The People of 2022

My review of the year through the brilliant people I’ve worked with.

I’ve been thinking about lots of different ideas or lenses to review of 2022. I don’t want to just write a list of things that I have done, or even to list the things I have made. Celebrating success is important but also I don’t want to  be one of those people who just proclaims about how well they have done as that’s neither realistic or inspiring for anyone else. Nor do I want to be someone who focusses on the negatives, because however positive a spin I put on it, it’s just gloomy and I don’t like to dwell. I have made a list of failures and successes for my own private contemplation but I am not going to subject you to them!

In order to work out what angle to use to review my year, I turned to my coaching group for their thoughts. The simple fact that I chose to discuss it with other people gave me the answer – I should review the year through the lens of the brilliant people I have worked with! 

 

Collaboration and working with other people has been a really vital part of my work for years, although it’s only fairly recently that I’ve noticed and celebrated that. The 2020 lockdown was of course a reminder to me of just how much I enjoy and get energy from creative work with others, alongside my own solitary studio practice. I was used to working with groups, spending time in other artists studios, giving talks, going to events, teaching and mentoring in person. I found the lack of conversation and connection around creative practice really hard. I was lucky in that I had ongoing and new projects that enabled me to work with other people remotely in 2020 (on WebinArt and on Textiles in Lockdown) which really made a huge difference to how I felt and what new work I could created. I pursued artist mentoring via Zoom which has become a major part of my work and something that I love, and eventually this also led to my Maker Membership where I get to work with lots of different people and support their creative practice over a long period. I also first created Gentle Goal Setting in the autumn of 2020 and ran it for the first time that winter. (It’s now revitalised into Find Your Focus which is starting this week and open for the whole of January). One of the most important goals I set for myself for 2021 was to connect and collaborate, and it has continued to be one of my guiding lights in how to develop my work.

Once I started gathering the people I’ve worked with this year, I realised it is potentially quite huge, so this is actually a snapshot of the connections and collaborations of the year rather than a detailed list, and I hope one that will be interesting for you to connect with too. 

Podcast & Making Meaning Live Gathering

The most exciting bringing-together of people that I’ve done in a long time was Making Meaning Live which ran online in July and involved three days of presentations and conversations between the artists and creatives and an audience of about 100 people from around the world in each session. It was utterly exhausting and completely wonderful. The recordings of the sessions are still available for free and there are three podcast episodes with edited highlights and the full programme here.

This year I’ve produced the second series of Making Meaning Podcast which has been a joy to make and I’ve had the pleasure of conversations with Helen Hallows, Sharon Adams, Claire Wellesley-Smith, Alice Fox, Michaela McMillan, Mandeep Dhadialla and Gillian Lee Smith, as well as a solo episode, one about my Maker Membership and three highlight shows from Making Meaning Live. Making the podcast is fantastic, I really do love getting to talk to brilliant, creative people about what they do and why they do it. The admin is less enjoyable, but really it’s worth it to have these chats and to share them with so many – which brings me on to podcast listeners as another group of people I have connected with. Podcast audience numbers this year has exceeded all expectations. There have been over 100,000 downloads this year and some episodes have hit 8000 downloads. This is really incredible and I am so honoured that this small, low-budget podcast is having such a great impact. I will be chasing for donations to make another series very soon so I hope many of those listeners will be able to contribute to making more episodes this year as I have some great people lined up. 

Groups 

I’m writing this during one of my regular Tuesday co-working groups with three freelance friends, Emma King, Claire Wellesley-Smith and Wendy Ward (all of whom have appeared on my Making Meaning Podcast in one form or another). I think I started this in 2021 but whenever it was, it has worked out brilliantly. We meet on Zoom, have a chat and then quietly on our own projects for 30-40 minute bursts before breaking for more chat and repeat. Sometimes  it’s more chat than work, but we all acknowledge how important it is to have space to talk about issues in freelancing – problematic employers, funding issues and even stuff in our personal lives which impact our ability to do the work we love. The group has been so valuable to me, both in terms of having work buddies to chat to and the accountability of co-working time so I get stuff done! I’ve made a shift this year so the sessions are focussing on writing, so here I am doing the thing, on the first day back to work. That’s the power of connecting and working with others. 

I also have a great mini group of other artist mentors & coaches with Melody Vaughan and Sharon Adams. This was Melody’s innovation, because she recognised how challenging it can be to both support others and to run a business supporting others and that sharing with others who really understand both aspects is vital. We meet roughly quarterly and talk about all kinds of practical issues, new offers we are thinking about, bounce around problems and ideas and also explore some of the bigger picture stuff about supporting others and the things we would like to learn and develop. 

