Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Framing Textile Art (part 1) How and Why I Frame my Textile Artworks

Textile artworks are often presented unframed in gallery exhibitions.  There is a wonderful tactility about a piece of textile art that isn't imprisoned behind glass, however in my experience framing can be a good way to present delicate textile work and remove possible buyer barriers. If done correctly, good quality framing gives an artwork a neat professional finish, protects and preserves the artwork and makes it easier to hang (and possibly sell).

95% of the artworks that I sell are framed. This choice to frame my work is a very conscious one for both practical and conceptual reasons and I believe this way of presenting my work have contributed to the success of my art business.

When I first started creating my embroidered sculptures I would often display them by pinning the embroideries directly to the gallery walls, or stitching them onto canvases. While these pieces looked great and people seemed to love them, they rarely sold. Feedback I received from galleries was that people were concerned about how to hang or clean the work in their own homes and were tentative to take on artwork that wasn't in a 'standard format'. Potential customers seemed to be disappointed that they couldn't just take the artwork home and easily hang it on their walls. Understandably consumers want safe, easy to care for art that doesn’t require special care or installation methods – so framing was an obvious next step for me.

When it came to developing the best way to frame my work I spent a lot of time researching and developing a presentation method that would safely secure my work and present it in the best possible way. One of the things that I loved about pinning my work to gallery walls was the dynamic shadows the work created in the right light. I wanted to retain this shadow element within the frame so explored various mounting methods and box framing options until I found the best solution for the work. Inspired by the mounting techniques used in natural history museums I developed a way to pin my work so that it was permanently spaced slightly off a backing board. This gave the illusion that the embroidery was floating in the frame; showcasing the lightness and sculptural aspects of the embroidery and casting those beautiful shadows that I loved.

Once my embroideries were framed they looked even more like preserved museum specimens, which aligned well with the conceptual ideas of my work. The framing makes the artwork somewhat precious and adds a level of intrigue becasue people can't touch the art - even if they really want to. It is like a little world inside a glass box and I have since had many comments about how my work is so professionally presented. 

Since moving to predominantly framed pieces my work is now much easier to transport, hang, store and care for. Exhibition installs are quick and easy since most galleries are set up with hanging systems for framed work. My work is also much more user friendly for the collector. They look good, are easy to hang and don't require any special care or cleaning. There is really no practical reason not to take one home with you. 

Choosing to frame my artworks was probably one of the smartest moves I have made in my art practice to date. It has certainly added to the appeal and accessibility of what would otherwise be very delicate and 'hard to hang' artwork. 

In my next post I will discuss a few more of my findings and tips for framing textile artwork (or any artwork for that matter). So make sure you check it out. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My new favourite marine critter - the Argonaut.

Recently I was gifted a particularly beautiful shell by a friend who knew that I liked to collect such things. The shell was paper thin, translucent, and covered in rows upon rows of little bumps. I was in love. 

This curious specimen sparked a research rampage on my part until I tracked down the original owner of the shell and it’s story.
The newest shell in my collection - an Argonauta nodosa egg case
It turns out that my shell is not strictly a shell; it is in fact the egg case of a female Argonauta nodosa – commonly referred to as a Paper Nautilus. Argonauts are a group of pelagic octopuses and the lady Argonauts make these delicate egg cases to use as a brood chamber and also to help control their buoyancy in the water. Cool huh!

Argonauta nodosa, female in shell. Image by: David Paul / dpimages, Rights/Licence: All rights reserved reference: http://portphillipmarinelife.net.au/species/7832
As you can see in the images this octopus sits very differently to most other octopuses. Female argonauts slip themselves into the egg case so that their mouth is exposed at the front and their eight arms are tucked back into the case. The females have two specialised webbed tentacles that secrete the shell and can be wrapped around the egg case to hold it in place. They move around with the help of an enlarged funnel that they use to jet around the place. The chromatophores in the octopus's skin allow it to shift from a almost translucent white colour to a vivid purple, red or orange in a split second.

Argonauta nodosa - Photo credit: Karen GowlettHolmes
I have always been a lover of cephalopods and have previously created artworks inspired by the shells of the Nautilus and Ammonites (a prehistoric cephalopod). But I think these little guys are now my new favorite. They are just so weirdly wonderful! See the bottom of this post for links to a great video and some further readings. 

