In later July, I was selected as one of the artists that would be working with the BioSciences department at Sheffield University, to work with a group of scientists on BioFest. It's been such an interesting opportunity, which has developed quite a lot from my first meeting. Initially, I thought I would be working with stem cells and looking at the progression of conditions such as MS, or Parkinson's. However, I have ended up working with an oncology department, looking at breast cancer, and metastasising breast cancer cells. I have had the opportunity to study healthy mammary cells in different ways, and have looking at how cancers cells enter and disrupt the breast tissue. I've been able to go into the labs, to look at these cells under a microscope, which has been so fascinating.
In terms of my own work, I am planning on drawing various cells and having them repeated printed onto fabric. I will create a fabric tunnel, beginning with the healthy cytoskeleton of a mammary cell, leading through to the metastasis of a cancer cell. I will encourage viewers to walk both ways through this tunnel, to get a sense both of natural progression of conditions and diseases, and to think about the scientific research being done to undo their damage. At the end of the project, I am hoping to turn these fabric panels into bags, which will be sold to raise funds for cancer research UK.
I have created a video piece, which will be played on a screen as you exit the tunnel. My husband Sam, who does a lot of music production and plays in a few bands, has created a really beautiful piece of music to go alongside this video. The sound begins in a light and gentle way, and gradually distorts and corrupts, as and to what the cancer cells are doing inside the body. It's been such a pleasure to work on this project, and I feel very honoured to have had the opportunity. Sheffield University have allowed me a lot of creative freedom, which has really created an interesting working harmony, between the science and the visual representations, in a creative manner. It feels like a big responsibility but hopefully it will all come together in the way we imagine.
The work will be installed on Nov 1st 2023, and should be available to see throughout that month.
I would hope that by now, my love of pigeons is clear for all to see! I think they're such pretty, funny, maligned birds - I love seeing all of their colour variations when I'm out an about. My current favourites are the white ones with smatterings of black and grey on their feathers. I also, absolutely love a classic rock dove, with the iridescent sheen on their necks. So, as well as all of my crochet and crafted pigeons, I thought it was time to draw some of my feathered friends.
I was really pleased with this drawing, and it got such positive feedback that I decided to have pigeon prints made. The image is called 'The Flock', and prints are available in 3 sizes (A3, A4 and A5). They're available to buy from my Etsy (shop link), or through me directly - just email or DM on instagram. I've got a few A5s for sale in Site Gallery, and all sizes will be available at Birds Yard. As I sit writing this, a little brown pigeon just trotted past the glass door - I will take it as a sign of good fortune!
After quite a lot of thinking following some not particularly kind feedback, I decided it was the best idea to separate out my 'art' (drawing, gallery viewing and more 'academic' work), and my craft (crochet, toys and decorations) into 2 separate instagram accounts. I've been thinking about doing it for a while but was initially hesitant. Whilst I was at university I was really interested in the historic maligning of crafted works, and the marriage of craft and 'fine art' within a contemporary context. I felt if I separated out my accounts, I might be doing a disservice to the study and consideration I did during my time at Ruskin! However, I realised that there's a big difference between the security of studying, and the reality of earning money and living as a working artist. If you have a trust fund, or you get *exceptionally* lucky, then it might be possible to be led only by your interests in contemporary art aesthetics, and not make in a financially savvy way. But the reality is, if you're lucky enough to be able to support yourself with your art practice, you'll need to think carefully about where your money is coming from, and how to create popular work. My crochet pigeons are definitely my 'hero' product, and they keep things ticking over financially month to month. Many people who like these crafted birds, won't be interested in my dead animal drawings, and visa versa. Rather than it being a disservice to my university studies, I actually decided it would be a shrewd business move.
So, if you're more interested in my crochet work, or if you would like to follow both accounts, my new one is www.instagram.com/jessicaheywoodcraft
After many months of discussion, meetings, researching and drawing, my part of the Thomas Nashe project was wrapped up in February. We ran a show over 2 weeks, with the drawings on display, along with a large whiteboard slideshow. For the run I created prints, bookmarks and badges which were left on the tables with an honesty box. The opening was small but very successful, with a host of academics from the English and History departments, and a few artists. It was wonderful to have a chance to hear feedback and have discussions about the images.
The space in which the exhibition took place is not normally an arts space, but a large reception area of an engineering and science building. It was great to be able to use an unusual space, and have discussion with people not used to seeing art projects as they enter their place of work or study. It was more like an academic conference, than an art exhibition, which was a new venture for me and one I really enjoyed. It was great to take the work out of a gallery setting and play with its potential in different arenas.
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.
Semi regular updates of what I'm doing & making.