How Artists are Dealing with the Recession

OT: Sandbox YAK | Artist Inspiration | Money Makers

How is the arts & crafts industry in the US withstanding the recession of 2009? Here's a glimpse at the responses of four artists given during the 2009 CenterFest held in Durham, NC. The short film was created by Enrique Vega for a Vox Populi Interview assignment in his "Directing Your Documentary: Making Choices" video course taken at Duke University Center for Documentary Studies.

I'd love to hear how those of you on ArtMetal are withstanding the recession/depression of 2009. What are you doing to continue to make a living from your metal art?

 BTW, our very own Kimberli Matin is one of the interviewees... tell me what you think.

Dick C's picture

That was a nice video

That was a nice video QuiQui. Good subject for the day. These people, like others I know, seem to be hanging in there and making efforts to be flexible. I know I'm doing things I might have passed on a couple years ago. Selling directly to the retail customer also lets one capitalize on smaller opportunities. My business has been almost entirely selling to stores. A problem for me is that most, if not all, of my customers are craftsmen themselves, or have jewelers working in the store. When business falls off like it did last year at this time they are struggling to keep themselves or their own people busy. Business has picked up bit over the last couple months, we'll see if it can stay up through the holidays.

warren's picture

Slow to Load

Enrique, long time no hear from.
I watched your video and a couple of comments, do not know why but took ever for it to download, maybe because it was actually a good clear video.
Not sure what type of microphone you are using but way too much back ground noise. It was hard to hear what some of the interviewers were saying, also picked up a lot of your uhhuhs.
Besides that was okay. Not sure if the questions got the answers that the rest of us artist would like to hear.

Now a comment about the recession of being depression for the artist.
Since I have been laid off since last November, I have been trying to do the metal artist thing full time.........what a mistake in timing. I was making more money on my metal art while I had my day job.
Anyhow I have been hitting the art fairs because the commission work just not out there and the galleries are full.
I noticed that the interviewers talked about the middle class not buying. Hmmmmm I did not know they were the main buyers of art. Maybe a price range factor. ($25 to $100) I would liked to of heard more of what prices they are selling the most items.
For me most items I have been able to move quickly are the $300 to $400 ones. But also have sold some $2000+

I also do a lot of talking with the artist at the art fairs. We all have the same concerns if we are making money or not. The crowds are there but not the buyers is the biggest feedback. Back to the middle class thing, reason being is that most of the art fair items that sell regularly in the low dollar range. Those sellers need to sell in volume. And I think they are the most being effected. Just for example last fair I sold $1800 in four items, guy next to me sold $400 in 20 sales. For me I was happy, for him he was pissed. Not sure bottom line about more profit for pieces though.

The one guy with the accent kind of baffled me, at first very positive that was doing good, later on says he has made price changes to move items, Hmmm again. Payment plans?

Oh well always a good subject, but hard to get the truth sometimes and people to really share.

Stop in more often and good luck with the new career.

www Metalrecipes -- heat and beat to the desired shape, repeat as necessary.

B.J. Severtson's picture

Very nice

Enrique, Very nice video, interviews and topic. I would hope that you could expand this topic to include artists using other venues to market their products. Studio-gallery owners and web site artists come to mind. The concept of owning the "store" as well as the studio space seems to be forgotten recently. What I've noticed at the "event" shows is artists seeking closer smaller events to sell through. What I haven't seen is artists pooling their resources and owning the event they for the most part create. Food for thought? BJ

eligius1427's picture

Great video and topic

Great video and topic Enrique. I had heard that you were getting into documentary making, but didn't know you were jumping into a full on university program. What a great new venture.

I love the subject matter and the interviews don't surprise me much. I've never worked a fair, and probably never will, but am familiar with vending at festivals and fairs. Price points are way to low for me, and the customers too finicky, especially during times like these. When they hit big, they really hit big, but it always seems to be an all or none situation.

BJ and Warren bring up interesting points on the topic, the different price points of the art, different modes of selling your wares, and finally I'd like to add whether this is a side gig or their main source of income. I'm betting that the latter put a little more shoulder into finding a solution to getting sales then the former, since it's their bread and butter.

Marketing style is another factor. With a fair you're at the mercy of who walks through the gate, if your on the web you're at the mercy of the search engines finding your site, with direct marketing you can deliver your marketing dollar directly to customers who can actually buy your wares, but far fewer ppl see your goods than with the first two methods(that doesn't mean you won't sell more though). Each one has their strong points and weak points, it would be interesting to see how the recession affects each style. I'm going to stop here because I could go on and on about factors in marketing/selling your wares (It's one of my favorite topics).

