Bedford is a small(ish) town in the East of England. It’s about an hour away from London by train and is famous for being the birthplace of John Bunyan and Ronnie Barker and for once having a factory that made Toblerone chocolate bars.
It is one of those places that when you are growing up you can’t wait to leave (as Ronnie did!).
Most of the towns artists, musicians, filmmakers or anyone who does anything interesting soon move to London, or nearby Cambridge or anywhere else but here really.
Or, at least that’s how it used to be.
Recently there has been a change of attitude in my hometown. The artists and musicians have started to stick around or return to the town. They have also started to be proud of what they do and not hide their talents through fear of being mocked and beaten up by the infamous ‘Bedford Chavs’ (God bless ‘em!). This may have something to do with the fact that people can’t afford to move to London at the moment, or that people are feeling less inclined to move away from home for University, or it might have something to with the people of Bedford becoming bored of living in a boring town and deciding to do something about it.
My first ‘Drawing A Day’ exhibition was set up by a group called ‘We Are Bedford’ (essentially two very lovely Bedfordian’s called Kayte Judge and Erica Roffe). With funding from the RSA and support from Bedford Borough Council ‘We Are Bedford’ was set up earlier this year to promote and help showcase the art, music and culture the town of Bedford produces.
Their first event was an astoundingly successful two-day festival that took over the many empty shops in Bedford and turned them into art galleries, gig venues, stand up comedy stages and (erm…) shops selling home grown produce and goods!
Thousands of people attended and Bedford suddenly felt really good about itself. ‘We Are Bedford’ has since gone on to host a successful ‘Busking Festival’ in the town. It has also influenced such things as a ‘Book Festival’ and a new art led newspaper ‘The Bedford Clanger’.
Bedford is on a massive creative high at the moment, fuelled by ‘We Are Bedford’ as well as the amazing work achieved by the ‘Bedford Creative Arts’ and ‘Creative Bedfordshire’, and this was one of the reasons I wanted to host my exhibition here.
When Kayte and Erica first started talking to me about the exhibition I was about 1 month away from completing the year-long ‘Drawing A Day’ project. The fundamental reason for undertaking the project was to practice and develop as an illustrator and I really did not dream that I would ever exhibit them to the public (or that too many people would want to see them!).
A few people had mentioned that I could exhibit the drawings early on in the project but the first seeds that this may be a good idea was when Matt Witt mentioned the idea in the feature he wrote on the project in Creaturemag:
“We are impressed by David’s commitment to his creative development and with the consistent quality and talent displayed in each drawing. It’s also really great to observe his different techniques, to see how they are merging and developing into a distinct Litchfield style. We hope he has a show at the end of it, the walls plastered with 365 pieces of intriguing creative output.”
Kayte and Erica are very good at working fast and within a few weeks they had managed to bag a space (another empty shop in the newly fashionable and ‘up-and-coming’ Castle Quay development), get some promotion in the local press and on BBC radio. They also arranged merchandise (magnets and postcards, so very, very cool) and were bolshie enough to get the Wells and Young’s brewery to give us drinks for our private view night. They also blagged some free cakes from the amazing Bedford cake shop ‘Fancy’ and the loan of some really rather cool vintage chairs from the furniture shop ‘Cool Haus’.
Other local establishments such as The Riverside Grill Restaurant and Angelo’s café offered their support, as did Bonfire Design who did an amazing job with the marketing material and merchandise.
It was incredibly satisfying to see all of the local organisations willing to come together to help support something like this.
We plastered the town with posters and gave a ton of flyers to a lot of slightly bemused but on the whole intrigued town centre pedestrians. Word soon spread around town (so much so that even my postman wished me luck with the exhibition!).
Kayte received the keys to the empty shop 10 days before the private view opening on August 12th. You might think that this was more than enough time to set up an art exhibition, but the thing that was giving me and everyone else sleepless nights was the thought of framing and hanging 365 drawings (as well as continuing with our normal lives and jobs). The fact that I didn’t yet have all of the 365 frames was also something that was also quite daunting.
But then the good people of Bedford came through.
I started putting notices up on Facebook and Twitter for people to donate their frames to the exhibition. The Bedfordshire On Sunday also featured an article calling for frames.
A week before the show the Times and Citizen did a massive feature on the exhibition that bought more frames to my door.
