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9 min 4 sec

Trader Joe’s Sign Artist Earns $43,200 Selling Tea-Stained Prints

Discovering the art of tea-stained prints using publicly available (and free!) art, a Trader Joe’s employee begins earning $3,600 a month selling custom prints online.
Arts & Crafts Etsy Low Startup Potential Product

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What It's About

Utilizing a free resource helps a new graduate pay off student loans and move out of his mom's basement.

Business Model
Arts & Crafts
Skills Required
Creativity & Resourcefulness
Complexity
Low
Profit Potential
Medium

Words of Wisdom

Like others, Elliott struggled a bit with pricing. But, once he broke down the cost of materials per print, the time he spent tearing and staining paper, creating designs, and printing orders, he landed on a price that satisfied both his customers and himself. For other side hustlers, Elliott says that “it is important to figure out how much time you spend preparing your product and come up with a fair hourly wage to reflect that. Your time spent working is valuable and you should factor this into the final cost.”

Fun Fact

The first selfie in history was taken in Philadelphia in 1839 by a chemist-slash-amateur photographer named Robert Cornelius. The original #nofilter photo took over one minute to produce since that’s how long the process took from lens removal to image capturing. While the photo exists in black and white, it would probably look pretty good in Valencia, too.

Notes from Chris

Episode 635
It was a sunny spring day and Elliott Addesso, a Trader Joe’s sign artist from Virginia, was in a bit of a pickle. It was his mom’s birthday that weekend, and he needed a gift. But what do you buy the woman who has everything? Probably something meaningful, handmade, or all of the above. Fortunately, Elliott was creative and worked well under pressure.

In college, he had experimented with staining paper with tea and painting over it to create images. Elliott had always liked the aesthetic, but never really found the opportunity to bring it to life. For his mom’s present, he decided to try printing an antique, royalty-free image he had found online of an 1800's illustration of some root vegetables on to some old tea-stained paper. It worked better than he had imagined—and looked fantastic framed in his mother’s kitchen.

Capitalizing on his success, Elliott started to create a library of royalty-free, unlicensed imagery to use as digital collages printed on tea-stained paper. He figured that if he could make and sell a few prints a month, he could use the money to start paying off his student loans faster. Not only that but at the time he was living in his mom’s basement. As nice as it was to be close to family, the basement of the home he’d grown up in was just a little too close for comfort.

Some extra money would help up save up money for a deposit on a place of his own. Someplace where no one would ask what time he’d be coming home that night...

At first, Elliott was intimidated about starting an online shop. Would anyone want to buy his art? But when he went to look at the listings on Etsy, he noticed that there were several successful shops that were printing public domain images and photoshopping them over antique dictionary pages. And if they could do it and make money from it, so could he—and with a tea-stained twist!

Elliott didn’t wait oolong time to start setting up his own Etsy shop, TeaStainedMadness. After spending some time creating prints after work, he uploaded them, sat back, and waited.

One day, while checking his email, Elliott noticed something he hadn’t seen before. He had received an e-mail with the subject "Etsy Transactions" and realized he had made his first sale. It was an image of a pug riding a whale, and the majority of sales that soon followed were dogs riding whales, narwhals, or unicorns.

It wasn’t what he had expected, but he decided to follow the pattern of what was selling and listened to buyer’s requests. Which was basically more dogs on top of things. Sales for his dog-themed tea prints really started to pour in… or was he steeped in St. Bernards?

In his second year, he more than doubled his first year of sales with 2,500 orders, and he’s making about $3,600/month. All of this is built on startup costs of just $300, to buy tea bags, bubble mailers, and pay for listing fees. Remember, the art that he’s using to make the prints is antique and therefore free from copyright.

Elliott still works as a sign artist at Trader Joe’s, but he’s shifted to part-time to devote more attention to Tea Stained Madness. Sales of his prints are so successful they’ve become his main source of income—and even helped him pay off a quarter of his student debt much faster than expected. More importantly, he’s been able to move out of his mom’s basement into a great apartment with the perfect studio room for creating his prints.

While there’s never enough time in the day, Elliott wouldn’t be where he is now if he had waited for everything to be just right. Yesterday it was starting an Etsy shop, today it’s adding art shows and craft fairs to the roster. Whatever he does next, side hustling seems like Elliott’s cup of tea.

 
  MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:

  • TeaStainedMadness: See what all the madness is about and get your fill of tea stained portraits of dogs on whales over on Elliott's Etsy page!


SEE ALSO:

Inspiration is good; inspiration combined with action is better. Now get back to work!

Yours in the revolution,

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Resources

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Quote of the Day
"There is never enough time to execute all the ideas I have, but it's a good problem to have. The best part has definitely been learning the ins and outs of owning a small business/side hustle as I go and the freedom to create income on my own terms."
—Elliott Addesso #SideHustleSchool

Sponsors & Gratitude

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When the rest of the world is still zigging, some companies know when it’s time to zag. Elizabeth Banks has teamed up with State Street Global Advisors to make a series of podcasts and films that uncover the bold moves mid-cap companies make to thrive and survive.


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To infinity and beyond,

Chris Guillebeau