Life | Personal Stories | Article

Artist Making a Living Off Social Media

by Sophia | 5 Nov 2019 | 11 mins read

Cover image photo taken by LITO.

Xin Man, also known as handxmade to her Patreon followers, is a talented 24-year-old miniature creator and artist. With a love for creating miniature products and crafting in general, Xin Man decided to strike it out on her own in 2015 and pursue her creative passion.

With over 130 patrons funding her dreams and ambitions, Xin Man has been hard at work juggling miniature crafting and content creation on YouTube.

Starting out was rough – she chalked up $18k of debt to her boyfriend – who has been supporting her since day one.

Her goal is to earn SGD $2,000 a month, which would allow her to pay down her debt and keep her enterprise going.

When did you decide to start a Patreon page?

I’ve always loved miniatures, and when I found out that I could make them with polymer clay, I dove right into it and eventually wanted to try to do it full-time.

At first, I chose to take custom orders to sustain myself financially. But I found clients usually wanted miniature figurines of themselves with their partners, which was pretty repetitive work.

It ended up taking the bulk of my time, leaving little room for creative ideas and made me realise that I didn’t want to be stuck making the same thing over and over. Hence, after 2 years, I decided to pivot and give Patreon a shot, making videos of my crafting process as my main thing.

It made sense because I could craft all sorts of miniatures! It was a whole new direction – one that allowed me to be creative all the time, and as an added bonus I realised that I actually like editing videos.

Why YouTube on top of everything else?

Making video content means I get to try to create many things, I also like the fact that every video I make is mine and serves as a record of the things I did. Moreover, they can be shared anytime and anywhere. Sometimes when I look back at my old videos I would feel amazed that I did all of those things before.

I also feel like showing the process is something that is interesting to me, and if I’d forgotten how to make something in a certain way, I can watch my own videos and relearn from it – I’m very forgetful, haha!

Why Patreon?

Patreon allows the artist to have creative freedom, and to attract supporters who are drawn to the artist – rather than being pressured to create art that is popular, or taking commissions that aren’t in line with the artist’s vision.

It’s also a way an artist can get a “fixed” monthly income, as compared to how Youtubers are paid – where income is generated by ads but ads have “seasons” with ups and downs and that inconsistency can be stressful if that is the sole source of income.

Your main reward for patrons is a “mail-of-the-month” mechanic. Can you explain that?

My mail-of-the-month consists of prints and sticker packs that I make for my patrons each month! Making miniatures takes up a lot of time, and if I were to mail out mail-of-the-month with miniature products, that would be making the same thing over and over again.

I enjoy painting and drawing and would love to improve on my skills. So I incorporated them into my Patreon rewards and send higher-tiered patrons a package every month. Most of the time I drop in some snacks/sweets too!

Even though my mail-of-the-month doesn’t seem to have anything to do with miniatures despite me being a miniaturist, it’s still art that is close to my heart. My patrons love them too, so that’s a big plus!

Is there anything you’d like to tell potential patrons who might want to support you?

For me, having patrons is all about quantity. I would rather have 100 patrons pledging a dollar, and share additional content with all 100 of them, rather than one pledging $100 a month and being worried about how this may be too expensive for this patron.

Even a dollar means the world! Please do not think that $1 is too little or that it wouldn’t make any difference. It shows that you’re there for them and that’s all the difference.

How did your partner help you out throughout this whole journey?

My S.O. is really the foundation of handxmade. He’s been there since the beginning, and is the person who encouraged me to start, and also to keep going whenever I have little bits of doubt ever so often. He’s even the one playing music for ALL my videos, and it’s amazing how he can churn something new every week! In a sense, he’s a partner, an investor, and the pillar of support I can rely on. I can’t remember how many times I’ve gone to him for help in so many ways and he always gives me the answers I needed every single time!

Handxmade wouldn’t have happened without him, and I thank him for always pulling me back whenever I start to derail.

For the first year or so of starting Patreon my S.O. basically gave me “pocket money” of SGD $500 per month to survive while I continue my pursuit, and that’s how I racked up so much debt with him. I told myself if I can get S$500 per month from Patreon it would mean I could make handxmade work somehow as that was what I needed for my basic essential needs.

When I actually reached that goal, I stopped borrowing money from him and right now the debt has halted, and I’m working on paying every single cent back eventually (starting from returning $100 per month).

You also have a webstore on IG. How’s that working out for you?

The webstore on my website is usually just sticker packs or prints I make – I actually don’t really sell my miniature creations.

Sometimes I open my webstore to sell the paper products I’ve made for my patrons, but I don’t really have time to do that often. Especially now that I have a part-time job editing a podcast as a side hustle to earn a bit more income.

