Kelsey Pike (printmaking ’11) of Sustainable Paper Crafts Shares Advice on Starting an Etsy Business

After the Case Study posted The Fundamentals of Etsy, with the help of Sara Cramer (inda ’10), Kelsey Pike (print ’11) offered to share some of her tips for starting an Etsy business.

Considering Selling on Etsy?

Etsy is a marketplace for artists and craftspeople. Buyers are people who appreciate high-quality, handmade things. Most Etsy buyers are not art collectors looking for the next big name, they are people buying art that they like to use in their home or to give as gift.s

Things that don’t sell well

Things that are too large, heavy or fragile to be shipped easily

Things that are very expensive: over $1,000

Things that Sell Particularly Well

Imagery on paper, especially hand-pulled prints and prints from drawing and paintings

Vessels in any media: ceramic, basketry, paper, fabric

Jewellery, and hair-ornaments that are high-quality, and unique

Handmade supplies like hand-spun yarn, dyed fabric, ceramic and wood buttons

Other things that are funky, fun, new, bright and unique

Don’t expect to list a few pieces left over from last semester’s final exhibition and sell them immediately. Selling on Etsy is a commitment and it takes work. You have to love what you’re selling and love the community.

Choosing What to Sell

– You need to have at least 10 items in your shop.

If you walked into a new store and the shelves were barely stocked, you’d wonder why. They don’t have to be completely different, maybe the same item in different colors, or the same print on different paper choices. One Etsy page holds 18 items, so aim for this number at first.

– Create a shop that is cohesive

Like any little boutique, you want customers to be interested, not confused by the selection in your shop.  Sell things that are linked by your style, craft or potential buyer. For instance, if you sell hand-spun yarn, you may also want to sell knitting storage solutions. Or if your shop is all leather-working, you can sell a wide variety of leather goods. Or if you have a very distinct drawing style, you can sell zines, drawings and printed T-shirts all with your drawings. Regardless, photograph everything so it looks like it belongs together.

– Create a shop with variety

There is nothing more annoying than a shop that has 20 items that are the same item photographed in different ways. You have many talents; sell a variety of things that go well together.

Sell items at different Price Points

Aim to have a few items under $10 and a few at a higher price. This gives people options when searching for gifts, and will diversify where you come up in searches.

Listing your items


You get five images for each listing; Use them all!

– First image

The first image will show in searches and treasuries. Make it a tightly cropped and simple image of your item. If it is a print or a painting, crop all the way in to the image, leaving out the edges of the paper or canvas. If it’s a sculptural object, photograph it on a simple white background. If it’s a functional object, show it in its environment, like soap on a soap dish, or a salt cellar on a kitchen counter, but avoid unnecessary  props that will confuse the buyer as to what is being sold.

Other images, in no Particular Order

-Be sure to show a close up of identifying marks like a signature, and close ups of brushstrokes or ceramic texture are helpful.

-Show the object how it might fit into a home. Popping your print into a frame and hanging it on the wall above a cozy chair might be just what the buyer needs to see how it could fit into their home.

-Show scale. If your item has an ambiguous scale, use other items to demonstrate its size. I’d suggest not using a coin on a ruler. Try using hands, kitchen utensils, fruit, something else!

-You may want one image of you making or holding the item. People love to look into your studio, and might like to see the artist behind the work. If you’re cool, showcase it!

Item descriptions

– Start with the basics.

Repeat the title and tell the size, material, subject and process. The first sentence of your descriptions are used for search keys and relevancy, so make it count.

Next, tell the story of your item.

If the technical process is what’s important to you, tell about that. Maybe tell your inspiration behind the artwork. Mention if its part of a series of work or an emphasis for you. Do not paste in your artist’s statement! Art speak will scare away potential buyers, and is usually not relevant to why an Etsy shopper would buy your art.

Give Suggestions

At the end of your description you may want to explain how the item could by used, for instance, “ this hand thrown vessel is the perfect size for catching keys and change,” or “this print would look great in a thin black frame on a salon wall.”

Shipping and Handling

You can also mention how the item will be packaged and shipped. This will give the buyer confidence that you are an expert in shipping and that their item will arrive unscathed.

Here’s a quality description from our own Leila Jean’s shop, StudioDaysHandmade.

“The Letter F is an heirloom quality monogram lap quilt. It was created from an original design and executed using traditional piecing and appliqué techniques. The letter F is hand appliquéd, hand and machine quilted, and bound by hand. Created with soft cotton fabrics and warm cotton batting. This is a part of my Monogram Quilt Project; where I’m making a quilt for each letter of the alphabet. I started this project to expand and enhance my studio work. Each quilt is original and one of a kind, though custom orders for each letter are available. Monogram lap quilts are great for all ages and are made to last you a lifetime. Whether for children, college students or adults, they will be uniquely yours!”

