Jessica Araus launched an Etsy store during the pandemic to sell her custom illustrations and crafts and uses Smartmockups to drive new sales. Designs include custom designed couple portraits, pet portraits, relationship timelines, and bespoke Christmas ornaments.
Jessica Araus realised she could draw when she was in the third grade. Years later while in high school, her interest in drawing developed into a passion. “I used to spend my free time recreating album cover art from my favorite rock bands,” she says. “[Today] I combine traditional media like watercolor, colored pencils, and gouache to render semi-realistic illustrated portraits.”
Born in Mexico, Jessica taught English as a second language. After meeting and falling in love with a Dutchman, she made the move from her homeland to the Netherlands in 2015. Finding work was difficult as she learnt the language. “In order to be able to teach in the Netherlands, I had to have a decent level of Dutch, which I didn’t have.” Jessica took on various roles, from dog walking to babysitting and cleaning houses in order to earn an income. During that time, she also launched an online clothing business selling hand-embroidered Mexican dresses.
Prior to the pandemic in 2020, Jessica started looking for teaching work again. “My Dutch level had improved, so I thought I would have a better chance… but I had no luck and got more than 15 rejections,” she said. Her online clothing store was then impacted by the global pandemic.
The challenging COVID-19 and job search situation led Jessica to a “lightbulb” moment and prompted her back towards her first passion: her art. “[In] March 2020, I started offering custom portraits through my Instagram stories. To my surprise, it was a success!” she says.What started as an outlet to showcase her colourful illustrations on her social platform quickly began building into a business. “People started writing to me, and I landed several art commissions. Shortly after, I launched my Etsy shop offering custom portraits and illustrations.”
“The pandemic was such a gift to me because it made me fall back in love with my art. And I also realized I can thrive doing something I love. It's not that I didn't love the jobs I did in the past, but I found where my genius is.”
“I like that custom portraits often come with personal photos and a story. Also, for some people the pandemic meant loss, so [her artwork] was a way to cheer people up. Friends requested pet and family portraits to send to loved ones who were feeling down during difficult times.”
With a previous background in e-commerce, Jessica was aware that launching her online business and Etsy store with quality product photography was key to her success. She uses Smartmockups as part of the process to showcase the final pieces of artwork on her Etsy website. “As an artist, I value time, and I’d rather spend it creating art than taking and editing photos. This is my second year using Smartmockups Pro and it's a great value for the money,” she says. “When I first searched for a mockup service/plan, it was clear Smartmockups fit my needs best. Having a wide variety of frame mockups was an important criterion for me in choosing a plan, and Smartmockups had the most creative choices.”
“Smartmockups regularly adds new designs to their collection, which is great. I believe that some of my listings convert better because I use Smartmockups on the thumbnails, which incites customers to click.”
Using Smartmockups also gives Jessica the ability to add Etsy listings faster, which gives her a robust shop offering a wide range of products to her clients.
“What I love about [Smartmockups] is that I don't have to worry about setting up my space or buying frames to display my art. I can just upload a finished piece [of art] to Smartmockups and have professional-looking product photos in a couple of minutes,” she says. “I'm able to choose from portrait and landscape frames (even square and canvas) in different sizes. I can also make mockups with isolated frames, or have them aesthetically displayed in different rooms.”
“Canva is also an important tool in my business. I used it to make a PDF opt-in e-book which people can download when they subscribe to my newsletter, and I’ve used [Canva] to design giveaway posts for social media. I also use it regularly to make promotional Pins for my blog posts and to create attractive seasonal designs for my monthly newsletters,” she says.
Jessica’s art business is now halfway through its second year. She’s seen remarkable results and learned a lot along the way.
“When I started my Etsy shop, I knew nothing about SEO, so I barely got views. Since then, I've changed my titles and tags, using long-tail keywords so people can find my products,” she says. “When it comes to selling on Etsy, photos are very important. You can have an amazing product, but if you don't have high-quality photos, your product will be overshadowed by the millions of other Etsy shops. Crafting a good description for your product matters too.”
For those thinking about starting an art business, Jessica generously shared some advice from what she’s learned in the past year, including not letting any perceived barriers stand in your way, and remembering to invest time in you and your skills.
“My first tip is to start with what you have. When I started my art business, I didn't have a dedicated workspace. I was making custom portraits from my dining table until my boyfriend and I moved to a bigger apartment where I could set up an art space for myself.”
“My second tip is to make time for deliberate practice. When I started making portraits, I wasn't good at drawing/painting mouths. One time, a customer didn't like how I had painted her husband’s teeth. After that experience, I watched tutorials on YouTube and practiced rendering mouths, which helped me improve my skills. Like Elizabeth Gilbert says, ‘It is a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at.’”
As if her commissions weren’t enough, Jessica has also recently started blogging about art, and created an e-book (using Canva) with tips to improve likeness in custom portraits.
"As I evolve as an artist, I'd like to share more resources and tips for creatives."
On the product front, one of her biggest sellers from the past year--custom pet Christmas ornaments--remains a top seller and she continues to work on creating new products, such as birth announcement cards, art prints, greeting cards, and mugs.
“I have already created the designs, but I haven't had the time to sit and publish the listings. It turns out, commission work takes a lot of time! Hopefully, I can publish the new products in the second half of the year.”
Jessica’s story is an inspiring example of someone who turned their passion into a profession.
"Not only did I start my own illustration business but I also created a lifestyle I love. I’m doing something I'm passionate about, and I’m getting paid for it. I couldn’t be happier!"