Developing a body of work

Maker Membership with Ruth Singer, for textile makers who want to be inspired, creative, imaginative and make work with meaning.

When I was starting out as a textile maker, I really struggled with the reality of making a consistent body of work. I made all sorts of things in all kinds of designs, textures, patterns, colours and materials. I just wanted to make what I wanted to make. I don’t have a textile degree or any formal education as an artist / maker and really hadn’t had to create a consistent style for myself. As things progressed I became more and more aware of this being a problem and that it was holding me back from making an impact with my work. Fabric manipulation became my trademark and that helped me refine my style quite a lot. I used one technique on each piece of work and mostly used the same fabric throughout which really simplified and toned down all my colourful and textural excesses. I also fixed on making pieces on frames / panels which again slowed down my need to make clothes, bags, cushions and ALL THE THINGS.

Even while making this work I had other creative outlets including designing for books and magazines, so I did get to use some of the extra ideas without confusing my actual exhibition work too much. I never really got the hang of a consistent colour palette though, using the excuse that I worked with recycled fabrics and had to use what I could get rather than buying within a colour range. It was a slow development from this kind of work to what I do now but there were two projects which really forced me (in a good way) to change the style of my work for good.

These pieces, Monumental Folly, were pivotal in changing the way I worked. I chose to work with fabric manipulation techniques but add in a few other materials and processes and work with a very subtle palette. Above all though, these pieces had a narrative and meaning for me and that was what really worked. It then took me years to show these to anyone and exhibit them as I struggled to know if they were good. I was lucky to get some amazing feedback from the brilliant Emma Daker (Craftspace) who encouraged me to show them and later awarded me a prize for this work. That really helped me press on with the idea of making narrative work with limited colour palettes and with a strong underlying thread of history, building on my previous career in museums.

Around the same time I also started on the first Criminal Quilts pieces, directly as a result of making the Monumental Folly pieces. It was a huge creative challenge to create work from a criminal justice building rather than purely textile inspiration but it was a steep learning curve that has set up my career for the last 10+ years and helped me find exactly the right niche in textile art where I belong.

This process of creative challenge, revision, limitation and experimentation has helped me find my unique creative voice and allowed me to be consistent and considered in my ongoing work. I diverge and do slightly different things, bring in new techniques and sometimes colour palettes, but I feel now that I have a recognisable style and theme which brings all my work together.

Maker Membership is my new online programme which I hope will take textile artists (and aspiring artists) towards finding this special place themselves. Creating work which is meaningful, consistent and imaginative.

What is Maker Membership?

It’s about tapping into your own interests, researching, thinking, considering, editing, testing and rejecting lots of ideas until the right one filters out. My approach to teaching in Maker Membership is about growing your confidence in exploring and refining your ideas. It’s about seeding those ideas with research prompts and exercises in exploration and investigation and then refining your thoughts to filter out all the excess to get to the thing that’s important. 

This programme is not about learning to make what I make, it’s about learning to think like I do and applying textile skills that make sense with the meaning of your work. 

What will it be like?

Each month I will create resources (audio, video, written – it will vary) around a theme which fits into a quarterly over-arching topic. Members can then develop their own ideas, sketchbooks (if they want), samples and research in a way that works for them. There’s no testing, no right or wrong and no fixed outcome that you have to produce. Everything is digital so you can join from anywhere in the world. There will be a monthly live ‘thing’, probably on Zoom but I will tweak that as we get going and adapt to what suits the members best. You can fit it in around your commitments and make it part of your daily /regular studio practice. The membership runs through the established membership platform Patreon, which I have been using for over a year and you will get emails with all the content. You can find out more here.

Are you ready to learn and grow with me?

Membership is £21+vat per month and you can stay as long as you need. But the first quarter has limited membership and will close on 30th June at 6pm BST or when the remaining 11 places have been taken. If you would like to be part of this group, please click below to join.

Gentle Goal Setting For Myself – part one

What I have learned from a wholistic creative practice review

Late last year I started playing around in my journal with reviewing my year to date. I have read so much about reviewing and explored plenty of thoughtful analysis monthly, quarterly and annually, but never had it seemed so important as in 2020, the year that was nothing like what we expected. 

