Tell us a bit about yourself.
Born in Waynesboro, Virginia.
Currently living and working in Chicago, Illinois.
I’m a combination of country mouse and city mouse, mostly country mouse or, as my uncle would say, redneck rat. But seriously, I was born in a barn, I have ridden horses and cows, and I’ve even ridden a few goats. I love the natural world and any chance I get to drink sweet tea and go fishing, I will do so. However, as of now, I spend roughly 12-15 hours a day in my studio in Chicago so it’s hard to escape my work. But that’s okay because I absolutely love making and selling art. It’s what my mother did, it’s what my sister does, and I can honestly say it’s what I was born to do.
My girlfriend and business partner is Allison Walsh. She is the business backbone of this company, but prefers to leave all the interviewing to me. She is a math genius and is also our savvy marketing gal. She has her own office at our studio where she can block out all of my “inspirational” music.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
Is there really any time left over to do other things? I mean, how in the world can you run an art business and have any time left over for things like lounging and reading magazines? Sometimes I read these interviews with other artists and they talk about rearranging furniture or hanging out at Ikea. It’s so strange to me. I guess I’m too blue collar for all that. I usually just create things, and then after that I create more things.
What first made you want to become an artist?
Well, I suppose my mother did. She was always encouraging me to be creative and to not take anything for granted. I also saw the way she worked and how hard she worked to be the best at her craft, and that really inspired me. When it came time to go to college I said, “No Way.” And my mother said, “Well, you can do whatever you want to but I think you should at least try college first.” I actually wanted to run away to Canada. So I went to college, which was only a half-hour from where I grew up, and I enjoyed parts of it and met some cool folks. I also learned how to screen print, which blew me away. College was great for the social stuff, but as far as how to make it in the real world, not so much. There were no classes that actually prepared me for the reality of the art world. I learned all the marketing and business stuff from my family and a few inspirational seminars on tape.
Please describe your creative process how, when, materials, etc.
This could be a very long answer, but I’ll try to break it down.
For me, it’s kinda like running. There is such a thing as a talented runner. Some people can really run, and they are naturals. For some people, their body wasn’t made for it or their mind isn’t conditioned for it. They can run and enjoy it, but they aren’t naturals. I’m not much of a runner. My brother is. He’s talented, and he’s a natural. His body was built for it. My body was built for tromping through brush piles, digging up carcasses, scavenging junk heaps, and throwing paint around. I’m suited for making stuff. My brain just works that way. If I see a rusted oilcan washed up on the beach, it inspires the heck out of me and I immediately want to examine it, explore it, collect it, photograph it, paint it, and put it in a sculpture. Every day, that’s how I think. If I had to work at that part, I’d never make it. There are other parts I work at like learning Photoshop. I hate sitting at a computer, but I realize that it’s just part of the work I do and it makes me enjoy the moments of natural creativity even more.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
I guess I’d have to say a hunting knife my granddad gave to my brother. I took it from him and he doesn’t know I have it. But it’s pretty awesome. It has a bone handle and apparently it was made by an old Indian who gave it to my granddad when he died. My granddad was always hunting grizzly bears and stuff like that in Alaska. I hope my brother doesn’t read this, because I really love this knife.
Name your top five books, movies, songs/musical groups, and web sites besides Etsy.
Seriously? Is this Seventeen magazine? Instead I’ll list my top five reasons to buy handmade art. And then I’ll list my top 5 survival tips.
Five Reasons to buy handmade art:
1) It’s handmade. This means someone actually took the time to personalize something and put their blood and sweat into it. Good luck getting authentic sweat from a robot.
2) Out of all the things people can purchase, art is the one thing that they will never throw away. It’s a fact. It’s not a disposable thing and so it’s better for the environment.
3) When you buy a handmade work of art, you are telling your neighbors, your friends, and your relatives that you are smart, civilized, and sensitive. When someone is filthy rich, what do they spend money on? Art, of course. So if you, an average Jane, can buy art, then that automatically elevates your status among your peers.
4) Buying handmade art usually means you are helping the artists of the world to continue their existence. More artists mean more free thinkers, more activists, more parks, and more cool events. Artists open the doors for everyone else. Look at gentrification. Who do they send in first? The artists.
5) The best part about buying handmade is that you usually get a chance to have a personal connection to the object and the artist. Buying a handmade item shows your willingness to be a part of a community and your eagerness to contribute to a greater cause.
Now, my top five survival tips. (Disclaimer: these are just tips.)
