By Kate Marsden
We’re meeting our first artist of the new year this week, as we head to Gloucestershire to chat to Tom Gowen. Those of you who’ve been taking part in #justacard hour on Thursday evenings (8-9pm UK time – do join us if you haven’t already!) will be familiar with Tom’s expressive landscape paintings. Here Tom tells us about his work, the challenges of pricing, and the importance of small sales.
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
I am a fine artist based in Stroud, Gloucestershire and I work primarily with oil paint on canvas using a palette knife. I graduated from the University of Gloucestershire in 2010 and I am inspired by the natural world and sometimes architecture. Much of my art tends to be landscape and seascape although my subjects can vary depending on what excites me. My work sells primarily through exhibitions, art & craft events and online.
I would describe my style as loose and bold but representational. The use of a palette knife has enabled me to create a more textured and expressive image in order to convey the emotion and a sense of reaction to a place, a technique known as ‘Impasto’.
What does a typical day involve?
My timetable is very flexible, though I do tend to work quite small (7x5inch) which means I don’t usually spend longer than a day on each piece, unless I’m dealing with a more complex or larger subject. I like to start the day early so I can combine my art with other things like marketing and promotion, planning commissions and exhibitions etc. A comfortable environment with freshly pre-primed canvases, cups of tea, pictures and sketches to work from can ensure good productivity throughout the day. As most of my work is landscape based, I like to spend a lot of time outdoors with my camera and sketchbook, in order to gain inspiration from my surroundings.
Where do you work? What is your studio space like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
I love to work outside when it’s warm and sunny, and my preferred place to paint if the sun is out is near the coast somewhere or in my garden. I currently occupy a room in my house as a studio space, but would ideally like to have a proper purpose built studio with heating and more space to store my artwork. I have to be honest, I can’t think of many things I’d rather be doing other than my painting, though I do run regularly and walk my dog Benbow. I would like to learn more about cooking and help out with a bit of DIY at home. I visit some London galleries about twice a year, and attend sessions at the local life drawing group where I have made some great friends.
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing designer makers at the moment?
Exposure is one of the greatest challenges facing all creative people, whether you are a designer, fine artist or illustrator, and even time management and pricing my work can be a struggle at times. I like to make sure that my art continues to please and inspire people and that I can deliver the best possible service whenever I receive an order or a commission, and that my pricing accurately reflects the time and effort that goes into it. I know an experienced jeweler who when asked the question everybody gets (how long did this one take you to create?) always replies “thirty five years”.
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
My plan is to spend more time visiting new locations and working outside ‘en plein air’, while broadening and expanding my name. I have been very fortunate to have had a couple of successful exhibitions and healthy online sales. Year by year my confidence has grown considerably.
Do you have any tips for fellow designer makers/small business owners who are reading this and may be just starting out?
Stay focused on the things that motivate you. My artistic career began when I found a style and technique in painting. That was over 6 years ago and during that time I have had so much enjoyment in seeing how it developed, and transformed me as a creative person. I started selling my work through small independent gallery shops, and had my first solo exhibition a couple of years after graduating.
Please share any favourite independent shops/galleries and tell us why you like them.
Bourton Artisans is a shop run by the artist Trudi Hayden located in Bourton-on the-Water in Gloucestershire. They feature the work from a number of artists, crafters and designers from different creative fields that are local to the area of the Cotswolds, and who I greatly admire for their unique style. Artists include: Rosie Shakoor, Penny Gaj, Yvette Green, Jane Vernon, Annie Rowcraft and Jackie Hawkins.
The Chapel Arts is a thriving exhibition venue based in Cheltenham, which was recently set up and converted from an old Baptist Chapel in order to promote the work of established and emerging artists across the country. It was such a privilege to exhibit here for a month alongside a number of other talented people, some of whom have become good contacts.
Gloucestershire Arts & Crafts Centre is an artist cooperative, specializing in art and handmade goods by artists and crafts people who live and work in the locality of Gloucestershire. They are an immensely supportive and talented bunch, and have been friends with me throughout the time I’ve spent working and selling my artwork alongside them.
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.
I had realized this and I originally produced my small paintings at 5 x 7 inch in order to be priced for the gift market.
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
I think this is a great idea for promoting the growing art and craft market, which gives opportunity to the armies of creative and innovative people that are our makers.
Where did you hear about the campaign and which Social Media platforms do you use most frequently? What do you think people can do to support Just A Card, and how will you be doing so?
I first heard about it through a friend online, and by following their weekly chats on Twitter it started to make sense to me. Of course selling a piece of artwork is very rewarding, and small purchases are just as important to the survival of an independent shop or gallery. It’s great to know that there are things we can do to support small creative businesses specializing in handmade goods and craft items, by investing more in their productivity.