This Turning Points blog series is where I interview creative entrepreneurs and successful independent business owners- people like you. Why? Because I believe the stories of other creatives can provide invaluable inspiration for you as you develop and grow your own creative business.
So far in the series, there has been this interview with crime fiction author, Paddy Magrane and this one with content marketing expert and author, Mark Masters.
Now, in this third instalment, I’m delighted to introduce you to contemporary artist Adrian Grainger.
Adrian’s story is fascinating because he is completely self-taught and only started to create art seven years ago. Yet, despite this late start to his artistic career, he has quickly developed a growing client base. He now regularly ships his artwork to buyers based across the UK, Europe and even the USA.
In this exclusive interview with Sixth Sense PR, he talks about the marketing strategies that have helped him to gain fans and loyal customers. He also shares what inspires him and both the joys and challenges of being an artist.
Sixth Sense PR interviews contemporary artist Adrian Grainger
Adrian, can you tell us about the turning point in your life that led you to become an artist?
Well, I’m completely self-taught. I always used to do a lot of drawing; pencil sketching mostly. Then, I moved down from the Midlands to Hampshire on the south coast with my family. That was in the year 2000 and was the catalyst to getting started with the paintings.
Living so close to the sea and spending time fishing and just enjoying the water and the local wildlife – I’m a keen birder – I couldn’t help but be inspired. Relocating definitely gave me the inspiration to paint.
What do you typically draw/paint, and why?
I started painting island scenes on big boards and then started painting fish and birds. These have become the main themes of my work right up to today.
As well as oils on canvas, I also do mixed media pieces and sculptures – on a similar theme to my paintings – fish and birds, usually.
I love working with a variety of materials and experimenting. I see it as a crucial part of the creative process. I’ve done a number of pieces featuring bits of driftwood I have collected from the beach. ‘Sardines and the Smokehouse’ (below) is just one example.
More recently, I have also been experimenting with digital techniques. I hand drew and painted this ‘Spotted Ray’ on my iPad! It’s just one in a collection I created, called ‘Fish Pills‘.
Who is your typical customer?
I’m not really sure if I have a typical customer. I’ve had people buy my stuff from all over. The local community is important, definitely.
At first, my customers were predominantly local people. People who were looking for a unique piece of artwork or local businesses who wanted to support and feature a local artist. My work was exhibited locally in a number of venues, so that’s where they came across me.
Since I developed a website though, I’ve been able to reach a wider audience. Customers have been based throughout the UK, in France, Germany, Holland and even Florida!
Typically they either buy an original painting or print or commission me to create something completely bespoke for them. I’ve had quite a few private commissions and a prestigious hotel chain has commissioned me for sculptures in the past. There seems to be quite a bit of interest from the catering industry too. Owners of several fine dining restaurants, some of which are Michelin Guide listed, have featured or commissioned my work.
When did you get your first ‘break’ or make your first sale as an artist?
It wasn’t long after moving down here, to Milford on Sea, actually.
My father in law was about to open The Marine – a large café/restaurant in the village – and asked if I would be able to create box canvases to put on the walls. Being a seaside place, he wanted a sea theme to the pictures. And that’s when I developed my very first pieces including my ‘Mackerel’ design (below) which was the very first one I ever sold.
It’s also by far the most popular of all my paintings. I’ve sold the original now and more than forty prints of that one alone.
I’ll never forget that moment of selling that first painting. Cycling home, with the money in my pocket from the first sale – well, I felt on top of the world! Like I had won the lottery!
Having my work on display at The Marine gave me great exposure initially. I was pleasantly surprised by how many paintings I sold as a result of people simply seeing my work on the walls. I didn’t have a website at that time so local exposure in venues like this was great. It was a way of building awareness when I didn’t have any others means to.
How have you promoted your artwork since then?
Well, as I built connections locally – through my decorating business and just by getting to know more people generally, I got more opportunities to talk about my artwork. So word of mouth and personal connections have worked well for me.
I’ve had private commissions from some of my decorating clients and personal contacts. And as I’ve got to know the owners of other local cafes, restaurants and hotels, and even luxury property developers, I’ve had the chance to show my work at their venues and in their show home developments. It’s been fantastic exposure to a local audience.
