Too Old to Be a Starving Artist?

by Kathy.
(New York City, New York USA)


I’m 50, single and my son is off to college (don’t worry…this is not a personal ad!).

I’ve had a successful corporate career for the past 25 years – but, facing another 15 years of it seems like a prison sentence and with downsizing threats looming, I am at a crossroads.

Exciting and terrifying.

Is it really possible to survive making jewelry as the only source of income?

Assume hypothetically that I have talent (my long-neglected inner artist is slowly re-emerging).

I know I can work hard, handle the business side and learn the rest.

From what I’ve read here and on Etsy, most artists are married or still young enough not to be worried about a destitute old age.

Am I crazy to think this is a feasible next career? Your honest feedback would really be appreciated.

Warm regards,

P.S. I’m thrilled to have found this site and am looking forward to participating! Rena, thank you so much.


Supporting Yourself with Your Jewelry Business
by: Rena

Hi Kathy,

Welcome! I’m so glad you’ve found us!

And no, you’re not crazy (or if you are, you’re in excellent company here!) 🙂

Here are some of my thoughts and experiences on supporting yourself completely with your jewelry art:

1) The lower your living expenses are, the easier it is to fully support yourself:

This is true for self-employed folks no matter what kind of work they do – the less money you need to get by, the better you can weather the ebbs and flows of having a flexible income.

So if you haven’t already done so, you may want to creatively consider ways you could cut your monthly expenses. For example, discontinuing cable / satellite TV (you can get most of the same info and entertainment online) – I haven’t had TV reception for several years and have never missed it.

Or sharing a household (and therefore sharing housing costs, utility costs, etc.) with one or more compatible people – I’ve also done this, and it can make a huge difference in what you need to earn to support yourself.

Of course, different solutions work for different people – but the bottom line is that the less money you need to meet your expenses month after month, the easier (and less stressful) it is to do so, especially when you’re first starting out!

2) Price your jewelry products and services profitably:

This is really a biggie when it comes to supporting yourself with your jewelry business. See my jewelry pricing formula to figure out the minimum profitable prices to charge for your work.

3) Diversify your jewelry income:

Develop multiple streams of income from your jewelry talent. Especially during the times of year that are slower for selling finished jewelry, consider options like offering jewelry-making workshops / parties (at your place or elsewhere) and children’s jewelry-making birthday parties; jewelry-making kits, etc.

4) Create your own opportunities to sell your jewelry:

For example, bring your jewelry to people as a convenient way for them to shop – especially right before gift occasions – by offering earring lunches, lunch-hour jewelry shows, and other kinds of trunk shows. My book, Easy Ways to Sell Your Jewelry Every Day, details several ways to sell jewelry by bringing it to people who can’t / don’t want to shop in regular venues.

5) Decide what you’re best at, and build your business around those things:

You’ll have a better chance of reaching your goals if you base those goals on your own unique strengths and resources.

6) Did you get my free Jewelry Business Black Book yet?

It has some of the most profitable strategies I used to launch and grow my jewelry business.

They’re all very simple things to do that cost you practically nothing. But they help you evolve your jewelry designs into what your customers really want to buy – and then get your jewelry in front of these interested customers consistently. This can make a HUGE difference in your monthly income.

Kathy, I hope this helps! We’ll be looking forward to seeing more of you around here! 🙂

I wish you every joy and success with your jewelry business.

And I hope you’ll keep us posted as your journey unfolds!

Too Old to b e a Starving Artist
by: Lorna

Hi Kathy,
I’m 62 and recently retired from my govt job, and I’m receiving my SSS and a small pension. I’m making jewelry and selling them at bazaars, fundraisings and through friends and my sale is okay, but I turned around and buy more beads/supplies. I guess what I want to say, is we do make money, but we have to spend them for our business. Probably sooner or later when you have more exposures and traffic to you website, it will be a great source of income. Good luck to you.


It is a saturated market
by: Maria

I have started selling my jewelry a few years ago.
It is Ok as a partime side activity but nothing you can live on.
It is a saturated market with lots of people giving it a try, it takes time to get some results.
In this economy and given the number of jewelry artists that you find at it show (just cheque the category on Etsy) you need to ponder all your oprions and make an educated decision.
All the best!

by: Kathy

Wow – thanks for all the helpful feedback.