I’ve been supporting artists and makers since June 2020 through WebinArt and had so many conversations about what was working, how to plan in chaotic times, how to find motivation and above all, how to be gentle on ourselves. Living in a pandemic is hard. Running a creative business is hard at the best of times. We are often too hard on ourselves and focus too much on the perceived failures or negative feedback when actually the successes and positive things massively outweigh the less good stuff. Over the time I’ve been working closely with a cohort of makers in WebinArt, I’ve also been doing 1:1 sessions with other creative people and businesses, as well as exploring my own professional development with Kayte Ferris’ programmes The Playbook and The Trail.  I’ve also had some great conversations with other creatives including Melody Vaughan, Emma King, Helen Hallows and Martha Moger. All of this has added up to me being much more reflective and thoughtful about my short-term plans, added to pandemic life where long-term plans are almost impossible. 

I love planning. I love knowing what I’m going to be doing in the next few months and usually have work (teaching or exhibitions) booked a year or two in advance. I often work on long-term projects which can be planned into my diary months ahead. And suddenly that was gone. Last spring my long-term plans suddenly became pencil marks on an empty diary rather than fixed points to plan around. I had to learn to be more in the now, less in the future. It’s been quite an adjustment for me to let go of certainty and fixed points and go with the flow a bit more. For the 15 and a half years I have been self-employed, I have always worried that I’ve not got enough paid work scheduled in for the months ahead. And always for those 15 and a half years I have survived. Some years have been pretty lean and some have been disastrous but I have always been ok. Having things booked in advance helped keep me grounded, but looking back, those commitments also made me feel a bit trapped. When I booked a talk 20 months ahead, I often thought – “what if I’ve left the country or got another job by then?”. I was always very conflicted about these far away things. And now they are pretty much gone. Bookings are usually a few months ahead at most, exhibition dates have been moved into 2022 and long funded projects are a thing of the past now. I don’t have many fixed points in 2021. And actually that’s ok. 

Back in November when I started thinking about my process for creating some semi-fixed points for myself, coming up with some clear activities which were flexible enough for the 2021 but important and meaningful to me. I knew that the rigid goal-setting concept of scheduling in activities for months ahead with deadlines and milestones wasn’t going to work. I work for myself because I like the freedom to choose. I resent arbitrary fixed points. I also learned in 2020 that you can plan all you like and the world has other ideas. So I came up with the idea of Gentle Goals. Things that I could control, stuff I could be getting on with which didn’t rely on the outside world getting back to normal. I am not focussed on exhibition dates, teaching commitments, conferences, community projects or funding deadlines, for the first time in my professional life! It’s half liberating and half scary. I wanted to make sure that the gentle goals I set myself would work throughout the year, not just for a few weeks after the January reset (which wasn’t much of one) so I began by creating a review of the year, focussing on what worked and what didn’t, and crucially what I learned about myself and my needs. 

As soon as I started this, I realised I wanted to share this process. I actually love working with other people and felt that this process might help other people too. I created a workbook and developed a workshop for creative businesses to join me for sessions in December and January and to work through the ideas and explorations in the workbook with support and sharing. It has worked incredibly well and I’ve had lovely feedback and a couple of participants have also opted to do some additional work with me to work out their needs and plans.  The workbook is now available for self-study – 20 pages of things to think about and to help you plan your way forward with self compassion and gentleness. 

What did I learn about myself from reviewing last year? 

I definitely need human interaction to spark creativity. I am a sociable introvert, which means I like being around people when I choose to do so but I find it very tiring and need time by myself to replenish. I have all the time by myself now and not so much of the human interaction. I absolutely love talking to artists and creative people about their work and this is a big part of my professional purpose. I love mentoring and teaching and supporting others but I also realised that I need some input and talking myself! It’s kind of obvious but I have totally forgotten it over the last year or so. 

I have learned so much. While pandemic-life feels static, I have actually discovered new things, tried new approaches, uncovered confidence and leadership in a way I would never have imagined. We have all had to pivot, readjust and change our way of working and I have done so much new stuff that it surprises me when I look back. 

Volunteering and co-running a foodbank and community support has been invaluable to my wellbeing, sense of place and connection. I have loved being part of this project and hated the hours spent on the phone to the bank to sort out something so simple as our own account! This work has really clarified to me how I want my professional life to progress during and post-pandemic too. It is valuable in so many ways. 

I wanted to be doing more of my own projects and less following someone else’s brief. I wanted a break from exhibiting. I got both of these, more by accident than design. I did do some paid projects for other people and I am able to analyse which bits I loved (talking to creative people) and which bits are not playing to my strengths (marketing). 

