“Heads not hands”: How I print, drop-ship, consign, and sell my work internationally from my bedroom
Updated: May 9
When I worked with my mum at Kids’ Gallery, an extracurricular art school for kids, we would often say “heads not hands”. The slogan refers to prioritising strategy over operations. Basically, if you were doing work that relied more on your hands than your brain, then you could delegate, automate, or eliminate that task.
This time last year, I sold my first print, Lei Tung Lanterns. I printed it using a local printer, bought an Ikea frame, and hand-delivered it. Once the creative part of painting Lei Tung Lanterns was finished, it was clear that the logistics of printing and shipping was “hands” not “heads”, and could therefore be handed off.
I realised that If I was going to monetise my art without exacerbating my chronic illnesses, I needed to find ways to delegate, automate, and eliminate the logistical parts of the work that anyone could do.
I’m hoping that the following set-up is helpful to anyone who has a computer, a little bit of money to set up commerce platforms, and proprietary art.
I’m always looking for ways to streamline and improve, so if you have suggestions or feedback, feel free to contact me here.
First let’s break down what I sell:
Open series prints, which include but are not limited to the Hong Konger collection
Limited series prints, which are signed, numbered, museum-quality Hong Konger prints available locally
The Hong Konger Anthology book, which I sell mainly through consignment via local bookstores
Merchandise, which I experimented with but have not perfected yet
Open series prints
What are they? Open series prints are affordable versions of my artwork that aren’t signed, come in smaller sizes, and aren’t limited edition. I sell them in two sizes 8x10” and 18x20” online through my website. They’re my way of making my art more budget-friendly.
How do I sell them? I don’t manufacture open series prints myself. Instead, I use a print-on-demand drop-shipping service called Printful, which is connected using an API to my Squarespace commerce platform. (Drop-shipping is when a product goes straight from the manufacturer to the customer).
Whenever I get an order, Printful is automatically told to print and ship from its nearest manufacturer, leaving me free to make more art rather than manage operations.
Why do I do it like this? before using Printful, I experimented with Society6, Printify, and a local printer/hand-deliver set-up. next week, I’ll do a run-down of why I opted for Printful in the end. the major takeaway is that I get a decent cut of the revenue, my involvement is eliminated, and the quality of the prints and packaging is better.
The one downside to using Printful is that they don’t have a local manufacturer in Hong Kong meaning that when people order to Hong Kong, the shipments take a while. It’s annoying for customers who want to receive prints ASAP, but it’s a small enough wait to tolerate.
Why don’t keep stock? Some customers have asked for me to keep a local inventory for emergency purchases or pop-up sales. I used to print and keep my own stock of open series Hong Kongers, but because I have so many different Hong Kongers, it’s very difficult to stock and maintain over 90 different prints. In the end, I bite the bullet on a longer wait time with the promise that when customers receive their orders, the art is freshly printed, brand-new, and beautiful.
Limited series prints
What are they? I only ever print one massive print of every Hong Konger — I call it the Collector’s Print. It’s 84x56cm and comes with a holographic seal and certificate. If you own that one, you own the only and the largest print of that Hong Konger. Because it’s one-of-a-kind, it is also the most expensive print I sell.
The collector’s print has 30 smaller cousins called Gallery Prints. Like the Collector’s Prints, Gallery Prints are signed, numbered, and on archival museum-quality paper, but they are smaller at 40x60cm.
You can get the full details on Collector’s and Gallery Prints here.
How do I sell them? I print my limited series prints exclusively and locally at Spectrart in Tsim Sha Tsui. (If you go there, you’ll even see a Gallery Print of Room with a View!) I know the title of this blog post says “in my bedroom” but this is really the only time I need to be physically outside of my bedroom.
Why do I do it like this? I really like working with Bryan at Spectrart, and I want to support local printers in Hong Kong and not just drop-ship from international companies. After picking up prints from Bryan, I hand-deliver the work myself across Hong Kong.
The idea behind the “original” Hong Konger: I number, title, and signature every limited series print in pencil, and the collector’s print even gets a signed certificate and holographic seals.
The silver holographic seal is stuck to the certificate while its complementary gold holographic seal is stuck to the back of the print. The seals have a unique number that match each other, the certificate, and an online archive.
Since I make my Hong Kongers on an iPad, I wanted to create a special one that would serve as the “original”. I liked the idea of the certificate signifying that that is the “official Hong Konger”.
Why don’t I keep stock? there are now around 90 Hong Kongers. I do not print all of the Collector’s Prints and Gallery Prints for all of them in one go.
It makes a lot more sense for me to print depending on orders and then hand-deliver the crisp and fresh print. That way, there is no risk of damage in storage and the cost of printing, storage, and maintenance is minimised for me.
The Hong Konger Anthology book
What is it? The Hong Konger Anthology is the coffee table book I published in December 2021. it contains 70 Hong Kongified New Yorker covers, 70 corresponding poems, and 70 backstories to the artwork. IT sold out its first print run in three weeks and I now carry and ship stock of its second.
How do I sell it? I published two versions of my book. Regal Printing Limited in Kwai Chung prints the local edition and Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Platform prints the international edition.
For the local editions, I sell copies locally through my website here and then ship them using the local courier service, SF Express.
I also have consignment deals with local Hong Kong bookstores. International customers can either order through the local bookstores or through Amazon, depending on their shopping preferences.
Currently, the local bookstores that stock The Hong Konger Anthology are: Bookazine, Kelly & Walsh, thebookshop at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the Lion Rock Press, and Asia Society. if you would like to see the book stocked somewhere or would even like to stock it yourself, get in touch here.
In December, I tried using Printful (the drop-shipping platform I use for my open series prints) to make merchandise.
I sampled a range of Hong Konger-themed mugs, shirts, crewnecks, laptop stickers, and tote bags in the build-up to the winter holidays and analysed the data that came from that test-run.
The results weren't promising. The fabrics were flimsy, shipping times were long, and my cut of the revenue was not great.
In the end, I figured that if I was going to do merchandise, I would either have to manufacture locally with better quality-control or partner with another brand. So now I’m working on a project pertaining to the latter. Stay tuned…
Thanks for reading this week’s blog post. Next week, I’ll do a more specific deep dive into why I picked Printful as my printer and drop-shipping service over Printify, Society6, and local printers.
If you’re interested in any of the following products mentioned in the blog, here are some handy links to my: