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Shop Talk: Artwork by Angie

by Camilla

Shop Talk: Artwork by Angie

Angie Spurgeon from Folksy shop Artwork by Angie left a career in advertising to fulfil her dreams of being a illustrator. That turned out to be a great decision as she now sells her cards and illustrations internationally, and is stocked by the likes of Waterstones and The National Trust. And it all started when a publisher spotted her work on Folksy…

You worked in advertising for 12 years before setting up on your own. What made you take that leap?
To be perfectly honest, advertising was the career I sort of slid into when I left university in order to get a secure salary, comfortable lifestyle and remain working in a creative environment. I studied graphic design specialising in illustration at the University of Plymouth, and after graduation I headed to London to show my portfolio around and have a go at being a freelance illustrator. At that time I felt lacking in a lot of the basic business and marketing knowledge needed to succeed as a freelancer and was not very confident at pitching my work, so struggled with it.

I eventually managed to secure an office manager position in a small ad agency, got trained up in client services and worked my way up from there. I’ve been very lucky to work on some large, well-known retail accounts and that soon filled in all the gaps in my business, marketing and retail knowledge. Now that I’m self-employed, that knowledge and experience has been vital – it’s given me the much-needed confidence to go it alone.

It was never a question of taking a leap – in my mind I was always going to give freelance illustration another shot. When my youngest child began nursery it presented me with the perfect opportunity to start a fresh and go for it. I never wanted to be a board director of an ad agency, I’ve always wanted to be an illustrator.

artwork by angie,

I never wanted to be a board director of an ad agency, I’ve always wanted to be an illustrator.

Do you think your background in advertising helps you in your own work?
Completely. My experiences have given me lots of the insight and training needed to tackle all aspects of running a business. Being in that environment gave me the attitude to rise to challenges and meet deadlines, to take criticism and use it to make positive change, and most importantly to keep going even when it gets tough. I often see successful independent businesses I admire and then read that the founder comes from an advertising background, and it never surprises me because ad agencies are great training grounds for entrepreneurs.

You have a very strong brand and clear strapline: cheerful greetings and gifts with a very British flavour. Is that something you considered when you set up your business?
The brand has evolved in the same way my business has. I’ve learned as I’ve gone along where I want to be heading. When I first started my website back in 2010 I did a range of things, from personalised portraits, through wedding stationery, to logos and branding packages for crafters. I also had the beginnings of a greetings card range and illustration prints. As the months rolled on, I discovered that out of all the things I did, it was the greetings cards, stationery and surface pattern I enjoyed creating the most. So, bit by bit, I worked out what I wanted my business to really be about and focused my business plan around that.

8- washing line Valentines

The brand has evolved in the same way my business has. I’ve learned as I’ve gone along where I want to be heading. Bit by bit, I worked out what I wanted my business to really be about and focused my business plan around that.

How and where do you sell your work – online, wholesale, trade shows, markets?
I sell my work in few different ways. As well as my Folksy shop I sell my designs as prints and cards directly from my own website, and in a couple of other online marketplaces. I sell the licence to use my illustrations to a publishing company and work closely with them. They get my designs into lots of lovely shops and show them at key retail trade shows such as Spring Fair International at the NEC (which starts on 2nd February).

I have a few local wholesale stockists where I can test out new products. Most of the wholesale side is handled through the publisher, but it’s good to have a few stockists of my own to get feedback from the shop floor. I’d love to expand more of the wholesale side in the future as I grow and diversify my product range.

On top of all this, I fulfil graphic design commissions from a small client base of other artists, crafters and independent business owners, who are people I’ve worked with lots during the past few years and know their businesses well. It’s through a combination of these ways of selling that I’m able to keep a reasonable cash flow and gain enough income for it to be my only job.

artwork by angie

I have a few local wholesale stockists where I can test out new products. It’s good to have a few stockists of my own to get feedback from the shop floor.

Do you have a formula for pricing your work?
Oh, this is a tricky one. I TRY to work out the real cost (time, materials, delivery, packaging etc), then add my margin to get my trade price, and double that for the retail price. For greetings and stationery the margins are very tight and it’s highly competitive. That’s why I’m happy to design for licence and let those with the infrastructure and experienced sales team in place to handle large volumes. If I let them do what they do best with my design, that allows me to focus on the bit I love most, the designing.

How do you promote your work?
With A LOT of online social networking. Facebook in particular has played a big part in helping promote my work. I prefer to spread myself around and make full use blogger, Pinterest, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram regularly, and occasionally, I nip on to LinkedIn. I have my own newsletter that I try to send out monthly with exclusive discount codes for my website. I also make plans to approach key people along the way to pitch my designs where I can. Sometimes there’s no substitute to making an appointment, getting out there and showing people stuff.

