Make room for some exciting news! We are thrilled to announce that the AOI has partnered with MakeRoom: a new e-commerce service allowing artists to sell prints to their own website without the need of investing in new stock, spending admin time fulfilling orders or queuing to the post office. AOI members can now take advantage of their Doodle plan for free, or benefit from their other plans at a very discounted rate (find out exactly how here). These benefits are exclusive to our members only.
MakeRoom is co-founded by Illustrator Leon Edler. We chat to him about selling prints online, why MakeRoom was created, how illustrators can take advantage of it, and much more. Read the full interview below!
Hello Leon! Can you tell us a little more about what you do and how MakeRoom came about?
Sure. I started RoomFifty with Chris Clarke (Creative Director of the Guardian) in 2017. We wanted to get 50 of the best illustrators and designers together, to sell really good prints of their work and give them a fair share of the profit. At the time there really wasn’t anything like it in terms of our commitment to fairness, a diverse roster and our work with various causes. There still isn’t.
At the start of the pandemic, we could see how affected a lot of artists were and how many were trying to sell their work as merchandise to create an additional income. There are also a lot of established artists who would like to sell prints but don’t have the time.
At the moment, selling prints of your work can be difficult. You need to predict what will sell, source good printers, set up an online shop and then fulfil the orders. Add Brexit and trying to ship to Europe into it and it almost isn’t worth doing. We realised that we already had the network in place to help all artists, from amateurs to seasoned pros, and just needed to develop a platform that would work for everybody. We partnered with a development team and here we are!
As an illustrator yourself, you understand the pressures of freelance life and the need to maximise income. Can you tell us about your background in illustration?
I actually started by doing cartoons. I was studying Linguistics at Kings College in London and would just do cartoons for friends and family. I’d always loved drawing, but didn’t think I was especially good at it and wanted to go into comedy writing and TV. My girlfriend entered me into the Young Cartoonist of the Year competition and I won it for the next couple of years. That’s when I started taking it more seriously, and gradually improved my style and fell in love with conceptual illustration.
I eventually started working for The New York Times, Guardian etc. This took a few years though, so I know very well the need to diversify income! Even to this day I assume every job is my last and that I’ll never work again.
We’re also lovers of prints and strongly believe print isn’t dead. What are some of the main benefits of successfully selling prints as products online through MakeRoom?
Print really isn’t dead. Because of Instagram, we often only ever see artists’ work as a small digital image. When you see it as a museum-quality print in a frame, and you have bought it directly from the artist, it really is truly exciting and will be one of the most treasured things in your house. On the artist’s side though, it firstly means creating a store and then spending money on stock. Either it doesn’t sell and you lose money, or you have to spend your time rolling up prints, going to the post office, doing customs paperwork and answering emails.
Chris and I had both done this ourselves, so we wanted to design something that solved all our problems as artists. It had to be a store that would be on the artist’s site, be on demand to cut down on the artist’s costs and environmental impact, take care of ALL customer service, be the highest quality prints available, be worldwide. The goal was to design something that was a genuinely additional income stream, requiring no work from the artist’s end.
Illustrator’s often have a large back catalogue of work, but it can be tricky to know which images will sell well as a print. How do you select images for RoomFifty, and what in your opinion makes a really strong image for a print?
Haha, the million dollar question! This can be really tricky. I think the prints that sell best often have some element of narrative to them. That doesn’t mean that it has to be a busy conceptual image, but it might tell a story or leave the viewer with some questions.
I think looking at old work is often better than trying to create a new print from scratch. It’s easy to overthink it and overlook simple images you have done that perhaps are more representative of your style. In RoomFifty, artists will often send images that are very accomplished but that’s not why we love them. We will often choose something they did quickly and put on their Instagram.
Also, consider the composition. It may be a nice image, but what size will you sell it? It needs to work in that space. Does it look better with a border? Does it look better with a signature? Creating or selecting the image is the first bit, creating the print is the second.
Particularly when it comes to changes in regulations (for example the recent German packaging act or post-Brexit changes) selling can be challenging. What’s your advice for an illustrator starting out or growing their business?
This is really tough and part of the reason why we started MakeRoom. We use printing partners all over the world as well as a team that deals with paperwork. Not only does this mean that users don’t have to do it, but it also means printing closer to customers and reducing the carbon footprint and shipping times.
But in general, my main bit of advice would be promotion. The artists that sell by far the most on both MakeRoom and RoomFifty are those that regularly promote their store and their work and know their audience.
How does the MakeRoom service work and do you have any top tips for getting started?
Artists choose a subscription plan (from £4.99 a month or free for AOI members!) and upload their files. They just add the titles of the work, plus any info they want to share about the image. Then they choose what price to sell the print for what paper they want to sell it on.
That’s it! We then check the files, create the store and send the artist a line of code to drop into their site (It’s dead easy, but we have guides too and we are here to help) and the shop will appear on their website. Customers check out on the artist’s site and receive an email from us with tracking and contact information. Any issues (returns, refunds etc) then we will deal with it. Artists can see what has sold from their dashboard and see what profit they have made.
At the moment it is just prints, but we are looking into a few more ethical products (like cards, t-shirts and notebooks) to be introduced in the future.
We want to thank Leon for taking the time to answer our questions!
MakeRoom allows artists to sell direct from their own website using RoomFifty‘s 5 star service to take care of international fulfilment and customer service. Aside from your subscription (from £4.99/month) there are zero fees, zero risks and zero hassle. Just upload your files and they take care of the rest.
MakeRoom now offer 50% off all plans AND a free Doodle plan subscription exclusively to all AOI Members. All details of how to redeem can be found here (make sure to log in to your membership account to access).