How to Become a Professional Craft Artist

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a craft artist? Everyone will probably think of something slightly different; maybe someone who works with wood, metal, paper, paint, or clay and creates pieces of art. The reason for this is the fact that this profession is extremely versatile and includes many different types of art.

It is true, however, that craft artists work with their hands creating something out of different types of media. What many don’t know is that being a craft artist doesn’t necessarily mean selling handy crafts at a local fair, but it is often a stable job in industries such as publishing, advertisement, marketing, and even sciences and technology. Meanwhile, it is also true that many craft artists are also self-employed and running their own business while selling their crafts to the general public.

Here is a neat infographic to give you a glimpse into the world of craft artistry and what the profession might look like.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Doreen Catena

Sustainable Homegoods

Quick Look Bio

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  • Doreen Catena
  • Rumson, NJ
  • 4
  • dordesign
  • Sustainable Homegoods
  • dordesignStudio

 

After 30 years as a freelance graphic designer I know how to get up, get started, and get jobs finished. The reality is that ten years ago I didn’t see my self doing anything other than graphics. Now, craft is the larger portion of my income. Eventually, I would like to get into seating for restaurants, bars, and cafes as well as working with corporations to recycle their retired signage. I love to deconstruct things to create other things. The billboards I work with come to me folded. Opening a new billboard and discovering what I have is very exciting. One other aspect of my job that I really love is selling my hand-made work. My work is very out of the box; it’s not for everyone, and is not intended to be. When I do an art show I am asked multiple times “How did you think of this?” The people who “get” what I’m doing buy my work and are excited about it. That makes me happy, although I would like to spend more time in the studio and less time on sales calls. I did study communications design at Rochester Institute of Technology with minors in photography and textiles. My formal art education was well worth it. I would never be where I am without it. I do wish “art business” courses had been offered as part of my education. Courses such as pricing, billing, wholesaling, and taxes would have been great assets.

Advice

The art business isn’t easy; you absolutely must love it! And don’t expect to make a fortune. Keep an open mind. Never give up.

Keli Catalano

Custom Greeting Card Designer

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  • Keli Catalano
  • Cincinnati, OH
  • 5
  • Colette Paperie – Owner
  • Custom Greeting Card Designer
  • colettepaperie

For years I created greeting cards as a side business and was so afraid to lose my day job; afraid to lose health benefits and a steady paycheck. I wish I had known earlier that this is something I really could do as a full-time business, but in the end, taking that risk was the best decision I ever made.

I love being able to work in my sweats. I also love that I can make my own schedule, never have to request days off, and have a sense of freedom I never had with any corporate job. Depending on how many wholesale orders are in the queue, I usually work on retail orders and answering emails. In my studio, I print, cut, fold, and package all of the greeting cards myself, so it’s one big assembly line.

I was classically trained in design at the Columbus College of Art & Design, but I never took any business courses. I know nothing about business. I’ve learned everything through trial and error. I just use logic to make my decisions about my business. If I need help with something I find someone else who knows!

Advice

Be unique, but salable
I think the most important thing when you’re making a product is that it must have a point of view. Something unique about it and salable. It’s a delicate balance between being specific in a card but still making it general enough that a lot of people would still find a reason to buy it. This would probably be true about a lot of craft markets. There is a lot of handmade jewelry out there that is unremarkable. I’m sure that it took those artisans a long time to learn it, but sometimes it just isn’t unique enough. Everything should have a bit of a “wink” and personality.

Don’t be afraid
My personal life has improved greatly since starting this business. I have much less stress in my life, and I can be accommodating to others’ schedules because mine is so flexible. It’s also really amazing once you quit your day job; you realize how much money you spend just having a job. The transportation, the clothes, the time, the makeup, the shoes, the food “on-the-run”. It really adds up. I spend a ton less money now, and I make a lot more too.

