Artists: How is the recession affecting you?

I'm preparing for three keynotes this spring and my goal is to get a grasp on how the economy is affecting average working artists. Almost all of the data we have from past recessions is from auction houses, which is a poor predictor of how recessions affect the majority of artists.

Please help me to understand this.

  • What is working for you?
  • What has changed for you?
  • What have you scaled back on?

I may be able to use this as a jumping off point for a larger survey. I just need to know the right questions to ask.

Thank you for your help!

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32 comments to Artists: How is the recession affecting you?

  • After leaving the corporate world to pursue an art career full-time, i’m now re-applying for jobs in the corporate world because i’m not able to make enough as an artist, my savings and retirement are way down, etc. i wish i could do what i love and the money would follow, but i don’t have enough evidence of that and i’m pretty pragmatic, so i feel like my art will continue but as a side line for now. eager to hear the thoughts of others! thanks for orchestrating this conversation.

  • What is working for me: My Etsy shop when I keep it fresh and updated. I joined Etsy in September (right when I started to feel the recession) It was a life saver-and a consistent source of income when my gallery sales dried up. What changed for me/scaled back on: I am only represented by 3 galleries now, 2 closed in part due to the recession. I don’t go to as many out of town gallery openings to promote my work due to extra travel expenses. I have been repainting on top of older “less successful” paintings to produce new work rather than ordering new supplies. I plan to use up everything I have rather than order any more supplies for as long as I can. I also just got a little job to supplement my income. That is something I have not had to do in a while. I also backed out of renting a studio space outside my home, and finally got rid of my land line phone as another way to save money. I am trying to stay positive, but I just had an opening and so far only one painting has sold- usually when I have an opening I can count on 5-7 works selling by the end of the show.. I also use twitter,myspace,facebook,blogs, and a website to promote my work rather than relying on only a gallery or a postcard to do the job. I have been doing this for years- but I am discouraged that even this may not be enough in this economy. Hope this helps. Megan

  • Hi Alyson, I saw this on twitter and I thought I’d respond. Because of poor sales last year and because my husband’s fledgling business isn’t off the ground yet; I am applying to fewer fairs to avoid jury, booth and hotel bills. I am putting off buying supplies I need. I can’t rejoin memeberships or renew subscriptions that I would like to. I have made smaller less expensive art. (That isn’t bad though, because I have enjoyed it.) Small sales are trickling in, in 2009 so far. Which is better than none. I partnered with artist at an artist owned and run gallery this year to compensate for less fairs. That is a good step, I think. I have accepted two small art teaching jobs through a local arts organization and I have applied for substitue teaching to supplement my income. I hope this helps you create your survey. For the record, I am very optimistic about the rest of this year, I am just behaving conservatively right now. Thank you for being such a great resource! Sincerely, Heather Haymart

  • I’ve definitely seen a lot of galleries close, and all of my galleries are reporting slow sales. I’ve found sales to be cyclical over the past 6 months – less reliable than the previous couple of years. Paintings are hanging in galleries longer than they used to, and my inventory is up. Despite all that, I had a great year last year, and I’m optimistic about this year. I’m having to be a more creative and a lot more motivated about selling my work (I can no longer rely 100% on galleries) to make the same amount of sales. I’m just doing my best to get my work out there in front of new collectors, and I’m not turning down anything that comes my way. I just accepted a big commission that I might have turned my nose up at a couple of years ago – it’s worth it if I can continue to paint!

  • This is my 10th year working at my full time art career. I started out doing small outdoor art shows and got picked up by commercial galleries. After a few very successful years with my work selling well, sales have slowed somewhat, and I find I need to take on more self promotion and marketing. I’ve even applied to some juried outdoor art shows, something which I had hoped were behind me. I started blogging last year and am on Facebook and Twitter but have yet to work them properly to increase interest, ultimately sales. Living in Toronto, Canada, we don’t have many outdoor art shows because of the limited season so commercial galleries were perfect for me. I always thought that the 50% take of my selling price was worth it as I had more time in the studio. With gallery sales slowing I find I have to “get back out there” so that’s what I’ve been concentrating on. As I can’t really scale back on the show fees and advertising (new Business postcards) I’ve had to scale back on supplies for now. Re painting canvases and being very miserly with paint etc. If things slow even more I’ll be forced to look for a part time job in a frame shop or gallery-anything art related.

