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In Episode 12 of An Artist's Journey Podcast my special guest is Gavin Van Winsen of Winsen's Canvases. Listen to this episode and find out:
The True Value of the Artist's Canvas
When we look at beautiful art we are usually fascinated with the artist's use of colour, technique and the subject itself. The unsung hero is often the artist's canvas. But it is the canvas that has to support the work of art over decades. Even centuries. We take it for granted, but a fine crafted canvas is a thing of beauty to most artists. The potential for a great work of art. It does indeed symbolise hope for the artist.
An Interview with the Canvas Guy
It is this ethos that underpins the artist quality canvases manufactured by Winsesn's Canvases. Over the years I have enjoyed using their canvases. Consequently I was delighted to interview Gavin van Winsen recently (aka the Canvas Guy) to chat to him about their company and the products that they produce. You can listen to the full interview below.
Or if you prefer to read the transcript:
Malcolm : Welcome to “An Artist’s Journey” podcast. Today I am happy to have, as a special guest, Gavin Van Winsen – Managing Director of Winsen’s Canvases, South Africa’s leading manufacturer of artists’ canvases. Welcome Gavin.
Gavin : Thanks Malcolm. Thanks for the kind intro. Thanks for the opportunity to talk to you. As you know, I have been listening to your Podcasts and it’s nice to be on this side of the mike.
Malcolm : It’s a pleasure, Gavin. It’s good to have you. Well, I am going to launch straight in and ask you to tell us a bit more about Winsen’s Canvases’ story and how it came about and how the business started.
Gavin : Yes, it’s an interesting story and something that you wouldn’t expect. It really started with my uncle, Wim Van Winsen. Some of the artists will actually still remember him. This is going on about 30 plus years ago now. He had a neighbor, the famous South African cricketer, “Spook” Hanley or Rupert Hanley as most people know him). I think what a lot of people didn’t know was that he was also an artist. I don’t exactly know how the interaction happened, but apparently he invited my uncle over and, I can imagine over a beer, asked him whether he would help him make an awning over his doorway, which my uncle obligingly did, being neighborly. He comes from an engineering background so I think this was up his alley. What I suspect happened is that my uncle used cotton for the awning and Spook recognized it and said: “Look, won’t you try and make me a canvas.” And that’s really how it started. That was customer 1, in a sense. I think Spook must have been very happy with that first canvas and started telling his other artist friends, and it really just started from that. So it wasn’t preconceived at all. It really came across from this quite serendipitous interaction, which, I guess, is the way most small businesses start. But it’s a nice a story and it’s interesting to think that’s how we got going 30 plus years ago.
Malcolm : So your uncle saw an opportunity and just ran with it.
Gavin : Yes, at the time – and he told me this later – is that the artists in the Gauteng (at the time it was the Transvaal, Jo’burg area) really didn’t have access to good materials, at least canvases. At the time, there would have been sanctions in the country. So he obviously recognized that there was an opportunity here and it must have been because it was really well received. You know he started really out of his garage and it reached a point where he decided, okay, let’s make a go of this and quit his day-job, so to speak. He was a one-man show. He did everything himself.
Malcolm : So I imagine the business grew steadily. How did you get to join the business, Gavin?
Gavin : That’s also something I didn’t see coming. What actually happened is that in ’94, my uncle emigrating to Perth and he sold the company to my parents. I think that was a time when there was a lot of uncertainty, and he was part of that mass exodus. My parents took it on and it was nice that it did get sold within the family and it could keep the Van Winsen name. And they ran with it. My parents, in retrospect, made a great team. They both had a deep care for the artist. My mom was a complete extrovert. My dad, also coming from an engineering background, did a lot of the grunt work of putting in systems, creating processes and really trying to get the business to something wasn’t just a mom-and-pop operation, something that was better able to serve the artists. It was very humble beginnings. We had to do everything. We had to make our own machinery, we had to write programs from scratch. If fact, that’s still how we operate now. You had to work quite lean and mean, so everything that drove him at the time was to try work cost-effectively. Kind of underlying this whole lot was to keep the product affordable and that’s what drove him at the time. It was a wonderful relationship that they, over the years, had with the artists and they really got to know them personally. And, in fact, today they still ask me “How are your parents doing?” I finished my engineering degree and I joined the company in 2006. Fortunately, I came into a running business and I really had to just keep doing what we have always been doing, but try and improve on it. So as what happens when you come fresh out of college, you know nothing about nothing and I tried to learn as best I could on the fly. In fact, I am still learning all the time today. It has been a journey. I’m beginning to enjoy the business now. It is wonderful working with artists. It’s got the problems that small companies have, but we have got a good team at the moment. We have some great people we are working with. As I sit here now, I’m feeling very optimistic about where we are at.
