Louis Jones got his start in the art business long before he understood the significance of building a career.
Jones is one of the family owners who runs the Jones Art Gallery in Virginia Beach, which has been a pillar in the community since the 1950s.
Recently, the Jones family settled into a new space at the Town Center in Virginia Beach, where they sell only family works. The new space is 2,000 square feet.
The gallery was located in a different space at Town Center for seven years, at 4549 Virginia Beach Blvd. The new, larger space is at 184 Central Park Ave., right across the street from Ruth's Chris Steak House and the fountain plaza.
"We've gotten bigger and better, and moved right into the center of Town Center," Jones said. "We've gotten twice as big as before.
"Give us earthquakes, hurricanes, a recession and we'll double up."
Creative businesses must constantly reinvent themselves to thrive, in a recession or not. Spontaneity may inspire art but it can also teach art sellers such as Jones to adapt to change, a virtue for business owners in any trade.
Jones said hard times can be the inspiration artists need.
"What a perfect time to create beauty," he said. "Somehow in your darkest moment is when you come up with your best work. What we need to create is positivity, or images that pull us ahead. We have to create images of hope."
His father, the late Herb Jones, founded the family business.
"I started when I was 8 years old working for my father," Jones said.
"He sold over half a million prints worldwide. He was probably the most well-known artist in Virginia."
Jones hasn't done badly himself.
He's gone on to receive illustration credits for books that have exceeded 100 million copies, including works by John Grisham, as well as Neale Donald Walsch's book, "Conversations with God."
The gallery staff includes Jones, his wife Susan and son Ryan.
"We'd been hoping for this [move] for a while," Jones said. "Everything in life is about change, and you have to evolve.
"Just like we do with our artwork, we've got to do that with the gallery too.
"The cool thing about art is we could be doing this until we're 100. As an artist, I can paint for the rest of my life."
Now at the stage where he can enjoy the work he's done for more than 50 years, Jones understands that every creative business needs time to mature.
Fledgling businesses shouldn't focus on the trials ahead, he said. Dedicating their time to developing their craft will get them further.
"As far as the economy, I just won't watch the news. It's so grim, and it's just not true for us," he said.
Business is the best it's ever been, he said.
"I think it's the seeds we've been planting over the 50 years."
Earlier this month, more than 400 people visited the gallery on a Saturday night even though there was no special showing.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for artists and related workers is projected to grow about as fast as the average for all industries, 7 to 13 percent, between 2008 and 2018.
Entrepreneurship is one answer for those looking to enter an industry where employment opportunities are sparse.
"Competition for jobs is expected to be keen for both salaried and freelance jobs in all specialties because the number of people with creative ability and an interest in this career is expected to continue to exceed the number of available openings," said the occupational outlook report from BLS.
Between 2008 and 2018, the projected increase in employment among craft artists is expected to rise from 13,600 to 14,600, up 7 percent.
Fine artists are projected to experience a 9 percent increase in employment during the same time period, from 23,600 workers to 25,700.
In the report, craft artists are defined as those that create or reproduce handmade objects for sale or exhibition.
Fine artists include those who are painters, sculptors, and illustrators, who create original artwork, using a variety of media and techniques, the report said.
Angelia Armstrong, an artist and business owner in Smithfield, has weathered her own storms to continue her arts business. Formerly an engineer, she decided to go into a creative business when she had children because of all the travel she had to do as an engineer.
Her art gallery in Suffolk, Red Thread Studio, suffered a fire in 2009.
While she reopened the studio in 2010, she eventually had to think out-of-the-box to keep her business running.
"I tried to reopen and had issues with insurance and regulations, so I had to give up the whole thing," Armstrong said.
Red Thread originally opened in 2005 at 153 W. Washington St.
Armstrong now works from her home in Smithfield, where she started doing business this spring, and has renamed her business Angelia Armstrong Design.
"I am mostly doing my own art, and teach art classes to adults and teens," Armstrong said. "Fabric art is what I do - I make clothing and accessories."
As for advice for other creative owners, she said having an open mind is key.
"You have to be very flexible and wear many hats," Armstrong said. "I teach, make my own work and sell as a wholesaler to other art galleries that show my work and sell it."
For her, the biggest challenge in running a creative business is having people accept her work as an authentic and legitimate means to making a living.
"People think they can buy it in Walmart," Armstrong said. "We are real businesspeople trying to help the communities we live in - and help other artists."
Jennifer Raines, the owner of Quirks of Art in Williamsburg, has faced similar frustrations.
"The biggest challenge is fighting the 'big box' mentality," Raines wrote in an email. "Some people like the idea of handmade, but they seem to want it at Walmart prices. I try to get customers to understand the value of handmade, especially the idea of handmade in America.
"There are some great stories behind the artists that I represent, and I try to get people to understand the greater good in supporting small businesses," Raines said.
Her business opened in 1997 as Kinks, Quirks & Caffeine in Williamsburg, but closed its Colony Square Shopping Center location last year. This year, the business reopened as Quirks of Art at 1430 High St. in Williamsburg.
Raines runs a contemporary American handicraft gallery selling various artists' work, from handmade cards to furniture pieces.
Raines recently announced she'd open a holiday store in Richmond at Stony Point Fashion Park, from Halloween weekend to New Year's Eve.
"My hope is simple," Raines said. "I just want to double my chances of having a successful holiday season. Of course, it doubles my exposure to risk.
"If it all goes well, I will plan to open a permanent store in Richmond in 2012. If it doesn't - well, at least I tried," she said.
By Danielle Walker