Friday Finds - Claire Henley Art

Good morning everyone! Here is today's Friday Finds: Claire Henley Art. Claire and I both worked on a series of Ladybird baby board books in the 1990s, we each did two covers and the inside pages of each other's covers - if you see what I mean! So that is how I know of her work. She is very diverse painter, as you will see.

© Claire Henley

When did you start your business and why? Did you plan how you started meticulously or was it almost accidental? 
Did things take off immediately or has it been a slow burn?

My business grew naturally, with little real planning – just a lot of hard work. After I finished my Graphic Design degree I worked in a textile studio designing those fish and animal-shaped oven gloves that everyone had in the 1980s, among many other things. I was there for four years and during that time I made a lot of contacts as I worked on projects for clients such as The National Trust, Boots and Harrods. I also learnt to be versatile, speedy and as professional as I could be! 

Four years with a boss was enough for me, and I became freelance in 1988 and have been ever since. Initially I taught one day a week in a local college, continued to work for the textile company for two days, and spent the other two days slowly building up my own work.

I began by designing greetings cards, then quickly moved into book illustration, toy design, stationery, giftware and anything else I was asked to do. I started writing books too, which seemed at the time to be a natural progression from illustrating them.

In the last three or four years I’ve started painting properly as opposed to illustrating – something I’d always wanted to do. This has meant trying to find a style of my own, and painting with scary big brushes on scary big canvases. As well as being represented by a small number of galleries, my paintings are published as prints and cards. I also produce a small range of giclĂ©e prints and cards myself, and sell them locally and at Open Studio events. This presents me with rather more admin than I’d like, but does help to keep the money coming in.

© Claire Henley

Do you do your business part time or full time? 

Full time plus. I’m sometimes stuffing cards in envelopes late at night, or getting up early to paint before the children (now just the one left at home) get up. 

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

Things are just about manageable, but sometimes I wonder whether I should be pushing myself into other product areas and possibly employing someone for a couple of days a week to do the selling for me. I’m still thinking about this, because really I’d prefer to just paint every day without the hassle of all the other stuff.

© Claire Henley

Where do you sell your work? 

I sell my work in a variety of ways. Sometimes a neighbour might knock on the door wanting to buy some cards or a print, or I sell paintings through galleries and shops, or privately through facebook, or I have a stall at an art market, or take part in Open Studios. I have a website on which I post new work, and it enables me to point people in the direction of the gallery where the painting is hanging, though sometimes it’s in my own kitchen. Facebook has been a boon for creative types – what was a relatively solitary profession needn’t be any more if you are happy to share your work and enjoy looking at the huge variety of other work on offer. I have found other artists to be generous, helpful, supportive and often hilarious. I occasionally get asked to give a talk to an art society and have found a new customer base that way, as well as meeting some very nice people.

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

I think having a combination works well. There are definitely seasonal fluctuations, so if you can cover several areas you can usually keep the money coming in.

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

I’ve had publicity in regional magazines and have either approached them or been approached myself. If I was doing the approaching I would simply look at the name of the person writing the articles on art, then email them using the address listed at the front of the magazine.

© Claire Henley

Who do you think your typical customer is?

I’m not sure that I have a typical customer. The galleries in the West Country either sell to local people, or holidaymakers wanting something to remind them of that particular place. Living in land-locked Stratford, I’m amazed how many locals want to buy pictures of the sea. 

Which aspect of your work do you enjoy most? 

Visiting a beautiful place to photograph it and then trying to do it justice back in my studio. Recently I was persuaded to paint en plein air by a dastardly gallery owner, and this was pretty much out of my comfort zone. It was boiling hot and my paints kept drying up, but I persevered and the end result wasn’t too awful.

Is there anything you would have done differently if you were starting your business today?

No – I can’t believe how relatively easy it was in the 1980s. I had an agent at the time, an unending list of well-paid work (incidentally the fee for a greetings card has barely gone up since then) and everything was a breeze. Two recessions later it all seems a bit harder.

© Claire Henley

Are you someone who sets goals regularly or more instinctive?

I do set goals, but pretty short term ones that generally involve rewarding sufficient progress on a painting with a quick browse on facebook and a rummage in the biscuit tin. I like to be efficient about getting things to the post and ordering supplies etc, and I’m a great keeper of ‘to do’ lists.

Have you ever or do you employ people part time to help with any aspect of your business? For example, book keeper, accountant, packers? If you do how did you find people who were the right fit for you?

I do my own book keeping (that reminds me) but use an accountant to do my tax return. As I’m a limited company I want to get the Corporation Tax bit right. I occasionally persuade my daughters to help with card packing if need be.

© Claire Henley

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?

I have a studio at the back of the house with a view down the garden. Until recently it was a bit of a mess, but now it’s been refitted and has four very exciting Velux windows that open using an electronic keypad. I listen to the radio all day – usually Radio 4 (if Test Match Special is on, I’m in heaven) - and never feel lonely as my husband works at home as well, though we don’t see that much of each other during the day. One morning a week I do a ballet class and come home starving hungry, sweaty and exhausted.

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?

My mentors are my small group of special facebook friends. I’ve met some of them in person, and we swap ideas, ask for advice, gee each other up if things are going badly, and generally support each other. That link with like-minded people has become very important for me and I would miss it dreadfully if it were taken away.

© Claire Henley

© Claire Henley

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?

Workwise it would be porridge and banana for breakfast, dispatch daughter to school, head to my studio and deal with any admin stuff so the slate is clean, put on my painting overall and start painting. If it were a dream day the painting would go smoothly with no fight, a gallery would email to say they’d sold a painting, I’d sell a couple of prints to someone on-line, I’d find out that a card publisher would be licensing several of my designs for their next range and I’d get an order for cards from my website. All this would happen while the England cricket team won a test match on the radio. 

If it was a non-work day I’d like to be walking along a coast path and having a picnic and a swim in the sea with family and friends.

© Claire Henley

Anything else  you want to add… tips or plans or ambitions or even  special offers to my blog readers...

Special offer for blog readers! If you head for the online shop on my website and order a set of 6 cards (any design) you can have 2 extra free. Don’t forget to mention that you came via Gabriella’s blog.

Finally please tell us where we can buy your work! Links please 
Facebook : Claire Henley Art

Thank you so much Claire - this is a really interesting interview - much of which I relate to personally. It's difficult to divide your attention to many different areas but you seem to have managed it! Lovely to know more about you.


  1. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it Smile I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.
    Brand licensing london & Brand licensing europe


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