Behind the scenes at Cromford Studio and Gallery
PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 September 2018
The gallery based in Cromford Market Place has featured the work of over 80 artists in five years.
Tucked away in a corner of Cromford Market Place, Cromford Studio and Gallery’s small shop front belies the wealth of the varied artwork there is inside. Martin Sloman opened his gallery five years ago and since then has featured the work of over 80 artists. Whilst paintings remain his primary exhibits, he also displays the work of local and regional potters, jewellers, glass makers and silversmiths.
Martin has created a professional informality in his gallery as paintings juggle for space in organised harmony. Adding colour to the white-washed stone, they cover almost every inch of available wall space.
Martin says, ‘There are more and more places to buy art, including online. That’s why it’s so important for me to create a friendly and welcoming atmosphere as well as having a large cross-section of high quality and varied work. Having so much work in the gallery can also help people to feel less intimidated by art, which is what I’ve tried to achieve here.’
With featured gallery artists every month as well as new works by other artists, Martin plans his programme of exhibitions a year ahead. He actively looks for artists whose work he thinks will fit well in the gallery. Most popular are the paintings of Derbyshire and coastal seascapes but he is also keen to include something different, too. Martin says, ‘I regularly look at what is out there and when I find an artist whose work is completely different to what I’m already exhibiting in the gallery I’ll approach them. Other times artists will bring their work to me. Even if I can’t take it, I will always have a look as you never know what you might miss.
‘Being an artist myself, I understand how people feel when they bring their work in to see if I want to exhibit it in the gallery. If you’ve ever done it yourself you’ll know it’s not the easiest process, especially knowing how much work has gone into each piece.’
Martin asks exhibiting artists for a range of different sized paintings, as these add both interest and offer a varying price range to suit all purses. Martin then positions and hangs all the paintings himself, ensuring they are balanced both in size and subject. The continual change of paintings for new exhibitions means Martin finds himself regularly filling in and painting over old holes.
With so much work on display, there are also the somewhat less creative but equally essential tasks of regular dusting and paperwork, as well as marketing which includes creating monthly newsletters and social media promotion. Martin also encourages featured artists to exchange their own studio for his gallery for a day so that visitors can meet the artists and talk with them about their work.
As an artist himself, Martin works on his own paintings when time allows, and enjoys demonstrating his techniques as well as sharing skills through workshops and one-to-one tuition. The subjects of his paintings are as varied as the range of work he exhibits. Looking through his browser there are paintings of the Eiffel Tower, a steam locomotive, portraits, North Cornwall’s high cliffs and rough seas, the tranquillity of the Cromford Canal and Scottish landscapes, to name just a few.
‘I just see something and think “I’d like to try and paint that.” That’s how I tend to work. I love the area around here and I go to Scotland every February and take loads of photographs of scenes I’d like to paint!’ he remarks.
Martin always had an interest in art but family life and a career as a manufacturing optician making prescription lenses meant he didn’t pursue it. Then in 2000 his wife, Barbara, suffered a serious road accident and Martin took a break from work to look after her. During this time she suggested he take up painting again. Martin continues, ‘I chose watercolours because I like the unpredictability of the medium. They’re very versatile and I enjoy the way the paint goes on the paper and the effects you can create.’ He started attending evening classes and before long became the tutor for the beginners’ class, as well as two additional classes a few years later.
With a growing collection of his own paintings Martin began taking them to craft fairs. He also exhibited his paintings at Studio 61 in Holloway, a gallery run by fellow artist Karina Goodman, while still juggling his full-time job.
‘Karina and I ran pop-up galleries in empty spaces. One was a bathroom showroom that had closed. The space was perfect as there were lots of bathroom-sized partitioned-off spaces, which we turned into galleries. They even came with spotlights in each partition!’
Then the company where Martin had worked for over 30 years went into receivership and he found he had more time than he knew how to fill: ‘I was so used to being the first one into work, looking at what the priorities of the day were and allocating jobs, not to mention all the travelling throughout Britain I did. On suddenly finding I had no customers to deal with and no one to visit I felt lost. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do.’
He continued running pop-up galleries and began taking part in Meet the Artist events at Cromford Mills, where he exhibited his paintings and enjoyed talking to visitors while giving demonstrations of his work. One day, driving home through Cromford, he saw a shop to let in the Market Place and thought it would make a perfect gallery. Just three months later he opened Cromford Studio and Gallery with regular exhibitions as well as running workshops where people could learn the skills of painting.
It was almost on a whim that Martin decided to open a gallery. Now, five years on, he can’t imagine doing anything else.
Cromford Studio and Gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am-5pm.