For me personally, I haven't noticed much of a change, but then most of my clients are in the upper income brackets and I don't think they get affected as much by recessions. I feel very fortunate/lucky. I've asked almost everybody I've worked with if the recessions as affected them much. Many general contractors and big remodelers have seen a good decline in sales, however handymen, and other trades involved with fixing what you have are booming. The two designers I'm working with right now are as busy as ever, but they both say that many interior "decorators" are not doing so well. I sense a pattern but can't figure it out completely.

In the end, we all know the money is out there, it didn't just disappear. Those that are waiting for the money to come to them are going to have a much more difficult time then those that go out looking for it.

Well, see, I ended up rambling on anyway. Oh well, my two cents(maybe more like five, lol).


Jake Balcom
Mettle Design
Lincoln, NE

visitor's picture

Hi QuiQue, I think it was a

Hi QuiQue,

I think it was a nice video, and on a subject most don't like to talk about. Staying positive during times like these is difficult especially when one is starting out and creating a name for themselves.

For myself this year has not been bad, but also been tough to get through. I have to agree that the orders come in all at once and things are great, and then there's nothing. Like my hair business, my art has had it's seasons.

Back in July I bought the Art Calendar Magazine and read a couple of great articles on surviving the recession and also the use of Social Networking. The article on surviving the recession covered things like using your resources, and thinking unconventionally about your approach to art as a business. One of the things that stuck out for me was teaching.

A while back I had thought about teaching, but then talked myself out of it. Well here I am now teaching small workshops on wire wrapping and chain mail, which was where I had started when I began making jewelry. Now I'm able to pass on the very thing that got me to the point of where I am today.

Another thing I'm working on is casting pendants for my daughter's Cross Country team. I will be selling them to the team, and donating a portion of the proceeds to the team. The packaging will have my name on it, and will reach out to many families who want to purchase something memorable of their students school activities.

Booking Trunk Shows is another good one I've managed to get going, and from this now boutiques are being set up for the holidays. Again this is through the schools and networking with friends and clients.

The Social Networking is also a huge one! I get most of my sales from social networking. Facebook is one that has really helped me to generate an income. I've had friends refer others' that added me to their friends list just so they could check out my work.

I've also added those who were interviewed in the articles I've read and chatted with them about their articles, and that has made a connection as well.

Now I can't say that all I've done in the past couple of months will bring in lots of money, but what I can say is I've tried to meet others' through a lot of networking and word of mouth. I've kept away from big shows, and set up smaller venues that show case my work in a one on one setting.

Lowering my prices on my Silver pieces is not something I will do, for one the price of sterling has risen quite a bit, and made it more difficult to purchase in larger quantities. I have lowered prices on my wire wrapped pieces, but that doesn't seem to help, and almost makes it look as if I'm desperate for a sale, so I've backed off on that.

We shall see in the coming months how things turnout. It's all been an experiment for me, and a process of learning what to do, and what not to do.

Now that I've written a book on the subject...


Frank Castiglione's picture


Hi QuiQue,
I like your video. Warren made all the technical observations, so I won't repeat.
Here in the Michigan UP, we are always in some kind of economic recession. It goes with the territory. I have little experience with any form of "art market". This summer though I have attended a Farmers Market that is physically close to a boat tour landing. These people have money, but can only buy something that fits in an already packed travel vehicle. My stuff is too big. So..... next year I'll make some smaller things.On the other hand my larger outdoor sculptures are popular but too expensive for most local residents.My compromise is to not worry so much about the uniqueness of each piece and speed up construction.
How to turn the recession ,or any challenge, into an opportunity and have fun doing it is the essence.Being creative can and should be part of every facet of the trade.

Dick C's picture

Smaller bread and butter

Smaller bread and butter items are a good idea. Do you offer shipping for the tourists for the larger pieces? Mentioning free or discounted shipping might help nab a sale. "Free shipping" has worked on me. 

Frank Castiglione's picture

Free Shipping

Hi Dick,
Never thought about it that way, mostly 'cause of just plain inexperience. Thank you. All the Stuff I make gets tied to the roof of 'Zeldabob', so I shouldn't worry too much about shipping damage,eh?

