Artisan 2.0: A Guide to Craft Careers

Making. DIYing. Handcrafting.

Whatever you dub the movement, it has shaped our culture and, increasingly, our economy. Growing demand for handcrafted or artisanal goods is too often viewed as a by-product of hipster taste or, as sociologist Richard Ocejo dubs them in his book, Masters of Craft: “cultural omnivores.” While these young consumers have supported an upswell of artisans, experts suggest there is a lot more to the movement than mere trendiness: The Economist reports that Harvard economist Larry Katz once reckoned that the future of “good” middle class jobs would rise from an artisan or skilled craft renaissance.

Learn how and why to launch what Ocejo calls a “new-old” job.

Why Artisan Work is Making a Comeback

The rise of makers and crafters may seem like a departure from the traditional nine-to-five career with benefits, but as the Economist points out, the notion of the “company man” (or woman) is really just a post-war construct: self-sufficient artisans are the labor market’s historical norm. So, why have they returned? The following are just a few of the drivers experts contribute to the shift.

The Economy Has Changed

For all its devastation, World War II kicked the American economy into gear. Good workers were in demand, and employers were willing to entice the best of them with health insurance, pensions, and similar perks. The recession changed everything. As designer Michelle Smith told The News & Observer, fears surrounding unemployment and stagnant wages have prompted Millennials to become their own bosses, putting their faith in themselves. This tendency has also helped drive a second movement closely linked with the maker or craft movement: the homesteading movement, which promotes gardening, canning, homebuilding, and other means of self-reliance.

Employers have also played a role in the shift from company careers to the so-called “gig economy.” According to Financial Times, the prophesized automated takeover of the American workforce and the career equivalent of a seller’s market have compelled many companies to reconsider what they want from an employee. Now, instead of a Jack-of-all-trades, many employers prefer to hire a cache of specialists, under contract, who are exceptionally good at what they do. This means even highly educated workers may not get the insurance, retirement, and other safety nets their parents had. As one artisan told The News & Observer, some young workers believe that if they are going to take such career risks, they may as well do something they love.

Handmade Is Culturally ‘Authentic’

The artisan movement may be more than an offshoot of the hipster movement, but the culture certainly helps. Skilled crafts are often considered more ‘real’ or authentic than the tech and finance careers that spurred our knowledge-based economy, and according to Ocejo, that is precisely what cultural omnivores want. He says these young consumers are a departure from predecessors who prioritized brand and prestige. Instead, cultural omnivores have democratized taste, meaning they may be even more inclined to buy a quirky, handmade wooden bicycle instead of a high-end commercial model with all the metaphorical bells and whistles. It also helps explain why, according to NPR, independent bookstores grew by 35 percent between 2009 and 2015, despite the e-reader and Amazon revolution.

Artisan Jobs are Doable

The backbone of the traditional artisan-based economy was the apprenticeship: students sometimes studied under experienced craftsmen and craftswomen for years before working independently. The modern job market no longer supports such a system; rising student debt means many workers need to get out and earn a solid living as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, they have a new tutor: the internet. Now one can learn how to do virtually anything from home, and using multiple sources. The web also makes it easy for new artisans to network and sell their goods. This, coupled with the rash of new makerspaces and coworking spaces, which make space, tools, and resources more affordable, have made craft-based careers manageable.

Making a Future: Craft Jobs and Products

Artisan jobs are traditionally skilled crafts done by hand, though hand-drawn graphics and digital arts have blurred the boundaries. Nonetheless, the concept embodies a seemingly endless breadth of occupations. Canada’s Department of Employment and Social Development lists dozens of unique artisanal careers, for instance, from Aboriginal art-carver to wreath-maker. The first rule of finding the right craft is to figure out what you love and where your talents lie. Beyond that, it’s just a matter of deciding what to make. Here are a few of the most popular handmade items available websites like Etsy, categorized by craft.