Rena, I’ve started to cut my expenses with the goal of simplifying but would still have a long way to go. I’m not sure that I’m cut out for all the in-person interaction with the public either. Maybe I’m not committed enough or have gotten too soft in my old age. I did get a copy of your black book and it is chock-full of ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of. And I really like your approach for diversifying and turning lessons learned along the way into business strategies. Thanks!

Lorna and Maria, thanks for confirming what I’d thought: that a jewelry-making career may be more feasible as a part-time endeavor or during retirement. Lorna, I checked out your Etsy site…really beautiful stuff – whimsical and tasteful at the same time. I love the ring with the silver frog!

I’ll continue to ponder your feedback and read all the great material on the site. Even if I don’t take the plunge, I’m happy to have stumbled on this community and will post some of my creations soon!

All the best,

now is not a good time to quit your day job
by: Anonymous

First of all, age has nothing to with it. I’d give this same advice to anybody who wants to quit their day job now and sell jewelry full time. NOW is not a good time.

Most of those that have been successful got in while the economy was good and the market wasn’t saturated, as Maria said. The fact that you have the business skills helps, but I can tell you I have all the business skills to run a business and while that can save you time and money in getting the business started up and running efficiently, that still doesn’t guarantee people will buy your jewelry, no matter how awesome it is.

I spend a good portion of each day on various aspects of my jewelry business. Maybe too much for the return I get from it. My business roles include designer, manufacturer, marketing, sales, accounting, photography, research, continuing education, and much more. As Lorna said, what money you do make will get reinvested in supplies, tools, displays, etc. so having extra to live on would be a bonus. I’m married and I make enough to pay for my own supplies, so that I’m not a drain on our joint finances. But if we or I had to live on MY income, well, we couldn’t.

I could write a book on this subject, but I’ll conclude that if I had not been fortunate enough to find a job teaching jewelry making to seniors for a local college, I probably wouldn’t still be doing this.

That being said, I’m sure there are people out there quitting their day job & making a success of it, because everything lined up just perfectly for them, but my opinion is still: NOW is not the right time to quit your day job. But definitely pursue jewelry making and selling on the side. It will make your day job more bearable.

Start now while you are still employed
by: Sue Conway

I see what the other people are writing about jewelry being a side business. Well, could you make it a side business now?
Then, transition into a full time business.

I started out doing night events and by calling in sick at my day job here and there to do events. I am really good at sales and marketing and creating my own events, so my jewelry slowly built up steam. I added customers and events until it became quite obvious at my day job. I quit that day job went full time into jewelry making and sales in the summer of 2008.

So, I recommend a transition, instead of quitting one thing to do another.
Good Luck!

One Live Now
by: Patricia C Vener

Now is the best time to leave a job that is not serving you well. Even with reincarnation you still only live this life once. Can you make a living? I don’t know. How much of your expenses are necessary for your contentment? for your peace of mind?

In my case I am trying to earn a living as an artist while I am also the primary family caregiver for my mother who is in the fourth quartile of Alzheimer’s Disease and has several other ailments that incapacitate her. This is a 24/7 job that comes with no pay or benefits. (Except for the benefit of doing my duty as her eldest child.)

But even so, I am not very good yet at implementing the many strategies I encounter and we are scraping by. Despite all this, I would not choose to enter a job I hated. Rather I would and am trying to do everything necessary to make it as an artist. I might fail, but I’m being true to myself by trying.

I’m 58 years of age (though no one believes me).

by: Glenda Munguia

I agree with the comment by Sue, the best bet is to start as a side business and grow it from there until it can become a full time business. I would strongly advise the book “Quitter” by John Acuff.

Love the Bling
by: Lynne

Hi…..I am in the UK and on the over 60 route, I am preparing myself for when I retire next year buy making stock and practising my jewellery skills. Perhaps it is my life saviour at the thought of retiring, but how much I love this! I think I am just going to persevere and see down which path it will lead me.
I must say we are in a economic emergency, but go to the shops, people still find money to spend.
Good luck to all, this is therapy!

Be sensible AND Go for it!
by: Charmed Identities


First of all- congrats on getting the son off to college! It’s a huge accomplishment!

I feel that I have a few worth while comments to add to Rena’s.

1. Save, save, save! In your position- looking towards ‘retirement’ (whatever that means these days), making sure you are regularly contributing to a 401k and IRA is of the upmost importance. You also want to make sure you have a substantial safety net before taking the leap from your day job. Most financial experts recommend 6-8 months worth of living expenses.

