How to Make Money on the Road as an Artist, Silversmith, and Jewelry Maker

We interviewed Meghan and she told us that making money as a silversmith is a fulfilling way to be creative in beautiful spaces and use travel to inspire art.

woman silversmith at work

Are you an artist wondering how you can use your creative talents on the road as a van lifer? Depending on the type of art you create, you may wonder how you could bring all your supplies, have a studio space, and make money from your art.

The good news? Although it takes planning, coordination, and persistence, I’m here to tell you it is possible to make an income as an artist, even if you live nomadically.

Today’s interview with Meghan is about how she runs her jewelry business, Meghan Elisabeth Art (MEA), out of her truck camper.

Meghan will be the first to tell you that becoming a silversmith and jewelry maker isn’t for someone looking to “get rich quick.” Rather, it’s a fulfilling way to be creative in beautiful spaces and use travel to inspire art.

Meghan has a mobile studio attached to her truck camper–a custom table built into one of the truck’s side boxes. It’s quick and easy for her to set up and tear down, allowing her to spend her days creating jewelry outside.

In this interview, Meghan answers questions like:

  • How did you learn the skills to become a silversmith?
  • What was it like transitioning your business to the road? 
  • What are the biggest challenges to your small business? 

If you’re an artist or creative van lifer wondering how to use your skills and talents to make an income from your rig, continue reading to discover Meghan’s journey and advice. 

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy for more info.

1. Please tell us about your background and how you started your small business, Meghan Elisabeth Art.

woman sitting at the back of a truck camper
Photo Credit: Camille Docena

Hi! My name is Meghan Elisabeth, I’m an artist, silversmith, and jewelry maker. My creative mind has always gravitated towards 3D and functional art forms (jewelry, ceramics, textiles, etc.), but I didn’t find my love for silversmithing until 2020. It started as my Covid hobby and quickly became the best part of my day.

Meghan Elisabeth Art (MEA) began as a way to share my art with friends and family, but within a year, it turned into an official business and my full-time endeavor. I built MEA in Seattle, Washington, but I have since moved it onto the road full-time! My partner and I missed traveling with Covid and wanted to prioritize our love for the outdoors more consistently in our daily lives.

So we moved into a truck camper with our two dogs, Sacha and Sadie, in January 2023. We’ve been traveling the natural sites of the western US and working from the road ever since, with my studio set up at whatever campground we happen to be at!

2. How did you learn the skills to become a silversmith? How long did it take?

beautiful earrings on the woman's hands
Photo Credit: Camille Docena

I took an online course from another silversmith as a graduation present to myself in the spring of 2020. It was a simple course that taught me how to make a stone ring and helped me set up the basics of an at-home studio, and I taught myself the rest! I was working remotely at the time as a data analyst (and hated it), so silversmithing quickly became my safe space.

I spent about nine months silversmithing in all of my free time. With Covid in full swing, I didn’t have the option to see friends or travel as much, so truly every moment I wasn’t working remotely, I was silversmithing. This consistent and extensive practice really set the foundation for my craft, and I quit my remote job only a year after learning how to smith and started creating full-time.

I was lucky that I picked up this skill so quickly — the process was quite natural, and it truly felt like my hands knew what to do after relatively minimal practice!

3. Did you know you wanted to live in a truck camper before you became a silversmith? What was it like transitioning your business to the road?

woman sitting at the back of a truck camper
Photo Credit: Camille Docena

Nope! I learned how to silversmith in 2020, and my partner and I began conversations about moving onto the road in 2022. Transitioning my business onto the road was incredibly difficult. Not only was it the logistical aspect of how I create and what the studio would look like, but also the entire business model had to change.

Before living on the road, 80% of my income was from in-person markets. So, I lost most of my income when we moved into the truck camper, and I had to pivot how I sold my work. My income didn’t start to turn around until about nine months into moving on the road, which was really difficult (and it’s still recovering).

