International Spring Fair Debut

Issue 21

So often I hear people tell me they envy my ‘idyllic' life. The image most people have of an artist wafting a paintbrush, waiting for the muse to settle couldn't be further from the truth at the moment!

We are only just getting through despatching the orders for prints and cards etc. which came in from the first ever Mary Ann Rogers stand at the International Spring Fair at Birmingham NEC, 5-9 February. The International Spring Fair is the biggest trade fair of its type in the UK, attracting buyers from shops, galleries, department stores, garden centres, online stores, overseas shops etc. After just a few days off in between Christmas and the New Year, the plans for our first ever Spring Fair continued, with the final design tweaks of the trade catalogue and order forms, also decisions about the colour to paint the stand, the flooring, the lighting, how best to display the prints and cards, and all the fiddly details that keep me awake, along with the anxiety about whether the weather would turn wintry in February and ruin everything!

The decision to take a stand at the biggest trade fair in the UK, with it’s 20 halls, each larger than football pitches, with thousands of buyers from all over the UK as well as overseas, was made in spring 2016, when the Fine Art Distributors who sold my work for 20 years ceased trading. Until 2016 they represented me at the Spring Fair, and over the years did a wonderful job, ensuring my prints and cards were seen from one end of the country to the other in galleries and frame shops. A testimony their success is the fact that over the years I have been voted ‘Best newcomer’ ‘Best-selling self-published artist’ ‘Best-selling female artist’ and in 2009 ‘Best-selling published artist’ by the Fine Art Trade Guild. All of this without me ever setting foot outside my own studio!

Despite several offers from some of the better known fine art publishing houses, I took the decision to manage the trade side of the business in-house. Contracts with publishers vary, but on the whole, their aim is to make as much money out of an artist as possible, then, when sales drop or fashions change, move on to fresh artists. This does not necessarily mean the end of a career, but I have always taken the long view, and intend to have a sustained career as an artist for as many years as I am able to paint. Being independent means I can continue to allow the passion for the subject matter drive the work, rather than being influenced by current trends or pressure from outside.

2016 was the year of research. I visited Harrogate Home & Gift Fair in July, and the Autumn Fair at the NEC. I also consulted some of my more experienced card publisher friends for as much advice and information about taking part in the Spring Fair as possible, and am very grateful to the very successful and generous Alex Clarke for all her help. I also used various trade catalogues and pricelists for refence when designing my own.

With the weather in mind, I took the decision to drive my own 4×4 Hilux and trailer rather than hire a van, as I would manage better in the Hilux if it was snowy. Kate Buckingham came along to help, we have done other art fairs together in the past, and work extremely well as a team.

The 5am set off seemed ridiculously early, but after a clear run, we arrived at the NEC at 11ish, unloaded, then worked like demons until 10pm to get it ready for a 9am opening the next day, then into Birmingham on the train and found the canal on Gas Street and the narrowboat I had been loaned for the week.

Staying on a narrowboat seemed like a great idea, I am used to their quirks and challenges, but I wouldn’t advise it for a February trade fair, when space for hanging clothes, mains electricity, hot water and central heating should be prerequisite! Twice we managed to trip the electricity, and one evening I forgot the key to the security gate and had a tricky climb over the high gate & railings into the yard to fetch the key from the boat.

All in all, the Spring Fair was extremely worthwhile. Lots of orders, lots of new buyers. So… the show is booked again for 2018, but I shall be booking a city centre apartment in good time this year!

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