2. Make the transition SLOWLY! While I know from personal experience it’s tempting to cut the corporate umbilical cord early- take your time learning the business with the security of a paycheck. You will make some expensive errors in the beginning (and long after the beginning)- that’s to be expected. It’s never a good time to quit your day job AND start a new business. Start the business and work on it part time until you are in a place where you are sure you can support yourself.

3. Rena said it already, but I will say it again for emphasis- PRICE FOR PROFITABILITY!!! It drives me crazy to see people who have paid a $150 booth fee selling their earrings for $2/ pair. How can you not lose money that way!?!

4. Hire out what you suck at. This is a really different mind set for most of us. But seriously, you sitting on the internet for 500 hours trying to write HTML code to make your website pretty isn’t a good idea if you don’t already have that skill set. There are hundreds of places where you can hire brilliant people who enjoy doing the things that you hate. Let them do it! You need to spend your time creating gorgeous pieces that people absolutely have to have, and making sure that people know you exist.

5. Last but not least- find a mentor or a coach. Constantly learning is a part of being in business. Accept that there are a lot of things that you need to learn and become better at. I went into this business endeavor thinking I knew a lot about business (I have an MBA)- little did I know how different it is when you are the one steering the ship. Being an entrepreneur means you have to know a lot of stuff about a lot of different topics. There is a huge learning curve about stuff you wouldn’t even think would be important (I just took an entire class on displays! Who would have thought that even existed?)

Jewelry is a multi-billion dollar a year industry- you can make a living doing it. Just be patient and realize that most business aren’t profitable for the first 3-5 years. Give yourself plenty of breathing room, financially and otherwise to make sure you are successful. It’s a long and scary road, but it is totally worth it in the end!

Welcome to the dark side!

Give it a go!
by: Zoe

Hi, I’m in my mid thirties, and live in the UK, and I’ve made a profit every year that I’ve worked full time on my jewellery – not a large profit, but find I can easily live on sub-minimum wage as I like a simple life. What I’ve found is that whilst craft fairs etc are indeed saturated with people making beaded jewellery, if you take things just a little further you’ll stand out.

I make silver jewellery, nothing fancy, but not only beadwork (no – there’s nothing wrong with beadwork, but there’s loads of it around here!), and I started out trading from a weekly street market. As it’s a popular market, this meant an application form, an interview, then months of turning up at 7am to wait for a spare pitch. I used to get asked all the time how to get a pitch, by people who hadn’t bothered to phone up the market office for themselves – most of these people were trading at craft fairs instead.

I have just opened a small shop, and trading from premises helps with sales, as I’m seen as more legitimate. Of course, there’s more risk involved once you have premises, but there are very few craftspeople who ever take things this far – often because they have other work or family commitments – so you stand out immediately. I work completely on my own, with no staff, so I make behind the counter, and have timed my business hours carefully so that I can go to the bank without shutting up shop.

I’d say that as an older, single woman you’re ideally placed to go for spending every hour of every day making a success of your business. That said, unless you have a little cash behind you, be prepared for it to be horrendously difficult. Think about what you’re prepared to do to make things work; I’m living above my shop, with no hot water, bath, shower, washing machine, fridge etc while I get started but I think it’s worth it to do what I enjoy every day.

My only worry for you is that instead of going ahead and starting your business, you’re online asking if you should. If you’re not sure that you want to do this, then you probably shouldn’t, as it’s great but not easy.

Good luck with making your decision, I understand that the hought of not making money is scary, but believe me when I say that being a bit poorer is really not as terrible as you think it’s going to be, and of course we all hope you’ll be a success and make a fortune! Hope this helps x

Will I Make It?
by: Dr. Gail Devoid

I don’t know if I’ll make it, but I’m going to give it a try. I was just separated from my job in the corporate world, and I have a chance to see what I can do.

I am taking the path of a transition. I will register for contract work, and supplement my income with that while I work to become a full-time jewelry artist.

One thing is for sure – if you never try, you never know. I have been working as the jewelry artist part time for seven years, so I have several of the tools and skills that I need to see if this is going to work.

I intend to continue designing jewelry, writing up patterns, teaching, and expanding my skills. Only time will tell if it’s going to be successful.

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