One artist’s experience of social media

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What does it mean? Why do you think I should use it? I don’t want to put myself ‘out there’ (wherever there is)? No-one would be interested in what I do! I don’t have anything to say! How would it help me? I should be spending the time painting.  I don’t want to spend any more time on the computer than I already do!

Familiar?  I have spoken to a large number of artists who tell me this is how they feel. A little bit scared, a wee bit sceptical, a guilty feeling that they should be using Facebook & Twitter (dosed with  a healthy soupçon of not really being all that interested). Which is entirely understandable. Social media has arrived like a tsunami, coming from nowhere and taking over lives, changing the way in which the generations communicate and do business. Artists do need to take heed of this tidal wave of change and go with it. If we weren’t capable of moving with the times we’d all still be using quills and grinding our own pigment wouldn’t we? Together, we can do it and embrace the’social media’ beast… even enjoy it?

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So, what’s been my experience? I set up a Facebook Page for my newly formed art business back in 2009 and the number of ‘likes’ for it grew very slowly, initially through friends, family and colleagues then gradually spreading out through their friends and colleagues. The growth in my ‘likes’ accelerated when I took part in open studio events and art trails where visitors picked up my business card then looked me up on Facebook to see more of my work or, find out where I was exhibiting next. Founding and running Pop Up Galleries in a local shopping centre in 2012/13 helped grow the number of ‘likees‘ (real word? using it anyway). Gaining representation by a much-loved local gallery has certainly helped expand the numbers further but I also found out the real secret of success for a Facebook Page…..paying for growth! Ah ha, I should have guessed it. More about paying for Facebook advertising in a future blog. It’s not expensive and it really works.

During my ‘Facebook early years’, I found Twitter to be an almost total mystery. I had created a profile and occasionally logged on but I just didn’t get it. I didn’t understand what people were posting, to who or why. There were slang terms and the use of symbols that I didn’t understand. It seemed to have an unwritten rulebook and that was #confusing.

I had a brief lesson from a friend and it clicked. The user interface had improved too which helped. I started to get a feel for those who used it well, the fact that it isn’t a selling tool but an information stream and a conversation in some instances. I now have just under a thousand followers and I follow approximately 800. On the gallery account that I manage, there are almost 2,500 followers. I’m suddenly tweeting like a bird.

So, that has been the journey but what has been my destination.Okay, there are clearly benefits from telling thousands of people what I do on a daily basis, sharing images of my latest paintings with them and informing them of future exhibition dates. I have grown awareness of my artist name & brand, built a reputation for being a productive and versatile painter, linked up with key people and organisations who can further help to promote my work. People tell me they are impressed by how busy I am, even when I’m not…shhhh, it’s an illusion in print and it’s effective.         ThumbFinal_3.25.15

Not to be undervalued is the amount of pleasure to be gained from participating.  I look forward to seeing what other artists are up to, where they are exhibiting, who they network with and what techniques they use to create their artwork. I have had some really fun exchanges with people in other parts of the country and abroad. We have built (somewhat faux perhaps) relationships which work for both of us. One major benefit to me is that this ‘social media’ network replaces the lovely team that I used to sit with at The Body Shop and the daily office banter that I miss. It stops me from feeling too solitary working alone.

I have sold work to customers who have been introduced to me only via social media, I have been offered new exhibitions spaces and I have been quoted in an article in the Times. All because of interactions on social media. When you think that this has cost me nothing except my time, it’s quite simply staggering.

I leave you with this thought; if you are still in doubt whether there is value to you as an artist, maker or gallery in using social media:     What would it have cost me to gain this amount of coverage in magazine adverts or paid for editorials? How many phone calls would I have had to make, how many uncomfortable cold calls to endure or fruitless introductory letters written? Could I have achieved all of that from the comfort of my own home?   See you on-line!      Lucy x

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We Ripped It Up

Where does one start promoting an event in January, amidst No Carb diets, Dry January and the desperately long wait to pay day? It certainly meant that the usual wine and nibbles private view would probably be poorly attended. So, a plan was hatched for a launch ‘workshop’ instead where I would encourage others to have a go at the careful process of selecting the right words and images;  shredding magazines, newspapers, maps and generally making a downright mess in order to create a collage of the sort I was exhibiting.

Well, it turns out we had the best fun. A great night was had by all who attended Trinity Theatre and took part in the making of a collaborative collage, an homage to David Bowie. Sometimes it seemed a bit heated around the table about which items should take pride of place on the collage and how things should be placed but in general the process was attacked with great gusto and I could not have been prouder of the resulting piece which I immediatey added as a postscript to my exhibition.

