Making Meaning Podcast Episode Five – Kathryn Parsons

Graphic image with the text: Making Meaning in a swirl logo. Additional text saying A Podcast by Ruth Singer exploring the meaning behind what we make.

Kathryn Parsons is an artist and visual story-teller.  

Kathryn’s approach is research-based and multi-faceted – From a Herbarium of Stories made from leaves and sunlight, to wildflower shoes sculpted in sugar, she creates intricate artworks that weave together tales of nature, place and people.

She has exhibited at The Victoria and Albert Museum and National Centre for Craft & Design, and created site-inspired artworks for Burghley House, the John Clare Trust, and Derby Museum’s porcelain gallery. 

Currently Artist in Residence with Langdyke Countryside Trust, Kathryn also runs creative workshops… she loves to inspire deeper connections with the natural world while nurturing creativity.

The first time I saw Kathryn’s exquisite work I was bowled over by the delicacy and subtly of it. Kathryn has such an interesting perspective on the world, seeing nature with such open curiosity. In this podcast we talk about seeking inspiration in the world and in museums, about how important it is for both of us to be open to new ideas & to work with the materials that are right for the project. We talk about working in small scale, in loving the details in this. We also talk about museums and creating site-specific work related to locations and landscapes. Kathryn is passionate about sharing her work, about making stories accessible to others through art-making and about nurturing a love of the wild. It’s a lovely conversation which I am sure you will enjoy too.

See below for links to things we talked about in the podcast.

As always, behind the scenes and more chat about the podcast and my guests (and their pets if possible!) is available to Patreon members for just £4.50 a month.

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Play here

Kathryn and her work

Kathryn Parsons

Kathryn regularly runs workshops online and in person in the English Midlands. Please check her website and social media to keep in touch or join her mailing list

The Langdyke Stories project Kathryn talked about was produced by Art Pop Up

#solaceinnature is Kathryn’s every-growing collection of photographs that capture the small, beautiful details of nature. She started taking these photographs just before we went in to the first lockdown in 2020, going out each day to look for beauty in order to share it with others via social media. She was blown away by the response and has continued (though not daily any more). Find these beautiful posts on her social media links above.

Support the podcast

If you have enjoyed the podcast, please consider making a contribution towards my costs to create and host these conversations. You can make a one-off donation below or join my Podcast Supporters Membership on Patreon for £4.50 per month. You can also support for free by subscribing, reviewing and sharing the podcast on your social media. Thank you!

Podcast donation

A small contribution towards the podcast costs

£2.00

Making Meaning Podcast Episode Four – Richard McVetis

Graphic image with the text: Making Meaning in a swirl logo. Additional text saying A Podcast by Ruth Singer exploring the meaning behind what we make.

Richard McVetis

My practice is deeply rooted in process and hand embroidery. I record Time and Space through multiples of dots, lines, and crosses. These meticulously rendered stitches reflect a preoccupation with the repetitive nature, exploring the subtle differences that emerge through ritualistic and habitual making.

Richard makes work for exhibitions and commissions and shares his unique style of stitch and the meditative process behind it through workshops. In the 10 years or so since I first came across Richard’s work, he’s exhibited widely including the Crafts Council’s Collect Open in 2017, and he’s got a solo exhibition coming up in 2022. In this conversation we talk about research and our methods for gathering ideas, what inspires us and how place and family heritage are so important. Richard talks about never not being an artist which rings so true for me, and about being curious and always exploring ideas.

See below for links to things we talked about in the podcast.

As always, behind the scenes and more chat about the podcast and my guests (and their pets if possible!) is available to Patreon members for just £4.50 a month.

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Play here

Richard and his recent work

Richard McVetis

Support the podcast

If you have enjoyed the podcast, please consider making a contribution towards my costs to create and host these conversations. You can make a one-off donation below or join my Podcast Supporters Membership on Patreon for £4.50 per month. You can also support for free by subscribing, reviewing and sharing the podcast on your social media. Thank you!

Podcast donation

A small contribution towards the podcast costs

£2.00

Making Meaning Podcast Episode Three – Caren Garfen

Graphic image with the text: Making Meaning in a swirl logo. Additional text saying A Podcast by Ruth Singer exploring the meaning behind what we make.

Caren Garfen is an award-winning artist specialising in textiles and painstaking hand stitching creating carefully considered pieces with profound messages.

