RCA Secret 2015 – a photo diary

I’ve written a number of posts before about RCA Secret, what it’s all about and past years, my hints and tips for attending and my cards from last year. It’s that time of year again and last night I spent the night camping out on the streets of Battersea in order to try and get my hands on some original postcard sized artwork.
Rather than a long narrative, this year I thought I’d take you through the RCA Secret experience with me in the form of a bit of a photo diary.
RCA Secret postcard sale Royal College of Art Dyson Building Battersea

Day 1

10:30 – Underwhelmed by the eclipse that basically resulted in a slightly darker grey sky, I set off for Battersea, hauling a huge suitcase across the city by tube and bus.

11:30 – I arrive at the RCA Dyson building. I knew from Twitter photos that had been posted that the queue was round the back of the building where the courtyard had been before it was built on. My first thought was ‘oh this isn’t too long’, then I discover the queue jumps across a road and round the corner. Oh….
11:33 – I find my space at the back of the queue (only metres from where I was last year, although the queue is going in a different direction this year) and singlehandedly pitch my tent. At a rough guess I estimate I’m probably about 50th in the queue.
RCA Secret postcard sale Royal College of Art Dyson Building Battersea camping RCA Secret postcard sale Royal College of Art Dyson Building Battersea camping
12:00 – Tent pitched and stuff stowed in it and I head inside and have a look at the cards in real life. Normally for RCA Secret I get the chance to see the exhibition at least a few days before sale day and so I use the sale as a chance to look at cards for the first time and then create a list which is refined from there. However, with last weekend being Mother’s Day, I was at home for the weekend and then had a client dinner on Thursday which was the only day they did late night opening. So my strategy had to change this year. I went through the cards online and added anything I thought might be ok and that I wanted to have a look at in real life, I could then cross off anything I didn’t like when I saw the cards in the exhibition.
Despite annoyances with the ‘favourites’ system on the RCA Secret website (in that sense, the old website was much better with the cards saved in numerical order and being easily printable), I spend a good amount of time crossing cards off my list or pushing them higher or lower once I saw them up close and in 3D.
RCA Secret postcard sale Royal College of Art Dyson Building Battersea
13:45 – Lunch is a sandwich from nearby Fresco Deli before I retreat to my tent to start putting my postcard wishlist in order and to spend a bit of time doing some reading for my postgraduate course.
16:00 – Although it was a really mild day, there’s only so long that you can sit still, in a tent in the shade, before it gets cold. So I unzip my brand new sleeping bag and snuggle in. For the past three RCA Secret sales I have made do with what I have at home – so a light sleeping bag on the ground and a double duvet to sleep under. This year I finally invested in proper sleeping bags and camping mats and they were worth their weight in gold. I was warm and cosy inside and took full advantage of the soft-box effect of the tent to take selfies in my new sleeping bag.
17:20 – I drag myself from the warmth of my sleeping bag to head inside for one last look at the cards before the exhibition closed, where I get to meet Perry who writes the RCA Secret Blog, an unofficial fan blog and a regular read for me each year around RCA Secret time. I also manage to catch the sun setting over the river, which was a lovely end to the evening, although I did wonder where the sun had been that morning when everyone had been waiting to see the eclipse!
RCA Secret postcard sale Royal College of Art Dyson Building Battersea

18:00 – I get kicked out of the exhibition and turn my phone on loud in the hope that I might be one of the lucky 50 raffle winners who would win one of the first 50 places in the queue.

18:26 – The phone’s ringing…!

18:27 – ….and it’s my boyfriend wondering which bus to get from Victoria. I tell him and when he tries to engage me in discussion about it, I probably quite tersely tell him to Google it and hang up before proceeding to stare at my phone again.

19:00 – The phone’s ringing again…and once again it’s my boyfriend trying to locate the tent. Pleased as I am to see him, it’s not really the call I was waiting for.

19:20 – I abandon all hope that I might be getting that all-important raffle winner call and so we head across the road to Pizza Express as I was starting to shiver and needed to sit inside and be warm for a while. Plus, it keeps us occupied for a while before retiring to the tent for the night.

