Frances Cannon: How to Make a Living as an Artist


March 17, 2017

We talked to Frances Cannon – the Melbourne based creator of the “self-love club.” This is the second installment in our “Artist Interview” series where we talk to badass creators about how they produce work, market themselves, and make a living off of the things they love to create.

ONE MILLION WILD HEARTS: What motivated you to start selling or sharing your work?

FRANCES CANNON: That happened quite naturally. I had a personal Instagram and because I was studying art and creating a lot of art at the time, I started posting about it. I started trying to sell things more seriously probably about 2-ish years ago. And that happened because I was starting to gain more popularity. I had an online shop before but no one had bought anything. But because I was gaining popularity I thought, I’ll give it another try and see how it goes. It started working –  slowly at first and then it started picking up about a year or so in.

OMWH: That’s interesting so your first shop didn’t really gain traction but you tried again?

FC: Yes, it was the same online store. No one really knew who I was and I tried to sell to family, but they probably thought they could get things for free so they didn’t end up buying. I hadn’t buttoned down my style that I’m known for now and I was still experimenting and trying things out in art school. Once I started focusing on what I’m interested in now and getting well practiced in drawing again, people started taking more interest. Before I was trying to sell a random painting here or a random painting there, but there wasn’t really a theme or something in common with them.

OMWH: You’ve totally zeroed in on this style now that you’re known for. How did you figure out what people wanted to buy and support?

FC: That was all very experimental – I tried different things and worked out that people connected and liked buying the black and white drawings. Occasionally I’ll sell a larger work, but people really like being able to buy simple prints. It was really through trial and error. I’d try different sizes and I’d try selling a zine or a coloring book every now and then. I’ve tried selling originals online which sometimes works, but most of the time people really like the black and white prints. Those are more affordable as well so they sell more because an everyday person can afford it whereas I have to charge more for originals.

OMWH: That makes a lot of sense. How do you consistently produce work?

FC: I try and draw every day. Some days I’m really not in the zone at all and it’s almost impossible. But I do try to draw every day. Even if that’s just in my sketchbook when I’m on the train on the way to meet someone – I’ll try and draw. Being conscious and choosing to draw or whatever your art practice is – choosing to do something towards that each day is important. Or even like collaging or taking photos or doing your makeup creatively. Do something creative every day to keep the juices flowing. I think that’ really important – to be conscious and it doesn’t have to be big. It’s helpful because when the time comes to do a big painting or a big project or a sculpture or whatever you’re in the zone of thinking creatively and you don’t have to start from scratch because you’ve been doing little things each day. Obviously some situations are out of your control or you’ll be too tired and I think that’s okay too. I think having a break every now and then is important. You have to learn to balance.

Frances Cannon
Frances Cannon

OMWH: How much artwork do you sell?

FC: It started out slow, but at the moment I ship out between 20 and 50 parcels a week. Those parcels will have 1 or 2 prints in them, sometimes more. If I have something new in the store, then I have more orders. If I have the same old stuff in my store it’s a bit steadier and I’ll probably get 20 orders a week. If I release something new and exciting it will jump up to 50 or more. So, it depends on the week.

OMWH: What’s the process like of shipping the parcels? Have you streamlined the process?

FC: I’m still working out ways of being faster and more professional.  The main thing is to make sure that the prints don’t get damaged. You can buy cardboard backing card to put behind the print and you can slip that into a plastic folder – it’s really safe and secure. Even if it gets wet it won’t get damaged unless the post man really wants to bend it… but he shouldn’t do that [laughs]. It still takes me a while to package stuff. I’ll probably spend 1-2 days a week packaging orders because I’m pretty slow and it’s just me doing it as well.

OMWH: Well I’m sure a lot of love and care goes into the package. Do you personalize as well?

FC: If I have time I’ll write a little note but often I won’t have time to do that. I usually have a few postcards and stuff printed to give as little extra gifts – I pop in at least 2 or 3 extras as well as the prints that they ordered. I want to keep getting better and better at my packaging. I’m definitely not the best that I can be yet.

“I’ll still get a concerned email from my granny every once in a while like, “How are you making money? Are you eating enough?” and I’m like, “Yeah granny I’m fine, I’m actually doing really well.”

OMWH: How do you budget for your art supplies. You use mostly pen and ink, but what goes into your art supply budget?

FC: A lot of the stuff I post is mostly pen and ink, but in my own personal practice it’s a bit different. The stuff that I would put in a gallery show for instance, I use large sheets of paper and lots of ink and warm colors. So, my budget for art supplies is pretty high. I have to budget for that and make sure that I’m earning enough so that I can both support my shop, like get new prints made, but also support my other artwork that I’m making because I’m constantly trying to apply to shows and get in group shows and do collaborations. I’m not very good at budgeting so I can spend quite a lot of money and then realize, whoops that’s probably a bit too much.

OMWH: That’s a lot to take care of.

FC: It’s all still a learning process and the fact that I have so many orders and so many people following my work so early in the game it means that I have to really make sure that I’m doing things as well as I can, if that makes sense. There’s not as much time to get stuff wrong. I have to make sure I am doing things correctly or else I could get in trouble… like if I didn’t report my taxes properly. It’s a little bit stressful, I’m learning. I’ve only really been earning a more significant amount for about a year. I’ve only done taxes once. I didn’t have to do 2 taxes before then because I wasn’t earning as much so I’m still learning about that process as well and I’ll probably have to get an accountant, but I’m scared.

OMWH: That’s so impressive that you’re growing so fast. How do you find buyers to sell your stuff?

