to booklet, they never asked about my formal qualifications. All of their questions were based on what I am capable of, and this website filled in all the blanks as far as my past works.

    Groovy Wedding Styled Shoot Calligraphy + Illustration | The Postman's Knock

    Jump in Head-first

    Once you have stopped feeling apologetic if you aren’t formally taught, it’s time to evaluate whether you’re ready to start selling artwork and calligraphy. {If you’re on Quora, there is an interesting thread on the topic, which you can read here}. Honestly, I think any artwork is worth selling; and, as you remember from “How I Learned Calligraphy“, I started selling from the get-go through my work wasn’t top-notch compared to some other artists. You truly just need to do it, and do it now.

    How I Learned Calligraphy | The Postman's Knock{Some humble pieces I created at the very beginning of my career.}

    Just about any art piece will appeal to someone. When I was studying art history in Paris, I remember going to the Centre Pompidou and seeing this Rothko piece. Rothkos, of course, are worth thousands of dollars … and they are just blended blocks of color. Art historians will be aghast at my blasé attitude, but the only reason I would buy a Rothko painting is to say I have a Rothko painting. Clearly others feel differently than I do, and, truly, that diversity is what makes this world wonderful.

    Woman with a Rothko Painting | The Postman's Knock via Eng.
    Photo Courtesy of Eng.

    With that in mind, selling artwork and calligraphy is half actual skill and half presentation. If you’re aiming to sell on the internet, exceptional photos are a must. Think of the “serving suggestion” on the front of cereal boxes: not many of us eat our Cheerios with whole, stemmed strawberries and joyful splashes of blindingly-white milk, but that’s a pretty image to look at and makes you want to buy Cheerios. Your photos don’t necessarily have to be logical, but they do need to be lovely.

    Thumbprint Guestbook Tree | The Postman's Knock

    In my personal experience, creating artwork and calligraphy is the easy part. The tough part is photography, a skill/pastime which I have never naturally gravitated toward. But: I bit the bullet and figured out how to do it via online tutorials, experimentation, and a heavy reliance on Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Now, I have fun modeling my photos and coming up with ways to style them that set them apart from the rest.

    6"x9" 2015 Hanging Calendar | The Postman's Knock

    While we’re talking about photography, I will say that Lightroom and Photoshop are a must. I strongly recommend downloading the free 30 day trial to see if you like these programs, and then you can purchase them for $10/month. You can use Adobe’s lessons {all of which are free} to learn Lightroom and Photoshop, so you’re not left wondering how in the heck to use what you’re paying a monthly fee for.

    If you still can’t quite grasp taking good styled photos, you can purchase pre-styled photos like those sold in this Etsy shop. The idea is to photoshop your pieces in. This is probably a better solution for art prints than calligraphy {on envelopes, place cards, etc.} because art prints are already digital and effectively are easy to photoshop into other .psd files.

    Styled Photo, Copyright Shay Cochrane | The Postman's Knock via SC Stockshop on Etsy
    Photo Courtesy of SC Stockshop

    {The iPad and invitations were photoshopped into the original photo.}


    The biggest question mark when it comes to selling artwork and calligraphy is pricing. Honestly, I think this is something all creative professionals grapple with. The main thing to remember is if you are asking $10 for something, you will not get $10 for that thing. Let’s say you are going to sell a digital {downloadable} art print on Etsy, okay? So: you list the item, which incurs a $0.20 fee. Someone buys your item and uses Etsy direct checkout. Immediately, Etsy takes a 3% cut — that’s $0.30. Then Etsy’s direct checkout takes a 3% + $0.25 cut, which is $0.55. So: you’ve got your original $10 price minus all those fees, which gives you $8.95 for the piece you sold for $10.00.

    10 Reasons to Write Letters | The Postman's Knock

    The main thing with pricing is you want to be able to give the client a fair price and receive fair compensation yourself. The natural temptation is to underprice {probably to attract more customers} — which I did for a very long time! I charged $1.25 apiece for the very first batch of envelopes I calligraphed. As a beginning calligrapher, some of those envelopes took me 20 minutes to create, so I think I ended up making $4.00/hour on average. However, I don’t regret underpricing because I needed the extra practice, and I learned for next time to work more efficiently and price a little bit higher.

    About Oblique Pen Holders | The Postman's Knock

    For your own pricing formula, I would recommend figuring up exactly how much the item costs you to create and sell. Estimate everything, from the electricity powering your computer to the materials used to create the item to the Etsy and/or Paypal fees. In your shipping cost, think about the materials you will need to buy to ship, the shipping fee, and your time in packaging the item up.

    Where to sell

    I started off selling on Etsy, and because of its lack of complication and user-friendly layout, I recommend that’s where you start, as well. Opening a shop is free, and each listing costs you $0.20 to create. You need a few good photos, a good written description, and a handful of powerful keywords.

    TPK Throwback Calligraphy | The Postman's Knock
    I started TPK by selling envelope calligraphy on Etsy! If you’re interested in starting your own Etsy shop or calligraphy business, check out the 8 Tips for Starting a Calligraphy Business post.


    A Word on Copyright and Getting Ideas

    When I first started selling things on Etsy, I learned about copyright in the most embarrassing of ways: companies reaching out to me and saying “Hey, you can’t sell this item.” A couple of years ago, I created an art print featuring a Shel Silverstein poem, and a lawyer representing the estate of Shel Silverstein contacted me to let me know that was not okay. I had naïvely assumed it was fine because other Etsy sellers were doing it — which, of course, is not justification. Hundreds of listings pop up daily on Etsy featuring Disney characters, college mascots, etc. As a general rule, though, you shouldn’t sell it if you don’t have a license to do so. If you’re unsure, don’t sell. There are lawyers whose jobs are to make sure intellectual property is not being infringed upon, and they are on Etsy.

    Paper Profile Silhouette Tutorial | The Postman's Knock

    {The project pictured above was inspired by the Crazy Rich Asians book cover. It’s a good example of getting an idea without copying since it was created using a different medium, has less detail, and features calligraphy.}

    As far as art prints and calligraphy go, I’d just get a general idea for what you like through looking at websites like Pinterest. While your piece can have some of the same elements that others’ illustrations/calligraphy do, you can’t blatantly copy. Yes, there’s a thin line between “inspiration” and “copying”, but ultimately, you’ve got to go with your gut. Put yourself in other artists’ shoes: how would they feel/what would they do if they saw you were selling a piece that’s nearly identical to theirs? When I am looking for inspiration, I make a Pinterest board with several pieces, study it for a few minutes, then close out the Pinterest window. That way, I can keep the inspiration I got from the pieces without copying them. That’s a good way to develop a general “vibe” that you want a piece to have without plagiarizing, like the fashion drawing below.

    Contemporary Fashion Drawing Tutorial | The Postman's Knock

    In Conclusion

    When all is said and done, you need to make sure you are selling something that is high-quality and useful in some way to someone. Maybe it teaches a skill, maybe it’s a household essential, or maybe it just makes someone happy. That’s what comes first. All the other stuff — the marketing, the packaging, the customer service: that comes next. This blog post is meant to encourage you to take the leap because you are creative enough to do it {and it’s a new year: a time for new beginnings!}. Just remember that it’s all a process, and you’ll learn something new about it every day. Be easy on yourself, be good to your clients, and you will succeed.

    Happy New Year!


    Lindsey's Signature | The Postman's Knock