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Jessica LloydSmith profile shot AWAD landscape

From Studio to Home: an Interview with Jessica Lloyd-Smith, Gallery Director of Modern ArtBuyer Limited

Jessica Lloyd-Smith is Gallery Director of Modern ArtBuyer Limited, which was founded in early 2012. The online gallery and consultancy showcases paintings, limited edition prints, mixed media and digital works with the mission of modernising the acquisition of affordable contemporary art.

Jessica’s background in both the art world and marketing lend themselves to the gallery’s consultancy service, where she sources dynamic pieces for private buyers, interior designers and property developers. The brand ensures high technical and creative standards through handpicking creations straight from the studios of exceptional artists. 

The gallery shows at Affordable Art Fair Battersea, as well as pop-ups in London, Bath and Bristol. 

Services include sales and art consultancy.

Stephanie Yeap spoke with Jessica via video call between London and Bath…

1. Describe your business in 5 words:

I’ll start with inspiring, professional, friendly, discerning. I think the final one would be diverse because the way I approach and find my clients, the way that I respond to them and the works are quite varied. We’re also diverse in terms of medium, level of artist’s career, price points and variety of clients, which ranges from big corporate clients to customers buying their first artwork.

2. What inspired you to pursue this career

I studied at art college thirty years ago, and then from there I moved into branding and marketing, but my passion was always in the art world. So what inspired me to pursue this career was my passion for art and being able to combine that with my experience in marketing; essentially trying to put the right pieces in front of the right people.

3. What’s the most wonderful thing about the profession? 

For me, the most wonderful thing is seeing my artists’ work—so the artists I believe in and have chosen—being appreciated and admired, and then hung in new collectors’ homes. You know, actually going to a studio, finding an artist and seeing an artwork for the first time, and then that whole transition to seeing it on someone’s walls and they’ve fallen in love with it. That’s really exciting, and it’s a wonderful thing for me as a business, it’s a wonderful thing for the collector, and it’s a really exciting thing for the artist, to know that complete strangers are having a dialogue with their works. 

I always try to ask clients to send photographs of the works hanging on their walls, so that the artists get to see how their pieces look. You know this is their baby that they’ve created and left their home, they’ve got no idea where it will finally hang, so it’s really exciting to be able to show artists their works in a new home.

4. And let’s get real… What’s the most challenging aspect of the profession? 

For me, the most challenging aspect is around offering clear insight and education on artists’ practices, to new collectors and people who are interested in the art world. Many people, naturally, don’t understand why a piece is a certain price, what makes it good, the issues surrounding quality and value, so I think that’s a hurdle that all galleries and artists want to work together to overcome. It’s about pushing the benefits and quality of great artists so that collectors really understand what they are buying into.

For example, you might be talking to someone who’s from a field that thinks very logically, like an accountant, and you’re asking them to understand why a painting is a certain price. They’ll ask, how many hours did it take, but really, this is 30 years of being an artist, it doesn’t matter how long this piece took, you’re buying their entire career. So, that whole education sector was a challenge for me.

At the end of the day, explaining things like the artist’s reputation, the rarity of the piece and if it’s it a signature piece. I believe that’s the responsibility of galleries to do that on behalf of our artists, to get more buyers onboard, to get them to understand that this is something worth having, and worth having because it makes them happy, rather than it being purely an investment or financial reward. The work is something that should make them really happy, something they have a strong response to.

5. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given? 

When I first set up my business, somebody said to me ‘the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.’ So for me, my main thing is selling good-quality art and if I end up spending time on tasks or projects that don’t ultimately sell those works, then I shouldn’t be spending my time doing it. 

It’s all about keeping focused, not wasting your time endlessly going down routes that aren’t actually going to help your business in the long-term. It’s really easy to do that and get side-tracked. That is all great and worthy, but in terms of business, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. Just do what you’re supposed to do, and remembering that really keeps you focused on anything.

6. What do you now say to someone who is just starting out? (Maybe it’s that one thing you wish someone had told you!) 

I’d probably say to somebody, start small and grow your business intuitively and organically. Let it grow, don’t try to understand everything about it and don’t try to build the perfect business when you start, because what you think is going to be the perfect business or what you think you might need to do, you probably don’t need to do. I think that will just present itself really clearly as the business starts to grow. 

I think you should start fairly small, don’t try to be too ambitious, and then you’ll find there’s a niche you work really well in. For example, you might find yourself doing well as a consultant, speaking to interior designers, or maybe you’re really great at fairs. If you try to solve it all before you become familiar with it, you might end up going down the wrong track. 

So you know, allow it to grow, and don’t try to predict what’s going to happen in the next 5 years. We thought online was going to go through the roof 2-3 years ago, and it is, but not quite at the same rate for small businesses as you might think. I think it’s important to just be really open and allow things to appear, and work with them when they happen, rather than trying to force it. 

7. What challenge is the industry facing that art dealers need to address? 

 One thing that is a challenge for galleries is artists selling directly to clients. Now, I represent artists and I don’t mean this in a negative way, but the increase in the number of fairs for artists only, such as the very successful Other Art Fair and smaller ones, do make it harder for galleries. While I don’t have exclusivity with any artists and I don’t expect them to sell purely through me, this rise means that the gallery has to find something else to offer rather than just the artists’ works. That’s why we offer consultancy or advice with storage, hanging, building and diversifying a collection.

I don’t think it’s a show-stopper, but it’s something that all galleries need to have at the back of their mind: what can I offer that’s different? Why would somebody want to come to me and not the individual artist? The benefit that galleries offer is that they make the process easy and we offer a wide portfolio of artists, rather than just a single artist’s work.

8. What do you personally believe are the best advantages of being part of an association like AWAD, and how have you benefited? 

For me, personally, it’s all about the networking with other galleries. Most of the galleries I know, mine included, are a one-person project. Gallerists might bring in someone to work art fairs or to do some marketing, but they tend to be alone. So you tend to end up in a bubble and hope you’re doing the right thing.

What AWAD has allowed me to do is to meet with some like-minded people whom I really trust and respect, and to be able to build a good relationship with them. We’re able to be open about issues and chat about how to solve them. There is also the opportunity to collaborate on shows, projects and sales.  It helps me, it helps other galleries and it helps our artists, so for me, the networking has been extremely valuable. That’s the biggest advantage: being surrounded by bright and proactive women, who make you excited to be a part of it.

9. How can you make the most out of being a member of a professional network? 

My response to this would be, you get out of it what you put in. If you make the time to go to meetings, and if you take the time to meet up with other members, you listen to what’s said in workshops and put that to practice, that will give you a much better return on your investment as a member.

You can’t expect it to all come to you, you’ve got to think ‘how does this apply to my business?’ You’ve also got to share your experiences as well. I find that the more I share and the more open I am, the more people respond in the same way back to you. Being in AWAD breeds a dialogue, so you get out what you put in and you have to make an effort to make it work for you.
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