Individual people gave me their old and new frames and companies such as The Art Centre shop and Emmaus Project were very generous in stocking me up with frames.
Word started to spread and in the end we actually had too many frames and I gave the spares to a charity shop.
Framing the pictures was actually really fun. We didn’t have time to be too picky and choose which frame matched which drawing, but each image seems to work. My incredibly supportive and marvellous wife Katie took time off work to help me with this (and about a million other aspects of the exhibition), as did my very lovely band-mate and friend Rebecca De Winter.
Others also helped with the framing, my mum, my in-laws, Charlotte, Kezia, Steve and Jimmy Judge and others.
It felt really good working as a team to put up this exhibition and I was very grateful that they all felt positive enough about the exhibition to donate their time in such a way.
Whilst this was happening I also fitted in the ‘Window Drawing A Day’ mini-project.
For 5 days I painted a new image a day on the windows of the gallery space. This was something I had never done before and I really enjoyed working on a larger scale than what I was used to.
Also using Liquid Chalk was horrible, but again, the overall project was about trying out new techniques and materials so it felt be-fitting of the overall exhibition.
The Window Drawings also helped to gather more intrigue for the show from the many people who walked by whilst I was completing them.
I hung the pictures myself. I had a sudden spurt of energy one morning and got 11 months worth of framed images nailed to the wall in one day.
It’s probably worth noting that this all happened on the week that London, Birmingham, Manchester and other towns exploded in violence and mass-looting. It was a really scary week and one were no one really knew what was going on or what was going to happen.
The rumour was that nearby Luton and then Bedford was going to also break out in violence and somewhat selfishly (and probably stupidly) I was worried about the little empty shop I was filling for a few days! Of course nothing did happen in Bedford.
Anyway, after 10 days of setting up, marketing the event, sending e-mails and generally shouting as loud as I could about what was happening, the time for the Private View (7pm, Friday, August 12th) came about.
It suddenly hit me that maybe no one would come at all throughout the whole weekend and all this hard work was for nothing (in that I mean the setting up of the gallery space and the exhibition. I will always feel proud and fulfilled by the year’s worth of drawing that preceded this event).
But on the night I was absolutely overwhelmed. The place was packed. People came from all over Bedfordshire, London, Norwich and other places to see the show. We had only officially invited a few people but they had invited their friends.
My friends and family were there as well as new people who have quickly become friends. I also met people who I had only ever spoken to on-line through Facebook and Twitter.
On the night we had local bands Dynaphone Records and Rebecca De Winter and her band (minus me) busking outside. The spirits were high and I was absolutely buzzing. As the light faded people had to look at the drawings by candle light or by lighting the picture up with the glare of their mobile phone.
It really was one of the best nights of my life and one week on I’m still baffled, humbled and unbelievably happy about how that night turned out.
The following two days were equally as heart-warming. A steady flow of people visited the show throughout the Saturday and Sunday and again I had lots of people asking me questions about my work and the drawings. People wanted to see which drawing fell on their birthday, they asked me what inspired me to draw certain pictures, why I started the project, whether a drawing represented the mood I was in on the day I drew it, how long each drawing took, what materials I used. Everyone had so many questions and I was absolutely more than happy to answer. Kids came in to show me their drawings and so many people told me that they were going to start their own ‘Drawing A Day’ project.
I got so many positive comments, great feedback and met so many lovely people over that weekend. And then, just like that, it was Sunday night and it was time for the exhibition to come down…
Taking each image off the wall and placing it in a storage box was actually a little bit emotional for me. It was sad and I wished it could last for longer but I also felt that this was only the beginning.
As I write this I realise that I’m starting to sound a bit dramatic and I don’t want to show off too much, but I am super proud of what I achieved with the ‘Drawing A Day’ project and what I achieved with ‘We Are Bedford’ the helpers, the frame donators and the people who attended the exhibition.
As I put those framed drawings into their storage boxes I couldn’t help but smile about what was a truly amazing weekend and a truly fulfilling experience. I have never felt more passionately about what I do and more excited by what I hope to achieve in the future.
Photos by: Katie Litchfield, Andrew Foster, David Litchfield
*David is a contributor to Vessel’s Say Anything song illustration project. He has polished off a fantastic interpretation of the song “Do Better”. Updates on the illustrations and how you can see them will be posted as they develop. You can read more from David here.