I’ve also supported local charities and art-based community events and built connections that way. I was commissioned by the Solent Music Festival a few years ago. A world-class musician was organising the event and asked me to apply one of my designs to a piano. I hadn’t done anything to that scale before then. It was something completely different for me to take on, but I really relished the challenge!
The painted piano, featuring my ‘Whitebait’ design, was really popular in the end! I got great feedback from that. It definitely helped to raise awareness of me and my work at that time.
I’ve also had a bit of local press. I’ve supported local community magazines by giving away artwork as competition prizes. And I’ve been featured on the front cover of a few.
I’ve also supported the Oakhaven Hospice Trust – a local charity for the terminally ill – for a number of years. They run a fundraising initiative where they ask local artists to paint a 20×20 inch canvas and then auction these off. This gives me a bit of profile, each year but it’s not why I take part. I’m just happy to support them.
I’ve exhibited at art fairs, like the Winchester Art Market too. These have been very successful but I don’t do it often.
Is there anywhere else that your work been featured?
Funnily enough, you’ll find my artwork in a guesthouse in St. Ives in Cornwall. The owners saw my ‘Oystercatcher’ painting as they were about to setup a new B&B business. To cut a long story short, they loved it and even decided to theme and name their place the ‘Oystercatcher Bed & Breakfast‘, after the painting!
I took a visit to them last year. They’re a lovely couple and it’s a great little place. It was obviously a boost to see my paintings hung in the bedrooms and the Oystercatcher design on their signage and branding.
How has your day-job, as a professional painter and decorator, been influential to your artwork?
I’ve been a professional decorator for 28 years. So naturally, I’ve developed a deep understanding of the materials and the paint that I work with on a daily basis.
Using paint brushes, paints, oils and water for eight hours every day for that long, well, it becomes second nature. So, it was an easy transition for me – working with these same materials to create art.
Although decorating the interior or exterior of a home or building may seem far removed from creating artwork. I think, on whatever scale you’re working to, it’s ultimately all the same. I am still applying paint and using brushes to create a high-quality result.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just completed two private commissions recently. One of these was to create a piece of art for a local lady, who had bought my art before. She had a large space in her holiday home that she was looking to fill and so I created her a 1.2 metre squared canvas – my ‘bait ball’ design. It was a great feeling to send it off last week and she was thrilled with it.
Just working on these two recent commissions has stimulated lots of other new ideas too. So I’m looking forward to working on some other pieces over the summer. I’m particularly keen to do a series of five one metre squared canvases – I’ve painted three so far.
What are the challenges you face with in regards to your work as an artist?
It’s nerve-wracking, putting work out there. Opening yourself up to scrutiny. But the main thing, for me, is that you think you’ve done something once and then you need to move on and do something completely different.
But what I’ve gradually come to realise is that each artist has a unique style, and over the past few years I have been developing mine.
Realising this, recognising it and becoming more comfortable with that means that I don’t now feel the pressure to constantly be reinventing the wheel. I don’t need to be creating paintings that are completely different to the last, which is something I struggled to accept before.
So now my plan is to continue to create bespoke, one-off paintings, artwork and sculptures, but on the themes that I have developed so far. I want to master this. The artist Edgar Degas once said something like, “You need to do something 3000 times in order to master it.”
The challenge, of course, is that it can be repetitive. And as a creative person, you feel you need to be doing different things. But more recently I have got more comfortable with recreating my designs. After all, every single one is always completely unique. Even if it is based on something I have done before.
I’ve now sold hundreds of paintings and art prints. It’s a great feeling to be able to say that actually. And I feel with experience, each one gets better than the last.
You built your own studio. Tell us about that.
Well, I’ve always painted at home. For years now at least one room of the house has been designated as a painting area. But my wife and three kids had something to say about that in the end! So I eventually decided last year to build my own studio in the garden.
Now I have that, it’s a real advantage. Being separate from the house, it’s a really positive space free from day to day distractions. It’s also got a great view, looking across Pennington Marshes and the Solent and the east of the Isle of Wight, towards Cowes. And I have my artwork all over the walls to inspire me as well.