Mark Eden recently returned to the Isle of Wight, moving out of his job as a computer engineer, to establish himself as an art photographer, running a gallery and marketing his own framed work. In some ways having had a career in computers has been beneficial in his new venture, but even though he has returned "home", moving away from friends and contacts means that he has had to establish his credentials and contacts all over again.
Beach Hut Gallery has provided Mark with the opportunity to move from being a talented amateur photographer to becoming a talented professional. Whilst he really enjoys producing "art photography" to sell through the gallery, he has undertaken some portrait work and made a tentative foray into wedding photography. With excellent passing trade in the first year it has been a very positive start for the business. The initial idea was to sell framed photography and started with using ready made frames from such sources as diy warehouses.
As with many people wanting to promote their own work, frustration set in when faced with having to squeeze the original artwork into pre-set frame proportions. The results were not that good, which means that the sale value is reduced. The other alternative was to contract out his framing: however those costs eat into the profit margin. As luck would have it, Mark visited the Focus on Imaging Exhibition 2006, where he visited the DIYframing stand, ending up having a long conversation with Duncan McDonald. The upshot was the purchase of several bits of kit and employing his engineering / practical skills to start framing for himself. With a few hints over the phone from Duncan, he has been able to get going, producing and selling 10 pieces of his own work per week.
The kit he ended up with was a mitre trimmer, Logan mount cutter and under pinner. Even now, during the closed season, he has been selling a steady stream of his own pieces and has already noticed the start of the Christmas rush. He can foresee a time, in the near future, when he will have to upgrade his framing equipment to help with the increase in demand. In reality, it had not been his intention to set up as a framing service, Mark's was simply to develop sales of mounted and framed artwork through the gallery. As often happens though, that decision has altered as the market has taken on a life of its own. Family, friends and customers regularly ask to have works framed.
As the business name suggests, Mark frames and sells his work out of a beach hut. Don't imagine for a moment, however, something the size of a sea-soaked potting shed. It is approximately 12' x 30', which is enough to provide a good sized workshop area with comfortable front of house gallery. However it is not a totally cushy number, as it has no mains power and limited natural lighting. This means that Mark has had to use a bit of cunning and know-how to make it a manageable workplace. In the winter months the gallery itself is only open for business at weekends, but the storage and workspace has to be maintained all year round. He uses two generators to provide electrical power. A mini 12v system powers lighting, which is often the only concern. A second, heavy-duty, generator can be used when there is a need to run power tools and so forth. Heating is important, not just for his own comfort, but also for keeping materials such as mountboard dry. Even when the gallery isn't open Mark will run his small, wood burning stove to take off the chill and damp: this has been enough to keep everything usable.
Mark tends to frame his work in a series of set styles, which allows him to use trade discounts and manage stock more effectively. He can order large amounts of the chosen mountboard colours and whole packs of a few styles of moulding. When individuals ask for particular mount colours or moulding styles, these are ordered on demand. As he has just invested in a new large-format, photo printer, he can anticipate getting through his stock even more quickly. Glass is the only item he doesn't keep in the hut, preferring to have pieces cut to order by a local glazier. He would find it difficult to store glass safely especially as customers will often wander into the workshop from the gallery.
We are always told how important location of premises is. For Mark, a high level of passing trade has meant that work started to come in as soon as he opened the gallery. If anything, he has needed to be careful not to "over-promote" his work so that he can meet demand. At one time he was literal printing and framing work to order; next year during the high season he has already anticipated the need to have stock in place ahead of orders. As business grows, he is clearly not going to rely on passing trade. He regularly attends art fairs and is beginning to achieve a good reputation for his work. He enjoys the buzz of hearing people say to friends, "you know that picture you like, well this is where I bought it." Apparently some of his pictures have been sent as far away as Australia. It is at this type of market place that new customers will be found and so a large gazebo with fully printed awning is on its way with a view to attending larger and more fairs - including traditional County Shows. More advertising will also follow through local media.
The promised website is also on its way, but is taking a little longer than intended. Part of the problem has been that it is being produced by some college students. This means that the work is great but with so many other things on their minds, some deadlines have had to become elasticated. Mark has no doubt that the end result will be worth it. As soon as it is fully running, we will include a link from the DIYframing site. Other future plans? Three new photographers have set up in Mark's locality: rather than taking them on "High Noon" style, he is trying to establish himself as their "bespoke framer" and offer a large format printing service.
In short Mark says he is looking at a big future:
Everyone at DIYframing wishes him all the best and thanks him for taking the time to tell us his story.