Lise King is, foremost, a soulful visual artist. “I strive to create thoughtful and balanced art,” she says. “My paintings represent my artistic journey and path of self-discovery.”
In 2008, that journey took Lise down the road of retail – she opened King’s Framing and Art Gallery in her hometown of Corbeil in Ontario, Canada.
The shop is a natural fit for her and her husband Bob, a master framer. “Business itself is an art form,” she explains. “It requires you to think outside the box.”
The store is located in the northern part of the province, on the La Vase River. It’s remote – fewer than 5,000 people live in the area. The closest urban center is Ontario’s capital city of Toronto, four hours away.
“Distributors cautioned me about opening a store here, saying Canada’s art scene was only in the south,” Lise recalls. “That, in fact, was my inspiration. Northern Canadian artists are underexposed, and I was moved to create something for them.”
Before the store, there were Bob’s skills as a custom framer. “Artists from big cities like Kingston and Ottawa have always brought their artwork to him to frame,” she explains. “They tell Bob, ‘Just do your thing.’ They insist they sell more work when he frames it.
Like ‘the clothes make the man,’ the frame can make the art. Not everyone looks good in a plain white T-shirt; it’s not one-size-fits-all. Framing art is an art itself.”
With all those artists coming in and out, Lise saw an opportunity. She began offering workshops and classes taught by internationally known artists and visiting teachers, and eventually became an instructor herself. The classes are affordable, averaging $5 an hour; more if the instructor is an international artist with a higher fee and expenses. To accommodate customers, the store will accept deposits and installment payments.
With their framing business established and art education expanding, there was just one problem. “The materials I wanted to use in my classes weren’t easily accessible to my students,” Lise recalls. “The only supply store in the area was Michaels, with its limited fine-art product mix. It was frustrating.”
In 2010, King’s broadened its business model to include selling art supplies.
“If I want to use a product in my own artwork, I order it and bring in more to share,” Lise explains. “That’s what drives my purchasing decisions: If I want to buy it, then I want my customers and students to be able to buy it, too.”
Bob’s original 1,750-square-foot workroom became the store’s retail sales floor. His shop has been relegated to a spare room that Lise calls “the little closet.” “It’s amazing how he still finds a way to fit everything in it,” she says with a laugh. “People are so impressed by how well organized it is!
“Frankly we need more room,” she adds. “We keep back stock in our home, and our teaching room is filled with inventory and art materials, too.”
She and her husband employ just one additional person who helps process online and telephone orders. The store ships to all 10 Canadian provinces and three territories. Lise and Bob work together to merchandise the store; they focus on making products easy to access on their shelves, arranged by medium and then brand.
Not only is King’s the place where artists shop for their supplies, it’s also a gallery devoted to giving them the exposure and recognition they need to succeed. In 2009, Lise founded a local nonprofit artist collective called Consolidated Artists Group of 7s (CAGo7s) “as a way to help artists get recognized and take their profile worldwide.”
Members pay an annual fee of $100, and the art club meets monthly to coordinate local art events, offer classes in the community and volunteer its expertise and creativity.
CAGo7s also provides local artists opportunities to show and sell their art – in the store’s gallery and on its website, and at community art events. In fact, a recent website update at King’s allows artists to keep blogs there, with the goal of building their own brand and a relationship with the store’s customers.
What’s good for artists is also good for the store – the club has been an effective
guerilla marketing tool for King’s. “Customers from all over the country recognize us because of the work we do for artists,” says Lise.
Lise also coordinates local art and culture events that include the weekend-long Art in the Park in August, Culture Days in September, and the Northern Arts Festival Ontario. “People who didn’t think they could create art are now experimenting, with our help. It’s great exposure for the store and creative community, and our manufacturers and distributors are able to expose
customers to new materials.”
Lise was recently elected to NAMTA’s board of directors, as well as to Art Advocacy International on behalf of Canadians. “NAMTA and its shows are another factor that helps me as store owner,” she explains. “I’m able to better understand the needs of Canadian artists and communicate with the community. New materials are constantly being presented and demonstrated, which opens up all the things that my customers can do with a product.”
Always something new
Class attendance, and business at King’s custom frame and print shop, is booming, Lise says, and the retail part of the business
continues to expand. Recently, to help extend their market radius, the store added a new online service that helps customers choose their frames remotely. By uploading a picture of their room or a wall color to kingsframingandartgallery.com, customers can mix and match it to King’s frame styles, mats and colors to better judge how the art will look hanging on their wall.
In 2012, the North Bay Nugget newspaper noted Corbeil’s burgeoning art scene. Reporter Maria Calabrese credited the change to the hands-on experiences available at King’s Framing & Art Gallery. “They attract teaching artists primarily from the district, and master artists from around the world,” she wrote, adding that King’s fills the void created when nearby Canadore College canceled its continuing education arts & crafts programs. “While that program deteriorated, the classes, workshops and teaching opportunities for local artists have grown at King’s Framing and Art Gallery.”
“As this place grew, you knew it was going to become the place to be,” agreed artist Robert King, who was demo-ing his brushed charcoal art at King’s at the time.
Today, Lise and Bob have an established core of northern Canadian artists and customers, and the art classes are often so full that Lise has to turn people away. “This is a vibrant and strong local art community,” she explains. “People who didn’t think they could draw are now drawing. Not only that, they’re getting commissions and teaching.
“Our customers are from all walks of life,” she adds, “from parents and children to collectors to wildlife photographers. Everyone is comfortable here.”
The store’s children’s art classes are so popular that many workshops have a two-year waitlist. “If we can interest them in the arts by the time they’re 6 years old, we have them for life.”
By Jenn Bergin