So You Want To Be An Artist? An Interview With A Jewelry-Crafter

As someone who could scour Etsy all day, and has collected/created more art than I can fit on my walls, I have a wee bit of an obsession with all things “pretty.” I’ve always wondered how Etsy artists take their creations online (and beyond), so I took some time to catch up with one of my old friends, Karissa Reiter, owner of Karissa’s Creations. She started crafting jewelry while studying at Texas State University, a hobby she tacked on to running track for the university, and her general Central Texas hippie-esque lifestyle. Having completed her bachelor’s in biology in 2012, Karissa now lives in Austin as an independent crafter. As a close friend for years, I was surprised with one of her first-ever creations for my own college graduation in May 2011. Since then, she’s come a long way, making dozens of sales per month through Etsy (not even accounting for her very-busy holiday seasons or participating in events), which has been enough to take her jewelry-making from a much loved time-consuming hobby, to a growing, profitable job as an artist.

Literally, Darling: What inspired you to start making jewelry? When and why did you start?

Karissa Reiter: I have always enjoyed all things creative, won a number of art contests growing up, and even made a few hemp- and shell-based jewelry pieces for myself in high school, but it was the expressed desire for a specific kind of necklace by a close friend that got my jewelry gears cranking during college in the spring of 2011.

It was just like any other chill San Marcos night, talking about ideas and with my philosopher-songwriter friend, when he expressed the want for a necklace with a stone on it—not a “precious” stone—just a humble river stone to hang around his already necklace-clad neck. I liked the idea, and thought, “I could probably make that…” I immediately decided to do so as a surprise belated birthday gift. (I have a thing for gift-giving, and love nothing more than getting just the right gift for someone.) After scouring the Internet and craft supply stores to find the pieces of choice for the necklace vision I had in mind, I discovered a plethora of supplies that filled me with ideas for other necklaces. While searching for chains, I came across a swooping swallow charm and instantly thought of my bird-loving friend—an excuse to order more enticing supplies and try my hand at a more feminine necklace. Over the summer, I justified ordering more supplies with that fact that I wasn’t spending much on entertainment (thanks to free Texas river floating/swimming and country dancing), and that I could theoretically make some of it back with the Etsy site I had opened and started posting pictures on. Then in September, I went down to the San Marcos Saturday farmer’s market and talked to the manager about what it takes to set up. All I needed was a table, so the next Saturday, I woke up at 8 a.m., went to Wal-Mart, bought a table, and then went straight to the market and set up. I sold three pieces on my first day at market and have been at it ever since.

LD: I notice a lot of your jewelry is theme-related. What are some of your favorite inspirations that have led you to make your jewelry?

KR: I really like idioms and word play. Sometimes I’ll have an idea and search until I find the right pieces to bring it to life, and other times I’ll see a charm and immediately know what I want to pair it with. I enjoy poetry and deeper meanings, so I like when there’s a little more than meets the eye with a design. It’s fun when a piece kind of tells a story instead of just being visually appealing.

LD: How do you find these opportunities to sell your jewelry?

KR:Dipping into different markets and talking to the other vendors is the best way to learn. I searched online, but it’s easier to come across regular/weekly opportunities than the larger events, since vendor deadlines are often months ahead of time, and promotion happens closer to the actual event. I recently discovered Craigslist to be surprisingly informative when looking under “artist” or “creative gigs.” A fellow Austin artist told me about the Facebook group “Etsy Team Austin,” and that has been a fabulous resource. It is a private but welcoming group that is wonderfully open with sharing opportunities, tips, and resources. Occasionally, I will be contacted directly through my Etsy site about setting up at an event. I was “recruited” to be a vendor at the Handmade Marketplace of the Blissdom blogger’s conference in Dallas as well as at the RAW Artist Showcase at The Belmont in Austin. Other places I’ve sold include: The White Horse flea market, The Austin Open Air Market (now closed), The Wet Whistle, The Austin Flea, The 23rd Street Renaissance Artists’ Market on Guadalupe (the oldest artisan’s market in Texas), The Parker County Peach Festival, The Fort Worth Women’s Expo, and Austin’s own South By Southwest.

LD: Did you ever realize your hobby would turn into a way of making money?

KR: In the beginning, I was optimistic about theoretically being able to make some of the cost back with Etsy and make my hobby a little less “guilty-of-a-pleasure,” but going to an in-person market is really what caught hold for me first. Etsy started off feeling a bit of a silly hobby for the time I put into it, but hey, it was summer. I officially opened my online shop in May 2011, and made a sale in June and September, but it was to people who knew me, so it almost felt like a charade that they were indulging me in rather than “real” sales. Then in November, 6 months after opening, I made my first few sales to unknown customers. Then came the Christmas spike and I had about a sale per day during December. I was ecstatic. During the post-holiday period, things slowed down to a couple orders a week, but at least I had gained some exposure. Last September, when Etsy added direct checkout option (Paypal is no longer the only means of payment), my sales went up to a sale a day on average. My Etsy shop is helped along by the fact that I go to markets and give out business cards, put up pictures on Pinterest and Wanelo, tweet a little, and have a Facebook page for my business.

LD: Tell me more about how you created your Etsy page. What’s the process like, and what’s your preferred way to market yourself?

KR: Etsy is very user-friendly. It can take half an hour to create a listing, and you also will need to take the time to take decent photos of your item, but it gets easier as you become more familiar with the process. Having a website where customers can go to is definitely a plus. Sometimes a customer at market will like your style and know they want to get something, but they can’t decide which piece on the spot. It is also an easy way for them to be able to show their friends or find you back when someone’s birthday rolls around. I mainly market through Facebook, in-person markets, and posting new listings to my Pinterest board.

LD: Do you have any advice to give those who pursue similar creative hobbies and turning them into a means to make a little extra cash?

KR: Don’t get discouraged if you really love what you’re doing; there’s a lot of competition on Etsy, and it may take a bit to establish a presence, so if you’re mainly interested in a little quick cash, it may not prove to be worth your time. However, if you simply enjoy spending time making your art, photographing it, and coming up with little descriptions as much as I did, whether you have immediate sales or not, Etsy is a fabulous resource.

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LD: Any dreams for the business? Do you have any idea where it’s going?

KR: I would love to get more into wholesale and consignment with the jewelry, but my ideal is continually evolving. My current dream of dreams is to cast my own charms in a more precious and lasting metal. I have a whole list of ideas for necklaces for which the charms don’t exist unless I make them. Also, customers are often very excited when they receive the necklace or come back and tell me they wear it everyday, so I would love to have the designs in a hardier metal so the design remains unchanged through all the love. With this new line, the dream is to create a website independent of Etsy, which would embody the feel of the jewelry and be my new main landing space for people to explore. With time, I would be ecstatic to not only have the jewelry pieces in pre-established boutiques, but also be able to someday open up a boutique of my own.

LD: Any other advice to those who are interested in selling their homemade crafts, thrifted decor, or artwork?

KR:  Just do it. “You will never find the time for anything; you must make it.” —Charles Buxton

You can find Karissa’s Creations on her Facebook Page and Etsy profile.


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