Posts tagged SAQA
Looking back on 2016

Sun setting over Arran (June 2016) It is that time of year when we look back at what we have done and, possibly foolishly, make promises about what we will do in 2017. So today I am looking back at 2016 and tomorrow I will look forward.

2016 has been an amazing year for me as an artist. The big stuff: I had pieces selected for Breakout: Quilt Visions 2016, SAQA Wide Horizons V, Fine Art Quilt Masters, Quilt National 2017 and SAQA Layered Voices. My piece Ruins 5 won the Art category at Festival of Quilts and I made my first 'proper' sale just before Christmas when Ruins 4 sold whilst on show at Quilt Visions in San Diego. I had two exhibitions as part of the Etcetera group, have had older work touring with CQ 'Elements' and had a couple of pieces shown in Visions Art Museums on-line exhibitions. WOW, not sure if my head will squeeze through the studio door!

I have made a determined effort in 2016 to increase my presence on social media. Having resisted for many years I have embraced Facebook, and to a lesser extent Instagram, and made many new friends along the way. I think this has really helped drive traffic to this blog and my website. This piece will be my 63rd post in 2016, a nice increase compared to 52 posts in 2015. But the real growth has been in visitors and views. In 2015 I had 3069 views by 652 visitors. As of this morning I have had an amazing 9635 views and 2262 visits in 2016. 66% of views are from the UK and 21% from North America. Another WOW!

So have I been successful because the planets have been aligned or the gods have smiled down on me? No, it is a combination of hard work and luck. As of this morning I have spent 964 hours in my studio this year - that is an average of 18.5 hours per week. I put in extra hours during the 3 months that I was 'between jobs' and this compensated for the hours lost whilst I went through the shock of redundancy and whilst I focussed on my new day job. I didn't keep accurate records in 2015 but will continue to do so in 2017. I completed 18.87 square metres of work in 2016 compared to 9.57 square metres in 2015 but this is somewhat misleading as I started 2016 with 2 large Ruins pieces part made and a large stack of printed fabric ready for other pieces. Working in series definitely increases output.

2016 has been a pretty awful year for many, many people with loved ones lost and a frightening surge in voilence and hate around the world. There is much to be miserable about much to take comfort from. A hug, a memory of a beautiful sunset, a fragile pattern and wonderful colour on cloth ... Happy New Year everyone!

Responding to success

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.

Artist interrupted

One of the things I like about my new day job is that there is less travelling and generally more 'regular' hours. I will have more time in the studio and be better able to plan my output.

But this week I have had a couple of very long days and on Saturday I fly out to the US for a week. So my plan to work at the bench breakdown printing with my new colourway is on hold. I print using thickened procion dyes on cotton so I could leave the printed pieces rolled up in plastic for weeks before I wash them out but I prefer to get in a rhythm of printing, washing / drying, assessing then printing. Don't ask my why but the first piece of fabric I print after a period away from the bench is always disappointing and often butt ugly!

Instead I have spent my few hours in the studio this week working on my piece for the SAQA call Made in Europe. All the 'construction' work is complete and I am now stitching lots and lots of parallel lines. If you look closely above you will see that I keep my lines straight by using my walking foot as a guide and placing masking tape strips about 1 inch apart. I may not be in complete control of my schedule but boy do I control those lines!

I feel like I have arrived

I have had a very successful couple of years with multiple pieces being accepted into some pretty prestigious exhibitions but today I realised just how far I have come. I received my copy of the catalogue for Breakout: Quilt Visions 2016 which features my piece Ruins 4. A few days ago I received my copy of SAQA's Wide Horizons V which features one of my Storm pieces. Breakout: Quilt Visions 2016

It feels like an unbelievable honour to appear in print alongside some of my 'heroes' - Gail Barr, Jette Clover, Jane Dunnewold and Wen Redmond. The selection of work in Breakout is amazing, Although the majority of artists are American most of the work is abstract rather than the more pictorial work that is popular in the US art quilt community. The exhibition is currently running at Visions Art Museum in San Diego. Unfortunately it doesn't tour which is a real shame as I would have loved to see all the pieces in the flesh.

Jette also has a piece in Wide Horizons along with some of my other favourites - Susan Chapman and Sandra M Newton. Actually I like all the pieces in this exhibition and look forward to seeing it at some stage whilst it tours in Europe.

SAQA UK - first meeting

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


I found my 'voice' but where is the volume dial?

Work in Progress Over the last couple of years I have definitely found my 'voice'. Or my 'visual style'. Or whatever you want to call that sense of confidence that comes from developing a set of processes (or studio practice) that transforms ideas into finished pieces that are recognisably 'me'. I can point to three things that helped - making a conscious decision to work in series, attending a Colour Studies course with Leslie Morgan and moving into my purpose built studio.

I currently have two 'active' series. The Ruins series which has given me so much success and the Still / Storm series which still feels in it's infancy. In both cases I started by developing a colour palette then developed a set of printed and / or dyed fabrics. I collage and stitch samples during which ideas for 'full sized' pieces start to flow. Some ideas are very vague and require more sampling. Other ideas pop up fully formed. And demanding attention. Like the piece I am working on now.

I keep a list of potential 'calls for entry', particularly those without a theme or size restrictions. But I let the work itself dictate what size and even what form my finished pieces will take. And I no longer give in to the temptation to create 'one-offs' to fit a specific call for entry. This limits where I might place my work but sometimes there is a really good match between my work and a particular call. Such as the current SAQA 'Layered Voices' call. The piece is going to be 4 metre long strip hung such that the bottom section is draped and partially hidden on the floor. It will be double sided. And stitched with hundreds and hundreds of parallel lines. And every end of thread will be carefully sewn in. So shouted my voice!

