Posts in Art Business
Well I wasn't expecting that!
1 January 2019 1.jpg

2018 was an interesting year. Interesting is one word for it. Unexpected, eventful, scary, wonderful would all be other good words. But I think I will settle for life-changing.

I’ve just read my post from 31st December 2017. I was pleased that I had spent more hours in the studio in 2017 than in 2016 and produced more work. I was busy working on pieces for the two exhibitions I had with Helen Conway in spring 2018. And I was planning to enter more calls for entry in 2018 and to find further exhibition opportunities. On the family front we were all still reeling from my mother-in-laws illness and passing but hoped for a quieter, healthier, less sad 2018. I was out of work but fully expecting to be back wearing my corporate hat within a few months. Life was on track.

Turns out that life wanted me to take a different track.

1 January 2019 4.jpg

It proved difficult to find the right job and with an unexpected increase in my caring responsibilities at home I eventually realised that the life I thought I was going to have, balancing a demanding day job, caring for my family and making art was unsustainable and would probably make me miserable trying. I needed a Plan B. A plan that better fitted my family and that allowed me to continue to make art.

1 January 2019 3.jpg

Teaching surface design was something I had planned to do a bit of in my sixties as I creaked towards retirement. I had given the occasional workshop to different textile groups and always loved it. And it was something I always intended to use my studio for. But would people want to learn from me? Could it pay the mortgage?

So I did my research, crunched some numbers, talked with friends who were teachers and friends who might be potential students, talked with my family ….. and made a big decision.

A seriously big decision to become a full time artist and teacher. And because I am ‘me’ I have given it my all. The studio has been named, Urban Studio North, reorganised and a rather splendid bathroom has been built. Courses have been developed and guest tutors booked. I’ve had stands at shows, demonstrated and given short workshops. And best of all I have taught some absolutely brilliant students and loved every minute of it!

2018 was a year of ‘firsts’. Full of change and full of new challenges. But there is so much more that I plan to do in 2019! So many more challenges to face, so many more ‘firsts’. …… Happy New Year!

1 January 2019 2.jpg
A quick thank you!
20 May 2018 2.jpg

A very quick thank you to everyone who came to see me at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Harrogate. And a quick hello to those of you who signed up to receive this blog by email!

My head is a tangle of new ideas inspired by the conversations I’ve had at the show and the responses to my stand. This is all still new to me and I have so much to learn. And so much that I want to do in the coming weeks and months. Watch this space but needless to say that it involves breakdown printing. It was also lovely to meet Alice Fox and Janet Gilbert who were demonstrating in the Art in Action space and to walk around the different galleries.

Exhausting but fun! And now I need to make up a batch of print paste ….

What a blast! Thank you!
13 August 2018.jpg

Festival of Quilts was amazing! A big thank you to everybody that came to visit my stand, it was wonderful to put so many faces to names and to catch up with so many friends. Hello to new subscribers to this blog and new friends on Facebook. Festival really is one big community and I am overwhelmed by all the support I've received for my new life as a full time artist and teacher.

A special thank you to those of you who booked courses and brought fabric - I really didn't know what to expect at the show and was very nervous about making the investment but you have helped me believe that I am doing the right thing.

And to Joe, Ruth and Gwyneth, my gang of helpers. I am a lucky lady. 

This is only a short post as I am just a little bit tired. I will post more about my two new 5 day retreats Breakdown Your Palette and Colour Your Palette, which I launched at Festival and which are now on my website, in the next few days but you might want to look now as there is only one place left on the Breakdown retreat in May! And I will post about my plans for the next 12 months - I am going to be busy, busy, busy!

Living the dream!
2 August 2018 1.jpg

This time next week Festival of Quilts will be in full swing and the halls at the NEC, Birmingham will be buzzing with 1000's of quilters, embroiderers and textile enthusiasts. There will even be a handful of long suffering husbands and partners ... And I will, hopefully, have lots of visitors to my stand H35. My life plan didn't have me doing this until I was in my early 60's but life is never a straight line and so here I am and I couldn't be happier. I will turn 55 next Thursday and have already given myself the best present ever by deciding to become a full time artist and teacher. 

Deciding to take a stand at Festival at such short notice has meant that I've been working long, long hours in the studio. Being me I marked out my stand full size, decided what size tables would work and spent a really lovely few hours figuring out how to display my hand dyed fabrics. I folded fabric, I printed labels, I wrote and printed wash care slips, I ordered black fabric to use as table cloths, I brought some paper bags, I created a blog subscription sign up sheet and, one that I hope gets used lots, I made a workshop sign up sheet. 

2 August 2018 2.jpg

I marked out the three walls of my stand on my design wall and went through my older quilts to see what might fit and look good. Most of my recent work is just too big but I did have a small Ruins piece that never got exhibited so, after fusing on 'urban studio north', this has become the centre piece of my display. I didn't have the right mix in my existing pieces so have had to make two quilts - Off The Grid which is a rather nice example of breakdown printing and Pass The Tequila which showcases a tray dyed piece of fabric. I've also made a funky little 'workshop' quilt. It has been a long time since I worked on anything that wasn't part of a series or destined for an exhibition and really enjoyed making them. It's been fun.

