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Sunday, 18 January 2015

A Pretty Talent: A Community Business

by Marietjie Uys, South Africa,

Doing Unto Others.
A Pretty Talent was born out of people’s frustrations. I heard once too often that people were unable to source what they needed to pursue their talents for creating pretty things, be it art or crafts. I started a Facebook Page, advertising my willingness to buy these items for them and ship them to wherever they were. I would charge only a small handling fee. Buying at a slightly larger scale soon made it possible for me to purchase at better prices and my clients were quick to benefit from this. It took only weeks for me to realise that I should keep a small quantity of certain popular products on hand and resultantly started building up stock. Next thing you knew, I had a small shop going that launched into a fully fledged online store.


Having artists and crafters as clients, I soon became aware of their frustrations and, in some cases, inabilities to market themselves effectively. This sparked the idea of starting an online gallery, incorporated in the store. It was not that I was unaware of the myriad online galleries already in existence; it was that I believed I could bring something extra to the table. Aside from artists and a handful of collectors / buyers, very few potential buyers would venture into online galleries. Combining this with a store, would give people a reason to visit the website, where they could ‘stumble upon’ the art in the Gallery, not unlike walking past a bricks and mortar gallery in a shopping mall. This meant expanding the stock to an even wider range of products that would draw an increasing number of “feet". 
With this in mind, the stock was expanded to include books, with negotiations underway to include the stock from a local dealer. It also opened the opportunity to give crafters a platform to sell their products. These were already part of my clientele and it seemed a logical next step to give them a marketing platform as well.
The idea was to give potential buyers a place to stop where they could buy all sorts of beautiful and decorative products for their homes, offices, etc. I wanted to go one step further. In South Africa there are plenty of extremely talented people whose products do not get the accolades they deserve. They are restricted to selling their hand-crafted products on flea markets (open air markets), where its value is reduced by the knick-knacks sold alongside it. At A Pretty Talent, the aim is to market these people under their own names, assisting them to build their products into a brand which would be recognised.
This is the same way that artists were being presented in the Gallery. No more scrolling through long lists of paintings. Each artist has a signature piece next to their name. When visitors click on the image, the artist’s portfolio opens up and the rest of the works are presented with all the necessary details about the paintings.
The service does not stop there either. Since I charge 25% commission on all sales, it remains in my interest to market the art in the Gallery. This is done across a wide variety of social media platforms and literally any other opportunity that presents itself. Artists are also encouraged to make use of these platforms themselves and assistance is given where needed to help artists to do so. They are given guidelines as to how to photograph their art, what information to include about the pieces, and how to go about using technology to sell their products. I encourage artists to keep me informed of anything that happens in their lives which could be used as a marketing tool. For instance, when an artist sells a painting, regardless of whether it sold through the gallery or not, a message is sent throughout the social media congratulating the artist and bringing the fact under the attention of potential buyers. The strategies are as varied as the lives of the artists. The more involved the artist is, the easier it is to find ways of marketing their art. But we go even one step further. As often as I get a response from artists to my requests to do so, I will use the information they send me to write a “Meet the Artist” article on them. This involves biographical information about the artist’s life, their career in art, something personal and some interesting anecdotes. This is done to introduce the artist to potential buyers, who are all too often distanced from these great creative geniuses. We give them a window into the lives of the artists, introducing them to the world of the artist and helping to establish the artists themselves in the hearts and minds of their clients.
The business has grown so exponentially in such a short period of time that it caught me quite off guard. Yet I am thrilled, because it means that even more ideals can be reached in the near future. We are currently working closely with Artworld towards promoting African artists in a portraiture initiative. The next thing is to create a space for artists and crafters to advertise services, for instance art lessons, pottery lessons, etc.
A little further down the line, I hope to put together a tour package and / or art camp, where a number of art teachers across a range of mediums will undertake to give art lessons to the course attendees. We can either travel to the teachers, or book a venue for a weekend/week and invite the teachers over. The details will be finalised as the arrangements progress.
The idea remains to promote art and artists in (South) Africa, to help build self-esteem, to attach a true value to art, to inspire people to keep on creating, and to put a network in place to continue to develop these unique skills. At A Pretty Talent we are blessed to be part of the lives of a growing number of excellent artists.

Acknowledgements
The work of the following artists illustrates this article: Morney Hans, Anton

Kilian and Linda Rossouw and. All work appears with permission of the artists.
For a full list of artworks, their size, material and asking price, refer to the A
Pretty Talent web-site.

Editor’s Note: Artworld has been working closely with A Pretty Talent on setting up the African Portraiture Service in South Africa. As an artist herself, owner Marietjie Uys is an active member (and long-term supporter) of the Artworld community. It has been my pleasure to see how a small business is so focused on meeting a community need, in this case the availability arts and crafts’ supplies and an on-line gallery for emerging artists. It’s worth pointing out, to those still reading, that the idea for this, rapidly growing, small business, could be transplanted to other places, rural, with the artists widely dispersed. The Australian Outback and much of South and Central America spring to mind. If your interested, why not drop Marietjie a line?