Winging It - Starting Business as a Wildlife Artist
A lot of my customers seem interested in how I started my business 4 years ago. I think a lot of the time this is because I look 17 and indeed if I do an event with my Mam or Granny along to help, more often than not they are addressed by people assuming they are the artist. I think this is because you have to be crazy to try and make a living as a full-time artist. The majority of fellow artisans I know are in business as a hobby; to supplement an existing job or they are retired and it brings in a little extra income. I am 27 years old this year and this is the only job I have and I wouldn't have it any other way. Here is the story of how I started and a little bit of my journey along the way.
I graduated university in 2011 having studied illustration and having had an awful time of it (the course not the subject). There was a strong emphasis on digital illustration which is simply not messy enough for me. After leaving university I wanted to get back into painting and I have always had an affinity for wildlife, thus the first subject I painted was a fox cub.
I loved exploring mark making in my sketchbook and I'd been drawing little dry brushed ink crows and I thought the technique would transfer well using a little watercolour to add some colour. The fox was just a
cute subject and thus the first painting was born! As a person I like a challenge and I set myself the target of painting one thing a week. It didn't need to be perfect, it didn't need to even look like an animal and more often than not I made mistakes but in doing so I learned and the whole process helped me loosen up and explore. I posted the paintings onto Flickr and Behance and people really responded. Come November I decided I wanted to take my work to a craft fair to see how people responded to my style and my work.
I never in a million years intended to become a wildlife artist. At school I considered being an accountant or an architect and I did have some sane thought in my mind that informed me that most artists are poor and it was not a steady job prospect. Nevertheless my first of two fairs at Gibside NT in Rowland's Gill came along in the December of 2011. I was freezing. I was muddy. I was nervous...and I was selling original artwork for £50. I sold out over the two fairs and that included cramming some extra painting over the 2 weeks in between. I had a few other products to begin with including limited edition prints, cards, tote bags and little badges. I understood the need to have different price points but the cost of originals lead them to fly off the trestle table and into the homes of customers I will be forever grateful for taking a punt on little old me.
After Christmas my Grandma pretty much dragged me through the door of the North East Art Collective and I met John Thompson who shocked me by taking 11 pieces of my work. At the time I would have been ecstatic to have given him 3 but he supported me from the very beginning and the price of my work trippled instantly. John gave me the confidence to approach other galleries and slowly but surely I spread my work around the North East. John also told his customers that I was 17 and worked as a carer for old people (for those of you out there who still think this I was 23 and I worked with children with additional needs). I started to look into new events and craft fairs and stood at Gibside twice a month freezing, mudding and more often than not soaking wet as I honed my products and added to the range to ensure I had products to fit every budget.
In Christmas of 2012 and almost a year on from my first craft fair I was trading at Living North Essence of Christmas and Durham Christmas Festival. Looking back at the time I thought it was a lot of money to spend to trade at these events and I was terrified but I had a fantastic time and made new aquaintances, met new customers and earned enough money to buy myself equipment and supplies to grow the business.
Three years on and I am still winging it. Getting to this point has been a wonderful journey and along the way I have met fabulous people who have given me advice, support or opinions. I still try new events I haven't done before. I still get nervous paying large bills for events and the mountains of stock invading every shelf in my home and studio. I still paint at least one thing a week. I love lists. I have tried things that haven't worked and I have tried things that have. I get sick to death of painting hares. I have no life in November or December. I swear I have enough products and I don't need to do any more but I guarentee you the crazy little voice in the back of my head will pop up and say "Ooooo that's a good idea...why not just do this?". Low and behold next year I will have yet another new product. I teach classes and demonstrate my work in public. I get new opportunities and I even have to turn some of them down. I stock galleries and shops all around the UK and I sell work all around the world. I plan Christmas in January (yes, it is very sad). I love hearing people say "Ooo this is Jina Gelder's work". I get emails from start ups asking my advice. I have learned to let go and delegate. Most importantly I love my job. Every crazy, unpredictable, snow-balling and spontaneous minute of it.