Ep.174: How to make money with your online store with Maya Kern

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Aug 30, 2018 •  Interviews

Hey, guys! In this episode, I am chatting with Maya Kern, a self-employed comic artist, illustrator, and musician. She is most known for her novels, comics, her popular online shop and Patreon where she shares her newest webcomics.

Get in touch with Maya

Key Takeaway

“Learn absolutely everything you can because it will come handy at some point and you never know where your future is going to go.”

Resources mentioned

💡 Please note: We are supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you! For more info, please read our disclosure.

Special thanks to Maya for joining me today. See you next time!

All artworks by Maya Kern, used with permission

Episode Transcript

Announcer  

Creative, artistic, happy! That’s you. There are endless possibilities for living a creative life. So let’s inspire each other. Art Side of Life interviews with Iva.

Iva Mikles  

Hello everyone, Iva here and welcome to the next episode of Art Side of Life where I chat with inspiring artists and create variety our reality videos. Before we introduce our guests and go to the interview, let’s thank our sponsors. If you’re looking for a top quality print shop and online store to sell your art prints, then you should definitely check out imprint imprint has been helping artists print and sell gallery quality prints of their work all over the world for over a decade. Go to artsideoflife.com/imprint and use promo code art side to get 10% discount. Have you heard of art slicks, I take this subscription box of unique high quality art supplies. Every month you discover new art products, limited edition tools, exclusive supplies, and useful techniques. Go to artsideoflife.com/arts Nex and use promo code art side 10 to get 10% discount. If you are a digital artist, you will love AstroPad app which turns your iPad Pro into a virus graphics tablet for your Mac. So you can use all the programs like Photoshop right on your iPad, go to artsideoflife.com/astro pad and use promo code art side to get 10% discount. And now let’s go back to the interview. My guest today is Maya Karen. And Maya is a self employed comic artist, Illustrator and musician. Originally from Texas now living and working in upstate New York. She’s most known for her novels, comics for popular online shop and Patreon where she shares her newest webcomic. And now please welcome Maya and let’s get to the interview. So welcome everyone to the next episode of Art Side of Life. And I’m super happy to have Maya here. Hi.

Maya Kern  

Hi, thank you for having me. I’m really excited.

Iva Mikles  

Thank you for joining in. Yeah, so let’s just start right away with your background. And maybe you can tell us a bit more about how you started with your artistic career. And what do you remember maybe as the first drawing, which was like stuck into your memory from the childhood?

Maya Kern  

Yeah, so I was really lucky. I actually grew up in like a house where we all did art. My dad was a high school art teacher, and my mom, in addition to doing like massage therapy did like abstract painting, and did a bunch of really weird stuff. So we always we always had art around. I grew up doing basically everything from like ceramics and acrylics to embroidery, and whatever other weird stuff. My dad like teaches papermaking and stuff kind of does everything so I was just always surrounded by I was really lucky. So I can’t really pinpoint any particular art piece, but I think it’s just family background.

Iva Mikles  

And so what kind of influenced you the most maybe from animation series or books, which kind of maybe reflecting your art nowadays.

Maya Kern  

Yeah, so I was really into comics growing up and I’m still really into comics, obviously I make comics, so I hope I’m still into them. Um, I was super into anime. I really liked anything made by my clamp who did like rare thing CardCaptor sucker would you like my favorites? And like Rondo one half by Rumiko Takahashi who is just like insanely good. And I also stuff when I was older stuff like a serious Polit by David Mazur Celli, or goodbye chunky rice, which are just really nice, tight, compact comics. Movies like Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi was really influential to me, I think that came out like late high school for me. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Iva Mikles  

I was just thinking about that year and I’m like, Man, I don’t know.

Maya Kern  

Yeah, I think that was like high school for me, I’m pretty sure and also the things like Zelda and Mario, Harry Potter. I was a big reader growing up, so it was kind of a big amalgamation of everything.

Iva Mikles  

And it was kind of healthy Orvis Did you have a mentor you know, to choose the school or how to study you know, like, where to go when you’re like, Okay, maybe I’ll do art.

Maya Kern  

Yeah. So I actually I went to a like Magnet High School that had would have a focus on like art in general it had like theater and like music and dance and all this other stuff. And they had an art program, and the art program, everyone, all the teachers who like don’t draw comics, never draw comics, don’t draw comics and I got. So I was really sad. And I did photography and costume design for a while. And then I had a portfolio review from a representative from the college that I eventually went to, who looked through my portfolio in my sketchbook and he saw some comics in there. And he was like, You should do comics. And I was like, like, comics, like you’re saying I can do this thing I’ve been wanting to do since I was five. I guess I’m going there.

Iva Mikles  

So how that progressed from there?

Maya Kern  

Yeah, I actually I wouldn’t ended up going to school, it was Minneapolis College of Art and Design. It’s one of the only schools in America that has an actual comics program. Yeah, it’s up in Minnesota. Me coming from Texas, which does not have art school period, it was kind of a big culture shock is is really nice. We have in Texas, a gourd painting school.

Iva Mikles  

That’s the front. But the handle when you were studying already, and then you were like, Okay, I’m improving my art style and stuff. What helped you the most, you know, to kind of like, okay, I have this aha moments like, this helps me so much to create more.

