Why choose a career in craft?
Have you ever been told that craft isn’t a “proper career”? Maybe you were steered clear of pursuing your passion for sewing or painting because of family expectations or a careers adviser pushing you in a different direction? Craft education has been low down on the school curriculum for far too long, and access to craft is often restricted to those who can afford it – despite the £3billion a year craft adds to the UK economy, the 37.7 million people who buy craft every year, and research proving that craft reduces stress and anxiety and contributes to well-being.
In this article we want to fight the corner for craft as a career, and highlight the rewards and benefits that come with making for a living, through the words and experiences of our community of creatives.
Written by Camilla Westergaard and Sophia Moreno
Main image: Shelves in the studio of Kate Cooke Ceramics
We asked our Folksy community to tell us about their careers in craft, what they love most about their profession, whether being a maker is financially viable and sustainable, whether money is the driving force behind their career choice or outweighed by other benefits, and what they would say to someone considering a career in craft. Here’s what they said…
A career in craft gives you creative freedom
When we asked our sellers what they got from running their own craft businesses, freedom was an answer that came up again and again – both the freedom to explore different creative directions and the freedom to choose where and when to work.
Cat King Ceramics feels passionately that running your own craft business is the best career out there precisely because of the freedom it allows. “Quite frankly I’ve got the best job in the world,” she says. “I chart my own course and make what I love – it’s even better that others are starting to value handmade and appreciate the love and imagination that goes into creating each piece. Honestly, everyone should try it.”
That ability to chart your own course is echoed by Lottie Breakwell from Paper Ink Alchemy who explains: “Running my own business allows me to be adaptable to situations around me and allows me to look after myself.”
The freedom to make your own creative choices and explore avenues that might not otherwise be open to you is something that Gabriella Szekely values highly: “Running your own creative business encourages creativity. It doesn’t feel like a job, it feels like it’s freedom of expression with benefits.” And with more creative freedom comes more happiness, as Beth Handforth from Little Betty Designs points out: “Running my own business gives me full creative freedom. I’m doing what makes me happy.”
A career in craft can adapt to your needs
A career in craft doesn’t have to be full time – and this can be a huge positive. It can adapt to your needs and fit around your life. Many makers have ‘portfolio careers’ or ‘side hustles’, running their own shops alongside a part-time or full-time job (or jobs). Whereas for other people, craft offers an additional source of income – and creative fulfilment – while they are bringing up children, looking after other relatives, in retirement or when their usual stream of income dries up.
I wish that someone had told me it was ok to have two jobs.Donna from Make Your Own Happy
For all these people and more, craft allows them to build a business that suits them and which they can grow at a rate that’s manageable, and even scale back if they need to.
This is the case for Helen from Longfield Designs: “I’ve always loved being creative but it had remained a hobby, alongside a very science and maths-dominated education and work. It was the right route for me, but I objected to being put in a box, as if science and arts can’t mix or a person has to be one or the other. When I had my first child I knew I wanted to stay at home and focus on my new job as a mum, but I also realised I needed something to keep my brain active. So I decided to start my own craft business. That was nearly 12 years ago. I have run it alongside raising my family and various part-time work. It’s only over the last year or so that I’ve been able to devote a bit more time to developing it. I love what I do and how it has evolved. It suits me and my life choices perfectly.”
If you read our Meet the Maker series, you’ll find lots of similar stories of makers who started their careers in craft because something in their life changed – redundancy, children, or more recently furlough – and whose creative businesses have grown and adapted as their lives have.
You can make your career in craft what you want it to be.
A career in craft is good for your mental health
As makers, we’ve always known that craft is good for your mental health, but now there is research to back that up. A ground-breaking study commissioned in 2019 by BBC Arts and UCL, shows that even the briefest time spent on creative pastimes such as painting or pottery has a positive impact on our wellbeing and emotions. Craft can help to improve mood and reduce stress, while the repetitive nature of many creative activities, such as crochet and knitting, which require focus and attention, can help with mindfulness.
The positive effects of craft on mental health and wellbeing is something that deserves to be more widely known and recognised, and, as artist Annie Stothert petitions, more highly valued by people in positions of power: “The arts in general are undervalued in this country. They are seen as second-class subjects in schools and chronically underfunded by the government. All this despite the added value they bring to local economies if properly promoted and the proven value to the population’s mental health that the arts provide.”
It’s also worth noting that in 2020, a quarter of makers surveyed reported having a disability, and that for people with physical or mental health issues, craft offers an income stream and viable career when some other avenues may be closed to them. This is what happened to Debby from Bearlescent: “I started my craft business when disability meant I could no longer do my desk job. I treat it as a full-time career, very long hours, very poor wage but it’s mine – my creations, my hard work, my ideas.”
