The Artery

By Kate Marsden

Happy New Year everyone and welcome back to the blog!

This week we’re visiting an Aladdin’s cave of an art shop in Banbury, Oxfordshire – and if you’re local, The Artery might also help tick off that resolution to improve your painting skills. Read on to hear more from owner Barry…

Tell us a little about you. What do you do?

My name is Barry Whitehouse and I am an artist, art tutor, and art history lecturer. I own The Artery art shop in Banbury, Oxfordshire, where we sell a wide range of fine art materials, and teach around thirty art classes every month. I have been an artist and tutor for over twenty years, and exhibiting my work since the age of fourteen. For the last five years I have also been the arts columnist for Four Shires magazine, a country lifestyle magazine on sale in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, and parts of Gloucestershire.

I work in the shop 6 days a week and teach my classes there, and in surrounding villages. I am also a registered tutor with the School Of Colour which looks at the science of colour mixing and colour harmony, and how to mix thousands of colours from a limited palette, and I have also had the pleasure of being the chairman of Banbury and District Art Society for just over three years. 

What does a typical day involve?

My days can be extremely varied. I get into the shop just after 8am to prepare for the day ahead - sourcing the materials needed for the class that day before opening at 9. Jacqui arrives to help out on the shop floor while I answer emails, update the website or social media, prepare for classes, order stock, or paint commissions. The afternoon is usually when the classes are held, and Sandra then arrives to look after the shop to take over from Jacqui. We hold a variety of classes each week - drawing, acrylics, and watercolours, and I teach all of them. It is fun and varied from day to day. 

Where do you work? What is your shop like?

Our shop is a small art shop located in the old town area of Banbury. We opened in 2010, and after a bumpy start during the tail end of the recession, we now share a building with three other creative businesses: a cafe at the front, our shop is towards the back, in the cellar is a picture framers, our classroom is on the first floor, and a tattoo studio on the second floor. Our customers describe the shop as an Aladdin's cave of art, as although we are small in size we have a wide range of fine art materials and traditional craft materials. We try to keep the shop looking as traditional as possible to make it more of an experience for people, so they feel they are in an independent business and not some generic mainstream shop found anywhere. 

We are the only independent art shop in North Oxfordshire and try to keep in anything an artist may want including art magazines, and more traditional art materials such a calligraphy items, Lino cutting, glass painting, as well as the more modern side of art such as graphic markers, colouring-in books and illustration materials.

What do you consider to be the main challenges facing shop/gallery owners at the moment?

I believe the challenges have been gradual due to the ever increasing popularity of shopping online, and some town centres have lost their appeal as destinations. It is a much harder task to get people in through the door, or even be aware that you exist. Many shops struggle to balance their time with managing the bricks and mortar store while constantly being expected to update their social media presence - but it is worth it. I do believe that this is starting to shift due to the younger generations seemingly shunning online retail for more traditional ways of shopping, painting and drawing. By retailers working together to promote the town, liaising with the local council and other bodies, then positive change will come.

In Banbury we have a strong retail group called the Old Town Association which I was the chairman of for five years. The group works alongside other groups, puts on street parties each year with the help from the town council, and work together to help bring a community back to the heart of the town centre.

What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?

Over the next few years I would really like to grow and expand what we already have and are doing. I am organising an arts festival in the summer to showcase local artists and craftspeople during Banbury's District Show where all exhibtiors will be making and doing on site so people can see them at work, ask questions, and buy their work.

Do you have any tips for fellow small business owners and designer/makers who are reading this and may be just starting out? 

Utilise social media and all the many forms of it. It is free and a great way to build a customer base and spread the word about what you do. Social media thrives on the visual, so for creative artists and makers it’s the perfect way to show what you can do!

Do your homework - if you are opening premises - look at the demographic of the area: is your target audience a minority, or where is the best place to set up for them to find you?

Had you realised the Just A Card campaign message suggests cards as an example of a small purchase - we're about encouraging all sales as they keep businesses afloat?  

Yes, I was aware that the Just A Card campaign was about small purchases, as compliments don't pay the bills. I love the idea as it highlights the fact that any purchase no matter how small helps the shop survive. Howard Zinn famously said 'small acts when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world', and this is exactly how the Just A Card campaign works - small purchases when multiplied by millions of customers can mean the world to a small business.

How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?

The message is really important. It is lovely to get people visiting the shop saying how wonderful it is, but without regular purchases going in the till, the shop can't stay afloat, so the campaign highlighting that even small purchases help is a godsend. We display the Just A card poster in the shop all the time.

Where did you hear about the campaign and which Social Media platforms do you use most frequently?

We first heard about the campaign on Twitter and have supported it from the off.

We regularly use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to help promote the shop and classes. We have many videos on YouTube teaching people how to paint and draw, and to date the most successful video has been a 'Paint like Monet' tutorial gaining almost 300,000 views.

Over on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter we try to promote the shop in a fun and creative way, rather than just the hard sell. Our little wooden art manikins are often our tools for this. We pose and photograph them in various situations, or as spin offs of what has been on television that week. It was the idea of Jacqui last year where we recreated scenes of the Olympics and did our very own artlympics with the manikins participating in the events that were held that day. We have also recreated our own versions of Paintdark, where swarthy wooden hero Brush Paintdark gets up to all kinds of thing in the shop, Strictly Come Painting where judges Craig Modelwithwod, and Len Woodman judge other manikin's dancing, and The Great British Paint Off with judges Mary Beret, and Paul Head O'Wood look at other manikin's art attempts. The manikins also recently took part in their own manikin challenge!

Last year (2016) the shop was nominated in the Great British High Street Awards as Best GB Twitter Shop, and Jacqui and I attended the awards ceremony on 12th December at Lancaster House, London, and were very proud to be a finalist and pick up an award for being in the top three shops in the country! 

What do you think people can do to support Just A Card, and how will you be doing so?

Everyone should get behind the campaign, make more people aware and promote is as much as possible. We also have the logo on our social media pages to keep it constantly in our customer's minds that any purchase is greatly appreciated.