Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Artist Residency at Glasshouse Port Maquarie





Last week I completed an artist residency at the Glasshouse in Port Maquarie.

What is an artist residency you ask? Hopefully this post can answer that question and also give some insight into what I did during my residency. 

An artist residency is an opportunity for an artist to temporarily stay and work somewhere other than their usual space. They are a great way to get away for the day-to-day distractions that may otherwise impeded on my art practice and allow me the time and space to really focus on getting the creative juices flowing.

In the case of this residency I was whisked away to the beautiful coastal town of Port maquarie, given a lovely studio to work in amongst a super supportive, creative environment (A theatre/regional gallery) and left to my own creative devices for a week - what bliss.  The public was welcomed into the studio at several points during the residency to see what I had been up to and to make the 'mysterious studio life of an artist' a bit more transparent and accessible to the public. I also taught a  workshop at the end of the residency where participants could come and learn to draw and sculpt with their sewing machines. As with many residencies, the work that I created during my time in this temporary studio will be shown in an exhibition later in the year. More details about that show coming soon!

I jumped at this opportunity for a few reasons. Firstly I was delighted to be approached by the Glasshouse as they are a regional gallery that I greatly admire. They have a great program showcasing the arts and I was honoured to be asked to participate in their 'artist in residency' program. Secondly, I am expecting my first child in just over a month so this residency would be my last opportunity to have some time to myself to focus on my practice for who-knows-how-long.

I arrived in Port the day before the residency began and had a bit of an explore around the area. There are some beautiful coastal environments in Port but I was drawn to the Sea Acres National Park for my preliminary fieldwork. I was only able to stay for a short time in the park that afternoon so sadly did not get to explore the area fully but I did collect a range of fallen eucalyptus leaves.

Once I got setup in my new temporary studio the next day I started to play with my collected leaves and I was especially drawn to the great diversity in colour that they present. There is a rainbow of colours to be found in these beautiful specimens, something that I have always loved about eucalypts. 


After selecting a range of thread colours that would work well with the colour pallet provided by the leaves I spent most of my first day of the residency stitching a colour swatch. This somewhat tedious process is really helpful to determine which colours I will use for the project and to see how the various colours blend together. 



I then developed a series of basic outline sketches based on my found leaf specimens. These sketches guided my stitched interpretations of the leaves. 



For the rest of the residency I set about sewing as many eucalyptus leaves as I could. After a few faults starts as I figured out the best way to approach making and dissolving the leaves I managed to create around 85 leaves in a rainbow of colours directly inspired by my collected leaf specimens. These leaves will form a part of the exhibition that I will have at the Glasshouse Mezzanine in August. 



The rainbow of eucalyptus leaves I had created (and my big pregnant belly) at the end of the residency
The ArtLab at the Glasshouse was the perfect studio for the residency; lots of light, space and an endless supply of tea and coffee on hand. The space looked rather chaotic while I was working in here so here is a shot of the space just before the workshop started where it was clean for a brief period.

I would like to thank the team at Glasshouse for making my time during the residency so easy and enjoyable. Everyone was so warm, welcoming and would go above and beyond to make sure that I had everything that I needed. A special thanks goes to the gallery curator Niomi Sands for her endless work and efforts. I am looking forward to coming back for the exhibition in August! 


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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Framing Textile Art (part 2) 10 Tips for Framing Textile Art



In my previous post (which you can read here) I wrote about my reasons for framing my textile art works. While that post told my story about framing there is so much more information about framing that I wanted to pass on. So here are a few of my tips about framing textile art.

1)   Consider if framing is right for your textile art
The ideas and aesthetics of my artworks are well suited to framing and I find that framing my embroideries is a necessary step for presenting my work as a professional product that people can easily purchase and hang in their homes. In saying this framing may not be the best choice for every textile artwork. Textile art is unique and varied and framing a piece may limit or even detract from what makes a particular piece of textile art special.

If you were considering framing your own textile pieces you need to ask yourself if the frame will add or subtract from the artwork. In many cases a frame will add a level or professionalism, protection and neatness, however you may be sacrificing the tactile allure of a piece by trapping it behind glass.

