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GALLERY VISIT: Guy and Sharon Cranston

Can you tell us how your gallery all began?

S: Well we've had a gallery here in the County for seven years now, but we had it up in Westport for two years before moving here. I've been working the gallery full time for about four, five years now. I was a graphic designer before that. I am a painter and Guy was a painter but now he is doing more 3D sculptural work. We show Guy's brothers work, Toller Cranston, who passed away a few years ago. It’s the Cranston Gallery and every year it keeps getting better and better! We get more and more people through and clientele keeps coming back and it's really is working for us exactly the way we want it to, so it's really successful in that regard.

G: It's hard work though! It's like any other business, you really have to work at it!

S: It is hard work, we are open May to December and last year we were open six days a week. The year before that we did seven days a week and this coming summer we are only going to do five days a week (laughs) but we are taking Tuesdays and Wednesdays off so we are working every weekend! We love it, it works for us. Our studios are in Bloomfield as well, in another property right in the village. Guy has a workshop and I have a back half of the house that is my studio, the front half is a summer rental. It's great cause it's walking distance so we schedule ourselves so one is here and one is in the studio. It's fun doing both. You get just as much as a thrill selling your piece as you do while creating it!

G: You never get tired of that feeling of selling a piece.

S: It's really nice when someone gets it enough that they want to buy it, that they want it to be a part of their life and they put down some hard earned cash. It makes you think wow! Doesn't matter how many paintings you have sold, you'll always have that feeling.

G: And we never take it for granted. You know stuff is going to happen but I'm always honoured when someone buys a piece, and that never gets old.

N: It must be really nice to be there when your work is being sold, verses having your work sold by another gallery!

G: Totally! Maybe it's the Canadian way but when someone walks into a gallery they rarely take one look at something and say I'll take it! They don't! They come look, say oh that's really nice and then they'll come back six months or a year later and it's a process of them getting to know the artist.

E: They make a relationship with the work.

G: Absolutely and it's so different than a representing gallery which we are both very familiar with as well. It's completely different because nobody knows the work better than the artist.

S: I really do think people like to meet the artists as well, you feel like you get more history behind the work rather than buying it and not knowing anything about the artist other than what's available through the gallery. Although I do sell my work in other galleries and I'm never going to stop that, our success rate is so much more selling it ourselves because there is that connection. And we get people coming back every single year! They don't buy every time they come but every few years they do and they keep coming back just to say hi! They have bought a piece of yours and they feel as though they are your friends and really they are. It's strange though, we had more first time visitors this year than ever.

G: It might because it was the first time we had Toller's work here. His work is really out there, really different than mine or Sharon's work so someone who would buy a piece from us wouldn't buy Toller's work. It's been a good fit for us to have a different artist to show and broaden our audience. It's also a pretty interesting shtick to have three artists who are related, showing their work together.

S: I think too the work plays well with each other. Toller's work is very colourful and whimsical. My work is very colourful but more impressionistic and a bit more true to reality I would say and then Guy has sculptural work. So just with three artists it makes for an interesting gallery I think. I'm really quite proud of it.

E: Was anyone else in your family creative, Guy?

G: Well my mother was very talented and creative up until the day she passed away. Our home was full of art, floor to ceiling the walls were covered.

So the gallery has been open for seven years, did you live in the county before that or where were you originally?

S: Well we were in Westport before that for a couple of years and we were up in Packingham for about a year before that! And we were out in BC previous to that for about thirteen years right on the coast of White Rock, south of Vancouver at the Canadian and US boarder. I was born in England and Guy was born in Ontario, but we met in BC.

So why did you choose the County?

S: Well we were supposed to go away on a vacation with one of Guy's brothers and it fell though so we thought about what else we could do that's fairly local when we were in Westport and we decided to come to the Studio Tour in Prince Edward County. We had heard about it and when we were here we were just amazed at the County and the artistic environment with the Arts Trail and Studio Tour and all the artists who were saying all these amazing things about living here. And Guy had said even though we just moved from BC to Packingham to Westport, we should consider moving here if the opportunity ever came up! And I agreed! So about a few stops later on the tour was this house and living in it was the artist Pitta Hall, a potter, with a for sale sign on the front lawn. That was September and we moved into the house in January.

E: It was meant to be!

S: It really was!

G: Yeah and Sharon glosses over this but we were supposed to be painting in Italy and couldn't go, and so a really distant second prize was the studio tour in Prince Edward County. Not quite the same as going to Italy to paint in Tuscany!

