Yesterday I went to see the Annie Montgomerie exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I've only become aware of her work recently and immediately became completely obsessed. She builds animal characters with childlike, human expressions, dressed in vintage clothing with beautifully crafted props and details. All of the figures have a slightly sinister quality (in my opinion), they're a bit creepy and create a sense of uneasiness, despite being incredibly cute. I think this is partly due to how realistic the faces are, and the detail given to all of their character building. A little like Victorian dolls, or old nurseries, there's a sense of nostalgia but also an unease - perhaps this is because these images have become a horror film trope, or perhaps it's the ghostliness of past play. Things that were once given life through childhood games, loose that innocence as children grow up and abandon their toys. Personally, I'm a massive softy and I've held on to a lot of childhood objects - some teddy bears in particular are incredibly important to me. Montgomerie's figures had the feeling of comfort and nostalgia, with just a hint of malice hidden behind. It was a really fantastic exhibition, probably my favourite of the year and I can't wait to buy the book YSP created about her work when it comes back in stock!
This year has been my first 'commercial' Christmas, so for the last few months I've been very busy with making for local shops and finishing off commission work. I'm so very appreciative that people like my work enough to buy it as gifts, particularly in such a difficult financial climate. I've learnt a lot from this year and there's quite a lot I will change for next year. I'm thinking about how I might split 2023 into different 'chunks', focussing on professional development for the first third, shows and grants in the second and then commercial work for Christmas in the third. I realised I need quite a lot more stock earlier than I'd thought, and that branching out and having a wider range of options would benefit me. I also want to expand where I'm selling, and will approach more shops in the new year. Etsy isn't really a great selling platform for my work, but it's very expensive to host a shop through an independent website, so that's another issue that I need to explore.
One new thing I've been exploring when not making for Christmas, is metal embossing! It's such a fun and simple process - you place a piece of metal (copper or tin) onto hard foam, draw out an image on a piece of paper and then use clay tools to emboss or deboss the image you've designed. It's a bit hard on the hands to begin with, and Have been suffering with an aching wrist, but once you get the hang of it, it's incredibly quick and portable! You can emboss on a train, in a waiting room, at your relatives house. Also, because not that many people seem to do it, you're bound to impress your friends and family! Here are a few of my early attempts - I'd love to make decorations using this technique for next Christmas - I just need to find a way to make sure the edges aren't too sharp.
Lobsters are a bit of an obsession at the minute. I picked up my watercolours for the first time in many, many years and painted this study. I'm doing a stitching of the same image, which I think I'll make into a lobster 'plushie' - it's a labour of love because it's a very slow process - hopefully I'll be able to use the Christmas break to make some good progress with it.
I wasn't expecting to enjoy the watercolour painting as much as I did. At foundation I did a lot of watercolours, including a large piece of birds, all on top of one another with no relief, which I loved. However, when I went to university the first time round, I really started to hate painting (bit tricky as it was a painting course) and haven't really painted ever since. I've never been particularly interested in oils or acrylics, but rediscovering the potential of watercolour was a delight! Much like drawing, it has so many historic associations with women, fragility and 'prettiness', it doesn't seem to be a medium of 'great' artists, so it has a lot of subversive potential. I'm definitely going to go back to my 'The Heartless Hurt Less' file, find some dead animal images that I've stored away over the last year, and have a go at painting them, in the new year. It will be interesting to bring a bit more colour into my work!
Last month I finished all of the drawings for my big Thomas Nashe project for the University of Sheffield. The next stage is to create a zine of the images and then next month I'll be heading up to Newcastle to work with a drama group and see how they are choosing to respond to the text we were given. It's been such an exciting and challenging project to be involved with, and I'm so excited to see how other creatives have explored Nashe's writing and ideas. There'll be a bit of academic discussion before the first workshop and then I'll go back up to Newcastle towards the end of the month to watch the finished production. I haven't yet posted all the completed images, but will be putting them up on my Instagram and the 'commissions' page of this site before too long. Here's a sneak peak image!
