The cyclist

You Just Never Know Who Will Buy Your Painting

A few days ago, I was travelling to Duncan, accompanying my Mum for an appointment there. While we waited for the ferry to leave Salt Spring Island, I told her about an amazing thing that had recently happened. When I finished she said, That’s such a great story – you must share it! And I decided why not?! It’s such a great example of the power of connection as well as the idea that you just never know who will buy one of your paintings.

So where to start? At the beginning or the end?

I’ll start at the end.

A few days ago, I received an email from Vivian, owner of the Peninsula Gallery, letting me know the good news that one of my pastel paintings had sold and she’d just mailed it off…to a man in Germany. “He says he met you at the Tate!” I could hardly believe it! And you’ll soon see why.

Here’s the painting that now belongs to Stephan.

Gail Sibley, There's One in Every Crowd, Unison Colour pastels on recycled UART 500 paper, 5 x 6 in. Sold
Gail Sibley, There’s One in Every Crowd, Unison Colour pastels on recycled UART 500 paper, 5 x 6 in

Now let me take you back to last summer.

I was in the UK in June and July teaching two workshops (as well as visiting old – and new – friends). After a lovely (if rainy!) retreat in the Yorkshire Dales, I headed to Cornwall to teach at the Cornwall School of Art in Truro for three days (wonderful!). Before that got started, I went to the coast to do some exploring for a few days one of which took me to St Ives. My primary reason? The Tate St Ives.

The Tate St Ives
The Tate St Ives

I ADORE spending hours at a good public gallery, primarily looking at the art but also capturing, with camera, those who look at the art (a favourite subject to paint!). And with all those hours of exploration and examination, a gal’s got to remember to keep her stomach nourished alongside the soul nourishing. So twice, part way through the day, I headed to the Tate cafe. 

View from one cafe window
View from one cafe window

The second time, it was super crowded. When it was my turn to be seated (after quite a wait), the server asked myself and another if we would mind being seated together. I said fine, as did he. And so we sat together, ordered our food, and soon found ourselves in deep conversation about art and life. It was unexpected and marvellous! This stranger – Stephan – was on a six-month sabbatical, cycling all over western Europe. And here we were on the same day visiting the Tate!

When it was time to leave, it felt strange to not stay connected. At the same time, there was a part of me that thought it best to leave this as a moment in time. At the last minute, I handed him my business card. And then I went back into the gallery, on my own.

Eventually, it was time to take the train back to Hayle where I was staying. As I departed the gallery, a cyclist rode by waving. It was Stephan, the stranger from my table. Serendipity again as it felt a relief somehow to wave goodbye, acknowledging an ending. The book was closed so to speak.

The cyclist
Stephan on his way!

That was June. 

In December, just before Christmas, I was delighted to receive an email from Stephan. (Remember, I had no way of contacting him. I didn’t even know his last name!) I hope he won’t mind me quoting these words – they express so perfectly what I also felt.

“It’s been a while that we were seated together in the cafe of the Tate Gallery in St. Ives this summer, but the – although brief – encounter with you, has stayed with me ever since as a beautiful reminder of how magical connection can feel like even – or maybe especially – if it happens by chance and that it’s always worthwhile being open for it. That’s one of the many things that my sabbatical taught me last year.” 

Looking out from the Tate
Looking out from the Tate

And now we come full circle: The email from Vivian to say a guy from Germany – Stephan – had bought one of my paintings. WOW! Really, you just never know!

I tell you this story for three reasons:

  • You just never know who will buy your work. You don’t know when they will buy it, why they will buy it. It can happen at any time, for any reason. I have been a believer for some time that there’s a person for every painting I create. It’s just the timing that’s unknown. This experience confirms that belief once again.
  • To encourage you to stay open. I could have said No to joining a stranger at the table that day. To tell you the truth, I love my own company, being alone with my thoughts. But I’m also curious and that keeps me open to connection and possibilities. To conversations that may lead nowhere or to magical places. You just never know!
  • It’s such a cool story! And my Mum encouraged me to share it

An extra piece to add. Although this painting came from out of the blue, it came as an idea fully formed in my mind’s eye. There were some tweaks to make as it emerged but generally speaking, I’d “seen” it. (You can see the development of the piece here.) And the title? Well, I’ll leave that for you to ponder on! The piece is pretty abstract and certainly not what I’m known for. But I really liked it, and happily, so did Vivian. And now, it has a home, in Germany. Isn’t that just the best?!

Do you have a story that accompanied the sale of one of your pieces? Please do share it in the comments!

I hope this reminds you to stay open to the possibilities. You just never know who will be the next person to buy your art. And you just never know what connections you’ll make along your art journey!

Until next time,

~ Gail

PS. Thanks Mum for suggesting I share this story. I would never have thought of it on my own!

PPS. And Stephan, if you’re reading this, thanks for giving a home to one of my pastel paintings. Thank you too for a memorable encounter!