S: We were here for the Saturday and Sunday and had the rest of the week booked in Quebec City, and when we got to Quebec City all we could talk about was Prince Edward County and we wished we hadn't left. So we ended up coming back from Quebec a day early so we could talk to a realtor before the end of the week.

G: It all happened very quickly and no regrets. Zero.

S: I'll never move from the county now, I may move within the county but never away. It's so easy to make friends, there are so many like minded people, so many people who come from away that have done other things in their lives and are now doing what they always wanted to do. Everyone is open. I lived in BC for thirteen years and I made maybe two really good friends, and a bunch of acquaintances but when we moved here and it was so easy to make really good friends. I've never experienced that before.

G: Even where we lived before, Westport, was very nice but you were either a cottager or a local and there was nothing in between. Here it's much more open and no one really cares what your lifestyle choices are. I'm sure there's challenges like there are everywhere else but people seem to get along well. People are polite and actually greet perfect strangers. And our dog is our ambassador, everyone in the County know who he is!

You spoke a little about the three different artists represented, how each practice is different, and how the differences complement each other in the space. Are there any similarities between the works, what ties them together when they are in the gallery?

S: I think the main thing that ties my work with Toller's is the colour palette. He tended to use a lot of warm colours and turquoise and I do too. Our palettes are very similar. What Guy has been doing with the sculptures, the birds, is quite whimsical so that ties them to Toller's work as well.

G: I like making people laugh and when people come in and enjoy a work of mine it's the best. I make little stories for each one.

S: Sometimes it's just the name of a work that connects with someone. I can't get over how important naming a piece of work is. We will have people buy one of Guy's perched birds that all generally look the same but there will be one with a name that totally connects with them and that's why they buy it.

G: For years it was what I absolutely hated doing, naming my paintings, but I have no difficulty naming my sculptural works. Half the time I know the name before I even start.

Do either of you have any formal training in visual art?

S: I trained in graphic design and I have trained under a lot of artists over the years, mostly pastel artists from the United States. I paint in acrylic, I paint in a multi-media acrylic and pastel combination, and I also just do straight pastel. But I have trained with some of the best pastel artists in the United States, which is pretty amazing. I think if you are an artist, you learn so much by being able to do workshops with people you admire, because in one week of a workshop you can just suck that teacher dry and ask all the questions you want. It can make you go from here (gestures low) to here (gestures high) while it could have taken you two years to get to that point on your own. I took a workshop last summer in BC with an acrylic teacher that I admire and this summer I'm teaching two workshops at the Baxter Arts Centre in Bloomfield.

Did you find that once you started giving workshops you started looking at your work differently?

S: I read somewhere once that someone said that if you ever want to know a subject really well, teach it! And that exactly true, because you are saying and doing these things over and over. So I think teaching has improved my work for sure.

E: You have to learn the material inside and out to teach it.

G: Yeah you have to walk the walk, it's one thing to say it but it's another thing to do it.

S: If you do a demo in front of 12 people it better look half decent!

Are there any challenges to running a gallery in the county?

S: Probably the time it takes up in your life. I think the County helps with the challenges with programs like Arts Trail and Studio Tour Brochures.

Can you speak a little bit about those?

S: Studio Tour for the last few years has been two weekends, this year it will be one weekend near the end of September. It's a year round guide where we list the hours of galleries and studios all summer long. We have had great turnouts through the Studio Tour, it's been really great for us.

How many studios are involved?

S: There are less this year, but it's around twenty eight.

G: It's quite a large geographical area, so some of the galleries and studios are a long way from any one of the three villages, and don't get as much traffic.

S: Some galleries and artists won't sell very much but for others it helps them tremendously and they sell lots. It has to do with what their work is and where they are located in the county. The other program is the Arts Trail, and its great. On the back of their little book is the Taste Trail, so the people who are going to enjoy the wineries and restaurants are going to enjoy the Arts Trail. So having those two things connected is great, and it gets the right audience. Another program is the Wine Map, and on the back of the wine map is other things that people might be interested in, like art.

G: The physical connection is crucial. The wine scene here has really exploded. When we moved here seven years ago there was ten or twelve wineries, well there are over fifty wineries here now and the microbrewery industry is growing too.

S: There's supposed to be twenty five microbreweries this summer if they all get their permits!

G: Art, food, and booze is like the holy trinity and people come to the County because of them! They used to come for the beach, though some still do.

S: I think the only downside to having a gallery in the county is that it is very seasonal, so for us we are open May to December, but really the season is July, August, September, and maybe the middle to end of June. You have to make your whole year in that period of time because we shut down from Christmas until May because there is no point in coming though. It would be nice to be able to continuously be open through the winter with people coming though. And that's for everyone in the county, not just the galleries.

