Breathe. I know it’s been hard. The bottom dropped out in 2016 and things haven’t gotten much better with the same slow Etsy sales in 2017. You’ve probably seen the same mantra over & over again in forums or on “expert blogs”:
“Better Keywords, Better Photos, More Listings”
That’s not the full story.
A different angle on why my Etsy sales may be down & actual data to back it up?!
A few months ago we ran a survey for our readers and there was a reoccurring question about whether one could make a living being a jewellery artist. Some people asked specific questions wanting me to talk to a certain artist and find out what they made in sales vs how much they spent on materials. Other readers were not as specific but there was an overall hope that there was some magic path to follow to full-time employment at a jewellery artist.
The answer to the question is, Yes, you can make a living as a jewellery designer. But be careful how you define living! Many people have a vision that a full time jewellery artist designs jewellery and people buy it. But the path is more complicated than that.
Being self-employed is tricky as you wear many hats. Artists have to be able to handle marketing, business accounting, sales, shipping and receiving, customer service, inventory control, as well as design and manufacturing of your jewellery. When your desire is to create, stopping to look after marketing and accounting seems like it is taking you away from what you love. But it is those exact things that are keeping you working in your studio!
A jewellery artist needs to be able to self-promote on social media and have a web-site to show off their portfolios of work. Networking events are opportunities to meet new collectors and to show off your work. I personally find this part hard. I’ve worked for years promoting other artists, but always fall short when showing and talking about my own work.
But, all that said, many artists ALSO have jobs outside of their studio. Many work freelance jobs, taking on teaching and some have full-time employment. Most artists need to be good at budgeting as self-employed artists do not have pensions, medical plans or sick leave.
Another thing about being a self-employed artist–there is no time off. It is hard to balance home life and work life. I try to take advantage of blocks of time and get a task done from my to-do list. I keep a notebook and write down items as they come up. (I know there are fancy apps you can use on your phone.) I’m hoping I’m more productive by knocking off something from my to-do list here and therefore creating time off to be with my family. But shutting off the list and being present is something I’m working on!
In conclusion, yes, you can make a living as a jewellery artist just don’t lose sight of making a life while you make a living.
Jeannette Froese LeBlanc is a studio artist living in rural Ontario. She walks the fine line being making a life and making a living–trying to balance life as an artist and a mother. Currently she is working on a new line of jewellery using metal clay and mixed media. To see more of her work please follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sassyandstella/
Genevieve Tucci Raised in Baton Rouge as part of an entrepreneurial and artistic family, my passion for creating began at a very early age in my mother’s art studio where I would sit every evening watching her paint, sculpt and design. I was extremely fortunate to attend Baton Rouge Magnet High School which offered stagecraft as an elective. Mrs. Ory, a saint in her own right, gave me confidence and the foundation to safely use powerful saws and tools while my mother gave me the confidence to learn any skill. After graduating LSU with a degree in Arts Administration, I strived for daily creative outlets in order the escape the 9-to-5 and this was also the time my husband and I bought our first home. It meant all the home projects I had been looking forward to could finally happen! It also meant my husband could get me power tools for Christmas, and I would be okay with it.
A few artist friends have mentioned how bold customers are getting asking for discounts. Oh I know how difficult that is to deal with when you are put on the spot. You want to make a sale, but not at that price. An artist who sells only online says that online customers are even bolder and will ask for 50% discounts. Sometimes even asking for free products in exchange for an article or promotion. The internet seems to give people a veil to hide behind as they are not saying things to the person’s face. An experienced artist once told me not to lower my prices and not to bend to the pressure of discounts. She said that it was so easy to go down in prices, but to bring them back up is harder. If your new low price is known, it becomes your new price.
As the time before the holidays speeds up and patience runs thin, this is a great time for you to set your business apart from the rest. Instead of just making a sale–go above and beyond with your customer service. Did you know that there were trends in customer service? Me neither! I found this article about it. Things to think about adding to the service you give your clients:
Make it easy for customers to get help from real people;
Obsess over every detail of the customer experience;
Be proactive, and don’t wait behind a desk for customer contact
The last point is a good one…ask your customers for feedback. Sounds scary. But it is a great way to learn ways to modify designs, packaging, shipping…etc. I’ve done this in the past and have turned a few buyers into friends. I took their advice and modified my jewellery designs. Win-Win for both of us.