Caren’s approach is to extensively research the subject matter of each project that she undertakes. Currently, she is focusing on the Holocaust, as well as examining the shattering rise in global antisemitism in the 21st century. She incorporates everyday objects (e.g. spectacles, stamps and coins) into her work to address sensitive topics in an accessible way.

Caren’s work has been exhibited widely in the UK and Europe, as well as in Japan, USA, Canada, and Australia, and can be found in public and private collections. 

Caren and I first met at the opening of an exhibition in 2013 which we were both showing new work in. Caren’s research-based work was hugely influential to me at that stage of my career as I was just beginning to exhibit my own narrative-based work and find where this kind of work fitted in the gallery world.

Caren has continue to make work around powerful and meaningful themes including eating disorders and most recently anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. In this episode we talk our research, making processes and how textiles and objects can help us tell important stories.

The exhibition we shared in 2013 was On My Mother’s Knee and there is an online catalogue available free here.

As always, behind the scenes and more chat about the podcast and my guests (and their pets!) is available to Patreon members for just £4.50 a month.

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Play here

Making Meaning Episode 3 with Caren Garfen

Caren and her recent work

Caren Garfen

Support the podcast

If you have enjoyed the podcast, please consider making a contribution towards my costs to create and host these conversations. You can make a one-off donation below or join my Podcast Supporters Membership on Patreon for £4.50 per month. You can also support for free by subscribing, reviewing and sharing the podcast on your social media. Thank you!

Podcast donation

A small contribution towards the podcast costs

£2.00

Download the transcript here

This is an auto-generated transcript, which I have edited a little but may still have mistakes and unclear bits.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode Two – Gillian McFarland

Graphic image with the text: Making Meaning in a swirl logo. Additional text saying A Podcast by Ruth Singer exploring the meaning behind what we make.

Artist Gillian Adair McFarland and I met in 2014 when she moved into our shared studio in Leicester. We immediately found common ground with our work and became great friends. We have collaborated a lot on projects over the last few years and continue to work remotely now Gillian has moved back to Scotland. In this conversation, we talk about the areas of interest where we cross over, starting with stains and marks of time, land and human experience. We also talk a lot about the process of making art, comparing our experiences in very different fields – Gillian more in fine art and me in craft / textiles. We also discuss the idea of value in art-making and the challenges of working in a capitalist world where financial value is placed above other kinds of value. We both collaborate a lot with other artists as well as each other so we also talk about the importance of working with others, including scientists. We talk about the difficulty of focussing on just one idea out of so many and how this works so well in our collaborative work.

We have worked together on art-science projects as well as other collaborations. We have recently finished a new Criminal Quilts collaboration and are just starting a co-creation project with the Hutton Institute, Dundee which you can get involved in. Please sign up to my mailing list to find out about that when it’s ready.

Listen here

Gillian and her recent work


Images below of Gillian, Gayle Price glassblower at University of Leicester and photos from our genetics residency

More images and information about our Genetics Residency can be found on our website McFarland & Singer


Gillian Adair McFarland

head and shoulders image of Ruth Singer, white woman with short dark hair and glasses

Support the podcast

If you have enjoyed the podcast, please consider making a contribution towards my costs to create and host these conversations. You can make a one-off donation below or join my Podcast Supporters Membership on Patreon for £4.50 per month. You can also support for free by subscribing, reviewing and sharing the podcast on your social media. Thank you!

Podcast donation

A small contribution towards the podcast costs

£2.00

Download the transcript here

This is an auto-generated transcript, which I have edited a little but may still have mistakes and unclear bits.

Creative confidence through mentoring

Mentoring for artists, makers and creative business owners

Recently my friend and mentor Melody Vaughan shared a series of blog posts about mentoring / coaching within a craft context. She has generously included me in one of her posts, as well as Sharon Adams who is also an artist-mentor. Melody reflected on the importance of mentoring and also the relevance of a mentor who is in the same or similar field and understands the content of craft.

I work with makers in all materials and also those outside of making – I’ve worked outside of craft as well as inside for over 25 years now and have a lot of experience of supporting others including the last year running the Establish part of the WebinArt professional development programme for 28 professional artists. I’ve written more about mentoring here so you can find out what it is all about.

I also recommend reading all Melody’s posts about mentoring and coaching in general if you are thinking that it would be something useful for you. I am sure it would be useful for everyone, but I know it depends on your situation and finances and if you feel ready for that kind of self-reflection. 

