by Kirk Wallace
Kirk Wallace, trzown | Freelance Illustrator & Graphic Designer, Boston Massachusetts
Art prints, t-shirts, stickers etc for sale. Illustration & graphic design by Kirk Wallace
monkey-close1.png

Blog

As an illustrator and graphic designer, I'm able to do what I love for a living. That doesn't mean I'm content, satisfied, or even happy with a lot of what I do. I am creating this blog to share some insight that hopefully both you and I can learn from about my experiences in the world of designing for a financial and emotional living.

Predicting My Prints

Epson 3880 printer illustration

I'm opening an online shop where I'll be forcing cute prints of animals and fruits down your throats in about a week after having the idea and desire for years. The goal has naturally changed drastically over the years, but the basic idea is the same.

So why has it taken so long and what have I learned before even launching and failing?

Well I’m basing my decisions off a few fundamentals and many smaller details that I’ve learned over the past couple years and certainly some stuff I’m picking up along the way.

Here’s how I sped things up without losing that blood sweat and tears magic touch. Who knows how it’ll work, but I wanted to document prior to starting, to help keep focus on what went right and wrong and how to improve.

Make an MVP

Spotify starts a product with something usable first and builds features on top of it.

Spotify starts a product with something usable first and builds features on top of it.

Creating an minimum viable product (MVP) is something I’ve learned to love, working with startups. Something that can test the waters and start a little bringing money in. “What can I make that will get me out there in front of people and if it fails won't ruin me financially and eat up a bunch of my time?”

For me, that was spending a bit of money on a printer, some paper, stamps, and hours on art. Most of which I wanted to buy and do anyway. The trick was to start small.

Launching the store with 50 prints would be great, but is it necessary? No. I can still test the waters and gauge interest with about 12.

I kept my content simple. Rather than painting large landscapes with many characters, I decided to start with these simple items and objects. Part because I love taking a complex object and breaking it down to simple fundamentals, but also because I didn’t want to spend hundred of hours on my first push which inevitably will be far from perfect.

Put your best foot forward, but don’t waste time on the unknown.

Set Deadlines

Give yourself concrete (or.. ice frozen?) deadlines

Give yourself concrete (or.. ice frozen?) deadlines

I’m giving myself hard deadlines because there’s no one that can be a harder critic than yourself if you’re disciplined. 

Keep deadlines loose at first, and start writing things down. Figure out what’s achievable and start working towards your own internal deadlines. Once you start getting confident, start sharing the deadlines.

Once you’re public with deadlines, you’re really held accountable and that’s good because it’s time to get things rolling.

Start Small & Diverse

Rarely do you know exactly what people are going to want right away. There’s plenty of things create and sell. I could do 20 pieces on 100 different topics genres and styles but what if I invest hours and hours of time drawing food only to find out no one cares and wants the zelda fan art?

Solution? Don’t go overboard, give people a variety but not too much choice. There’s a such thing as too many decisions as well as too little.

If you keep things small and concise, you can control their growth. See what’s working, what flops, but when something flops, oh well. at least you didn’t draw 20 different types of fruit!

Know (or guess) your audience

We're lucky to have a pair of scissors that can unmask our target audience

We're lucky to have a pair of scissors that can unmask our target audience

For me, I’m hoping to get out to some of the local markets and art shows in Boston this summer but that’s going to hold a whole different audience from the online sales.

At the markets, I’m shooting for a more broad genre with the food, kitchen prints. Perhaps some of the animals for the parents, uncles, etc. Here I’m pretty much slaved to whoever is walking by. But I do know that they’re there to spend money. So variety is key.

Online I can target the niche audiences, but I’ve gotta pull them in. I can go to the 8-bit fan art blogs, the foodie tumblrs, etc and demonstrate close to exactly what these people want — right now!

There’s more than just tweeting and instagramming to promote. There are countless galleries and blogs for every type of customer. Research them. If your stuff is good enough, it’ll probably get posted. That’s how my tattoo got on behance’s home page, starting from a fuckyeatattoos.tumblr type blog.

It’s important to remember who is going to be buying this stuff. Can they do internet good? Will your site give them too many options and therefore confuse them? I’ve taken print size options from 3 to 2 very recently as I think more choices is going to just intimidate people and turn them away.

Knowing when enough is enough

A project starts to lose momentum round 80-90% and falls into that awkward stage. Sometimes 90% is enough

A project starts to lose momentum round 80-90% and falls into that awkward stage. Sometimes 90% is enough

Keep things achievable as to not discourage and intimidate yourself. Everything is best in

small,

chewable,

chunks.

As artists, we all want things perfect. Completely. Perfect. We’ve gotta settle sometimes and leave room to improve though. Prepare for everything at a meta level, and save some of the workload if it’s going to hinder you too much.

Think of yourself as your own employee here. There’s you the boss and you the illustrator — Balance the time. Find where it’s best spent.

Don’t reinvent certain wheels

Learn from others, copy, borrow, steal - There are staples to web design. Primary  navigation goes up top. Don’t put it on the bottom.

Do the same with your projects. I knew there were certain size prints that people like, ones that Michael’s sells frames for, and a pricing standard that people can afford and are willing to pay. These are the tips I really reached out to peers on and everyone’s been super helpful.

Stay unique, tell a story

Creating a special experience for the customer is important, give them something to tell their friends about

Creating a special experience for the customer is important, give them something to tell their friends about

Every page on your site, your store, your business card, or your illustrations should be special and have a point and call to action. Where will they go next? what’s the point of this page? No point? Remove it.

There needs to be very little thinking for the user. Move them where you want them. You’re designing this stuff from scratch so you can do that. Take advantage of it.

Put your heart into it - Johnny Cupcakes demonstrates with going the extra mile. Make the customers know they’re getting something special.

For me, I spent a month testing different print settings, some 30 types of paper, and all kinds of different artistic techniques on my prints among other things.

Anyone can go to target or any other artist and get a print but they’re making a choice to choose me so I need them to know they’re getting something more, buying from me.

What to do next

Get it out there

We’re so lucky that we can advertise and sell online. We can contact friends, peers, bloggers, twitter followers, etc. Be genuine, give people what they need - write ups, links, photos, etc. Go to different people with different products. Get to the niches.

If your product is good and you approach these dudes earnestly, it’ll get promoted.

Watch what happens

Be ready to watch traffic flop or fly. Data is amazing and you can sort it out later if you need, but just be sure you can at least capture it all and keep it clean enough to analyze. Figure out what’s working, whats not. Fix it. Google analytics ftw.

Have fun with it

You know, you’re only making your dreams come true. Remember they’re dreams coming true — that’s amazing. The fact that we can even give that a whirl is astounding. Be thankful. Give back.