PPPS. Okay, I’m not sure but…as I was preparing this post, preparing the images, I noticed that in the photo of Stephan cycling away, he has an orange bag on his back. In this Gallery Goer painting (that I did from a photo I took in the Tate Gallery), the man has an orange bag on his back. Could this actually be Stephan??!! What do you think?

Gail Sibley, Surveying the Battle (Gallery Goers), Unison Colour pastels on UART 500, 7 x 11 in.
Gail Sibley, Surveying the Battle (Gallery Goers), Unison Colour pastels on UART 500, 7 x 11 in.

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37 thoughts on “You Just Never Know Who Will Buy Your Painting”

  1. Deborah Klein Patton

    Hi Gail-
    Of course that gallery-goer was Stephan! You are a fantastic colourist and you have the photo as evidence. Speaking of that photo: is it not a scene you especially love to paint?! Looking forward to seeing that one!

    1. Thanks Deborah for such a strong affirmative re Stephan as the man in the painting!!
      By that photo, do you mean the scene with the cyclist? Or?

  2. OMG! That gave me goosebumps, Gail! The gallery goer must be Stephan! It’s like the universe has conspired to create this connection 😊 Thanks for sharing your story!

    1. Your reaction so made me smile Sarah. And I think you are right! It’s so funny noticing the connection just as I was putting the post together – that I actually may have photographed Stephan before I met him!

  3. Gail, I LOVE reading your blog (always) and miss you. Stephen or not in the gallery, I think I you captured a moment of reality transcending to that unknown chance magic. Congrats on your piece finding a home in that magical-real world

  4. Hi Gail – I loved the story of Stephan (agree, it is him in the gallery) and thank you for reconfirming that there’s a person for every painting, it’s just a matter of when. A recent encounter with an artist friend confirmed the same thing when a woman bought a painting off of her that she didn’t particularly like and when she saw the artwork hung in it’s new surroundings she said it just shone and was so happy it’d found it’s true home.
    Thanks for your continuing enthusiastic delivery of everything ‘pastel’!

    1. And another vote for the man in the gallery being Stephan!
      Thanks for sharing this story Christine. It’s a lovely (and unusual) take on the idea of a person for each person! And it just goes to show…that the buyer knows what they are doing, that the painting is meant for them!

  5. Gail your story is inspiring to be open to the possibilities of opportunity. How lucky for both, you and Stephan. These moments are what make life grand! Thank you for sharing! Pam Whiteley

  6. Hi Gail, what an amazing story. Definitely Stephan in your Gallery Goers painting. How weird, I love stories like that.

    I have an identical picture looking out of the Tate cafe window across the rooves to the sea. Just as cloudy and wet, taken on a visit last February. It is England after all! Please come back and do another teaching session here in UK soon. I couldn’t attend the last one.

    1. Victoria that’s sooooo cool that you painted that scene from the window – it’s soooo appealing and I remember thinking at the time how paintable it was. As always, the photo loses so much.

      AndI would LOVE to return to the UK. Hopefully I will do another workshop with the Cornwall School of Art but if you know of anywhere further north or east that would bring in an outside tutor, please let me know!

  7. Loved your story Gail. Your mother was right, you had to share!

    I have a few connection stories of paintings bought at Open Studios – which I absolutely love bc of meeting and talking to people. On my last open studio a family of 4 came to see my work. They looked at my work hanging in the kitchen/dining room and then proceeded to the studio upstairs. When they came down, husband and wife were in deep consultation, a clear sign they were interested in something. I gave them space. The woman went back upstairs and I followed letting her know I was happy to answer questions. She asked about a piece, a watercolor, and told me she was one of 9 siblings, 5 of them living in the UK. She had news that one of her brothers here in the UK had suddenly passed away and that painting spoke to her, it was a painting of 5 koi fish. With tears she bought the painting and I was in awe that something I made meant to much for her

    1. Oh my gosh Angie, thank you soooo much for sharing that story! That’s what our art can do for others!
      A painting can take on a completely different life to a viewer. We paint something for whatever reason and then a person comes along and you have no idea what they are bringing with them to your painting. We must remember that for someone purchasing our work there is a deep pull. They want our artwork because something in it speaks to them. And over the years, it will continue to mean something to them. So important to remember when we come to sell our work!!

  8. Why not. I think it makes sense that it is Stephen. It’s just a continuation of the story, be it natural or by surprise.
    I mean, the whole tone of the story was a surprise.
    It would be a great title for the story.
    Great story Gail. Thanks to your Mum, for convincing you to share this wonderful story. 😁😁😁😁😲

    1. A complete surprise indeed Ed! And I really do believe that is Stephan in the Gallery. And you’re right, it IS a continuation of the story!

      I took the photo before I met him. In the cafe, he was no longer wearing his bag (it may have been on the ground – I didn’t see it though) or a touque. I photographed a number of people in front of artwork. But so far, I’ve only painted from four of those – and this guy with the orange pack was one of them! So crazy!

    1. Thanks Gaye for the “yes” vote on Stephan as the Gallery Goer. And as you say, trust! Trust that inner sense. That also is true of art-making (and sometimes we don’t pay attention as much as would be good for us!).