FC: Most of the time it’s through Instagram and people will see my work and want to buy something. I try to make sure that the stuff I sell online is quite affordable so everyday people who want a cute print for their bedroom or whatever are able to buy it. That’s where the majority come from. but I’m getting into having more gallery shows and stuff like that. People who come to an exhibition opening tend to have a higher budget so I’m working on networking with these people so that I can eventually sell larger pieces. I have a few shows coming up that hopefully I’ll be able to sell some more significant and more expensive work. But yeah, I’m not quite at the stage where people are lining up out the door to buy really expensive artworks yet.

OMWH: What is your response when people say that artists can’t financially support themselves?

FC: My family is only just starting to catch on that I’m successful and that I run my own business which is unheard of. I’ll still get a concerned email from my granny every once in a while like, “How are you making money? Are you eating enough?” and I’m like, “Yeah granny I’m fine, I’m actually doing really well.” I have to  explain to her  all the different ways that I’m actually having success because they don’t quite get it. I hate bragging but it’s not bragging, it’s trying to legitimatize what I do which gets a little tiring but it’s part of it.

Frances Cannon
Frances Cannon

OMWH: Do you think part of that is that it’s a different time now?

FC: Yeah, the internet has made it a lot easier for young artists to get their stuff out there and create online stores as opposed to like 50 years ago. You’d have to be well established before you were able to sell one piece whereas nowadays if you have an online store or an Etsy you could sell here and there. Even if you’re not very well known you can still find people who want to buy your work. It takes a lot of work to get to a place where you can have it as your only source of income. I think it takes a lot of sacrifice and you have to put a lot of time into it before that can be a viable option. A lot of artists I know still have to have a job on the side which is totally fine because the art world is hard to break in fully. It’s easy to break into it here and there – like a little bit but it’s hard to break into it fully. And I think that it’s okay – I don’t think people should feel badly about themselves or their art if they do have to have another job outside of their art. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad artist, it just means that not enough people have seen their work yet. It just means they have to keep trying and not give up on that.

OMWH: What motivates you to buy the artwork of others?

FC: This sounds a little bad but I like buying artwork from my friends. I have quite a large group of people that I know that are artists. I like to support them and they support me as well so that’s probably where most of my money towards other artists goes. I follow a lot of artists on Instagram and if they’re selling something that I’m really interested in then I might think about buying it. I do think that having an online platform as an artist is really important whether that’s Facebook or Instagram or whatever. It’s important to be present online – it’s really helpful anyway. If it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing, but it is really helpful. You never know who’s looking and who’s interested and who might love this certain drawing or certain piece of work.

OMWH: What would you like people to know about your work?

FC: I think it’s important for anyone who is buying work – particularly something that’s handmade – to know that there is a process that goes into that and that may take some time. I also fall into the trap of getting a bit too excited about something I’ve ordered and then being disappointed that it takes a while to get to me. I think it’s important to remember that you are buying from creative people and they take time with their work and put time into it. A lot of creatives aren’t sitting by their computer waiting for an order to come in to ship it right away. Having patience with creative people and understanding–within reason, of course… like you shouldn’t wait 3 months for a painting. I put so much love into each drawing and the person is really getting a piece of me, especially if it’s an original drawing. But even the prints – they’re reproductions of something I really love. I have to really love a drawing to make a print. It’s something that’s really important to me and I love that I’m sending out. It means so much to me and I know it means so much to my creative friends who have stores. When people buy your work it’s such an honor and it’s really wonderful. They’re getting a piece of you but you’re also feeling supportive. It’s a nice little connection you’re getting with someone even if they’re on the other side of the world.

“I don’t think people should feel badly about themselves or their art if they do have to have another job outside of their art. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad artist, it just means that not enough people have seen their work yet. It just means they have to keep trying and not give up on that.”

OMWH: I love that – that’s so beautiful.

FC: It sounds so cheesy, but it’s true!

OMWH: Who or what resources have supported you through this journey?

FC: Melbourne has a really wonderful, supportive network of artists. Most of whom I’ve met either at uni or through Instagram and they’ve been really helpful for me personally in my journey to being an artist who sells work. I can write to one of them and say I need help – like something is not working on my website and you use the same server, can you help me figure it out? Or can you help me learn how to do this technique? And vice versa. They will ask me for advice on things I know that they might not know. It’s a really lovely loop of advice going around with the friends I know. I have a network of friends who have very popular Instagrams and if I’m having a trolling problem or something I can turn to them and say I’m being trolled and they’ll tell me a funny story about when they were trolled. It’s important to have people in your circle who you know are creative.

OMWH: Any other words of advice for readers?

FC: If you are selling online and things are slow, that’s okay. Every artist starts out slow. You have to start from nothing unless you’re like the kid of a famous painter. It’s okay to start out small and it’s okay to fail a couple of times. I still have this happen now – I will put up a print that no one likes, that no one is interested in even if I like it. It might not be what people like and that’s okay and it’s okay to trouble shoot and to have trial and error. That’s all part of any creative process and just keep trying.

Other pro tips from Frances:

  • Recommends the app, Layerpic. It is great for Instagram but not high enough quality for “proper” prints. She went on to say, “if I draw on a white piece of paper in black I can take the background out so it comes out as crisp white. That’s a really easy way to digitalize your work quickly.”
  • Edits her drawings using Photoshop or Inkscape.
  • Uses Vistaprint for postcards or business cards.

You can support Frances by buying prints and other goodies through her online store.