  • I have been lucky, I have sold many more paintings in ’09 than I did in ’08 already but I have made all of my sales through personal contacts. NOT ONE GALLERY SALE…..YET!!!!

  • I had a very busy holiday season with my pet portrait business in 08. I did notice a strong trend to the smaller sized commissions. I am staying very busy and I told the universe in Jan. that I wanted to do larger prints this year. Today I am stretching 5 prints and one is a 34 x 34. I also have a pending commission in the works for a 34 x 54. I am staying very positive because I know there are many people that can afford my larger work, I just have to connect with them. That is my job, to connect. My 2 part time helpers left me last year for other jobs and I did not rehire. I am just now thinking about hiring one part time person again with limited hours. I am scaling back on labor, but for the most part it is business as usual around here. I usually tend to avoid conversations about the economy, as I do not like to give it any power. I also do not understand people that use the subject in their marketing, I prefer not to remind people about fear. I want people to be focused on what they love… family, pets, home.

  • • What is working for you? 1. Teaching! Art lovers unwilling to shell out $100+ on a piece of artwork this season still seem interested in spending money on having an art experience. I’m embracing teaching more than I have in the past & my classes are filling easily. 2. Speaking & DVD sales. I have a niche DVD that’s still doing well despite weird economy (knock on wood). Screenings are well attended & online DVD sales are maintaining. I think this has something to do with the experience thing (people seem more willing to pony up for experiences than goods). And the price point helps too… Attending a screening or buying a DVD costs much less than a painting. • What has changed for you? My expectations re: gallery sales. This was going to be my year for finding new gallery representation. Alas, with so many galleries in dire straits, I’m not optimistic about this. • What have you scaled back on? Starting new projects that require a big, up- front cash investment.

  • 1. What is working. Commissions, which I avoided in the past are something I’m now grateful for. Daily paintings sell well. I have more time to study and my painting is improving. 2. Sales and Income are down–people look, love, and don’t purchase as much or as easily as in the past. Even the 80% of people whose income hasn’t been affected. I’m learning a LOT about marketing, and particularly increasing my internet presence since cost is low. 3. I”m making more careful decisions about spending on shows and materials. Decreased income translates into less money all around There are few windfalls from unexpected sales, so no special spending treats!

  • Hi Alyson, I saw your request on Twitter. My clients have started ordering lower priced mediums. I work in 3 different mediums with a different price point for each. This has helped. I also have a new book out and orders are coming in for that. I also have a new camera and took wonderful images at our local horse shows. I offer digital photography now and they are ordering CDs of their horse show day. I also offer payment plans for original art. I’m also shifting into Children Book illustrations, as my paintings have an illustrative quality to them. I have scaled back on juried art exhibits that I will enter and that will need to be shipped to. Our UPS store that we shipped over size packages from has pulled out of our little city, making it harder to ship art out. Debbie Flood

  • For me it has been timing-life transition-recovering from health issues, and then the economic slump. This is what I am doing-crazy or not-see my link and latest post. The important thing about my approach is getting the word out, asking, and trying to maintain that vibration to allow good things to come in to my life. Love your blog Alison!

  • I have started placing my marketing focus on selling my unframed art, and it’s been selling quite well. I can sell it at a much lower price, and it saves me a lot of time and hassle. I also sell paper making kits and microwave flower presses, and emphasize that they can be used to enable people to make their own art – a real money saver. They too are selling well.

  • So far 2009 has been better for me than last year. I’ve sold 4 paintings and will be exhibiting at a museum next month, but nothing through my gallery. I’ve been sending out postcards regulary to my mailing list. I’m focusing on interior designers and art consultants because I think their projects are already approved and have money earmarked for art or their clients have more money for art. I’m entering more shows since the galleries seem to be holding what they’ve got or closing. I’m also showing my work more locally, even in non-art venues, but I usually keep these pieces under $500. I received a nice gift card from Jerry’s Artarama for Christmas so I can keep my art supply costs down. I do this every year. I’m painting painting painting. Things will pick up and I want to have lots of inventory when it does.

