When 16-year-old Marci of MarciG couldn’t find a summer job, she decided to focus on her Etsy shop. Marci was always one of those creative kids praised for her drawing. She won regional art competitions. She grew up in a pottery studio, watching her mom (me!) work from her playpen, and pressed leaves into clay or formed small flower sculptures on long summer days. Marci’s Etsy shop, filled with hand built pottery from a teen girl’s perspective, has thrived.
Having a mentor as a beginning artisan is hugely beneficial at any age. I learned pottery through apprenticeship and working for other potters, so it is natural for me to use this form of instruction with my daughter. I always encourage her to have fun with clay. Since I’ve been a self supporting potter all her life, I also notice certain designs that might be tweaked into a marketable series. Marci had a curiosity and interest in making objects for sale, so this conversation is something that she welcomes. A mentor is more than a teacher who will show you techniques and skills. A mentor guides you as you develop a unique, marketable body of work. Here’s some of my tips for guiding a talented teenager who wants a successful Etsy shop:
Create a Body of Work
Marci and I picked three things that she liked to make: birds, flowers, and leaves. I suggested that she make 6-10 pieces that were variations of each one. As these are common motifs, I encouraged her to make her own patterns and stamps so that her pieces would be original designs. Once she had a few prototypes, I suggested that she make them in various sizes. Look through Marci’s sales to see how her body of work has evolved in just one year. A key to success is this ability to grow and adapt — to constantly make new designs and perfect the older ones.
Marci making a poppy bowl.
Read the Etsy Seller’s Handbook
The photography, descriptions, knowledge of tagging and SEO has as much to do with success as having wonderful handmade works. I’ve used many tips from the Etsy Seller Handbook and consider it a MUST! Marci and I work together in every aspect of photography and listing. We strategize weekly about how to show her works accurately and tell a story about how and why she makes her pieces. Marci is a responsible, witty, artsy, and charming teen girl. We like to have Marci’s shop look as much like meeting her at a craft show as possible, to let buyers and browsers see both the young artist and her pottery.
Enjoy Your Time Together
One of the unexpected pleasures of working with my daughter in the studio is the luxury of long, rambling conversations. We discuss how a petal curves, or whether the hosta leaves are large enough for lunch plates, or how a single word can hold intense emotion. We speak the right brain language of art and it’s very intimate to share this with my child. Working side by side has also led to deep discussions about other issues such as boys, college, spirituality, and whether the vampires and werewolves are hotter in Twilight or True Blood.
There is an element of tradition in a family business. Before the Industrial Revolution, it was a common experience for kids to learn a family trade from their parents. We may have given up something valuable with that change, and I find it gratifying to pass along my skills and discoveries to the next generation.
Owl Casserole by OneClayBead
Teach High Quality Standards
There is a difference between something grandma buys from a budding artist, and what a buyer on Etsy wants in terms of quality. I showed Marci pieces of my work that had unacceptable flaws and explained to her what qualifies a piece as acceptable for sale. We go through her pieces carefully still, and I make sure that she is making work that functions well. Her custom orders must also reasonably match the original listing photo. This is essential for building a loyal, returning customer base.
Marci’s Etsy shop has been a wonderful experience for her. She’s learned responsibilities, creative skills, business skills, and also communication skills. It also shows colleges that she has abilities beyond what the SAT and ACT test for, and makes her application unique. I’d like to see more talented and entrepreneurial teens on Etsy. It’s a perfect place to test out young ideas, and to gain experience that can be used all through one’s life. I’ve also learned much by mentoring a young person. Working side by side with all that exuberance has helped me to lighten up and become more playful. I’m more aware of what drew me in to pottery so many years ago.
A big thanks to Lee and Marci for sharing their illuminating and touching story. Do you know any Etsy shops run by teenagers? Share in the comments below!