Earlier this week I was commissioned to decorated the front windows of the gorgeous Bird's Yard shop. They have been so supportive of me and my commercial practice and I love selling my pigeons with them and hearing stories about the variety of customers they get in, so it was a real pleasure to do it. I also created my first ever 'reel' on Instagram of the process, which was much less daunting than I had assumed it would be, so it's something I will keep exploring. I hate how much the Instagram algorithm has changed and I really dislike to way the app is now - I find it very hard to get good engagement or promote my work & everything is ad and video focussed. It's a shame but I'll persevere with it and not move over to other social media platforms like TikTok, because I'm more interested in images then videos. But I suppose I may have to bow to the algorithm pressure and make a few reels now and again...
I've also made a couple of *huge* pigeons called Pedro and Paloma who are for sale in Bird's Yard - they're a lot of fun. I'm hoping I'll be able to make some more in the future, but there isn't the space to store any more for the time being!
A while ago I made a super labour intensive embroidered piece of a pigeon - I really liked it but unfortunately the fabric warped a bit as I was making it and I couldn't ever fully stretch it out again. It was available for sale but unsurprisingly no one was interested due to the fault, so I took it out of its hoop and had a go at making a little embroidered pigeon plush. I've learnt a lot from the process - I'm going to do another one of a lobster, but I'll need a heavier cotton and I'll also need to machine the outside stitches to prevent fraying and tearing. Lobsters are my current animal obsession, so I'm very excited to stitch one!
Finally, I just came back from running a painting workshop at Typeset in Rotherham. I'm not a painter so I was surprised but thrilled to be asked to do this workshop - we loosened up with my usual drawing tricks and then we had some written prompts about our identity and the spaces we feel comfortable. I encouraged everyone to play with the loosening techniques they'd learnt and to create lots of different textures and expressions, so as not to become too precious about their imagery. It was a really lovely group and everyone had a nice, relaxed time painting and collaging onto canvas. All of the materials were from Poundland, B&M or just scrap material from under my bed, so it was also really great to show how you make things on a budget and don't need fancy materials to create art and be creative.
It's been a busy few months for me, both in terms of making, my career and my personal life - so I haven't had much time to update socials. Firstly, I got married, which is super lovely and very time consuming! I also left my job at The Hepworth after nearly 4 years to go and work with the management team at Site Gallery in Sheffield. Working close to home is so nice after the years of commuting and it's really exciting to have a bit more responsibility and standing within a gallery setting. This is my first time in a management position and I'm hoping it will open up quite a few new avenues for me over the next few years. The last show I worked at THW (which is still on) was the stunning Sheila Hicks - if you do have a chance to go see it I'd really recommend. It's a bright, vibrant, textural exploration of colour and fabric. It is immensely tactile, so I had to be very self restrained over the past few months... I can't seem to get any images to load right now, but there are lots online (and if I remember I'll try again later).
Another exciting thing has been that I'm currently working with The University of Sheffield English department on a big commission, based around the works of the 1500s author, Thomas Nashe. I'm illustrating the personifications of the sins as he describes them in his work Pierce Penniless. It's a really dense text and definitely a challenging brief but I'm getting into it now and feeling excited to see how they'll develop. The deadline is the end of August so I'll be working very hard to get them all completed and unlikely to do many other projects....
Except of course, the pigeons! The crochet pigeons have gone down an absolute storm and I'm so thrilled to be in such high demand. These days, if I have a spare second I'm immediately making a new pigeon head or stuffing a wing. I recently took a few new colour ways to the Birds Yard shop I sell at, so we'll have to see if they prove equally popular.
The crochet pigeons are back!
Last year I started making a huge flock of crocheted pigeons, out of a variety of grey, blue, silver and glittery yarns. Initially I thought I was going to make an installation of a textile Trafalgar Square, with the pigeons scattered everywhere. However, as soon as I put the first round of birds on Instagram, they all sold out! I was so thrilled with how popular they were. I went on to make another 25 for a Mary Poppins parody, and after I'd filmed my video, they all sold as well.
I then took a little break from the pigeons, but recently went back to them. I contacted a few local shops and I'm so pleased that they are now stocked in Bird's Yard, Sheffield. It's a gorgeous community shop full of amazing independent makers, located on Chapel Walk. It's always been a go-to for finding fab and unique birthday gifts for friends and family. I dropped off 15 pigeons on Monday and 10 have sold already! I'm so happy that other people love crochet pigeons as much as I do. I also got a fab bit of free marketing, when a pigeon landed on the snooker table at the Crucible last week. So, obviously, I've had to go by the Crucible to let the pigeons see a bit of snooker before they go to the shop.