I've also decided to develop a couple of 5 day retreats for 2019. The first one will be called 'Breakdown Your Palette' and will focus on breakdown printing and the benefits of using a limited selection of colours to create a cohesive collection of fabrics that can be used as whole cloth, pieced or used as yardage for clothing. The second will be called 'Colour Your Palette' and will focus on the addition and removal of colour through various dyeing and discharging methods. Again the emphasis will be on creating fabrics that work together. Both will be launched at Festival. 

Oh yes and I also heard last week that I will have a solo gallery at Festival 2019! Super excited! Going to be super busy! The Art gods have been shining on me - I am living my dream!

2 August 2018 3.jpg
Festival of Quilts!
14 July 2018 2.jpg

When I decide to do something I really go for it, I give it my all and I aim to succeed. Determined, ambitious, tenacious - that's me. So I have taken a stand at this summers Festival of Quilts in order to promote Urban Studio North and my workshops to as wide an audience as possible. I will be on stand H35 which is in one of the alleys near the Nancy Crow exhibition. Please, please, please come find me if you are at the show!

My stand is only small (2 metres x 2 metres) but I want it to showcase as many aspects of surface design as possible. After all that is what I teach. As well as showing a couple of my favourite small quilts I will be showing a couple of new pieces. These are 'process' driven - they do not have a specific inspiration but they each show how printed and dyed fabrics can be used. The first one is almost finished. I'm calling it 'Off the Grid', detail below. The cloth went through 3 wet processes - I breakdown printed the first layer, then scraped through colour in the second layer and finally breakdown printed using formosol discharge paste. I will be supporting and encouraging students on my Introduction to Surface Design courses to take their cloth through multiple processes - you get such wonderful, totally unique, depth of colour and texture.

14 July 2018 1.jpg

I'm rather nervous about this new venture - it cost quite a bit of money and what if nobody signs up for a workshop! or even worse, what if nobody even stops to talk to me!! But I am also absolutely fizzing with excitement. I love talking about my work and my processes, and I especially love talking about colour. I am looking forward to seeing friends and making new friends. So if you are at Festival (9th to 12th August at the NEC, Birmingham), please stop by!

I'm a demonstrator - it's official!
24 June 2018.jpg

I'm amazed with the response I've had to my workshops since launching them just over 4 weeks ago but am mindful that social media on it's own is unlikely to provide me with a steady stream of new students. So as well as having the new title of 'teacher' I am pleased as punch to be able to add 'demonstrator' to my list of titles. 

I contacted ICHF about demonstrating with them but expected to have to wait until next year. Which was OK because it would have given me plenty of time to practice demonstrating in front of my students. But fate sometimes does everyone a favour and I am delighted to tell you that I will be demonstrating at their Creative Craft Show at Event City in Manchester on 6th to 8th September. I'm excited and terrified at the same time! This is a great show to be my first - Event City is about one mile away from my home and studio so I won't have to worry about forgetting things. And I know that I'll see some friendly faces amongst the visitors. I'm trying to develop a workshop for the event as well - something that will last either 60 minutes or 90 minutes and can be done in a room where the only water is what can be carried in a bucket. So something that doesn't get too messy. This particular challenge is keeping me awake at night but I'm sure inspiration will strike soon!

I've also started placing adverts and have had new flyers printed. Thanks to the African Fabric Shop and Patchwork Parade for taking some! If you would like some please just contact me - I have lots! Maybe I should give myself another new title 'marketing manager'! Blimey, I think I might need a lie down!

Reconnecting / Recharging
10 April 2017.jpg

With just over three weeks to spare I have now finished all my pieces for Fragments, my upcoming exhibition with Helen Conway. Phew!

So what next? I have no immediate deadlines to hit so the pressure is off for the first time in a long time. I am free to continue to explore the monoprinting / breakdown technique I played with last year. I should be excited. I should be full of ideas and energy. Especially as spring has arrived and I usually love working at the bench on days when breakdown screens can dry outdoors. Instead I feel kind of flat. Maybe stale is a better word. Or studio'd out if that was a word. Not that I want a break from being in my studio. I don't. It is my favourite place and whilst I don't mind taking a few days or even a week off I cannot imagine going longer without being in there.

Maybe it shouldn't surprise me that I feel this way. I have been putting in long hours for over a year to prepare work for my two exhibitions with Helen. And for most of that time I have known exactly what I needed to do. Each piece had been planned; fabrics had been printed and samples had been sewn. I have spent months cutting, constructing, layering, stitching and finishing. Thankfully I enjoy every part of my process but it has taken steely determination some weeks to hit the deadlines I set myself. And all at a time when my home and family life has been full of unrest; coloured by sadness and anxiety.

So how do I get my art mojo back? How do I recharge my batteries?