Imagine chatting about the history and the future of jewelry design while sitting in a warehouse stacked floor to ceiling with boxes and boxes of mostly vintage beads and jewelry making components. What an astounding wonderland of inspiration! I metwithCarlandElyseSchimel,co-ownersofCJSSalesinNewYork City, one of my favorite places to head for a creative boost.
(Image: Wire wrapped stone necklace design by Carl Schimel.)
The CJS Sales warehouse is located on 36th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in New York City. Savvy jewelry designers can spend hours poring through this extraordinary trea-sure trove that holds literally millions of vintage beads and jewelry making supplies with limitless design potential. The Schimels are constantly seeking out great buys on anything that might be used for making jewelry and accessories.
“We bought a chandelier store that went out of business…[and] a rhinestone factory. We try to keep things that will be inspiration for people and [are] also unusual and different. We price at what we bought it at, so you can get quality vintage parts that are not found on today’s mar- ket at great prices,” said Elyse. To help designers compete and allow their work to stand out, Elyse and Carl sell only to wholesale customers who come to the warehouse. “We do not sell on the internet or show broad images. We do this to protect our buyers. Our customers are very knowledgeable. We believe in promoting design- ers, fostering new ones, to give them an edge.”
(Image: The Milwaukee Sentinel – July 31, 1969)
As a jewelry maker, I marvel that Carl stayed constantly ahead of the curve with his fashion-forward jewelry designs for more than 50 years. It was fascinating to listen to him talk about why he created the line and the manufacturing hurdles he had to overcome to get “Kim Crafts- men” jewelry out to buyers.
I was curious about how the Kim Craftsmen showroom and design space morphed into this vast warehouse of jewelry making supplies.
Elyse explained, “When Carl was liquidating [his jewelry manufacturing business] I started cold calling people. He thought it was cute [and] he was giving me a 100% commission. I started to bring in big accounts, he started to buy [at] fire sales and we started a wholesale liquidation business.” Carl adds, “If I had to describe the business I’d say it is a designer’s quarry. Designers come here to dig out treasures.”
I can personally attest to the digging! When I pay Carl and Elyse’s warehouse a visit, I come prepared by dressing as if I were to go climbing, I bring a rolling suitcase (after one visit where I lugged 30 lbs of beads in a shoulder bag thirteen blocks in NYC) and of course water and a cell phone—in case I get lost or to keep track of time. Losing a day in here is an easy thing to do!
As Elyse showed Art Deco glass beads, unfinished brooch components from the 1950s and mouth-blown glass beads, her father talked about how the artist’s hand should be apparent in his or her work. Carl used the term analog to explain how he worked. “To me [using] a pencil is analog. When you write with a pencil there’s pressure, there’s a difference in how it looks. You can write the same thing ten times…it will be the same each time but [also] different. When I caged stones using wire wrapping the concept being used was ‘mass individuality’; everyonecould have a caged stone but all of them were different.” Today he is intrigued by the idea of what he might have made if metal clay had been on the market when he was making fashion jewelry. “What happens is, as an artist you use the materials that are available at that time in the best ways that you can. But can you imag- ine what Alexander Calder would have done if [metal clay] had been available to him?”
Elyse models one of her father’s body jewelry pieces. This image is reminiscent of a photo from a 1969 newspaper article about his work.
Calder, a world renowned sculptor best known for inventing the hanging kinetic sculp- ture form known as a mobile, had a tremendous influence on Carl’s jewelry design. “When I got his…enormous book of jewelry it showed him working in his studio…a lot of his style of jewelry was much more understandable to me. He wasn’t using goldsmith tools, sized for jewelry making. His tools were large anvils with heavy handles, blacksmith tools, as he was used to making large mobiles and stabiles so there’s immediacy to the way Calder worked, and it showed in his work. If you look at his pieces, there’s a freshness still to his work. You can feel the hand, the way he twisted and moved to create his pieces. That’s analog!” Carl exclaimed. “You can always recognize his tools…for example if he used a hammer with a scratch on it, it would show on his piece like a fingerprint.” Carl went on to explain how metal clay is analog. “It is hands-on. In an age where a tremendous amount of design is going digital, the look is just opposite—180 degrees opposite. I’m sure [the artists using digital design tools] are very, very fine designers. It doesn’t look like jewelry that I’m used to. Metal clay takes me back to when we made jewelry. And we wanted to call it ‘Artistry in Metal’ because at that time, in the 50s and 60s and 70s, bench designers sat down and worked with the material, they under- stood the material. Metal clay is another vehicle for artists to express themselves. It is a phenomenal material….”
