Friday Finds - Andrew Ruffhead -BA (Hons) Dip CSAD, MA, FSCD

Good morning! Today's featured artist is someone I've been meaning to make a journey to meet because he is based in North Norfolk, albeit about an hour and a half away from me. He is Andrew Ruffhead of Fish and Ships Coastal Art whose creative life has and continues to be varied and disciplined. He's a true artist and has some great advice for those aspiring to maintain a small business selling their art.

© Andrew Ruffhead

When did you start your business and why? Did you plan how you started meticulously or was it almost accidental? 

I was Head of Printed Textiles at UEL for fifteen years, as well as working as a textile designer producing fashion, furnishing fabrics and wallpapers for companies such as Osborne and Little, Designers Guild and Calvin Klein.
I retired to Burnham Market in North Norfolk nearly nine years ago, and carried on working freelance. I started producing lino-cuts, cards and prints with a coastal theme, inspired by my new environment , and selling to other galleries, as well as opening on `Open Studio` days. I then decided to set up Fish and Ships Coastal Art as a small working studio, in what had been our garage. I soon became quite well-known and I was getting lots of commissions, so it was tricky just being open `by appointment`. We applied for planning permission to open as a gallery full time, four years ago, and the rest is history-so not retired at all!

© Andrew Ruffhead

Did things take off immediately or has it been a slow burn?

I think my work became known quite quickly due to it quirky element, and the fact that we are hidden away in the village, so a little different from the norm. I did a lot of designs for places like Holkham Hall and Wells Beach Cafe, which they sell as prints, cards and tea towels, and also I think customers like the fact that they can see me working in the gallery as well. Everything I sell is original art by me, be it, wooden fish, artworks made from up-cycled fishing boat, painted lobsters and crabs mounted in clapboard frames, coastal abstracts and maps, or fun drawings of seafood...

Do you do your business part time or full time? 

I work every day, and we are open virtually every day; the advantage and disadvantage of having a gallery at home! But if we are here, then I am of course every happy to see customers. I have been known to open up at when people are having an `after dinner` walk around the village!

Do you intend to grow your business into something much bigger or are you happy with it as it is and why? 

The business has naturally grown and developed. Being in a coastal area which attracts lots of visitors, it is inevitably seasonal in parts, but I tend to have commissions running all year. I have no intention of moving the gallery from our home, as it would incur a whole new set of challenges and costs. I can be flexible about opening here, and also as I only sell my own work, there is a limit to how much I can produce. I also know that I am the best person to sell my work ,as customers like to chat to me about my art and experiences, and that is how I have come to have had so many commissions of personal artworks, which I love doing.

©Andrew Ruffhead

Where do you sell your work? 

I sell direct to customers from the Fish and Ships Coastal Art Gallery here in Burnham Market, I also sell from my own website, from two other websites, Not on the High Street and Buy the Sea, and also from The White Horse, Brancaster Staithe, The Anchor Gift Shop, Blakeney, 10, Church Street in Woodbridge, The Art Cafe, West Mersea, and Indigo in Javea, Spain.

Which of the selling methods that you use works best for you? Why do you think this is?

Different things sell well in different places, for example I sell a lot of prints online,  but at the end of the day I think people like to meet me, chat to me about my work and where we live, as they then have a bit of a story to tell when they take their artwork home. When I designed fabrics etc I never had any interaction with, or feedback from the customer, and it`s great to meet the wonderful variety of interesting people that we do here. 

© Andrew Ruffhead

Have you had publicity in national magazines? If so how did you approach them?

Yes I have had my work featured in many magazines both local and national, such as EDP Norfolk magazine and newspaper, Country Living, Country Homes and Interiors, Daily Mail, Town and Country House, Red and BBC Homes and Interiors. I have features coming up this summer in Aga Living and Period Living. My wife Sarah (and we work very much as a team) does all my PR, including social networking (Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/Instagram) which is vital to my business. 

Who do you think your typical customer is?

