We talked to Hana Shafi – the self-identified weird and frizzy Indo-Persian feminist who took the Instagram world by storm with her radically healing art. This is the first installment in our “Work in Progress” series where we talk to badass creators about how they produce, share, and sell their work.
ONE MILLION WILD HEARTS: How do you consistently produce work?
HANA SHAFI: For me, it was creating a series and promising people work at a certain time. That was a good motivator because it helped me set a schedule. You know, in life things get in the way, but when you have something that you know you need to do because you’ve promised it to people, it gives you more motivation. With that being said, if I really can’t make something that week I’ll put something on my Instagram to let people know like “hey, I can’t make something this week,” or “I’m going through something and I can’t produce something new.” Generally, social media has been great in a way because if I know people are looking forward to something new, I feel a connection and motivation. Obviously, you should create for yourself and not just for viewers. But I know for people who are having a little bit of trouble getting motivated, that schedule can really help you to make a new series, or show new work, or get something off the ground.
OMWH: People definitely look forward to your work because of your schedule and how you communicate over Instagram. It’s cool to see how you’ve made that leap from illustration to poetry in your latest series.
HS: Why, thank you!
OMWH: Your artwork is so popular – I see it reposted and re-blogged everywhere on Tumblr and Instagram. How did you figure out what people liked or wanted to buy?
HS: It kind of just happened coincidentally. I’ve been putting artwork online for a long time now – about 3 years. One of my early affirmation pieces, the “healing is not linear” piece – that’s the piece that went viral. That whole series became hugely popular and I was able to gauge people’s reactions on social media and that made me realize that oh, this is what sells more. I
t’s helpful to use things like analytics which are available on most social media apps to gauge what people are liking more and what products you would want to make available.
OMWH: What motivated you to start selling or sharing your work?
HS: First off, you have to see value in your work and want to share it. I think for a lot of people they don’t value their own work and feel really insecure about the content they create and don’t want to share it, but don’t worry about that! It’s not like I started sharing stuff and it immediately became popular.
OMWH: That’s so interesting because now
your work is so well-known.
HS: If you scrolled all the way to the bottom of my Instagram, you would see that I have stuff on there that nobody was even looking at. But I found the value in it myself and I thought well, I’m going to share it and if a lot of people look at it and like it then great, and whatever I’m going to keep making art because I value the work that I do. So, you really have to place value and worth on your own work. In terms of people liking your stuff, there are always going to be haters and trolls. I deal with a lot of trolls myself and the more popular your work becomes the more you will get trolls and people who are mad about it. But you can’t let that be the determining factor of whether you continue to create or not.
OMWH: What are your busiest times, in terms of selling products?
HS: Christmas is a time when a lot of people bought stuff from my Redbubble store. That makes sense because people were buying gifts and I would get messages like oh, I’m buying this for so and so. Redbubble also does a lot of promotions so I try to advertise on there if there is a storewide promotion. You just have to make a lot of content available. If you don’t have a lot of content and a wide range of products available, you’re not really going to sell. People want to see that you have a lot of stuff that is potentially available for them because they want to be able to browse.
OMWH: What is your response when people say artists can’t support themselves or it’s not seen as a legitimate career path?
HS: It’s challenging because I don’t solely support myself on my art and I also live in a place where everything is really expensive. Toronto is not a cheap city. But there are a ton of opportunities. For example, a way that my art does support me is through big projects. When I was an artist in residence I did a lot of workshops and that actually gave me a good paycheck. I do a lot of other work that’s not related to my art stuff but there are a lot of opportunities now for artists. Social media has provided more exposure and allowed artists easier access to those opportunities. My stuff got big online and then people were booking me for workshops and it’s cool how that worked out. So, you can do things like workshops, apply for residencies – things like that.
OMWH: How do you find buyers or network with buyers or find these residencies?
HS: I made myself known in certain circles. A lot of the workshops I do are very much related to social justice because my work directly deals with misogyny, racism, and sexual violence. A lot of people who were already creating content around that approached me. So, I would say talk to people you already know in your community and foster relationships from that. In terms of residencies, most universities or art centers will have those kind of opportunities on their website. You have to go searching for it the way you would go searching for any other job. Just be ambitious and look around and talk to a lot of people and promote yourself. I know a lot of young artists who don’t promote themselves or their work, but they should. You have to see the value in your work and tell people about it. You have to give exposure to your own work. You have to give yourself exposure before anyone else gives it to you. You have to be the one to post it online first before someone else picks it up.
