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Thoughts about Print-On-Demand Sites from Artist Jen Goode

There’s this penguin that I absolutely adore… I’m not sure when I first saw it, but it makes me smile everytime I see it. :)

Then I joined Twitter and found the penguin there!  I have developed a ‘virtual friendship’ with the woman behind the penguin – Jen Goode.  In fact, it was MONTHS ago (guilt! Jen! Guilt!) that I asked Jen to share her experience with Print-On-Demand sites with me and the Art Licensing Info crowd.

Like the rest of us, Jen is a busy entrepreneur with a family, several income streams in her creative business.  But lo-and-behold – much to my surprise she hadn’t lost the questions I emailed her and took some time to give us great information.  (Thank you! You are now absolved of all guilt!)

So for everyone wanting to learn a little more about Print-On-Demand sites and how to make them work for you, read on…

FIRST, A LITTLE ABOUT YOU…

1.  Why penguins? I know you for your penguins but see you have other amazing collections as well… did it start with penguins?
Talk to me about the cute lil’ penguins!

The penguin is a very serendipitous part of my art collection – It created itself and I just played along. At first I had 2 very different penguin characters among a pile of other designs… Cows, pigs, girlie attitude sayings, coffee, floral art, etc.

I’m always looking for ways to expand what I have by first starting with what I have, so right around May of 2006 I was looking at what I had and thought, being nearly summer, my then naked penguin needed some swimwear (who knew?). So I created one with swimtrunks and one with a sun hat and bikini. I was almost 1.5 years old in the Print on Demand business and still trying to figure out how to make it all work for a real income – find a style that fit the products.

Until that swimwear version my now “famous” penguin hadn’t been purchased by a single soul… and someone bought a swim trunk version. A friend of mine and I were joking about dressing penguins and the idea just exploded. I couldn’t find enough time to come up with all the character outfits and the list of “need to create” is still long. The more I drew the more they sold and it’s grown from there. He’s got a look about him, a personality, every time I create a new outfit, I don’t know what that is.. But it makes me giggle still.

I have created over 500 design variations of the penguin as well as polymer clay version and a hand sewn mini plushie. Another story – the mini plushie was taken to an internet conference in January of 2008 – for no particular reason. I started using it as a conversation starter, asking to take pictures of people with my penguin.

So many asked “why, what are you going to do with my picture now?” that I started a website there at the conference to post the pictures and talk about the people I met. He was quite the talk of the show and even now I have people asking me at events “did ya bring your penguin?”. Now the mini plushie goes every where with me so I can take photos with him of places and things we see – I then post on MyPenguinTravels.com

I’ve used him for fundraising, especially Breast Cancer Awareness (PinkRibbonPenguins.com). Since the penguin craze started, I myself have become obsessed with penguins – I’m fascinated by their attributes of loyalty and family unity and I’m in awe of the people who love them.

Now, as a family we take picture when we’re out and see a penguin (Walmart, whatever). We make a point to stop and visit any exhibits of penguins anytime we’re out of town. It’s become a family thing – we’re all penguin freaks and I started it, I’ll apologize to the kids later.

2.  What do you create?
I like to think I create smiles every day – that’s the goal. Really I create fun digital art for the kid in all of us.

3.  How did you start creating?
I’ve been creating since I was really young. I’ve always loved art and always loved making “stuff”. This particular style of art evolved as I explored the Print on Demand industry and found what works for me on t-shirts. I started with more fine art and photography. Prior to my involvement in POD, I offered professional Graphic Design services to clients for print and web media.

4.  What medium(s) do you use?
I primarily use digital art using Photoshop and sometimes Illustrator. However, every now and then I will play with paper or fabric or hand drawing to get ideas. But because all my work needs to be digital, I rarely start a digital piece outside of the computer.

5.  What or who inspires you?
Life inspires me. An idea can come from every where, anywhere and at any time – my biggest obstacle is keeping up with the ideas. Leonardo Da Vinci, M.C. Escher, and Ty Wilson are my biggest art influences. Leonardo for his incredible curiosity and willingness to learn and explore. M.C. Escher for his uniqueness and ability to put thoughts on paper and Ty Wilson for his brilliance in simplicity – it still amazes he how he can create an entire mood with only a few brush strokes.

6.  What kind of training, schooling or other learning experiences have you gone through that have helped you get to where you are now?
I’ve been drawing since I could walk – art takes practice… Schooling teaches the logistics of the process and exposure to critique. But schooling doesn’t teach the ability to “See it” in your mind. That said, the majority of what I know and how I do it is self taught. I do, however, have a certificate in web design and an Associates in Graphic Design – which took me 6 years to earn.