I have customers who live here, and customers who visit on holiday or have second homes, which makes it very exciting; as I meet people from all over the country and indeed the world. As a result my artworks have been sold all over, including Australia, Spain and the Caribbean. I also do many commissions for businesses and have sold work and designs to places such as Holkham Hall, Woburn Abbey, Cobblers Cove Hotel in Barbados, and Fish Public in San Diego, California.

© Andrew Ruffhead

Which aspect of your work do you enjoy most? 

I enjoy the variety of my work, so I love painting and drawing, as much as making artworks from old fishing boats. Therefore I work in different media-ink, gouache, paint, and of course the `found` wood. I love selling the small fun pieces to holiday makers and I love making larger pieces for commission - each one is unique and tells a story... I keep a sketch book with me at all times, even on holiday, and I never stop drawing, which is at the root of all my work.

Are you someone who sets goals regularly or more instinctive?

I am very organised, which I don`t think many artists are! But having always worked in design I am quite disciplined, and have a list each day of work to be done. But having said that, ideas grow from well, just doing things, so that is how new pieces, drawings or print ideas develop. I do have to keep thinking of new images, you can never remain static, and as I get a lot of repeat visitors who come back to see me each time they are in North Norfolk, they like to see (and buy) new things.

Coastal Landscape  - acrylic and gouache © Andrew Ruffhead

Could you describe where you work? Are you alone most of the day or with others? Do you feel that they way it is now is the best fit for you? Do you see that changing?

My studio/Gallery is a small white space ( suitably coastal in style), at the back of our house in Burnham Market. We have large signs at the end of the drive, so you can`t really miss us, so if I hear the crunch on the gravel, when I am in my workshop (where the making of fish and larger pieces takes place-scroll saws and all that kit is in there-I know to hot-foot it across the decking into the gallery! It`s a great space, and I am very happy sitting drawing in there when I don`t have customers. It can get very busy though as people always tend to come at once-on sunny days I have work outside as well.

© Andrew Ruffhead

Do you have a mentor or people who you are able to discuss your business with? If not how do you find you best make decisions about your business?

Sarah and I talk about my work all the time, we discuss ideas, and developments, and it is she who approaches the press and would-be customers, as well as sorting our orders and framing. She is a great sounding board as she has great taste and style (she also went to art college), and she is also my worst (and best) critic. She is invariably right which can be very annoying! But joking apart, she has her finger on the pulse regarding trends and what`s new, so can steer me into new territory. 

What is a typical day for you in your business as it is now? What would be a dream day for you – business or otherwise?

Each day is different which I like. I usually open at about 10am, but at the weekends it is guaranteed that if I sit down to eat my boiled eggs at breakfast, a customer will arrive. I alternate between making, drawing, planning for exhibitions (I have an exhibition at Wiveton Farm Cafe ,from 27th July-31st August), and fulfilling orders and commissions. I am very inspired living here; a stones throw from the stunning beaches, and have met some fascinating `arty` people. The other advantage of having the gallery here, is that I can if I so, wish shut up shop so to speak, which is what we did yesterday afternoon - we closed at 5pm-packed crab sandwiches and headed to Wells Beach. Perfect.

© Andrew Ruffhead

Anything else  you want to add… tips or plans or ambitions ...

I would say that running your own business however small - and maybe that is the way to start, is just the best way to do it! You have to work jolly hard, learn by your errors, and listen to and watch what others do, without getting too het up about `competition`, which is always good. Have the courage of your convictions and be the best. You also learn quickly about what to sell, and why you have to sell a variety of products - some more `commercial` than others. But if you can balance doing what you love doing and making money out of it as well, then that has to be a good thing.
I am very lucky to be living and working in such a beautiful part of the country, but we have and continued, to work hard to make it happen.

Finally please tell us where we can buy your work! 

We look forward to seeing you here at the Gallery...

Fish and Ships Coastal Art, Seashell, 19, Ulph Place, Burnham Market, Norfolk . PE318HQ, Tel: 01328 738621,
or shop online at

I am also very happy to work to commission and you can always ring me and I can email ideas or pictures of artworks and you can pay over the telephone.

Thank you so much Andrew and Sarah, I look forward to meeting you one day! 

Follow Fish and Ships on Twitter at
and on Facebook too


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