  • What is working – creating smaller paintings with lower price points, Etsy (brilliant success here! and blogging daily with images of new works. I also published a book of my work and sales for that were very strong. Unframed originals are selling strongly off the internet (blog/website/etsy) in the $200-500 range. What is not working – 2 of my 4 galleries have closed, one remaining is on the verge of shutting down, and the other has had no sales of my work in the last 2 years. However I am able to sell my work directly via the internet at the same levels, and have a 12 month wait list for commissions. I’ve scaled back on entering juried exhibitions that involve shipping and entry fees. I’m also no longer making larger paintings, which typically went into gallery settings. I also am exploring licensing/secondary market options. Ideally I would like products around or under $100 that would have mass appeal to my collectors as well as to an entirely new clientele. I am relying on regular contact with my mailing list/contacts to work the collectors I currently have. I plan either an electronic or a physical mailing every month. In past years I only did 6 or 7, but this year I’m hoping that consistent contact will keep my work foremost in their minds. I am also focusing more on personal growth – both artistic and business/professional. I am taking courses/studying and being more critical of my work than ever before. I am also taking advantage of the slower times to implement new softwares and other electronic things (like mastering social media). Hope this helps!!

  • I’ve made my living selling art since 1997. January 2009 was my best yet. Etsy store has been good (keep it fresh!), blog, twitter, facebook — people are buying but they are making careful decisions. I’m optimistic! Finally I’m really motivated to utilize my mailing list — to keep my blog up to date — to start that newsletter I’ve been putting off for so long.

  • I haven’t noticed any change yet. I’ve gotten into 2 more galleries in the last month. I’m still working on my art 14 hours a day to keep up. I’ve tried painting some smaller paintings in anticipation of “the bad economy” but they don’t sell as well as my large pieces.

  • Liz Crain

    Oh Alyson, This line of questioning has not come at a better time! Whatever 2009 Plan I concocted as recently as last Fall’s excellent Artist Breakthrough Program, and its refinement in January’s Blast Off class, has evolved into quite a different focus in light of current economic realities AND my new understanding of where markets are and will continue to be for me. THAT transition was made quite clearly for me during and after your challenging and fun Hollister Workshop a few weeks ago. What works for me is being responsive in exactly this way and not to keep barking up the tree of Tradition, just because it is what I used to know. I am quite excited over this dose of reality. I also feel strongly about continuing to just make my work and develop an excellent inventory: this too shall pass. What’s changed: My whole concept of how I need to find the folks who will appreciate and buy my art. I am empowered to contact and speak to them directly, repeatedly, mostly due to your urgings and support. What’s scaled back: Happily, the notion about attempting do it all. This change in the economic climate has spelled ultimate freedom for me to invent myself and my art exactly as I prefer as there is nothing to lose otherwise…and funny thing, there never was!

  • Hey Alyson, Unlike the majority of your readers, I only do drawn illustration work if I do any kind of traditional art these days. I’m actually a Webdesigner by trade and haven’t had work in about a year. Part of this is because many companies either want managers, or people who can fit many different roles. I’m not really a programer, but that’s what they seem to want – a program designer. So I’ve taken to hitting the freelance boards to see what I can offer in order to keep my practice up. I hit up the various art communities as well to see what sort of tradtional comissions I can take up or sell. Over-all I’m living off the State Unemployment and it feels horrible. I’ve learned a lot about the market and networking. This is where a lot of folks are finding jobs, new work, and more contacts. What I might suggest is that folks look for places like LinkedIn.com – business social networking, join the art groups there, and get into the community of it. It never hurts to network.

  • Hi Alyson, I was interviewed for a newspaper in Pittsburgh that ran an article on this very topic. Here is the link if you would like to see how artists here in Pittsburgh are coping: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/ae/s_606640.html.

  • Maybe you can ask: In what ways are you thinking outside the parameters of what you usually do in order to increase your business? Also: How do you think that being in a field which has creativity as its basis you are better suited to create a way to manage during this economy? (terrible grammar, but I know you can fix it!) Lynne

  • Hi Alyson, I had one of the best years in a long time last year. Friends bought paintings, and I had a couple of nice commissions. Definitely the personal connection is important. Get out, meet people. I’m having a show in Seattle next month and have tried to do more small work in anticipation of the market. My other gallery is planning a short incentive offer to clients by giving them a 20% discount on purchases for the next month and a half. We will be splitting the discount. I’m using my blog,emails, facebook,and personal contact to get the word out about my show.