Maya Kern  

So for me, it was just picking anything that seemed interesting to learn, and also following teachers that I liked, because I could find a class that seemed really useful to what I wanted to do. But if I didn’t enjoy it, and if I didn’t like the teacher, I didn’t learn anything. So it’s just, you know, follow up, follow things you’re interested in, even if you don’t think it’s related to what you want to do. Because I learned a bunch of weird stuff over my life that I never thought I would use, and I ended up using a lot of it.

Iva Mikles  

So can you give us some specific example maybe what you can. Now what do you thought? It’s like, oh, that’s no,

Maya Kern  

yeah. So I actually I interned in product design for some time. I like the teacher I liked. I liked the person I interned with because she was a teacher at my school. I didn’t think I would ever do product design in real life. I was like, I’m gonna do comics forever. And now I do product design.

Iva Mikles  

Plus comics, nation, right? Yeah. And

Maya Kern  

like learning pattern making, which was very bad at in school, but I learned how to do it. And so then I think like two or three years after I’d already graduated, and I hadn’t done it for a couple years. I was like, I should try that again. So that’s kind of fun. Because for

Iva Mikles  

example, like, as you mentioned, the pattern making so how do you maybe do it? Or do you have like few tips if someone wants to try it for the first time?

Maya Kern  

Yes, so it really depends on what kind of pattern you want to make. But really, the key is balance, and picking like a unified color palette and the theme. And like being willing to get specific with your theme. Because there’s like 100 million, like really nonspecific Halloween patterns that are just like it’s a pumpkin, like you like this pumpkin right? But if you can do something a little more unique with personality and if you can, give it a nice flow that’s really the key to making something you got to inject some personality and some life into it especially if you’re looking to sell it personally as an individual and not you know, go through like Target or big corporation that can afford to be general because they’re selling to a much larger market.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, that’s definitely true. And so when you mentioned that we’re also like selling the products and going back maybe to the art school what wasn’t your first artistic job or you know, like first movie commission or how did you get like first paid for the art?

Maya Kern  

So actually, I first got paid doing art in college. I did like art tutoring. I did like all other tutoring. I did like childcare for a long time, which was my first like art related job and then like in addition to that I did like a bunch of online commissions for like Tumblr and stuff for like 15 year old super glamorous stuff. Like for a start? Yeah. Yeah, eventually I got a regular freelance gig working for Gaia interactive, who makes Gaia Online, which is like a pixel based form community. That was really interesting to be working there like way past the heyday. site. And I did some uh, I had a bunch of different types of jobs, doing a different a bunch of different stuff because I had like the pixel art and I had like my first comic show I was actually, there was a call for artists on Twitter. And I just sent my email my portfolio and I got like an email immediately. And he’s like, do you want to make this comic? And I’m like, Okay. I want to make that thing.

Iva Mikles  

That’s cool. So how did you contact them? Was it the as you mentioned that yeah, they send you an email and you reply, and you just had a social media or how did that work?

Maya Kern  

Yeah, so for the specifically the comics job, what that was, was it was a call for applicants on Twitter just being like, hey, send me your portfolio link in your email, because I need people to make a comic. It’s Brian Estrada. He makes you know the for exposure, Twitter. Yeah, yeah. So it’s the same guy. He’s really solid. Um, and so he just liked my work my portfolio, I had my own site. But I think he probably also looked through my Twitter and just got back to me, like really fast. The Gaya job was actually like, a friend of a friend knew her friend who was an art director was looking for people to apply for this job. And they couldn’t really do like an open call for applicants. Because they were severely understaffed, and like, couldn’t afford to go through like a large amount of people. I actually also, I almost got a gig working at Mattel once because someone who worked at Mattel saw my table at a convention. So I know there’s a lot of different ways to get noticed.

Iva Mikles  

But it’s always interesting to hear, you know, how you do the networking, or how you can make these like long lasting connections, you know, so because you never know what opportunities you will bring in the future. So yeah, I should get more on Twitter. And

Maya Kern  

yeah, yeah, it’s actually really weird right now, because it used to be like Tumblr was really, really big. And Tumblr has gone through a couple different owners now and is slowly dying. But they’re finally getting like really big names on there at the same time. So it’s this weird. This weird mishmash of like, the user base is leaving and has been leaving for years. But they’re like getting really big, like celebrity names on there at the same time. And there’s not really something that’s replaced it because Twitter, Twitter is like getting bigger for artists lately, but it’s not really the same kind of community. Yeah. And Instagram is, you know, it’s being choked by Facebook. Yeah, with like, the algorithm and everything. It’s really tough. It’s really tough.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, definitely, just to get noticed, then everything. But also, like I just heard recently, when I was listening to one of the podcasts, like the the Facebook is losing a lot of teenagers because they don’t want to hang out at the same place where their parents are, for example, or also there is no search engine, like on YouTube so that they are definitely moving and maybe keeping this nut job and these kinds of things. So there will be definitely fast shifts from platform to platform in the future or near future. Yeah. But for now, what is working the best for you like, recently.