Creativity-wise, transitioning onto the road was really hard as well. My studio wasn’t easy enough to set up/tear down when we first started, so I didn’t create as much as I wanted to or needed to. We eventually solved this problem with a custom table built into one of the side boxes of the truck.

My process improved drastically with this update because I could set up and press pause just by moving everything back into the box, and I was able to lock it overnight. There are definitely some things I could have done before moving into the camper to ease these transition pains, but I also didn’t know what living in a camper would look like and what was possible for my business.

I’ll share some of the lessons learned and my advice below!

4. How do your travels influence the jewelry you design and create? I’d love to hear more about your artistic process!

silversmith at work
Photo Credit: Camille Docena

I believe all art is inspired by context; the mindset an artist is in when creating will directly impact the end result, and I believe the most authentic art is the art that comes without conscious decision and relies on intuition and emotion as its foundation.

That is where our travels influence and inspire my jewelry — it creates a baseline state of calm to draw from when creating and often subconsciously impacts design decisions like cut-out or stone color. I’ll often start my pieces with the stones: I play with combinations or pull stones that call to me. I play until the layout and colors feel right. It’s an intuitive pull I can’t fully explain.

I often cannot decipher the exact inspiration until after a piece’s creation, but it can usually be drawn directly to a landscape or color combination when looking in retrospect; it’s pretty rare when I can point to a landscape and say, “I’m designing this piece based on this place.” But even if there is conscious decision-making involved, I’ll always go back to the intuitive feeling.

For example, I’ll think of a place or a pattern around me and draw a cut-out for a backplate design that’s made without thought but instead with pure feeling. It’s a meditative practice, and I fall into it naturally–especially when I’m creating outdoors in a beautiful place.

5. How much time does it take to maintain your small business?

woman wearing a beautiful earrings
Photo Credit: Camille Docena

It can vary between 20 and 80 hours a week. Twenty hours would be the bare minimum to keep everything going as is! There is a never-ending to-do list as a small business owner, and, unfortunately, making the jewelry ends up being only 20% of the job.

The variation in hours comes in because life happens! My partner and I prioritize exploring new towns, hiking, skiing, visiting hot springs, etc. while we travel. So most of my “free time” outside of the daytime hours explicitly allocated to work or play is spent on the business. I am so grateful for the flexibility that being my own boss provides, though, as I’ve had multiple occasions of taking time away from the business when my family has needed me.

The downside to this is that time spent in the business is directly related to its income, especially when selling handmade items. It can take years for income to be reliable without consistent marketing, so not only can a time cut hurt the business due to not putting out new work, but also due to not marketing consistently.

6. Is there a high demand for the handcrafted jewelry you create?

silversmith cutting a metal for an earring
Photo Credit: Camille Docena

I’ve steadily built up a solid customer base and consistently sell out of some designs! How quickly pieces sell definitely reflects their price, but I’ve been seeing an increase in sales of more expensive designs over the last year. I am so, so thankful for this because the time-intensive and intricate work required to create the sculptural designs is truly what keeps me (mentally) in this business! I am dreaming of the day these pieces are all I need to sell to sustain me financially.

7. What do you like about running your own silversmithing business on the road?

woman standing at the back of a truck camper
Photo Credit: Camille Docena

I love that I get to create in beautiful places. I also love that my days are spent 90% outdoors (when the weather is nice). My previous studio was inside our old garage and had one very small window, now my studio lives in the side of the truck and I create outside!

We aim to camp in areas for a week at a time without a lot of people and with beautiful views, so the time I spend outdoors is really calming. I will never take for granted how incredible it is to be surrounded by beauty all day, and I am so grateful our living situation allows the outdoors to be so accessible.

8. How do you typically find customers to sell to?

beautiful pieces of earrings
Photo Credit: Meghan Elisabeth

It takes a really long time to build up a loyal customer base! My small audience has taken years to grow. Social media, collaborations, search engine optimization for my website, in-person markets, PR (podcasts, blogs, etc.), gallery representation, consignment brick and mortars, and wholesale shops are the places I am introduced to people.

