For decades, Peter Joyes has supported himself as an airbrush artist at state fairs and local festivals. Nothing brings him more joy, he says, than creating a product with his hands that he can sell to the people he interacts with.
Joyes, who lives in Seattle, wasn’t always an artist; he started his career in various corporate jobs in England and the United States. But he realized that confined office environments and fancy work clothes weren’t for him.
He traded suits and air conditioning for T-shirts and long summer days outside. But 32 years later, those working conditions keep him away from the fairs he loves, especially after cancer surgery in 2005.
“I really enjoyed it for many, many years, but I could no longer stand up all day and I found it very difficult to work the long hours,” Joyes says. “It used to be that the fair started at 9 in the morning and went until 11 at night and I would have to be on all the time, since I was the only person doing the work I was doing.”
Along with the physical demands of his work, the economics of his chosen trade aren’t working in his favor these days, either. Joyes says he brought in his highest profits during three years in the 1990s, when he made more than $26,000 selling his airbrush art at fairs.
For many years, he says, he could make back the cost of the booth rental on his first weekend at the fair, but costs are rising and sales are declining. The last time he exhibited his work at the Western Washington Fair, it cost him about $5,000 for basic expenses — the booth fee, a camping space for his RV — and it took him nine days to make the money back.
What’s more, he says, it’s difficult to compete with the growing number of nearby vendors peddling what he calls cheap, imported goods that he thinks people assume are true handmade local crafts.
Despite recent problems, listen to Peter describe how his work has kept him happy for more than three decades:
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