PolihalePromise – Custom Portraits From Photo

Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter,maker,artist…

I am a self-taught artist that began drawing and painting as a child. Eventually, I would start airbrushing, mostly fantasy art. However that ultimately led to custom graphics for cars, trucks, and bikes. There came a point where I was asked to airbrush portraits on vehicles and for one reason or another, this opened the door for me to get into the restoration of classic vehicles as a whole. These days I am focusing almost exclusively on portraits both in Charcoal and in Pastels.

How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?

I have been creating portraits on and off for most of my life. I was in the auto industry for many years as well. However, when the pandemic hit and stay at home orders were essentially affecting everyone my wife I needed to make a decision given that we have a ten-year-old that now needed someone at home full time as schools were now closed. We elected to have me stay at home and home school. Being a portrait artist would allow me to work from home in a way that my wife could not so both of us could continue to support our family. I’ve had a lot of experience in selling portraits. But up until stumbling upon Etsy, I had zero experience in online selling. Etsy was a phenomenal platform to put my work out there. It required a crash course in online marketing for sure. But Etsy made this experience an almost shoo-in for someone like myself. Selling online was a perfect means of selling hand-painted portraits, especially when you consider large parts of the world were also online shopping as a result of a pandemic. It seemed to be a perfect fit!

What products do you sell, what type of materials are used in your creations, how do you design your products, what makes your products stand out ?

Basically I sell handmade or hand-painted personalized portraits created from pictures provided to me by my customers. I typically make these in either Charcoal or Pastel. I try to stay within these two mediums because I feel that besides the overall feel these mediums create. They are not as time consuming and as expensive as other mediums. Additionally, I really wanted to provide something to regular folks that would love to have a portrait done but it would also be affordable to them. Any quick online search of commissioned portraits would reveal that these can be expensive! So with that in mind, I put together some affordable options that would not only open the door for income for my family but also open the door for people that would not have necessarily been able to afford a portrait. Most people have a basic idea or conception that a personal or custom portrait is always going to be expensive. By doing it this way I’ve hoped to shatter those conceptions and make them available to everyone.
Originally I was focused on portraits of all genres. Over time though I was getting more and more orders for what would be considered “Memorial” portraits. This is of itself has been an extraordinary journey for me! Both heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time. In a lot of ways, I believe that this makes what I’m doing stand out even more! Not just due to the portraits in of themselves. But the conversations I have with folks about their portrait, the lost loved one, and their families. People have shared with me their most intimate pain and allowed me to share with them the joy of seeing those who are gone reunited with their family in the form of a portrait.

How was your experience in learning to craft, are you self-taught or did you have a mentor, how long did it take for you to be satisfied with your creations

Any artist would tell you that they are never satisfied with their creation! I am still to this day continually working to get better and more accurate to name a few. I’ve been doing this all my life and given the way things have worked out will continue as long as someone is out there hoping to capture a moment or memory and make it last forever!

Pastel painting from photo1
Pastel painting from photo
Original charcoal drawing of Marilyn Monroe on canvas

What was your original goal when you opened up an Etsy shop? What impacted your decision to start selling online? Do you consider online selling as a side-job, full-time job or extra income to pay for your hobby?

My original intent with opening a shop on Etsy was a means to work full time to provide for my family. Selling online was a great way to connect with people from across the globe from right here in my studio! From the start, it was a shot in the dark as I’ve never sold online before. But with a lot of time and hard work it has become more sustainable than I could have ever imagined!

Did you have any fears or reservations before opening up your Etsy shop? Were you worried about profitability or product competitiveness? What are some concerns and questions you had before you got started? How did you overcome them?

Starting any business as it’s risks. I left a full-time salaried position to open a shop on Etsy. It was scary! I found myself watching the analytics endlessly all day hoping for a first customer. There were a few times that I almost gave up on it. But I kept telling myself that patience and hard work was key to making this successful. When you go from a full-time job to online selling you have to have a lot of faith in what you’re doing. Because you are leaving behind a regular paycheck and putting all your chips into complete strangers from across the world. Hoping that people out there will share in the same vision that you have. And to be honest… I found that they do!

How long did it take for you to get your first sale? Did you ever thought you would make a lot of sales in the first year? What was a goal you were hoping for? How many sales an average you get per week?

It took about 3 weeks to obtain my first sale. And then a couple of weeks later for another. But this soon turned into orders almost every day at times and considering these are portraits and take time to make, that’s a lot!. Originally I was hoping for at least one order a week. Now there are steady orders that for sure keep me busy

Do you have a job outside Etsy? If not, are you able to commit full-time to online selling? How does your typical day look like? How do you manage time?