I invested in help for my business, with courses and programmes and with an assistant who is now so vital to my work that I can’t imagine having to figure out all these technical and administrative problems myself. 

The key points I picked out from working through my own workbook as that connection and creativity are key, and this is what I am working on as my main goals for the year, in all kinds of different ways. 

In my next post I’ll share how I created some gentle goals for myself and how they relate to what matters most to me in my life and work. 

Precious Objects Sampler Workshop

Online creative workshop with Ruth Singer 29th-31st January 2021. £75

Do you have boxes of precious fabric scraps and tiny treasures like buttons and keys? Would you like an excuse to get these out and make something really special from them? This workshop gives you the ideas and inspiration to create your own beautiful and meaningful sampler using your own personal treasures to keep or to gift. You might want to include family heirlooms and antique textiles or broken china and scraps of dishcloths. The idea of this workshop is to create something out of all those tiny bits you cherish but don’t really know what to do with.

Precious objects samplers are as unique as you are – everyone’s choices will be different. You will learn how to create textile backgrounds with scraps and hand embroidery, how to wrap and stitched into tiny objects and how to attach them. We will also look at how to finish your piece ready for display.

This workshop is all about working slowly and thoughtfully so it is timed to run over a whole weekend but you can dip in and out at your own pace

When you join this workshop you can: 
Come along to a live Zoom introduction and meet other participants. Friday 29th January 5pm GMT (one hour) 
Join a Facebook group to share your work and thoughts with others around the world (optional) 
Watch 5 pre-recorded instructional videos from my studio covering:

Exploring meanings and stories in your work 
Planning, choosing and editing your objects and fabrics 
Preparing the backing with scraps and stitches 
Working with tiny objects 
Finishing and attaching

Come back together with the group to show and share your work Sunday 31st January 5pm GMT (one hour)

You can work at your own pace over the weekend and continue for a week or two if you need to. The videos remain accessible for two weeks, as will the Facebook group.

This workshop does NOT include materials. Packs of treasures and vintage fabric scraps are available separately here.

You will need fabrics and tiny treasures as well as threads and sewing kit. More information will be given when you book. Online booking and payment available here. Please contact me if you need to book and pay a different way.

Gentle Goal Setting

Reviewing the year and soulful planning for creative businesses in 2021

It’s hard to see the wood for the trees at the moment. Hard to see the path through towards running a business in 2021. This year has been really rough for small businesses as well as so many others. I’ve been working on ways to review my year and make plans for next year which take self-compassion and energy into account, not just focus on finances and big leaps. Tiny steps are enough. I wanted to share this approach with others so I’ve created Gentle Goal Setting – a new workshop for artists / makers / writers / creative businesses / freelancers (and anyone aspiring to be one of those in 2021) to take a reflective look back over what you have learned from everything 2020 has thrown at us and learn how to use your values, what you love and what works for you to create realistic and meaningful goals for the new year. A two-part workshop with a workbook to contemplate over the holidays. This workshop, with two live sessions and a workbook as well as a private Facebook group is just £45.

It’s been such a strange and difficult year to be running a creative business / artist practice. Do you need to have a bit of time out to review the good and bad of the year? Would you like to look back and then look forward to set some achievable and meaningful goals for next year? 
My way of ending one year and starting the next is to look back over the whole year with a holistic and realistic review and then take a slow and mindful approach to thinking about what I want to do next year.

I will guide you through my review process in a live online workshop, then give you a workbook for quiet, slow reflection on your own business journey for a month over the holidays. This will take you from reviewing the year to working out some goals about how you want to feel about your business / practice. 
You can share with a like-minded group of other creatives in a private Facebook group and then get back together with me and others in a follow up live session in January (optional). 
Live session will be via Zoom at 4pm GMT Friday 11th December. 
Then you have a month to explore the workbook and share with other students in the Facebook group. 
On January 11th at 4pm GMT we will come back together live on Zoom to talk through goal setting, ask questions and share your thoughts (optional). 
Both live events will be recorded so you can catch up if unable to attend live. 
The Facebook group will remain open until 31st January 2021 for you to keep in touch with others.

If you need more help, you can also book 1:1 video call sessions or email feedback with me in January at 10% off my usual rate.