To read more about the link between craft and wellbeing, see our dedicated series – https://blog.folksy.com/category/craft-and-wellbeing
You can also find strategies for staying creative, positive and productive when you are a maker with health issues here – https://blog.folksy.com/2018/09/27/how-to-craft-with-health-issues
A career in craft makes you a more creative thinker
Anyone who has ever tried to draft a sewing pattern or work with ceramic glazes knows that science, maths art and craft are inextricably entwined. Just look at Leonardo da Vinci and all the Nobel prize-winning scientists who have an artistic or craft hobby. Scientists have recently been banging the drum for creative endeavours as the key to success in their field, actively recruiting candidates who have creative backgrounds. Science requires imagination and invention to reach new discoveries, and these are skills that are honed by creative practices.
As Poppy Darling points out: “A creative mind allows a balanced, well-rounded approach to subjects, in and out of a ‘traditional’ workforce. Businesses have long undervalued creative minds in their workspace but are now considering ‘outside the box’ thinkers, which I hope will be encouraged in schools for the generations to come.”
This is echoed by Louise Condon aka the Ceramic Botanist, who, as well as being a maker, has taught in a further education college for 21 years and believes makers are essentially problem solvers: “People who think outside of the box and find ways and solutions around a problem – that’s what creatives do.”
So if you want to be a true polymath, get crafting.
A career in craft is a ‘proper’ job
“How funny that as a child you’re encouraged to learn to draw and use pencils and paints, everybody is smiling around you because you painted something. Then suddenly you are told to stop doing this seriously.” This observation by Zsuzsanna from Heartwood Minimal Decor will ring true for many makers.
As @dontsaydahlia testifies, being discouraged from pursuing a career in the arts can have long-term implications: “My high school careers adviser told me art and craft was a hobby not a job. That’s haunted me all my life and rings in my ear every time I sit at my workbench. I’ve had chances since then but blew them all because of poor self-esteem and I’m desperately trying to make a go of things now so I can fulfil my destiny.”
Thankfully stories like this one from Sharon Dickinson are not quite as common now: “Back in the day, I passed the 11 Plus and went to the grammar school. I wanted to do metalwork and technical drawing – not allowed! They did eventually put me (the only girl) into tech drawing but the teacher was so hostile and unhelpful that l gave up. I was allowed to try typing instead. That really was not for me. My last refuge was the art room – the teacher slipped me a key and that was where I hid during lunch times. When it came to careers you were supposed to get a place at university and if not, as a girl, then the other option was teacher training college. I was so discouraged that I played truant most of the time.”
Luckily for Sharon, there was a happy ending: “I was drawing in the local museum when a lecturer from the local art school came over. He arranged for me to have an interview there straight away. Until then I was totally unaware this could be an option. What followed was a lifetime of making.”
There is still much more work to do in and out of schools to show that craft can be a “proper job” and young people are actively encouraged to pursue creative careers. But the more success stories they see, and the more investment we have in arts and craft education, the more likely those changes are to happen.
And until then, it’s never too late to go against all that “advice” and follow your creative dreams. Take Diane Lee from SilverHares Jewellery: “I’m a northern lass from a working class family. I was always told that art was all very well but you need a proper job, to earn a living. The universe shuffled round a bit and the proper job disappeared when I was in my 30s. Thank goodness it did. It’s taken a long time to turn this into a business, but it is. It makes me happy and it pays me more than many of the other, fairly unpleasant jobs I have had in the past. I can’t wait for Mondays – I love my job, it’s as much part of me as it is an occupation.”
The moral of the story? Don’t listen to anyone who tells you craft isn’t a proper job. It is.
There are lots of different careers in craft
“I’m an art teacher, and the amount of times I hear parents dismissing art as a career option! There are more art-related careers now than ever.” Claire from The Glitter Creative.
As Debbie Greenaway from debbie g draws found, too often the only art and craft-related careers options we’re told about at school are “either fine artist or graphic designer.” But there are so many more that we never hear about. For example, weaver Nell from Hem: Handwoven wishes she had been shown there was a route into designing costumes for film when she was younger.
And as Mary, Carole and Kirsty from 3stitchersscotland point out, while other professions may soon be replaced by artificial intelligence, it’s much harder to replace artists with machines.
Whether you want to be a pattern cutter, bicycle builder, curator, milliner, set designer or weaver, there is a career in craft for you!
- Find a list of the many different careers in craft here https://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/learning/craft-careers
- Download a free information pack for schools on various careers in craft – https://media.craftscouncil.org.uk/documents/Craft_Careers_MFS.pdf
- NatWest have also launched a series of videos and lesson plans for with advice on careers in the wider creative industries https://discovercreative.careers/video-programme/
A career in craft can pay your bills – and make you happy
It’s fair to say that for most makers, craft doesn’t bring in the big bucks. In the 2020 Crafts Council Market for Craft survey, the majority of makers reported a profit of less than £30,000 – this is below the median annual salary across the UK (which in 2020 was £30,350) and fewer than half of all established professional makers surveyed said they earned their living solely through selling their work.