I am selling portraits on Etsy full time now and plan to continue. I for the most part I spend my day in the studio, This in addition to caring for our son and four rescue dogs. When my wife gets home from her job we spend the evenings making our own boxes to ship these portraits out in. So yes, we even hand-making boxes!

How does your manufacturing process looks like for e.g. your best selling product? Do you create products ahead of the orders? Do you customize your products, if so how? What are tools that you are using in manufacturing process?

Every order I receive for a portrait is hand made when they are ordered. Memorial portraits are my best selling product online.

What is the biggest impact on profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?

The biggest impact on profitability for me is boxes and shipping and all the related items needed for this. Canvas and other materials have cost as well. However, shipping a wrapped canvas around the world requires they are packed well as to arrive safely. I’ve taken into account the cost of these things in my prices. The time and effort and complexity of creating a portrait are taken into account as well. However, Making your product affordable is paramount in the end.

What inspires you when you’re creating? How do you get ideas for new products? What are some methods or tools you use to get creative?

My wife mostly my inspiration for these portraits. Beyond that it would be the deep and heartfelt conversations I have with my customers when putting together a particular direction for their portrait.

Do you ship your product internationally? How do you handle postage pricing? What is average time it takes from the order to the delivery? Do you use free shipping? If so, why? How do you package your products?

I use free shipping. Not so much as a means of a selling point. But I want the cost of the portrait to be exactly that for my customers. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve found an item online that I like only to move on from it once I see the additional costs added for shipping. I currently do not offer free shipping for international shipping as the costs can be up there. That being said, I ship every portrait 2-day priority. I elected to take on the extra cost of this because it’s worth it knowing that my customers know they will receive their portrait really quick!

Custom painting, Commissioned
Portrait from photo, Custom painting
Charcoal drawing of Taylor Swift on canvas

Are you worried about competitors? Does it impact your business in any way? If there are a lot of similar products, how do you make your own stand out?

There are many others online selling portraits. So yes, I have to consider competition in approaching this. One thing that seems to have allowed my portraits to stand out is that they are handmade. There are many, many sellers online that are selling portraits that are not technically hand made or hand-painted. They are essentially prints of edited photos. Additionally, others are offering digital files of their portraits. There is a huge market for individuals looking for an actual portrait, on canvas and hand painted. They want the real thing.

How do you deal with disputes or bad rating/feedback? How do you manage presale and post sale communication and customer satisfaction?

So far I’ve only had a few underlying issues. Portraits from a photo are a risky product, to begin with. Painting a portrait of someone you have never met and probably will never meet can be challenging! One way I try to circumvent any issues with their overall satisfaction with their portrait is to send them pictures of its progress. Along with a final proof prior to shipping it to them. This not only allows them to feel as though they are part of the process but it also serves as a means of catching anything that needs to be tweaked a bit. Keep in mind I only have a photo to work from and my customer knows the subject in the portrait far better than I do! This process as been invaluable to keeping my customers happy!

Has selling on Etsy changed your life in any way? If so, how? Did you ever thought you would get this far with your shop? Have you ever been stressed dealing with customers and manufacturing products? How did you deal with that?

Selling on Etsy has definitely changed my life! It’s created a whole new career for me while fulfilling me in the sense that maybe I might just be making someone’s loss a little less burdensome.

How important is social media for your shop? What are some common tactics you use to promote your products? Do you spend money on ads outside of Etsy? How do you generate excitement/hype around your products?

As of right now I am focused solely on Etsy’s marketing platform. So far it’s been working. As I build and expand I plan to look into marketing beyond Etsy. Stay tuned!

What are some things you don’t like about Etsy? If you could talk to the CEO of Etsy what recommendations would you tell him to improve sellers and customers satisfaction?

The only thing I can really think of in this sense would be to allow for more example photos in my listing. My product listing cannot necessarily be narrowed down to one individual item such as a piece of jewelry. Besides the photos that my customers post in their reviews, it would be great if I had the ability to show more examples of my work given that different subject matters in portraits can appeal in very different ways to people.

What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?

Managing my time is something I learned the hard way. When selling portraits, it can get overwhelming when you have a lot of work stacking up!

What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering to sell on Etsy? How can they avoid beginners mistakes?

My advice would be to stick with it! One mistake I made was changing my shop and listing around too much in the beginning. When you first start out and are waiting for a customer you really second guess yourself a lot and start over-analyzing the content of how you’re marketing your product. There are a lot of moving parts associated with selling online. It’s playing the long game that produces results.

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