(Photos of jewelry by Kim Craftsmen, a company owned by Carl Schimel and his brother.)
I couldn’t agree more! Combine metal clay with some of the vintage beads and findings at CJS Sales and you’d have an exquisite combination of a modern material matched with vintage beads. If travel to New York City is not an option, seek out your own local charity, “antique” shops, or online for vintage elements to add to your own jewelry. When I find my creativity waning, a visit here spurs new ideas in new directions. It is like going to a museum for in- spiration, except that here you can take home the items that inspire you and use them in your work! Elyse showed me old pedals from a ma- chine. I forget what machine they were for because I was focused on the typeface used for the logotype imprinted on them! Inspiration for a new line of necklaces, perhaps? Now how to explain to the TSA agents at the airport that I need to bring home a half dozen metal pedals even though I have no idea what they are for!
CJS Sales: www.cjssales.com, 16 West 36th Street, 2nd floor, between 5th and 6th Aves., New York, New York 10018 (212) 244-1400
It is very hard for some artists to write an artist statement and it is sometimes equally hard for others to read. It is easier to write a bio and to tell others where you’ve been and what you’ve done. But it is so much harder to explain why.
Having an artist statement prepared is a great way for customers to connect with your work and it gives shops and galleries “sound bites” to use to promote your work. After having suffered through the agony of writing my own artist statement I can tell you that the most important thing about an artist statement is the process of writing one. I found it helped me sort out my own artistic history and methods. It has helped me to clarify the direction of my work and it has jump started a new body of work. Despite already knowing how important one was to have, it’s not something I’d written for myself.
I rewrote my artist statement. (After I raided my kids’ trick or treat bags, walked the dog, tidied my studio…procrastination is one of my rituals before writing.) I read some guidelines about artist statements and I started over. I hope my new version is a real artist statement. And I hope that when you need to write one you can remember that they are very hard for most artists to write—give yourself a break.
Last month we ran a survey for our readers and there were some really great comments and questions. One theme that repeated itself was about “making a living” at selling your work.
Here are a few of the reader questions: “How can I make a living at my art?” “How do you balance a personal life, regular work and creative time?” “Does anyone make a living selling metal clay jewelry?” “Can you make a living as an artist when you work with metal clay? This question could be asked to any “regular” person, like you and me ;)!”
I could have asked any of these questions! So I’m not the expert with the answers. But I have done a bit of research and I have some resources to share. The first thing I’d like to address comes from a conversation about these very topics with my father. He told me to “never pay too much for an income” and to “make a life, not a living”. Sage advice from a person I admire. I think his words address the question someone had about balancing work life and creative life. You can become a slave to your work even if it is your calling and by consequence miss out on family and friends. Many artists throughout history have sacrificed for their art. I have struggled with “work-life-balance” myself. I’ve had to choose what is the most important–not just to me but to my family and so creative time often gets missed even though working in my studio is like breathing for me. I decided that I’d never regret giving the time to my children. They won’t always be around but my many unfinished pieces of “art” will be there.
Question: “Does anyone make a living selling metal clay jewellery?”
Yes, I think there are artists who do! However, given that the job of “artist” lacks a regular pay check, artists have to rely on many revenue streams. Artists living off their craft work hard at marketing their work, they sell on many platforms such as shops, online and shows, they teach, and most have varied jewellery lines and some sell products. I would encourage you to find artists pages online, their sites and so forth and see how hard they work at “making a living”.
Question: “I would love to ask many of the high profile artists for more detailed information on how they achieved such name recognition/built their business in this community. And, if it supplies their full income, possibly even in the absence of a lot of travel teaching.”