  9. Well, Gail, I never thought I would be responding to one of your posts about an abstract painting. I haven’t studied the technique and don’t feel qualified to speak about it. But…you posted your amazing personal story, not a discussion on technique, which opened the door to my imagination, inviting me to ponder your encounter with Stephan and the piece he purchased.

    As I read about your day at the Tate and looked at the photos you posted, the first thing that came to my mind is that you must have based your piece ‘There’s One in Every Crowd’ on the photo you had taken of the entrance to the Tate (I noticed right away that the lines of the piece, and even the angle of the lines, echo those of the Tate’s entrance in the photo). Because of your other posts, I know that you often study and photograph the people at galleries and other places as much as you do the paintings/objects. I thought that perhaps your pastel was based on that one ‘stand-out’ person at the Tate that day. Then, I went to your post about how you created that abstract, and it was dated Feb 2019. So, the abstract wasn’t based on your Tate visit. Except…maybe there really WAS a connection, but it happened in ‘dream’ and not ‘linear’ time.

    Here’s my invented take: from your and Stephan’s perspective that day, there truly was ONE in THAT particular crowd – for each of you. And the connection was far more personal than would usually happen. You just had a vision five years earlier about your visit to the Tate and the stand-out connection you were going to make. That’s why, years later, you two would meet, and then he would connect to you and that piece. (I really can’t shake my initial inkling that the lines in your piece really do follow the lines of the Tate entrance photo.)

    Lastly, by sharing your story with the rest of us, you’ve opened the door to a continued ‘spiraling story’ through your readers’ imaginations. The piece belongs to Stephan (as fate demands it should), but the story belongs to you, Stephan, and now, anyone who reads this post. I really enjoy reading anything you decide to share with us. Your Mum was right to suggest you tell the story, and you’re right – you just never know how far the power of connection will go!

    1. Pam! Thank you for this wonderful expansion and deepening of this story. The story really does unfold!! I so apreciate you taking the time and effort to share our thoughts and imagination and perhaps an alternate reality/dream. The grid from the Tate really got me – such connection between this place and this creation of mine. Marvellous!! Thank you so much!!!

  10. … I am 100% sure that the man on the bike and the man in front of the painting are the same person! I know it because I am that person.

    It has truly been a wonderful, unique and exciting experience to find out that our brief encounter has found its way into your blog, that it resonates with so many people and even more so that – unknowingly – I have made it into one of your beautiful paintings – which has been a wonderful surprise. So thank you all for sharing your thoughtful and lovely associations. You have made this day a very very special one for me!

    1. And I’m just FULL of smiles – a grin plastered on my face – to read your response Stephan!!

      And thank you for confirming what sort of seems obvious – that you are indeed the man in the painting.

  11. Gail,
    One of my paintings, “Gator & Butterfly”, (a monarch butterfly perched on the nose of a smiling alligator) was on display in my tent at an art market here in New Orleans. An elderly couple stopped in their tracks when they spied it. It turns out the alligator is his spirit animal and the butterfly is her spirit animal! Of course, a sale was made and it now has a home bringing smiles to a long married couple. I love these types of encounters!
    Marcia Fresh

    1. Ohhhh Marcia, that is the coolest story!!! First you doing a combo of those two creatures together and then the couple each having one of those as their spirit animal. That’s magic isn’t it?! Thank you so much for sharing your special encounter.

  12. Oh, yes! That is definitely Stephan in the gallery. The bag even hangs with the same folds!

    I have several connection stories that really make my heart sing. This is the first one …
    Five years ago I was at a painting retreat in Tasmania with Artable and Richard McKinley (you’re in for a treat with Gillian and Steve, Gail!). We travelled to the Bay of Fires for a painting day and I started painting the fabulous granite rocks while there which I finished later at home.
    Two years later in January I had retired and joined a new art collective with a little gallery where my work is exhibited and sold. ‘Secluded Beach’ was part of my first collection there. In March of that year I returned to Tasmania to stay with a friend I’d met on retreat and on my last day we visited a fabulous bookstore in Hobart and had lunch there.
    A week later a couple came into our gallery where I was volunteering and fell in love with ‘Secluded Beach’. We chatted about my trips to Tasmania and when they had decided they needed to have my painting the gentleman handed me his card. They were the owners of the bookstore where I’d had lunch the week before!

    1. Yes, that bag!!
      Thank you Catherine for sharing your story about connections, timing, and the magic of the universe! It’s a fabulous one! (By the way, I’d love to know the name of the bookstore as I’ll be in Hobart early April!)

  13. PS – I should have said in my story about the Tasmanian couple who bought my painting – I live in South Australia so it was serendipity that I had been to their bookstore in Tassie the week before they were in the Barossa Valley, where I live, buying my painting.

  14. What an amazing story! Obviously you told me yesterday already but I have to read the blog! I will post the link of this blog together with the painting image on our gallery’s website.

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Gail Sibley

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My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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