Trisha Short

Trish’s Design Studio – Owner

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  • Trisha Short
  • Riverview, FL
  • 2
  • Trish’s Design Studio
  • Personalized Party Decorations
  • @TrishsStudio

I graduated from the University of South Florida with a journalism degree. I had an internship at NBC with the Daytime Show in Tampa (I was on television a few times.). I moved home to Illinois to pursue a journalism career, but I discovered that I loved living in Florida, so I moved back. When I did, and with no opportunities to pursue my chosen field, I wound up accepting accounting jobs. I knew right away that accounting wasn’t what I wanted to do. I looked for ways I could use my creativity to earn my own living. With online research, I found craft artists who owned their own websites. These artists made their own party decorations and then sold their crafts on their websites and on Esty. Instantly, I knew that’s what I wanted to do… I wasn’t sure how, but I just knew I wanted to. So I put in MANY hours teaching myself designing, how to set up a website, blogging, marketing, social media, SEO, and more. Becoming a specialist in your field is very important and there is always something new to learn.

I work every day of the week. Most of the time it doesn’t feel like work though, because I enjoy it. I have a 3 year old son, so my schedule has to revolve around him. Monday through Friday are my busiest days. My daily tasks are always different, but my schedule stays the same: We wake up between 8:30-9:00 am. While he plays, I get a half hour or so to check email and get other minor tasks done. I get most of my work done during the couple of hours when my son takes his nap or during times when he plays on his own. No matter what my schedule is like, my son and I always have our playtime together. We’ll run errands together (including mailing out packages), or I’ll do a little cleaning when I have a chance. When I’m doing my business-related work (usually around 2:00 pm.), I do whatever is most important at the time. It changes from day to day. One day I may be setting up a party, taking pictures, and posting it on my website; another day I’m working on a new blog post or creating new contacts. As far as my crafts, the only thing I really don’t work on during the day is designing. I’ll do all of my designing after my son goes to bed at night. I feel like I’m at my most creative later in the evening, and I’m usually not interrupted. I’ll work until 1:00 am or a little later. Saturdays are similar, but we usually have something going on, like a party or family time with my mom and sister. Sundays I do try to do as little as possible. I try to have at least that one day off to rest. However, if someone asks about a custom order I will email them back.

Advice

What she wishes she knew in the beginning
I wish I would’ve known that it’s okay to be a beginner. I was always worried that my posts and designs weren’t good enough or ‘professional’ yet. It was holding me back. Everyone starts somewhere. The more I reached out to family, friends, and other artists, the more I saw support for what I was doing.

Know why you’re doing it
I think the biggest thing is that you have to know clearly why you are doing it, and you need to be determined to make it work. If you have a purpose behind what you are doing, you’re more likely to keep going and not give up, especially when it gets a little tough. Everyone doubts themselves sometimes. Artists who have the mindset to keep going can determine for themselves how far they go.

On education
I’m self-taught at what I do. You can own a business without formal education (although it can come in handy if you want to learn graphic design or something technical). What you do need to do is become a specialist in your field/niche so you can offer the best advise and the best products. As you learn, you also grow as an artist, and your business grows with you.

How to get your foot in the door
Really, just start. Start designing. Start getting your designs out there in as many ways as you can. Start learning all the ‘ins and outs’ and you will grow from there. You can go to local craft shows or sell your crafts online. There are now several different ways to sell online. You can sell on Etsy, Selz, Facebook, and Instagram, among others. Also, you want to be creative. Get together with a few other artists in the area, for example, to host a party. Contact local news outlets to be featured. Do what you can to start spreading the word about your crafts. You will learn what works for your business and what doesn’t.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Craft Artist?

WHAT ARE MY STUDY OPTIONS?

What any craft artist, no matter the industry or niche, will tell you, is that it’s most important to perfect your craft. Whether you do this through formal education or not is a personal choice, but it is absolutely essential to hone your skills, not only at the beginning, but all the time.