Maya Kern  

So really weirdly, like I definitely sell a lot of things on Instagram somehow. It’s really weird, because I feel like my engagement on Instagram is pretty low. But I like I keep selling things. So I’m pretty sure from Instagram just because of the timing of like when I post things, because I usually try to tie my Instagram posts a little bit different from like Twitter or other platforms. Twitter is also pretty good. I think that’s been slowly growing. And I still have like a little bit of like a luck hold on Tumblr, that we were, we were really my wife and I were really surprised looking at analytics for the last Kickstarter, we ran ran the I think it was like 50 or 60% of the backers were from Tumblr, which was crazy, because it just seems dead.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, but that’s really cool that you had, like support from there. And yeah, so you do a lot of different things. Right. But then maybe let’s kind of talk as well, before we get to the details like, how did you start, you know, to create your own product? Or what was the transition from the thing what they were doing before and how did it all happen?

Maya Kern  

Yeah, so late 2014 Like around November, I was doing my freelance job for a guy interactive, and also freelance comics and a bunch of other stuff. And I overworked myself so much that my arm gave out my drawing arm. And I couldn’t draw for like a month and at the same time, my stepmom had a really bad cancer scare. So I couldn’t work. And my wife who was my girlfriend at the time was like, Well, why don’t we just like focus on the online store and see if we can find a way to Make that make more money. So it can replace the amount of money you would normally make doing work. Um, and it worked really well she put together a sale of like a bunch of stuff I’d already made just packaged it differently is like these grab bags with like nice little themes. And we did better that month than I had been making, like previously doing freelance. Um, within like a few months of that I turned in my like official resignation with my freelance and I stopped taking work for hire, and the online store has just continued to grow. All from that because my arm start, stop working. And my wife is good in business.

Iva Mikles  

But maybe you would never do it if that didn’t happen to you. Right? So

Maya Kern  

yeah, exactly. It’s honestly, like, it was maybe one of the worst times in my life. But I basically have to think it for how we live now. Which is so strange. Yeah,

Iva Mikles  

but sometimes people say that, like if you if you don’t get fired or whatever, you will never start your own thing because you are comfortable where you are. And then you are not willing to take the risk. Maybe.

Maya Kern  

Yeah, I mean, desperation is like the first ingredient for risk taking. So

Iva Mikles  

let’s try to what did you start with with the online shop? Was it the you know, stickers? Or was it the prints? Or how did you do the Yeah, the combinations, as you mentioned?

Maya Kern  

Yeah, we had prints, some little like buttons, um, skirts, kind of what else did we have at the very beginning? Trying to remember?

Iva Mikles  

Or what do you have now? Maybe what the what these

Maya Kern  

charms also? Uh, yeah, she’s she’s supplying answers to the background. But now we have like, we have skirts and books and sketchbooks and enamel pins. And we had, we had scarves for a while, and they’re coming back when it’s cold again, but it’s too hot right now. And we do like microfiber clubs, stickers. We had zipper bags for a while they might be back. We’re looking into doing like, dice bags and some other cool secret stuff that hopefully we’ll be able to do in the future. Hopefully button ups one day.

Iva Mikles  

So if you felt would be like, yeah, definitely cool. Because then you can like figure out what maybe you would like to wear or your friends and then you can get like these testings, or do ask your community on social media, what they would like to have, or how do you like figuring out new product?

Maya Kern  

Well, new products, honestly, part of it is looking at trends and seeing cuz I get a lot of people, if I just post art here, like I want this on this thing, I want this on this thing, which is awesome that people just tell me what they want. The downside of that is that we can’t do a lot of the things that they want, because for a lot of them, we have to like make special patterns. And right now living in apartment, we just don’t have space for it. We’re actually about to move into a house, which is why we’re launching more into apparel soon getting more stuff. But a lot of it is just like finding a manufacturer that is like reliable. And it’s like within our price range, both in terms of like the price per unit and also like the minimum order quantity, which is really difficult. A lot of it comes down to like word of mouth with friends and like trading manufacturers. And then also just my wife being like an Alibaba sleuth, and like looking and seeing who’s reputable and like getting samples, it’s a lot of time and trial and error and a lot of money going into making samples. And the only reason we can afford to do that is because we are funding this all through the sales we’ve already made.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, because when you start for example, with the prints, then you can find like a local store or something like that all printed at home. Right. And then overseas. The other stuff, right, as you mentioned, like either the skirts or just kind of everything you do through Alibaba as well.

Maya Kern  

Yeah, a lot of it not everything. Like obviously prints are printed. In the US. I think there’s a few other things and we have like a partner site that’s run by some friends called BG puja that works with a lot of American printers to do things like all over printed tees and tank tops and tote bags and they have like the chiffon scarves, and like shower curtains and mugs and a bunch of other other things that oh we we don’t have those relationships or like the room to stop that kind of

Iva Mikles  

wondering as well like so where do you store stuff?

Maya Kern  

Yeah, so that’s a separate that’s a slightly partner They’re through. And they do print on demand. So they don’t keep like the big stuff like we do.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, that’s really cool. Because then I mean that you will have to have like, a giant space for everything. So

Maya Kern  

yeah, we’re working on it.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. But that’s really cool. Because then also you can have some, like storage or prepared stuff for orders. And then you calculate like, how many you want to have, or how many requests you have. And that’s based on the order or you have like, specific amount for everything. And you see, like how that goes.

