Sunday, 13 April 2014

The ups and downs of pop-up!

So, it's done. The RHS London show has come and gone and we are all left feeling rather full with a good mixture of inspiration and awe and are probably budding to get cracking on with our next pieces. A good friend of mine Alena said that she was really eager to get painting after seeing all the marvellous work which is nice, as all too often I see how incredibly well executed work can have an opposite effect and make the task seem all the more daunting. It's all about little steps though isn't it?  I always like to think about trees... they start small and take so long to grow. Little narrow rings that build up slowly into something beautiful, fertile and useful. For me, a painting and the journey is like being a tree.

Odette the Orchid - after two days of demonstration work, just the washes in, but not bad considering!

So yes, I after this weekend I had a good think about what I could write about that would be informative for all of you lovely people. Something that you might not have got from the weekend or from Katherine's amazingly informative blog (another post can be found here)... So yes, a top tip that could actually be rather useful somewhere down the line. This year the RHS decided to have a live painting session at the back of the hall and I was lucky enough to have been invited to take part. So, after weeks of preparation and two days of painting in front of you lovely folk I have decided that the art of creating a pop-up studio is really something worth embracing and developing.  So here it is - "the ups and downs of pop-up!"

This photo was taken by Alena - thanks for sharing your pics Alena - brilliant.
Up #1:

If you are demonstrating to a large audience think about the access. I decided to paint on an easel, not only because I am a vertical painter, but because I thought it would be nice for the visitors. They would be able to stand behind me, feel that they weren't intruding and watch from a distance. By being at the edge of my table I hoped to create a space so that people could gather around and not block each others views. 

I think a table can also work well. If you are a flat worker, maybe position yourself at the table end so the same effect can be achieved. I heard that cafe Nero never place their coffee machines between the customer and the barista and always put them at the back of the shop so that the customer can see what they are doing and feel part of the coffee making process. It also means - more importantly - that the machine is not acting as a barrier. Try not to put barriers up between you and the visitors - such as sitting behind the table.

I even put a chair next to me so people felt that they could sit and watch. Later on in the day I even had Christabel King sitting in the chair - who would have thought it?!
Up #2:

Paint something bright - it catches people's eyes - and maybe paint with the theme of the show. This RHS show was an orchid show, and (this was actually Henry's idea) so I painted an orchid. That seemed to be appreciated by RHS members. I also scaled it up, not only because I like painting big, but so that they could see the work from a distance.

Down #1: 

Pack a flask and some milk. On the first day I forgot my flask and ended up spending all the money I made on postcards on tea. Rather silly really, although I suppose the money went towards the RHS, so I guess it's not too bad. 

Up #3:

I reckon about 5-10% of the visitors will take a business card at similar events. I was told that 3000-4000 people came to last years show and about 200 of my business cards were taken over the two days.

Down #2: 

Bring a sturdy easel to display your work. I had stupid easels that would not behave and needed to be stuck down onto the floor using masking tape. Still, that seemed to do the job.

Up #4: 

Buy a card machine. This was incredibly useful for selling prints as there was no ATM nearby. I looked into hiring a machine, but the cost of that was the same as buying one, so in the end I pushed the boat out and got my own Paypal Machine that works on bluetooth. Clever stuff indeedy!

Up and down:

Bring a table cloth. I am so glad I brought mine (which I borrowed from Kew - thanks Kew!), as the RHS had covered their tables with hessian. This produced a nice rustic effect, but the amount of fibres that came off of it and into my paint was rather annoying and would have been worse if I didn't bring that white cotton cloth.

Up if you are you, down if you are Henry and have worked 12 days straight:

If you are going to be busy and you have been asked to demonstrate, see if you can get a friend to help you with sales. It was marvellous having Henry on board as it meant I could just get on with the work. Having Henry help was especially super because he knew me very well and so he felt comfortable answering people's questions about me. He is also a natural sales person. God bless him.

Up #5:

Smile - that's hard when you are trying to paint with some of the world's best artists and most informed botanists staring at you, but it can be done and it somehow helps with your own confidence. Fool yourself, go on... it's worth it trust me.