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Behind the curtain of a solo exhibition

A glimpse behind the facade of my beautifully presented exhibition at Trinity Theatre and the slick collage workshop held to celebrate it’s launch……..how did it really evolve?

  • Late October 2015, call comes in from the Gallery curator at our local theatre asking if I am available to exhibit Jan ’16. It’s 5.30pm and I’m focused on feeding two ravenous kids not on exhibition planning.
    Blasé and aware this sounds reasonably far away, I reply that I am delighted to be asked and yes of course I will have up to 20 paintings ready to exhibit.
  • How about running a workshop instead of holding the usual private view, she enquires? No problem, i blurt out with one eye on the pasta boiling over.
  • Christmas and New Year; a good time is had by all, my waistline expands considerably and I relax comfortably into January hibernation mode.
  • First week in Jan. A lightbulb goes on, with a stark glare…..10 days left to plan the Trinity Theatre Gallery exhibition, gather together paintings from stock that have a (reasonable) cohesiveness to their style and then make sure stock is in A1 condition, apply right fixings.
  • 3 days before exhibition, visit gallery space and note size available. Plan a hang that will have a good flow around the room with sufficient attention-grabbers in all the key places.

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  • 2 days before exhibition hang, remember that labels will be required so design labels and print. Minor delay for trip to Staples remembering that all label stock was used on the last exhibition (why didn’t I replace them then?).
  • 1 day before exhibition wrap all paintings in bubble wrap. Minor time wasted popping bubbles. Form of therapy? Can’t now move in studio for huge bubble-wrapped and parcelled paintings.
  • Night before hang, remember that greetings cards can be sold from the exhibition. Spend evening in front of Silent Witness putting cards into slippery cellophane packages, taking them out again after remembering to add envelopes, taking them out again after putting them in back to front. Meanwhile a murder is resolved on screen and I go to bed happy that ALL is ready.
  • Day of exhibition, kind and generous friend arrives to drive me and all my stock to gallery as paintings bigger than Mini! Saved on parking woes though.
  • Unload and lean work roughly in places to be hung.
  • Hoist paintings onto unforgiving metal fixing wires. Use time-honoured broom handle method to adjust position of said wires.
  • Realise I have left greetings cards at home and in any case have forgotten to put prices on the back. Slight delay to hang but still time yet to opening.
  • Hold workshop at which all plans of educational chat about collage and group discussion about work is shelved as guests arrive in dribs and drabs, appearing deep in own conversations then launch straight into tearing and sticking with wild abandon. No need for my input at all.

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  • Show visitors around my work, meet interesting and interested visitors, stick down a few bits onto the collaborative collage that is being made. (Admire way friends who have offered to help are guiding others in careful curation of it).

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  • Breathe sigh of exhaustion as last visitor leaves the gallery space. Sweep the floor and swill down remaining wine (someone had to). Proudly hang collaborative ‘A bow to Bowie’ collage.
  • Wake up and wish I could do it all again!

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Many, many thanks to the Town & Country Foundation who sponsored my exhibition at the Trinity Theatre and to Jane Churchill who, on behalf, of the Foundation invited me to exhibit and helped with the broom handle amongst other things!

Trinity Theatre Gallery, Tunbridge Wells:

Lucy Ames’ ‘Ripping It Up’ exhibition till 6 February 2016.

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Festival fun

I have just come back from Camp Bestival. I thought I was too old for festivals and have long mocked the hackneyed “festival fashions” that are churned out in every summer magazine (Kate Moss in tiny denim shorts and a grey tee-shirt for a cool rock band…gosh, how surprising). However, I seem to have found a renewed excuse to join in the festival fun and it’s called Camp Bestival. It’s the best fun, designed for all the family, and provides heaps of inspiration for artists.

Extraordinary creations by Monsieur Bateman were all around the site.  His “Caravanserai” was a bar where you could choose to sit in half a caravan or a rogue waltzer car to enjoy your drink. “Oberon’s Observatory” where we watch short animation films in a tiny cinema trapped within a recycled caravan then went onto the roof to look at the stars through telescopes were truly amazing. Imaginative ideas that just made me think how incredibly creative human beings can be. Hope you enjoy the pics.

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Monsieur Batemans' creation

 

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Caravanserai

portraits at bestival

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Tweet Power

Definition: twit·ter, twit-teredtwit·ter·ingtwit·ters
To utter a succession of light chirping or tremulous sounds; chirrup.
To speak rapidly and in a tremulous manner
To giggle nervously; titter.
To tremble with nervous agitation or excitement.

