Emma McKinney discovers how people are having an art attack over the credit crunch.
AS the bell rings to welcome another customer to Everyman art shop, owner David Argall is all smiles.
There’s barely room to move in the Warwick Road store in Olton, Solihull, as customers jostle to grab a canvas or pastels.
With sales up 30 per cent in 12 months, David has every reason to be smiling.
As the recession grips, business is booming at Everyman, and David is convinced of a link.
“It’s extremely troubling we’re in a recession and so many are losing their jobs or going out of business, but I have to say business is quite the opposite for me,” says David. “I think people are finding themselves out of work, or being forced to cut back the hours they work, so they have more time on their hands.
“It’s at times like these they want to find something to do, something escapist to help take their minds off their worries. I think art is one of those hobbies, and it certainly seems to reflect in the rise in sales of art supplies we have been experiencing.”
He says his most popular lines include watercolour paints, card-making products, do-it-yourself jigsaws and make-your-own models. And David has decided to cash in by opening rooms above his shop to run art workshops.
“The workshops have been a runaway success, which shows how many people are deciding to take up art as a hobby,” adds David. “We started by running a few, but now we have five sessions a week and we’re hoping to expand and possibly start photography lessons. We’re inundated by people who want to join classes and they are fully booked, with people of all ages.”
Ed Friend and his wife Jill are all smiles as they try their hand at creating their own masterpiece during one of the art workshops.
The couple, from Solihull, do not profess to be the greatest artists, saying they enjoy painting to relax. “I’ve always liked art but I’ve never done anything remotely artistic since I was at school,” says Jill, a 64-year-old retired teacher.
“Ed discovered the art workshop before me and kept saying how good it was.
“I was a bit apprehensive, I had a lack of confidence, but now I love it.
“There’s such a great ambience and it’s a great way of making new friends too.
“I only wish I hadn’t waited until now to take up the hobby.”
Ed, a retired health and safety worker, also 64, adds: “Now we’ve both given up work we have to watch the pennies more, but I certainly don’t mind spending it on these classes.
“I find a few drinks down the pub can really set you back these days and I’d rather spend my money on my hobby, which I get so much more enjoyment out of.
“You have to spend quite a bit initially on your paints and brushes, but after that the paints last a long time and it doesn’t cost much to top up.”
Derek Robinson, 62, also of Solihull, is a new recruit at the workshop after recently retiring from his job as a 4x4 driving instructor for Land Rover.
“Art’s very relaxing and very rewarding,” he says. “Times are hard at the moment and I think people are looking for something that can help them unwind and take their mind off things.”
It appears Everyman is not the only company cashing in on the credit crunch, with Winsor & Newton, which supplies art products to shops across the Midlands, also recording an increase in sales of 30 per cent year on year.
Paul Robinson, the firm’s technical advisor, says: “The credit crunch has made us all think again about how to spend our time and money.
“Painting and drawing is still incredibly popular throughout Britain and we have noticed increases in the take up of both during previous economic downturns, but nothing on this scale.
“Painting and sketching is cheap and helps you forget your worries, as well as giving you the opportunity to create something unique that could make a great gift.
“Who knows, the current recession could even spawn the next Damien Hirst!”
Everyman and Winsor & Newton’s experience appears to be part of a revival of more traditional hobbies in light of the recession, with other activities, such as sewing and baking also on the increase.
High street retailers, including John Lewis, have seen sales of sewing machines rocket in the last year, while sales of bread makers are up an average of 57 per cent as families choose to go back to basics.
There is also evidence that some job seekers are turning rewarding hobbies into careers, becoming ‘career crafters’ and choosing to sell all sorts of creations from soft toys to woolly jumpers.
Dr Ilona Boniwell, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of East London, said: “Taking up an engaging hobby such as painting, baking or sewing, is one of the best routes to well-being and beating the economic blues.
“In addition, it enhances your creativity, sense of autonomy and competence. The fact that the necessary tools such as painting and drawing equipment don’t cost the earth is probably an additional factor.”