As always, the pigeons are still available to buy from me directly, just email or DM on instagram. Next month they will also be stocked in the Frontier Gallery in Sheffield, for their next show. I'm feeling so lucky that the pigeons are flying off the shelves!
A couple of weeks ago I popped down to London on an absolutely flying visit (5 hours total) to catch the Louise Bourgeois and Beatrix Potter shows. 'The Woven Child' is currently on at The Hayward Gallery, and 'Drawn to Nature' at the V&A. Both of these artists have been important to me in very different ways. Growing up I was really fascinated with illustrated books - I was certain I was going to become an illustrator and many of my heroes are children authors and illustrators. The images in books from my childhood have often stayed with me and made more impact than art I've seen and studied, because they have such an emotional connection. So I was so thrilled to see the Potter exhibition. I'd been given the catalogue from the show for Christmas, so already had a very good sense of what was in it, but seeing the immaculate watercolours in the flesh was so delightful! My fiancé hadn't read any of the books so when we got home I made him read my favourite (Samuel Whiskers), and whilst he isn't exactly a convert, he did have a little chuckle.
Louise Bourgeois has been such a seminal voice in the art world, particularly for feminists and those working with crafts and lower status materials. I first discovered her work when doing my GCSEs and have wanted to see one of her 'Cells' since then. The Hayward have a Cell, with one of her monumental metal spiders. It's such a moving and considered exhibition. It's the first time a gallery has put together only her textiles work for a show, but because she allowed for all her drawing and sculpture to be so intertwined with her fabrics, you don't get a sense that you're only seeing part of her practice.
So, a couple of weeks ago I tore a ligament in my right wrist. A bit of a disaster - I'm right handed so it put me out of action for drawing and textiles work, for the first 2 weeks I couldn't even really type. It was a bit of a blow and I've been finding it tough going, but I have tried to use the time productively. I did an Open University course in Marketing for Freelance Creatives, which was an 8 week course, but it's very possible to do 2 or 3 weeks worth of the course in a day, so it didn't take too long. After the course (it's one of the free ones they host through their website) you get a digital badge to go on your learners profile. It was pretty interesting and I'm glad I did it. I've had quite a few new ideas I'm excited to put into action as soon as my wrist is at full strength again.
I've also been doing a lot of left hand drawing. Most of it isn't very good, but it is quite amazing to see the improvement in such a short amount of time. Here is the first drawing I did, followed by 2 of the same subject yesterday.
Here's a bit more left hand experimenting...
I've had to put a commission I was working on, on hold whilst my wrist heals. I was a bit worried that I might lose the job, but thankfully the person I'm working with has been really understanding and is being exceptionally patient. I'd booked a bit of time off from my gallery job, which was predominantly to work on the commission, but unfortunately it's ended up just being recovery time... I also have my wedding invitations to make, which I'll get started on this weekend.
Happy New Year! I don't know if you're anything like me, but I actually hate 'new year' - I find resolutions stressful and they make me focus on all of my 'failings' from the year before and is a guaranteed way to start beating myself up... So I've done no resolutions - but even so, I feel like I've started 2022 in totally the wrong way.
I have an exciting commission I started working on last week, and after about 10 hours of drawing I've realised the plan won't work and have had to abandon the drawing. This isn't particularly common for me, because I plan my drawings quite meticulously, but I was trying to fit in too many disparate elements into this one. So, I've had to desert it. Thought I'd put some images and the situation up on here, to show glorious failure - I need to see more people failing! It is so good for us all to admit when things don't work.
I just finished a fantastic book about Beatrix Potter, called 'Drawn to Nature'. I found Potter absolutely fascinating - her anatomical awareness, her writing, her scientific studies and the juxtaposition between her quite detached, almost brutal relationship to animals (she would kill ill animals and dissect them for anatomical study), with her care for pets and her stories and drawings. When I'm struggling for inspiration and finding it hard to focus or create, I find the best thing to do is to deep dive into other artists' practices and study their work for a while. I'm so excited to visit the V&A in February for the Beatrix Potter exhibition. We'll also go to The Hayward gallery to see the Louise Bourgeois textiles exhibition, so it should be a really inspiring day!
