George Hartley: art is just a screen away. Photo: John Woudstra
A DESIRE to showcase creative and original works of Australian art, minus the hefty price tag, was the catalyst for the creation of online gallery Bluethumb.
For George Hartley, 29, a new partner in the business, the chance to close the gap between those interested in art and those who can afford art was too good an opportunity to pass up.
It's been six months since he took over, and despite working full-time in IT, he and his brother, along with another silent partner, hope the business can expand to the point where they can focus solely on it.
''It's interesting what digital and online business can do for traditional artistic industries,'' says Hartley.
''Look at music and platforms like SoundCloud and before that Myspace to some extent really changed the way people could get a start in music. As far as we can see this hasn't really caught on as much in visual art.''
Art enthusiasts and sisters Anne-Marie Ridgers and Laura Helle launched the website in Brisbane because they felt great art was out of reach for many Australians.
''Being in our late 20s and early 30s, we were in a position where we'd recently bought a new home, we were starting to decorate, and we both found that buying art was really expensive,'' says Ridgers. ''Buying good original art is really inaccessible.''
In the lead-up, Ridgers and Helle undertook an extensive marketing campaign. ''By the time the site went live we had plenty of works ready to go, I think it was maybe 15 artists to start,'' says Ridgers. ''Most of the increase from there was word-of-mouth, especially the Sunshine Coast, which has a huge art scene.''
Ultimately the combination of work, family commitments and running their own business proved too much work for the pair.
''We really wanted to see it succeed, so we gave it up,'' says Ridgers. ''I'm really happy that it has kept going and we can see that something we did is becoming quite successful.''
Bluethumb passed through one more set of hands before Hartley bought the website.
Since then, Hartley, based in Melbourne, along with his brother, in Adelaide, have worked tirelessly to promote the Bluethumb brand.
In December 2011, the site received 2900 unique visitors with a total of 280,000 page impressions.
By June 2012, the site had garnered 6000 unique visitors with a total of 825,000 page impressions.
''We're not interested in figures so much as growing the platform for our artists,'' says Hartley. ''Our best suggestions for features, improvements and site growth have come from our artists who we interact with.''
Since taking over the company, Hartley has spent no money on advertising; he believes the product speaks for itself.
''We spend most of our energy and resources trying to improve the site's functions for artists and art lovers. Currently it's good, but there's a lot to improve on,'' he says.
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