One of the first characteristics you need to have is passion and talent for the art you are going to practice. The second is patience. It takes a long time to become really good at any type of handy crafts. While you can take classes to learn how to work metals, wood, or the fundamentals of design, there will be a lot of trial and error.

A great source of education, as a first step towards becoming a craft artist, is the internet. There are tutorials on just about everything. You can also find experts sharing their expertise on how to use techniques and methods they have already perfected.

If you are still in high school, take advantage of the courses that are available, such as sculpture, textile arts, and painting. Even if it’s not something you are looking to practice, developing and eye for detail and design is just as important as perfecting techniques specific to your craft.

You also have the option of taking classes at a community college. This is definitely a cheaper option than getting a fine arts degree and can be a much more hands-on experience. You yourself will know best the skills you are able to develop on your own and which you may need some help with. Attending a community college will probably also speed up the process, since you’ll get tips and tricks that it could take you years to figure out on your own.

Finally, you can get a fine arts degree. This is a wonderful option for many reasons as well. Yes, it will be more expensive, but at the same time it will grow you as an individual and as an artist. Being surrounded by creative people with a vision, learning from previous experience, creating a network, understanding the type of artist you are, and working with a variety of media are all advantages of a formal education. Plus, if you are looking to become a scientific illustrator or follow a formal design career, a degree may be a requirement for a job.

WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE?

According to the US News & World Report on the “Best Grad Schools”, these are the top 5 Fine Arts schools in the country.

  • Yale University
    Yale has a general Bachelor of Fine Arts program where the first year is spent learning the fundamentals with specialization in the higher study years. Concentrations include painting, printmaking, sculpture, graphic design, and photography. Current annual full-time tuition is $34,300.
  • Rhode Island School of Design
    RISD offers a number of BFAs and MFAs including ceramics; furniture design; glass, jewelry and metalsmithing; illustration; and sculpture. All the courses include art history, art philosophy, and studio classes for a rounded education in Arts. Current annual full-time degree tuition is $44,284.
  • School of the Art Institute in Chicago
    SAIC has a slightly different approach in their program design where you get to study a BFA and choose to focus on one or more subjects. These can be photography, sculpture, painting, or something else. You design your own curriculum, so-to-speak. They also have master’s level courses. Tuition currently stands at $1,381 per credit hour for undergrads.
  • University of California – Los Angeles
    Similar to other Fine Arts programs, UCLA offers a generic fundamentals education, later concentrating in areas such as painting and drawing, photography, sculpture, ceramics, art theory, and what they call new genres which involves non-studio work. Being a state university, estimated annual fees for UCLA are $15,131 for resident students and $38,009 for out-of-state.
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
    VCA offers a number of Fine Arts programs, including craft and material studies, art history, sculpture, and extended media and painting and printmaking among many others. In-state tuition fees average $5,317 and $12,843 for out-of-state students plus art school fees.

GETTING YOUR FOOT IN THE DOOR

Don’t forget, however, that more than anything, you’ll need a portfolio. Whether you learn on your own or decide to get a formal education, everyone will want to see your work before they buy it, commission it, sponsor you, or give you a job. This is why you’ll need to start as early as you can. Only choose your best pieces, but make sure you document them. Take photos. Create a website. Create a Facebook page. In short, promote your art.

As with any artistic career, your first step is to get good at it, but at the same time, you need to get your name out there. Networking and marketing are two essentials you absolutely cannot miss if you actually want to make a living as a craft artist. Any expert you talk to will tell you that until you are able to hire someone who can take care of the marketing for you, at least half of your time will be spent on getting and following up on leads for business.

So, to get your foot in the door meet people, tell them about yourself, always be ready to show your work even if it’s on your smartphone, and don’t be afraid to sell. Most importantly, be patient. It might be some time before you can establish yourself as an artist, but perseverance and talent often pay off. Meanwhile, doing what you love is definitely priceless.