By Carolyn Edlund
Meet Minnesota native Giesla Hoelscher, an artist with a great idea. She creates collages of cityscapes, landmarks, and well-loved places in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Chicago and other cities, as well as Midwest colleges.
What’s so great about Giesla’s idea? She uses images of places the public has emotionally bonded with to create collages and other items that are powerfully compelling to a buyer.
An earlier article, Sell Your Art by Making a Connection discussed themes as an idea for producing a line of consumer products. Let’s see how Giesla takes this to a whole new level, and has created a business with unlimited possibilities.
AS: Why did you start making your collages?
GH: I learned the collage technique while I was in school for graphic design and really loved it. After I graduated in 2001 and had a hard time finding a job as a graphic designer after 9/11, I started my business which at that time mostly focused on handmade items. I loved doing the collages and I thought it’d be really cool to try the technique I learned with my own photography of local places. I did one collage of St. Paul and got a small positive response. I approached a local gallery with it and they told me if I could make five more so I had a total of six, they’d give me a small show. That’s what started the whole thing. I started creating them out of my love for where I live and as it’s grown, I’ve gotten a chance to talk to people who are just as excited about my work and where they live as I am (or even more so). It’s so fun to sell to those people because they are just like me.
AS: How are you marketing your work?
GH: I initially started doing art fairs and from there was noticed by retailers (frame shops, small art galleries) who approached me to sell my work on consignment. I eventually became connected with a few retailers who sold enough of my work that they switched from consignment to wholesale. Wanting to stretch myself from doing just doing the location work, I started creating collages that are inspired by vintage advertising which I’ve always been fascinated by. Since it’s so different from my location work, I chose to sell that exclusively on Etsy.
AS: How do you choose the elements for each one?
GH: Extensive research and help when I can get it. I’ve learned so much I didn’t know about where I live just by doing these collages. I try to get a local’s perspective for each collage. For the colleges, I try to find current students or alumni to tell me little things that only students who go there would know. Rituals, off campus hangouts, that kind of thing. I could easily just go to the school website and read about all the history and what the student buildings are, and I guess that’d get the point across, but it wouldn’t make that connection and that’s really important to me. As I expand my work to include areas outside of Minnesota, the research becomes doubly important. I want the collages to appeal people that are from the area as well as to tourists, and that can be difficult since most literature I find is aimed at tourists.
AS: Tell us about your custom work.
GH: I hadn’t considered doing custom work until I was approached by a customer who asked me for a collage for her dad’s 50th birthday which coincided with the 75th anniversary of their family service garage. They gave me newspaper articles, old photos, and asked me to take current photos of the garage. It was then that I realized that so many people keep their photos and other memorabilia closed away in albums and hardly ever show them off. I thought, “How awesome would it be to give people an opportunity to show off their memories in one piece of art?” It’s hard to try to decide what photos you want to frame and hang up. What’s great about a collage is you don’t have to decide.
Since placing an ad on Google a couple of years ago, I’ve been getting work from around the country from people who’ve wanted to do collages for birthdays, anniversaries, to show off their custom car, commemorative of a softball team, you name it. It’s so fun to see what people give me and to create something they really love from it. It’s a new challenge every time, kind of like putting together a puzzle.
AS: What are your plans for the future?
GH: I’d like to continue to travel and create collages from around the United States. Eventually I’d like to travel internationally to capture places like Paris and Ireland.
AS: What are some effective ways you have found for increasing sales?
GH: A lot of customers have asked me about having a store so I recently opened a studio to give customers a way to shop when I’m not at art fairs. I’ve found that locally people prefer to purchase artwork in person instead of through my website so they don’t have to pay for shipping. Twitter and Facebook have been huge for me to spread the word about my work and create a more national fan base rather than just locally. It hasn’t resulted in more sales just yet, but right now I see the connections to be more crucial than the sales. The more people I can connect with throughout the US will definitely help me later on as I try to create collages of different areas.
AS: How do you work with your art publisher?
GH: The relationship is rather new so I’m still learning about what they need from me to make sales and they’re learning how I create my art so they know what to tell their customers. They’ve been able to sell my artwork to places that I would’ve never thought to approach and also places that might’ve been difficult for me to approach as an artist with no representation. So far they’ve taken over my wholesale accounts which is quite a relief for me as it’s hard for me as an individual to provide the quantity and discounts that most wholesalers want.
AS: What suggestions would you have for emerging artists?
In my eyes, being truly successful is being able to support yourself solely from your art and I’m not quite there. I still have a part-time job to support myself through the winter months when there are no art fairs in Minnesota and also just to provide a regular paycheck as custom work and retail orders can be spotty. That being said, because I’m able to make a good portion of my living from my art, I do consider myself to be successful on a small scale.
My suggestion is to surround yourself with a team of people who support and help you. It can get pretty tough sometimes – financially, emotionally and creatively. If you feel alone, it can be enough to make you want to quit, or at the very least pack it in for a long time. Know that it always gets better if you’re on the right track; if you’re making the art that you love and that is sellable. I’ve had some pretty downright awful days but I can’t imagine doing anything else. There will always be bad clients and bad sales and sometimes they can come at the worst times. Continue to look forward and make change for yourself. It doesn’t happen overnight or even within a few years, but I believe if you’re marketing yourself well and showing people how awesome you are, success will happen eventually.
Visit Giesla Hoelscher’s website for more information and her complete portfolio.