Malcolm : That’s excellent. Gavin, you mentioned you graduated with an engineering degree and I’m just wondering what the connection is there between manufacturing canvases.
Gavin : Do I get to use any of my engineering? Yes, I often get that question. In fact, the question I get more often is whether I can paint. I guess, you never really know what you use of your studies, but I am essentially an engineer at heart, which does afford me the opportunity to work on machines, to have a critical thinking with processes, with systems, be very critical of the numbers. But, you have to learn to be a little bit of everything. You’ve got to try have good finances, have a good product, get your head around marketing practices. Fortunately, we are a family business and affords me some slack. Our business has never been about ruthless practice. It’s been very much about having a personal relationship with the artist and that’s been good.
Malcolm : I imagine you grew up with seeing your parents involved in the business, your uncle as well, and it must have been a regular part of your life as well, seeing these canvases and artists coming back and forth.
Gavin : Yes, we operated out of the house. I was a little kid running around and I remember so vividly these canvases that lined our passageway and our lounge and the artists used to come and visit us and talk to us and I guess it must’ve had an effect on me. I was being exposed to this world. Studying engineering, I never thought I would get into the business, but I’m glad I did. It’s nice to be part of this industry. It was very humble beginnings out of our home. We are now able to operate out of a factory.
Malcolm : Just listening to you talking about your engineering background and you mentioning that one needs to wear different hats, I think that what you are saying is very true for artists listening as well. You need to, not only be a good artist, but you need to put on a business hat as well.
Gavin : Yes, I think the days of … the luxury, I guess, if just being able to set up your easel and paint are gone. Particularly our artists have to put significant time into marketing themselves, getting out there. You’ve got to be almost a Jack-of-all-trades to be able to cut it. It’s not easy.
Malcolm : Gavin, can you tell us a bit more about the products that Winsen’s produces and where people can get in touch with you guys.
Gavin : Our main product is a custom sized, custom-made canvas. And that’s really where our niche is, where an artist can come to us and we can make the exact size that they want, have some choice with cloth type and, in particular, some choice with their finish. That’s our core business and what we mostly do during any working day. What became a natural progression of that was to re-stretch original artworks. These typically come from the galleries, or even the artists themselves. And that, interestingly, that side of the business is growing and could possibly overtake canvases. We’ll have to see what happens, but a lot of canvases are coming in from the galleries, from the artists, where they need to be re-stretched and put onto a stretcher frame. It can be tricky. The artworks that we are dealing with can be very expensive and sometimes they are not in the best condition, so we have had to be very careful about the working environment, the way we handle artworks. It’s been good. We’ve been forced to learn skills about stretching that we otherwise wouldn’t have had to have learnt. So those are the two main things. I think that the next biggest part of the business would be the custom gilded frames that you would have seen on the website. We deal direct with the artist. You won’t find any of our products in the art shops and we have been quite intentional about keeping it that way. The best way to get hold of us is to pick up the phone, but we are developing the online component on our website and guys can order and get most of the information from our website. We have been putting quite a bit of work into that.
Malcolm : I can see from your website, Gavin, that you can select the size and etcetera and just send a request through so that people can get hold of you quite quickly that way. Gavin, over the years I am sure you have dealt with many great artists. Can you tell us any memorable stories or fulfilling experiences you have had with some of these characters.
