Welcome to Saturday Business chat. In a first for the series, we’ve got a brother-sister combination! Last week I featured Annabelle Beckwith, and now it’s the turn of her equally talented brother, Tone Hitchcock, of Anthony Hitchcock Art & Design. I met Tone at about the time I met Anna, so he would have been 16 or so at the time. I heard about his work through Anna over the years, went to an opening night of some wonderful paintings he had exhibited, and met up with him a few months ago when he came to “visit” the fibreglass gorilla he’d made that was on display in Digbeth Coach Station. Models he’s made appear on the TV and in films, and it’s great to watch the inventive and marvellous things he produces. Let’s find out how he got started …
What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
Anthony Hitchcock Art & Design. I know, it’s not the snappiest of titles, but it does what it says on the tin. I’ve been doing this since 1997, sometimes part-time, now mostly full time. Unofficially, it’s “Purveyor of Props, Paintings and Peculiarities”.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
I decided to set up for myself as I’d spent most of my time at Uni doing artwork and playing in various bands anyway, rather than concentrating on my English degree. Pretty much the only person I could find willing to employ me when I graduated was me, so it seemed like a good idea.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
Art has always been my first love; I’ve been selling paintings since I was 14. I started commercially by doing illustrations and caricatures; it snowballed from there.
Had you run your own business before?
A friend of mine and I at school had run a t-shirt printing business from our study, if that counts … [Liz: yes, of course it does!]
How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?
I’ve had a couple of full-time stints at this, and, as I said, I am now pretty much full-time again, but for a long time, I had various part-time jobs as well to keep me ticking over. I’ve worked in a few different shops, done kitchen and bathroom design, worked in a warehouse, done stock control for the Roman Baths shops; whatever it took, really!
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
I wish someone had told me to concentrate on prop and modelmaking 15 years ago!
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
I would like to go back and tell myself not to lose faith; it’s never easy trying to make a living artistically, but when it does start to come together, it makes the hard times fade away, and it all becomes worthwhile.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
I took a sculpting course in late ’97, whereas before I’d mainly concentrated on 2D artwork. It felt really natural to me, but I was already committed to trying to make a go of it with paintings. I remember wondering if I should make the switch to 3D work instead, but I decided against it. I don’t generally dwell on “what if?” contemplation, but still … in this case, it might have got me further along sooner.
What are you glad you did?
To be honest, even all the rubbishy part-time roles I’ve had have given me something useful, even if it was just experience. Heck, even my wasted youth making Lightsabers out of old bits of Hoover tube has come in useful, as it gave me the perfect skillbase for making the collapsible armature for my latest commission!
What’s your top business tip?
DON’T GIVE UP! And also, tailor what you do to the market. As an artist, it is quite tempting to throw a bit of a hissy fit, and go “But this is my muse! People must appreciate it and buy my work!”
Well, I love melancholy landscapes and bleak atmospheres, but apparently the general art-buying public isn’t keen enough on them to pay for my living. Talent doesn’t guarantee you a career – the old adage about success coming from 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration is true.
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
Following on nicely from the last question, my success rate increased exponentially as soon as I started being less precious about what I do, and started listening more to what other people advised (particularly my wife, but don’t tell her that or she’ll become insufferable).
I’ve always made models as a bit of a sideline, hence the lightsabers, but I’d never really taken it seriously. Three years ago, I made a Wookiee mask for a friend’s birthday, and everyone that saw it asked why I wasn’t doing prop and modelwork all the time. As the only answer I could come up with was a rather sheepish “errr…”, I started scouting around for that kind of work, which lead me on to freelancing at Codsteaks Prop and Model Workshop in Bristol. It’s gone on from there.
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
This time next year, Rodders, we’ll be miwionaires … or at least, doing model and prop work more consistently so that Bryony, my wife, can lessen the amount of hours she works.
What a talented pair of siblings Anna and Tone are. And what a lot of different areas of inspiration they offer to other freelancers and entrepreneurs. Never give up, learn from your mistakes, do what you have to in order to sustain your business idea … things we can all learn, whether we train people or make eels for a living! Oh, look – I’ve interviewed their cousin, Sam, too!
This is one website that you MUST go and look at, for all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures and beautiful paintings: find Anthony Hitchcock Art & Design at www.tonyhitchcock.co.uk. You can, of course, email Tone or call him on 07929 272 513, especially if you’d like to commission a painting or sculpture. Or an eel.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more freelancer chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured.