Artist on how to make a business out of painting
Even while studying Frank To was determined to start up on his own. So after completing undergraduate degreet at University of Huddersfield then his Masters degree at Duncan of Jordanstone Art College he set up F. To Fine Art as a vehicle to sell and market his work. Now he is back in his home town of Glasgow working from his studio in the city. Actor Patrick Stewart is one well known collector of To's work.
What do you do?
I’m a fine artist, meaning I create works of fine art (mainly of painting and drawing), for personal analysis, experimentation of ideas, clients and exhibitions.
Where did the funding come from and which organizations have supported the business?
Before I graduated from my Masters at Duncan of Jordanstone Art College in 2005, I was given an opportunity to show my work with a gallery at an art fair in London. I sold all the paintings. This, combined with the Business Gateway grant and PSYBT (Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust) loan, gave me the funding and support for my business.
Who are the key people in the business? It varies depending on the projects. Usually they consist of the galleries I show with, the PR firm for marketing, the framer and photographer for presentation and PSYBT for tactical advice.
What is unique about what the company does?
I’ve developed a specific painting technique which is exclusive to my company/ practice. It was developed during my time at art school and since then it has become my signature trade mark or style.
What has been the single biggest investment?
That would be my Dell Vostro 1500 laptop. All of my dealings relating to business start at my laptop.
Has there been a key moment or turning point?
The turning point for me was doing the Plague Doctors exhibition at the Leith Gallery earlier this year. That exhibition alone has made my mark in the Scottish art scene.
What is the business plan and how does the company intend to grow?
The business plan is to expand further and secure a firm market in the American and German sectors. I am planning to apply for the Growth Fund from PSYBT to help me achieve this.
Do you have any non-executive directors, mentors or key advisors? Who are they? PSYBT is probably the main point of contact I turn to for advice. I’m usually in regular contact with the director of marketing and communication as she gives great advice in promotion tactics and networking opportunities.
How does the company use technology and IT?
Unlike many of my contemporaries who use the iPhone, I rely heavily on my Blackberry. I’m constantly travelling for business, which means I need to be on top of my emails and schedules.
Who are your key customers/what are your key markets? I do despise artists and galleries who sell art work to people with the ‘buy this now and it will be worth this much’ pitch. However, I have seen a rise in the number of people buying my work because they think I’m worth investing into. Maybe I am, but the core of my customer base is comprised of serious collectors of fine art.
Does the company have international sales or does it intend to grow internationally? The company does have a clientele in the USA, but it’s limited. I do intend to develop this even further. At the moment, I have a client based in NYC who has one of my paintings hung next to his Blue Picasso.
What has been the best achievement so far?
It used to be over-achieving in recognition and sales; now it’s earning admiration from the general public for my art and determination not to give in to the recession.
What has been the biggest hurdle which has been overcome?
The biggest hurdle would be surviving in the first three years of my business. Those years for young emerging artists are the most difficult as they have to constantly meet deadlines for galleries and develop their own clientele/ mailing list.
How do you interact with the wider business community (networking etc)?
I’ve recently become a member of the Glasgow Art Club, a private members club. Through that I’ve been able to network with other businesses throughout the UK, such as bank directors, city council officials, doctors, lawyers etc.
What will the next 12 months hold?
This year alone I’ve had a series of successful shows; success determined by sales achieved. Next year, I’m easing off from major gallery exhibitions to experiment with new ideas and to engage with personal projects.
Where do you want the business to be in 10 years time?
The reason why I’m constantly pushing my business during this recession is to show that I have the determination to survive as an artist. This will secure my reputation as a Scottish artist when the economic climate is stabilised in the next ten years.
If you were given £1 million to invest in the company how would you use it?
I would split that money into four investments. One of them would be invested onto expansion/ networking overseas. The second part would be to improve the operation of the business at home base. The third part would be allocated into marketing and the fourth would be put into investments or high interest savings. I’m a firm believer in saving for a rainy day.
What's the best part of running a business?
That would be the planning of marketing/ promoting an exhibition. I usually have a lot of fun with it. For example, I dressed up as a Plague Doctor earlier this year to promote my solo exhibition in Edinburgh.