About Section

In the About section of your profile, emphasize what makes your shop different from others. It may be that you are art school trained, hip with a personal aesthetic. This is a good place to add links to an artist’s website or blog.

Yuli Urano’s shop has a great about me section.

It tells a bit about her personally, gives her credentials and offers links for more information.

Getting your shop Treasury Ready

Treasuries are member-curated galleries of 16 items. Anyone on Etsy can create a treasure. Treasuries can be used as shopping lists, but are usually more like inspiration boards. Common themes for treasuries include colors or color combinations, items for a particular type of person, like rugged men, or toddler girls, specific part of the home, seasons and holidays.

Having your item in treasuries will increase traffic flow to your shop and items, and several treasuries each day are selected to be on the front page of Etsy, dramatically increasing your chances of being seen and sold!

Add Theme Tags

Make your items treasury ready by tagging them with relevant treasury themes. Add several color words. Not just brown, but chocolate, or camel, if relevant. Also, words like colorful, rainbow, neutral, natural, will get hits. If the color scheme might remind people of something specific, tag it as that also, like circus, cotton candy, or spring.  Also add tags for the type of person who would like it, and what part of the home if would go in.

Make the First Image Count

For your item to be picked for treasuries, the first image has to be perfect, so make sure it is a tightly cropped and simple image.

Treasury Etiquette

It may be useful to you to make treasuries to dive traffic to your shop, but never include your own items in a treasury. This is a major faux pa! Use treasuries to promote people you admire and items that you like, and maybe your shop will get a couple of clicks also.

When you are featured in a treasury, it is polite to leave a comment. You may also want to favorite the treasury, click links to the other items, or post it elsewhere, like on your Facebook. All of these actions will increase the treasury’s popularity and therefore views of your item.


You may also want to join a treasury team. These teams agree to use each-other’s work in treasuries, so many times a month. As you make treasuries to promote your team mates, they will make ones to promote you.

For that matter, you may want to join several other types of teams on Etsy. There are teams for specific cities and states, where people discuss upcoming shows and opportunities, and there are teams for specific arts, like paper-making, where members discuss technical questions.

First Sales & Feedback

So, once you’ve got your shop in order, listings looking good, now what? You might have to fake a few sales. Every visitor to your shop can see how many sales you’ve had and read feedback from buyers. Buyers may be hesitant to purchase from s hop that has no feedback or sales history. So, have a few friends, your mom, or whoever, purchase a few items, and leave you positive, descriptive feedback. This will really help get the ball rolling.

Final words

–           Make in Multiples

Multiples work well for Etsy because you can do all of the work of photographing, writing, tagging and listing, only once and sell the item many times. Prints and mold-made ceramics are obvious multiples, but Aly Parrot of the Handmade Classroom makes small stuffed and embroidered figures as multiples. Each one is slightly unique, and the buyer understands that it wont be exactly like the one pictured, but this reduces the work of photographing each item separately.

–           Offer Custom Work

Custom could be as simple as adding an initial to a ceramic mug, or as elaborate as creating a custom portrait, but people on Etsy love custom work. If you are open to customization, note it on the bottom of your item descriptions or in your About section. It may take a lot of time in communications, but people expect to pay more for custom work.

–           Consider a Collective

Running an Etsy business can be a lot of work, so consider starting an Etsy with a partner or a small group of like-minded artists, especially if your skills are complimentary. Consider a partnership between a fiber artist and a ceramicist. The fiber artist can sell hand-spun yarn for knitting and knitted scarves. The ceramicist can sell ceramic buttons and ceramic yarn bowls. These items all appeal to the same type of person, and would make great gifts in combination.

This ceramic cup is a collaboration between Skinny Laminx, a textile designer, Satsuma press and Pigeon Toe Ceramics.

Thanks Kesley! That’s some great advice.

On Friday, November 16, from 3-6pm you can see products made by Kelsey at Career Services first Alumni Pop-up Shop in the Living Room at Mineral Hall 4330 Oak st. The topic for this week’s junior Pro Prac is Online Entrepreneurs. We will have Matt Jacobs (’10 sculpture) discuss KickStarter, Jill McKeever of For Strange Women share her branding and online business, and Calder Kamin (’09 ceramics and career services assistant) will continue the Etsy conversation. Everyone is welcome to both events!

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