  • I am going to give my studio a deep clean and clear out. I need to reclaim my space.
  • I am giving myself permission to play. I want to reconnect with techniques other than breakdown printing and with media other than thickened dyes. I want to colour and print cloth without a fully defined end point.
  • And I am giving myself permission to be less than 110% focused on my art for a while; to volunteer, to teach. To connect with others.

And when the sun shines I may even take time out to sit in the garden with a cup of good coffee and a book!

The art of collaboration
22 April 2018.jpg

It is 5 weeks or so until my next exhibition with Helen Conway opens at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery on Saturday 26th May and the only thing I have left to work on is a collaborative piece with Helen. Now I have written more than once about how I work in series and how I only 'work to the beat of my own drum' so this may come as a bit of a surprise. But maybe not to those who know us well.

Helen and I met several years ago at a local contemporary quilt group and went on to be founder members of the exhibiting group Etcetera. During the groups time Helen and my work evolved rapidly with Helen embracing acrylic paint and mixed media and me developing large, abstract pieces based on breakdown printing. But strangely our work always looked good together. Our colour palettes were similar and Helens wonderfully organic graffiti marks linked nicely with the somewhat random marks made by breakdown printing.

But work that looks nice together is not enough to make a successful collaboration. In my humble opinion it is the fact that we both approach our art practice in the same way that has made it work. We are both professional women in our day jobs and approach our art with the same level of commitment and professionalism. We are ambitious but also pragmatic. We are not precious about who does what; we just get on with stuff. We curate our exhibitions so that they work best for the viewer rather than vying for prime position.

The gallery in Stockport is a huge open space which has been easy to curate. With the exception of the section of wall that faces the double doors leading into the gallery. The wall is framed by two columns and whatever is exhibited there is inevitably going to draw the visitor towards it. So we knew from day one that we had to find some way to share the space. Rather than get distracted by this we both got on with our individual pieces. Knowing what the rest of the exhibition would look like we got together a few weeks ago and decided that we wanted to make a piece that was very obviously inspired by Stockport. Cue a quick scribble on a scrap of paper. I gave Helen some samples of the fabrics I wanted to use. Helen sampled her ideas and sent me photos. They looked great so she did her bit and I got cracking printing fabric. No angst. No worries.

I have about 35 hours of stitching to do to complete the piece but with 5 weeks to go our collaborative piece of art has been as stress free as the rest of our activities. Go team Helen and Leah!

Doing the work
23 Kilns FULL 2000 pixell.jpg

Well the last week or so has been a bit of a rollercoaster. The nervous euphoria of my exhibition preview last weekend followed by a somewhat deflated feeling the next day was easy to put behind me as I have so much work to complete before my next exhibition. But then I had two rejections during the week. The piece rejected by Quilt Visions (23 Kilns, above) was one I made using more of a 'monoprint' style of breakdown printing that I really, really want to explore further over the next year or two. I thought it was good, I love the graphic nature of it so rejection was a bit worrying. Until I saw that they had only selected 43 pieces out of 343 entrants. I didn't feel so bad.

23 Kilns DETAIL 2000 pixel.jpg

The other rejection was from the European Quilt Triennial. Second time I've entered and second time I've been rejected. The piece is called the Cost of Coal (detail below) and is a companion piece to a large quilt that has got lots of positive comments from visitors to mine and Helen Conway's exhibition. But, being quite pale, it is difficult to photograph which makes me wonder whether this and any further pieces I make in the Traces series will be difficult to get accepted into exhibitions. Which has shaken my self-confidence as I was planning to take this series further. Should I keep going? Have I backed myself into an artistic corner? Should I just make more Ruins pieces which have been a very successful series for me?

Leah Higgins _ The Cost of Coal_detail.jpg

It is very, very tempting to wallow in self-pity and self-doubt and reach for the gin but that isn't really an option when I need to work at a steady pace for the exhibition in Stockport at the end of May. In fact it isn't really an option I would let myself take at any time. It has been a while since I mentioned Steven Pressfield in a post but this week I felt the need to pick up my dog eared copies of his book's 'The War of Art' and 'Do The Work' again. Yes they are a bit 'preachy' and maybe too full on 'American' for many but his approach is part of my studio / art practice. He talks about the resistance - all those things which get in the way of us making the art we want to make. Rejection letters are part of the resistance. As are acceptance letters. They both elicit emotions which distract us. Pressfield talks about turning pro and about treating art as if it were your paid job. To paraphrase - show up every day, show up no matter what, stay on the job all day, be committed to the long haul, understand that the stakes are high and real, accept remuneration for our labour, don't over identify with our job, master the techniques of our job, have a sense of humour about our jobs and accept both praise and criticism as part of our jobs. Of course very few of us can make art full time. I commit to 20 hours a week in my studio. I get there by going into my studio virtually every day even if it is 30 minutes squeezed between my other commitments. I turn up when I feel ill (full of a cold as I type!). I turn up when the sun shines. I turn up when it is dark and wet and cold. I am 100% committed. This matters to me. I don't let rejection paralyse me (it is a specific piece of art that gets rejected not me as an artist). I just keep doing the work.