Bluethumb Co-Founder, George Hartley

Bluethumb Co-Founder, George Hartley

Founded by brothers George and Edward Hartley, Bluethumb started as a passion project and is now recognised as Australia’s largest online art marketplace. Since launching in 2012, the platform has facilitated the sale of over 100,000 original artworks to everyone from first-time art buyers and established collectors to corporate clients.

 “Our mission is to help more artists grow their careers and more people get art into their homes and offices,” says George. “We are constantly investing in building technology that makes the art on Bluethumb even more accessible to buyers.”

 Along with representing over 20,000 emerging and established artists, Bluethumb works with 20 of Australia’s most remote Indigenous art centres, giving buyers unmatched access to a comprehensive collection of Australian art.

 In 2019, Bluethumb opened the doors to its first physical gallery space, in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond. A second gallery opened in Adelaide the following year. The company has also recently launched the Art in My Home podcast, where George and his colleague Amy Varley talk to an eclectic range of art collectors.

 The following chat with George provides insight into Bluethumb’s origins and offers tips for artists keen to make the most of the platform.

Interview by Lisa Doust

When did you first develop an interest in art and how did the idea to establish an art-based business come about?

Ed and I always wanted to build an internet business. I was a failed musician and had run a career on Soundcloud. Musicians seemed well served on the internet, but we noticed that visual artists weren’t. Dad was a painter, and a bunch of my friends growing up were artists, so we thought, why not build a platform for them to sell their art? That’s where we started.

What was the original vision for Bluethumb, and what inspired the name?

We set out to create the Soundcloud equivalent for art and have always focused on building technology that allows artists to be seen more and for them to sell more art. We’ve stuck to this vision since 2012 and will continue to do so.

Our name refers to the ink you get on your fingers if you’re drawing in pen!

How does the platform work?

It’s easy – artists just have to create an account and start uploading their work. Our technology allows artists to communicate directly with collectors and monitor all sales. To help make sales as easy as possible, we offer free insured shipping across Australia and free seven-day returns.

How long did it take artists to respond by joining the platform, and are the first batch of artists still selling via Bluethumb?

We actually had a handful of artists pretty much straight away – the problem was we couldn’t sell their art because we didn’t have buyers! Our marketing team quickly realised that working to get in front of buyers was going to make or break whether we would get traction.

We still have some successful artists from the first year on board, including Annette Spinks and Ron Brown.

Do you have specific examples of artists who have seen their careers flourish after starting out on Bluethumb?

There are lots of examples – I’d guess at least half our top-20 selling artists joined us when they were just starting out in their careers and are now successful artists.

We hear so many super-interesting stories from artists who’ve changed careers back into art from other industries and have had great success. For instance, Charlie Nanopoulos was forced to stop carpentry due to ill health and Jen Shewring is a former molecular biologist.

What advice do you have for artists who have considered uploading their work to Bluethumb but are yet to take the leap?

Just do it! There’s nothing to lose and it could be the start of something great for your art. I love seeing the daily stories from new artists who’ve found an audience for their work through us.

Our current exhibition at the Melbourne gallery celebrates new artists, most of whom have joined us within the last six months and are doing great things on Bluethumb.

What tips do you have for artists who have signed up to Bluethumb but are yet to see significant sales?

Practical tips are:

  • Have a good profile picture and a well filled out biography.
  • Have at least five artworks uploaded (the more the better).
  • Invest in good photography of your art and include lots of detail shots so buyers have a good sense of the work.
  • Keep creating and keep uploading – many collectors come back to browse new art, and uploading regularly gets your art back in front of them.

These things seem small, but they are huge when it comes to building trust with art collectors.

Aside from the business growth, what are you most proud of achieving since starting out?

The thing I love most is to see an artist join with low expectations and start crushing it by building a following of people who love their art and selling a lot of paintings.

What does the future hold for the business, and what will the benefits be to emerging artists?

We’ve got so much to do to get more art into more homes. We’ve tended to focus on improving our technology to help make it easier for artists to get in front of collectors, but this year we’re starting to think about our brand more. We know what we stand for, but we could be louder to the broader community about it!

Follow Bluethumb via @bluethumbart or visit bluethumb.com.au

25% OFF ALL COURSES FOR BLUETHUMB ARTISTS

For the month of April, The Astute Artist is offering a 25% discount on all courses for artists registered with Bluethumb. To take advantage of this offer, simply choose your course, register your login details and enter the code BLUETHUMB25 at checkout. Offer ends at midnight on 30 April 2024.