Unfortunately my voice does not care that the call ends on 30th September and that I start a new day job on the 12th. Or that we are hanging the next Etcetera exhibition at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery this week. Ho hum. Better get back to my sewing machine!

Highlights from Festival

So where to begin. Festival of Quilts is huge. There are a dozen or so white walled gallery spaces, hundreds of open competition quilts and an awful lot of traders. There have been years when I have been so totally overwhelmed that I have left after a couple of hours. The truly amazing selection of work has sometimes made me wonder 'why bother' but at other times has energised me to rush back to the studio to make art. This year has been a good one. My piece Ruins 6 won 1st prize in the open Art Category, Vestiges got a 'highly commended' in the Miniature Category and Ruins 5 was shortlisted for Fine Art Quilt Masters. I floated on air and was humbled by all the congratulations and kind words. They even played my favourite Blur song (Song 2) when I went on stage to collect my award. Of course this was a completely random thing as the music is pre-selected but it made my grin even wider!

Ruins 6 (270cm x 135cm, £3500)

In between meeting friends and stewarding in the SAQA gallery I managed to visit all the galleries on my 'must see' list and saw quite a lot of the open competition quilts. My favourite gallery was probably Art Textile: Made In Britain: Concealed where I was blown away by the work of Rosie James. I also really enjoyed Claire Benn and Ingrid Press's gallery.

Unlike many visitors I never seem to remember to take photos of the works I like - for the most part I am too absorbed in looking and responding. I did take a few and here is a selection.

Borrowed (Henry Matisse, Tom and me) by Maria Thomas Shortlisted in Fine Art Quilt Masters

Rust rose by Sue Hotchkis Shortlisted in Fine Art Quilt Masters

Big Sister by Claire Passmore

Detail of Surface III by Isabelle Wiessler

Thames Lock 101 by Mags Ramsay

Rainy Day Dora Creek #13 by Judy Hooworth


The N word .... networking!

Those of you who read my blog will know that my day job became 'unsustainable' a short while ago so I find myself unemployed. I hate that word and prefer 'taking a career break' or 'taking time out to spend with my family' or 'taking a sabbatical to take advantage of an artists residency (in my own studio)'.  But whatever I call it the reality is that I need to find a new job. And apparently the most successful way to do that is by networking. Even the word fills me with horror - I am hopeless at small talk, generally useless at blowing my own trumpet and suffer a big 'I am not worthy' moment when I contemplate approaching somebody to give me a job. Does this sound familiar?

To give myself a head start I attended a workshop on LinkedIn and now have my profile set up and am busy making connections. Please feel free to look me up but don't be offended if I don't connect with you ... I'm trying to keep it limited to day job contacts initially. However the workshop did get me thinking about networking and my 'other life' as a textile artist. Whilst networking in this context isn't aimed at getting a job I am ambitious about my art and do want to get my work 'out there'. Building a network might lead to opportunities to exhibit or towards getting commissions. Although I didn't think of it in terms of networking my website, this blog and my Facebook page have been a good start. Being a member of CQ and SAQA was also a good start.

But one of the key takeaways from the workshop was to actively do whatever it takes to become visible, to be at the top of the list when somebody searches for you. Which, in terms of me as an artist, means making my Facebook page 'public', sending friend requests to people where we only have one or two mutual friends and not just those where we have lots of mutual friends. It means taking time out to steward on the SAQA exhibition at Festival of Quilts. And it means stopping being a 'lurker' on yahoo message groups and starting being a participant. It probably means starting to use Twitter and / or Instagram and / or Pinterest! Which definitely means I need a very large cup of very good coffee ... and probably some chocolate!!

Creating the right environment

I'm in the final stages of making Ruins 7. Well I think I am. I need to stitch on facings and get it hung up somewhere so I can decide if it needs more stitch or not. Which presents a bit of a challenge as it is taller than the height of my studio. This will take a few days to sort out. So what should I do now? I have been planning on going back to my Storm / Still series to (try to) make a piece for the SAQA call for entry 'Layered Voices'. Up until now my ideas were all pretty vague and somewhat grandiose. But today I had a light bulb moment thanks to fellow Etcetera member Linda Bilsborrow. Following a discussion about her work I happened to glance at a small sample that was pinned to my Storm / Still design wall .... and flash! Off went that elusive light bulb!

Sample made whilst developing the Storm / Still series

I'm really lucky to have several design walls so I can keep lots of ideas and samples pinned up. Most of that space has been filled with Ruins stuff for the last few months but I kept some photos of Dunure beach and stitched samples visible - would I have had that light bulb moment if everything was tucked away?

Pinned up fabrics ready for auditioning

And now that I have a good idea of how to procede I have rearranged my design walls to keep me focussed. On one wall I have pinned the sample and some fabrics that I have already printed. I will add to this wall as I print more pieces. On another wall I have pinned up more photos of Dunure - I can look at these and remember what I felt sat on that beach and what I'm trying to convey in my work. And I have changed the drop cloth on my big print bench from the unmarked one that signifies I am in a composition and stitching phase to one with lots of lovely residual marks from previous printing sessions. Not as quick as flipping a switch but it has the same effect!

Memories of Dunure beach