Maya Kern  

So if it’s like a design that we’ve had on an another product, or even like a design that I posted online, we sort of gauge like, the response, both in terms of like, just on like the the artwork itself. But also, if it’s a pattern or an image I’ve drawn that’s done really well on something else, we usually take a bit more of a risk in order more of it on like a new product. If it’s something completely new, we might order only a few of it and run out in five minutes, which we, which is awesome. It’s awesome, but also terrible, because we’re like, Damn, we should have gotten more of that thing. We actually we had a we had a charity sale we did a couple of months ago to go to a local bee charity in our area, to you know, support. Responsible, like beekeeping. Um, and we ordered like 100 enamel pins and 100 special like gold foil journals. I think I have one somewhere. Well, I’m gonna stand up real quick. Yeah,

Iva Mikles  

sure. If you have. If you also want to show other products, if you have around you, then it’s also good.

Maya Kern  

Yeah, so we we had these journals, which you can see that have gold foil, awesome in the middle, and then an enamel pin that went with it. And we were like, Okay, so as they sell, we’re going to keep donating to the charity. Like, every couple of weeks, they sold out in six hours. And they were limited edition. So we couldn’t sell more of them. And we’re just sitting here like we should it should have gotten more. Yeah. Yeah. Because it’s really awesome. We raised like $2,000 for charity, which is amazing to do in that short amount of time. But like we could have raised so much more.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, definitely. Because then you can Yeah, talk about it more or go like, yeah, just so people can show it to others to get inspired. Like, yeah, you should think about baseline. Yeah, so definitely, that’s a great idea. But yeah, maybe then you do another project where you would know like, Okay, this is like mild. I can order more and see how it goes.

Maya Kern  

Yeah, it’s just, it’s so hard to predict what’s going to sell and what isn’t.

Iva Mikles  

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Maya Kern  

Yeah, I actually I have some other charity merchandise that’s in the store. Right now, that’s not limited edition, there’s a pair of butterfly enamel pins, one of them with the the rainbow flag colors, and one of them with the Trans Pride flag colors, and $1 from each of those sales goes to supporting our local LGBT group charity, which especially has programs for supporting trans youth who disproportionately are homeless and just treated terribly. It’s the the worst, we also have more other versions of the B pen that we did before we have an antique gold version and a rainbow metal version, and $1 from each of those sales is going to the same be charities before. And we also have a limited edition of rainbow enamel butterfly pin that is not out currently, but will be out later. And like half the proceeds from that is going to the same LGBT youth charity. So we’re really excited about that we’re planning to do more in the future. There’s so much going on politically right now that we want to do our due diligence and support as best we can.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, definitely, if you can help with just awareness, and so people can talk about it more than definitely it’s Yeah, because sometimes with the media, we are just you know, yeah, yeah. And shared whatever other people want. So,

Maya Kern  

yeah, there’s nothing better than writing off charity contributions to really great organizations that our president would hate.

Iva Mikles  

Maybe this one, I would have to you know, like, because I don’t want to get political. But anyway, so

Maya Kern  

my existence is very political. I’m very obviously I’m married to a woman. So this is

Iva Mikles  

for me, I for me, I like everyone should do what they want. But yeah, because the channel I want to keep with the just aren’t related, because I don’t want to do have the political topics so much. But yeah, it’s Yeah, I mean, John Oliver, like yesterday, and I’m like, Oh, my like, how, how is everything happening? And it’s disgusting. It’s just unbelievable. It’s just like, you have words. Basically, that’s that’s the whole point. But anyway, what were we talking about? So? Oh, yeah. So maybe let’s talk about some, as you mentioned, the events and the supporting, like charities. So sorry. Do you go also for like festivals and these kind of like, like gatherings where you can sell your artworks and talk about these different topics?

Maya Kern  

I don’t really do like local festivals, most of what we do are anime conventions, because that’s where typically, there’s like a little bit more money there than like normal comic conventions. We haven’t really done a lot of local stuff. Because we’re kind of new to the area. But maybe in the future, I’m not sure. But typically, at the conventions we do, there’s not really much of a speaking platform or information, most of that I do online through social media. Because I have some very strong beliefs and how people should be treated. And I honestly do not want money from people who don’t believe that.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, that’s really good to know, like, what do you want? And what do you don’t want so and then you can progress with everything. What do you do like in the way that you are happy about it? So yes, that’s definitely awesome. And when you were setting up the store and thinking about the products you want to start, how did you choose maybe the platform or what tools did you you know, use because some people are just starting with Etsy, but then then you have a lot of fees and everything. So yeah, did you do these kinds of decisions?

