Richard Kissel and Kelly Kennard of indie artist company Our Secret Treehouse are inspired by all manner of creatures, from dinosaurs to backyard animals. The Ithaca, N.Y. newlyweds talked with IndieMade about how they sell art online, pair science with creativity, and create personal relationships with their customers.
What attracted you to the indie artist business? How did you get your start?
Richard: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by dinosaurs and all things prehistoric. I pursued paleontology throughout my graduate schooling and today can proudly proclaim, “I’m a vertebrate paleontologist!” From the deserts of Texas to the mountains of Germany, I’ve had the opportunity to excavate dinosaurs, ice age mammals, and the earliest of reptiles and amphibians. One of my favorite aspects of science is reconstructing primeval worlds based on bones and other fragmentary fossils buried within the earth.
Science does not exist without art and creativity, so I always found myself drawing dinosaurs and other extinct creatures—both scientific and cartoon-y depictions. My attraction to cartoons is their simplicity and the ability to convey a personality and emotion with a few simple lines. I love dinosaurs, and I love characters, so cartooning allows me to revisit the world of the dinosaurs but add a whimsical twist to their existence. Our motto—scientifically whimsical—reflects this perfect pairing.
What advice would you give someone who wants to sell art online?
Kelly: Use the community available to you. There are so many resources available, and fellow artists and crafters have been wonderful about sharing advice. Also, we discussed starting this business long before we moved forward with it, developing a business plan, etc. That time and research has really paid off.
How did you start selling online?
Kelly: One thing we learned is that people often decide that they want a product after they see it and live with it in their mind for some time. Knowing we would be selling at craft shows, we wanted to have products available online for those types of buyers.
Besides your website, where do you sell art online or offline?
Richard: We love participating in craft shows! Having that immediate interaction with people is amazing. Establishing personal relationships is another great outcome of shows. It establishes not only repeat buyers, but friendships. Our products are also available locally at museums, nature centers, and gardens in Ithaca.
Why did you decide to expand your indie artist business beyond Etsy?
Kelly: We wanted to expand our wholesale reach this year, and decided that having our own website would not only carry a professional appearance but, more importantly, it allows us to establish our own identity and brand.
Do you blog? How does that work for you?
Richard: Not yet! So many ideas are bouncing around inside my head, so it’s simply a matter of time—and making time to commit those ideas to 0s and 1s.
As an indie artist, how do you stay in touch with your customers?
Kelly: Most of our updates are sent out through Facebook, and we have face-to-face interactions with customers at craft shows, including people who purchased from our wholesale buyers but stop by the booth to meet the people behind the cartoons and product!
Why did you decide to try IndieMade, and what's your favorite part of the site?
Richard: I still sketch my initial thoughts with a No. 2 pencil. So, while I like to think we’re creative people, we certainly are not skilled in the area of web design. We were looking for a way to construct and maintain an attractive website; after much research, it was clear that IndieMade met all of our needs.
Kelly: I appreciate the ease of creating each section and making changes. Also, the customer service is appreciated. During our setup, we had some small issues and—after contacting IndieMade for assistance—the problem was taken care of very quickly…on the weekend! And the person who helped us actually looked at our site and commented on what we make, which was a bonus!
What's on the horizon for your indie artist business?
Richard: The mind works faster than the hand, so the biggest struggle is to stay focused and finish the cartoon lines that have been living in my sketchbooks for months. In addition to completing these new lines, we are hoping to expand our wholesaling in 2012.
What question should I have asked, but didn't?
Richard: What’s your favorite dinosaur? T. rex, hands down. And, yes, I do see the irony in discussing hands in the same sentence as T. rex.