I completely understand that not everyone is ready for the commitment, cost and time of 1:1 mentoring, so I am developing a group mentoring programme which will run first in the autumn – winter (for those who aren’t makers focussed on Christmas selling) and again in in the new year. This will be a great way of experiencing mentoring without the intensity of 1:1 and also experience the benefits of sharing with others, making connections within the creative world and learning about how others work to apply to your own practice, in a supportive, facilitated space. This will be online so accessible to as many as possible (in UK timezone!).

If this sounds like something you are interested in being part of this, please drop me a line and I’ll put you on the list to hear about it first.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode One – Welcome

It has taken a lot longer than anticipated to get my podcast available, but hurrah, it launches today. You can now find and subscribe to Making Meaning in most podcast apps or listen directly below.

Graphic image with the text: Making Meaning in a swirl logo. Additional text saying A Podcast by Ruth Singer exploring the meaning behind what we make.
Episode one is very short – just a few minutes for me to introduce the idea behind the podcast, explain what I’m planning to do over the series and to talk a little about the importance of creative conversations. I share why I love talking to creative people and how inspiring and invigorating it is to have the chance to bounce ideas around and talk about things that matter. I also introduce my first guest for episode two and mention the mentoring and other support I offer. There’s also a plug for my Patreon for anyone who wants to dig into my work more, support the podcast and make textiles with me! There’s a full transcript available at the end of this page too.

I’ll be talking to artists and makers, creative freelancers and consultants, coaches and others across the creative sector who chose to do work which is meaningful. I’ve wanted to make this podcast for years but the pandemic has really made it necessary and vital for me.

#5: Making Meaning with Kathryn Parsons Making Meaning

Kathryn is an artist maker specialising in miniature works celebrating nature. Kathryn's approach is research-based and multi-faceted – from a Herbarium of Stories made from leaves and sunlight, to wildflower shoes sculpted in sugar, she creates intricate artworks that weave together tales of nature, place and people. She is currently Artist in Residence at Langdyke Countryside Trust in Cambridgeshire, England. In this conversation we talk about following your inspiration, exploring and sharing stories, working with museums and enjoying the infinite pleasures of both creativity and the natural world. Find out more at ruthsinger.com/podcast
  1. #5: Making Meaning with Kathryn Parsons
  2. #4: Making Meaning with Richard McVetis
  3. #3: Making Meaning with Caren Garfen
  4. #2: Collaboration and Connection
  5. #1: Welcome to Making Meaning
head and shoulders image of Ruth Singer, white woman with short dark hair and glasses

Support the podcast

If you have enjoyed the podcast, please consider making a contribution towards my costs to create and host these conversations. You can make a one-off donation below or join my Podcast Supporters Membership on Patreon for £4.50 per month. You can also support for free by subscribing, reviewing and sharing the podcast on your social media. Thank you!

Podcast donation

A small contribution towards the podcast costs

£2.00

Download the transcript here

Gentle Goal Setting for Myself – Part Two

Last week I shared my process of reviewing my year and then developing the Gentle Goal Setting Workshop alongside it. This week I’m sharing the goals I have come up with following my review, and a little more about how I got there. Leading up to writing the workbook, I had done quite a a lot of thinking and planning and reviewing and contemplating, partly so I could use my own examples in the workbook. Feedback from the participants in that programme included some clear examples of how I got from review to goals, so I am going to try and share that here. Welcome to the inside of my head!

My approach is to create goals that don’t have a fixed completion, necessarily. This is counter to most goal-setting advice which recommends giving yourself a schedule, a reward, a stick to beat yourself with if you fail. I think this approach of targets just sets us up to fail. I had lots of plans for 2020 and almost all of them didn’t or couldn’t happen, not through any fault of my own. Stuff happens. Even in a more normal year. So I now set goals that I can work on even if the world isn’t back to normal, that I have some element of control over.

Step 1. Reviewing the past year.

I created a number of different ways to frame my view of the previous 12 months. I did a calendar-based review of what I had done in each month / quarter of the year including work achievements, failures, visiting friends then pandemic starting, getting my cat, having a weekend away (amazing!) and employing a virtual assistant. This covers the stuff that had an impact on my life, things I got done and things that happened, as well as the things that didn’t quite happen such as interviews for things I didn’t get, funding applications turned down and work I started but didn’t get finished. I try to do this with no judgement. The point of gentle goal setting is to be kind to oneself and just see what happened in my life and work over the last year.

My Gentle Goal Setting Workbook includes exercises and journalling questions for personal and business reflection, asking questions about confidence and skills, about what you missed and what went better than expected. When working through these reflections I could see patterns emerging showing what I felt was important, what was having a big impact on me and what I needed to build in for 2021.