1) Always carry water with you when you are out in the woods. If you get lost or hike too far and have to camp, it’s hard to find clean water. If you don’t have matches to build a fire, you may be out there a while searching for a good water source. The best tip about water is to find a stream flowing over rocks. This is a mild indicator of cleanliness. Mountainous regions are better for this. If you are up in the mountains, head downhill to find water. Once you find it, it’s best to purify it. Use purification tablets or, if you have matches, boil the water.
2) Don’t panic if you are lost. Actually, just try not to panic at all. Most people worry about starving to death. You aren’t going to starve if you keep a relatively clear head. It takes a while to starve to death anyway. Also, once you have found a source of water, finding food is almost fun. Not really, but it helps to have a good attitude.
3) Your first real priority after water and food is always to find shelter. Some people say shelter is the first priority, and it should be if you are in an extremely hot or extremely cold climate. You have to have a place to collect your thoughts and get out of the elements.
4) Make sure you tell someone where you are going. Sure, if your plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean, you are SOL, but at least give someone a general sense.
5) Fire is key to any survival situation. Always carry matches or a lighter when traveling in the woods (or really when traveling anywhere). The airlines have really screwed things up for the survivalists. Heck, we can’t even carry a pocketknife anymore.
What advice would you give to artists who are new to Etsy?
Stay away. I don’t need any more competition. Haha, just kidding. Etsy is wonderful, but make sure you stick with it. Don’t set up a shop and disappear for days on end. Be responsive and make sure you communicate with your buyers. They are the ones who are your supporters. They are your Etsy foundation and will follow you for years to come if you help them do so. Also, diversification is key. I know there are sellers out there supporting themselves solely through Etsy. However, for a lot us, Etsy is just one piece in a much larger business puzzle. Quantity of Etsy sales is not the only measure of success so don’t be discouraged when first setting up shop.
What are your favorite features on Etsy? What new features would you like to see?
Ali is the online marketing guru so she’s pretty happy about the recent tech updates with Google Analytics, the searching functionality, and Google Product Search. We read the Etsy Finds newsletter every day and love all The Storque features.
I’d like to see Etsy create some real partnerships to bring serious art buyers to us, though. Tons of folks are buying handmade gifts for 5$, which is great, but where are all the art buyers who are serious collectors? Surely they aren’t all buying from galleries and expositions. What is Etsy doing to attract these folks and give them the confidence to buy higher priced works on Etsy?
How do you promote your work?
This is Ali, and I’ll jump in on this one tag-team style. Notice how the tone gets real serious, real fast. Dolan definitely brings the fun and humor to this company! I would estimate that I spend 20-25% of my work week on promotion-related activities. An organized marketing plan has been the cornerstone of our growth since the very beginning. First and foremost, all of our websites are updated weekly (if not daily) to ensure an engaging, up-to-date experience every time a user visits one of our sites. We maintain a monthly e-mail newsletter which includes some sort of subscriber-only deal or discount in each edition. We also encourage newsletter subscription via a quarterly art giveaway. We have a blog with weekly and monthly columns devoted to cross-promotion with the art and craft community. Our website includes a link exchange program we call the Friends and Sponsors page. We do a lot of media outreach, including 10-12 pitches to the print and online media each month, and subscribe to a media listserve where writers post requests for upcoming features. On the blog front, we regularly read and comment on a diverse list of blogs, looking for new opportunities for exchange and cross-promotion. We try to branch out from the art and design blogs, too, and get involved with other blogs that might be interested in our work, like birding/nature blogs and blogs focused on sustainability. We utilize social marketing sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. We advertise via design blogs and portfolio sites like Trunkt, Paper n Stitch, Poppytalk Handmade and (in the future) Seeking Designers. We’ve dabbled in print advertisement, but generally prefer online and grassroots marketing. Our biggest tool right now has been the art and craft fair circuit; we participate in about 15-20 shows a year. This gives us a good chance to meet people face to face, and this is where Dolan can also use his special abilities as a salesman (*wink*). All in all, promotion is a pretty fundamental part of our business and I could ramble on for many paragraphs on this topic. Is anyone still reading?
In ten years I’d like to be…
My mother and father always taught me to have a confident approach to the future. So instead of saying “I’d like to be,” I’ll say, “In ten years I will be running my art business, living in a warmer climate, teaching outdoor art classes part time, fishing at least once a week, and meditating daily. I will also be pregnant.” Seriously, science is going to impress you in 2019.
Dolan Geiman is a Chicago-based mixed media artist creating contemporary art with a Southern accent. He and Ali Marie, his business partner and wife, manage their Etsy shop, tour the country participating in art and craft fairs and sell artwork to retail shops and interior designers nationwide.