Artist Sarah Baddon-Price shares the challenges experienced by professional artists during unprecedented times.
2019 was a great year for me and I went into 2020 with few plans and my expectation bar low. My bookings were minimal. I was due to exhibit with Art for Cure at Glemham Hall at the beginning of May and had booked Artspace Woodbridge for an October solo show.
Early in the year when sounds of the pandemic seemed like a very distant rumble, Belinda Gray, director of Art for Cure asked if I would join Henrietta Dubray and Sarah Muir Poland in a-three woman show planned for March at Grundisburgh House Gallery. I felt honoured as the other two artists were celebrated contributors. As the nation went into the first lockdown, the show cards were posted. But rather than cancelling the show Art for Cure took the brave step to launch an on-line exhibition billed to last until mid-April. This decision was rewarded by successful show and I truly believe this online exposure set up a chain of events that were greatly beneficial for me.
Through the first lockdown news of the new Artists Support Pledge spread – I was forwarded the link by Suffolk artist Sula Rubens within days. This exciting Instagram based venture aimed to help artists help themselves when incomes were threatened. Created by the immensely talented East Sussex artist Matthew Burrows, it is driven by a spirit of artistic generosity. The pledge has artists post their work on Instagram with a maximum value of £200. Upon reaching £1000 of sales, the artist is held to buy from another artist up to the value of £200.
After much thought I chose not to join the Artists Support Pledge at that time. With the Three Women exhibition lined up, I was just too busy. Further Art for Cure commitments in May, as well as work for galleries in London and Edinburgh were on my mind. It was a risk to flood my market with smaller more affordable paintings, when larger more expensive paintings that had already been selected by Art for Cure. As prices take years of work and exposure to build, its hugely discouraging for artists to put their prices down. Galleries and agencies take up to a 50% commission from artists, therefore prices must reflect this.
Fortunately, the “Three Women” exhibition was a success. And, by then, there was a clear seismic shift toward online art purchasing. Art for Cure once again pulled the proverbial “rabbit out of a hat” and the intended Glemham Hall exhibition went online as The Big One Hundred Artists exhibition. This show was a triumph, with the public truly supporting the charity. Between the two exhibitions I sold 13 paintings which is more than I would have expected had the exhibitions been physical.
Throughout May I experienced higher levels of interest on Instagram and my website was busier than it had been for a decade. Encouraged by this I joined the Artist Support Pledge. There was a real buzz and experiencing it was uplifting at a time when wider insecurities abounded. However, I did have the misconception that when COVID easing began the Art Support Pledge initiative would end. I adopted a specific approach and treated my inclusion as a time-limited project with a deadline of three weeks.
I created new tiny post card sized paintings as a response to the pandemic. These new little paintings gave me something positive to plan and focus on during those challenging days. I painted local landscapes, birds that I saw while cycling and the chillies my son was growing. I painted apples and pears all with my thumbprint.
It didn’t seem fair to sell existing paintings in the pledge that previously had higher prices. It was vital I didn’t diminish the value of my work for clients or threaten the work’s value for the agencies and galleries that I have depended upon over the years. I had no interest in selling off archive work cheaply sending out the wrong message as these works are of great value to me.
My paintings were offered unframed or in up-cycled charity shop frames as a cost cutting move. Uptake was good and it was touching to be told by one artist friend that she had long wanted a piece of my work but had previously felt that she couldn’t afford one. Two of my collectors bought groups of these small paintings, realising the amazing value they represented. Mostly these little paintings sold within the day, one of them sold within 15 minutes of posting, which may never be repeated. And I felt joy when buying from other artists.
Despite this, when easing began in earnest I drew a line under my part in the ASP. Since then, the pledge has continued and grown enormously, and I believe it has received national funding. Matthew Burrows has deservedly been awarded an MBE. The support pledge reaffirmed Instagram’s’ role as an important selling platform for contemporary artists.
Luckily shops were again open in Woodbridge for my October Artspace solo exhibition. I have to admit it was a relief to fall back on tradition and physically exhibit after six months of online sales. The exhibition gathered further sales but once again these came after my posting the paintings on Instagram. Currently my Instagram followers are primarily local, so there is a pressure to grow and widen my audience.
I don’t forget 2020 was an immeasurably tragic year for many people, so I am so grateful for the support of my fellow artists, collectors and friends that gave me the audience and motivation to continue painting and exhibiting through the most extraordinary of times.
Sarah’s work can be viewed at www.sarahbaddonprice.com and on Instagram at @sarahbaddonprice