This short talk by Paul Klein about finding your niche, removing obstacles and finding a mentor provides a great answer to the above question.
“Artist and career advisor Paul Klein emphasized the importance of being different. He insinuated that distinctiveness generates sales–even more so than quality. “Can’t all of us name artists who are doing really well monetarily, whose work we think sucks?” The branded artist doesn’t necessarily produce better work, but more bankable work.” Quote from this article in Forbes.
In “Part 2” I’ll find answers to the questions about the nuts and bolts of business such as inventory, tracking, descriptions of work.
My closing comment is to be yourself. I know that sounds so cliche. But it’s so true. I’ve been looking at metal clay jewellery for over a decade. (gasp) and I can almost without fail look at a photo of a piece of metal clay jewellery and tell you the name of the artist (and if I’m wrong–usually that person was the “inspiration” for the work). We need more work that stands out. In another article I found on Forbes by Jessica Hagy she shows why weird can be bankable. Yes…be weird, but let your own distinct artistic voice show in your work!
Image credit for opening image: Location Pillar in the stairwell of the UT Austin Art Building was up for two weeks
Jeannette Froese LeBlanc is working on becoming a distinct and profitable jewellery designer. From her studio in rural Ontario, Jeannette tries to balance life as a mom of two (very) active children and earn a living from her jewellery. You can find her work online and in several boutiques. www.SassyandStella.com
Let’sfaceit,asartisansmostofusfailatmarketingourselvesandour work.We hope buyers will flock to us out of nowhere and our pieces will magicallysellthemselves.For some of us the very thought of it fills us with fear and trepidation, so we chose to ignore it. If we do, then we are not hungry enough, or if we are, we choose to scratch out an existence instead—huntingfor change between our sofa cushions, eating beans out ofa can—and foresee ourselves spending our nights on a car seat. Well, maybe it won’t get to that but we will spend our time wondering why we have few buyers and agonizing over whether or not our work is good enough. This is not the artisan life we want; it is counter-productive and barely surviving.
Without a well-thought-out strategic marketing plan chances are slim you will be successful at making money at your craft. You have to conquer your fear and change your attitude. If you don’t know how to market your items, then it’s time to learn. If you think of it as an extension of the creative process instead of separate from it, then your attitude will change and you might even develop a passion for it. There is nothing like a few sales as a result of your efforts to spur you on. Let’s get busy and see what you can do to get your name and your work out there in front of the buying public. Continue reading…
Last week I went camping. While away I didn’t check the news. I had no phone calls. And no mirror. For a week it was just me and my family. On the way home we decided to drop in on a relative for a visit. It was then that I suddenly saw what we were wearing and realized my daughter had not combed her hair in days. Then I realized I hadn’t combed my hair in days either. It’s not that we didn’t have time! It just wasn’t important. Continue reading…
This article is a reprint. To see the original article click here. Over the years Ann and I have heard from so many artists how her article changed their lives. Read on and heal your “artself”.
My studio has always been an active working space, more of a workshop where things are made than a quiet space for inspiration. I’ve never needed a girly-girl space because I was a “Serious Working Metalsmith” and my professors, teachers, smithing friends all had, for want of a better description, tool shops. Everything creates grime!! To me having a clean space to do enameling meant one square foot of clean tabletop.
I used to do casting production runs. If you are not familiar with that, it’s often making one hundred of one thing in a week, after which of course it was a really dirty workshop. But I never questioned it. My work was fulﬁlling and proﬁtable, and I loved it. And so it went for 40-plus years and several different studios.
Viewing a Crafthaus exhibit, Studio Sanctuaries, created by Pat Morrow caused me to contemplate and reevaluate the space where I spend so much of my day. I felt it had become divided between the computer desk, bookkeeping, and fun-interacting with friends and the overstuﬀed, chaotic workshop side. This was something that had been bubbling up in my thought process and banging at the door of my conscious awareness for some time. The struggle between the messy “get to work” side and the computer “play” side ﬁnally crystallized into a thought. I had been disrespecting myself, my work- er self and my inner self, my whole self. Continue reading…