Gavin : Just purely from hanging out with them, you do get to know the artists more than the general public. There have been some varied experiences – some good, some interesting. The one that I think I’ll take to my grave is when I was asked … In fact, I had just joined the business so I was quite young and vulnerable and wet behind the ears. Anyway, I liked to go and do some deliveries myself and I went to go and visit this lady artist. As they do, they invite you up for a cup of coffee and I sat there and then she started looking at me. Then she said: “Look, won’t you take off your clothes so that I can paint you.” I had to take a moment there and say, “Did I hear you correctly?” She said, “No, no. We’ll do a photo shoot and we’re going to make this wonderful painting.” So what do you do? I though, I guess you’re the customer and if you want me to strip, I’ll strip. Anyway, she was very gracious. As I was unbuttoning my jeans, she said, “No, no. You can keep those on.” I sighed a breath of relief. I am actually surprised at how far I was willing to go. Anyway, what ensued was this very intense photo shoot of me holding all these poses. I had no idea where this was all going. In fact, she said, “Thank you very much and you’ll see the painting.” The next time I saw that painting was at the Jo’burg Art Fair, which, as you know, is quite a big event. The painting was massive. It was a ginormous canvas, which we had obviously made, but I was painted literally 1:1 lifesize, holding various poses. I actually need to show you the image, the photo, one day of the artwork. I was doing various acts. In one I am spearing a leopard, in another I am grabbing a lady who is trying to escape my grasp – it looks like I’m about to do all kinds of horror and nasties to her. I stood there in front of this painting looking at this lot, and a gentleman came and stood next to me and he started looking at the painting then looking at me and looking at the painting and I could see that he was beginning to make the connection. Needless to say, I didn’t spend very long at the Jo’burg Art Fair. It was quite an experience for me, and something that will stay in my memory.
Malcolm : Well you had a new career option, Gavin.
Gavin : I wonder. If the canvas thing doesn’t work out I can go into male modeling.
Malcolm : Another example of an artist economizing very wisely and using resources available, even if it’s the delivery guy.
Gavin : Yes, I realize now she didn’t have to pay for anybody. There it was. So there, we don’t just do canvases. If you need me to take off my clothes then I apparently I’m very willing to oblige. No charge. It’s a free service.
Malcolm : Business is going to go up.
Gavin : (laughs) We’ll see.
Malcolm : Well, moving on to a little more mundane subject, Gavin, I am curious about the wide range of Belgian linen canvases that you offer. Winsen’s is the only place I’ve been able to manage to access so many different types of Belgian linen. What is so special about it compared to the regular cotton range?
Gavin : Belgian linens, most artists would recognize the name. In fact, if you give them a linen to paint on and you can just see how they love it. Their eyes light up. You would have experienced this for yourself with your massive amount of experience. It just paints beautifully. The way the paint takes onto the canvas, the regularity of the weave. There is something very organic about a linen. It carries a history that is trusted, this is going back to the time of the old masters when they worked on it. It is a beautiful material. It’s got a lovely color. What’s nice today is that we’ve got a very wide range of linens; the density of the weave, the roughness, the preparation type. You can be very specific about what you would like to paint on and invariably there will be a linen to suit your needs. It is a big range and the sample books that I get out of Belgium are testament to this. I have actually had the opportunity to go and visit the factories in Belgium and see how they prepare the canvas. It’s interesting for me that it is not as mechanized as I thought it would be. They are still doing a lot of the sizing and priming by hand, drying, still using the same materials they were using a few decades back. It is lovely material. Having said that, the cotton duck and polyester cloth, two local cloths, do the job very well. In fact, most artists are still working on cotton. It’s a very versatile cloth. I must say, if I am to be critical of the whole product range, I tend to gravitate towards the polyester. Just from the tests that I have been doing in the factory and what I’ve seen other artists do with it, it seems to be the most stable out of all the cloths. It doesn’t suffer from getting slack or having any of the problems that cotton, or even linen, has like possible mildew or bacteria, not that that happens often. It is nice to know that we have such a variety of materials to work with, the linens, the cotton and polyester.
Malcolm : That is a nice balance between the modern materials or if you want to have something that is a bit more traditional or a bit more romantic, I suppose, then you can paint on the same stuff that the old masters used.
Gavin : The linens are unfortunately expensive and that’s why, as you say, it is nice to have that range if you want to work on local cloths, that you’ve still got a good material.
Malcolm : Looking on your website, I’m seeing some amazing canvas creations, obviously some interesting commissions you’ve had over the years. There are some massive canvases as well. What is the largest canvas you’ve had to deal with?