Step 2. Creating your own version of success.

We all come up against the feeling that there’s something we should be doing in our business. That person over there is doing public art! That person over there is curating exhibitions! That person over there is writing a book! Should I be doing all of these things too? We can too easily get stuck in what we think we ought to be doing rather than what we want to be doing. I worked out that my own criteria for success in my working life is: not getting ill, connecting with people, making work with meaning and making conscious, proactive choices not reactive to what others’ want.

Step 3. Turning all this into goals.

From these I was able to make a series of goals, most of which are open and expansive, rather than tight time-bound, achievement-focussed. My goals are feelings and ways of working that I want to achieve, things I want to build more of into my life. I have a couple which are more specific such as finishing my book, but that is actually a stepping stone or building block towards some of my broader goals about getting my work out in the world and connecting with people. I would also class “Do more funding applications” as a gentler goal, as I’ve not set myself a number, a deadline nor am I assuming success. I just have to keep trying. As long as I am working towards these things, I am making progress, and that’s what it’s all about.

I’ve created the diagram showing how I’ve made goals from the Things That Are Important To Me list.

Step 4. Building blocks towards your goals.

I am dead-set against the timetabling of tasks weeks and months ahead, setting ourselves unrealistic To Do lists and constantly feeling behind in what we are trying to get done. In working towards these broad and expansive goals, I have created a set of building blocks or steps towards the goals and do one, some or a bit of each every week or month when I can and pick up later if I can’t. There’s no judgement or self-flagellation if I don’t ‘achieve’ my goals when something else happens or I just don’t feel like working on that thing this week. Of course there are deadlines and dates when things have to be done because other people are waiting for them but my goals are things to be working on, steadily all year.

Some examples of building blocks towards my goals:

Goal: Decluttering and selling more of my work. Building blocks for this include creating a photo area in my house, setting myself a reminder to take photos when the weather is suitable and upgrading my online shop. Some of those are short-term goals such as setting up a photo space and some are ongoing like taking photos. I have a lot of lists of all the things I want to deal with, photograph, share and sell. I might set myself a challenge or focus for each month, but whatever I do, every small step is progress.

Goal: Connecting with others. This covers so much of my work and what I want to do more of. It links to many of my other goals. The overall purpose of this goal is to feel more connected at the end of the year than I did at the start. There’s no assessment or criteria for this, it is a feeling and I’ll know if I am making progress. Some of the building blocks for this are to create more workshops for other creative people, to launch a podcast where I talk to other artists who I admire, to do some more Instagram live chats, to revamp and develop my Patreon membership group… there are so many ways I will build connection into my working and personal life. Within each of these broader building blocks are smaller steps and specific tasks which I build into my work plan every week. My other goal of mentoring programmes is very closely linked in with this, as is my creativity goal as talking to others inspires me.

Goal: Integrating social justice into my work. I have struggled to know how to do this for the last year or so, but volunteering for the foodbank and working right in the midst of community activism has helped clarify things for me. My building blocks are : talking more about this in everything I do (such as mentioning it here!), look for funding sources, continue to make work based on the foodbank, work with others to create projects, talk and write more. Again, many of these overlap with my other goals, which is why I think this approach will work for me this year.

Step 5. Motivation and keeping moving towards your goals.

This one can be hard. It is all too easy to write a load of challenging and exciting goals in January and then close the notebook and never look at it again. This year I am trying the Goals Planner diary to help me keep track. This has a section at the front with short and long term goals and then space to review and plan each month referring back to the bigger goals. A visual and practical reminder which seems to work for me. The goal-setting advice in the planner is not my approach (obviously!) and I don’t use the milestones and targets bit, I just make lists. Then each month I review and plan what I am going to do next month. If I don’t get all the things done that’s ok. As long as I am making a little progress I am happy. That’s why my goal setting is gentle.

Would you like to try Gentle Goal Setting yourself?

If you would like to try out my review and goal setting journey, the workbook is now available as a stand alone download. It also includes a bonus section on exploring your values and purpose, using my own template around creative business. This will help guide you through everything you do in work and life, hopefully! I’m also working on some new plans including a monthly creative business reflection and journalling ‘club’, group mentoring programmes and more workshops on specific creative business topics like project planning and refining your practice, all part of my connecting and mentoring goals! Please do feel free to share your thoughts about this and your gentle goals for 2021 in the comments.