Go on, show off your talents

Writer Ali Schofield had never thought of herself as a visual artist, but entering an art gallery competition proved she’d underestimated herself.

“The man at the desk looks down over a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and ushers me in as I dither in the doorway, jute bag in hand. My cheeks experience a sudden heatwave and I feel my back starting to get clammy. When he rattles the hanging plates on my submissions questioningly – hastily screwed in this morning after a fitful last-minute decision to enter an open art competition – I consider turning around and running out.

I’m a journalist, not an artist; at least, not until a few weeks ago. But in my spare time, most recently as an escape from breast cancer treatment, I quietly make collages. In these worlds, butterflies, a giraffe and two half-naked men wrestle in Dolly Parton’s hair; lipsticks become skyscrapers as a woman rides a stock dove over a reimagined Kensington.

When I see that the Mercer Gallery in my hometown of Harrogate is calling for entries to its three-yearly Open Exhibition, my new-found ‘if not now, when?’ philosophy somehow overrides any previous misgivings. Up to three artworks can be dropped into the gallery for consideration by the judges for an entry fee of £7 each. I enter two and tell no one.

A few days later I receive an email; both collages have been accepted. I assume this is an admin error and tell no one. It is only on the opening evening, a name badge stuck discreetly on my hip and a glass of prosecco in my quivering hand, that I believe it. My collages are hanging in a gallery! Arty-looking people are leaning in, discussing their detail!

After years of writing about and interviewing real artists it feels awesome, if not mildly absurd, for my own creations to be considered works of art. Then I find out both have sold – not since a short-lived childhood good behaviour chart have two little red stickers meant so much to me.

In another surprise to myself and anyone who knows me, I also nervously accept an invitation to talk about my creations at the gallery. I follow two very successful, established artists and while I’m sure my answer to a question about whether I also do large-scale works – ‘I don’t really have a big enough dining table’ – might not scream Real Artist, I hope I prove that if you have a creative hobby it is probably worth getting a clammy back for. Because if not now, when?”

Creative competitions you can enter

Painters Online hosts a month-by-month guide to regional and national open art exhibitions.

Creative Writing Ink highlights poetry and short story writing competitions.

Photography Monthly regularly updates its list of open exhibitions and online competitions.