NUA Alumni Alina Sandu recently sat down with Venue to talk about her new business Takeaway Art, which seeks to change the way people connect with artists and their work, and provide a financial boom to the Norwich artist scene. Joining her is local artist Charli Vince, who will be supplying the art to subscribers in December.
Great to have you both here. Alina, so this is your company. When did you start this?
[su_quote]Alina: I started this last month. October was the first one and we’ve had one edition so far, which is this one we have bought in. This is by the artist Jo Stafford, who is mostly a print maker, but she does a lot of other things. She works at the Print to the People studio in Norwich doing courses, activities, and traditional print techniques. In the box we include a bit of biographical detail and contact information of the artist. The idea is to get people to know more about them. This piece is screen printed on wood, which is then laser cut, and the different layers are stuck together. It’s all hand printed with a squeegee on the painting bed and then manually aligned. So all the pieces we have sent out are all slightly different and unique in their own way. [/su_quote]
So are these made to order based on your subscriber numbers, or are these pre-made pieces that are then collected once you have chosen the artist?
[su_quote]A: They are sort of made to order for Takeaway Art, all the subscribers get the same thing. Jo is not seeing them anywhere else yet.
Charli: It’s exclusive [/su_quote]
So you’ve just started out, how are you hoping to advertise the work and grow your subscription base?
[su_quote]A: We have reached out and done a series of interviews with local press and regional media. We are currently talking to the BBC about filming some of our production space, with the artists creating and boxing some subscription boxes. We are really advertising heavily on social media and in local publications. We’re making the process as easy as possible for subscribers. The website is already up, and the subscription process is painless. If you don’t like the art, you can pause it for the month. [/su_quote]
In terms of your inspiration for this, you see in the market a lot of subscription box services, selling everything from food to toys. Were those businesses that helped shaped your idea.
[su_quote]A: Yes. My favourite subscription service was one set up to provide customers with socks. I started researching subscription box services just when i was looking for Christmas presents last year, and there was so many of them, but in Britain non specifically for art. [/su_quote]
Why do you think it hasn’t taken off in the UK yet?
[su_quote]A: There’s quite a lot of work involved. Art doesn’t really come cheap, but you want your subscription price to be fairly low so people will keep paying every month. So, you have to find the right artists for it, which I think we are really lucky in Norwich as we do have a lot of good artists and a good community of people who help each there out. Then you have to make sure the art is ready on time, which could take a varying amount of time depending on how many you are making. I think there is quite a big risk involved as it is a new market and you don’t know if people are going to like it. [/su_quote]
So Charli, if i could talk to you about your art? You’re going to be in the December edition for subscribers, how are you involved in the Norwich art scene?
[su_quote]C: I do live in Norwich, I’m not from here originally. I came here to study at NUA, and then sort of stayed, as I loved Norwich. I graduated last year, so that’s that all done.[/su_quote]
Do you specialise in a certain medium?
[su_quote]C: Mostly in traditional illustration, but I do take it into digital quite a bit. My themes are mostly natural history and animal kingdom, subject wise.[/su_quote]
How far are you in the process of creating for the December subscribers?
[su_quote]C: I’m going to be making a new zine for it. I’m not quite sure on the subject matter yet, Fortunately, zines are quite small so they’re quite easy to bash one out. Hopefully I will get that sorted, obviously Christmas can get time consuming, so I’ll have to work that out.[/su_quote]
Before you came to Takeaway Art, was your business selling your art?
[su_quote]C: Yeah, it was a freelance basis, so people would come to me with the commission work that they needed, but I would sell pre-made pieces online as well.[/su_quote]
Do you find the Norwich art scene after leaving the NUA community has helped you sell your work at all?
[su_quote]C: It has been better since leaving. NUA was great, but everyone was so busy with their own university projects that no one focussed enough on the commercial stuff, and getting into the career and business side of it. So once I left uni I met up with a lot of collectives of illustrators. They would get the more commercial aspect of it as they had already graduated and had been doing it for a while.[/su_quote]
Did you find this helped you navigate the logistics of selling your work?
[su_quote]C: Definitely, because university was great to work out how to make your work, but working out how to make money from it was a whole different field.[/su_quote]
Do you think that as an illustration student, there should be a place in the degree to teach you how to market and sell your work to prepare you for after university?
