Collaborating with Artists: 6 Business Tips to a Successful Partnership

AUG 11, 2019

As a creative entrepreneur, do you ever feel like it’s a struggle to make sure your handmade products are standing out in a crowd? Spoonflower Grant recipient Julianne Mahoney of Dirt Chalk Bags knew that feeling all too well when she started making custom Eco Canvas chalk bags for rock climbers but quickly realized the key to her success: artist collaborations. By working directly with artists from all over the world to source one-of-a-kind artwork, Juliane’s chalk bags have made a lasting impression on her customers and the climbing community.

Julianne works directly with artists to source artwork for her Eco Canvas chalk bags.

Julianne: Creating handmade products that feature unique designs might sound challenging if you’re not an artist. It can be if you don’t know how to go about making connections and creating collaborations, but don’t worry. I’m here to help you navigate these unchartered waters. Over the past year, I’ve managed to create a business that relies almost solely on artist collaborations. Making connections with artists all across the world has quickly become my favorite aspect of my business. Here are my six tips on how to successfully work with artists! 

Know Who You Are

It’s very important to have a well-established vision for your brand, your products, and your mission. What values do you want to stay true to? What image do you want to set forth with your products? Your business can (and should) adapt and grow along with you. Having a clear identity and vision is not only more professional, it also allows artists to quickly identify if your values align with theirs. 

Julianne finds inspiration for her chalk bags in the great outdoors.

Decide the Artist’s Involvement

Spend some time deciding exactly what roles you and the artist will be playing in the collaboration. What time commitment are you expecting out of the artist and how will each of you be adequately compensated for your work? Will you decide on the art piece to be used or will you let the artist choose? Though this plan frequently changes depending on the project and the artist, it’s important to have an ideal scenario laid out. Going into a collaboration without having done the prep work can make you appear unprofessional; Unclear boundaries or expectations can lead to miscommunication and disappointment.

Julianne’s chalk bags are a hit with rock climbers.

Write a Contract

Hopefully, a legal dispute will not be something you encounter throughout the lifespan of your business. However, it’s important to have measures in place to protect yourself and your business if necessary. Contracts are also great ways to ensure both parties fully understand the project, the expectations and the compensation. Make it as clear and concise as possible. You can find examples of contracts online or you can seek professional help to ensure you do not miss any technicalities. 

A map of smaller prints from artist Alison Mcknight gets sewn into a chalk bag.

Form Connections 

Actually contacting artists is arguably the hardest part. Putting yourself and your brand out in the open can be very vulnerable. When you are just starting out, it can be intimidating reaching out to well-established artists. Just remember, the worst that can happen is that they say no. It happens. Not every artist you contact will be open to or have time for a collaboration and sometimes your values and visions will not align. It’s okay. Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game. Clearly state who you are, your vision for the collaboration and why you think the two of you would make great partners. Be bold, open and authentic when contacting artists.

Artist and climber Alexandra Rubio shows off her artwork on canvas and a chalk bag made by Julianne.

Be Flexible

A collaboration is just that; a collaboration. Each and every artist is different and you have to respect their values while working to find a way to beautifully blend your brands together. There is always give and take. An ideal collaboration welcomes new ideas and is flexible to changes. Go into every collaboration with an open mind and enjoy the process of working with another amazing human to create something you are both proud of. 

After working with a designer to create the perfect chalk bag design, Julianne orders the designs on Eco Canvas and then it’s time to start sewing!

Be Stoked

I wouldn’t run a climbing company if I didn’t use the word “stoked” at least once in the post. Jokes aside, vibrantly showing your passion for your craft will make artists excited to work with you. No one wants to put the time and effort into collaborating with someone who isn’t passionate about what they do. I personally have fan-girled when my favorite artists, such as Rachel Pohl, Christina McKeown and Alexandra Rubio agreed to collaborate with me. So go ahead, use that exclamation point, tell the artist that you love their work and can’t wait to work together, and be authentically excited for the project! 

A rock climber uses one of Julianne’s chalk bags while bouldering.

Are you ready to take your small business to the next level? Apply for the next cycle of the Small Business Grant.

About the Guest Author

Based out of Maryland, Julianne Mahoney creates handmade, artist-designed and eco-friendly climbing goods as unique as climbers themselves. When she’s away from the machine, you can find Julianne hitting the trails, climbing any rock in sight, or relaxing with her favorite pups and a kombucha. You can see more of Julianne’s creations and collaborations on her Instagram @dirtchalkbags or in her Etsy shop.

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  • What I am looking for is a company to sew the products that we design. I know how to sew but I don’t have professional abilities and I also don’t have the time.

    I am working with a print on demand company right now. I find it is too limited and I want a product sources in the USA.

    • Hi Ruth,

      Spoonflower offers products that are sewn just for you in our Durham, North Carolina factory. You can explore the products available if you click on the top headers, Living and Decor, Dining, and Bedding at the top of I hope that helps, but please let us know if you have any questions.