Hibernation!

It’s January, the snow is thick on the ground and the studio is rather chilly but it has been so good to have a month where I don’t have masses of commitments and can take stock a bit.

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I started to run an evening class at Number Six in Pateley Bridge but, with only four students coming to the first session, we decided (with NYCC Adult Learning Services permission) to run the remainder of the course as three fortnightly 6 hour workshops. The course looks like it will soon be full and I have my Monday nights back without the prospect of having to drive over the moors in snow and ice every week so we’re all winners there! I taught a monotype workshop to the Northallerton Art Club last weekend and that was very enjoyable with seven creative people making some beautiful prints using direct drawn,  reductive & collage methods. Now I have the rest of the month and much of February free to make some new prints for my exhibitions in March, to work on my bookmaking for Joan Newall’s course and to slowly develop some of my ideas started in Sweden.

I was lucky enough to run into Heather and David Cook, both painter/printmakers, in Malham the other day and they kindly showed me some of their latest work and David discussed his brilliant exposure unit that he has made to make his Imagon plates. I’m hoping to make something similar so that I can continue my photopolymer experiments. So there are lots of plans afoot. The only problem is that it is winter! I actually quite like this time of year especially when we have sharp frosts or snow. As a fellrunner, I like nothing more than running through virgin snow and marvelling at the purity of the landscape but the downside is that during the rest of the time, I seem to slow right down!

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I always look forward to January and February and the chance to work on some new projects and I imagine how much I’ll get achieved and how I’ll spend everyday making lots of exciting new things but the reality is that during the darkness hours, I’m sleepy and just feel like curling up with a book, some poetry or a good film. I’ve got a lovely stack of books to work through including two from Robert MacFarlane (The Old Ways & Mountains of the Mind), ‘Man with a Blue Scarf’ which is Martin Gayford’s diary of sitting for Lucien Freud, Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr, The Snow Tourist by Charlie English and I’m just part way through ‘If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things’. Added to that is regular dipping into the poetry of Kathleen Jamie and Norman MacCaig and random admiration of the prints in Carry Ackroyd’s ‘Nature Powers and Spells’ and you can see that I have plenty to keep me occupied!

Despite slowing down, I am still working on a new collagraph, taking a fox, the snow and the birch forests as inspiration, which will be for my exhibition ‘Telling Tales’ with Jane Littlefield at Rural Arts in March. I’ll be making a couple new bird prints too. I’m so used to working every hour available that it feels a bit lazy not to! I read in a fellow artist’s blog that she felt that when she made the shift to being a full-time artist, she was suddenly doing something that she had crammed into her spare time all of the time and she found it hard to know what to do with her leisure time. I feel like that. Art is what I do and I rarely switch off from it because I love it and everything around me is part of it. I am also totally self-supported so I have a strong drive to use all my available time to create the work that will keep me clothed, housed and fed!

However, I have decided to stop worrying about not burning the candle at both ends and enjoy this chance to recharge and take stock before the frenetic activity that will no doubt ensue in the coming months. I’m dividing my weeks into days for working on my prints from Sweden and researching what I need to get started with my photopolymer printing and make my exposure unit, days to make some new collagraphs for my exhibitions in March and the rest of the time to get somewhere with my bookmaking and do my admin. Joan taught us how to make lined boxes with lids in our last class and it has given me an idea for this year’s final project. The photo shows my box covered in my handmade paper. Our theme this year is ‘worn surfaces’ and I’m using ‘A Tale’ by Edward Thomas as my starting point. More on that in another post.

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January also brings the dreaded tax return! Self-assessment online makes it a bit easier but the whole process is one that I don’t relish. I try and make it slightly more interesting by totting up which galleries have sold the most prints over the year and which prints have sold the best for me. This has the added benefit of reminding me which galleries I need to keep a special eye on. The ones that sell the best obviously need to have their stocks replenished regularly and sometimes if the managers are too busy to send out requests, the onus is on me to offer to deliver more work. The ones that aren’t selling need a phone call to find out if the prints are still on display and if anything needs returning or swapped.

In 2011/12, Cambridge Contemporary Art was my top selling gallery, hotly followed by The Gallery in Masham (Josie has been selling my prints consistently for 19 years and is invariably one of my best selling galleries!), then ArtsBank at Saltburn. All three galleries have a few things in common that I think make them not only successful, but a pleasure to work with. Firstly, I always know I will be paid for the prints that I’ve sold on or around a certain date of the following month, the paperwork is always thorough and I trust the people that I am dealing with. The gallery owners have very proactive publicity campaigns and are constantly updating their websites, sending out newsletters and using social media to promote exhibitions and their artists. I also get regular emails or phone calls to let me know if customers are interested in prints that are not currently in the galleries, to order more work from me and to offer me exhibiting opportunities. In return, I try really hard to promote the galleries when they put on exhibitions of my prints, always send detailed and clear paperwork with my deliveries and try and deliver any orders as soon as I can. The relationship is like any successful partnership, it requires trust and plenty of attention on both sides.

My list of gallery sales also shows me where some of the outlets aren’t performing very well and then I can decide what to do about it. This could be for all sorts of good reasons but ultimately, every print that sits unsold is a potential sale elsewhere and at one gallery, five of the unsold prints were the last in the editions so I was pretty keen to get them back and into one of my more successful outlets. It is quite hard when you sell your work across the UK because keeping an eye on it can be tricky and when I’m busy, I’m not always very good at keeping on top of this kind of thing so now is the time for doing any chasing up that needs doing. Some of the galleries only sell a handful of prints each year but so long as there are a few sales and I have a good relationship with the owner, I am happy to have my prints there. You never know who might see them and it is better to have them on a gallery wall than sat at home in my studio.

My top selling prints for 2011/12 were The Return (only one left):

The Return

A Flight of Swallows (still available):

a flight of swallows

and in joint third, Rookery (which has sold out):

Rookery

and The Woodcat (still some available):

The Woodcat

So its a quiet time for me but a good one. I’m running most days to keep SAD at bay, keep me inspired and to enliven me for the time spent in my studio and I’m going to make the most of getting plenty of sleep and time to think before I’m back to busy times of eating on the move and midnight printing!

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