Hurray, I have survived another year of being a self-employed artist! Another year, another rollercoaster. I thought it would be good to record all the things that I've done this year in a short blog, so that when I inevitably feel like giving up again (a daily occurrence), I can feel cheered and in awe of just how much I have actually created. When I'm in the midst of the small business rollercoaster, it takes all my energy to hold on tight and scream through it. As the fairground ride metaphor slows down, I can tentatively step off for a bit, take a look around and take a few deep breaths. It's really no different to any other job - the addictive highs, the depressing lows and all the wonderful calm bits in between. "Life is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it" - Ronan was right.
World Book Day 22 in March was a real highlight at the beginning of the year, when everything felt very quiet. It helped to reignite that fire in my belly for the passion for what I do. That particular day started with a talk at Derby Cathedral School, attempting to pass on any wisdom I have learnt to aspiring English and Art Secondary School pupils. It was the first time that I had given a talk to pupils of this age, and I appreciate the opportunity that the lovely Charlotte had given me.
Then it was a quick change and zoom back to Ilkeston, where I joined "Mary Poppins" (Mandy) at my favourite high street shop, Memorable Events, ready for an afternoon of reading to any children and families who happened to drop by. Mandy had created a beautiful reading area where any child could come in to "swap a book", and therefore take a new book home. Lots of local people had generously donated some good quality books, so there really was a brilliant selection to choose from. The remaining books after the event were donated to local children's care homes. I had a wonderful time reading my own books to children of all ages, with such fantastic feedback. This can be enough to thrive on for the next week!
The week finished with the final World Book Day event at the local Erewash Museum. It was the first time that they had organised anything for this and again, it was a joyful thing to be part of. I so enjoyed meeting different families and reading all three of my books to them. The best past is seeing and hearing their reactions first hand. The more books I create, the more I enjoy having the choice to offer children, "Which one would you like me to read today?" For me, it's the most addictive feeling, watching the joy in their faces from something I have created from scratch. A big thank you to Sam at the Museum for bringing a few local authors together for this special day.
Somehow my first children's picture book, "The Greatest Cake" turned 3 this year, so to commemorate the occasion, Mandy kindly let me paint all over her window at Memorable Events. Not the most successful promotional tool, as most people thought the shop was advertising a local bakery (!) My own fault for not making it clear that The Greatest Cake is a children's book! I had a great time though and it certainly managed to draw attention.
Every now and then something will come along to stop you in your tracks and make you do something different. There's a whole blog on its own about this, but I was lucky enough to be invited to Holly Tucker's Tea Party over the Summer, at her magical shop and workshop (sadly no longer there!). I can't explain how amazing it was meeting like-minded friends who had an array of small businesses. I left with a real sense of community and it reminded me that we are all on our own journeys, just trying to get through life doing what we love. It was also a real honour to meet my small biz hero Holly T along with her gorgeous team, and a new friend for life, Sally (@popsyclunk on IG).
Most of the first half of the year was dedicated to getting artwork framed and ready to hang in The Lally Gallery at Erewash Museum, so that families could visit during the summer holidays. There is a whole section dedicated to my "Four Seasons of Children's Books" if you fancy a read, so I will keep this short. The gallery is such a gorgeous space and it always feels like my work fits in well there. It is the third time I have exhibited there, so I have come to know it well. Another friend I have been lucky to meet in real life this year is the wonderful Melissa (@westernsketch on IG). I am still grappling with the balance of working alone (and spending a lot of time online) and meeting up with actual people! It feels like friendships have suffered this year because of this, but I'm working hard to try and get that balance back.
Another school visit and this time a local Pre-School visit! A lovely afternoon reading mostly "The Peg People" and "Bonnie's Ball", then finishing off with a colouring in session. Lots of excitable children on a very warm day, but things managed to feel calmer with a storytelling session. I absolutely love meeting all the little personalities at these visits. It is quite the explosion of energy after a morning of quietly drawing on my own at home! My favourite thing is watching children create, make and draw afterwards. Future artists in the making, hopefully. So much talent and creativity at such a young age.
