Breakdown printed fabrics cut into hundreds of bricks ready to build new art
None of us arrive where we are fully formed. When our first child was born my husband and I barely knew how to change a nappy. We learnt how to be parents ‘on the job’. Didn’t always get it right (sorry kids!) but we had no choice but to keep ‘practicing’, to keep learning.
My development as an artist has come from a mixture of intentional education and ‘on the job’ learning. Many years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn more about design and how to take the step from using commercial fabrics to using my own fabrics. So I took a City& Guilds Certificate at South Trafford College followed by a C&G Diploma with the lovely Linda Kemshall. I learnt a lot about design, and got to sample many different media and techniques. But my biggest ‘take away’ was that I’m not a sketchbook person and that fully designing a piece upfront is not for me.
Studying with Linda gave me the confidence to sign up for masterclasses mostly with Committed to Cloth (C2C). This was a significant investment in time and money over a period of a few years but worth every penny. Some classes were technique based but all included an element looking at how to develop ideas when working directly on cloth. The best class was Colour Families with Leslie Morgan at C2C – a simple idea that bears fruit every time.
But my deepest, most effective learning has been ‘on the job’. My decision to stop taking classes, to spend 20 hours a week in my studio and to work in series was the best I’ve made. It has given me the time and the framework to take the techniques I learnt in class and make them my own. To develop my own style, to find my own voice.
I guess I may take another class at some stage but right now the art I am making is being built with my own bricks.
My new partner in art Helen Conway wrote a great post last week called ‘3 reasons you should know your place’. She talks about how knowing the place, physical or otherwise, that recharges your creative batteries, knowing the place your art practice has in the art world and knowing the place you want to reach is empowering. It should be no surprise to anybody that knows us that I agree with Helen. We are both 110% committed to our art and, just like in our respective day jobs, we both strive to be the best that we can be. And we both know that reflection and self-awareness is an important part of the jigsaw.
But when it comes to the detail we are very different. In her post Helen writes how the repeated ritual of sitting down in her favourite cafe triggers the flow of creative. I can guarantee that, for me, sitting down anywhere with pen and journal posed is enough to empty my head completely. For me creativity (whatever that really is) happens mostly by stealth. It happens when I am immersed in process. I think that is one of the reasons I use intense stitching in my work. I have to concentrate when I’m doing this as I am pretty obsessed about getting straight, parallel lines but quite often, out of nowhere, I have a light bulb moment. Only then do I pick up my journal and pen!
I am a textile artist. I know that that may mean my work is viewed in a certain way in the art world but that is OK. My work is who I am. And how I work is who I am. I don’t sketchbook. I don’t draw. I don’t work in chaotic, organic disorder. I do let my scientific training loose when I experiment with new colours, new marks or new methods. I don’t make one off pieces to fit other peoples ‘theme’ – I let my work go where it wants to go. My methods of working are slow so I have to pick and choose which opportunities to pursue. I am a realist – it is likely to be 10 years before I can create art full time so I pace myself. I know how my art practice fits into my life. And I know my place.
Looking up through the cherry tree (spring 2016)
As the saying goes ‘another year over, a new one just begun’! And I have started the New Year by getting into the studio and doing some printing. For me there is no start or end; making art is a continual process even if there are days or even weeks when everything I create goes in the bin. Nor do I wait for January 1st to decide what opportunities to pursue in 2017. Galleries tend to plan 2 years in advance and most ‘calls for entry’ are publicised many, many months ahead. And so I do my ‘big picture’ planning looking forward over an 18 month period.
Today however is a good day to tell the world about what I will be working towards in 2017 and into 2018. I am very pleased to announce that myself and artist / friend Helen Conway are working towards a joint exhibition at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery in the autumn of 2018. The exhibition will be called Fragments and will use the upper gallery which is a big, wonderful space in which to exhibit large scale works. We are also hoping to add a second venue for spring 2018. My work will be focussed on industrial landscapes both present and past. Although it will feature new works from my Ruins series I am committed to creating two new, parallel series; one on current, working buildings / landscapes and one on industrial buildings / landscapes from the past.