NELSON's picture

Hey brotha, How`re you

Hey brotha,
How`re you doing? Everything should be ok by the forest. Just a comment Frank, I have to agree with you, at times we artist don`t stop worrying about achieving the best we can, but during critical times most people won`t pay extra work. Good, let`s offer them something they can still buy and make some money. This last option depends on numbers to be succesful. Namely, cut down costs and somehow apply principles employed in the car making industry. Break down your sculpture into as many parts as necessary. Mass produce them and assamble them with some quick finish on. Cannot think of a better way. In this case some jigs are necessary, but the good part is that if they don`t come out looking alike, that`ll be a plus, as oposed to cars where substantial differences are a flaw. Personally, this is the part which I don`t enjoy much, but hey that`ll bring food on the table. More sophisticated work, could be done to satisfy that anvicious artist we all carry inside. Greetings. nelson.

warren's picture

And where are you going to

And where are you going to sell all of that mast produced art Nelson? I think some of the problems we are having are that there are a lot of good artist, and not just in metal. Just my take on the whole thing is that some folks look at making art as making money, so they get a booth at an art fair somewhere and sell their art just to make money. Now those (art fairs) have been over populated with the mass produced art. Yeah still art I guess but the quality and the creativeness is lacking. (Please note if you are making shit on the stick sorry I offended you.)
Now this is maybe getting off track a little but at the art fairs (just one way of marketing) there are artist there relying total on there sales there. They do not sell anywhere else. Not a totally bad thing but they are the ones griping the most and cheapen their product to sell in the low buck range (under $25) and need the volume.
I rather see less artist and artist make things for art and not just to sell to make money. I myself have gone array sometimes to make those just to sell at art fair items. But they are not mass produced and I feel they are a quality piece of art.
On the other hand I carry 20K to 30K of inventory to the art fairs. I look at it as my portfolio for the world to see who I am and what I am able to make. Hoping that folks will realize that if they want a special piece of art, they can ask me to make it for them, as a commission piece. Of course they still can buy anything I have in my booth. Right now not pushing too much at the marketing end but I have a few possible commissions lined up from the art fairs. So even though my sales are lousy at the art fair I have work lined up for the winter months. Keeping my fingers crossed.

www Metalrecipes -- heat and beat to the desired shape, repeat as necessary.

B.J. Severtson's picture

Totally agree

Our season is about to begin here in central Florida. I will set up at a couple of weekly local markets through the season. I display about 15-20 K of copper work. Sculpture, hollow ware and jewelry. The function of the display is to sell those finished items but also to gain commission work. I have no on-a-sticks, never have. I've never made a spoon ring. I can count on one finger the number of peace symbols I've made, in thirty years. I do make jewelry but I do not string beads or wrap wire around driveway gravel. I consider those to be valid things to do, I suppose. I don't mean to offend. I just consider those things to be in an over saturated market. People come by my booth as much to see the new things I'm working on as to see the finished things i've done. Customers are frequently other art people here on vacation.
Sales are ahead of expenses. But then I don't have a MasterCard payment, a boat payment, a mortgage payment, a car payment or a kid in college. Basically I'm not upside down worrying about how I'm going to juggle spending more than I'm earning. When I see other art people showing things like I'm showing I take comfort in knowing I'm not doing much of that, now. I am not constantly creating product to fill an inventory. I create then, it may become inventory. BJ

copperjoe's picture

Warren, I see where you


I see where you are coming from and agree BUT some artist like me still need to make some form of income to cover booth cost, gas, food, etc. I make a lot of fountains which range in price from $85 to $600. There have been many times that people cannot afford to spend that much money. So for me to stay in the game I have to make some, not to say MASS produced because every piece that I produce is different in some way, but I have to make some pieces in the $10-$50 range. Yes, I would rather do commission work everyday but I know that this early in my career that is not going to happen. I get a lot of recognition at the fairs and most people love my work but cannot afford it so I make small pieces like flame painted mushrooms or flame painted butterflies just so they will be able to buy something from my booth. Then when other people see their little item in their home they can tell them where they purchased it from and the cycle continues. I have received many commissions that way.

In every fair that you go to you have to, in fishing terms, "match the hatch." You have to cater to your customers and that doesn't mean that you have to compromise on craftsmanship, it just means you have to give as much as you can to the customer for the least amount of cost. I, like you, take my best pieces to the show to showcase my work but I also have something for the less fortunate ones that can't afford the high ticket items. They feel more comfortable in my booth when I have items that they can afford. It is kinda like going into a Fancy restaurant and opening up the menu and "gulp" at the prices, it makes you feel uneasy, but it is not as bad when you can find something on there that you can afford. That's just the way that I look at it, I may be wrong, wouldn't be the first time.


Can't never could do Nothing!

Jamie Santellano's picture

WOW! I think you hit it

WOW! I think you hit it right on the money...Jamie Santellano

NELSON's picture

Hi Enrique, I cannot comment

Hi Enrique,
I cannot comment much on the video, `cause I`m having trouble with my PC. Anyway, hope you`re doing ok, and I hope your bro is ok too and all your kins. The subject you bring up is very interesting and of paramount importance right now with this crisis. We artists must be creative in more than one way to survive. Keep well. nelson.

