Just like being an entrepreneur, being an artist is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. As an independent artist who started her own business, Charlotte Posner knows this well. Posner’s work, which combines art, fashion, and popular culture, has now grown an international following. Listen to her story as she climbs her way up from art school graduate to owning her own business and collaborating with luxury brands like Louis Vuitton.
Charlotte Posner: [00:00:01] You’ve chosen all, but it proves that you can make money from art and you can make money from being creative. You just need to persist.
Sam: [00:00:09] Charlotte Posner is a London based artist and entrepreneur. Her hand painted work combines fashion, branding, commodity, culture and art in a stylish and satisfying way. Charlotte has exhibited internationally at the Royal Academy, the Tate Modern and at the Saatchi Gallery in the UK. Her artwork has been featured by a variety of contemporary brands and a line of her own branded products. Is it Brown Thomas and growing in its retail presence? Charlotte, welcome to the show.
Charlotte Posner: Thank you so much for having me.
Sam: So let’s start at the beginning. Charlotte, what was the inspiration that you had to become an artist and then kind of go in this direction of being an entrepreneur?
Charlotte Posner: [00:01:13] So I think it all started when I was younger. My parents were very open and very creative family. They have got a fabric and interior shop. So I was always running around as a kid, like looking at swatches of fabrics and being inspired by pattern and color. And we used to like pose in the window and we were very free and always in the garden and always a very, yeah, very free and creative upbringing. And we were never told exactly what we had to do. They said, whatever you want to be, you can be. So I think it all starts at the home and from nurturing and then schooling…from a young age, I was always very creative. I went to after school art classes and I always drew and painted and my accademia wasn’t as strong. So I realized from when I was eleven, I got diagnosed with dyslexia and through that I really branched into more creative subjects at school. And that involved my creativity through there, I’d say.
Sam: [00:02:27] You know, you decided to pursue a career as an artist. But there was sort of a moment in your life when the art really turned into entrepreneurship because of the work that you were doing with some of the fashion brands you’ve worked with and then with your work being on your own set of branded products. Talk a little bit about that shift. And what were the steps or what were some of the elements that allowed you to enable that?
Charlotte Posner: [00:02:58] So after school, I went on to university, studied art for four years in London and in Canada. And I came out and I remember sitting in my art studio on my own thinking, how am I going to make it as an artist? You know, they don’t teach you any business skills at art school. So I’m sitting there. I said I thought ‘I need to sell my work. If I go into a full time job, I won’t have time to create.’ And I felt like I’d just fall into having a living and making money. So I said part time work. So I thought, where in London do people buy my art? I need to be mixing with people. So I thought the street that everyone shops on is Bond Street. So I went down one street with my CV and I handed my CV out into every single shop. And I got a job in a wedding dress shop with a lovely lady. And I was selling and, you know, thirty thousand pound wedding dresses. So I thought I could meet the clients that want to buy my artwork on the side to that I was working as a waitress in all of the big art galleries as a nighttime job so I could mingle with people, hear what they had to say about art in the industry and on the side I was doing courses in art, keeping my artwork up and keeping painting and drawing in my studio and yeah, making time for my art. Then I was entering competitions as well. So I entered into the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. I got the letter through to say that I got in. I was twenty six. Twenty seven, sorry. So the Royal Academy is one of the biggest art galleries in the world. It’s been going for over 250 years and it’s the largest open art competition. So all of the public can enter their artwork. So when I got in, I was crying. The year after I received a letter to say, would you like to be filmed by the BBC if you’re reentering? So I ticked the box to say yes and I was filmed by the BBC Culture Show. So they filmed my journey of me reapplying again, doing the artwork in the studio. And they filmed my journey. And the first section I got into – there’s two rounds – The second one, I opened the letter in front of the camera. I opened it up and it said, you did not get into the Royal Academy. And then you realize that the cameras are on you…
Sam: [00:05:23] So it must have been a reality TV moment.
Charlotte Posner: [00:05:24] Yeah. And I was like, oh, it was awful. So I had. When it was screened on TV, I had a big party at my parents home and I got an email that evening saying “Hello, Charlotte, I’ve just seen you on the television. My name is Lord Mervin Davis. My wife and I have just seen you, I’m the dean of the Royal Academy. Would you like to come over and show us your artwork?” So I was like, yes, sir. I was looking him up. Is he real? You know, is this. Is this actually who he is? And it was so I drove to the house on Sunday with my car, loaded my car with loads and loads of artwork. And him and his son with Tom was there and they picked a bunch of my work. They actually bought the lot of it.
Sam: [00:06:05] Fabulous.