2)   Find a good framer (who has experience framing textile art)
Quality is important – find a good framer and stick with them. Finding a framer that uses quality, archival materials will mean that your artworks are well presented and protected for years to come. I have been using the same framer for about ten years now. I have a good relationship with them, they know what I like and expect and as a result my framing has been consistent for the last ten years. This consistency is important if I have repeat customers who want new artworks to match their original pieces.
Textiles often require extra care and special mounting methods so it is very important to find a framer that is familiar with framing textile art. Shop around until you find a framer has experience with framing textiles or unusual items and they will become a part of your art making family.

3)   Factor your framing costs into the price of your artworks.
Custom framing can be very expensive but in my opinion it is a necessary evil. My framing costs are by far the greatest expense of producing my work but I see it is an obligatory material cost that protects my work and increases its overall value. These costs then get factored into the pricing of my artwork.

4)   Avoid cheap premade frames (as tempting as they are)
There are many premade frames on the market in standard sizes but finding a good quality prefabricated frame can be tricky – unless you are purchasing it from a reputable framer. Many of the cheaper, mass produced frames you pick up are poorly made and don’t use archival, acid free materials. You get what you pay for so if you are getting a frame for $10-$20 bucks, chances are it is rubbish. If you are selling your artwork to the public you don’t want to be associated with products that will discolour or fall apart in a few years and if the frame isn’t acid free it may even mark or damage your textile art.


5)   Stick to neutral frame and matt board choices
The correct choice of frame and matt board can make or break an artwork. Framing choices are very subjective; everyone has different tastes so framing materials and proportions need to be very carefully considered. When I visit my framer it is like going into a candy store … so many tantalising colours and textures to choose from and it is easy to get carried away and choose elaborate frames and fancy matt board options. These fancy options may be great for your personal framing projects but for saleable artwork I believe that it is important to frame neutrally so that the artwork stands out rather than the frame.

I keep my framing very simple– a thin white box frame and matching double mount matt board. I choose my materials carefully so that they are all the same type of white, by doing this the transition between mount board, matt board and frame is quite seamless and just adds some subtle shadow borders around the artwork. I find that this very neutral colour scheme works with almost any interior however I am happy to reframe a piece if a collector really wants the frame a specific colour (at the collector expense).


6)   Ask for D-Hooks
A standard hanging string should come on any custom frame but ask your framer to also add D-Hooks to the back of your work. D-Hooks are needed if you ever hang an artwork with a hanging system, which many galleries use.

7)   Check your frames before you leave the framer
It is always a good idea to have a really good look over your framing orders when you pick them up so that you can instantly identify any issues with the framing job and have them fixed straight away. Good framers will quality check their work but occasionally you will get little annoying things like a fingerprint on the mount board or a stray bit of dust or hair trapped in the frame. These types of things are usually very easy for the framer to fix but really annoying if you find them later after you have left the framer or when you are hanging a show.

8)   Use a professional if you are shipping framed work
Shipping framed artwork, especially those framed behind glass, can be a delicate and expensive process. I have heard many horror stories about artworks being destroyed in the post because they were not packed properly. So if I need to ship work I always have them professionally packed by a courier company that is familiar with shipping original artworks. To reduce the risks of glass breakages in transit (and to reduce weight) you can alternatively frame your artworks behind acrylic (Perspex).

9)    Handle and store with care
Unfortunately frames can be easily chipped or scratched (especially on those fragile corners) and this will detract from the look and quality of the whole artwork.
·      Always store and transport framed work wrapped in bubble wrap with the protective cardboard corners attached until just before the work is hung.
·      Don’t ever put framed work down on hard flooring without some protection underneath it (a towel or scrap of bubble wrap is fine).
·      When moving and turning large framed works avoid pivoting the work on the corners, instead lift the work off the ground and turn it in the air.
·      Very large and/or heavy works should be handled by two people.

10)  Reframe damaged works (expensive but necessary)

I am really particular about how my work is packed and handled but when I loan work to galleries or exhibitions I can’t control how it is handled and it occasionally comes back damaged – which is really annoying. If any of my frames are damaged I endeavour to get the work reframed before I exhibit it again. This is an unfortunate expense but I see it as necessary for the professional presentation of my work. Chipped and scratched frames look terrible. I wouldn’t want to buy an artwork that wasn’t pristine so I wouldn’t expect my collectors to either.

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



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