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Julian Jardine Gallery & Workshop

by Angie Boyer

Published: July 2009

Angie Boyer talks to sculptor, Julian Jardine, about his work and the experience of opening his own gallery in Perth last year.

Could you describe your own work, the methods you use and the inspiration for it? I create a huge array of animals, both real and fantastic in ceramics. They are predominantly made as one off pieces, although I do create press moulds of some of my smaller works to produce limited edition pieces. I create the pieces as hollow form sculptures, a technique of working I developed at art college, which starts off as a simple pinch pot which then has additionally pinched slabs of clay added in a similar method to coil building. The piece gains strength from sealing air into the model, a bit like an inflated football, that you can then apply pressure to without it collapsing. My work is finished in acrylics; this comes from painting models as a teenager. I had never been a big fan of glaze testing at Art College and after starting self-employment, my main style of firing raku was impractical in a second storey studio space. I decided to start painting work, which allowed me to vary what I made with every piece and had the bonus of requiring only one firing. I use a technique called dry brushing, starting with the darkest colours as a wash, filling every crevice, then additional layers being added, each lighter and with less paint on the brush. The finishing layers are added very gently, almost like dusting for fingerprints. Acrylics don’t fade in the sun and they dry waterproof, so are ideal for sculptural work like mine. As a child I was always a big fan of animation films and fantasy movies, I used to watch films like The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and early Sinbad movies, which used stop frame animation and latex models cast from clay originals. At Art College my lecturer Mark Stanczyk, an American born ceramic artist, encouraged me greatly, both while I studied with him and for the early years of self-employment.

There are two very different aspects to your work, the wild animal sculptures and then the fantasy pieces, how do you find a balance between the two? When I first started out doing ceramics I was very heavily into mythology and fantasy, in fact my degree show was based largely around fantasy pieces and the green man. After starting self employment I made a piece based on a rhino crossed with a pot bellied pig, it sold and was followed shortly by a commission for another and also a hippo. As my career developed I found that the galleries preferred the endangered species, while many of my freelance contracts were based on fantasy work. As I was a big animal enthusiast anyway, I was happy to pursue both aspects of my artwork.

Your gallery has barely been open a year, what prompted you to open it, when you already had a very busy life? The gallery came about for a number of reasons. Many years ago Nick Agar, a wood turner from England I am friends with, started a workshop and gallery with great success and suggested the idea to me. Almost a decade later I needed to get my life back into gear and was looking for a workshop. I came up with the idea of opening up in a shop unit and taking classes to help me cover the rent. As the business plan started taking shape I thought back to Nick’s suggestion and considered the fact I would have plenty of room to also run a gallery space. At the time I thought it would be beneficial to have as many routes to putting together an income as possible, especially in the early days, as I expected it to take about two years to really get a gallery up and running with good regular clientele.

What about the pottery classes that you teach at the gallery, how do you manage to fit everything into your day? I am a sole trader and at times it’s very hectic. Currently I can just manage to do classes and also spend time with anyone visiting the gallery, but as it becomes financially viable I hope to have someone part time to help, especially on a Saturday morning when the kids classes are running. I think visitors are very accepting of the fact that it’s a new business and are very patient if they need to speak to me while a class is running. The classes themselves are for children or adults, I run 4 of each a week in 8 week blocks. The idea is to introduce people to hand building techniques in clay, using simple techniques they can pick up with ease. All the classes are run in a very friendly, fun and laid back manner and it’s as much a chance for people to socialize, as it is an opportunity to learn. I leave the subject matter completely up to the students and simply help them to achieve whatever it is they would like to do. I don’t make people’s pets as they are simply a lot of hassle, so when people are looking for something like that, I encourage them to take a course and make it themselves, which makes the finished piece something deeply personal and far more satisfying than anything I would have made from photographs. Both the gallery and class aspects of running the workshop allow me a chance to interact with the public, which not only produces valuable word of mouth advertising for the business, but also takes away the solitude of working as a sole trader, which can be very hard at times.

How do you select work by other makers for your gallery, what is it you look for? As the idea for the gallery came together I first of all contacted artists I knew, or had previously exhibited with at shows. Later on in the planning I decided to theme the gallery to animals, nature, landscapes and organic forms in an effort to tie the work together and create a selection of work that complemented and supported my own. I used the internet a lot to search for other artists whose work I felt fitted the theme and was also of a very high calibre, as I thought it would be crucial to start with a very high standard if the business was to succeed. I asked artists both new and highly experienced; the fact that I was a maker also encouraged many I thought might not supply someone in such early stages of business to do so.

What was the most difficult thing about setting up a new gallery? Despite the fact I had worked as both a freelance sculptor and part time teacher for numerous years, I still found that starting a business in a commercial premises was a whole new ball game. Initial things, like getting planning permission, employing solicitors to negotiate leases and unseen start up costs meant I had to constantly rethink my starting budget. As I’ve just turned 40 and already had start up grants in the early 90s I found that once you’re older and wiser, start up money is far harder to come by, so it basically had to be funded entirely by myself.

And what has been the most rewarding? Its immensely satisfying opening up the workshop in the morning and knowing that it’s my own little business. Classes are regularly rewarding, the kids love it and adults regularly surprise themselves with the great work they achieve in a very short time. I have also found it immensely satisfying to sit and work in the gallery, it’s like a permanent open studio and visitors to the gallery regularly chat away about whatever it is I’m working on. I think it gives people not involved in art a far better understanding of just how many hours go into creating a piece.

Has anything unexpected happened along the way? Within weeks of getting the keys I was scammed by an electricity broker into signing up with a supplier. It turns out a business has no cooling off period, so when the paper contract arrived and I tried to cancel, I found I was bound to the contract. Despite arguing the case for weeks with the supplier, they would not release me from the contract. I now know not to enter into any contract discussions over the phone and simply ask for website details so I can read up at home.

What advice would you give other makers who are thinking about opening their own gallery? I think its an excellent avenue to broaden the way you can make an income; it’s a lot of work and the gallery takes a long time to find its feet, but if you can combine working with a gallery space it certainly has its advantages. Find out about business leasing, whether you can get any help with rates (Scotland has a special discount scheme for small businesses), and organisations like the Federation of Small Businesses can be very helpful in getting discounts on phone, streamline machines and free banking, plus a number of other benefits.

After your first year with your new gallery, what are your plans for the future? I am currently working with Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park to create exhibition areas and show artists’ work. I hope that we can create a gallery space at the zoo that will prove financially viable and can be kept as a permanent feature, ideal for both artists and as a fund raising facility that puts money directly into preserving the animals we portray. Hopefully, if that proves successful, I can then take the idea to other zoos across the country and try something similar. I also aim to build on the number of galleries I supply around the country to keep a steady stream of work coming into the business.

Julian Jardine
J. Jardine Gallery & Workshop
45 New Row, Perth, Tayside PH1 5QA
T: 01738 621 836
www.julianjardine.co.uk

 
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