Ocki Magill studied at Central St Martins before becoming a designer/art director in fashion, music, advertising and branding.
She has always lived with and been surrounded by artists, introducing them into campaigns with large brands whilst an AD. This became her passion and main focus early on in her career.
In 2016, Ocki converted an old shop in Camberwell into her home and gallery space, and, after naming the building, Blue Shop Cottage was born: a gallery with artists at its very centre.
Blue Shop Cottage is a gallery and events space for selling original artwork by emerging artists that hosts creative learning through talks, events, and workshops. It’s founded by designer and entrepreneur Ocki Magill, who we speak to this week about her career journey and business idea. Ocki turned her home in South London into an art space because she felt her mission was to help her local community grow through being a platform for local creative talent. With that, she opened Blue Shop Cottage, its mantra? ‘Help artists grow’. Since opening, Ocki has curated a number of highly successful exhibitions and shows, she tells us how she does it in this week’s round-up.
On the business goals Our tagline is to help artists grow. So everything we do here kind of comes back to that It’s our mantra. If there’s something that we can do to support an artist, whether that’s selling their work, whether that’s helping them with creative content, even just having a chat, like having a beer one evening, all those things fit under that line of help artists grow.
On nurturing creative talent Art is an extension of yourself. Many artists we work with are young in that they are emerging and are often fresh out of university. They’re vulnerable and they need to be supported.
But unfortunately, the old art world way was not supporting these younger artists. And I thought that was a great way for me with my upbringing having grown-up around artists, having lived with artists, most of my life, I thought, right, this is going to be how I build a business that I believe in from like from my soul. Also, artists are a gallery’s currency. Let’s face it. So if you don’t look after the thing that you rely on to do the work you’re doing, then, you know, what are you doing?
On collaboration I run a business that I believe in. And people love working with us. And the art we sell, the people we work with are all wonderful, hardworking people that we collaborate with. I love it.
On listening to your audience It’s important to kind of spread that net wider and talk to people who are mid-career and even to talk to established artists and be like, you know, what can people do? What can we do differently? How can we support you, and that data that we get, and data is, is an awful word, and you’re dealing with artists, but data is good for business people because you can use it, it’s information and that information then feeds back into the core of what we’re doing.
Because we really believe in people, we believe in artists being a part of the fabric of culture, and our future as well. When we look back at the design, the design, and homes, the design of buildings, the stories, the documentaries that we all watch, at the heart of a lot of these things of the music scene of the fashion scene, you have artists and that is the niche area that I decided Mother.
On being creative Growing up, I was creative, and I love painting, and I love etching and I loved all of that but I also wanted to run my own business. But, you know, at that age, you know, 18, you just think well, hang on, do I want to be a painter do I want to be designer? Or work in this, or that, it’s dizzying. I was lucky enough to try a few things and work in a few industries before I landed where I did land.
On the importance of mentors It’s so important to emphasize how game-changing it is to have that mentor or mentors and the people who can help you see the wood for the trees, we can’t see that ourselves so it can be quite difficult to understand where we might be in the world, or all of the different options there might be – So to have these people that are further ahead from you to be able to understand and help you understand what your unique skill sets are, and also where they fit in the overall landscape is absolutely vital to success I feel.
Mentors are essential, It was so important to me which is why essentially I’ve dedicated my life to mentoring and supporting others. It’s my purpose.
On finding Blue Shop Cottage, and the pieces of the puzzle coming together I found this old shop in Camberwell. And I thought, Oh, my God, it’s charming. It’s blue. It’s got an awning, like, I’m going to live here. Everyone I knew said Ocki, come on, you can’t live in a shop! But I did it anyway. I had this idea that I could have the front space as an exhibition and event space, doing my own shows and selling work but also hiring out space to local people who might want to use it. Then in the back, I have my office, where I support and mentor artists and creatives and do all my client-based design work, finally behind that is my art-filled home.
It taking time to find the right model I’ve always been seeking that alignment of a great creative idea, that is also married with what I am good at and am passionate about. I also love the flexibility and driving things in lots of interesting directions so I learned all of that on my journey. All of those things are built into the Blue Shop Cottage model.
The ten-year rule Many people have said to me, in the creative industries at least it takes about ten years to get to that space where it clicks. So don’t be daunted by that and start trying things out sooner rather than later. It won’t be an overnight thing, and you don’t want it to be! The important thing is hitting your stride, and not burning out in the process. Burnout is to be avoided at all costs.