However, the podcast is coming to an end soon (for now) as I would like to invest more time on my web store. I guess that will be my new side hustle – I’m looking forward to seeing how that will work out down the road!

You seem to attract an international audience too. Do you have customers/patrons from abroad?

Honestly, most of my patrons and followers are from Singapore but I do have a few patrons from overseas (mainly the U.S)! They’re always encouraging and always interact with me, and sometimes I’m still shocked by the fact that they actually found me and want to support me.

The only person who pledged the highest tier I have is actually from the U.S! The Internet is an amazing place.

Managing IG, Patreon and making art, editing videos (not to mention YouTube) sounds like a few full-time jobs! How does a week look like for you?

Not to mention editing one podcast episode every week! Here’s what my optimal schedule looks like.

Weekdays, I am working on podcast episode edits. Once I stop this, I’m planning to leave this day to create more sticker packs for my webstore. I’ll also be working on the miniature house project and editing photographs and videos of my projects.

I’ll try to rest during the weekends as those are the days I sometimes can spend with my S.O, but most of the time I have to bring work over to the weekend, be it admin work, managing Patreon, or finish editing the video for the week.

Of course, all the other things like managing Instagram are things I just have to do in the pockets of time I have.

I’m very strict and push myself to get at least ONE video out per week or have other content to compensate for that, so I think I’ve gained enough trust from my patrons to really have the freedom to switch things up here and there as and when needed!

What’s special about Patreon?

Patreon is a way to meet and get to know people who not only admire your work but who are also investing in you as a person.

They want to see you improve and grow. I tell them everything (literally everything) about my life, and they are some of the most supportive people I have had the pleasure of getting to know! That to me remains the most special thing that Patreon gave me.

Any particular interactions that stood out?

I’ve also received a lot of things from them that I needed but couldn’t bear to spend money on, like skincare products. Some of them even came to my house to pass me souvenirs they got when they were overseas! I was so touched – it makes me feel like I am not alone and that I am loved.

My patrons have actually been with me throughout my journey. They are very open and supportive – I can be vulnerable with these people and I sometimes cannot believe how much I know I can rely on them to be there.

How has using Patreon benefited you?

Because I don’t live with my parents, using Patreon was the first time that I actually felt comfortable about my current circumstances. I could finally pay my own bills since moving out!

Money has always been something I struggle with; I frequently have thoughts about quitting and getting a “proper job”. But knowing that I have 100+ people in my life who wants to see me grow successful makes me want to not disappoint them and keep hustling.

What is the most memorable experience in your journey so far?

My parents aren’t really supportive about what I’m doing, so I don’t really share a lot about handxmade to them. They are worried about me being on a route that is so unpredictable and they want me to stop ‘dreaming’, so I’ve always dreaded telling them about my life.

But I remember when I hit the milestone of getting USD $100 per month from Patreon two years ago. I was over the moon that I told my mother about it. Otherwise I wouldn’t have had the courage to open up to my parents.

While their response wasn’t great, it was definitely memorable. It was a huge step for me to be proud enough about handxmade to be able to tell my mom about it.

You currently receive more than SGD $1,000 in Patreon a month, which is no mean feat! What content or methods did you think got you there?

I don’t reaaaaally have any methods per se because I don’t “chase the trend”, so my video content doesn’t go viral.

I think what I have going for me is the fact that I’m pretty open to my patrons. I tell them everything – all the good and bad: Breakdowns, my debt owed, and my lack of savings, or when I visited my parents and it went great. These are things that most people don’t see, especially when everyone is obsessed with showing only the good and positive. Sharing these experiences intimately keeps my patrons involved and a big part of my journey.

To be honest, I still can’t believe I’m halfway through my biggest goal (2k per month)! I can’t exactly say I don’t have thoughts of quitting handxmade – I still do, especially when the finance part gets rough. But whenever I think about how far I’ve come and how it already took me 4 years to get to S$1k per month, it’s a little hard to give up.

I really am one of the lucky ones who decided to give it a try while I’m young. I honestly wouldn’t have even dared to start something as risky from scratch if I waited until my mid-twenties right now. Every step is always very scary. Even if handxmade doesn’t work out in a few years’ time and I’m forced to quit, I know that I will thank myself for giving it a try and I know that I’d have no regrets.

What are your future plans?

Right now, my future plans involve making more miniatures, including miniature woodworking on top of sculpting. I will definitely stay with Patreon, and keep producing content. I have to be realistic though, and if I can’t reach financially sustain myself by the time I’m in my late twenties with handxmade, I would have to consider doing it part-time instead.

But right now, I will try with all my heart to make handxmade work.