Down #3:

Bring brandy. I should have done this for Friday and if I did it again I would bring a little sippette of brandy for the nerves.

Down #4:

Print everything well in advance. I got my designer step-dad Andrew at Browse Digital on the case of business and post cards very early on, which was lucky as the printer he sent them to made a boo-boo and printed my logos upside down on a couple of the designs. So another piece of advice is to check everything is correct as soon as you get it and to not do what I did and not look properly and discover the error with 4 days to go. The proofs were fine, but the printing wasn't - never assume it's all ola kala.

Up #6

Bring a clip board with all your information on it. I did this for Henry so that he had information on things like postal costs for each print, paper types and the length of time it takes to do a painting.

Down #5: 

Wrap your prints up with plenty of time to go. I had a slight falling out with Atlantis because the card I needed for the Coffee prints was a complete disaster from the beginning - from being out of stock, miss delivered, lost in the system to finally, the day before the show - the wrong size. Argh! So yes - give yourself time and try not to get ill like I did. That also helps!

Ending on a positive 'up' #7

Just enjoy it. It's a lot of work, but completely worth it. It's a very humbling experience. I was very aware all weekend that I am not at the standard of the artists on the other side of the hedge/hall (yet), but it was still so lovely to show people what the journey is like and that we all have to start off from somewhere and that practice makes perfect.

With thanks to:
  • My mum who taught me everything I know
  • My step dad Andrew who designed my website, my cards and my postcards
  • My dad who came up to London despite having a deep rooted phobia of the place and helped set up.
  • My beloved Henry who has been a massive emotional support as well as an epic salesman and tea-fetcher
  • My best pal Nick the super-dooper photographer
  • My fine art prints printer, Andrew Turnball, for his amazing attention to detail
  • My old science teacher who inspired me to pursue a career in Botany - Chris Watson, who also came
  • Sarah, the closest thing I have to a sister who bravely travelled all the way up to see me despite being on crutches
  • My fairy God Mother, Sue Freed, who taught me everything about retail
  • Henry's amazing family who all came to London - thanks Barbara, John, Morag, Wid, Sheila, Duncan & Cat!
  • My incredible friends Severina, Sasha, Tasha, Tam, Alex, Tim, Nikki and Dave who all came to join in with the fun
  • Julia and Lynn from Kew who emailed everyone about the event and came along to watch.
  • The other pop-up artists, including Julia who kindly pointed out my skirt was tucked in my knickers!
  • The medallists on the other side of the hedge who are an inspiration to us all
  • And all you lovely readers for all of your encouragement.
I feel so blessed to be surrounded by so many kind, generous, supportive people.


  1. What a lovely post Jess.
    Very helpful to one and all, no matter what their level of ability.
    Love the photo of you working - thanks for all the tips you gave.
    I think being organised is so key to the level of satisfaction you get back - it's difficult enough being in such a situation without the little things spoiling it.
    I agree with Alena, am always inspired by great work - and wish I had been there to see it - would have bought the flask for you!
    Everyone needs a Henry for sure - team effort but led capably by your very talented self.
    So proud of you - mucho hugs from Down Under ... xxx

    1. Aww thank you Vicki - such lovely words as always! It must be frustrating for you feeling so far away and I hope that the technology has helped to bring bits of the RHS to you. Henry is meeting up with my photographer today so I hope to post some more pictures later on. Some people took videos, but not sure where they are...

      Anyway - if you ever get asked to do this I think that firstly you would be awesome (as would Tod!) and that you would never make the same slip ups as moi. :)

      Thanks for your support and encouragement, it means so much.

  2. This is a great blog Jessica, you make such good and well thought out points! I am very proud of you!
    I think the RHS chosen very well, there were variety of artists using different media and different styles. You fitted in very well and I noticed you were very popular with the public! Congratulations on a job well done! Go Jess!!