Charlotte Posner: [00:06:06] And from then on, I built an amazing relationship with Lord Mervin and Lady Jan and yeah, and they helped me along my way and gave me advice. I used to pop into his office and be like, Mervin, can you help me with this sort of on the side as well. I was still building my art. I had part time jobs. My job role changed. I worked in an old age daycare center, four and a half years, teaching the elderly art.
Sam: [00:06:34] What was the breakthrough into sort of working with brands? Because not a lot of artists do that, right?
Charlotte Posner: [00:06:39] So whilst– so I was doing well on the side and I started thinking about branding and art combined. So how can I make a brand? What have companies done? What do people do to make a brand in art? And it’s something that’s recognizable. So I looked at Polo, Ralph Lauren and I looked at the horse or you look at Machino with the big print on. And I thought, well, I need to find something which is a signature? So when people see it, they say ‘that’s Charlotte Posner’. So I started thinking about it and I was on holiday in Italy and my mother and we walked along and I saw an ice cream stand with all the ice creams, you know, when you buy in the kiosk. And I thought that would be great to make a coat, like a little drawing with an ice cream ball in the head with a cone as the figure. So I did one and I did it and I put it onto social media and I got an amazing response from everyone on my Facebook. Then I thought, I’m going to get my art and do it with brands. So I started doing one with Magnum ice creams. So I drew the little Magnum ice creams quite realistically. So I did the top of the head with the ice cream, maybe a big chunk of ice cream a bit bitten out and the body was the other part of the ice cream, tweeted Magnum on social media. And they reposted it. And then I thought, Oh, I’m onto something. Then I tweeted Diet Coke. I did the bodies of the Diet Coke cans with the lids of the coke cans and Diet Coke reposted it. And then I thought, I’d do Cadbury’s chocolate. They reposted it. So all the brands are reposting my work. Then they started reacting, messaging me, saying, “Hi, Charlotte, we love this. Can we collaborate?” And I got Magnum. I did a collaboration with them. But the other side of it was I am also very free spirited and I don’t really stick to the rules at all. So I had done a piece on Louis Vuitton on their collection that they did with Jeff Koons, so I’d done a pop dolls, which consist of five dolls in a row. Girls or boys with these kinds of figurines with a brand on them. And I took it into the store actually in Bond Street, put it on the side, took a photo from my social media, and then I gifted it to the management with my business card. And then a couple of weeks later, I got an email back from management saying, “Hi, Charlotte, we’ve just seen your artwork. Thank you for your gift. We’d love to collaborate with you.” So I was like, this is amazing.
Sam: [00:09:19] But your initiative and to sort of be such a self starter and go into all these brands is really what unlocked it.
Charlotte Posner: [00:09:26] Yeah, it did. And it can just – it can work with anything as well. So from then on, I do a lot of in-house artwork for the Louis Vuitton VIP clients and I’ve got a great relationship with them.
Sam: [00:09:41] Fantastic. So as you did more and more brand work, how did you then start to think about your own line of branded products?
Charlotte Posner: [00:09:52] So I was working, yes. With other brands, as you just said. Then I went to a local school uniform factory and I saw that they were printing. I said to them, if you got a catalog of product and I started printing on little hessian bags. So I sent them my artwork on digital format and they were printing it on the bags. And I was doing Christmas fairs, putting all these bags on the table, and they were flying out the door, flying out. And then I started printing on T-shirts and they were also flying out. And then I made like little pieces of jewelry from a girl that I used to tutor – When I used to teach as well, her father was a jewelry maker and he cut me out some pop doll little bracelets and I was selling those at fairs. And then I went to Mervin and I showed him that I’d gone and made these bags. And I’d also made ribbon from a couple up in the north. They produce like a beautiful pop doll ribbon, which had all my artwork, like beautiful ribbons that I had a product with. Then Mervin shipped my hand. He said to me, “This is unbelievable. Let’s do this. I’m going to invest.” And I was like, amazing. So very shortly – this was last year – from going from just doing artwork. He shook on it. And they’ve got a wine company, a vineyard company. Denise works for them. She then built a relationship with Brown Thomas. And we had a meeting with Shelly Kukri, who’s the head of fashion there. We went along and they looked at our product. Sorry. They looked at all my artwork and said, if you can produce a product range in like three months time, you can be put into the Marvel room, which is like a Christmas extravaganza. Beautiful room, which opens up once a year. So that weekend, funnily enough, I was on a hen party. And one of the girls said “my father-In-law owns a product company. Go and see him Monday morning.” Jan and I straight in there met him and we produced a whole range of products so tightly it was in like a few months and they were on the shelves for Christmas.
Sam: [00:12:05] That was amazing. I mean, it must’ve been so stressful. But you got it done.
