Thursday, 17 May 2012

Making your art work for you

Everyone recognises Van Goch's "Sunflowers" or "Starry Night", but is that because we are familiar with the paintings themselves or because we are bombarded with reproductions everywhere we look?

T-shirts, mouse-mats, mugs, calendars, badges, ties, scarves, calendars, notebooks, clocks, keyrings, cards, jewellery, phone covers, posters, prints, clocks, stickers, coasters, magnets, tote bags and even underwear are all commercially available featuring these iconic images!

I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not from a purist's point of view, but for those who wish to make a living from their art rather than live the Romantic dream, surely it's worth investigating?

There is a value (and possibly moral) judgement each individual must make, but for me it is a simple decision - consumerism wins!

No doubt every painter out there has investigated the viability of having prints made of their work. The cost is a massive factor and you don't want to be stuck with 250 prints you can't sell.

My first forays into reproduction came in my art college days when for a printing project I produced t-shirts and album cover for a band I used to play in. Ah those heady days when anything and everything were possible and reality had yet to make inroads into our lives!

When the band New Model Army released their classic "Thunder and Consolation" album in 1989 I, along with just about everyone else, was impressed with the sleeve artwork.

Suddenly celtic art was mainstream - or at least as mainstream as counter-culture can get! This design has become synonymous with the band over the years, with fans often having it tattooed on their bodies - a membership badge for the exclusive 'fanclub'

When I began to explore celtic art further, I found the above design in George Bain's influential book Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction

Apparently it's an ancient pictish stone carving found in Meigle, Perthshire, Scotland (though I have yet to find photographic evidence of the stone)

When Gelert Design was set up late in 2009, it was all about creating reproducible products. My preferred sculpting method is carving plaster. Plaster isn't satisfactorily durable and the time it takes me to produce a piece makes it prohibitively expensive to buy. So Gelert Design is all about making silicone moulds of my carvings and reproducing them in resin. Can you see where this is going? ;)

As soon as I felt myself competent enough, I contacted New Model Army regarding a hole in their merchandise range - fridge magnets! It's all very well selling the latest band t-shirt, hoodle, and silver pendant, but the fans are an obsessive lot (and I should know, I'm one of them!), always after something else - bootlegs, a hat, a mug, socks...

I was asked to send some samples and they were immediately approved! Gelert Design had it's first wholesale order! Of course, the 'Thunder and Consolation' design was one of the most popular designs. The current range of New Model Army fridge magnets are available from their online shop

Now, New Model Army don't own this design - it was created by the pictish people after all. You may be familiar with it as it's the logo of film company Legendary Pictures, makers of 300, The Dark Knight, Where The Wild Things Are, Clash of the Titans etc etc.

While it's all very well having a painting that can be reproduced on aprons, it needs to be a design that people actually want. This will always be the problem when you want your art to work for you. I've yet to come up with my own Hello Kitty! But I have already sculpted something that is fairly popular... 

Seeing as how no one owns the design but it is associated with the band, movies, the celts and picts, it seemed a good image to reproduce a la Vincent Van Goch. I have already made the moulds and the versatility of resin means various finishes and fillers can be introduced to create a vast range.

From that one initial mould for a fridge magent, I was able to cast in bonded brass, bronze, copper, aluminium, epoxy, polyester and polyurethene!

Here's a gallery of items I have made using just that one mould  - tealight holders, brooches, pendants, and trinket boxes:

Of course, it doesn't end there! Carving the design in different sizes allowed me to produce clocks and belt buckles!

(All the above can be purchased from my Etsy and Folksy shops)

It doesn't end there of course, the design still has legs - I've made engraved glass coasters for instance. Now I just need to think of the next adaptation!

So in conclusion, reproducing art works for me. It's just a question of finding a popular design and then the sky's the limit!

I'd be interested in hearing your views for and against the argument for adapting art, and of course any ideas as to how I can use the design next:-)


  1. Hi, long time no speak :)

    At university I made a piece all about how people reproduce famous artwork onto consumerist pieces and how the famous artists would feel about their work being on a keyring etc would they approve?

    The final exhibition was a staged gallery setting, white walls etc with beautiful and famous artworks hung on the walls as in any gallery. I made a chocolate football vending machine (it worked too) to go in one corner which released chocolate balls once the 'consumer' had recreated a block jigsaw of Picasso's Guernica, they pulled a lever and the chocolate would fall through the puzzle if correct. In real life it's an 8m x 3m painting about the spanish civil war - you couldn't have got more tasteless to turn it into a money making game, but the idea was that whatever way you promoted art, whether in a stuffy gallery or through a kids jigsaw puzzle or on a keyring, if the effect was to introduce people / kids to culture and history then it was a good thing even if someone else is making money out of it :) (it was some time ago, it sounded a lot more intellectual back then!)

    1. Your chocolate balls reminds me of lab rats:) In college I made a life size version of Max Ernst's Elephant Célèbes that you had to sit inside. Not sure what I was trying to say - probably something utterly pretentious about art:-)

  2. How about making them small enough for drop earrings and selling them as supplies? I'd buy some for my 'sourced in the uk' section on my website! Di

    1. I've tried before - made some tiny little charms and buttons but just didn't sell enough to make it worth the effort and expense. Also, resin just isn't the most suitable material unfortunately:/ Could try pewter but that requires a centrifuge which I can;t afford.

  3. What an interesting post. Must have taken ages to write. I'm lucky if I manage a few sentences these days.
    I'm all for reproducing art to make money. It beats sitting in an office, and it isn't doing anyone any harm:)
    I'm working on digitizing some celtic knots for machine embroidery. Have you seen the knots3d program - you can create your own knots.
    What about mugs with the design in relief? No idea as to the practicalities of that, though.
    crow cottage

  4. Hehe, thanks - I guess I'm still keen as it's only my 3rd post. Give it time:-D
    Not heard of that program. I've always created my own knots since reading the book above and Aiden Meehan's books on creating knots. But in these days when I digitize everything so they can be resized etc easily before I start actually making, it sounds like something worth investigating.
    Mugs. Nice idea. I can picture them too. But I think we're entering the realms of pottery/ceramics here. One day I'll sell enough fridge magnets to buy a kiln.... :-)