I was minded to write a blog about “Tweet Power” when I went onto Twitter and saw that Crown Paints had made me their #artistoftheweek. Tremendous PR from the support of a national paint brand.  However, on reading the Crown tweet, I soon uttered a succession of light chirping sounds and spoke rapidly in a tremulous manner…  I realised it had been tweeted 2 weeks earlier hence the #artistoftheweek moniker had now passed on to someone else!

The experience was a useful reminder for me of some key twitter rules;

i)   keep at it – your first few tweets may feel like they are just talking into the ether but it gathers pace over time,

ii)  keep up-to-date – Twitter is very much an of-the-moment tool and that is one of the charms of it,

iii) respond to tweets promptly – otherwise they lose their value. D’oh!

iv) thank the people who are supporting you, and give your support in return. 

Twitter does have tremendous power to spread information, build contacts and initiate action. I first became an advocate in 2012 when I answered a tweet from a journalist asking for people running their own business to contact her. The journalist was pulling together an article for the small business section of The Times and she quoted me in her article about entrepreneurs the following day. There is no way, without social media, that I would have been on the radar of a business journalist from The Times and I couldn’t have paid for the reputation building and publicity that it engendered.

I wouldn’t wish to pretend I am a social media expert, I’m yet to try Pinterest in earnest, Tumbl’r, Flick’r or Tinder for that matter. Personally, I prefer Twitter to Facebook because the brevity of the post forces the user to be more creative and only post items of relevance; fewer photographs of people’s food and pets therefore. And with all of these sites, it is evidently important for a small business to be on them but it is equally important to know when to get off them and join the real world, making phone calls, talking face-to-face and getting on with the day job.

If at this point the whole “tweet” and “hashtag” concept is lost on you then you probably need more Twitter-training, a service offered by numerous “Twits”. Look them up.

 

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Love is the inspiration

The onset of Valentine’s day, combined with a friend’s 22nd anniversary, made me think about love and how frequently it is the inspiration for paintings.

One of my very first commissions was for a man, age 43, who asked for a painting of the Sacre Coeur for his wife. He had proposed there years earlier. He proudly told me that he had been to Paris on a school trip age 14 and whilst there had vowed to propose at the Sacre Coeur as an adult. A true romantic.

A lady with a new partner had spent several weekends at his bachelor pad on London’s South bank and contacted me to request a painting that would remind them both of romantic strolls by the river. The following Christmas she called me for a painting of Brighton to remind them of a weekend break in the city (I couldn’t put ‘dirty weekend‘ in case she reads this, obviously). Six months later he had completed a cycle trip around the Isle of Wight and she commissioned a painting of the Needles for him as a memento. Long may their relationship flourish!

One guy made a sophisticated request for a painting for his strong, curvaceous and striking red-haired wife. His requirements were very specific. It had to be based on the Mad Men series which they both loved and particularly about Joan, the flame-haired secretary; with whom the parallels with his wife were obvious. The resulting painting is reminiscent of a fashion illustration and is collaged with 1950’s icons from Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall as well as Time and Life magazine. It is a sassy and unique painting. He went on to commission a painting of the Manhatten skyline when they married there in 2000. Ahhh.

Two ladies have requested paintings of their partner’s treasured “boy toys”. The fact that they would consider having a painting of a Lambretta scooter and a Gibson guitar in their homes is, I believe, a testament to TRUE LOVE!

 

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Paint the blues away

It is common for January to leave a lot of us feeling a wee bit blue. Over-indulgence at christmas leaving us with extra pounds (of the wrong kind), the weather too awful to go outside and burn it off, dark nights and mornings…I’m making myself depressed just writing it! The best way for me to beat the blues  is to paint & so it has been fortunate that this January I have had lots of customer consultations that have led to commissions. I realise that as your classic extrovert (ref: ‘Myers Briggs’ personality testing, the Body Shop, circa 2008!), I am energised by meeting my clients and genuinely enjoy this part of the painting journey. I love it all; the chance to look at other people’s gorgeous homes, the opportunity for a coffee and a chat with people outside my lonely studio (sniff) and the process of trying to firm up what they want. Some people are absolutely clear and request a cityscape or a flower meadow but many have just a space on the wall and a desire to fill it.  Having taken my orders in Jan, I can now paint to my heart’s content in Feb and March to meet my commitments until the days get longer and the sun comes out more frequently. What’s your surefire way of beating the winter blues?