“You have to see the value in your work and tell people about it. You have to give yourself exposure before anyone else gives it to you. You have to be the one to post it online first before someone else picks it up.”
OMWH: That’s such a great message to anyone who is trying to start putting their work online. How do you budget for your art supplies?
HS: For the affirmation series, it’s digital which makes it a lot easier in terms of budgeting. I bought a cheap tablet and I have Adobe Illustrator on my computer. I do mostly pen and paper work and not a lot of large scale painting which is probably the more expensive thing. You have to budget according to your medium. The mediums that I work in are not as expensive as others.
OMWH: You mentioned selling prints, what is the process for that?
HS: There are prints available on my Redbubble store and then I print out prints myself for zine fairs. Redbubble does all of the distributing and manufacturing themselves so artists only get quite a small cut. When I go to zine fairs or there are people in my community who want prints, I’ll just go to a print shop and get it printed in bulk. Most print shops are pretty inexpensive. Obviously you have to inflate the price a bit so you are making some kind of profit but my prints are pretty cheap. I go to zine fairs and they’re selling anywhere from $3 to $10, so I’m not selling wildly expensive prints. The only things I sell that are more expensive are the pen and paper original drawings. If I sell anything on canvas – which I rarely do because I don’t paint much anymore, then it is really expensive because you know, a lot more time goes into it.
OMWH: How do you price your work?
HS: Well, you’re not just factoring in supplies you use; you’re factoring in time. You have to value the number of hours that you put into your art. Factor in time and resources. Were you able to do it in your home? Did you have to leave your home to do it? Did you have to spend money? Are there transportation costs? Value the amount of money you are putting into things and price it based on that. Even I tend to undersell a lot of my art, like I kind of undermine the price. My friends tell me I need to make my stuff more expensive because like you’re putting a lot of time into it.
OMWH: Do you think as womxn we don’t value our art as much? Like I’m sure it’s hard to sell to people that you know.
HS: Yeah, with friends and people I know I give them discounts but a lot of the friends and people I know are so nice and they’ve given me tips and they value my work. I think womxn tend to undermine their work a lot and undersell it. I’m definitely guilty of that and I’m trying to charge a little more. Zine fairs are a little different – I keep all the profits at those and they are small scale markets so the prints I sell should be affordable.
OMWH: What motivates you to buy the artwork of others?
HS: Really it’s about, do I like their work? And do I like what they’re doing? I like to prioritize female artists of color and other womxn of color. I buy a lot of stuff at zine fairs because it’s a lot of local young artists who are just starting off. I genuinely enjoy buying other people’s art, I have it all over my room. It’s just nice. When you’re an artist you tend to appreciate that stuff more. You’re going to invest in other people just the same way they’ve invested in you.
OMWH: Who has supported you in this journey?
HS: A lot of my friends and a lot of people in the community. The outpouring of support I’ve got from mostly womxn and womxn of color and from young LGBTQ folks has been overwhelming. There is just a really strong community of progressive young people -especially on social media who are happy to support an artist who is trying to make it big or get their work recognized. When you express gratitude to people they give you that love back. I’ve tried to make it clear to people who have supported me that I see you and I value your support. I can’t respond to every comment or message but I try to let them know.
OMWH: How much time a day do you spend creating?
HS: Depends on the day, but I try to at least be sketching or working on some kind of project for a few hours a day – if I have the time. There are some lulls but I’d say on average a few hours a day. It’s something I genuinely love doing and I’m happy to designate that time. There are occasions when I don’t feel like doing it but I’m like, I need the money so I’ll just do it… but yeah, generally it’s a few hours a day.
OMWH: Wow, that’s so inspiring. Any other pieces of advice or guidance?
HS: It’s a privilege. It’s not something that everyone can do. If you’re a single mom and you’re working a full time job and taking care of your kid at night you’re not going to have the same privilege as someone like me does. I have the time and the budget. So, if you don’t have time to create don’t feel bad or feel ashamed that you can’t because everybody has their own obstacles to overcome. The only advice I have is to value your work. Your work is relevant. You have something to share. You have experiences to share. You have stories to tell and you can do that with your artwork. People should see what you have to offer because what you have to offer is really valuable. I think people tend to see their work as not good or special but it is worth showing. But honestly, I see it as an act of self-love.
You can support Hana and her artwork by checking out her Redbubble store.
Check out our OMWH interview with Hana here.