Lismore artist triples online sales, impresses Google

Artist Penny Evans in her Lismore studio, towards the end of a busy year that has pushed her career into a new era of online achievement.
Artist Penny Evans in her Lismore studio, towards the end of a busy year that has pushed her career into a new era of online achievement. Mia Armitage

ROADKILL and art may sound like a horror film concept but for Lismore artist Penny Evans it's just another day in the studio.

"It takes about 25 minutes to boil a dead echidna," she says and produces a plastic container full of cleaned quills.

"People are constantly bringing them to me because they feel terrible when they've hit one and this is a way they can show respect for the animal."

Ms Evans does not perform taxidermy; she is an award-winning visual artist with more than 30 years' professional practice specialising mainly in ceramics.


Ceramic works by Penny Evans in the artist's Lismore studio.
Ceramic works by Penny Evans in the artist's Lismore studio. Mia Armitage

Decolonisation through art

Echidna spikes have been painstakingly added to the perimeter of small clay dishes and point towards the deep connection between environment and artist that informs Ms Evans' work.

Born of Kamilaroi, Anglo-Celtic and German descent, Ms Evans says a lifetime search for her cultural heritage and significance of identity is reflected in the evolution of her artistic practice.

"This is a dissected Blue Diamond Butterfly, native to Bundjalung country" she says, tracing the outline of two triangular shapes featured on a irregular shaped dish small enough to rest in the palm of her hand.

"As I embarked on a process of decolonisation and rediscovering a cultural history that was taken away from Aboriginal people all throughout the south east, I learned that the diamond was an important symbol in traditional Aboriginal mens' carving."

Studying at Sydney College of Arts in the late eighties, Ms Evans "immediately gravitated towards ceramics" before discovering some of the geometric designs she used in her work were reminiscent of those used by indigenous communities along the east coast of Australia.

"It's like it's embedded in me," she says of her lifelong passion.

The artist's Lismore home and surrounding studios form a richly textured landscape of the artist's work from naked white fired clay canvases in her backyard sheds to generous dining tables and walls lined with finished works in the treasure trove that doubles as the family house.

The (online) business of art

One table appears more organised than the others and the ceramic pieces atop are gleaming in the midday sun filtered through the windows: Ms Evans says they are posing for photographs to be uploaded to her online gallery.

"Using the internet to tell her story and promote her product - both through her website and social media - has enabled Penny Evans Art to reach new audiences," said Head of Small Business Google Australia John Ball, one of a panel of judges who nominated Ms Evans for the company's top ten 2016 Regional Online Heroes. 

"It's also enabled her to find new customers and significantly increase sales: Penny told us she has tripled sales in the past year since increasing her online presence."

Recognition from Google comes almost exactly a year since Ms Evans met with Lismore web consultant Ellen Kronen from Leumesin Design to overhaul the artist's web site.

"We built a completely new site," says Ms Evans, "it's clean and bright and fresh which is perfect for displaying my art."

"I post all the content and manage the back end, it's all really user-friendly."

Sales first started to increase for Ms Evans two years ago when she began to invest more time in her social media business profiles on Instagram and Facebook.

"I've constantly got my iPhone with me, you've gotta feed [online business] regularly," she says.

"I still exhibit in galleries but sales online are going so well why would I want to pay 40% to a shop owner?

"I work seven days a week, multitasking.

"I'd like to have more studio time but it's hard to hand over the business side of things."

Google calling

Ms Evans heads to Sydney in early December for an exclusive Google masterclass and a cocktail party at Sydney Harbour for the announcement of the competition winner.

"I'm not sure what to expect," she says as she prepares for a long day of firing and glazing.

"They've got new offices modelled on the New York Etsy office, I'm looking forward to seeing them.

"I'd like to understand algorithms and how to get more traffic to your site."

Praise for Ms Evans' business skills adds to a year of extraordinary professional recognition for her artwork.

Ms Evans won the 2016 Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Peoples Choice Art Award in August and was a finalist for the overall prize; she was also a finalist in the 2016 Gold Coast International Ceramic Art Awards and recently became a recipient of a highly sought Australia Council for the Arts Grant.

The grant money has already "revolutionised" her practice, she says, thanks to the provision of "good quality equipment and new glazes".

Topics:  artist australia council bundjalung ceramics google kamilaroi nation online business penny evans regional business telstra national aboriginal & torres strait island

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