How Individual Makers Can Tap New Markets


In the November BLADE®, “Unsheathed” outlined the Custom Knife Collectors Association/Jerry Fisk Cutlery Challenge and its potential for tapping new knife markets. Since then, maker Kevin Hoffman’s “I Am The Walrus” art knife placing fourth in the Art Kudos International Juried Art Competition & Exhibition is instructive in showing how individual makers can enter their knives in art competitions and, thus, expose their work to new markets as well.

      Why is exploring new markets important to custom knife enthusiasts, makers and others in the industry? For one thing, new markets mean more exposure to new buyers/collectors, and thus more potential demand for custom knives—and such increased demand translates into more value placed on all custom knives.

      Over 400 artists from 23 countries entered 1,251 individual works in the Art Kudos competition. From these, 157 artists were chosen. Of them, a mere 10 won awards, including Hoffman (

      Kevin subscribes to several art publications—including ARTnews and professional artist and metalsmith magazines—and belongs to the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG), all of which publish “calls for artists” and art competition announcements. “There are lots of other art publications that you can find on the newsstand,” he added. “There are dozens of art competitions all over the world at any given time, and it’s a matter of finding ones that you qualify for or that your work will fit the criteria for, and entering. I chose this one because I thought my work might be a good fit.”

      He added that the Art Kudos competitions, which are conducted on the Internet, have a very user-friendly application process, including an on-line submission procedure. “Each competition has their own entry process, although it’s becoming easier with the advent of digital photography and the Internet, and a lot of the entries are now made on-line and the competitions accept digital images,” he observed. Unlike some competitions that require submission of the actual knife, Art Kudos allowed Kevin to submit a digital image of the knife and keep the real item for simultaneous exhibit and possible sale at knife shows. “I knew the Art Kudos competition would overlap with the Knifemakers’ Guild Show, and I wanted to be able to exhibit the knife at the Guild Show, too,” he explained.

      This is not to say, given the proper venue and exposure, Hoffman rejects competitions that require keeping the knife for extended periods. “Very often, new competitions or new competitions in new areas are for a period of time, even years, and are more of an exercise in the education of a new audience rather than being good sales venues,” he observed. “Nevertheless, I think it’s important to explore new markets that haven’t seen this type of work before.”

      Hoffman stated it is better to find a competition that fits the maker’s designs than for the maker to design a knife for a specific competition. “You have to find the competition that your work fits the criteria and style of,” he stressed. “In the art world, it doesn’t make sense to make work specifically for a given competition because the deadlines are usually too short for that, and short deadlines aren’t conducive to producing truly good work. You have to choose competitions that your body of work fits into. Some competitions only want paintings, others only want 3-D works, some only photography, some only allow sculpture but not jewelry, or vice versa. Some competitions are open only to artists from a certain region.

      “As for what type of knives to enter, it probably depends on the type of competition and on the preferences of the person doing the judging. In general, I’d say the more [artistic] knives probably have better prospects, although I’ve had some luck with utilitarian knives as well. You just have to read the rules and, if there are specific categories, submit only in the one that your work fits the criteria for. For instance, don’t try to enter a competition that is accepting entries only for two-dimensional works unless you’re entering a painting of a knife.”

      He added there is often a small entry fee. It is used to pay the person or people doing the judging, and, if any are given, to pay for the prizes for the winners.




Kevin Hoffman’s “I Am The Walrus” placed fourth in the Art Kudos competition, and features a damascus blade and walrus-oosic handle. He sculpted the walrus-head-and-tusks guard from wax and then lost-wax cast it in 7.5 ounces of sterling silver. Contact Hoffman at 912-920-3579 He will write a chapter on lost wax casting in the second edition of Krause/F+W Media’s upcoming book, How To Make Knives. (photo courtesy of Kevin Hoffman)


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