Earlier this year I had applied to several shows and festivals, and I so was thrilled to find out that I had gotten one of the last spots available to exhibit at the Country Living Spring Fair at Alexandra Palace in London! Having never exhibited at a fair like this before, and only having one month to prepare, I was working like mad to get everything finished on time. I have to say, during the research phase of the process, (there's always a research phase right?!) I didn't find that much information on tips and tricks for setting up, so I thought I'd give you my breakdown of events, in the hopes that any future exhibitors will find this helpful!
My mum, Jai and I all piled in the van and arrived in London on the afternoon of Wednesday 25th April in order to set up for the show. I've been to shows like this before, but never as an exhibitor, so I wasn't sure what to expect, and boy did I underestimate how long it takes to set up at these events!! I had a few ideas on how I wanted my stand to look, and I really wanted to make an impact. Here is your first exhibitors tip, if you want to make a statement, it's going to take a little longer than a couple of hours to get it looking exactly how you dreamt it will! All I can say is, thank god I had some help with me! (Thank you Mum and Jai, you are absolute gems!).
After several attempts at trying to staple the chicken wire to the back of the fireplace, and even more attempts at trying to get the fireplace fixed onto the wall, we were ready to start arranging the flowers. Exhibitors tip number two, when working with chicken wire, always bring gloves! (We did not. It was indeed an error in judgement.) I've been asked a few times where the idea for the fireplace came from, and it definitely wasn't part of my original concept. I knew I wanted to create some sort of floral installation, as I wanted the stand to be in keeping with my work. Originally, I wanted to have flowers hanging down from the ceiling. However, after watching last years Country Living Spring Fair videos, it was clear that none of the stands had ceilings ... so that idea would prove to be a little more difficult. I also didn't want to impose on lighting. It was actually during one brainstorming session in the living room, when I was going through concepts with my mum, and I turned to look at her, and saw our fireplace on the wall. (We usually have a hexagon quilt placed in the middle of the fireplace). That's when I saw it. The magic of having a flower wall within the fireplace itself, and using the mantle to frame my paintings above it. Once I thought of this idea, I had to make it a reality. The vision I had in my head was exactly what transpired onto the stand that day. I was completely over the moon with how it came out!! The chicken wire scratches were definitely worth it!
Once the fireplace was up, I got to work on hanging all the paintings. If you have followed my instagram page, you will know that I have an art wall at home where I hang all my work together. I usually just hang things as and when they are complete and there is no careful curation as to how the pieces are put together. However, when it came to the stand, I was so cautious of things looking immaculate. The spirit level was out, I was starting to plan what painting was going to go where, until I started to have a mini meltdown. When you have 40 or so paintings to fit together in a small space, the meltdown becomes understandable. It was at this point that my mum just said 'Rosie, stop taking it so seriously, and do what comes naturally like when you're at home. Don't over think it.' It was such simple advice, but it was absolutely the right thing to do. Sometimes you just have to follow your gut, and go with what you feel looks best. Exhibitor tip number three, listen. Listen to others, and take the advice and help from people who actually know what they're talking about. But also listen to yourself. Trust your own creative process that it will all come together in the end.
The paintings went up, the cards, notebooks, pocket mirrors and temporary tattoos were added to the collection, and the stand was almost complete. I was so pleased that not only did I have an amazing looking floral fireplace, but my mum had also come across this beautiful pink cherry blossom tree at a shop in Matlock in the days leading up to the fair. I mean, come on, could you have found anything more perfect to display my gift tags on? It just all came together so nicely! I was actually really surprised. Even before we arrived at the venue, we had an idea on what 1.5m x 1.5m would be like in terms of fitting everything into the space. Do not be fooled. Exhibitor tip number four, there is never enough space! We actually looked like the pair of wide eyes emoji when we arrived and saw the tiny empty stand stood before us. True story. You have to work with what you've got, take options, spare furniture, have a play around with what works and what doesn't, because every stand will be different. Luckily, we had bought a few options with us, and we made the space work without being too cramped. Don't forget, you have time in the morning and evening of each show day to amend your stand as you please, so if you do want to make some little changes, anything is possible!
One hundred nails, two hundred staples, lots of blu tak, and six long hours later, and we were ready for business. Well, I say we were ready for business, the stand was ready for business, we were ready for a well deserved sit down and a takeaway in our AirBnB. Exhibitor tip number five, rest, rest, rest. You will not believe the toll it takes on your feet standing up all day. You may feel fresh after the first day or two, but by day four and five, your feet swear they will never forgive you for this.
Despite the crazy events leading up to the show, I could not be more happy with how the next few days turned out. It was such an amazing experience, and one I will never forget for numerous reasons, but that is a story for another post. My last few tips for you newbies like me out there would be, hire a card machine, smiling and saying hello goes a long way (even if it is a bit nerve wracking for you introverts like me), download UberEats or Deliveroo on your phone for when you get back each night, you will not want to go out to eat, be proud of your work and tell people your story, it's not bragging, it's so nice to hear the backstory to what you create, and most importantly, be yourself. I know its something we hear all the time, but be yourself, and don't think to hard, and appreciate each moment. Let that creativity fly. You never know what might happen whilst you're there. Be open to the possibilities and have fun.
This one is for my fellow newbies.