Artist Hannah Rosengren of South Portland works on a drawing in her home studio. In the foreground are several prints of the image featuring herbs, annuals and perennials that she offers for sale on the e-commerce website Etsy.
By Bob Keyes
Hannah Rosengren was only trying to practice her art when she made a botanical illustration of plants that attract bees.
The 2013 Maine College of Art graduate assigned herself the task of making tiny paintings of plants. She read about the decimation of bee colonies, and thought an illustration promoting herbs, perennials and annuals that attract bees might be timely and interesting, and also challenging to make.
She combined those tiny paintings in one big poster, and launched an international art career from her home in South Portland.
At last count, Rosengren estimates the illustration that she made has been shared by about 15,000 people or organizations on Facebook and other social media outlets across the globe. It’s also resulted in a spike in online sales on Etsy, an e-commerce website that focuses on art and handmade and vintage items.
Rosengren’s story offers one example of an artist living in a rural state who has figured out how to reach national and international audiences without spending a lot of time and money on marketing and promotion.
“It’s amazing. It’s crazy, actually,” said Rosengren, 23. “I’ve had a shop on Etsy since last fall, and all of a sudden, it just blew up. People are buying other things listed on the shop, because they’re there.
“I am just kind of amazed that it’s happening. I’m getting sales every day. People in Australia are interested in my work. I’ve heard from people in Spain. I didn’t expect anything like this to happen so soon after graduating.”
Rosengren’s story illustrates the challenges faced by many Maine artists, as well as their potential success when they meet those challenges with savvy promotional strategies, said Jessica Tomlinson, director of the Artists at Work program at Maine College of Art.
Artists at Work helps MECA grads make a living doing what they love while living in a place they love.
“That’s what Hannah’s story is about, how artists are able to live here and do their work,” Tomlinson said. “You can say there is a limited market here, and that’s true. We have only 1.3 million people in the state, and our largest city is 60,000 (people). By using the tools available, artists can increase their market so they are not limited by geography. It opens up a lot of opportunity.”
In May, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle will host a workshop sponsored by the Maine Crafts Association called “Rural State, International Audience.”
It will be led by potter Ayumi Horie, who bases an international art career from her Portland studio.
The workshop will focus on how independent studio artists can expand their audience through social media and the Internet. It will look at the work and websites of participants, and examine both making and marketing with a focus on the digital world. The strategies discussed will be specific to Mainers.
Horie is a perfect choice to lead the workshop. She grew up in Auburn, moved away for her education, then returned to Portland to base her career.
She makes functional pots that feature drawings of animals.
She uses digital media not just to promote her work, but to offer glimpses of her life in Maine and her studio practice. Craftspeople sell their lifestyle as much as their work, she said, and social media enable her to strategically share her lifestyle with those who follow her work and career.
With a background in photography, she finds herself drawn to Instagram, an app that she uses frequently. When she posts to Instagram, she also automatically posts to Facebook and Twitter.
Her challenge is finding new ways to photograph her ceramic work, which reinforces her belief that artists are creative in myriad ways and not just their medium of concentration.
“I feel that part of my mission as a potter is to show in a very tangible way to people outside the craft world how beautiful objects can create a richness in every day life,” she said.
Horie calls digital media “a dedicated second studio practice” that is “inextricably intertwined with my ceramic work. ... I’ve balanced images of Maine, shots from the studio, travelogues and objects that inspire me to create a well-rounded image of what my life is like as a professional studio potter. The images contribute to both this awareness and direct sales.”
THE MAINE MYSTIQUE
Maine holds mystique and intrigue worldwide. Horie thinks Maine artists and craftspeople should capitalize on Maine and its image when they promote their lifestyles and work.
As with many of her colleagues in Maine, she is better known outside the state than where she lives.
She was the first recipient of the Ceramic Artist of the Year award given by Ceramics Monthly. She lectures internationally, and is on the board of directors of the American Craft Council.
In 2011, she co-founded Handmade For Japan to raise money for victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and has helped raise more than $102,000.
All of this she does from her studio and home in Portland. She does not have gallery representation at this time, though she does participate in local sales, such as Picnic. She reaches most of her customers through social media, which direct them to her website, ayumihorieshop.com.
She remains nimble, using both technology and trends to stay in touch with her audience.
In that sense, Horie serves as a role model for artists like Rosengren, who are just starting out and balancing career aspirations with the reality of making a living. Rosengren has a job outside of art, although her goal is to support herself as a freelance illustrator. Ultimately, she wants to illustrate children’s books.
For now, her studio is a small work station in her residence.
The success she had with her poster about bees opened her eyes to the potential. She participates in various site-specific sales in and around Portland, such as Art in the Park in South Portland and Picnic in Portland. She posts photos of her work on Instagram, and freshens her online store on Etsy as often as she can. She does not keep a personal Facebook page, though her bees illustration exploded on Facebook when others posted it.
The success of her bees poster has opened her eyes to the value of social media, she said.
“I never expected this would happen,” she said. She made small prints of her poster, which she sells for $14. The larger poster sells for $36.
Since Christmas, she estimates that she has filled two to three orders daily for either the full-size poster or the smaller print.
Portland painter Kathleen Daughan came to Etsy from a different perspective. She’s an established painter, with gallery representation in Portland and a history of exhibiting her paintings across southern and midcoast Maine.
She began selling on Etsy in spring 2012 as a way to complement her gallery sales.
She appreciates the casual and social nature of Etsy, as well as its wide reach.
Maine artists and paintings of Maine are sought out by people all over the world, she said.
“Having my work on Etsy gives me worldwide exposure, which I do not get by just having my work in the galleries. For instance, this week I just completed a commission for a client in California,” she said.
Horie advises young artists to dedicate their energy to making great work. Good promotional practices will follow.
“This may seem ironic,” she said, “but my advice is to minimize energy put into marketing and social media for now, and instead concentrate on mastering the craft in order to make good, solid work.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:
“Splash,” a 10-by-10 acyrlic painting by Portland artist Kathleen Daughan. She has been selling her paintings on Etsy since 2012.
Since she began selling her poster promoting plants and bees on Etsy, Hannah Rosengren has had interest from people as far away as Spain and Australia. “I didn’t expect anything like this to happen so soon after graduating,” said Rosengren, who finished her degree at MECA last year.