N: I guess having that time off is a great time to be producing new work!

G: Oh absolutely. I love making work, it is not a chore for me. Time just seems to fly by.

Do either one of you have any large artistic influences? People who you look up to?

G: (points at Sharon) I really do. When we got together I was bored to tears. I've always done something with my hands, worked with wood or what have you, and we were living in a condo in Vancouver, and there was really no opportunity to do that, I'd left that all in another life. And Sharon said well what about painting! And she knew about Toller and she knew that my mom was a photographer. And that was the last thing in the world I ever wanted to do, there was far too much art and artists in my life. But we went down to the Grand Canyon for a painting trip.

S: Plain air painting in the Grand Canyon. That'll get him! (laughs)

G: And that was it! Any skill that I learned, most of it came from Sharon. I also do a lot of workshops and, after a while, the paintings weren't making people sick to their stomachs and it worked! When we were living in Vancouver, we used to go down to white rock pier, it was half a mile long, it went out into the tidal flats, and it was a very touristy area. We used to go every Saturday and Sunday and they had a painting square with a half a dozen artists.

S: You had to get a permit then you could sell your work down there. And we did! It was really cool, we just had a-frames, we'd just throw them up and throw our work on the.

G: We sold a lot of work down there.

S: We did! It was really good. It was thirty dollars a year to get a permit and you could put your stuff out whenever you wanted right on the pier.

G: When I think about where we were then and where we are now it's something to be proud of.

S: I don't know who I would look up to, I would probably say Mike Svob. He lives in BC. As I've grown as an artist, those people who I admire change, because I'd admire someone and take a workshop and learn from them, and then I'd go beyond that. Then I'd look at another person and think wow, then I'd go there and learn from them. I'm always trying to find the next artist where I'm going to look at their work and think oh that's really kind of interesting. And it doesn't have to be something extremely different. Mike was an acrylic painter, and most of the others were pastel artists. We took a workshop with an Australian artist, he does ink washes and water colour amazing stuff. John Lovett, from Australia, we took a two week workshop with him in Italy, and that was pretty cool. We took a two week workshop with a pastel artist in Italy. We've also taken workshops in different places in the states. I seek out the artists, I see where they're doing workshops. If they're doing them in armpit Saskatchewan and then in Paris, I'll do the Paris one (laughs). So right now I'm not sure where the next influence is going to come from. I think it's going to be an acrylic painter. I'm pretty on top of my game with the pastel, there aren't many aha moments left. But in acrylic I could definitely still see some growth there. The subject matter I'm interested in changes. I did a lot of landscapes, but now I like doing people in urban spaces. There are some acrylic painters who are really good at doing people in a simplistic way as opposed to landscapes.

What about if you could collaborate with any artist in the world, alive or dead, who would you collaborate with?

G: I think it would probably be Da Vinci, because while I loved his art, I loved all of the other things he did as well. He was such a genius as an engineer, and that transferred into his art.

S: The first person who popped into my mind was Cleo Mussi. She's from England, and she's an artist who works with mosaic. Her work is so out there, they're amazing and they're big. She does outlines of guys in outer space and birds and dogs and things. I like it because it has a sculptural aspect to it. A couple of years ago I just fell upon her website and I fell in love with her work, there's something about it that's so creative, I've never seen it before, how she uses pieces of glass.

G: A wire artist in the U.K. whose work I think is brilliant is Celia Smith.

Do you guys have a routine with the gallery and the studio? How do you negotiate that balance between both of you?

S: In the winter we're not open. This summer it will be either mornings at the studio and afternoons here or vice verca. We tried that at the end of the season last year and it worked out really well. When I'm at the gallery I'm always doing marketing stuff and web page stuff and social media stuff, so there's lots to do in addition to actually working in the gallery, and then when I'm in the studio I can focus on just that. And Guy is still working, so when he's not in the studio, when he's here he'll be doing his real job.

G: I work for a large format printing company two days a week.

Do you have a book, video, or movie you'd recommend? It doesn't have to be about art, just something you enjoyed.

G: We're both avid readers. I mostly like to read about history, especially medieval history. So anything medieval, whether it's art or actual history or fiction set in that time.

S: I'm a big fan of historical as well, especially anything about the Queen, like The Royal, or even Downtown Abby, it's like gimme it! The Crown was very good too. If it's English, and it's historic, we've seen it

E: Doesn't the queen have corgi dogs?

S: She does! Coincidence? I think not! That's my British background coming through.

Thank you so much Guy and Sharon for showing us your gallery! Learn more about their work and their gallery at

#sparkboxstudio #interview #artblog

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