Because of the way I create new series I know that it is likely to be many months before I produce finished works. If I happen to have suitable work ready there are a few exhibitions that I would like to submit too (including Fine Art Quilt Masters) but I am not going to ‘force’ the evolution of new works to hit deadlines. Of course that means that I will inevitably have fewer things to do a happy dance to in 2017 but look forward to dancing myself silly in 2018!
I wasn’t expecting any form of ‘textile art’ activity this week as my day job had taken me travelling to the US for the week. It was obviously not practical to take my studio with me so, at most, I expected to keep up with friends work and activities via Facebook. However just before I left I heard that those artists selected for Quilt National 2017 would be announced to the world on the Monday and that I would be able to, at last, tell everyone that my piece Ruins 7 was one of those selected. At my first attempt. And with an abstract piece.
Ruins 7 (detail)
Selected for Quilt National 2017
I knew in September that I had been successful but had to keep it a secret. I did tell a couple of close friends but wasn’t able to do a public happy dance. This actually left me feeling a bit flat this week – the euphoria of that original moment was long gone by the time of the official announcement.
And then on Thursday I heard that ‘Happy today?’ had been selected for SAQA’s Layered Voices. Only 23 pieces were chosen from over 500 entrants. Which makes being selected really rather spectacular. I danced a very happy dance and announced it to the world via Facebook. Success like this is euphoric – it always gives me a burst of energy and makes me want to get into my studio and work even harder. (And yes it makes me unbearably smug for a few days). But this time I was thousands of miles away from my family and friends and from my studio. That energy had nowhere to go.
Which it turns out was almost bad thing, at least for me. Sat in a hotel room and then sat for 10 hours on a plane last night threatened to turn positive into negative. What if the great year I am having is a fluke? What if the new series I am starting work on just doesn’t come together? What if the next piece I submit to something is rejected? And the one after that? What if I walk into my studio and don’t know where to start?
Which is nonsense! OK success can be 9/10ths luck sometimes but I built my studio practice on one premise – just turn up and do the work. Not all attempts at a new series of work will progress. Not all submissions will be successful. Some days I will assess the previous weeks work and throw it in the bin. Some days I will start in the studio by emptying that bin and sweeping the floor. But I will be just where I am right now, in my studio and I will be working.
It was my great pleasure to attend the first ever SAQA UK meeting held yesterday in Milnrow, Lancashire. SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Association) are an US based organisation but they do have a couple of hundred members in Europe and 66 here in the UK. Whilst the organisation provides some really great exhibiting opportunities it is inevitably ‘US-centric’ and it can be difficult for those of us making very abstract work to break through.
Christine Seager, one of the SAQA Europe Reps, has initiated the UK meetings to provide more targeted support for UK members both within SAQA and in their endeavours outside SAQA. If successful she hopes that the model can be rolled out across Europe. I suggested Milnrow as a suitable meeting hall that I have booked in the past for the Etcetera group. And, of course, I took along my coffee pot! Christine and Gillian Travis lead lively discussions on what SAQA means to its members and how the UK meetings can support and promote the growth of a professional quilt / textile artist community. There will be another meeting near London early next year and I really hope that many more SAQA members will attend.
Part of the discussion was on exhibiting opportunities. SAQA currently run a biennial exhibition for members in Europe and the Middle East called Wide Horizons. (My piece Storm 2 (Dark) is currently touring with Wide Horizons V and I was delighted to get my copy of the exhibition catalogue yesterday!). Christine has fought hard and got two more opportunities for European members. The first is called Made in Europe I and will tour in the US though 2017. It is the perfect opportunity for European work to be seen by tens of thousands American quilters. The second has yet to be officially announced but will be Made in Europe II and will be shown alongside the SAQA Tranquility and Turmoil exhibition at next summers Festival of Quilts.
Wide Horizons 5