So once I knew a bit about these creatures I just had to create an embroidered artwork based on these beautiful egg cases. Although my egg case came from a species that is local to Australia; Argonauta nodosa (commonly known as the knobbed Argonaut) my design was based on the more widely distributed Argonauta argo (also knows as the greater Argonaut). 

I was torn between creating a bright colourful interpretation of the shell or a subtle white piece that more closely referenced that natural colouring of the egg case. 

So in the end … I made both. 
Both Paper nautilus artworks in the studio prior to framing
After mapping the ribbed pattern on an Argonauta argo egg case I created a brightly coloured piece using my favourite colour scheme of reds and oranges. I moulded the piece when it was drying to give it a subtle curved shape and pinned its edges directly down onto the mounting board so that it retained this three dimensionality within the narrow box frame. 

Sewing 'Red paper Nautilus'
Meredith pinning 'Red Paper Nautilus' into place prior to framing
Red Paper Nautilus (2016) by Meredith Woolnough, embroidery thread and pins on paper
I loved the bright red/orange version of the shell but I still wanted to attempt a white version. White has always been a difficult colour for me to work with because I have to restrict my drawn guidelines so I don’t stain the white yarn. But after a bit of experimentation (and a few close calls) I was able to replicate the design in pure white. 

Paper Nautilus (detail) by Meredith Woolnough
Paper Nautilus (2016) by Meredith Woolnough, embroidery thread and pins on paper
This white piece was very difficult to capture (forgive my crappy, over edited image above – white on white is tricky to shoot) Unfortunately the photo’s don’t capture the depth and subtle texture of this piece - but hopefully you can still get a bit of a feel for the piece.

Want to see these artwork in the flesh? They will be on show at Arcadian Artists in November 2016. 

Click HERE to watch a great video where Dr Julian Finn explains what Argonauts are and some findings that have come out of his PHD research on these fascinating creatures. 

Further reading:

Jereb. P, Roper. C, Norman. M, Finn. J, (2014), Cephalopods of the world: An annotated and illustrated catalogue of cephalopod species known to date, Volume 3. Octopods and Vampire squids, FAO, pp.235-237. http://www.fao.org/docrep/019/i3489e/i3489e.pdf visited 05/09/2016.

Finn. J, Norman. M, (2010), The Argonaut shell: gas-mediated buoyancy control in a pelagic octopus, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological sciences, published online 19/05/2010,. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2982015/ visited 05/09/2016


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Natural Networks at Timeless Textiles Gallery

My solo exhibition at Timeless Textiles finished up a week or so ago. It was lovely to show with this wonderful gallery again. I have exhibited with the gallery every few years since I moved to Newcastle and they have been a great support of me and my art practice. This time around the exhibition was in their new space next to the Lock up on Hunter St.

Here are a few shots of the show for those who missed it.... or those who want to relive it gain.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Celebrating colour in leaves

Begonia leaf #1 (2016), embroidery thread and pins on paper

It's no secret that I like leaves. 
In fact I like leaves more than that I like flowers, which probably makes me a bit weird because I am sure it is the other way around for most people. Leaves have inspired my work for the last few years and I can't look at a leaf without zooming straight into its vein structure and tracking this delicate system. 

It probably comes as no great surprise then that I am revisiting leaf venation in my new solo exhibition 'Natural Networks' at Timeless Textiles gallery this April. Aside from leaf venation I have focused on leaf colour in this new series of leaves. Exploring the colour of both fresh and dried/dying leaves. 

The two Begonia Leaf works were the first that I created for the exhibition. They were inspired by my visit to the Ballarat Begonia Festival last year at the Ballarat Botanic Gardens. I was in the area teaching a workshop and accidentally came across the annual festival while exploring the gardens on my afternoon off. The festival was centred around a glorious greenhouse, exploding with colour and showcased a huge collection of begonia varieties. Although the flowers were striking, it was the leaves that I was most drawn to. There is huge variety in the shape, patterning and colouration of begonia leaves. I personally love the asymmetrical leaf varieties with bands of purple and green - which you can plainly see in my two pieces inspired by this plant. 

