The first piece of work I sold - in 2011 - was very unexpected. I had exhibited it very reluctantly at an end-of-year show at Seawhite’s Studio in Sussex. The large piece of paper was unframed, unmounted and very grubby. Futhermore, I’d done the charcoal drawing of anemones (seen right) with my foot, as I’d had tennis elbow.
I phoned the buyer to arrange delivery and she asked me to bring it to her so that I could see where she was going to hang it. On the phone she sounded quite intimidating but I was intrigued to meet her. As she opened the door to her characterful cottage, I immediately realised that she was a collector. Every wall was covered in pictures. I recognised a Gwen John and in other rooms, Alexander Calder and John Bellamy. Even the bathroom had beautiful pictures. She was an older lady who had remained single, had no children and had run her own very successful business.
She showed me where she was going to hang my work – on the wall up the side of the narrow stairs - and said she hoped I didn’t mind it going there. It was going to hang beside a freekin’ Elizabeth Frink. Mind? My mind was blown! When she went to pay me, she said she wanted to talk to me about the price. I balked. I had wanted to give it to her as it was so badly presented (even though I'd taken an eraser to the grubby marks) and I couldn’t believe anyone would want to buy it, but my son had suggested I ask for £50 as she would value it more. At the mention of price, she looked at me sternly. Then she gave me a little lecture about pricing work and the value of original art. I wish I could have taped her. She gave me £100. My first sale.
As we spoke that afternoon - me still slightly intimidated and she a sort of lovely bossy boots - lots of lessons were learnt. She later emailed to say if I ever had an exhibition she would lend me the piece of work she had bought. I rolled my eyes at the idea of having an exhibition as I was working flat-out, full-time, teaching English in a boarding school so there was little or no time to be creative. Nevertheless the coalescence of the arrival of her email and of hearing the news that another very good friend - who was also in teaching - was terminally ill, had an impact and made me decide to retire at the end of the next academic year.
Just before I did, I did some drawings in sketchbooks - seen below. They were drawings of what was on my table, made at the end of busy working days. I was lucky enough to be asked to show them in an Open House in Brighton - my first time exhibiting.
I emailed my inspiring buyer to ask her to come to the Private View. She didn’t reply. I later discovered that she had died. I was so sad that she never knew that the little bit of time that our paths had crossed had had such a big influence on me. Another lesson learnt.