It is just over three weeks since I took part in the Big Art Fair at Hitchin Town Hall so I have had plenty of time to reflect. This event was a first for me - not only my first art fair, but the first time offering my work for sale, face to face with the general public. When we take such big leaps in our art we also make big leaps in our learning. It was a wonderful experience and a huge learning curve. 

I have finally taken the time to get a few thoughts together to share, as hearing the experiences of those who had done art fairs before me was so useful when it came to preparation for my first fair.

I had a bit of a panic just before I set off as a friend texted me to say that no spaces were allocated, so you had to choose your own when you arrived. I initially felt a sense of panic, wondered if I should ask her to try and reserve me a spot, but then let go and trusted that the right space would waiting. It was. About three quarters of the places were taken when I got there, but I found an excellent space and LOVED my spot for so many reasons. Thank you, Universe! 

Firstly, the space was located close to the entrance, so I was able to see people as they entered the building. This gave me a really clear idea of the flow of visitors throughout the entire weekend. As my stand was on an outer wall rather than in one of the room-like sections, it meant that it did not feel crowded during set-up and take-down and offered people the opportunity to stand back and look at my work free from distractions. Also, my stand was diagonally opposite Gill Ayres, the artist whose work and curation really stood out to me the previous year when I visited. Visiting the fair the previous year and noticing this made an enormous difference when it came to considering my own display.

We had just 3 hours allocated to hang our 2 x 2-metre space. I had never hung an art fair before, had borrowed my ex-husband's ENORMOUS drill and had a few moments when I was literally shaking. Everyone seemed to have an extra pair of hands and I had also decided on a very precise layout which involved a 3 x 3 grid of paintings and maths is not my strong point, but I held it together, took a moment to breathe, then thought to myself, I AM NOT ALONE… and thought of all of the lovely artists in the online group I am a member of and the artists from our supportive local network. I remembered how we all have each other’s backs and I got on and got through it, one painting at a time, using the small screwdriver I had with me, rather than the giant drill! My fabulous sculptor friend Paula was also on hand and I was super grateful when she stepped in to help me getting the last few bits hung. 

When I worked in the field of Outsider Art, I felt an enormous sense of connection. I had not truly felt that in years… until Art Fair weekend. When I walked into our opening night, I knew three people. By the time I left on Sunday, I felt I had made lots of new friends. Artists really helped each other out in so many ways… encouragement, advice, support, it was really moving! In-person connection is so important for me and I felt it in bucketloads. On three or four separate occasions, having conversations with visitors and exhibitors, I had tears in my eyes… so did the people I was talking to and I can feel myself welling up again writing this. Art has this power!

As far as sales go, I sold two paintings - a small 15 x 15 to someone I know from social media, but had not met in person until the event and a bigger 30 x 30 piece. I also sold a print and several greetings cards. The woman who bought the print said she had a significant Birthday coming up and had decided that she wanted a piece of art. We had a wonderful, connected conversation and she loved a couple of pieces. After looking around the rest of the fair, she came back with a print in hand, saying, “this will remind me”. I do hope it will and of course, I would be delighted if she chose one of my works as her Birthday gift, but either way, it always feels good chatting with someone who really connects with your art.

What did I learn? Plenty! Most of this is also advice to myself… reminders for next time I am working towards an event.

It’s never too early to start planning ahead.
Whilst I started framing a couple of months in advance, this gave me a false sense of security and I was still framing (even though they were spares) the morning of the show.

Social media works.
The lady who bought my small piece had followed the story of my Sussex sketches on Instagram and Facebook so already felt connected to the piece before she arrived. Many people who came along did so after seeing posts on Instagram and Facebook. Share far and wide!

Invite everyone!

I shared the event widely on social media and also handed out flyers to some of the folks in my office. I didn’t share with the two gents who lived a long way away, but both commented on Monday morning that they hadn’t known about the event with one saying that he would have loved to have come and supported me - even though it would have been a 2+ hour drive! Several friends also made the 45-minute drive out to visit which truly took me by surprise. Others sent kind wishes and I have already started mentioning to all those who couldn’t come but expressed an interest that they can visit my Open Studios in September.

Get organised with a way to collect emails. 
I printed out sign up slips for people to put in a little box, but there was nowhere to put the box and it just felt too awkward handing people a piece of paper to fill in, so I think I will follow the suggestion someone gave me to bring a clipboard next time. This could be a friendly and informal way to invite people to sign up, making it as easy for them as possible.

People won’t always respond to the work you think they will.
Whilst you might love a certain piece of work, it won’t necessarily be the one to move others. The piece I almost left behind as I wasn’t sure it fitted, was the piece the most people commented on and one of those that sold. The piece I didn’t want to sell as I love it more than all the others, only one person (a potter also exhibiting) noticed and commented on.

It's not just about the art you're selling.
People are also looking for experiences. I had one person approach me for mentoring and others enquired about workshops and classes. I also learned of lots of opportunities. I found out about a gallery that charges no exhibition fees and takes 25% commission when the gentleman in charge of the gallery approached me and of studio opportunities from another exhibiting artist. The opportunities for conversation and connection are gold!

Book in some down time after a big event. 
When I got home from the show on Sunday evening, I was exhausted. So tired in fact, that when I parked outside my house and turned off the ignition, I fell asleep at the wheel and woke up still in the drivers’ seat 45 mins later! For a few days afterwards (at least!) the house was chaos, I could feel a cold coming on and I was working my usual schedule. Mistake!

You can do it!
Considering I had no finished when I decided one year ago at the very same event that I wanted to exhibit, I feel proud of myself for completing what I feel was a strong body of work, getting it framed, prepared and hung around 3 x part-time jobs and 2 kids. If I can do this, so can anyone!

Lastly, a HUGE THANK YOU to the organisers of Herts Visual Arts who put so much time and energy into making this event a success. 

If you would like an opportunity to connect and see my art in person in my home, I will be taking part in Herts Visual Arts Open Studios during the last three weekends of September. Pop the date in your diary and come along. We have a wonderful, walkable art trail in the local area.