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It all began by opening my Folksy shop. A few months after it had opened and I’d gained my first few sales, I got a message in my Folksy inbox from a publisher who had been shopping on the site and had discovered my work.

Your product shots are bright, sharp and eye-catching. How important do you think good products shots are, and have you got any tips?
When you sell online, good product shots are essential – they have to compensate for the customer not being able to handle the product. Where I can, I invest in professional photography, especially on products that I want to promote heavily. When I need to rein in my budget, I’ve got a tripod, a decent digital camera and some large plain canvases, which I prop up near a window on a good daylight day to create a little white booth. I do my best to take a shot that’s in focus and doesn’t have too many shadows. Then I rely on Photoshop to help lighten the image by adjusting the levels and curves to achieve an almost shot in a studio image. In an ideal world I would get a professional to take every single shot for me.

Your work is stocked by the likes of Waterstones and the National Trust. How did that happen? 
You’ll be pleased to hear it all began by opening my Folksy shop. A few months after it had opened and I’d gained my first few sales, I got a message in my Folksy inbox from a publisher who had been shopping on the site and had discovered my work. They were really keen on some of my illustrations and asked me if I’d like to create a range based on cakes and afternoon tea. I said yes and set to work on my first collection for them to take to Autumn Fair International at the NEC back in September 2011. It was from that trade fair that Waterstones and The National Trust placed orders. I haven’t looked back since and I’m currently working on my fifth big collection with that publisher. All because I was found on Folksy!

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Folksy is still very important to me and my business. It’s a great place to test new ideas, network with other like-minded souls and, most importantly, go shopping to treat myself and find lovely, unusual gifts.

Although you now sell your work wholesale across the world and have your own website, you still have your Folksy shop (which we’re thrilled about!). Is there something about being on Folksy that you particularly like?
Folksy is still very important to me and my business. It’s a great place to test new ideas, network with other like-minded souls and, most importantly, go shopping to treat myself and find lovely, unusual gifts.

How do you balance being creative with the demands of selling your work and family life? How do you split your time?
The plan is to work when my daughters are at school and then again for a couple of hours in the evening once they’ve gone to bed. I try to give myself a night off mid-week and keep weekends for family. When the girls are home I am mum. When deadlines need to be met it’s not always possible to keep the weekends completely free, so there are plenty of compromises and juggling along the way, but it’s the life I chose and I love what I do. Happy mum means happy kids.

world's best mum card, illustration, british, swallows, hearts, Artwork by Angie

It is possible to earn a living as a full-time designer-maker and I know of plenty of good designers who have proved it’s possible. I think it takes time and requires investment. It also requires an openness to opportunities that don’t always present themselves in an obvious way and a willingness to take risks.

Is this your full-time job, and do you think it’s possible to earn a living as a full-time designer/maker?
It’s my only job. I often work full-time hours but because I need to re-invest the profits to grow the business, I pay myself part-time pay. That’s great though – it’s exceeded my expectations from where I started. I can see that it is possible to earn a living as a full-time designer-maker and I know of plenty of good designers who have proved it’s possible. I think it takes time and requires investment. It also requires an openness to opportunities that don’t always present themselves in an obvious way and a willingness to take risks.

In order to create enough income and cash flow through your business to make it a full-time job, you need to consider creating a range of revenue streams. For example, that could be selling your products directly online and at events mixed with wholesale, licensing and commissioned work, or it could be providing training, workshops, kits and supplies. I feel very positive about what the future holds. When I think back to when I first opened my Folksy shop, I would never have believed I’d be saying all this just a few short years later.

artwork by angie

Have you got any tips for other Folksy sellers?

  • Make lovely, original things.
  • Photograph them well.
  • Make sure you’ve priced them fairly (and by that I mean fair to yourself as well as to your customers and any potential stockists).
  • Keep your shop well stocked and looking good with clear product descriptions and clear postage costs.
  • Then tell everyone on all the social networking sites about the all the lovely things you’ve made – it’s even easier to that now because you can tweet, share and pin directly from your Folksy product listings.
  • Chat to people, be nice and when you make sales, don’t forget to say thank you. If you show your customers that you care about them, they’ll care enough to come back again.
  • Most of all, please keep going so that I have lots of amazing things to choose from when I go shopping on Folksy.

 

You can read more about Angie’s inspirations and see where she works on the Folksy Tumblr

See more of Angie’s illustrations in her Folksy shop Artwork by Angie

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2 comments

Lindsey Jones January 29, 2014 - 9:34 pm

Awesome interview with an awesome lady. So professional and someone who inspires me daily. The graphics she continues to design for my small business are a key part of my own success – keep creating Angie! Lindsey @ The Little Soap Shed xx

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