[su_quote]C: Definitely. A friend and I founded the enterprise society for NUA because there wasn’t enough business focus and entrepreneurial focus for the university so we wanted to tell people ‘you’re work is lovely, but you need to find a way to earn money from it, otherwise you’ll be living in a box.’ We had to convene a load of arts students how to write cv’s which was really hard to do.[/su_quote]
Since leaving NUA, how have you managed to market you work, is it your primary source of income in the near future?
[su_quote]C: It’s a source of income, that the problem with freelance work. Some months I will make loads for my work and some months I will make nothing. [/su_quote]
Do you think a subscription service makes that easier for you as an artist? if you know there are a certain amount of customers who want your work.
[su_quote]C: It makes it so much easier, i wish it was like that with everything. When I could get a message through and know ‘oh i need this amount of things to sell’ it makes it so much better than the other way of doing things. [/su_quote]
You’re in the process of creating for this month now. Do you have a problem with working to this target with the time and demand constraints?
[su_quote]C: Theres plenty of time for this fortunately. Some of the deadlines I get can be insane. Some clients will send me requests at 3pm for pieces they need the next morning, so this is very nice. [/su_quote]
With the current subscription, do you find it at all motivating to personalise the content that you create? If some of the customers prefer certain themes or aspects of your art, do you try and craft your work around that or do you stick to the idea that this is your work and although people are prepaying for this, are you adamant that you are going to give them what you want to give them?
[su_quote]C: Thats a balance that I’ve always struggled with. Everyone always struggles with it especially if it’s an individual client. They are buying your style, but at the same time you need to tailor it to what they want you need to find a balance. But with a subscription serves it’s going to be on-masse rather than individual clients. It can only be tailored to a certain extend. I will try and make each thing a little bit different, you can embellish things, but to the other extent of an actual personal client you can’t actually tailor it that much. [/su_quote]
Coming back to you Alina, what extent do you work with your artists? To what extent do you tell them you want a certain theme every month, or do you just contact the artists every month and say, “I want you to supply me with some art.”
[su_quote]A: It depends on the artists a lot. The artist I’m working with for November is just starting out as an illustrator. He used to be a tattoo artists, had to retire from that due to medical reason, and is now looking for new ways to use his skills. He doesn’t have much of the experience needed for sourcing logistical things.
C: Knowing what printers to go to, what sort of materials you need, that takes a lot of trial and error. I’ve been to some crap printers before.
A: In that sense I’m helping him a little bit. For Charli, I approached her saying, “I really like some of these pieces that you’ve done, can you create something similar for me?” [/su_quote]
So, one major problem with the subscription service is that you need people to be committed upfront. Do you see the problem in that without the upfront subscription artist you can’t fund the artist you want to pay? Comparing it to other services which are very entered around consumables, do you see a problem of customers only using Takeaway Art as a short term novelty or gift?
[su_quote]A: One of the things I came across when doing my initial research is that people only have a finite amount of space for art, which is why I’m looking at getting different types of art in to their homes. Different styles, that cover so many formats. It would be easier logistically to go with a print every month, but I’m looking at the long term value of the art more. I want to know people will continue subscribing, and they will not be competing for the same space in their homes for the same style of art. Having said that, once someone has subscribed by nine months, if they wish to return one of their pieces they have had for a while, we will replace it with something else. Tastes change and fashion changes, I’m happy to give repeat subscribers a bonus. I haven’t done it yet at these early stages, but that is part of the plan. [/su_quote]
That poses the question, how you expect the customers to really treat the product that you are selling? Does that make the art a novelty or are you selling them a purchase experience of this art that they then can repeat?
[su_quote]A: Yes. I am very much trying to sell the artist, letting the customer get to know this one artist, support their work, help them get to the next level, find out about what inspires them, and to keep doing that every month. [/su_quote]
My final question, how do you deal with the mystery aspect of it? If you’re selling the artist, you really create a initial disconnection between the customer and the artist with you as an in-between person. Do you see yourself as a sort of patron or curator, to this art experience where you have the position to take these artist you consider and commodifying their products to market to the customers prior to them seeing the artist?
[su_quote]A: I use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram a lot to let people know who the artist is before the month. I am a curator, I like that title. I would say the customers are the ultimate patrons as they are the ones funding it. Social media is essential for me to let them know about the art before they get the work. They get to know the style, the inspiration for the piece. They get glimpses, but never the actual thing before the moment where they open the box.[/su_quote]
Takeaway Art is a Norwich based subscription service that ships across the UK. You can subscribe for as little as £25 a month to get new art delivered to your door every month.