RCA Secret postcard sale Royal College of Art Dyson Building Battersea
21:10 – We finish our dinner and head back to the tent to get settled into our sleeping bags.
22:58 – My boyfriend decides to turn in and as I’m not quite ready to sleep, I stay up to read by torchlight for a while. I used to read under the covers by penlight as a child when I should have been sleeping so there’s something that always feels quite illicit about reading in the dark.
23:25 – I turn in and try and get as comfy as it’s possible to be in a tent on a pavement when there’s all sorts of noise going on around the tent, mostly from people who are curious about what we are all doing there.
Day 2
05:36 – After a fitful night of sleep and dreams which involved being mauled by tigers and being in a plane that rolled off the runway and into power lines, I awake early. I can hear people around our tent stirring as I lie in my sleeping bag wondering whether my contact lenses have actually suctioned themselves to my eyeballs and wishing I could stay in the warm.
05:50 – Unable to stay in my sleeping bag much longer, I brave the Portaloo and pull on another jumper before leaving my boyfriend in the tent and joining the rest of the queue. I use the queuing time to keep sorting out the lower regions of my wishlist and end up with around 60 on my shortlist. This year I add descriptions to my list of numbers so I know which ones I will be asking about – much better!
RCA Secret postcard sale Royal College of Art Dyson Building Battersea camping queue

07:16 – It’s really quite cold by this point and still the raffle winners aren’t in the building.

07:30 – The raffle winners are let in.

07:45 – I lose all sensation in my little toe on my right foot, stamping is no longer helping. My fingers are pretty numb too.

08:00 – It’s time that the doors should be opening, but they aren’t opening. Why aren’t they opening? It’s so cold!

08:11 – We’re going in!!

08:12 – Ok, some people are going in, I am about five people away from the door when they shut it on the rest of us. Hope has quickly turned to despair.

08:25 – We’re going in and I’m struggling to walk properly on little ice blocks that used to be my feet. I feel for those still outside as we head into the building.

RCA Secret postcard sale Royal College of Art Dyson Building Battersea queue
08:40 – I can see a screen and there are lots of lovely cards still left, I feel hopeful that I might get something I want. I try and see if I can work out what’s gone but it’s far too fast for me and I’m hindered by the non-numerical nature of my list of cards.
RCA Secret postcard sale Royal College of Art Dyson Building Battersea queue
08:48 – I’m at a till and reeling off my postcard numbers. All of the Anita Kleins have gone (as expected as I am probably about 100th in the queue) but one of my top seven cards is there! Utter joy – I never expected it would be still there. I get a bit further down my list and manage to get four cards, all from my top 20.
RCA Secret postcard sale Royal College of Art Dyson Building Battersea
08:52 – Clutching my invoice, I pay for my four postcards (£220) and head downstairs to collect them. This is when the panic sets in – have I given the numbers correctly? Did I write them down right? What if I haven’t got the cards I thought I had?
09.10 – My cards are collected from the walls by one of the RCA Secret staff and delicately wrapped in tissue paper before being placed in four envelopes. I’m reassured to see the four cards I had chosen and leave, clutching them tightly, terrified I’ll drop them or bend them now that they’re in my clumsy hands.
RCA Secret postcard sale Royal College of Art Dyson Building Battersea
09:41 – After packing up the tent, I am finally on a bus home and feel myself beginning to thaw out a bit.
10:55 – I am warm and showered and in my pyjamas. I sit myself down on the sofa with a cup of tea to reflect about the events and generally just revel in not being sat on a cold pavement.

So, what did I end up getting?

(Photos below from RCA Secret.)