Maya Kern  

So Etsy, I started with Etsy back in the day, just because it was easy. But then I had a bunch of people steal my work and like try to resell it or like reprint it and resell it there and Etsy would not take down the listings. So I stopped selling my things there. So I could stop giving Etsy money, I eventually moved to store in V, which then, which was great for a while. But then they initiated a bunch of like fees both to the sellers and to the, the buyers, which was really strange that I would have like sales of like a $5 item and like $3, and fees to the buyer for buying that, which doesn’t make sense. So that really pushed us weird. We now have an independent storefront on WooCommerce. We’re not part of any, like larger storefront, it’s purely like my domain, you can’t find me through like a WooCommerce search engender related to any other stores. And, surprisingly, we’ve been doing really well with that. Other places, usually they charge you for being part of a marketplace, which is part of my problem also, which with Storenvy is they were charging me for being part of a marketplace that I had not been part of for multiple years because you could opt out. And it didn’t make sense. Because I was I’ve been generating all of my own sales, I’m not being found through anybody else’s, like search features or anything like that. It’s all through me. So it doesn’t make sense for us to pay for that service. And WooCommerce has been really great, because there’s just, there’s so many more analytics. And there’s a lot of like, you do have to like purchase a theme. But if you get like a good one. It it’ll continue to be upgraded as soon as WordPress and WooCommerce are upgraded. And there’s just so much more control both over how everything looks, and also on the functions. Behind the scenes, there are a lot of features that we have been able to add that we didn’t have before things like being able to see like a good breakdowns of not just like gross sales, but also like shipping specifically, and how much of coupons has been used and other things like that. And we can see, like, how many hits we’re generating a day and like exactly from where and like, frequent visitors and other stuff like that. It’s, it’s been a really nice shift, I do think Etsy is actually a pretty good platform, if you can control the art theft, because their their fees, their listing fees actually go into sponsoring or paying for they have like their own shipping system, where you can generate shipping labels through them, which is really useful. We actually pay for a service ShipStation for like $25 a month do the same thing. So it’s just do you want to pay a monthly subscription? Or do you want to pay a listing fee? Yeah, because one way or another, you’re gonna have to mail things some way. Yeah. And he’s probably want to be able to print your own shipping labels instead of having to wait for multiple hours at the post office. If you are running any sort of regular business online.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. And are you also using some other tools like I don’t know, FreshBooks for accounting, or these kinds of things.

Maya Kern  

We do like Google Sheets, which is free. So we have a big ol spreadsheet with all of her our different like inventory and expenses and income and specific like convention sales and stuff like that. And we have like a breakdown on all the different types of income and stuff like that. It’s really nice. Oh, really

Iva Mikles  

cool. So is there something you wish you knew before you started this whole art business?

Maya Kern  

There’s so much I wish I knew. Um, I think a lot of it comes down to being able to pinpoint your demographic is really useful for what I do. Like I said before, you can’t try to sell to the broadest audience and a lot of people their initial instinct is to try to sell something to as many people as possible so they watered down their ideas and they watered down their ethics and their opinions and their personality. And you just end up with like bland unsellable junk right. Yeah, but just like for an example My My work focuses on my perspective, which is a LGBTQIA largely like fat and body positive content largely feminine. As you can tell um, so that’s, that’s pretty pared down. That’s already a level a lot of levels of distinction from just like trying to target everyone like them. Yeah. Yeah, it doesn’t hurt you to go more niche because there’s always someone out there who likes the same things you do, who hasn’t found media or merchandise that they like that they associate with that they feel strongly about because especially the larger corporations aren’t trying to sell to them. Yeah. Because as weird as you are, there’s someone out there, there’s multiple people out there who are as weird as you are, and who want something that they can’t find in, in Target or another big chain.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. Because then a lot of people are always talking about like, going you are building a community or like, because it’s a relationship, like building a friendship, and then people kind of follow your opinions and kind of how do you say the patient and that kind of thing? That the idea not so much as a product of the visual, but the thing would you have an opinion about?

Maya Kern  

Yeah, I mean, you don’t have to be loud, necessarily with your opinions. There’s a lot of artists out there who don’t voice certain opinions, but you do have to be honest to the best of your ability. Because if you make something disingenuous that you’re just trying to make, like for popularity, think it’ll sell or something, it really shows, because the love isn’t there. And the love is what makes hard work possible.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, because definitely, I totally agree that you should basically do and support the things with you strongly believing and just like, so everyone feels comfortable. And, you know, no one is judged for whatever they are doing. Because then what are we doing here? Right. Like, overall, so that’s definitely awesome that you do that. And, yeah, so continue creating awesome products that you created this community. So that’s, that’s really great. And so if we go back to your art and how you develop the your skills, what would you say you know, that something like really help you to make your art special? Do you have something you know, you can give us a tip like maybe about designing characters or everything, which kind of we should know, but maybe we don’t know.

Maya Kern  

Um, I think what makes my art special again, is like my very specific perspective, um, my skill set, I really don’t think is that unique, you can go on YouTube or Skillshare and learn how to, like make a pattern or how to, like draw thing. There’s, you know, a big time commitment involved in learning any craft, including artwork. But what makes mine unique, is that I, the way I very strongly feel about making media and making merchandise that is accepting of like, queer people, people like me, fat people, anything. You know, women, obviously, it’s it’s a lot about acceptance and love. And just trying to, to make things that make me feel like I’m doing good work.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, so definitely the message and the IPS, as we talked about, yeah. And therefore, the artwork itself, there you have a specific color palette you prefer, or it differs from design, design order, you know, these kinds of things.

