New Mexico artists young and old are trading traditional gallery space for the virtual walls of the World Wide Web.
Etsy.com, founded in 2005, offers artists a place to sell their artwork and crafts online and receive more recognition than they might with a personalized website. The website sold nearly $1 billion worth of art last year, according to The Economist, and features approximately 800,000 registered “shops.” Sellers pay 20 cents every four months, and Etsy takes a 3.5 percent commission on every item sold.
With so much competition, New Mexico artists are learning to use the site together and working to promote themselves. Albuquerque-based photographer Val Isenhower, who has a gallery at Artists of New Mexico and has been a photographer for 37 years, said she prefers Etsy.com to her personal website because she doesn’t have to maintain her Etsy store.
“I don’t have to worry about ‘Is it working?’ because you get glitches in websites,” Isenhower said. “I’ve had my website for seven years and we’re getting ready to update it, and I can’t make changes on it because we had to do a whole new version. I don’t have to worry about that if I’m on Etsy.”
Almost 200 artists attended an Etsy tutorial Saturday at Artists of New Mexico in Old Town. Some of the artists had never heard of Etsy, while others had made more than 1,000 sales using the website.
Isenhower joined Etsy.com in November, and she said that although her online Etsy shop is easy to maintain, she still has to put effort into promoting it.
“You really have to work the system, you have to be on there a lot adding,” she said. “I learned that you should add things one at a time because every time you add something it puts you at the top.”
Isenhower just started using Pinterest as another online marketing tool. The site lets users create virtual bulletin boards to which they can pin content they find on the Web. She said she has to put time into learning the new technologies but the concepts behind marketing are the same.
“Knowing that you have to get out there and meet people and get your art out there — that I just applied from other jobs I’ve done,” she said. “The whole online marketing was new. I’m not afraid of it, I just have to do it. It can be overwhelming.”
Isenhower said Etsy.com presents easily understandable site statistics to the seller. Isenhower can see how many times her pieces were viewed, what search terms were that the customer used to arrive at her shop and if it was from a Google search or Etsy search. Customers can contact the seller with questions about the artwork, which Isenhower said helps preserve interaction between buyer and seller.
“As soon as I put a picture on Pinterest, I had a Facebook friend say ‘Oh, I really like this picture of Al,’” she said.
But Isenhower said some artists are worried about not interacting with their buyers face to face. Others worry the site will cheapen their art work.
“There’s a prestige to being in a gallery versus doing it yourself on Etsy,” she said. “There are also some who maybe sold on eBay and it didn’t feel right. But the people on Etsy are going to appreciate your work because they’re going there to find something handmade; people on eBay are bargaining for it.”
Jeweler Charlene Kalbfell said Etsy doesn’t have any downsides as far as she’s concerned.
“I use the Internet a lot because that’s where I find all my suppliers, and that’s worked out really well,” Kalbfell said. “To have the opportunity to put my pieces out so it’s not just confined to the community I’m in is an amazing opportunity for all artists. I really haven’t found any drawbacks.”