    1. I thought the RHS did a great job. Both Sophie and Helen, the exhibition coordinators, gave us all the information we needed well in advance, from Wifi log ins and parking info to set up times and how to tweet/blog about it. They were super and there was such a lovely bunch of artists there. I loved the printing demonstrations and the hearty work by Liv Healey.

      Thanks for coming and for your photographs, it was lovely to catch up, if only briefly!

  3. Wonderful tips, and great start to your painting! Well done Jess... it won't be long 'til you're on the other side of that hedge!

    1. Thanks Shevaun. Haha! That hedge became such point of humour over the two days... Sadly, some people didn't realise we were on the other side of the hedge and arrived towards the end of the day rather gutted that they had missed out on the demonstrations. But I rather liked the hedge and all the trees, it made the hall rather magical. So yes, the aim is now to get on the other side of the hedge :)

  4. Brilliant post Jess! I think you were very organised and very lucky to have a Henry too.

    1. Thanks mum. I was lucky to have everyone that I had really... I am going to do a shout out actually - you have inspired me. xxx

  5. Fantastic blog Jess - well done for the show and getting through it all after being poorly beforehand. Hope you've got space for some R&R now.

    1. Thanks Terri! Glad you like the post. Not much rest, just a little bit yesterday where I forced myself to be idle (easier said than done). The sun really does help though doesn't it? I am a bit of a lizard - I love sitting in the sun. It's at times like this I wish I was a cat.

  6. Great post Jess! Super story teller too!!! Thanks for sharing all the tit bits! M x

    1. Oh thanks Mary! So glad you liked the post and felt the story. I so love telling a story - something in the family I suppose. My great grandad used to tell this brilliant tale about the worlds biggest tea leaf. I seem to remember at one point the tea leaf became recognised internationally for it's size and it eventually was brought to the attention of the queen who naturally wanted to see it. So they shipped it all the way over to London from Assam, but it wouldn't fit through the gates of Buckingham Palace!

  7. Brilliant blog post Jess, and so many excellent tips for those of us about to start on our journey. You'll soon be on the other side of the hedge :-)

    1. Aww thanks Polly! Yep - lots of tips and the like - anything that can help. I guess the biggest bit of advice it to wear trousers or to regularly check your skirt isn't tucked into your knickers during the day. That's all you need to check really... ;P

  8. Brilliant post Jess! It was great to meet you. I think you were very brave doing a demo for such a large audience. They were long days and your painting was beautiful, fantastic addition to the show and I look forward to seeing it finished. Yes that hedge was big! what an amazing experience, I felt very lucky to be there :)

  9. Was great to meet you Jess, brave girl doing a demo, I know how much work you must have put in and your painting was beautiful ( as always). it was a fantastic show and a great addition. Yes that hedge was big! I felt very lucky to be there and I could see you painting from my little spot.....despite the hedge :)

    1. Thanks Dianne - it was so lovely to finally meet you too and to see all of your amazing pieces of work on show. I hope this is the start of more meetings between us and more successes :)

  10. Great plan to sit at the end of the table. I will take that on board if I'm demo-ing again. Chuckled at my name check in your thanks. I'd forgot about that moment.

    1. Haha! I don't know what I would have done without you! Thanks so much for everything Julia. It was such an honour to have been demonstrating next to you. I hope you found the weekend inspiring and got home ok with all of your things.

  11. Do you know I have only just had the time to read this slowly and properly, there is something for everyone to take away in this, well done Jessie, I wish I had been there. Don't forget to tell Andrew when the next pop up is and he will add it to your website,

    1. Well you are a rather busy bee right now huh?! Thanks for the comments though, and re-visiting it. You made this all possible you know and no doubt you would never have made the same mistakes as me upon set up as you are a real pro! It was great to have you at the RHS Secret Garden Sunday this weekend as you finally got to see a bit of the magic, even if it was quieter visitor wise. x

  12. You had to pay for your tea??! Ah but love your site! I am just starting some botanical painting and love the amount of sharing that goes with all you amazing artists. Thank you ~*~

    1. Delighted to hear that you love my site here Amy - carry on the good work - super to hear you have embarked on this journey with us.