Maya Kern  

It really, it really depends on what I’m doing. I do really like pastels and pinks and like, especially like a pink purple blue palette. Um, a lot of my work like centers around that. But it really it depends on what I’m working on thematically, because again, like patterns are so different. I’m making like a, like a pumpkin pattern again, because that’s my only idea right now.

Iva Mikles  

It’s only me so far. Pumpkins,

Maya Kern  

it’s always telling me. Um, that would be pretty radically different looking from like, Rainbow lollipops, you know, it’s really about being able to mold yourself to any particular challenge you decide to take on and filling building like a color board and a mood board. I always suggest stealing colors from photos or artwork that you like, and editing them, obviously. But if so, it’s gonna be really hard to work. Yeah, yeah, if someone’s got a really nice color palette, I mean, as long as you’re doing something pretty different. You can always work off of other images and it’s a good way to like push and pull. Yeah, I have like a, a nerdy Dungeons and Dragons pattern that I made. And the color palette was inspired by a piece that I saw by searching Tang who’s just this phenomenal artist who does things with color. I could never dream what I dream of doing. And so it’s this really nice rich like deep blue purple background with these really You pigmented, like magenta, orange, yellow sort of theme around it. And I took inspiration from a color palette and like shifted it to my needs. But it’s always, it’s always good to look around you and obviously have your spin. But

Iva Mikles  

if you blocked and how do you then get the new ideas or from your surroundings? Or do you take like notes when you go outside and you see like something happening or these kinds of things that oh, this is I can use this in artworks or product.

Maya Kern  

Yeah, I have, like little note notes open on my phone, there’ll be like pattern ideas, and then I’ll just jot down stuff when I’m out or like, I’ll sketch something in my sketchbook or something like that. And it’ll usually start from like one drawing or like a couple of words, and then I’ll build like a theme around it. From there, once I get more serious, I have a Trello board that I used to organize all of my stuff, like it has like different potential projects, like by category, and that also has things. Like that’s how I organized like my Patreon rewards when I do that, and keep track of them. Um,

Iva Mikles  

so And how do you then do the Patreon or what? You know, for example, if someone wants to sign up for your Patreon, like what they can expect?

Maya Kern  

Yeah, so I run a Patreon on a monthly schedule. And I have things like, process videos of my artwork, or access to a bunch of sketch dumps that nobody else gets to see. Things like early access to my comic updates, I have a few physical rewards like I have a postcard to where I send out a monthly postcard. And we also have other merchandise, rewards with other, just whatever we have to send out like a charm or enamel pin or prints or whatever to go out that month. There’s a bunch of other stuff on there. I don’t remember I have so many things.

Iva Mikles  

Like I just did.

Maya Kern  

I have the big checklist.

Iva Mikles  

So you can write down stuff. I also don’t remember stuff. So I have to write down everything. And then I do like these little boxes with checks and all of

Maya Kern  

that. Yeah. Oh, yeah. We do like store coupons and like early access to new merchandise on there to bunch of things like that.

Iva Mikles  

Oh, really? Cool. Yeah. So you have all of these? And then also you as I said, you’re working on the on the comic. And so yeah, how do you combine like, who works on what like you do illustration? And then your wife does the writing? Or how do you combine.

Maya Kern  

So I do pretty much all of the artwork, and also the writing and everything my wife, she does graphic design, web design, she does like inventory management, working with all of the, like, manufacturers that make the things we do, she does basically all the business side of stuff. And then also things like designing the site, building the store, sending out all of the store orders, basically all the things that actually like get the money flowing. Then I just drove him. Yeah, and I just I plug away on my Cintiq for 500 hours drawing something. And eventually I emerged from my Gremlin cave, and I’m like, here’s the new drawing. Oh my god.

Iva Mikles  

That happens to me as well, but I can really, really fast. So in the winter, I am like a snowman. You know, like completely white and I come up and one day and like to know like, what happened?

Maya Kern  

So clearly, I just 10 Okay, so well. Yeah. I’m definitely had tans in my lifetime.

Iva Mikles  

So yeah, so we still need vitamin D, right? When we go out and just like, even though we work all the time. So how does your normal day look like, you know, do you work seven days a week or, like you take days off? Actually,

Maya Kern  

it depends really, I work most days a week because I am a workaholic. I usually get up around like nine and like eat a little breakfast, get to work, take a break around lunchtime. work more. It depends. Sometimes. I’ll work until like, seven or six and sometimes I’ll help like, I’ll like look up and it’s like 11pm I’m like well damn. Yeah, I do. We take time off. We play a nerdy like d&d game today together on like Fridays, and we take time for that and like other stuff we do with friends. I actually run like a life drawing group with some friends online because we’re all spread out all over the country, where we do some very low stakes, life drawing and all laugh about how better drawing sorry, I should join you. It’s really fun. And, um, and we obviously we travel for conventions. And we usually try to take, like extra time around conventions to, especially if we have friends in the area, like, stay there for a while. And some days, I’ll just like, take a day. And I’d be like, I don’t want to work today. I’m not doing that thing. But it’s all very like fluid. Because again, I don’t do I don’t have traditional deadlines, like most artists or people do, because I’m not working for anybody else. So I just I keep like a really good calendar of like, I want this thing done by now. Can I do it? We’ll see. And most of it actually revolves around like my comic and getting like a, I have a regular update schedule. Each week, I do like three strips of my comic online. So I have that regular update schedule. And everything else I do is just like formatted around. How long did that take this week? Was it 15 hours? Probably.

