Do SF Engineers “Get” Art? 3 Fish Gallery Owner Weighs In…

As a venture capitalist, I drink a lot of coffee. Cafes host many of my meetings, quick email sessions in-between meetings and, when necessary, a quiet place away from the toddler. My favorite San Francisco shops each have a unique aesthetic style, despite the similarities in how they may approach third wave coffee. Often the art and music is a big component. Ritual on Valencia in the Mission has introduced me to some favorite bands, photographers, illustrators, all by what they choose to play or display. Recently there was an fun collection from 3 Fish Studios that caused me to lovingly stare at giant bears, flaming Godzillas and more, while awaiting my drip.

Folks who read this blog often might remember my attraction to local businesses and their use of technology (having worked in an independent book store as my high school job). I’ve written before about Flour & Co Bakery, Blue Bottle and others, but never spoke with an artist and gallery owner until now. Eric Rewitzer, who co-founded 3 Fish with his wife, was kind enough to share some thoughts. (Their studio is out on the Avenues by Ocean Beach and they mail order worldwide).

Hunter Walk: In recent years has technology had a bigger impact upon the creation of art or the business of art?

Eric Rewitzer, 3Fish: Technology has certainly had an impact on how art is envisioned, made and displayed.  Those that have been in the Bay Area for a while may remember the 1999 Bill Viola show at the SFMOMA.  I went to that show a half dozen times and immersed myself in The Crossing, a video projection of a man engulfed in water on one side of the screen and fire on the other.   It just blew me away – seeing video and projection elevated to high art has informed my world view ever since.  Recently the work of Jim Campbell comes to mind – an artist bringing LED to an art form driven by code – creating a visual that is unique, powerful, and beautiful.

As for how technology impacts my own artwork,  I carve blocks of linoleum with hand tools, and print with a hand-cranked etching press – a process that has been around for hundreds of years. I developed graphic arts software for years prior to my printmaking career, so going back to the fundamentals of printing is something that has motivated me from the start. I love the simplicity of printmaking, and how it does not rely on a computer. That being said, being competent with digital capture, Adobe Creative Suite, color managed workflows, and archival inkjet printers is vitally important for the business

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of my trade.  I am able to utilize all these technologies in-house, and the accessibility and affordability of these solutions has been a big factor in the success of my studio.

HW: Art is such a personal purchase – do people order from your website or is it more a way to drive people into your gallery?

ER: My wife and I have strived to create a studio environment that is open, authentic, and accessible for people who are interested in purchasing original artwork.  While we get a fair amount of sales from our website, the vast majority of our sales is done directly here at our studio. Yes, art is a personal purchase, and it can be made more memorable (and pleasant) with a connection to the person who made it.

HW: You’re not just an artist, you’re a small business owner. What software/services do you use to manage sales, accounting, etc? 

ER: We wanted to drive people directly to our website from the beginning, avoiding sites like Etsy to sell our work, and that has proven to be a successful business model for us. After struggling with some home-grown solutions for e-commerce when we opened, we switched over to Shopify a few years back and have been benefitting from that decision ever since. Shopify handles all of our online sales – domestic and international – as well as our growing wholesale business.

We also benefitted by being an early adopter of Square for our in-store credit card processing. Early on their low cost of service really was a game changer for small businesses like ours, and as their products and services have grown, we have adopted most of those offerings, too.

As for accounting and bookkeeping, I leave all of that in the capable hands of my CPA.   If I had to crunch the numbers every day, I’d never get any artwork done.

HW: Have any apps, social media tools or other products been especially helpful in sharing your work? I’m thinking Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc?

ER: We’ve had a Facebook page for 3 Fish Studios for about seven years, but when they switched over to the sponsored ad framework a few years back we had to find a more affordable way to communicate with our growing list of followers.  Twitter did not seem to be a good fit because I simply didn’t have the time to devote to multiple interactions each day. Instagram has proven to be our go-to social-media tool as of late, and that makes sense as our work is so visual, and all of our “fans” see everything we post. Surprisingly, it seems the most effective way to reach people interested in our work is through good old fashioned email newsletters – we have thousands of subscribers and our click rates are pretty great.

HW: I encountered your art in Ritual Coffee here in SF, one of the coffee shops beloved by engineers and designers. Have you seen an increased interest in art from people who work in the tech industry?

ER: Yes, I have seen the tech community support many of my fellow artists over the last few years. In general I think the tech industry has a deep appreciation for things done well, and that translates into a natural curiosity for how things are made.  I think authentic connections with the local arts community is an extension of this.

Having been in the tech industry myself for 15 years before starting 3 Fish Studios, I have a pretty good understanding of what it is to be in front of a computer all day. The manual nature of the work I do is what drove me to it, and it has proven to be very interesting for others whose handiwork is mostly done at a keyboard.  As a result, I have an easy rapport with the tech community, and really enjoy explaining my process to them.  Their curiosity and my enthusiasm for what I do are a good match.

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