I tend to invent projects as a way to learn. I have always been fascinated by the challenge of producing something on a budget and making it really work so I come up with project ideas and practice creating results with real limits and budgets. Makes dealing with client expectations so much more realistic.

CAN YOU EDUCATE US ABOUT PRINT-ON-DEMAND SITES…

7. You’ve got quite a large collection of designs available through Print on Demand sites, what is Print on Demand?
Print on Demand is the concept of products being sold but not actually available in tangible form until someone makes a purchase of that products. This allows for a much larger inventory to offer customers without the associated expenses of carrying that inventory. Cafepress and Zazzle are the two biggest players in this industry. Each allows artists to sell their designs on a variety of products by opening a store, uploading their designs and choosing which products they would like to sell featuring their designs.

8.  How long have you had shops through Print on Demand?
I opened my first Cafepress store in Feburary of 2005, my first gallery on Zazzle shortly there after but didn’t start working on it until recently.

9.  I see you have your own look/feel to your sites and not just the free CaféPress option.  Do you think that is necessary to succeed?
Absolutely! A full premium shops is important when promoting your art through a Print on Demand site. The basic shops at Cafepress are a waste of time because what makes this kind of art selling work is quality plus quantity. Quality alone won’t make it work on any significant level.Also, I feel branding is extremely important, so having a premium shop is key to establishing your own unique style for your shop design.

10.  There is SO MUCH on CaféPress and Zazzle… how do people find you?
Luck? Ha! There’s a lot that goes into being found on these sites. Good titles, descriptions and tags are the first step.

Don’t label the art, describe it so people searching will find it. This is also where quality and quantity are important. Good quality designs tend to rank better in the search results  (long term) and having a number of good quality designs makes for more viewings. I do my own marketing – Twitter, my own blog, Facebook, etc. I also worked really hard to get my design pages listed in Google. It’s definitely not a “put it up and let it sit” process. Nothing sells that way.

11.  Do you do your own marketing or do the Print on Demand companies take care of it all?
Both. The companies spend a lot more time and money on marketing than I do because they can, but they don’t market me specifically.  I do my own part to make sure I am building awareness for my work.

12.  What kind of income can a person generate through Print on Demand and how much time do you think it would require? (daily/weekly/monthly… ?)

This is really a tough question – mostly because I don’t have access to real stats, only my own and those I’ve talked with. However, there are some that have made a full time incomes from Print on Demand. That, in reality is about 5% (at most) of the user base. Cafepress has been doing this a little longer and is a little more established than Zazzle… But results for artists are varying for how successful each company is for them.

For me, Cafepress is by far a better performing company – yet part of that is due to my inventories not being the same on both sites. Although there have been changes in the market and the industry, I am still making a decent income through Print on Demand – Keep in mind, it took 18 hour days for 2 years to build to the level it is. I put in a lot of extra hours and work into building this into a business… Again, it doesn’t work just putting up some designs and telling people they are there.

– a few reasons why I think Print on Demand is a good idea for artists to consider – established to brand new….

  1. It’s a great outlet to explore how designs look and sell on products without the critique of other sales people. It’s you, the products and customers who decide if it’s worth buying
  2. It’s a great way to broaden your reach and exposure for your art or your brand. Cafepress and Zazzle submit their products through to Google and other streams of information – so your work is out there to be discovered
  3. Both sites offer Affiliate programs which allow others to promote your work as well – they earn a commission if they send a sale – so now it’s not just you and your art, its you, your art and everyone else who wants to tell people about it… Promoting your art. I love that idea the best!
  4. Even a little income is better than no income – you add enough little incomes together and you get one big nice income. Print on Demand can be one of these extra incomes in the pile you build from your art,
  5. It’s cool to see your art on stuff. At least I think so. And its even more cool to have a customer contact you and say “hey I love your stuff” or “hey I just saw your t-shirt on my friend the other day”.

THANK YOU JEN for your willingness to share your experience and opinions with the rest of us!  Wishing you Much Success with your Penguins and all your other designs as well!

– Tara

P.S.  To see Jen’s art and get that happy – smiley feeling I get, visit www.JGoodeDesigns.com, www.JGoodPenguins.com, www.Zazzle.com/JGoodeDesigns

disclosure: I have no vested interest in your clicking on these links or making a purchase, just want you to see what she does, how she does it and if you love it – buy something so she can keep on doing it! Go Jen!