On following the family footsteps My dad is has been an entrepreneur all his life since he left uni he’s never had a job. And I think all my siblings and I like that that was just the norm for us. And his sister runs a Montessori School, his other sister had her own business and his brother. So all that those laws, we all grew up in around a field at home. It sounds adorable. But that was just normal. we all wanted to be entrepreneurs. I would sell earrings at school hoodies at school, I was always bringing out my new t-shirt collection, which were hideous. But you know, I was always selling something – But then, then there was also the fact that I had this creative brain.
When I was younger, people would say, Oh, no, you’re ‘arty’ can’t do business. And there was this annoying sort of shadow over me where I wanted to do entrepreneurial things and have my own business. But I was constantly told I didn’t have the brain for business. It’s actually very harmful.
I think I’ve been facing that, that sort of stereotype my whole life a bit. But again, it’s probably worked out well, because I’ve been sort of so aggressively fighting that, it’s made me competitive and super driven – I think it’s now sort of paying off.
On being anti-scale and pro-organic growth In business, it feels like people constantly want to scale up really quickly. And then sell their business for millions and fly off on a yacht. But it’s never looked that way. For me, I’ve always wanted to grow something slowly, and grow it so that it’s sort of organic and natural, and so that I can have a lifetime of, of pleasurable work. The people that I admire, or the people that are still doing what they do, you know, 50 years later, 60 years, and enjoying it are the people I want to be. There will always be someone at a dinner party telling me to scale and sell and do this or that. But in my heart of hearts I know I am confident and happy with the direction of my business, and I hold on to that.
We do want to scale-up in the sense that we want to help more artists grow, as many as we can!. but that not scalability in a stereotypical business sense, because that’s a goal to further serve the community.
On Community The community aspect is something that I kind of never really imagined being so nurturing both of me as an individual, but also of others. We live in a digital world, now, we’ve been in lockdown for a year, community and connection have never been more important. To be able to build a business that really does give people a community really does give people connection is so important, creating a space where people want to be, where they are happy having a little drink and talking about their sculpture with another person, I see those things happen, I see people building friendships, whether it’s someone quite nervous turning up on their own to a workshop, or a group of artists kind of nervously walking into a private view. And, you know, artists, creative people, people were vulnerable, we’re all looking for connection.
On learning to delegate I fundamentally believe that you have to, like, do it yourself, and then delegate. So in a phase of going from doing it all myself to delegating which is a growing pain, because I am so used to doing it all myself, but I know in order to do that organically scaling and support more artists I need that support in the day-to-day. But doing it yourself, as a startup is is the best way. Financially, it’s the best way but later on, down the line, you will have a very clear understanding of what you need.
On keeping it fun I’ve gone from the DIY to the delegation phase. I’m learning every single day. And that that is, you know, the joy of it. It can be frustrating with running your own business, and it’s certainly not for everyone, it comes with the wild benefits, but also that you know, that it’s, it’s full-on. The most important thing is to find joy, remember why you are doing it, and keep it fun.
On the marriage of creativity and business I think in the creative world, there’s always this tension between business undermining creativity, I’m going to sell out, I’m going to be seen as being a little bit grubby. I shouldn’t listen to anything that’s coming in any information that’s coming into me from a business angle. But that’s old-fashioned and feels outdated now.
On keeping your integrity as an artist With art, you can get into a dangerous spot where if you listen to data. So let’s say you make a painting, you make one painting of Tiger, and that sells really well, as a gallery. Most galleries will say, paint tigers, they sell well. My feeling is don’t listen to that. And actually, we believe in you as an artist as an individual. And if you want to go off and paint castles, okay, they might not sell as well, because people prefer tigers. But we will support you nonetheless. Because we believe that the longevity of artists, artists who have stood the test of time, have not listened to data, their career, albeit sort of wiggling through a sort of rising in their commercial success. That is what stood the test of time, it’s very dangerous for an artist to start churning out things that just sell
You have to kind of go with that artistic integrity because, at the end of the day, art is not, it’s not fast food, it’s not cars, art is this complex fiber of culture. And if you try and push it too hard into a commercial direction, you will lose people’s interest. And so one of the things that I find most interesting, but also most difficult, I suppose, is treading that line on the balance of commerce, but also artistic integrity.
On being sales-ready as an artist If you’re an artist I would definitely need to have an artist statement and an artist bio. And that’s just a paragraph, you also need really clear images of your work and that is in my mind fundamental. So clear images, a clear bio, and a couple of great headshots are what you are aiming for at a minimum I would say.
You can spend a day listening to the sounds that inspire Blue Shop Cottage on their Spotify list here
Want to hear more? Why not check out the full conversation on our Soundcloud, to see our current event series do book here