Gavin : We had to make a very large one, this year in fact, which is quite recent. There is an artist, Lionel Smit, down in the Western Cape. He wanted to see how big we could actually go – one of those open-ended questions. The timing was actually quite good, because we had just developed an aluminium profile that we were still experimenting with and I thought the aluminium would be quite a good product to use for making a very large canvas. Wood just wouldn’t have the strength. It was a pilot project and we were limited to the width of the canvas, which was 3 metres. The final size that we came up with was 2.8 x 6 metres. It might be difficult to imagine how big that is, but it’s big. I’d say it’s probably the size of a double garage door, if not bigger. When we had this thing standing upright, I thought, “This is big” and then the next problem was how we were going to transport this massive canvas. It just so happened that the largest flatbed truck we could hire was just over 6 meters so this thing managed to get into the back with the doors only just closing. And it made it all the way down to the Western Cape in one piece. In fact, I had the opportunity to see the canvas yesterday afternoon (I’m down here at the moment) and it’s still perfectly dead-straight, which is the wonderful thing about using aluminium. It was a fun project and it’s nice to see what is possible.
Malcolm : It would be great to see the final result. I hope you get a picture of that.
Gavin : Yes, I hope so too. I think he’s going to end up using a lot of paint to cover it.
Malcolm : Definitely. Lot’s of paint and a big brush.
Gavin : It’s interesting to see how artists are beginning to push the boundaries these days and I see much more experimentation lately, at least within the last 12 months, than what I have seen previously, especially on different shaped canvases. We’ve got another artist here, Zander Blom, who paints on the rear side of a linen and gets some very interesting and beautiful effects from that. Guys are thinking beyond the traditional shapes and using canvases in ways in which I would never have conceived. It’s keeping us on our toes and it is interesting. It’s forcing us to also think about different shapes as well.
Malcolm : Sometimes I think, as local artists, if I can just comment on that, we think that everything is happening overseas, but I think a lot of South Africans are doing unusual work and ground-breaking work as well. I’m sure you have observed some of that yourself.
Gavin : It’s interesting to see how well their work is being received overseas, places like Basel in Germany. And they’re doing very, very well. I think by world standards we’ve got fantastic talent in this country. There is no doubt about it. I think the world is beginning to recognize this. We’ve got artists exhibiting in America, in Perth (in Australia), in Europe. It seems to be growing and it’s encouraging to see. It’s nice to see how the type of work is being received overseas. I suspect that it’s something that they ordinarily would not get locally.
Malcolm : True. And what you say leads me to my next thought, and how artists are dealing with the economic pressures of these times. Winsen’s Canvases has been around for a long time, since 1986, which speaks volumes about its ability to sustain itself through ups-and-downs. What would you say the secret to business success has been for Winsens?
Gavin : At the heart of it, I think we live by the grace of God. We are just grateful to still be in business. But, you are absolutely right. It has been a difficult couple of years. We certainly feel it as well. We are in the same boat as the artist. I think, for us it has been quite important to find ways in which we can keep our products priced down. The temptation is just to pass any supply increases on to the artist, that would probably be the easiest thing to do, but it is the most lazy. We try and spend a significant amount of our time and resources to find ways of working better without trying to compromise on quality. It’s all very well using the best wood, the best canvas, the best primer, but we don’t want to become unaffordable. That’s where we are at the moment – offer a very good product, a good service and at a fair price. It is not always easy and you want to watch for consistency from your suppliers and from your own manufacturing techniques.
Malcolm : I’m sure most artists going to their local art shop come across a lot of imported canvases that seem, on the face of it to be quite cheap, but when comparing the authentic, craftsman-made canvas that you produce and these imported varieties, there is a vast difference in quality. I think you have probably seen a few horror stories yourself, with poorly made imported canvases.
Gavin : Yes, you’ve exactly hit the nail on the head. You can go to an art shop and you can buy a canvas relatively cheaply and, to be honest, I would suspect that it does the job on the smaller sizes, but when you start getting onto anything very large, you face the danger of the canvas bending, warping or possibly run into problems with a thin material. Part of the challenge for us would be to educate the artist on what a good and a bad canvas is. They might go for something slightly cheaper. If you want to do an important work and paint it onto a canvas that is not going to last, then you’re going to regret it later. This is part of the process, just to educate the artist. Hopefully, we can keep our niche in the market where we do make a product that is better than you can get anywhere else and we’ve got to work hard at keeping that quality up there. I believe it is important for the artist, especially any artist worth their salt.
