“That’s hopeless, Christie, try again!” With an expression of disgust, my art teacher shook his head and for the umpteenth time picked up my latest attempt at yet another class picture, tore it up, and threw it on the floor.
You can imagine my feelings of frustration and utter failure. Clearly I was never going to be any good at “Art” (with a capital A) and my career aspirations should be aimed in another direction!
So I abandoned art, qualified as a medical doctor, and spent my working life developing better medicines. But subconsciously, the idea of pursuing artistic endeavours never really left.
When I retired and moved to the beautiful Isle of Arran off the west coast of Scotland, those ideas resurfaced. One morning I was lying in bed watching the sun rise behind a small island, with the contrails of aeroplanes returning across the Atlantic above it.
“Could I capture that on a computer screen?” I wondered. . . not as a photo-realistic image—the island is full of traditional artists—but as a digital picture that captured the elements of the scene and the feelings it evoked.
I set to work, and on about the tenth or eleventh try I had a result that pleased me. To my surprise it pleased other people, too, and a few copies were requested by the family as presents. So I tried again with a different scene and that went down well too.
It was my wife, bless her, who challenged me to keep going. “We like them, and so do other people,” she said. “Why not try and sell some?”
“You’ve got to be joking!” I replied.
“No, give it a go, you’ve got nothing to lose by trying.”
That simple conversation led to a morass of information gathering. What kind of prints to sell, what sizes of prints to make, what materials to use, how to ensure that the images would be “permanent” and not fade, whether to create limited edition series or one-off individual prints. . . and so on.
Plus, how was I going to produce the prints? Should I frame the finished artwork myself? How would I market my prints (would I have my own website, or go with a commercial web gallery?)
No doubt these problems are familiar ones for established artists, but to a newbie—and a nearly 70-year old newbie at that—it all seemed to present an impossible task.
Eventually, with a lot of help from the internet, I decided that an Epson R2400 printer (later upgraded to the R2880 which worked even better) would be my printer of choice. I sourced my canvas from Scotland, and chose Epson UltrachromeK3 inks for permanence. Any prints larger than A3 are done by a commercial printer who uses the same materials.
After more internet research I established that limited edition prints were OK, and that the average number sold was likely to be around 15. So, optimistically, I chose a limit of 25 and set my prices by comparing my prints to other online art retailers.
For framing I went to eBay and got a batch of simple black wood frames which showed off the vivid hues of my images while still contrasting nicely with the gentler shades I occasionally use.
Once the first batch of images was produced, I nervously approached a couple of local cafes and talked them into exhibiting a few A4 prints. Talk about stage fright! Fortunately they liked them as well.
Then, nothing happened. . .
“Oh well, it was an idea. May as well leave them up anyway.”
But about a month later came a phone call. “We saw your pictures in the local café and would like an A3 of Brodick Sunrise.”
Talk about being stunned! The idea that someone, a stranger, would actually pay money for a piece of art I had created seemed unbelievable. If only my old art teacher were still around. . .
Since then sales have increased—and one of my images was recently accepted for a regional exhibition. The local market worked well, initially, although this year local sales have dropped like everything else because of the recession.
Still there’s been enough interest that I’ve converted half of our double garage into a small gallery for both my own prints and my wife’s photographs. I set up a website for the business, including the capability to buy online, and that’s been getting lots of hits every month from all over the world.
Obviously it’s too early to make predictions—my prints have barely been on the market for a year—but the signs are good. Visitors come into the gallery almost every day that it’s open, and existing customers are coming back for additional pictures, too.
More important than selling prints, I’ve also learned from this experience that I wasn’t “hopeless” at art after all. And if there’s an artist inside anyone, I believe they should “try, try again” until they succeed.
I don’t expect to become world-famous from my art, but it is very satisfying to share my art with other people. If my art gives them pleasure, and helps them experience some of the same emotions that inspired me, then I’m happy.