Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

The Business of Art(isans): Part 1

By Cathy Watters on Jan 04 2010 • Filed under Business
Who are the people you see selling their wares at Craft Fairs and Farmers' Markets? Are they hobbyists, artists or entrepreneurs? Does it pay to sell your stuff at a craft fair? We interview three artisans to find out.

Christine Rio, Pink Gargoyle Design, is a mostly self-taught jewellery designer. She does wirework, soldering, silversmithing, and creates sculptural jewellery pieces. 

“I do my own thing and don't really follow any trends,” she says. “[I] just [do] a lot of playing around and seeing what works, and what I like, and hope other people like it.” 

It started two years ago when she bought a make-your-own earring kit from a hobby store. After making the first two, she decided she didn't need the instructions and started  pulling apart jewellery she had hanging around in order to make more earrings.  

“I thought, 'this is kind of cool,'” she remembers, “and then I thought, 'I'm going to sell these!'” 

Several days later she signed up for a craft fair and made 100 earrings to sell.  

A year before she got into making jewellery, she left a career in finance to stay home with the kids. She was used to being very goal-oriented in her job, so as a stay-at-home mom, she took over the hot-lunch program at the school and cooked 100 meals a week, from scratch, for the kids. This lasted two years and when her son started going to school full-time, she suddenly had more time on her hands. 

She started out making and selling jewellery as a hobby, and by the following summer, she was selling her work at a Farmers' Market in White Rock, BC. She had a good response from her initial designs. 

“I thought, 'Hey, wait a minute. This is worthwhile. It is viable. I can make money from it,” she says. She took a class in silversmithing from a jewellery equipment and supply store in Burnaby, and then learned basic stained glass soldering from a class at a craft store. She's taking her time to practice what she learned, experimenting and figuring out where she can go with it.  

“When I started, I was making things I thought would appeal to the general public,” she says. Her initial pieces were a lot smaller, but she loved big jewellery, and felt she wasn't being true to herself. When she finally started making what she wanted, it had mixed results: big jewellery has a more limited market, but she says when it gets a response, the response it really good.  

In fact, her decision to focus more on her own style has had an unexpected result. 

“This year, people have started calling me an artist,” she says. She feels more comfortable calling herself a designer, but art shows are inviting her to submit work.  

To figure out what to charge for her jewellery, she talked to people who have been in the industry a long time. She also searched on the web and read up on how to market herself, and examined the different formulas for pricing work before deciding on one that worked for her. It's a combination of factors which includes, but it not limited to, a price-per-hour that she pays herself and the markup on the materials she uses. 

Her startup costs were low. Initially she used materials that weren't real pearls or real stones, and the metal was silver plated. However, she's been investing the money she earns money back into her business. 

“The business pays for itself, and it pays for me to get better stuff,” she says, noting that  everything is real now. “It allows me to produce higher quality things, and that gives more credibility.” 

The first two years of business had been a huge learning curve for her. She's been learning how to improve her techniques, to become more comfortable exploring her creativity, and to build up a clientele.  

Having no business background, she's also learning how to run a business. And, while she doesn't have a business plan on paper, she says she does have specific goals she wants to achieve. She doubled her revenue since last year and expects that within the next two years the she'll be able to pull an income from it. 

For marketing, she attends craft fairs in the Lower Mainland of BC, and uses etsy (an online mall for handmade products) and shopster.

TIPS:

1. Take a chance. It's $30 for a table at a Farmers' Market. Go and see what kind of response you get. If you like it, chances are somebody else will too.

2. Success won't happen overnight. Accept that you 'have to pay your dues.'

3. Starting a business will affect your family. Include your children as much as possible in what you do. (Both her children help out at the fairs, and her 10-year-old daughter has started her own business making pillows.)

4. Create life balance. Make a schedule so you'll know when to work on your business and when to put it aside and enjoy family time.

5. Prepare for the cyclical nature of the business. Build up your stock during the slow times so you'll be prepared for the busy times. 


Over the next few weeks we'll  be also be profiling: 

Wendy Van Riesen, Dahlia Drive.

Wendy takes used slips and shirts she finds at thrift stores and uses them as her canvas, transforming them into wearable art which sells for around $125 each. Entrepreneur and artist, she's pulled in two directions: does she hire employees and grow bigger, or stay small and focus on her art? 

Jenny Hughes, Me & You Inc.

Jenny is so passionate about the environment that five years ago she started designing reusable shopping bags. After fighting to keep her trademark, changing business partners, and rebranding, is it worth it? In spite of the challenges, she still loves what she does.


2 Comments

  1. Hi Cathy – I like the article. Thanks again for the interview and your support. I’m excited about the great opportunities that the New Year brings.

  2. Craft shows are the best way to test out your product to see whether there is consumer interest…and to get cash in the door 🙂 I started out with a $40 table in Vancouver before going wholesale and finding distributors. Love hear stories of Artists turning into Entrepreneurs! Way to go Christine! Thanks for the article Cathy. Looking forward to the other up coming articles!

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