It’s important to emphasise that, for craft to be your career, it needs to be financially sustainable for you, which means carefully considering your outgoings and what you need to earn to cover those. In the words of Julie Love Little Works of Art, it means “being realistic about paying the bills”. But as Sarah from Sarah and the Wolf points out, although it isn’t easy to earn a living from your craft, “that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth pursuing” – and it doesn’t mean it isn’t possible either.
There are many makers out there who are able to earn a comfortable living and there are also those who are thriving commercially – there are certainly makers on Folksy who are financially very successful. Like any industry, though, a career in craft takes hard work. It’s not enough just to make something, list it for sale (or take it to a craft fair), and expect to have a sustainable business. There is a lot to learn and do that’s not even related to craft, and it’s common for successful makers to only spend around 20-40% of their time actually making, with the rest of the time spent on admin and marketing.
The advice from many of our makers is that when you’re starting out on a career in craft, it’s sensible to retain another regular source of income, at least until you become established and feel financially secure. Sarah from Sarah and the Wolf advises “having other skills to fall back on to ensure your bills are covered, which allows you to make the art you want to make. I adore what I do and am beyond happy… but it is not without its struggles,” adding, “you can have it all – you just need to work your butt off”.
But every artist and maker we heard from told us that their lower incomes are far outweighed by the rewards of doing what they love. “It’s not very easy to earn a living doing this, but the job satisfaction is much higher,” says Steven Prusinski-Stills from The Happy Chappo.
The idea that there is more to living a good life than just money came up time and time again. “Unfortunately there are a lot of people who believe a career is measured by the amount of money you earn, and if you don’t earn a decent wage it’s not a proper job,” notes Debby from Bearlescent. “To me, personally, success isn’t measured by money. I have built a customer base over the years and have an excellent reputation. I have made people smile and cry with my creations, so I believe I have been very successful.”
However, before we go down the route of perpetuating the ‘starving artist’ trope, as Jodie from The Letter Loft points out: “It’s OK to say you want and like the money. This isn’t a hobby.” She is absolutely right. If you want to make for a living, it needs to be bringing in enough money to support you and be financially viable.
One of the problems, as Nell from Hem Handwoven identifies, is that craft isn’t highly valued in the UK, which means many makers find it hard to charge enough for their products. She explains: “We’ve lost the value in making. Everything starts with kids – education and beyond. They need surrounding with making things from scratch. They need to know people that make, they need to make themselves and they need to know that there’s a future in craft. This starts with valuing the skills and the people who possess and share them.”
This is a topic we’re really keen to explore further, so look out for more on this soon. In the meantime, here are some of things our makers get from a career in craft, besides the income:
“Job satisfaction – that’s crucial – and a positive approach to wellbeing.”
“To enjoy what I do is more important than how much money I earn.”
Teodora, Teodora Paintings
“I’d much rather do a job I enjoy for less money than dread getting up!”
Emma Weeks, DotkDesign
“I love that other people love what I create. And I love learning new things every day.”
Emma Atkins, Tablier Designs
“Craft allows me to bring to life the ideas I have. The happy jig from a sale is pretty special too.”
Jacqui Futers, bythecrookofmyhook
“Craft gives me a purpose.”
Ethan Jerome, Creativemind Studio
A career in craft enriches all our lives
For all the reasons above and more, it absolutely does. As we’ve all experienced in lockdown, our lives would be much poorer without makers filling our world with their ideas, skills and imagination.
We’ll give the final word to Debby from Bearlescent: “I’m so pleased that so many makers have pursued a career in craft anyway, despite the obstacles thrown in their way. We need more artists in the world!”
Are you looking to find a career in the arts and crafts sector and don’t know where to start? The Crafts Council website has incredible resources, we recommend starting here: https://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/learning/craft-careers.
Our ‘Meet the Maker’ series on Folksy was made to shed a light on craft as a profession and the process that artists go through to become successful. We talk to makers at different stages of their careers and the various types of businesses that they’ve made. We hope they spark inspiration for you and show you that selling handmade work can be a sustainable choice. You can read the interviews here: https://blog.folksy.com/category/interviews
Why buy handmade: https://blog.folksy.com/2011/07/14/buying-handmade
Advice on selling your craft: https://blog.folksy.com/2015/06/23/tips-for-selling-craft-online-2
Free information pack for schools: https://media.craftscouncil.org.uk/documents/Craft_Careers_MFS.pdf
Videos and lesson plans with advice on careers in the wider creative industries: https://discovercreative.careers/video-programme/