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Artistic ambitions

I made it my goal this year to enter some art competitions and awards. That’s why, back in May, you would have found me on the early train to London going to pick up my rejections from the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. As the RA had 12,000 entries and only roughly 1000 make the grade, I was not overly disappointed. In the process of entering I had the opportunity to introduce myself to the Director of the BBC Culture Show and talk to him about what I had submitted and why I had chosen to apply this year. The programme that aired on 11th June was an insight into the Summer Exhibition from the viewpoint of those formally involved and those who apply. The story of the retired lady who had been chosen for a 2nd time was wonderful. She was so thrilled and the viewers shared in her genuine excitement.

Moving swiftly on from tales of rejection, as one should, I have had a painting shortlisted for the Sussex Artists’ Award. If chosen, my painting of ‘Big Jugs’ (every pun intended) will hang in the wonderful Pallant House gallery in Chichester which is highly regarded and home to paintings by Richard Hamilton, Sir William Coldstream, Frank Auerbach, Graham Sutherland and many other famous names. I’ve wimped out a little by retitling it for submission, so the formally titled ‘Standing Back to Back’ will stand better odds of being hung.

Today I have finished my submission for the National Open Art Competition which I visited for the first time last year. The winning works on display at the Minerva Gallery (before moving up to London), were an exciting selection of contemporary art from sculptures to textiles to paintings. Mixed exhibitions often receive mixed reviews but this one was beautifully hung by my art tutor Piers Ottey and I found the variety in the work and clever ideas behind many of the pieces to be stimulating. The judges this year could be a tough crowd to please comprising, amongst others, the notorious art critic Brian Sewell and one of my favourite artists, Barbara Rae. Look out for the Watercolour and Works on Paper Fair at the Science Museum in Feb next year which displays some of the work from the NOAC selection.

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There’s no ‘I’ in team

Being a member of Horsham Artists Open Studios  (HAOS, just one letter away from CHAOS but more of that later!) is not always an easy ride. Being a group run by committee means all decisions are made as a collective….and not made without numerous meetings and roundabout discussions. We split the jobs required to stage the annual group exhibition and volunteer for those tasks. Now some of those jobs are fairly simple like arranging ads in the papers but artists have taken on jobs way beyond their comfort zone, such as hiring and overseeing the erection of 2 marquees, ensuring they would be suitable for 20 stands. Some tasks, you just know, are going to be controversial like drawing up the floor plan and I would be fearful of the ensuing discussions about “I can’t be located nest to the toilet” or “I seem to have a huge pot plant covering most of my pitch” (people are sooo particular!). The culmination of all our efforts was to be a weekend exhibition at a privately owned manor house followed by a weekend exhibition in each members studio or home. Oh yes, and a swanky private view with invited dignitaries, sponsors and friends.

My favourite part of the private view night was arriving an hour before opening to see the lady owner of 17th century  Sedgwick Park House, our glorious venue, on a sit & rode mower creating parking spaces in her meadow dressed in all her finery.

Ultimately all tasks were completed, the work exhibited was extremely professional and a fantastic private view was held to mutual success and acclaim. The small group of artists and craftsmen had pulled it off proving the old adage ” there is no ‘I’ in team”!

(interested in joining in with next year’s CHAOS….contact HAOS at www.horshamartistsopenstudios.co.uk)

 

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Piazza Italia

It has been so much fun being involved in the Piazza Italia event in Horsham. The sight of scores of ferraris attempting to park in a pedestrian street, lined with crowds of people, is memorable. The food samples from Carmelas deli are equally memorable and I have a fancy Italian Easter cake to take to my parents tomorrow.

I am truly honoured to have been invited to exhibit and sell my work through La Source in Horsham. Their products are stylish, contemporary, bespoke and crafted so there is a synergy to our brands. We hung the paintings this week. It will helps the customer to envisage having a painting at home when they see it in the room settings that Chris and Sylvie Holt set up in their beautiful store. I only picked up 3 of the paintings from the framer on Wednesday so it’s all been a bit last minute dot com. I am in good company though as Chris was still putting new furniture together on Thursday evening.

On Bank Holiday Monday the Lambrettas and Vespas roll into town along with Fiats and supercars so I’m thinking that a mod inspired outfit is the only suitable thing for my last day in-store. I’m digging out my Style Council albums for inspiration.  Carmelas are offering wine tasting in La Source on Monday so perhaps a pair of flats and a taxi home is wise too.

 

 

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