Malcolm : From artist’s point-of-view, the canvas is not simply another piece of equipment or just to be treated like another piece of stationery. There is something special about a fine-made canvas.
Gavin : I had an interesting experience. I went to the Van Gogh Museum some years back and I got to the see the materials that Vincent Van Gogh worked on. It was a wonderful exhibition, to see his works. They had one section where they actually showed the canvases that he worked on with the stretcher frames and stretcher bars and what struck me was that how a canvas is made now and then hasn’t changed that much, and I kind of like that. There is something beautiful about this product. We are dealing with natural materials here – wood and canvas and primer – and there is something very beautiful about the canvas. I see it as something more than, as you mentioned, the materials that the artist works on. Obviously, he is going to use good brushes and good paints, but the canvas is actually the support on which the artwork lives and it’s a critical piece of the final artwork. We realize this and we take a real sense of pride in seeing a final artwork that has been painted on our canvas because, in a small way, we feel like we have been part of this process. I love that we manufacture something that gives a tangible product, that you can smell and touch and see, and that as an object in itself it is a beautiful thing.
Malcolm : That’s very true. There is a real sensory thing about the canvases and I find, especially with the Belgian ones, they have a certain smell to them which … you have to be alone in your studio, or people would think you were a bit weird.
Gavin : That you are high on turps again?
Malcolm : They are just lovely things to work with.
Gavin : Especially our >>>> linens, which you have also been recently been working on. It’s got a very distinctive smell and it just fills the studio. I think it’s like catnip for artists. They just love it.
Malcolm : Staying with the canvas quality and etcetera, it is one thing to have a good quality canvas. Are there any special care instructions that we should keep in mind. I’m thinking, also with collectors once they take delivery of a painting, something they can just hang up and forget about or some things they should look out for to make sure that their canvas lasts for many years.
Gavin : Well, you’ve touched on something else that’s very important and that’s why our canvas is so good for collectors for exactly that; it is so easy for them to transport and to hang. As a canvas, as a support structure to work with, it is very conducive especially for overseas purchasers. They can buy it, take it off the stretcher frame and roll it up and take it back. The question is will it be safe to take this artwork off the stretcher frame, roll it into a tube and for the collector to take it back home. From my experience, I have seen that the canvases, especially those done in acrylics, are very flexible and quite hardy. We get a lot of artworks coming from the galleries that come in a tube and when you unroll them, unless it has been painted very thick in oils that have dried up, they are in good shape. It has been something that we have been giving some airtime to as well. I recently did a whole batch of canvases, primed then painted them, and I left them out in the sun on my porch at home. I am trying to do an accelerated age testing, where I see how long it will take before the primer cracks or there is a brittleness in the paint. That’s been going on some months now. They have been exposed to the direct sun and the rain and I’m happy to see that the canvases are in good shape. I know that we have some swabs dating back from ’92 where we did similar tests. For us the flexibility and the primers are quite critical here and that we are still seeing. The canvases are hardy, hardier than what you might suspect. First prize is always going to be not to take the canvas off the stretcher frame, you don’t want to release any of the tensions that are in the cloth. Obviously, it is easier to transport in a tube, and it can be done. There are some practices that you should follow such as rolling the painting with the painted surface on the outside and, of course, with as wide a tube as possible. With common sense, it can be safely done.
Malcolm : I want to touch, as a point of interest, on the wedges on the back of the canvas. Should that be something that collectors should worry about?
Gavin : The wedges, you’ll see them even on the canvases you buy in the art shop, they come with a little plastic packet of wedges. I’m not sure how well they work.
Malcolm : No, they don’t work.
Gavin : And in fact, people now expect to see them and whether they know what it does or not, I’m not sure. It does serve an important function, especially with cotton and polyester. What you can see with changing seasons or changing temperature or humidity is that the canvas relaxes. It doesn’t always happen, but it can happen. The canvas could become quite floppy, in which case you turn it around and take a little hammer and tap in the wedges. They don’t need to be tapped in very far and the whole stretcher frame tightens up. This is why a stretcher frame is called a strainer is that the corners can expand, it is not a fixed frame. At any time in the lifetime of that canvas, the wedges can be tapped in and the whole canvas can be made tight. It is a safe process. It’s almost impossible to tap in those wedges so hard that the canvas tears. I think it is necessary. If a canvas ever bends there is also a technique of tapping in the wedges that will straighten the whole canvas out.
