Arts + EntertainmentBusiness + Finance + Law

Art As A Business

Art is a hugely subjective thing – not everyone is enraptured by the same genres of art or artistic ideas as others, which is one reason why art is so captivating, but is also just one of the reasons why making your art into a viable business is not an easy thing to do. There are many artists who are making a success of their work, however, and many who have managed the transition from hobby to successful business with aplomb. We spoke to three Kent artists who have managed to turn their love of art into a career to find out exactly what it takes.

 

Barbara Grey of Claritystamp, Edenbridge // www.claritystamp.com

What sparked the initial idea for your business?

Juggling parenting alongside a career in the corporate world was proving impossible. I needed a job that would allow me to work from home, so I combined technical translating, which paid the bills, with the craft side of my business, creating and selling my illustrations. This later built to the lightbulb moment when I invented the clear polymer stamp of which Claritystamp was born. 

What was the first step you took in getting off the ground?

It all happened in California, where I was living at the time. I entered a craft stamp shop in Santa Barbara, which was full of floor-to-ceiling wood-mounted rubber stamps. It occurred to me, wouldn’t it make so much more sense if you could see through them? I spent time, energy and money developing this idea and patenting it. I then took it to market with the help of a well-established rep in California.

What’s been the toughest challenge you’ve faced so far and how have you overcome it?

The toughest challenge was relocating back to Kent and starting all over again with the children as a single mother. Having built up a buzzing, exciting little business in California, it was difficult to have to come back to the UK and start completely from scratch due to a difficult divorce. It was the long hours, a very loving supportive family and the passion for the business we all had that got us through this tough time. 25 years on, they are still very much an integral part of the business and I could not have done it without them. 

What’s been your biggest achievement to date?

Being able to develop a business and raise two wonderful children who have gone on to become very successful in their own right is my greatest achievement. I’m also very proud that we have now developed a strong, larger family of thousands of crafters and customers all over the UK and around the world, but we still maintain a strong family business ethic. 

In your opinion, what separates a product that will be a success from one that won’t?

Having been in the industry and grown up with it for the past 25 years, I have a real feel for what our crafting community would enjoy. We keep everything in-house and we do everything ourselves, so we can respond quickly and provide top quality products and customer service. There are numerous factors that contribute to a product’s success including price, position, perseverance and so many others. We have a great reputation and are not an overnight success; our accomplishments have built up over 25 years of business. 

If you had one piece of advice for anyone thinking of launching their own art business, what would that be?

If money is your main driver then stop right there, it will never work. I also suggest operating as a sole trader. Too often I have seen partnerships end in tears. I had a false start at the beginning with a partner which ultimately cost me a lot of money, but more importantly time.

 

Kate & Gemma of This Art Of Mine, Thurnham // www.thisartofmine.co.uk

What sparked the initial idea for your business?

As a mother and daughter team running our own business together was always a dream of ours. We decided to go down the art route primarily because it is a shared passion, but also because we believe it is an important activity for people to experience and enjoy, adults and children alike.  

What was the first step you took in getting off the ground?

The first step was finding a venue, whether to head into the town or use one of the farm buildings. We decided on the countryside. We knew it would take longer to establish the business this way, but now the countryside is part of the attraction. We converted part of a barn into a contemporary art studio. This has been a very successful move for the business as it gives us space to run multiple pottery parties and art events at the same time. The fact that the studio is also situated on a peony farm helps attract customers in the summer months too. Once the venue was sorted we pooled our savings, got our finances in order, began investing in stock and equipment and continued to work our day jobs!

What’s been the toughest challenge you’ve faced so far and how have you overcome it?

There’s been ups and downs, but one of the bigger challenges was probably during the tough economic times, when big corporate event work was harder to get. To combat this, we went back to roots focusing on the studio and teaching more and more classes. It has been wonderful to see that side of the business flourish too.

What’s been your biggest achievement to date?

We do not take it for granted that the business has reached its eight-year mark as we know how turbulent it can be for small businesses in the initial years. We’re proud to say we’re still going strong and we are looking forward to celebrating 10 years!

In your opinion, what separates a product that will be a success from one that won’t?

We have put the time into getting to know our customers and creating a fun, relaxed environment for them. We also try to keep ahead of the game when it comes to fashion and trends. This helps us design classes and products which will sell well for us.

If you had one piece of advice for anyone thinking of launching their own art business, what would that be?

Do a lot of research into your potential customers and the products they might like; try not to base things solely on your own taste.  

 

Joseph Black of River Garage Studios, River // www.josephblackart.com

What sparked the initial idea for your business?

As an artist I find it fascinating to study the work of other artists and to see how they have overcome obstacles and expressed ideas in their work. I had worked as a curator in London and studied art history before I moved back down to Kent to open a new studio. I was lucky in finding River Garage Studios, a place which had the ability to be converted both into a studio and gallery space, and I had spoken with a few arts organisations in the area such as Dover Arts Development, who were really pushing for a stronger and more supported art community. So, I took the opportunity to convert the space I had into a gallery/arts space which would help to facilitate better artistic engagement in the area. It’s been very successful and well received. It gives me the ability to experiment with curatorial practice and engaging with other artists, and it gives them the opportunity to have their work seen and the ability to make work which they otherwise may not have been able to.

What was the first step you took in getting off the ground?

The first step was getting in contact with other like-minded people in the area and listening to what they needed and would benefit most from. The artistic community is very strong here and I’ve come into it right at a time when it’s really developing very fast. A number of arts projects here have been granted a lot of funding and it shows that there is both the desire from the public and the desire from artists to get involved.  

What’s been the toughest challenge you’ve faced so far and how have you overcome it?

The space is still in its infancy, so I’m sure we’ll face many difficulties and challenges over the next few years. The biggest challenge for arts business is always funding and maintaining financial stability. Therefore it’s easier to have as few fixed costs as possible and work from project to project.

What’s been your biggest achievement to date?

River Garage Studios has only been operating now for six months, but in that time we have held two curated group exhibitions and two solo presentations. I think the most rewarding achievement for me is seeing how enthusiastic and inspired artists have become by the opportunities offered by the space. We have had more ideas for exhibitions and projects than we could ever fit in, but it shows to me just how much a space like this can offer artists and how creating and inventive they can be when presented with an opportunity. I hope that alone will show to others just how strong and independent the creativity of artists in communities can be.

In your opinion, what separates a product that will be a success from one that won’t?

Good marketing.

If you had one piece of advice for anyone thinking of launching their own art business, what would that be?

It’s a simple answer, it has to be something which you really enjoy doing. It’s not an easy profession to work in but if your enjoyment and love of art is strong enough then you’ll be able to get through. The people who have launched and maintained their own art businesses are always the ones who would do it above everything else.

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