Sometimes, people will buy at the introduction phase, but most of my sales come from my email list. My goal is always to get people from where they’re introduced to me onto my list — it’s the best way I can consistently show up for and give value to my audience!

Eventually, this leads to sales and repeat customers, but the journey can take anywhere from day one of introduction to a year (or more) of interaction. When looking for wholesale customers (shops that buy my work up front at 50% retail value), I often look through Instagram and pitch my work to shops whose brands and values align with mine.

Consignment shops (stores that carry my work on loan and get a 40-50% commission) do the selling for me! I currently have my work in two galleries under consignment and receive checks monthly from sales at their brick-and-mortar stores.

9. If you don’t mind sharing, how much have you earned through your business?

woman silversmith at work
Photo Credit: Camille Docena

You don’t start a creative business if you want to make money. There are not as many opportunities for passive income as an artist, so your time often equates to money — which means the only way to increase your profit at a certain point is to increase your prices.

It can also take years to build the customer base necessary to make a liveable wage, and my business lost a year of momentum and income when I moved onto the road. In the last year, I made enough money to cover “rent,” but not beyond that.

I’m lucky to have a partner who has supported me in starting this business, and it will likely take several more years before I see a significant return and financial stability! This job is not easy, and it’s not for someone looking to make quick money, but you’d be shocked by how many people think I’m bringing in tons of cash because of my prices. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing and be in it for the long haul if you want to see financial success!

10. What are the biggest challenges to your small business?

woman silversmith smoothing a pendant of a necklace
Photo Credit: Camille Docena

The biggest challenge when you turn your art into your full-time job is that you’re forced to make items that don’t inspire you creatively but pay the bills. I began this business as a way to share my art, not to mass produce designs, but the pressure to do this comes from all directions.

There are ways that I could make more money faster within my business, but I don’t want to forget the “why” behind it: the art. So, I have to be patient in the process of finding loyal customers, accept that the expensive items that embody my artistic style will not sell quickly, and balance creating items of lower price points that don’t challenge me artistically. It’s a long game to see profit in your dream work; if money weren’t an issue, I’d only be making sculpture earrings.

11. Do you have any other tips for someone who wants to start a small business while living on the road? 

beautiful jewelry
Photo Credit: Meghan Elisabeth
  • Prepare a year in advance! Make sure your business model will be successful remotely before fully transitioning. What this would have looked like for me: have multiple galleries/consignment shops that are successful in selling my work, have multiple wholesale accounts and a system in place for outreach (this process takes six months to one year), grow and nurture your email list, begin working with influencers for giveaways and marketing your work to your new target audience early. Transitioning my business onto the road was painful, and a lot of the pain points could have been avoided if I’d planned early enough ahead.
  • Don’t expect to go viral. Living on the road, having a cool story, and posting consistently doesn’t guarantee overnight success — there’s a lot of luck involved. It can happen, but it doesn’t for most of us!
  • For creative businesses: make your studio easy. If your studio setup is difficult or has too many steps, there will always be an excuse not to set up and work. Make it so easy that you’d be willing to work for only 10 minutes at a time! Also, think through weather conditions that may impact your work. For me, this looks like having a wind barrier for soldering and an awning for shade. 
  • Set up passive income streams. If it makes sense for your business, set up passive income streams! The whole goal of living on the road is to experience where you’re traveling to, so the less time you have to spend making money, the better! Continuing on this train of thought: diversify your income streams. This is a good tip for any small business owner, but diversifying your income streams makes your income much more stable.

Connect with Meghan

Check out Meghan’s business website to explore her jewelry and support her work. You can read her travel blog called The Traveling Silversmith and subscribe to her weekly newsletter, Coffee Date, with informal and fun updates on her travels and business.

Meghan also offers a general email sign-up list for early access to her new work, 10% off, and shop announcements. You can follow her on Instagram @meghanelisabethart.

Thank you for reading Meghan’s interview on how to make money on the road as an artist, silversmith, and jewelry maker. I hope her story inspires you to consider how you can pursue your artistic and creative ambitions on the road.

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