Meet Caitlin Shearer, aka pepperminte, a nineteen-year-old fine artist and student from Australia with a passion for painting fancy girls and effeminate boys. She is obsessed with dollhouses, Marilyn Monroe, and aliens, and dreams of illustrating her own storybooks one day. Caitlin’s delicate works in gouache, watercolor, and ink have captured the hearts of many across the blogosphere and beyond. Today she shares with us her own personal account of what it’s like juggling a successful Etsy shop with the task of being a full time art school student.
2008 was the biggest year I’ve encountered so far. At eighteen, I’d just graduated from high school and faced the daunting prospect of being a grown up: university, employment, and the real world! I’d spent all my free time painting during high school, and pretty much used my classes as an opportunity to sit and draw. After graduating high school with top marks in art and having my major art project accepted into a statewide traveling exhibition called Art Express, I knew that I wanted to be an illustrator for real.
I enrolled in a fine arts degree at the College of Fine Arts in Sydney. The school is a two and a half hour commute on public transport, so I needed to scrounge together some pennies to pay for my train fares. I had seen Etsy through a few art blogs and decided to open a shop of my own. Never did I realize that it would be such a hit. It really is so humbling to think that there are people in other countries who have my paintings on their bedroom walls.
|Blue Blood||The Siren|
Juggling university with socializing, Etsy, homework, and the commute, I barely have enough time to draw for myself during the semester. We have such long holidays, but by then, I’ve kinda fallen out of sync (It’s terrible, my hands get all creaky and forget what to do!). Luckily, the people on Etsy are very kind to me, even when their envelopes are a little late. Remembering to go to the post office at regular intervals is a challenge, though I practically know all of the post office employees in four different suburbs now! Keeping things constant and reliable is the goal, but sometimes it is hard to manage everything at the same time. It’s a real job! I rely on the internet wholeheartedly now, which can be a nuisance, but it all just appears within my inbox like magic, so really, I can’t complain.
Art school can be amazing though. I took life drawing classes last year with some absolutely wonderful teachers, like Anwen Keeling. That experience really improved my drawing skills, and therefore benefited the personal art that I was making and selling on Etsy. I also studied textiles, which helped me to think in a non-paper-and-pencil way. Experimenting in a more 3-D process really opened up my brain.
I love Etsy, I really do. I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to work out of my bedroom and simultaneously have a global platform to showcase my art. Twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, people didn’t have this kind of opportunity (so thank you, Internet!). I also love browsing Etsy. It’s great to see that these young artists can band together and help each other out in such a friendly atmosphere. We are all in the same situation, trying to make artwork as a career, and I haven’t encountered any animosity so far. It’s a constant stream of advice, opinion, and constructive criticism, which I think is a very valuable thing.
Speaking of friends, Caitlin has gathered art school insight from some of her Etsy inspirations…
Renee, aka art4friends: “Since I started selling on Etsy and got involved in this wonderful creative world, I have been giving all or nothing in terms of commitment and dedication. Uni holidays are great; they give me a chance to get back on track, create lots of things, participate in the community and promise myself to keep it up once classes start back up (I haven’t quite managed to perfect this yet!).
I think I have learned so much more than I ever could at college by being part of this wonderful community. There is so much more you need to know than how to paint a pretty picture (unless you have the luxury of employing someone! Ha!). By interacting with people from all over the world and learning from my own mistakes, I feel much more prepared and informed.”
Sarah, aka funiscool: “I started selling on Etsy when I was just finishing up my last year of art school. At school, they actually had a class where they told us, ‘You will not be able to leave art school and support yourself with your artwork,’ which was a bit depressing. I suppose it was a lot harder for all my teachers to get their work ‘out there’ because they didn’t have the Internet back when they finished school. At first, it was kind of hard to get my orders out to people, make new things, and go to all my classes and exams, but I made it out the other side and was happy to have the transition time that I did, between school and the real world.
As far as tips go, I would suggest doing whatever you want as long as you are putting forth the effort it takes to be successful. Everything works itself out eventually, and if you are happy during the process, it usually works out all the better.”
Matthew Senkowycz, aka Matay (on the drawings he sells in his Etsy shop): “I have just finished my Bachelor of Design in Architecture, majoring in Urban Planning and Allied Arts, so there has always been an aspect of creativity in what I have done post-high school.
Occasionally, I have been able to let areas of study and interest overlap, exploring similar concepts in various mediums simultaneously. For example, the form of a building will relate to the clothes of the figures I’m drawing and perhaps also to an installation art piece or a photograph. At other times, a single subject (usually architectural design practice) will require so much time that I’ll barely have time to eat, let alone indulge in freeing some of the characters in my mind. This isn’t always a bad thing though, because once it’s all out of the way (usually a week or two) pent up ideas just seem to ooze out onto the paper.
Drawing has also provided me with a source of escape. There’s nothing like creeping into your mind with your own soundtrack for an hour or two after a day of ‘constructive criticism’ for design tutors and students alike. I often find the works that I like the most appear when I am experiencing extremes of emotions…or after I’ve seen the latest Jil Sander collection.”
Andrea Shear, aka andreashear: “In England I was doing mostly experimental video installations, and in New York I specialized in computer art and animation, so the majority of my art-making was short films and animations. Even during this time I was really interested in incorporating a handmade look into what is traditionally a very polished medium. I think this period influenced my love for the handmade aesthetic, as well as an appreciation for juggling two areas of interest.
My advice to students and other artists trying to balance school or work and Etsy is to avoid telling yourself that there isn’t not enough time, and just make an effort to put your work out there.”
Juliana Swaney, aka ohmycavalier: “Even though Etsy was only started the year I graduated, I found my art school experience to be very helpful for what I’m doing now. I was a printmaking major and was lucky enough to have some professors that were into ‘non-traditional’ ways of selling and distributing art, especially prints and multiples, so they really encouraged us to get our work out there in ways besides just the gallery.
Since Etsy wasn’t around while I was in school, my experience was a little different. I started out participating in art and craft sales where I sold cards and prints. That turned out to be really positive, and I feel like doing it sort of validated what I was doing and showed I could make money after I left school. I think that can be one of the hard parts of art school: you don’t necessarily get a lot of help with the practical aspects of selling your work, and a career after school can seem pretty vague. That’s why I’m happy I got some of that experience by selling in small, low-stress situations. I made some mistakes and muddled though things early on, but that helped me get my act together and gain confidence so I could continue to sell my work and make a living after I graduated.”
Tabitha Emma, aka tabidesigns: “Juggling school and business can be hard at times, but it’s really a matter of good time management, like keeping on top of when assignments are due and when you need to get wholesale or custom orders done. I try to write a list of what I want to complete by the end of the week, in terms of both my business and schoolwork. Of course, if I have a lot of homework, I will have to scale back on how much I can do with my shop. I’m always doodling ideas for new products in my book while in class, so even if I don’t have time to work on it, I’m still thinking about it.
[Selling on Etsy] is a great experience because you get work experience while studying, and you learn to deal with customers and clients. It’s also a good way to get your name out there, become part of the creative community, and make contacts with some awesome, talented fellow creatives. It helps to put what you’re learning into the real world.”