Iva Mikles  

So do you also measure these kind of things, like how much time you spend on what, like we toggle or something else.

Maya Kern  

I have like a rough average, I each of my comic strips can take between like two and six hours to make it usually rough. Roughly averages about to 15 or 20 hours of work a week. And then everything else is spent on like either doing like rewards for Patreon, or merchandising, or, you know, making art to put on stuff. Yeah, to sell.

Iva Mikles  

But it’s really cool. So like when you mentioned like you put stuff somewhere like products. And so how do you combine your your incomes? Or percentage wise? Is it mainly the shop? Or is it also like Patreon? Or how do you put the eggs in the basket?

Maya Kern  

Oh, I took notes on this beforehand. So I would have numbers for you. We have a breakdown on our year to date. 63.9% of our income is from the online store. Oh, cool. That’s awesome. Yeah, conventions is 23%. And Patreon is about eight and a half percent. So and then there’s like a some leftover for miscellaneous income for random things I don’t remember.

Iva Mikles  

Thank you for sharing. That’s really always helpful because people are wondering like, okay, where should I put the most of my focus on if I wanted to buy myself or do it on the side? If you have a full time job or freelance or whatever?

Maya Kern  

Yeah, I actually I made a video on this for my patrons. That was recording of a panel I did at a recent convention that I guess did that, about how to make webcomic you’ll actually finish and one of one of the points on there is merchandising and how to make money off of your comic, because it’s really hard. And I’ve been making a comic for six years that I started in college, that I didn’t think I would be making this long. And I didn’t go into it with merchandising in mind. So it’s a it’s it’s kind of rough because I don’t make a lot of money on it. And I could make so much more money on it if I had started out knowing how to merchandise things properly. Oh,

Iva Mikles  

so this one with the Patreon like, what is the tier they can? People can pay now to watch this video, for example. Time dollars. Okay, so it’s like the second theory, I guess, right? Yeah, the

Maya Kern  

second tier most of most of my things unlock at $5 Because I’m a firm believer in giving people access to as much as I can. The only things that are like above that are things like physical merchandise, which obviously cost money to actually physically produce. Yes, and I’ll send mail out. And then I have like a special stream tear where I do like a request stream once a month. That’s super fun. And that’s like higher up on there too. But everything else is basically $5 or $1

Iva Mikles  

Cool. That’s nice. I will check that out as well. And yeah, I need to start doing more Patreon I never like started with it so much and also like there’s so many awesome artists there and so much great content so I should definitely you know, like also recommend anyone that they should really do it.

Maya Kern  

Yeah, I It’s such a it’s such a good platform. It’s definitely more skewed to like musicians, I think any people producing video content really, which is how Patreon got its start, but there are just so many awesome comics and artists in general but especially comics that you can support on there, which I always think is really great to do because there’s not a lot of money in comics.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah and when you mentioned also the the festivals do you bring your comic to festivals or what do you bring to festivals or how do you prepare for that?

Maya Kern  

Um, so that’s mostly my wife’s job now which is great because I’m very bad at organization. But yeah, we bring like the we bring all the merchandise basically the books that we print and the skirts and the sketchbooks and enamel pins and postcards and anything we want to sell we bring and she has this big Like PVC setup that she’s built where she like drapes, fabric over it to hide the ugly pipes. And we have this like wooden shelf with multiple levels that we display like the books and the journals on. And it looks really nice because I didn’t make it

Iva Mikles  

so I know what that was he usually go to like what do you can recommend, which is great like for merchandise or art greens.

Maya Kern  

So we really like anime Boston, which you’ve been to Boston. So these first Yeah, no, Boston’s pretty good conventions are sort of in a flux right now a lot of our conventions that we had done for a really long time. We haven’t been able to do either because we moved or like this year. I we just did a con a couple weeks ago was in Dallas, and it used to be Wilson Fort Worth now. It used to be my favorite convention because I have so many friends there and they were always really welcoming. But this this past weekend was bad for many reasons, including there’s some rampant art theft that went on. And just the move to Fort Worth hasn’t been good. So I don’t know what convention to recommend anymore. Other than like anime, Boston’s good.

Iva Mikles  

Okay, so that’s about Yeah, good. Yeah, I also been to what is it the designer con in LA? Have you tried that one? Or

Maya Kern  

no? No, I haven’t. Um, there is like SURTEX in New York City, which is like a textile like pattern, all that sort of convention, which I really want to attend, just to walk around again, because I walked around it in high school. But I’m not really super interested in tabling at those kinds of conventions, because those are primarily if you’re an artist. There you are looking to get your patterns and your designs, bought by a company and like licensed out, which isn’t really what I’m looking to do. I really want to have creative ownership and control over my work and to be able to print it how I see fit.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, definitely. Because then if you want to continue doing what you want, and yeah, yeah, like investment or someone, like telling you what to do. That’s totally different.