Malcolm : We touched a bit earlier on your gilded frames that you make. I do find them the most beautiful things and I am sure that all artists would covet these handmade frames. Tell us a little bit more about how that came about and how they are put together.
Gavin : It has been a particularly fun part of what we do, and particularly satisfying to get an artwork and to come up with a moulding for that artwork and give it a very specific gold or silver leafing with washes specifically for that artwork and you can land up with something that is very beautiful. It came about also rather by accident. My dad was visiting an artist, John Meyer, and at the time I think he was having some difficulties with his framing and he said, “Look, would you guys try make up a moulding for me.” He actually wanted a signature moulding that nobody else in the market had and they sat down together and they looked at some profiles. We said let’s have a go at this. They came up with a profile called JM1 (John Meyer 1) and that’s how it started. What we saw was that other artists also wanted their own signature moulding and so the range over the years started to expand. What was unique is that the frame was specifically designed for that artwork, so it wasn’t your typical cut and join framing that you see. It was something that was specifically colored for that artwork. It was very low volume. As we are now the range has grown, but it is still fairly limited, and we still have these signature mouldings. Artists can come to us and can we sit down and look at profiles and come up with something for them. I am glad you still appreciate framing. It is encouraging to hear. Guys are seeing the expense of framing and are deciding to leave artworks unframed. Having said that, I still believe that a frame can really help an artwork or increase its perceived value.
Malcolm : A good frame really does finish it off just right and it does create an event out of that painting. It is definitely true.
Gavin : The trends are changing. Very little gold leafing is being requested. There is a lot of silver-leaf and very clean, crisp frames, almost white finishes. It is changing all the time now and we will see which way the trends go. Your starting point should be the artwork.
Malcolm : Gavin, I’ve been looking at the Facebook page of Winsen’s Canvases and there are some nice photos there of where Winsen’s have been providing canvases to some up-and-coming artists or perhaps artists who haven’t got the financial means at their disposal. It looks like a great initiative. Can you tell us a bit more about that.
Gavin : I’m not sure why we haven’t been doing more of this, it’s kind of obvious. We develop a small pile of wood and canvas from making custom sizes and it is quite easy for us to make up small to medium sized canvases, even linens, and just give these away to various causes or various artists. Over the last two years we have been trying to put a concerted effort towards this and when you start to look you see that there is opportunity everywhere. For example, the foot and mouth painters, I think that they are down in your part of the world, they have been a great organization to be associated with and they absolutely do phenomenal work. It is inspiring to see what they do on our canvases. There are various schools that do support emerging artists, and for us to be able to send canvases in their direction is intrinsically very motivating. I think for us, we are not expecting anything to come of it. It’s a way that we can help give back to the art community. You never know, maybe one day one of these artists will become rich and famous and they will remember us.
Malcolm : That is just the thing. You never know that your contribution may go a long way to somebody starting off a new career. In a country where we need so many people to be self-employed, it will certainly help any artists that need this help.
Gavin : Exactly. And I think underlying it is that there is an empathy for the artist there, especially from us as a company. Materials are expensive, paints are expensive and brushes are expensive. Winsen’s Canvas is not a cheap and nasty product. We’ve got to try and help where we can. The wonderful thing about living in this country is that there is opportunity and we can help. There are some very good emerging artists coming up and they just need an opportunity, a little foot up, and hopefully we can be a very small part of that process.
Malcolm : That’s fantastic. Moving on to you a little. What does Gavin Van Winsen get up to in his spare time? You mentioned that you’re not really an artist as such, but what do you do to unwind.
Gavin : Well, I was going to ask you the same question – how you went from law to being an artist.
Malcolm : I had to keep my sanity somehow. It was an easy choice in the end, but a lot of sleepless nights. Anyway, that’s another story.
Gavin : I can only sit on the sidelines and look at artists with awe, because I don’t have an artistic bone in my body. I can’t even paint a stick figure. In fact I often joke that the only thing that I can paint is the white stuff on the canvas, and even sometimes then it is questionable I can enjoy the art, I have learnt to develop my own taste for particular types of art over the years. For myself, I want to say the cliché: I like long walks on the beach and reading books. Actually I really do love the ocean and if I could spend my days surfing I would. It’s a bit frustrating being up here in Jo’burg and not being able to do that. Living in Jo’burg is not for sissies and I do quite a bit of cycling to stay sane. Fortunately, the business allows me to do many trips so I can come down and visit artists like yourself. All under the guise of business, I can spend a few days at the ocean. I am trying to do more of that. It is good and I’m hoping to do more of that.
