Yoko Isami is a full-time printmaker specialising in lino prints based on her original drawings. She first started selling her work at markets before opening her Folksy shop Meadowlark Prints in 2012. We talked to Yoko about how her business has developed since then, her tips for selling wholesale to shops and her realistic approach to pricing…
When and how did Meadowlark Prints start?
I started by having a stall at a local vintage and craft market about five years ago. To start with, I was experimenting with what to sell, and the first linoprints I did were cards, which were popular and gave me the courage to start selling prints. As they sold well over Christmas I began thinking about other outlets for my work.
Are you a full-time artist?
How do you sell your work? Which channel is the most successful?
I sell my prints and cards regularly at the monthly market in my town, and through a few galleries and art shops. Online I sell through Folksy. The local market is very popular now and I have worked hard to get myself established, so it tends to be quite good all year round. Getting established online has been more difficult, but last year – in particular the run-up to Christmas – was much better and I am now more focused on how to improve my online presence. It’s interesting though that different prints are popular in the market and online – I don’t know why!
Your prints are stocked by shops including Howkapow. How did that come about? Did they approach you or did you contact them?
Cat, creative director at Howkapow, saw my Dandelion print and contacted me through Folksy. I already knew about Howkapow and what they sell from magazines, and their lovely shop with its great contemporary products and art. So it was a nice surprise when she contacted me. Cat was very friendly and straightforward as we worked out what would work best for both of us.
Have you got any tips for other makers who want to sell wholesale?
Having your work promoted by someone else is rewarding in itself. It also brings benefits: they can open the door to a whole new group of customers, particularly if their stock complements your work. So finding outlets that have similar taste to your products is essential for it to succeed. Then it’s about finding a way to make things work financially for both parties. If you are selling wholesale, the shop will be sharing some of the risk by paying in advance, which you need to recognise with a lower price per item.
How do you calculate your prices? Did your prices have to change when you started to sell wholesale?
That’s a constant source of headaches for makers. Ideally you would calculate the cost of materials, energy, your labour etc, add on a premium and that’s the price. But it never adds up if I do it that way and the customer might not agree! My approach is to be realistic. So I tend to work backwards, by looking at the kind of prices that people will pay and that other artists are charging for similar work. I try to match a price I set with the amount of time and materials that I’m prepared to spend. That way I am confident about the price I charge for the work I’ve done. Pricing consistently across different outlets is another headache. Online prices tend to be competitive, but can’t be wildly different to those in galleries and shops, or customers will get confused. So you have to think hard about where the middle ground is, to find the price that works for you and the customer.
What channels do you use to promote your work? Which do you think work best?
I use Twitter and Facebook regularly. I put up posts when developing a new design or doing something like having a stall at the market or presenting in a exhibition. I don’t know which one works best because I use them differently; Facebook more as a notice board and Twitter more to interact with other makers.
Is there anyone you think does social media really well?
There isn’t a particular person I follow, but I think it’s important to be genuine and engage others in what you’re doing – at least they’re the people who catch my attention when I’m browsing.
How have your product shots developed over time?
They have definitely improved since I started with Folksy. Like many people I started by simply taking snaps and wasn’t really aware of what it took to have good product photos. Just like the print itself, it’s important to have an interesting composition, get the light right and show the work off well. So I started to experiment with the camera too, to understand what it takes to make a good photo. I’m not good with the technical side but these days I enjoy making the product shots as part of the overall creative process and I think that shows.
How do you organise your time? How much time do you think you spend on the creative side of your work compared with the business stuff?
I probably spend a lot more on the creative side and not enough on promoting my work and the business side. However, creating good quality work is the start of everything, and the bit I enjoy most.
Is there anything you’ve learned along the way that you wish you’d known when you started?
You often overlook the cost of small things such as plastic sleeves, envelopes, business cards and investing in a decent camera. It all adds up without you noticing. You have to be careful to look after your margins and methodical with tracking your costs.
What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
If you think your creation is good, go for it! It’s an amazing feeling when someone buys something you’ve created. And don’t worry too much about getting it all right at the start, there’s plenty you can learn and improve along the way.