The mug project May 11, 2018 15:47 2 Comments

Woflsbane design for my mugFor the past several years, I've been investigating ways that I can supplement my Social Security benefits, especially in the future. My benefits are a little less than my rent, so I'm always going to have to work, no matter where I live, really. But what to do?

I can't keep doing Alchemy Works forever. It is a very demanding business, since I do everything associated with it. I have not had luck with hiring help, either. When people actually find out how much there is to do, they lose interest in it real quick. This has happened several times now, so that's it for that idea. I do intend to put all my formulas into a book and hope to work on that project this summer, when things slow down. At any rate, it is too much hard work to keep doing Alchemy Works indefinitely, especially if, godz forbid, I get sick or become frail.

Meanwhile, a couple weeks ago, I listened to a podcast about selling art online. There was nothing in it that I didn't already know, but it was nicely compact and encouraging. And it gave me an idea about making something to sell on Etsy.

I already have an Etsy shop for my art prints, which I set up to get a little more action than from just my art site. But art prints are not really why most people shop on Etsy. I know that some artists on there are doing well, but my art is not mainstream. I've tried making art just to sell, but mini abstract landscapes, which are quite popular on Etsy, are beyond me. Maybe it's the "mini" part that's problematic. Don't know. Just that I've tried it several times and come up with dreck I could not put my name on. Abstract painting is a LOT harder than it seems.

The podcast speaker had a good idea--make images that are then printed and drop-shipped by a print-on-demand biz. There is nothing that can cripple a business quicker than stock problems or shipping bottlenecks. I know this, and I have seen it with other businesses as well. To have that taken care of would be wonderful. All I would have to do then would be the art, some promotion, and customer care. It would be much easier than my present "day job" and take way less space as well. I could reclaim half my live/work space.

One of the podcaster's recommendations was putting art on mugs. I figured I could make little watercolors of plants and use those for mug designs. I cranked the numbers and was astounded at how few I would have to sell to make what I am making now from Alchemy Works. I thought it must be a mistake. But it wasn't. The difference was that the cost of Alchemy Works is 2/3s of my gross (and that's not even counting my labor), but with this new business, the cost of doing business would be 1/2 the gross, and the boring work--making, packing, and shipping--would all be done for me. Holy carp.

The other thing that occurred to me was that designing and painting small images that would be printed and shipped by someone else was very similar to a project I would like to tackle in the future--a tarot deck. I could learn the skills I need to make small images for reproduction by designing these mugs. 

So I decided to go for it.  

So far I've created three designs--belladonna, wolfsbane, and henbane. I did a rudimentary wolfsbane painting first just to see how it would turn out. It looks nice. These are good quality, large mugs, and the colors reproduce pretty well. It helps tremendously that I have a lot of experience working with printing and with image files. Even so, I've had to iron out kinks in how I create the painting.

So far I'm hooked on Dr. Ph. Martin's Hydrus Watercolors. I got the dye set also (Radiant), but the Hydrus set seems to interact with paper in a way I like better. It doesn't sink in as much. 

I screwed around until I found a way to create an image for this purpose. First I tried outlining the image with black acrylic ink (so it wouldn't smear with the watercolor) in a nib pen as an outline for the image. It was too much black and too much variation in line thickness due to a soft pen nib. Then I tried using just a 6H pencil outline and painting over it. Graphite floats around in water, which made the image look grimy. I tried doing without any outline. The image was nice and crisp but meant many hours spent cleaning up the edges in digital. That would not be efficient, and this time around, my production is going to be efficient, dammit. Finally I tried a modification of Rackham's method: inking over a pencil drawing with sepia india ink (Bombay) and then erasing the pencil and adding watercolor. True india ink resists water. This method did NOT work with the Radiant colors; they must contain some kind of solvent. But it works very well with the Hydrus watercolors and my own pigment dispersions and tube watercolors. I also pulled out my little table easel to hold the paper. Really helps decrease the literal pain in my neck from arthritis. I can't hunch over stuff like I used to, even for a half an hour.

It takes me about an hour to draw the image and then ink it over and erase the pencil lines. Painting the image takes a couple of hours. Cleaning up the image in a digital file takes the longest and of course is tedious. The scanner keeps picking up the paper texture, and I don't like painting on hot press, where the texture wouldn't show in a scan. But if I use the back of Arches Cold Press, I can pour white into the areas of unpainted paper and get rid of most of the texture. I don't usually paint on Arches; it tends to be overly expensive and sometimes gives off a sulfurous smell. But it has a well-deserved reputation for being tough as nails, and since I will be erasing heavily, I figures it was a good candidate. And it is. Using the sepia ink as an outline makes for a nice, crisp image. And creating from a digital file means I can fix any mistakes, turning watercolor and ink into a forgiving medium. Yay!

So I'm humming along making designs. I still want to get a mandrake design done and then I will forward the image files to the printer and get the prototype mugs to photograph. Then I can open my new shop. I've already got a list of about 50 plants I want to paint. All of them have uses in witchcraft. I feel so stoked about this! This is a great job for an old man.

An unexpected benefit for me has been rediscovering how much I love watercolor. I just love the clarity of the colors and the easy movements of the brush and gently manipulating the hairs of the brush to push paint into the tiniest nooks and crannies. It is wonderfully pleasant. And I love that it has no smell whatsoever except perhaps of water. Good stuff!