Malcolm : That sounds good. I think you need to visit some of the great surf spots down on the East Coast as well, world famous.
Gavin : You’ve got some great surfing down your side of the world. Unfortunately, your waters are quite sharky. I guess I’ll have to toughen up a bit.
Malcolm : You’ll find them pretty laid back, just like we are.
Gavin : (laughs) Okay. So anyway, on your next canvas order I think I’ll do the delivery myself.
Malcolm : We’ll show you a few spots, Gavin, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
Gavin : Well, if anybody wonders why the business is going down, you can see where it all started from.
Malcolm : Gavin, just to wrap up, we have touched on many things that are going on at the moment and the past of your business, but looking ahead – what challenges or projects lie ahead? How do you see the future, or the next year or two panning out?
Gavin : For us the biggest challenge will be to keep our costing down of the product. We don’t want to price ourselves completely out of the market. And we are going to have to be quite smart and ingenious about how we can operate lean and mean. The general sentiment out there is cautiously optimistic. I obviously get to talk with many artists every day and at the end of the day the artist, all he can do is paint and he is still painting and … I am optimistic. I see that guys are honing their craft, some are getting big exposure overseas and I’m quite excited about the art scene in the manufacturing industry where there is a lot of doom and gloom. From our side we have been consistently busy and again, by the grace of God, we can keep it that way. I think for the next few months and next year, we are on an upward trajectory. We’ve got such fantastic talent in this country and guys are doing great work. We must all just work together. For us, to keep our relationship strong with the artists, to keep on listening to them, to never get blasé or relaxed an just keep listening to what their real needs are, and to stay humble and to stay learning. And to learn from the artist – that is the most import.
Malcolm : I think what you say there about not being complacent and taking action is so important.
Gavin : You can conceive all kinds of weird and wonderful ventures, but at the end of the day, at least for us you’ve got to … You know the way the business started, the way stretching original artworks came about the way framing came about, was really listening to the artists and seeing this was their needs and responding to that, not running away and saying: “This is what we do and take it or leave it.” Actually, underlying all of this is trying to help the artist, trying to be on their side. There is an empathy there. We want to help, we want to see how we can come to the party. As you say, as an artist you can never become complacent and for us we can never become complacent.
Malcolm : Gavin, that has been fantastic and I think we artists are quite lucky to have a company like yours and producing such world-class materials. I would encourage anyone who hasn’t tried your materials to give it a go and I am sure they will won over very quickly.
Gavin : Thanks, Malcolm. We are very grateful for the artists that we do have and we want to look after them. Without the artists we are nothing. A lot of artists don’t know about us. As you say, we are not in the art shops, so hopefully over time we can get to be a bit better known.
Malcolm : Gavin, I want to thank you very much for being on the show. I am sure that there are many artists out there who are very interested in what you guys get up to and the products you make so you can expect a few calls, I’m sure, in the near future. I want to wish you guys a lot of success and continued growth and mostly that you get to enjoy what you are doing and also get a chance to do a bit of surfing when you are off.
Gavin : Thank you, Malcolm, it’s been fun. I look forward to speaking to you later.
Malcolm : Thanks, Gavin. We will chat again soon. Cheers for now.
I want to give a special thank you to Gavin Van Winsen for joining me on the podcast today. It was great having him as a guest and if you want to find out more about the fantastic products produced by Winsen’s Canvases, please visit winsenscanvases.co.za or check them out on Facebook.
As always, this podcast is brought to you by “Learn to Paint with Impact”, the comprehensive foundation painting course. In “Learn to Paint with Impact” I will go through the foundation for a strong composition and painting. Over 7 hours of video demonstrations and lessons, together with assignments and an ebook that you can download.
You can find out more about “Learn to Paint with Impact” at malcolmdeweyfineart.com and how you can join the course.
Thank you for joining me on this podcast and if you enjoyed the episode, please give it a like and share and I will see you soon on the next podcast.
Cheers for now.
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