Maya Kern  

Yeah. And I, you know, again, like I have some pretty strong political beliefs. That can be a hard sell for a lot of corporations targets getting like better targets pretty good, relatively speaking, but it’s just not something I’m interested in.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. Well, then the plans for maybe the future conventions? Do you know, wherever you are not yet.

Maya Kern  

Let me look, because this is this is the thing that we have on our an event schedule. I think we only have two conventions confirmed for the rest of the year, which is kinetic con, and Connecticut, July 12, through 15th and flame con in New York City. And August 18, through 19th, which we’re really looking forward to flame con because it is a gay themed convention for like gay art and stuff. So yeah, and all of our friends are gonna be there because they’re all gay.

Iva Mikles  

There will be a really colorful convention.

Maya Kern  

Yeah, it’ll be really, really great. Because it’ll just be all of all of us. LGBTQ people flocking together, making cool art and hanging out in time square.

Iva Mikles  

So definitely will have fun. That sounds like fun.

Maya Kern  

Yeah, it’ll be really good. We’re actually we’re gonna make a trip of it and go to like the Nintendo store and visit my brother and have fun.

Iva Mikles  

Definitely, that sounds good. Yeah, I’m now like, intrigued to join. Yeah. And if what about the future project, then, you know, like something in five to 10 years. But you will be like, What is your dream scenario? Maybe what are you working on? And but yeah,

Maya Kern  

so I have this problem where I want to do everything. I have my comic, which I’ve been working on for the past six years. And it’s slated to end probably in about two years, which I’m really excited for, because it’ll free up a bunch of time for me to do other really cool things. We’re working on printing, getting more into apparel. Once we move into the house, we’re going to do like a screen printing setup and do t shirts. But I’m really excited for next year hopefully doing button ups because we want to crowdfund that with a bunch of our friends. And eventually, I would actually like to do like a full apparel line, especially one that focuses on like plus size and like body positivity would be really incredible. I also like this is not going to happen in five years, but my bucket list is always like make a dating sim, write a romance novel, and raise either chickens or bees because they can’t cohabitate, but I want one of them.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, you can definitely hear that. My father has bees. So yeah, yeah, definitely possible.

Maya Kern  

Yeah, but I can’t have both because then the chickens will eat the bees.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. So or maybe you have to set them separate somehow?

Maya Kern  

Yeah, well, it’s a pick one scenario. Um, but other than that, like, I want to do more charity work with, like, especially the LGBTQIA community, do do good work from my Community Give Back, um, raise money for causes I believe in. Um, we, my wife and I have talked for a long time about finding a way to teach our skills, or something similar teacher skills to youth in our community and try to give them means to make a living later on down the road. Yeah, that’s really

Iva Mikles  

important. If you can do like workshops about merchandising, and in art community or something like yeah, business courses that I think that’s really awesome. So, yeah, good to see that. So hopefully, you do it in the near future. And before we actually say goodbye, because I don’t want to hold you too long. And so you can share the last piece of advice and the key takeaway, and then we will slowly finish.

Maya Kern  

Yeah, so I have like two pieces of advice. I think I touched on this earlier, the first thing is to learn absolutely everything that you can, because it’s going to come in handy at some point, and you never know where your future is going to go. So maybe that weird, like 3d workshop you took where you didn’t think he was going to apply at all to the illustration major you were going for? This is not personal.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, like someone can, like even someone don’t. So

Announcer  

yeah,

Maya Kern  

but it’ll always teach you like, even if it doesn’t teach you a skill you necessarily use later, they’ll teach you a different way to think about something. So I would say follow any path that you’re enthusiastic about. The other. The other point is to be authentic to who you are and what you want to make, and try to do something good with your time.

Iva Mikles  

Yes, they agree. Because yeah, I mean, if you do something, what you can influence others and inspire and just help someone to do what they want. That’s, I think, the best thing ever, so yeah, definitely agree. And yeah, so I really want to thank you again for being here. He was

Maya Kern  

super nice. Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. Good time.

Iva Mikles  

Thank you so much. And yeah, thanks, everyone, for watching or listening. And I’ll see you guys in the next episode. Bye. Hey, guys, thank you so much for listening. I really appreciate you being here. You can find all the resources mentioned in this episode at artsideoflife.com. Just type a guest name in the search bar. There is also a couple of free artists resources ready for you on the website as well. So go check it out. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher so I can reach and inspire more artists like you. If you want to watch the interviews, head over to artsideoflife.com/youth you continue to inspire each other and I will talk to you guys in the next episode. Bye.

Announcer  

Thanks for listening to the Art Side of Life podcast at www.artsideoflife.com

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Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am an artist, illustrator, founder of Art Side of Life®, and Top Teacher on Skillshare. Since 2009 I've worked as an illustrator, character designer, art director, and branding specialist focusing on illustration, storytelling, concepts, and animation. I believe that we are all creative in infinite numbers of ways, so I've made it my mission to teach you everything I know and help either wake up or develop your creative genius. Learn more about me.

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