  • Hi Alyson… hope this helps: * What is working for you? I created an affordable line of small paintings last year, after gallery sales started drying up. These small 6″ x 6″ pieces are auctioned every week through my blog, 52pieces.com. Recently, I took the weekly art a step further by creating limited edition prints of every image, and launched 52prints.com. The super affordable prices are a win-win (I maintain a steady stream of income in this economy without discounting my larger works, and people that weren’t able to afford my work before can collect the smaller pieces). * What has changed for you? After reading some of the comments above, I think the general consensus is that gallery sales have slowed down everywhere, and it’s important to get your work online. I believe it’s also crucial to learn social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, Digg, etc) so that you can broadcast yourself in a way most galleries don’t. My biggest change has been starting a blog that allows me to communicate with my audience, and utilizing Facebook to post new artwork for everyone to see. * What have you scaled back on? Although the weekly paintings and prints have provided income, it also costs money to start a business. I’m balancing it all by only ordering necessary art/office supplies, and looking for online discount codes whenever possible. I’ve also cut back on traveling, eating out, and other lifestyle choices. My main recommendation for artists is to create an audience (through a blog or other social media tools), create an affordable version of your artwork, and keep your overhead low (take your work online). Also, don’t expect overnight results. The average endeavor takes 18 months of dedication to see if it will take off or not. Don’t give up and paint, paint, paint! All the best, Renee

  • I have painted mostly commissioned floorcloths for 20 years now and I am seeing a drop in the size of the pieces first off. People seem to be more carefully spending, but still spending. Most of my business comes from referrals from interior designers. This too has dropped back over the last year or so. At one time I sold wholesale and have considered going this route once again. I stopped because of time limitations and it also restricted me from doing the commssion work I love. Custom floorcloths are a very hard sell online and since I have not been traveling to exhibit them I am experiencing the fact that for the most part, people buy only what they can see. If I show one design in only one colorway, I will only get orders for that one colorway, resulting in lower sales. My blog has been a good tool for explaining a little more about options one has in ordering a floorcloth, although I try not to just talk about floorcloths or I don’t believe I would have regular followers. I have a small etsy shop that, if I did a better job of keeping fresh, I believe would be a good venue. I don’t mind transitioning to smaller works at all. 20 years is a long time to do one thing and although it’s really in my blood to design rugs, I love doing fine art as well. I’m trying to see this time as positive and maybe a good time to try new things. Our family will be moving across the country within the next year so we are in store for changes any way.

  • Recognizing that I have a good inventory in my clay, I’m taking this time to learn new skills like glass bead making which has totally captured me and which allows me to make one of a kind jewelry. I’m making and selling more jewelry, and the price point hangs around $100. My sculptures will hold until the environment changes. I have some out in galleries and shops but they aren’t selling. One of my galleries will probably close at the end of the year. Decided to stay close to home and see what I can find/create in my own backyard, including introducing networks of folks to what we have available here in So Md art wise (a lot, actually. We could be a destination. I’d love to see our Econ Dev and/or arts commission actually have working artists working with them!)

  • Reading the above comments confirms that I’m not unique in my experience, and that most artists are adapting in similar ways. This is good, encouraging news because it keeps me motivated. I’ve entered several juried shows, and in the *decline* letters the sponsors all noted the unusually large number of entries, sometimes 50% more than in previous years. This means more artists competing in venues they previously felt that they didn’t need. That’s difficult if you are just *emerging* and relying on juried shows to increase visibility. My websites are going to get attention, too, as well as the focus of my blogs. I’ve been working on an Etsy shop, which is taking me longer to learn than anticipated. I’ve been selling well on ebay, with work I paint specifically for that venue. The silver lining with ebay is that it’s an excellent way to grow my mailing list – something I’ve struggled with over the past year as gallery sales disappeared. Keeping optimistic is difficult some days, but I’ve been challenging myself to think differently, paint differently, and approach my ideas of making art – the whys and why nots – differently. Where last year I thought about taking the Blast Off class but felt I wasn’t at the skill/defined level I wanted yet, this year I may look at it as a way to gain a clearer view of the road ahead rather than as a solution. Thank you for always looking at ways you can help artists navigate through these frustrating times. Art isn’t going to go away. When people emerge from this fog, the artists who used this time to move closer to their goals will be successful.