We went to see the Louis Wain film last week. Louis Wain is a really fascinating artist - I'd seen his work a few times across the years, but didn't get interested in his body of drawings until Nick Cave spoke about his personal collection of Wain work. He painted and drew cats, in a variety of anthropomorphised settings and clothing. Similarly to Potter, these images are often misinterpreted as twee, whereas their reality is actually quite different - there is a dark, frenzied undertone to his work, and a wicked, bizarre charm. Wain became very unwell in his later years and died in a mental health hospital - his later works are often considered to show his descent into schizophrenia, although psychologists disagree on this. It's a sweet film, but for me focusses too much on Wain's life, rather than his artwork, which I would have been more interested in.
Finally, if you're in Sheffield, I would suggest you head to the Cupola Under the Bed Sale. It's an annual event, where artists clear out their studios and offer the work at *bargain* prices. Nothing can be more than £350, but pieces start at £1, and I have picked up some absolute steals from there over the years. This year I have a lot of drawings, both framed and unframed, and 18 prints in the sale - they're as cheap as I could possibly make them, and I'd love for them to find new homes!
It's been a tough year, hasn't it? Personally, I've really struggled - both with difficult familial situations which have been hugely affected by covid, and professionally. All of the other work I do to support my studio practice have been affected by covid - I've had to come in and out of different jobs, and I find the chopping and changing really difficult to manage.
Artistically, I've definitely lost a lot of confidence. I'm uncertain of the validity of my work, the purpose it has in the world, and where I stand between artistic integrity and commercial engagement. It's really difficult for everyone to navigate these circumstances, and the backdrop of the pandemic and political situation makes it exceptionally hard. Like many people have wisely said, the biggest challenge to creativity is fear, and a background of fear and anxiety makes it close to impossible to stretch your creative wings!
So, overall, I'm feeling a bit down! But I've decided to take some time to look at the successes of the last year. I've made a few 'grids' of my images - the first is my favourite projects and makes from the year. It's part of the Instagram #artvsartist2021 image, so there's a photo of me in the middle! It's actually taken last year, at the Paloma Varga Weisz show at the Henry Moore institute, which is one of my absolute favourite shows I've *ever* seen!
The 2nd is purely drawing, the 3rd embroidery and the 4th crochet.
I'm not quite sure where my crochet sits within my practice. I'm not sure if it's 'art'; most of it is definitely craft, Some of it is part of my artistic process, but some of it is just for me and just for fun - perhaps more of a hobby, but using visual and making skills to inform the ideas. I'm considering next year splitting my practice more obviously, into an artistic side and a more craft focussed, and commercial side. I'm not quite sure how it will work yet, but I can see having a sales focussed craft fair side, and a more drawing focussed side, which I will use for exhibitions and prize entries.
A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to go down to London for the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize - the show itself opens to the public next month, but all exhibitors can go for the prize giving (and have a sneak peak/PV). It was really exciting to see my work amongst so many amazing drawings - I love drawing; the historical significance, the practice itself and the underpinning it creates within other practices.
My piece was in the 'Working Drawing' prize section, where it sat amongst (in conversation with(?)) architectural and scientific studies, which I found so interesting. I don't consider there to be any difference between artists, drawing practitioners, mark makers or illustrators, I just love to see how drawings come to be and the story they are telling.
We (my Mum and I) were only in London overnight, so we didn't have much time, but we did manage to see the Paula Rego show at Tate Britain. I really enjoy Rego's work, but very specifically her nursery rhyme etchings, which have been some of my favourite illustrations since I was a child. I was given a Rego illustrated book of nursery rhymes for my christening and have cherished it my whole life - after seeing the show I bought a new hardback, fully coloured copy of the book, which will now live alongside my original tatty version.
Another very exciting thing to have happened in the last few weeks, is that Tom Gunn Nash's album 'Closer' came out. Tom is a wonderfully talented musician. and this album has already been picked up by Bandcamp's 'New and Note-able' releases. I was thrilled to be asked to do the artwork for the album, the cover being a drawing of Tom's face and the inside artwork being an eyeball and 3 hands doing a palm reading. Download it by copying the link below!
Last weekend I got to run the first workshop since the very start of the pandemic. It was a drawing workshop called 'So You Think You Can't Draw', where I encourage lots of techniques to improve looking and reduce assumptions, such as non-dominant hand drawing, continuous line drawing, blind drawing etc. It was really wonderful and very nerve wracking to be back running a class. The focus of the class is process rather than outcome, but here are a couple of the fantastic experiments!