Selling Arts/Crafts: Can I make a living?

I ran across a post on one of the forums this morning that (once again) posed the question, "Can I make a living selling my jewelry (knitting, crochet, paintings...) online?" As you might imagine, the answers from the other posters were all over the ballpark. Some said, "yes." Some said, "no." The vast majority, said, "maybe...", and while I think that's the correct answer, it's not the answer most of us want to hear.

To demonstrate my point, ask yourself whether you would have intentionally navigated to this post if I had titled it, "You MIGHT Profit Selling Arts & Crafts Online." No, of course you wouldn't. Neither would I. Even so, I contend that it is the most truthful & correct of the three. If that's not what you want to hear, I'll understand if you leave now.

A fundamental problem arises with the question, itself. It's a subjective question that seeks an objective (yes or no) answer. Read the question, again, & emphasize the words in bold type..."Can I make a living selling my (blank) online? See the problem? First of all, no honest person can say for a fact that YOU can do this or that without knowing whether you're willing, able, or even know how to go about it. If anyone tries to tell you that, ignore them. They are either a liar or a fool. Secondly, the question begs another question...what is this person's definition of "a living?"

I'd love to be among those cockeyed optimists who say, "Yes you can!" In honesty, I can't do that based on my own experience. I sell my work (fiber arts as well as paintings) through a website, Etsy, and group art shows. Through the spring & summer months, I spend 8 hours each Saturday manning a booth at my local art & farmer's markets. All this effort nets me a very nice supplemental income, but not enough that would allow me to quit my "day job." First of all, because the income can't be relied upon. Some months are good, some are not so good. Secondly, when I actually sit down to calculate my hourly wage, it's below what I'd make taking a job at McDonalds. Seriously! There's an enormous amount of time involved in creating the product, maintaining websites/blogs, making ads for Etsy or eBay, marketing myself in webrings and chat forums in an effort to drive traffic to my website or ads, etc. Last, but not least, self-employment means having the worst boss & the worst fringe benefits in the whole insurance benefits, no sick leave, no vacations, no 401K...

So why do I do it at all? Part of it has to do with the artist's need to have their talent recognized & accepted by peers as well as the larger community. Compliments are lovely, but can't be trusted. The best & most genuine compliment is when someone pulls out their wallet to pay hard cash to own something we've created. The second part of it does have to do with the extra income I can derive from my art which, in all truth, merely serves to keep me painting or knitting without dipping into the household budget. Most of the money I make goes right back into buying more paints, canvas, yarn, needles, etc., which we all know can amount to a pretty sizable expense.

Far be it from me to say that you can't make a living from your arts & crafts. You may well be be the exceptional talent who'll be quickly "discovered" & will rocket to fame & fortune overnight. Or, not. You could be just another "starving artist." My best advice...don't quit your day job until you know what the fates have in store for you.


  1. I agree with the maybe answer. I also think it depends greatly on what exactly a living is in the questioners mind and what exactly their skills are. My goal is like yours, I reinvest a lot of my profits into new materials, however I would like to make enought to quit my part time job and craft full time (because it makes me happy and allows me to spend more time with my children), my husband makes the majority of our "living",so I guess my financial goals would be lower than a single parent.

  2. I have noticed that the "net" is swarming over with crafters selling their wares(me included) as a seller who just started selling my handmade soaps and all natural soy candles, on etsy in January and started a blog, facebook, twitter, joined a webring...and...placed my crafts on every website between here and the moon, i still have had only a couple of sells. I am becoming very disheartened (sorry for sounding wimpy) and thinking that it would be like finding a needle in a hay stake to finding MY crafts on the web anywhere. ..does any one else feel this way? Please I`d like to know.

  3. I see two problems with your sales approach. First, handmade soaps and soy candles are very, very tough to sell online. People want to see/smell/touch these items before they buy. That can only happen in person - a farmer's market, local craft sales, holiday gift markets, etc. Once you have an established clientele for your soaps and candles, then you can provide online access for reorders or new customers who have had your products recommended to them. The second problem is that you've entered a highly competitive market. On Etsy alone, there are probably hundreds of other makers of handmade soaps and soy candles. What makes your products special so that you can compete in that marketplace? Beauty? Fragrance? Better ingredients? Here again, I think you'd do better building your business locally where you might have a handful of competitors rather than hundreds or thousands.


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