The conservatory at the Ballarat Begonia Festival 2015
Some of the begonia flower varieties found at the Ballarat Begonia festival 2015
Some of the leaf varieties found at the Ballarat Begonia festival 2015

Begonia Leaf #2 (2016), embroidery thread and pins on paper

Following on from the theme set by the begonia leaves I was drawn to caladium leaves. Beautifully patterned and vividly coloured this is another example of a plant that is loved for its decorative foliage. The design for this piece was based on the cultivated caladium bicolour - 'Thai beauty', a stunning plant with heart shaped leaves with bright colouration. I don't think my little design does the plant justice, but I had a lot of fun making it and it also made the cut for the exhibition invite.  
Caladium Leaf (2016), embroidery thread and pins on paper

My Mauve Eucalyptus Leaf is inspired by the subtle colour changes a eucalyptus leaf goes through as it dries and dies. Whenever I go for bushwalks I find myself collecting pockets full of coloured gum leaves, marvelling at the huge range of hues that can be found among the fallen leaves from a single plant. Reds, greens, purples, yellows, oranges and greys - there is a rainbow to be found on the ground, all year round. 
Mauve Eucalyptus Leaf (2016), embroidery thread and pins on paper

Many disiduous plants put on a spectacular display in autumn, and this is one of the reasons that it is my favourite time of year. In the house where I grew up we had a Japanese maple tree which transformed our front yard with it's sunset coloured leaves every autumn. I have tried to capture the deep bright red of the tiny maple leaves in this piece. 

Japanese Maple Branch (2015), embroidery thread and pins on paper

Friday, February 5, 2016

Fan Worm Crown

Fan Worm Crown (2016) embroidery thread and pins on paper, by Meredith Woolnough

This new piece is inspired by an ocean creature that has always fascinated and delighted me on dives. The fan worm, Sabella spallanzanii.

This little annelid is otherwise known as the 'European Fan worm', 'pencil worm' or 'feather duster worm'. Sabella spallanzanii is found in the shallow, sub-tidal areas of countries such as; Spain, Portugal, France, Turkey and South America. It has been also been found in several regions around Australia over the last few decades. The fan worm has the potential to be a pest in our marine waters and their numbers are being monitored as a result.

Fan worm, Spirographis spanzani (Photo credit: Robert Harding)
The worm itself is mostly hidden inside its leathery tube, extending only the feathery feeding tentacles out of the top of its self made home. In this artwork I have focused on the worm's crown of feeding tentacles, depicting the fan of banded tentacles in a design that describes the structure of the crown if it was to be flattened out. There are two distinct layers of tentacles in the crown and one of these layers forms a distinct spiral. This structure can be difficult to see when the tentacles are extended in the water as the crown tends to look more like a soft cup or a feathery plume underwater.

I hoped to show the beauty and complexity of the worm's crown in this piece, highlighting its mathematical perfection and delicate colour banding.

Fan Worm Crown in process - Embroidery stage

The two layers of the Fan Worm Crown prior to mounting

Fan Worm Crown (Detail), 2016, embroidery thread and pins on paper, by Meredith Woolnough

Fan Worm Crown (Detail), 2016, embroidery thread and pins on paper, by Meredith Woolnough

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Stitched Specimens

Last year I created a range of tiny embroideries inspired by various structures found in nature. You have probably some of these works before on my Facebook page (if you follow me there), but I thought I would share them here as well. 

Some of the sources of inspiration for these 'stitched specimens'  should be pretty obvious, others are a little more subtle. I drew upon various plants, corals, molluscs, and even microscopic organisms for ideas but took some artistic liberties with the colours. Playing with colour has always been fun for me. 

Each piece is mounted in much the same way as an insect specimen, pinned out on tiny pins so the embroidery seems to float in space. I framed each piece individually, creating some of my tiniest works to date. Each piece measures just 20 x 20cm and they stand up on their own or hang on the wall. They are very cute. 

I have had lots of fun creating these pieces and experimenting with the new shapes and designs. I hope to revisit this smaller format again this year with my new body of work. 

I'm not sure what form this new work will take just yet, but I am looking forward to the journey. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Designer Insights with Meredith Woolnough - from Terry's Fabrics

Thanks to Terry's Fabrics blog for doing a Designer Insights feature on me :)

Courtesy of: Terrys Fabrics UK