Pictured above: The Velvet Easel Gallery, Edinburgh
Christina Elia talks to gallery owners about the mutual benefits of nurturing a strong relationship and secures some insights for artists considering approaching a gallery.
Written & narrated by Christina Elia
Breaking into the creative industry can seem next to impossible for any aspiring glass or mosaic artist. From financial resources to deep community ties and, most importantly, gallery representation, the challenges are daunting no matter your skill level. Even experienced glassmakers sometimes find themselves searching for a fresh direction or a new way to enliven their practice, unsure of which path to take next. Likewise, artists at the beginning of the journey may be wondering: where do I start? While many factors are involved, the obvious answer is often to begin on a smaller scale, perhaps with a local gallery or artist-owned store.
Edinburgh gallery shows mosaic and glass art
The Velvet Easel, a gallery located in Edinburgh, offers lesser-known artists a chance to gain their footing in an ever-opaque business. “I prefer to take on artists who aren’t already represented in any nearby galleries,” says owner Jane Grant, who took over around two years ago and expanded the gallery to include glass and mosaic. “It’s good to offer new work that our customers may not have seen before.” Artists don’t need to have any previous exhibition experience to secure representation at The Velvet Easel. Grant is more concerned with the work’s quality, a high-standard finish, and whether it’ll fit with the overall feel of the gallery.
From ceramics to pottery, painting, and even jewelry, she casts her net wide and welcomes all types of media at The Velvet Easel. Though many of the gallery’s artists reside locally, whether in Scotland or the larger United Kingdom, they bring a range of techniques to the table thanks to their international expertise, all the while maintaining a quintessentially Scottish aura. “I think the inspiration from the unique landscapes and quality of light in Scotland is often evident in the work made by Scottish glassmakers,” Grant says. Elin Isaksson, who focuses on fused glass, is one brilliant artist currently on display, alongside Morag Archer and Angela Ibbs, who both specialize in mosaics.
A loyal clientele visits The Velvet Easel frequently, providing artists with increased visibility and the possibility of repeat sales. Due to its location by the seaside, the gallery also receives several random walk-ins or out-of-town visitors interested in purchasing certain pieces. “I always aim to have a broad range of prices,” Grant says. “There’s something for everyone’s budget, while maintaining the high quality of items on offer.” A passerby could buy anything from a £3 art card to original art costing £2,500, of which the artist receives between 40 and 50% commission. Grant also promotes The Velvet Easel to a bigger audience by advertising on social media, through word-of-mouth, and in a wide range of publications.
Forging lasting relationships
Experienced artists who want to elevate their craft should also forge lasting relationships with galleries willing to nurture their careers in the long term. Vessel Gallery, a contemporary gallery and shop located in London, assists more mature glassmakers in reaching their full potential. “We’re very heavily involved with our artists,” says Angel Monzon, the gallery’s founder. “If we see something special in them, we’re happy to invest in further developing their work, almost like a mentorship.” Though the gallery tends to take on artists who have years of knowledge under their belt, Monzon isn’t afraid to make exceptions. What matters most is that artists show a desire to push the envelope and engage in a candid dialogue about how they can improve.
During its twenty-year tenure, Vessel Gallery has featured artists from around the world, including Italy, Finland, and South Korea, to name a few. Originally a retail store, it eventually evolved into its current iteration, which primarily showcases glass and decorative lighting. All pieces for sale through the gallery are unique and range in price from around £3,000 to £10,000, whether Scandinavian crystal or ornate Italian glass. “There’s something really beautiful about glassmaking in particular,” Monzon says. “Watching multiple artists work together is almost like seeing a synchronized ballet.” At the moment, Vessel is gearing up to unveil a solo show by Swedish glass and textile designer Lena Bergström, whose lively forms convey a profound appreciation for the material.
Vessel Gallery has accumulated a consistent client base over the years, many of which don’t see a work in person before purchasing it. (Around 80% of the gallery’s sales occur online.) Almost three-quarters of the gallery’s customers reside in the United States as well, despite its international selection of artists. “Regardless of stable clients, galleries should always be on the lookout for new collectors,” Monzon advises. “People run out of space to put things.” In addition to working with artists, the gallery edits its own editions, an ongoing program allowing artists and designers to produce one-of-a-kind collections. Vessel also consults for interior and corporate design projects and functions as a valuable liaison between artists, collectors, and museums.
Artist-run gallery takes off
Bethany Wood is one of the many groundbreaking glass artists represented by Vessel Gallery. Dubbed a ‘rising glass star’, Wood discovered her passion for glassmaking while pursuing a design degree at De Montfort University, quickly falling in love with the fast-paced, mesmerizing process. “I relate to my work; therefore, I can sell myself to other people naturally,” Wood says. “My love for glass is infectious, I hope.” Even with her sunny disposition, Wood realized the harsh realities of life as an artist shortly after graduation. She worked multiple jobs, her main gig being a glassmaking assistant, but still struggled to make ends meet. After feeling like she’d hit a rut in her career, she decided to take a leap and pioneer her own artist-run glass gallery and shop.
Blowfish Gallery initially served as a workshop for beginners, then shifted to online-only once the pandemic happened. During this time, Wood learned the ins and outs of art publicity, between booking systems, writing SEO-optimized blogs, and organizing online auctions. Soon, she joined forces with molten glass sculptor Elliot Walker, the second winner of Netflix’s glassblowing competition series, Blown Away. Blowfish sells a number of original and limited edition pieces by artists such as Walker, alongside Tim Rawlinson, Layne Rowe, and Tim Boswell. Wood is also honing in on her curatorial skills by planning a debut exhibition, set to open this summer. While she’s starting small, she hopes to broaden her horizons once she can launch a larger location in Hertford.
Of course, her position as an artist gives her a special perspective on running a gallery. Wood isn’t afraid to stray from traditional methods, including assisting her artists with projects and filming their progress. “I’ve been in many discussions with glass artists about what they like and don’t like about the galleries which represent them,” she says. “From this experience and insight, I can build a structure which will help artists evolve.” For example, she recently developed a research and design program to offer grants, giving artists a chance to move forward financially while boosting the Blowfish brand. Wood has been fortunate enough to establish a blossoming client base, too. Similar to Vessel Gallery, many of her current customers are located in the United States.
Remember your guiding ethos
All of the galleries I spoke to ultimately underscored the benefit of keeping a finger on the pulse: researching your target demographic, following tastemakers in the field, etc. Still, as an artist, it’s important to remember the guiding ethos behind your practice. What’s trendy today may be out of mode tomorrow, and the industry is always evolving, for better or worse. Don’t shy away from listening to your intuition simply because the market dictates a certain fad.
As the financial costs of raw materials continue to rise, however, one fact remains clear – the symbiotic relationship between artists and galleries is extra relevant, even in the internet age. With a bit of luck, perseverance, and monetary support, you could be one step closer to commencing your adventure as a glass or mosaic artist.
Five tips for success as a glass or mosaic artist:
- Without being too pushy, don’t be afraid to promote your work or reach out to galleries that are soliciting new artists – even if you have less experience, you’ll still get your name out there.
- Know your worth and don’t underprice your work. Regardless of popularity, selling too many versions of the same piece lowers your market value in the long run.
- Make yourself stand out from the crowd by presenting your newest, most interesting, and highest quality items. Galleries want to confirm you can step outside of your comfort zone, if need be.
- Photograph your work often, and ensure these images are full-resolution so you can frequently share them on social media.
- If funding is one of your biggest hurdles to becoming an artist, those who can’t afford the luxury of a studio should seek out more innovative options, such as sharing one with others.