Alongside commissions and working on a new book, I realised that I had designed quite a few new greetings cards this year! I've not totaled them up properly, but I think it's around 26 designs this year at a glance. All my cards seem to have a narrative within the design, I just can't help the storytelling element. I love coming up with scenarios and collections for my Blue Hat Badger & Friends characters, and these seem to be resonating with people too. I am starting to come up with ideas for a new children's book about these friends of mine, but you will have to wait for 2024 for that one!
I promise you, I am not stalking Holly Tucker. After a busy half term day working at Erewash Museum, making Halloween cards with ALL the families of Ilkeston (it felt like!), Holly announced that she was visiting Nottingham. Things had suddenly got very busy for me as September came along and I was in two-minds whether I could free up the day to go and visit her. After a lot of dithering, and a little persuading from Sally, I met up with the lovely Nicole (@OrgillOriginals on IG) and Kate from (@Kalmlettering on IG). More new small business friends! These events where the community are encouraged to come together really are invaluable. There are so many artists and makers around, you don't realise, and we all seem to pop up out of nowhere on these occasions. Once again Holly gave us all some advice about navigating the small business world and gave us that boost of positivity that we all need now more than ever. She admitted it was us that kept her going, and we need her to keep championing us. A reminder that we all need to keep supporting each other as much as possible.
Another highlight of the year was Derby Book Festival, held at the amazing Museum of Making, at Derby's Silk Mill. I had been meaning to do this for a couple of years, but dates had always clashed with other events, not to mention the pandemic getting involved, so it was great to finally be part of this. As a small business, it has become clear that it is really important to pick the right events for you. I've not done a huge amount of markets, but I've certainly learnt something from each one that I've done. The retail girl in me just loves working out inventive ways to display all my products and there is a real sense of pride watching people look at my books, cards and calendars - all created by myself and printed locally. The artist in me just likes making nice things and wants it to magically sell all by itself. The reality is, it's never enough to just make the product, the real hard work begins afterwards. It's something I will never get fully used to, but I'm always ready to try my best and throw myself in once I've committed and signed up to an event. This pretty much takes up all my energy, so I am pretty picky about what events I go for. A local book festival seemed perfect for me, and I was over the moon with the venue. A quiet rainy Sunday in November could have meant a disappointing day trading, but happily, this was not the case! It was well worth making the effort and I loved meeting everybody that stopped by to chat. I also loved meeting fellow authors and makers, as well as the team of staff who worked hard to ensure everything ran efficiently.
I've been following the Just a Card campaign on Instagram for a few years now, but this was the year that I decided to get involved with their Christmas Fair, organised in collaboration with Handmade Hour. I loved joining in with their "Indie Week" campaign which ended on "Colour Friday" or "Indie Friday", a way of promoting small businesses just as the Christmas shopping season kicks off. Again, it's a real sense of community, this time online. By becoming part of something, you feel a sense of belonging and support. It can be a lonely time working from home and wondering what on earth you've just created (will anybody like it? will anybody buy it?), but I've found real support from Just a Card and Holly & Co. There is always somebody going through exactly the same imposter feelings, believe me.
Well the year ended with "Owl Christmas" cards and a new children's book for those dark winter nights, "Wooglefog". A special thank you to all my stockists, old and new, who believe in me enough to keep trying to sell my little books and cards. I love working with you all. As we start thinking about 2023, it's time to open up the "Feasts for Beasts" calendar and begin making plans for the year ahead.
Finally, I've saved the best till last: thank YOU for reading this far!! I couldn't keep going without you giving my post a little like, comment, or the holy grail...the SHARE! The old word of mouth marketing is what all small businesses rely on, so thank you for your continued support in probably one of the hardest economic years I've ever been in. I've got about a million ideas in my head, so I shall endeavour to make these happen in 2023. Would you like to join me for another rollercoaster ride? Let's GO.