“The Bristol Pound initiative is fantastic, it really makes us stand out as a city. I was really attracted to the fact that it supported independent, local business and that it keep money circulating in the city.”
Welcome back to our “my business story” interview series. This time we enjoyed meeting with Susie Ramsay. Susie is a Bristol artist specialising in bespoke and unique local scenes in a variety of mediums. You can view her beautiful artwork at Leigh Court Open Exhibition, Bristol until 15th February 2019.
Hi Susie, can you tell us about your business and your relationship with Bristol?
I trade under the name Susie Ramsay Art – just to keep things simple! I sell limited edition greeting cards and giclee prints. These are reproductions of my landscape and cityscape paintings of Bristol and beyond. I was born in Bristol and lived here until I was 18. I initially left to study at York University until 2001 then headed off for a year to Australia and New Zealand (including a 3,500 kilometre bicycle tour!). On returning back to the UK I lived in London for 10 years and worked as a policy researcher at a national children’s charity. In 2012 I returned to live in Bristol, this move enabled me to change careers and set up as an artist.
What do you love about Bristol? And what do you love about
Bristol has got it all really; beautiful buildings, the harbourside and surrounding countryside. Due to its hilly geography, there are so many great views and potential compositions to sketch and paint. When travelling around the city by foot or bike i’m always inspired by different viewpoints, or by the way sun shines on a building and brings it alive.
I’ve tried to capture that spirit in the titles and subjects of my previous exhibitions; ‘Streets,
lanes and skylines’ at The Grant Bradley Gallery (2015), DAC Beachcroft (2016) and ‘Rooftops
& Archways’ at The Christmas Steps Gallery (2018) and The Vestibules (2018). I wanted the exhibitions to be about the hidden parts of Bristol and to present the city in a new light.
What I love about working as an artist is the independence and freedom that it brings. You are able to direct your own work to make ideas happen, such as developing new work and putting on solo exhibitions, while at the same time there are so many opportunities to partner and collaborate with other people in Bristol through galleries or arts trails.
As an artist every day is different. At the weekend I can be doing very public facing work selling my artwork at arts fairs and then if needed I can lock myself away in my studio for few weeks to complete a painting. The variety of the work is very rewarding, you are basically a one-man band. I had to learn quickly about many aspects of the business both creating artwork, how you market that and then sell it. You have to trust your instincts, celebrate the successes, learn from your mistakes and not be too hard on yourself when things don’t go to plan.
How did you start your business?
I’ve always loved painting and drawing but had not pursued it as a career until the end of 2013. At this point in my life, I had the opportunity to take some time off and decided to cycle from Bristol to the heel of Italy over 7 weeks. During this journey, I had the time and space to think through what I really wanted to do with my life and to start sketching again. I painted a pen and ink postcard for every day of the 3,000 kilometre trip, which later turned into a 45 postcard exhibition ‘Postcards from the road: sketches from Bristol to Brindisi’. While sketching the views, street-scenes and mountain scenery everyday I decided that it was now or never and I was going to dedicate my time to becoming a full time artist.
From making that decision to it becoming a reality was a huge leap. Firstly I collated and completed my ‘Postcards from the road: sketches from Bristol to Brindisi’ exhibition and displayed it at ‘Roll for the Soul’ cafe in Bristol during the November 2013.
In order to give my new career some structure I enrolled myself on the Outset Business course which was fantastic in helping me formulate my ideas and look at all the different aspects of self-employment. On that course, it was also the first time I said publicly to a room full of people that I was planning on being a full time artist (before telling all my friends and family) which was very exciting.
How do you keep it going?
To make my business viable I sell cards and limited edition prints of my work in a variety of ways; through my website, from my ‘pop-up’ art shop at local craft markets, in local shops and galleries and through commissions to businesses or members of the public.
What’s your favourite thing about running an independent business?
Being able to make all the decisions about how to run your business and what opportunities to take. There is no chain of command, so it’s very much led by where my interests lie and what I think would work. It’s very exciting to meet new people and discuss potential partnerships as well. A chance encounter can often lead to a new project which takes you in a completely different direction.
My favourite thing about running an independent business is when you meet someone who immediately has a connection with your work. They see one of your paintings and it’s moved them, by reminding them of a time or person in their life. Those moments are quite amazing and slightly overwhelming! Or the person may really love your style and want you to create a painting for them.
This is how many of my commissions have happened. You meet a client and they get to know you and your work, then we work together to create an artwork that is really special to them. The best part is creating an artwork for a client of their street, house or another special place and they are really excited by what you’ve painted for them. The thought of your work hanging up in their home and that they live with it and look at it everyday is really special and humbling.
What are the challenges?
Running a small business on your own is very challenging. You definitely have to focus on planning your time between creating new work, promoting it and administration. I definitely have to call in a few favours around exhibition launches and Arts Fairs, particularly to deliver and set up my work. There is such a big network out there of creative people, independent retailers and venues in Bristol that it’s very important to create links and work together with other people.
What made you sign up to accept Bristol Pounds? What do you like about the scheme?
The Bristol Pound initiative is fantastic, it really makes us stand out as a city. I was really attracted to the fact that it supported independent, local business and that it keeps money circulating in the city. The TXT2PAY scheme and the App has been really popular with my customers.
Where do you spend your Bristol Pounds?
Mainly in local cafes, shops and on the bus!
Are Bristol Pound customers different?
Yes definitely, there is an instant connection, it’s like you are part of some special club! When someone is paying with Bristol Pounds, it always starts a conversation about where else they spend their pounds and about the city.
I’ve particular loved all the new artwork on the pound notes. It’s a great way to celebrate the creative talent we have in this city.
What are your five favourite places in Bristol and why?
Small Street Espresso [£B]- a fantastic bolt hole in the centre of the Old City with great view of the Law Courts.
Ahh Toots [£B] – a lovely spot in the middle of the bustling St Nicks Market, amazing coffee and cake with great views of the Glass Arcade.
Little Victories [£B] – this cafe is one of the best in the new Cargo development. Great for breakfast or for a leisurely afternoon.
Birch [£B] – hidden away in Southville this neighbourhood restaurant is perfect for a relaxed dinner.
Hart’s Bakery [£B] – in the station Arches, again you have to work to find it, but always worth the visit.
Find Susie Ramsay Art online via the following links:
Thank you Susie!