Stephen Fitz-Gerald's picture

Challenging times

Stephen Fitz-Gerald
A good subject to bring up.
My own solutions have required some critical adjustments.
I've taken all my works out of galleries and have my own outside sculpture gallery featuring over 50 pieces.(4 acres at my residence).
I now do many more $300.oo commissions than $3000.oo commissions,but have streamlined my expenses in my life so that i can survive these lean times.
As long as I can get my bills paid,I have way more time to build the things I want to build,unfettered by what others want.This means I can build up an inventory of truly inspired pieces so when the recession ends I'll have more to offer.Fortunately,everything sells eventually,it just takes some pieces longer to move than others.
My postings of my work on many different web sites over the last 3 years is now having a cross pollinating cumulative effect effect which elevates my profile on Google searches.I have more internet sourced commissions from all over the world now (albeit smaller price points)than ever before. I have a great local industrial fabrication/laser cutting outfit that lets me share their shipper and does all shipping and crating for me. These discounts I pass on to the client. So far all large works have been domestic commissions so it's worked out well.
I have put allot of energy in cultivating a huge garden which has not only helped to feed me but is a great stress reliever during these difficult times.

SteelyJan's picture

Hanging in there...

Fortunately for me, my husband's business has been fine....
people are indeed still wanting their homes fixed up....
It's been a slower year but not terrible. Although I have managed to spend way more then I make aka The Florence Biennale....costing us plenty. At least we are adding to someone's economy!
I did a small fair in my local town upstate and sold $1,000.- worth of small sculptures...that made me happy.
I did compromise my prices but it was existing work gathering cob webs in my studio...make someone happy!
Pieces sold between $90.- $300.-....
Here in NYC, there is still money out there. I am up for a large scale sculpture commission, which I will most likely start in Jan. And some of my best clients just bought a new apartment...need new 2010 will be better for me....

QuiQue's picture

Replying to several comments

Replying to several comments at one time...

Dick C: "Selling directly to the retail customer also lets one capitalize on smaller opportunities"

This is the jest of what I was getting from the artists I interviewed. Seems many professional artists that once made most of their living from wholesaling to galleries are now turning to local shows/fairs to bring in additional income. I hear that many galleries have closed their doors so that artists are having to find alternative means for marketing their art.

Warren: "too much back ground noise"

The instructor told our class not to worry about additional microphone placement. I new better, but followed his lead. You are right and I will not use the built in mic for interviews again.

B.J. Severtson: "artists pooling their resources and owning the event"

This is a VERY GOOD idea! The only problem I see is that most artists have no desire to get their hands dirty with organizing and marketing of group events as these. However, I do think you have a good idea. Maybe this is where the local arts councils come into play.

Jake: most of my clients are in the upper income brackets and I don't think they get affected as much by recessions."

The upper income folks have nothing to worry about, and if you cater specifically to them, then you have no problems at this time. However, if the recession turns to a depression, you will be competing more in the future. The other thing I want to mention is that doing commission work is in a different category than doing the art fairs. You are designing custom work for a specific clients taste. Artists producing for art fairs and galleries are creating art they desire to make or believe their art will sell to the general public.

Jamie: "surviving the recession covered things like using your resources, and thinking unconventionally about your approach to art as a business. One of the things that stuck out for me was teaching"

I think you are doing the right thing with teaching and using alternative methods of selling your art. I believe that looking into more "local" resources is something we should all be paying attention to. A good example is the farmers markets and the whole "organic" movement. Folks are looking more at supporting their local communities and art should be something to consider as part of community sustainability.


copperjoe's picture

These are all great comments

These are all great comments QuiQue. I think that in times like these we should "Think outside the box" if we are going to survive. Maybe what worked "yesterday" won't work today so we must come up with great ideas to sell our art. People are holding on more tightly to their money these days. The Big companies spend a lot of money on Research and Development to find ways to get consumers to spend their hard earned money in these times. We, as artist, don't have those resources but as a group we can conquer this recession and survive.

There are so many talented artist on this forum, some old, some new, the "old dogs" can learn new tricks and the "new dogs" can learn old tricks. We all have something to give in this forum so let's help each other to make it through these hard times. There are strength in numbers, "two heads are better than one." I hope everyone stays busy in the upcoming Holiday season!


Can't never could do Nothing!

PeterG's picture

A suggestion for you

A suggestion for you QuiQui.

There are a great many artists around the world with video cameras. Posing a series of questions on blogs like this (and asking for emailed video responses) or arranging webcam interviews with artists around the world would provide a very interesting doco with a wide range of input.

I think your questions were relevant and of interest, but the interviewees needed to be asked more specific questions. It would have also been good to see what they were actually selling.



Jim Cotter's picture

Great Video QuiQui I think

Great Video QuiQui

I think you have a talent for making video

I will survive these lean times by eating more spaghetti
and working harder

I liked the idea the guy had about the payment plan

Innovate - Survive - Thank God You are Alive