RCA Secret postcard sale Royal College of Art Dyson Building Battersea Candra Cassini
I’ve had my eye on a Candra Cassini postcard for a few years now but never managed to get my hands on one. This was my year with this yeoman warder.
RCA Secret postcard sale Royal College of Art Dyson Building Battersea Joy Fleischmann
This card by Joy Fleischmann reminds me a little facially of the Beryl Cook women but I love that she’s so unselfconscious in her own nudity.
RCA Secret postcard sale Royal College of Art Dyson Building Battersea Gili Lavy
Every year I try and get a mixture of media and so my non-painting/drawing choice from this year was this image from Gili Lavy which appears to come from a film that Gili was involved in (as director?).
RCA Secret postcard sale Royal College of Art Dyson Building Battersea Michael R. Stokes artist
This piece by Michael R. Stokes is perfectly titled ‘Priorities’. I can’t find much out about the artist, so if anyone can enlighten me, I’d love to know more.
Overall I felt that this year’s event was much better run than last year. It did of course help that I was better equipped, but the whole process seemed smoother and the chaos that took place with the raffle last year didn’t occur again. However, there’s always room for improvement and so, my suggestions (on the off-chance that the RCA events team read this post):
  • Although I found that the scans/photos of the cards were much better this year on the redesigned website, I found the ‘favourites’ system frustrating – there was no easy way to print it off and the cards weren’t added to it in numerical order which made it difficult to systematically view the cards in person.
  • So many cards suffered from bent corners, I suspect as a result of the fact that the envelopes provided for their return are only regular paper envelopes. I’d love to see the RCA send out proper cardboard envelopes for their return or at least very strongly suggest that the artists send their cards back in one. It seems a shame that some beautiful cards, which have clearly been laboured over, are damaged.
  • More screens through the queuing area. When the sale was held in Kensington, there was the opportunity to start crossing off sold cards are you waited in the queue. Now there seems to be only two screens, one right at the till point and so essentially useless and another only metres before the till point.
  • More than one late night opening?
Other than that, I thought it was another good year. I heard some people say that they thought it was one of the weaker years but I found a lot to love. I’ll be back next year to put myself through it all again!
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  • The yeoman card is my favourite, looks great. I enjoyed reading about the event, sounds so different even if I’ve read about it last year too.

    Anca @ ancaslifestyle | UK

  • Nice write up, thank you! I was an RCA Secret Virgin this year and am now made up to have ‘popped my cherry!’ I followed your post from last year and particularly enjoyed this year’s as I was part of the experience. Nice choice of artwork, I’m very pleased for you.
    Although it seems to run relatively smoothly, there are ways which I think the process ought to be improved and / or simplified for the punters.
    Starting with the website, I believe you ought to be able to search for an individual number, failing that, just have 10 per page to make the maths easier, not 12!
    I agree with your favourites point and more screens earlier would prevent the long, cold standing outside! It would help then for the scrolling to not be as fast!
    Thanks, I will catch up with you next year I hope! Btw, was your tent left up relatively late in the morning?

  • I was so intrigued to read about your experience after seeing your tweets as I had never heard of the RCA Secret Sale (still claiming to be new in the country) and wanted to know what it was all about! I’m definitely going to visit the exhibition next year but don’t think I’m quite ready to withstand the cold and queue! I really love the Gili Lavy postcard- such a striking shot.

  • Thanks, I think the Yeoman Warder card might be my favourite too.

  • Thanks for your comment. I’m always excited when I ‘meet’ people who are doing it for the first time (I was there four years ago), it’s such a crazy experience and one which always seems to leave people baffled when you try and explain what you’re doing. Did you camp out? Or just turn up on the day? And, most importantly, were you pleased with what you got?

    Very good point about the website – either or both changes would be an improvement (my 12 times table was never my strongest and especially not beyond 12 x 12).

    When the sale was at Kensington, there was much more time spent queuing in the building and screens were placed at regular intervals so they were actually of use, I’d like to see both the ability to get in the building faster and more screens next year in an ideal world.

    I’ll definitely be there next year so I might see you then. And yes, my tent was the last one there. My boyfriend comes along to keep me company but stays warm and toasty while I queue so he was still in it until I had got my cards, then we packed up and went home – not a bad system and one that prevents me from having to grapple singlehandedly with getting a tent back in a bag before 6am!

  • I can’t remember how I first heard about the RCA Secret Sale but it definitely features in the Timeout 1001 things to do in London book and so I was definitely always going to try it out once. Unfortunately I seem to be hooked, it does require a certain dedication to camp though, they used to have the sale in November and I thought that moving it to March would mean it was warmer but it really isn’t!

  • What a fascinating process – I can’t believe that camping on the streets is the norm for this event (and legal)! Oh and I totally love how you were doing work for your course inside your tent, btw – that’s the epitome of commitment right there. What were you reading at bedtime? My favourite out of the ones you picked is the Gili Lavy film still, so beautiful! And the yeoman one is so amazingly detailed, reminiscent of portrait miniatures from the 18th and 19th centuries. I’d love to go to RCA Secret but not sure I could face camping out and waiting in the cold! Good to know that the numerical system is the one to order your preferred cards by though 🙂 xx

  • Ok, I’ve just re-read this post and maybe I don’t want to go now that I see you had to queue in a tent! Madness! I don’t have the willpower, go you though!