HUNTINGTON — Content creators and crafters typically use word-of-mouth and craft shows to sell their products, but with COVID-19 canceling events for safety over the past year, artists have had to adapt.
Charlie Haggard is an illustrative artist based out of Huntington who creates stickers, scenes and even comic books based on realistic emotions, and when the coronavirus caused craft fairs to halt in their tracks, his year lost all of its artistic flare.
“My year of 2020 was fully scheduled and then fully canceled,” Haggard said. “I very much miss having art shows. It is so great to be able to share my work and talk to people there, and I haven’t been able to do that in, it seems, forever.”
When craft fairs stopped, Haggard said he did get to focus on improving his website and his social media presence.
Haggard said he does not like to try to explain his artwork, but rather have someone interpret what they think it means, so being able to post his artwork online and have people find the meaning was beneficial for him.
While creating illustrations is not Haggard’s full-time job, he said he realized early on what a lockdown could mean for people when the coronavirus hit last year.
“I would say every artist, especially local ones, had to take a step back and focus on their lives for a bit,” he said. “And I think everyone is hoping 2021 brings more opportunities.”
For full-time, South Charleston creators Morgan Rhea Beals and husband Michael Beals, the closing and cancellation of craft fairs throughout the country greatly impacted how their leather business reached customers.
Morgan Rhea said she and Michael typically travel to four or five craft fairs a year and made a significant portion of their sales in person.
Luckily, she said, they had already created their website and were using social media platforms to reach people not at craft shows, so they were able to transition possibly smoother than others who had not yet decided to sell online.
“We actually had kind of an advantage because we are online. On our end, I think it helped us because people were shopping online and we were selling online,” Morgan Rhea said. “We just pivoted really. We came out with a whole new collection, and that helped boost our sales and getting new product out there.”
Morgan Rhea said the Bealses’ business specializes in leather products such as handbags, keychains, shoes and other accessories.
For stay-at-home mom and homeschool teacher Tiffany Purvis, of Huntington, her business Craftychick Crochet took a hit when craft fairs stopped.
Purvis opened her Etsy shop after COVID-19 caused craft fair cancellations and she had to adapt to reaching out to new customers.
But with new customers came new places to send products. While she used to sell in person to local customers, she has now shipped her crocheted creations as far as California, and Purvis said each sale is followed by a happy dance from her and her family.
Beyond adapting to the virtual transition of sales, Purvis said another hard part of COVID-19 was still trying to sell products while knowing there were multiple reasons people could not want to buy them.
“The most difficult part was not being able to reach the customers I had in the past during craft fairs and trying to gain trust of new customers,” she said. “People were apprehensive to buy things you made in your home when COVID first started, and due to job loss, they weren’t spending much money either.”
Haggard said it has been a difficult state of mind to create art or products for anyone in the crafting community because artists may feel bad asking for people to buy products while so many people are losing jobs and need to save money.
“There was almost like a bonding moment, not only locally, but across the world, where we were all hurting,” he said. “It seems crazy to think about it, but how can I sell my work when everyone is losing their jobs and things like that? I don’t want to be the person pushing other people to spend money when it’s the hardest to spend right now.”
Jesse Thornton is a photographer and creator of his own business, Reflection in a Pool, but craft show sales account for roughly 70% of his sales and he was negatively impacted by the cancellation of shows.
Thornton said he was typically booked for art events every weekend when the weather is warm, but since he cannot participate in sales in person, he sells his work online and through local businesses.
Thornton sells his photos at The Red Caboose in Huntington, where Purvis sells her products, too, but also at multiple small businesses throughout West Virginia.
While online sales have increased this year, Thornton said local businesses have been the main sources of his sales and it is still not the same as craft shows.
“Online sales have increased during the pandemic, but the small businesses who sell my work tend to do a better job at promoting and selling my work than I do, COVID era or not,” he said. “People have really been pushing to buy local even as things have been shut down, and while my in-store sales have ironically tended to be higher than ever, it still has not made up for the void left by not having the pop-up markets available.”
Thornton said he values the local businesses who assist local artists, and while the pandemic has been tough, it has not all been bad.
“It’s been great to see. The movement to support local has seemed to have grown, and I have enjoyed having more free time to shoot,” he said. “Some of my best images have come from this year due to the downtime.”