Making a living on Etsy


Richfield artist Molly Spilane sells unique earrings, bracelets and pendants – like this anatomically correct heart – on under the name “Unique Art Pendants.”

Model: Chesty Von Ellem – Photographer: Daniel Stigefelt has fast become the destination of choice for artists of all stripes looking to sell their wares to a wide audience.

The site allows people to sell their own handmade goods, vintage items, or art and craft supplies. It costs only 20 cents to list an item for four months. When an item sells, the seller pays a 3.5% transaction fee.

In the month of April alone, hosted $22.4 million in sales, an increase of 78% over the same month in 2009. This past month almost a quarter-million people joined the site, which now serves buyers and sellers in over 150 countries.


Richfield artist Molly Spilane in her home studio, wearing one of her pendants.

The sellers on Etsy range from amateur knitters who want to make a few extra bucks to buy more yarn, to people like Richfield artist Molly Spilane. Spilane has been on Etsy for two years now selling custom made earrings, pendants and bracelets, and in that time she’s made 5,380 sales on her Etsy site, “Unique Art Pendants.” For Spilane, Etsy has enabled her to make a living out of her home studio.

My fiancé has his own career, but absolutely I could support myself on this if need be. For the first year I tried to balance this business with being a stay-at-home mom, but that didn’t work. Now my daughter’s in daycare, and I have business hours from 8 – 5pm; my friends know not to come over.


Brass cuff decorated with vintage bird and finished with a metal sealer

Photo by Molly Spilane allows interested buyers a means to find Spilane, without Spilane doing a lot of legwork. And it’s not just connected her with individual shoppers:

There are a ton of boutiques worldwide that are scouring Etsy to find artists to put in their boutiques, galleries and even museums. I’ve received a lot of queries from boutiques asking if I do wholesale. I now have work at boutiques in France, Germany Australia and locally at the Walker Art Center. The Walker found me through Etsy, and that’s just exploded my business.

Spilane says she thought long and hard before she agreed to sell her work wholesale to galleries, rather than limit herself to direct sales with clients:

I want to be an artist in business, and not just in name only. I feel I’ve been able to come full circle from art school to now say that the Walker is selling my work. If somebody can sell something I made for more money and make a profit – more power to them, that’s kind of my outlook.


Vintage plate series

Photo by Molly Spilane

Unlike many professional artists, Spilane does not run a separate website aside from the site hosted by Etsy. She thinks of as an inexpensive tool which has the power to really work for an artist. But, she warns, it does take a great deal of effort:

Find your target market; don’t just throw things out there. Brand yourself, find your niche, focus on the quality of your photos and packaging. Really treat it for what it is – a business. Being your own boss is hard, so you really need to manage your time so you don’t end up doing a half-assed job.

Spilane says many independent artists starting their own business have a hard time with self-promotion. But her mother, also an artist, always said “don’t be afraid to toot your own horn.”


Vintage science fauna seashell art print on gilded vintage dictionary page

Photo by Molly Spilane

Spilane works out of her home all day, but she says through Etsy she’s also found a community of friends:

Last fall the Etsy CEO at the time came and did a meet and greet in Minneapolis and there were about 200 area artists who sell on Etsy who came to hang out and meet each other. I made some friends there, and I like to purchase from local artists, so I now buy things from them.

While Etsy has provided Spilane with a cheap and easy means of selling her work and reaching her target audience, she says there is still some room for improvement:

Etsy is relatively still kind of a new site and their members are shooting up almost every month. So for them just handling the sheer numbers is a challenge. As a seller, I think it would be cool if you could go one step further in connecting with your audience – for instance allowing shops to have their own blogs on the site to update clients about what they’re working on.

Spilane has created a Facebook page and a Twitter account to further spread the word about her business, which is growing fast. She says her only real concern is that it’s getting to the point that there’s almost too much business for her to manage. She now has a studio assistant who helps five hours a week, and Spilane says she’s researching how best to take her business to “the next level.”