Ali Manning is a book artist who creates under the website name Vintage Page Designs. She makes handmade books, using papers and stitching at the binding. Her own mixed media books are inspired by the forests of New England, where she’s lived for over 20 years, and the gardens of her home country England.
Two years ago, she created an online community called Handmade Book Club. She provides tutorials, challenges, and a place where like-minded artists can exchange tips and ideas. Members interact through a Facebook page as well as Zoom calls and demos.
Listen here or download from iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, CastBox, or Stitcher.
Here are some great takeaways from our conversation:
- I’d like to start by giving a shoutout to craft magazines. We all know we can find art inspiration by searching Instagram or watching YouTube videos. But don’t forget that there are many craft magazines out there where you can find how-to articles for just about every art discipline, and you can learn about artists you may not have heard of before. Just go to your local bookstore, and you can find Somerset Studio, which is about paper arts and mixed media, as well as Quilting Arts magazine, many beading magazines, and so much more.
- Ali likes to give away value to others. For example, she has a section of tutorial videos on her website that are free resources for anyone to view. Of course you don’t want to give away everything for free. But providing free videos gives people a chance to know what you’re like, it lets them know you’re an expert in a particular area, and it helps to build community. They also give people an example of what you teach so that they can see if they like your teaching style and can follow your descriptions and steps.
- Offering online communities is quite popular in the art world right now. Even before we were shut down last year and couldn’t do classes in person, online communities were thriving. Ali created her Handmade Book Club to offer tips and lessons to her members. But the big thing you should know about online communities is that it’s more than just the host offering info and encouragement to the members. The members also offer that to each other. Your community will benefit from the experience and knowledge of every member, so take advantage of that as a way to provide even more content to everyone.
- What you offer in your community is up to you, but there are a few things that are common to most communities. Most include a Facebook Group where members can share what they’ve made, ask questions, and make comments. Zoom or some other online meeting space is also common, so you can see the members and you can demo and they can ask questions live. Many groups also invite other experts to come in and teach something that you’re not as familiar with, like Ali does when she invites mixed media artists to share what they know.
- When building an online community or classes, think of it as a constantly evolving thing. Make changes based on what your students or members want or suggest. It’s OK if what you’re doing today doesn’t exactly match what you set out to do. You want to respond and grow as you get to know your community.
- Ali only keeps her community open to members three times a year, rather than at any time during the year. This way she isn’t always in sales mode 365 days, and she can instead focus on her members and what she is providing them.
- Remember that when you join a community, all of its previous content is now available to you. The group will have archives of classes, demos, art talks, and whatever else they offer that you can go back and use. Just don’t let it overwhelm you and pick and choose what fits your desires and what you want to learn.
- Within your community, you can create subgroups of specific topics that have been requested by the members.
- You can repurpose your content to use as promos or just posts in your social media. For example, Ali had a large how-to video on making a book, and she extracted 30 seconds of it when she was stitching the spine and posted that as an Instagram reel.
- Ali wanted to emphasize that you don’t need a lot of tools and materials to make a book. You probably have everything you need already: some paper, a needle, and thread.