The economy has been bad to many, but for the creative segment of the workforce – musicians, artists, writers, photographers and magicians, for example – the economic downturn has been brutal.
Many creatives are self-employed freelance or contract workers, taking gigs as they come along. This means their work, as well as their paychecks, can be sporadic.
Living such an unpredictable financial life in the best of times is challenging. However, when the economy takes such a sudden dip, crippling such a wide range of industries, living the life of a full time creative is even more daunting.
Mainstreet.com spoke with a few people in the creative fields to find out how creative they’ve had to become to maintain their livelihoods.
No Laughing Matter
Buck Jones has been making his living as a freelance humorist illustrator for the past 25 years. Before the economic downturn in 2008, Jones worked from his Des Moines, Iowa home creating illustrations for some of the country’s top consumer magazines and book publishers.
“I worked on children’s books, educational books, humor and did some ad agency work,” Jones says. “When the big crash happened, it all dried up in a hurry.”
Jones said his business shrank by 40%. His wife is also a freelance graphic artist, and Jones realized he would have to replace his work fast or give up his business and find other work.
Jones had done illustrations for Dog and Cat Fancy magazines, which led him to jobs with their book publishing arm, BowTie Press. “I illustrated over 20 books for them, which established a name for me in the pet market,” says Jones. “When everyone started cutting back, I did some research and realized that the pet market was still a very strong market. It seemed like a natural fit for me to expand into that market.”
In November 2009, Jones launched Pet Cartoon Gifts, a division of his business that sells humorous cartoons of pets and their owners.
“It’s been real good for me,” says Jones. “It’s gotten a lot of attention and favorable response.”
The only problem, Jones says, has been one of pay. His pet cartoon packages range from $69-$119, and two years ago when he was working for corporate clients and publishing giants, he estimates he would have made $500 for the same amount of work.
“I have to get quite a few orders to make it pay,” said Jones. “But I’m pleased with how it is going so far and the number of repeat customers I have.”
He said the pet cartoon business has kept him afloat and helped make up for some of the 40% of his business that was lost in the recession.
Jones is also trying to rebuild the side of his business that works with publishers both in the U.S. and abroad. He said American publishers are confident that the industry will rebound soon, and he’s begun to expand into foreign markets such as South Korea to cast a wider net. “I’m also putting my work into a gallery and just trying to find more venues and get my name out there,” says Jones.