Creative Colouring – Patchwork Patterns book

I’ve made a colouring book! I created a sort-of colouring book for my library commission earlier this year, and really loved doing it. It reminded me that I wanted to make a patchwork pattern colouring book a few years ago, but never had the time. I’ve made the time and now it’s ready.

colouring book cover

My book of patchwork drawings is more than just a colouring book, it is a place to play with creative ideas, to try new colour combinations, patterns and really stretch your creativity. This A5 book (15x21cm 6x8in) has 14 hand-drawn designs inspired by original antique patchwork quilts which I have created meticulously for your enjoyment. I love using patchwork as inspiration for creative drawing and colouring and I am sure you will love these too. The paper is nice and thick, suitable for watercolour as well as pens, chalk makers and pencils. There are also two pages for you to create your own designs with a helpful grid to guide you. I have also included 6 pages of full colour designs with lots of tips and ideas to make this colouring book really special.

The colouring book is £9.50. I can post all over the world too. You can find it in my online shop, along with books, textiles and much more.

Antiphony exhibition and talk

I’m pleased to be taking part in the Leicester Print Workshop members exhibition this year. I am working in collaboration with Gillian McFarland to produce a changing artwork installation which will develop from week to week as we share ideas, develop and pass things to and fro and create new pieces inspired by two found objects.

The exhibition opens this weekend (17th-18th November) with the Print Festival and Gillian and I will be giving at talk on Saturday 17th November at 4pm about our work. There is also an exhibition preview on Friday 23rd November – details below. The exhibition continues until 26th January 2019.

Gillian McFarland and Ruth Singer work in collaboration as McFarland & Singer alongside their distinct and established solo artistic practices. They began working together in 2014 while sharing a studio; a space that allowed them to share ideas and approaches. In addition to the work created for this residency, McFarland & Singer have a strong convergence of interest around the archaeology of stains and marks of time. 

This work is an ongoing collaboration, passing to and fro between us as we each explore related, but separate ideas. The piece begins with two found objects from a charity shop which we both respond to initially, through discussion and making alongside each other. This work will change every week as we add new prints and related pieces of work. This work is displayed in file trays to represent the orderly collation and separation of ideas. Feel free to take the pieces out of the trays and move them around and change the order. We will use this intervention and selection as part of the process of making new pieces each week. 

 

Creative Workshop With Helen Hallows

I treated myself to another creative experimentation day this weekend, trying new materials, techniques and ideas. I spent the day on a Mark Making workshop with artist friend Helen Hallows whose work and philosophy I have long admired.

helen-hallows

Helen Hallows

When you teach a lot of workshops you really appreciate all the hard work which goes into making a workshop really special for the participants, and it’s also a reminder of what it is like on the other side of the teaching table.

Helen made the day very lovely and it was extra special to find my friend Alys there, also having a birthday treat workshop day!

We made mood boards, splashed paint around, printed, stamped and got thoroughly messy, covering paper in colour and pattern. I loved trying mono print again but in totally different ways to the workshop last week and covering papers in bold, strong colour, layering, marking and scraping away. I have created a huge stash of beautiful papers which I think I will use for stitching into, creating collage and more experimental work and I have also stretched my imagination, tried different colour palettes and lots of new ideas for creating colour and pattern which will seep their way into my work in lots of different ways. I left the workshop invigorated and excited and I’ve now got my dining room floor papered in drying painty sheets of paper!

 

 

 

Daily Make (17)

This week I’ve started a new commission for Harefield Hospital

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and made some dye bundles at the first community workshop

 

The patchwork continues to grow (on the cat, as usual!)

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Puss & patchwork. My usual evening. #dailymake2015 #missmayacat

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I rarely get a day just stitching, so attending a workshop on Indian embroidery was a real treat this week.

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My first ever shisha mirror! #embroidery #dailymake2015

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Some preparation for my artist residency day

 

and some stitching stains during the residency day

Daily Make (15 & 16)

I reworked The Beauty of Stains, making the stains permanent through stitch.

 

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Stitching stains. #narrativethreads #dailymake2015

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I’ve made a lot of paper pieced patchwork for Narrative Threads.

 

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Patchwork on the train #dailymake2015

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I’ve started a birthday present for my mum but I’m not going to show it here in case she looks. I know she doesn’t look at Instagram.

 

I even made a fascinator for a workshop sample.

 

I’ve started my research visits to museums to inspire new work for my solo exhibition Narrative Threads.

Daily Make (14)

This week’s creative endeavours include decorating, curtain-making, skirt-making, patchwork and embroidery. Its been good to be making, almost every day.

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Hexagon stack. #dailymake2015

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Stitching day on the studio. #narrativethreads #dailymake2015

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