Charlotte Posner: [00:12:09] So stressful. Like day and night working, painting, drawing. Because it’s very different, your art being an artwork on the wall to it being on a product. Does it work? Doesn’t it? But it’s all about the best viable product. So just get something out to the market. So we had to – Jan always says, “just get what you know, just push it out. We’ll see what works, see what doesn’t work as we go along.” I mean, that’s the best advice, right?
Sam: [00:12:30] Get it out there and see what happens.
Charlotte Posner: [00:12:31] Yes.
Sam: [00:12:32] You can always refine it as you go along.
Charlotte Posner: [00:12:33] Yeah, definitely. Well, with everything, I think that’s…
Sam: [00:12:37] So how are you now thinking about scaling your business, this line of branded products.
Charlotte Posner: [00:12:43] So we work very intuitively. Well, we have been working very intuitively. And Christmas is a huge time for us. So we’ve just launched a few days ago another Christmas range that went in for three months. And it is busy and it’s doing really, really well. And the rest of the year, we’re hoping to hit all the big, big stores. Yeah. We want to be in, like, luxury top stores first and give that a massive push.
Sam: [00:13:12] That is fantastic. And it’s very consistent with the brand work you’ve been doing with Louis Vuitton and some of the other brands. So as you look back, Charlotte, are there. You’re such a highly adaptive personality because at every point you’ve sort of taken initiative and gone off and explored something new. Talk a little bit about how you think about adaptation, because it isn’t always typical of, you know, certainly not every artist and certainly not every entrepreneur.
Charlotte Posner: [00:13:45] I think you’ve got to use your gut instinct. It’s so important if you feel something’s right, it is…because we’re all you know, we’re all very driven to use. You know, when you meet people, there’s a million things on someone’s face or if you talk to them on the phone. And I think with social media today, it’s so quick and everything’s so instant. You know, you’re posting it’s very instant, it’s very quick. And everyone’s chasing, chasing, chasing. And actually, when you step back a bit. as Art does for you, you know, to create a painting takes time. I think if you can do one thing a day that pushes forwards in a certain direction, you build every single day and it doesn’t – Nothing happens overnight. You know, Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say. Just keep going and be open-minded. And I think you need to be like a stream. You need to flow. And if something goes one way, go with it. Try it. If not, you can go another way. You make mistakes. You don’t don’t have fear. And just try. Just try and enjoy the journey as well, because it’s not always about the end result, it’s about the journey.
Sam: [00:14:51] That’s really good advice. So as you look back at what was the greatest challenge? What were some of the mistakes you made and what were some of the lessons that you learned?
Charlotte Posner: [00:15:04] I think there’s been a lot of challenges and that the challenges only push you in another way. So, for instance, when I didn’t get into the Royal Academy, something good came out of it. I think when something’s not meant to happen, it pushes you in another direction. I think the challenging part was when I was working for my family home – my sister and brother had moved out ages ago – I was still there. All my friends were, you know, my friends are in great jobs. A lot of them are in finance. A lot of them all are doing, you know, getting really good, substantial money coming in every month. And I wasn’t. And it’s a struggle because, you know, you’re in your late 20s, 30s, and you want to do well financially, but you’ve chosen art that it proves that you can make money from art and you can make money from being a creative. You just need to persist. And I, you know, I was working from my sister’s bedroom. I transferred into an office upstairs. And I was, I used to work day and night and day and night on my artwork. And I think that was a massive challenge, that section.
Sam: [00:16:14] What got you through those moments of doubt? Because, you know, they’re so difficult when you’re sort of sitting there second guessing yourself, looking around at everyone else who’s doing something totally different from you.
Charlotte Posner: [00:16:26] I think you can’t look at everyone else and that was the thing that I learned. I actually went away for a month on my own to Italy. I went to Puglia, rented a car, went to Italy, and I just wanted time for myself because London’s so fast as well. And you’re always out and doing things and it’s crazy. And I wanted to find my own rhythm and learn that, like, yeah, things do take time and you are on the right path if you’re meant to be because I wouldn’t have still persisted and still done it. And it’s for the art, it’s like a drive within you. And I wouldn’t have been happy. I’m happy making my art work. And although it’s struggles, I think every job has struggles and everyone has good and bad days. And if you’re having a massive string of bad days change, change it. Only you can change.
Sam: [00:17:17] That’s so true. I want to end with a quote from you: “being an artist and an entrepreneur, I would say is a way of life. We choose our path and make our own choices. And life has its ways of taking you to places you didn’t know existed. There are no limitations to our imagination”. Charlotte thank you for being here with us today.
Charlotte Posner: [00:17:39] Thank you so much for having me.
Get new ideamix content delivered straight to your inbox.