  • Thanks so much to everyone here! I think I will do that survey and hopefully we’ll come up with some useful stats. Your help with this is greatly appreciated.

  • I’ve been following this thread and find all of the responses so helpful and uplifting. Things that have changed for me include a lack of materials that I used to obtain from the construction industry. Also, my main outlet is now charging a membership fee, which I’ve struggled with. Instead of focusing on what no longer works, I am focusing on a new plan. I’m branching into teaching and have launched a blog on the creative process. The process of blogging my thoughts on the subject have forced me to organize and a syllabus, so to speak, is emerging. I’m also learning much more about my own process and why I do it, making me a stronger artist. In addition, I am focusing on innovating. I’m research and trying new techniques, focusing on a new product line that is in line with today’s values. (Economically and socially.) This gives me optimism. Finally, I am following blogs like this one, networking, Facebooking, blogging . . . As I told a fellow artist: I don’t know where it will all lead, but I trust the path. Thanks for all you do, Allyson.

  • The biggest affect the recession is having is that my corporate projects are down. I had several large commissions for companies get postponed, despite receiving project approval, etc. The economy was always the reason — the thought was that purchasing artwork when employees were being scaled back, even if the company was doing fine financially, gave a poor public image. After sometimes months of meetings/ specs/ etc., this is difficult. The only large-scale project I currently have is being purchased by a university (education seems to be doing fine right now). I usually only have a few of these projects a year, but they are big ticket items, so it’s been pretty painful. On the other hand, small custom work is selling very well! Like others, I have an Etsy shop and have done well selling things there when I keep it updated. The designs are small, focused, and since I can pre-make many of the components, fairly quick and easy to make (I work in metal). My gallery sales are also down somewhat, but they are all still in business! I’ve balanced things by branching out to more venues, mainly out of state. I have wholesale and consignment arrangements with almost twice as many venues as I did a year ago, and things are still slow and steady.

  • I don’t have much to add but have found your responses very beneficial. I am new to art, leaving corporate America in December. I’m probably going back to my old field soon, hopefully for a year or so until I can make the art more sustainable. I am having trouble pricing with current economy. I get lots of interest but not many buyers. I hear “finances are tough” a lot. I have considered Etsy, so nice to hear some positive feedback there. I have several things in exhibits but they aren’t selling. I’m just going to keep marketing in person and online to get my name out there. Best to everyone!

  • Hi Alyson, Sorry for the late response. I hope I can add a little to the discussion. * What is working for you? * What has changed for you? * What have you scaled back on? I continue to post featured ads 2x/month on my Wholesalecrafts.com page. I also ran an ad in their winter Buyer’s Guide. While hits to my page on their site are increasing, I haven’t received any new gallery orders since early January. I have received 2 re-orders and 2 catalog requests. Otherwise it is quiet. This is a big change over the past two years. Consignment sales, however, continue to provide a small income. Having both the wholesale and consignment options has been good. I’m using this time to work on new products in my fine art line. My vision is to have my fine art line become the primary source of my business income and less so on the production work. I’m learning how to create an e-newsletter and working on two new web sites. I also started a creativity coaching training class. Since I’m not shipping orders, that has been a cost savings. I’m also clearing out old supplies and reorganizing my studio. I am watching my finances and spending money where it will be most beneficial (along with set monthly expenses.) That means buying supplies as needed and maybe not splurging on something new. I’ve limited myself to one workshop in S France this summer which I’ve been saving for since last year. -Amy

  • Alyson, I hope you don’t mind my posting a link to my own blog. I just wrote a post on being “gainfully unemployed” in this recession: http://www.postdiluvianphoto.com/blog/?p=237

  • [...] a month ago, over 1000 artists helped me with a survey to try to understand how they are coping in this economy. I now see why survey professionals get paid the big bucks. I noticed all kinds of flaws in my [...]