Tucked away down a side street in the East Midlands village of Castle Donington is the Two Birds Gallery, owned and run by local artists Mel Anderson and Helen Rhodes.
“We started the shop and gallery around two and a half years ago,” says Mel. “As artists ourselves, we wanted to support other local artists and around 90% of the stock we carry is handmade across the East Midlands. We’d been kicking the idea around for a while, but when the right space became available in the town centre it gave us the push we needed.
“We got in touch with the owners, who were delighted with our idea. The shop was perfect – originally it was the town post office, then it had a range of uses including a haberdashers and a shop selling prom dresses! When we took it over, we had to strip out the old changing rooms and fill in lots of nail holes – in the process, we found cards of buttons under the floorboards from when it was a haberdashers. We had to change the flooring, and did most of it ourselves to keep costs down. We got an electrician in to re-do the wiring, though!
“When we first opened, we had a lovely, contemporary, clean space. Then, we became victims of our own popularity a bit – there were so many lovely products we wanted to stock that it all got a bit cluttered and it ended up being difficult for customers to see what was actually there. About six weeks ago, we had a major re-vamp and completely re-designed the interior of the shop to make it engaging and easy to browse – we’re really pleased with the results!”
“When we choose which items we’re going to stock, it’s a mixture of our own personal taste and a business decision. First of all, as Helen and I are partners, we both have to agree on something. Then we have to decide whether we like it, or whether other people will like it. We have been known to get it wrong! We’ll happily stock items that aren’t to our personal taste but we think will sell well. We’re currently stocking the work of around 30 to 40 local artists, some of whom have been with us since we started. We offer the work on a sale or return basis, and take a commission.
“I’d say the hardest part of running your own business is the financial struggle, and the fact that you have to become an expert in so many things, from accounting to business development.
“Our specialism is ‘affordable art’, items that are individual or unique but that won’t break the bank. One of our best-selling lines is by a lady who puts phonetically-spelled Nottingham slang on mugs, kitchenware and textiles. We also represent several ceramic artists, textile artists, jewellery makes and painters who work in a range of media.
“Helen and I were friends before we decided to go into business together, and it hasn’t done our friendship any harm! She has different ideas and thoughts on design, but we tend to bounce ideas off each other rather than disagree.
“There’s a great community feel in the village and we like to get involved with local events and projects, such as the street party held for the Queen’s Coronation and the Christmas market. We’ve even set up a group for local traders to support each other and swap information and advice.
“If you’re thinking of buying a new piece of artwork for your home, my advice would be ‘don’t be scared’! Personally I have an immediate reaction to pieces and know at once if I love it or not. If you’re planning on re-vamping a room, choose your artwork first and then you can work the rest of your design around that one focal point for maximum impact. If you’ve seen something you like, go into the shop at different times of day to see it in different lights. If you really love it, it will get under your skin so that you can’t stop thinking about it! There are no rights or wrongs when choosing something – the person who’s going to live with it is you, so go with your gut instinct.”
For more information about the Two Birds Gallery, visit www.thetwobirdsgallery.com.0