Popular Goods to Craft and Sell
Textiles
  • New and upcycled clothing
  • Sewn and embroidered wall art
  • Cloth diapers, liners, and “longies”
  • Chunky sweaters, scarves, and throws
  • Custom patterns
  • Cloth notebook covers
  • Laptop or tablet sleeves
  • Reusable shopping bags
  • Toys
  • Screen-printed clothing and bags
Leathercraft
  • Messenger bags and purses
  • Wallets
  • Belts
  • Laptop bags
  • Jewelry
  • Personalized wallets and other items that have been embossed, etched, etc.
Carpentry
  • Farm tables and chairs
  • Bookcases
  • Dressers
  • Desks
  • Coffee tables
  • Refinished or upcycled furniture
  • Butcher block work tables and counters
Woodworking
  • Signs
  • Frames
  • Cutting boards
  • Book, tablet, and phone stands
  • Burned or carved decor
  • Rustic planter boxes and crates
  • Blanket ladders
  • Shaped bowls and other dishware
  • Bookends
  • Toys
  • Surfboards
Glass and ceramics
  • Blown glass dishware and art
  • Stained glass windows and art
  • Fired ceramic dishware and art
  • Flower pots
  • Upcycled farmhouse windows
Jewelry design
  • Glass jewelry
  • Leather jewelry
  • Hemp, seagrass, or other woven jewelry
  • Jewelry crafted from found items
  • Etched metal jewelry
  • Burned wood jewelry
  • Upcycled or repaired vintage jewelry
Papercraft
  • Handmade paper
  • Embossed paper
  • Hand-painted or -inked cards and stationary
  • Origami art or jewelry
  • Upcycled and vintage art (e.g., botanical or dictionary art)
  • Decoupage furniture and signs
  • Wreaths
Bookcraft
  • Handmade books, notebooks, and bullet journals
  • Bookbinding and repair
  • Restored vintage books
  • Laser- or hand-cut 3D book art
  • Color-matched collections of used and vintage books
Culinary arts
  • Raw honey
  • Jellies and jams
  • Craft beer and other spirits
  • Fondant cake art and toppers
  • Personalized cakes and cookies
  • Other canned goods
  • Smoked and dried meats
  • Fresh cheeses from cow, sheep, or goat milk
Other crafts
  • Welded and machined art
  • Hand-drawn logos, fonts and other graphics
  • Handmade or restored clocks
  • Pressed or dried flower art and wreaths
  • Photographic cards, stickers, and wall art
  • Homemade soaps and bath bombs
  • Beeswax candles
  • Woven baskets and rugs

Where to Sell Your Goods

Knowing what to make and actually doing it is the first step toward making it as an artisan, but does you little good if you cannot make a sale. For many crafters, that means hitting the web. Here are just a few popular online marketplaces that specialized in independently-produced goods:

  • Etsy
  • Craftsy
  • Artfire
  • Handmade at Amazon
  • Hyena Cart
  • eCrater
  • Creative Market
  • Handmade Artists
  • Society6
  • DeWanda Marketplace
  • Zibbet

Artisans seeking a more personalized exchange than the internet affords need not worry: according to The News & Observer, the popularity of handmade items has prompted many brick-and-mortar stores, flea markets, and farmers markets to sell and promote artisanal crafts.

Aimee Hosler
Aimee Hosler
Writer

Aimee Hosler is a long-time journalist specializing in education and technology. She is an advocate for experiential learning among all ages and serves as the director of communications for a non-profit community makerspace. She holds a degree in journalism from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

Related Posts

Green Thumb: How to Grow Plants for Your Home or Business

Local plant expert and owner of Fox Hollow Creek Nursery in Eugene, Oregon, Michael Kaszycki recommends that novice gardeners looking to beautify their properties, decorate their homes, or grow their own veggies, think carefully about what they want to do before planting.

Guide to Awesome Careers Out in Nature

It’s rarely about the money. Ask someone with a job that keeps them outdoors why they’re there, and very few put “earning a steady, sizeable paycheck” at the top of their priority list.

How the Youth is Taking on the U.S. Government to Combat Climate Change

The landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit, Juliana v. the United States, was filed in 2015 by 21 youth plaintiffs from around the U.S. The case against the federal government targets national fossil fuel programs, claiming that ignoring the harmful impact of fossil fuels on climate change is a violation of the constitutional rights of children and a failure to protect public trust resources.

How to Track Animals: An Interview with an Expert

Animal tracking not only provides an in-depth knowledge of animal behavior and movement, but it also allows a broader understanding of how societal development could hamper or benefit animal populations. And while animal tracking has changed drastically due to advances in modern technology, the human element remains of critical importance.

Recycling Envy: Five American Cities with Excellent Practices

In 2015, the United States sent 171 million tons of trash to landfills. In our age of innovation and awareness, the United States recycled or composted only 34.7 percent of its municipal solid waste—a.k.a. trash—according to the EPA.