I made this: Aine Donovan on bringing art to the people

Brand began life as a blog but has evolved into a store

I made this: Aine Donovan on bringing art to the people

I love art that’s huge and so overwhelmingly in your face that you can’t avoid it. I must be a very brash person. I’m drawn to big, shiny sculptures – in fact, I love any sculpture because it’s so physically there. Print is a little bit quieter sometimes because it’s on a wall.

I worked at Time Out at the beginning of my career, but eventually I went over to the dark side to work across art buying in advertising. About five years ago, I started to get frustrated (in the way that people who work in advertising do), because I was working with all these amazing artists commercially, but I couldn’t really filter their work [through to] anywhere – it would only ultimately be poster campaigns or print ads.

They Made This started its life as a blog. I had all those people at my disposal, and I knew a lot of photographers who would join me on studio visits to get these amazing portraits. 

Sometimes people create a blog and no-one reads it, but I was getting emails saying, “I really want to buy that print that you were talking about in your interview”, and I realised I could do something there. 

The shop actually sprang up secondarily to the blog. The art world is really expensive, and I was bored of people charging five grand for a piece of illustration. I wanted it to be very accessible and realised that was where I needed to sit. I wanted my sisters to be able to buy art and feel cool about it. I started to chat to some of the illustrators about doing limited-edition prints, and so our Brighton shop was born.

Hilariously, the shop is so much bigger than the blog today. I have staff now, so I’ve had to become a bit more business-minded in the past few years. I have a responsibility to them for the shop to succeed, and in order for it to succeed, people have to buy prints. That plays
on my mind a bit.

Physical shops are the beating heart of They Made This. People very rarely walk past without walking in – they might not buy something, but they’ll come in and look around, and even that is quite a nice experience. It’s so satisfying to see someone walk away with a signed print they never would have encountered otherwise. 

They Made This will be opening a pop-up shop in Covent Garden this month.

Aine Donovan is head of art buying and partner at Bartle Bogle Hegarty London

As told to Emmét McGonagle