Sharon is also a member of another group which started working together early this year. At the end of 2021 I applied for funding called Four Nations which aims to bring together partners from the four UK nations and others from overseas. I created a project of artists coming together to talk about artist support and also to be that mutual support group for each other.  We meet online across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Sweden and The Netherlands and decided to call our project Artist Support Recipes, based on the idea of recipe books which bring ingredients and methods together. The group includes Sharon Adams, Gillian McFarland, Collette Rayner and Liz Nilsson. It’s turned into a supportive and fun collective of brilliant women with great ideas and innovations about how we can be supported as artists, how we can offer support to others and how we think organisations should go about supporting artists. We have also become highly expert in creating food & cooking-related metaphors for artist support! The funding for this project comes to an end soon but the learning and the connections will undoubtedly continue and we hope to offer our findings to organisations and others who want to do better in supporting artists. Working with this group is one of the many things that has helped to cement my decision to focus on supporting artists as my main freelance / consultancy work for this year and beyond.

I also have the pleasure of monthly chats with my European business friends: coach Elin Lööw, artist Gesche Santen and jeweller Daphne van ver Meulen about business and personal development.  We met through a group programme in 2020 and have kept in touch since, and share a lot of the ups and downs of running a business and trying to fit in a life around it. These connections are so valuable and beneficial that I am even prepared to meet at 8am ! 

Working with artists

I made a decision in 2021 that I needed to be working with other artists on my various projects both to share the load and to have a creative collaboration to make it all more fun. I invited Mandeep Dhadialla to work with me on Woodgate Wellbeing last winter and then included her in my funding application for Community Spirit in the Spring / Summer. We had a great time collaborating on this project and then managed to follow it almost immediately with another one in the late summer. I supported Mandeep’s project with ArtReach in project producer role, as well as running one workshop. It was a really enjoyable collaboration and we are looking at other similar partnerships for this year. I’ve written about the project here. All of these projects have really made me think about who I work with an on what basis. Supporting artists with projects is something I really enjoy so I am formalising that work now – so if you need a producer to support an artist-led project, please do get in touch. 

I’ve also had the pleasure of spending time in person with Kathryn Parsons this year, as well as seeing her new moths work on display. We had a mini retreat together in the summer to talk about art and landscape and making a living out of a research-led practice. We are planning another retreat before too long to continue to cook up ideas for another artists group (it seems that I cannot have enough!). 

I’ve also been co-mentoring with Gillian McFarland, who I collaborate with a lot, and we took a really inspiring week’s retreat in the autumn, which you can read about here. Conversations with other artists who get what I do are worth their weight in gold (if you can weigh a conversation?!) and I am really lucky to have so many creative friends to talk to. 

Other People and connections

Alongside many brilliant artists, I’ve also had the pleasure of working with other professionals this year, firstly at the start of the year, Louise Jones-Williams, Director of Llantarnam Grange where I showed my Criminal Quilts exhibition for the last time in the Spring. Louise has been fantastically supportive of my work for a number of years and it is always a pleasure to spend time with her. We had a live-streamed conversation for the exhibition launch in February and then in March we recorded in person for my Making Meaning Podcast which you can listen to here

In the Spring I also worked with Josslyn and Evelyn of Peace of Green on the Woodgate Wellbeing project and we’ve been talking about doing more together in the local countryside in the coming year, which will be great. I also got to have a long chat with Jemma Bagley and see the Loughborough Wellbeing Centre which is really inspiring and another place I hope to work with before too long. I also had some great, supportive and inspiring connections with volunteers, library and venue staff and volunteer co-ordinators during my Community Spirit project in the summer. It’s a shame that was only a short project as I made some really positive connections, but that’s often how things work in the community arts field. I’ve reflected on my volunteering experience here.

I also did a great bit of research and facilitation with ArtQuest earlier this Spring, working with a group to discuss ideas about improving the equity of open call artist opportunities. I loved doing this work and working with ArtQuest and the experts they brought into the discussions, and it’s really inspired me focus on more artist support consultancy work.

I didn’t end up working with Clore Leadership this year, as I wasn’t selected for their visual arts fellowship, one of the disappointments of the year for me, although I was pleased to get through to interview. Instead I decided to work with the fantastic coach Sarah Fox to help me work out the next steps I want take in my consultant / producer / freelancer work. I started Sarah’s Lasting Impact programme in September and it’s been fantastic. With her support, and the others in the group, I have started writing more about things that matter to me and sharing my thoughts more widely. I’ve written this autumn about textiles and having something to say (which seems to have created a project!) and the start of a series about artists and money which I will continue this year. I’ve also really clarified the kind of consultancy work I want to do in the future and started making steps towards making this happen.

As always, I have loved supporting others through mentoring and it’s such a privilege to be part of the creative journey and hear about all the exciting projects happening with my mentees. Some of the people I’ve supported this year include: Jennie McCall, Tzipporah Johnston, Carol-Ann Savage, Lucie Bea Dutton, Carole Miles, Phiona Richards, Jenny Beattie and Sarah Trowsdale, and Mandeep Dhadialla whose feedback I have shared here.

And last, but not at all least, I have the pleasure all year round to work with the wonderful humans in my Maker Membership, some of whom appear in podcast episodes 17 and 24. We’ve had some great online sessions over the year as well as a small group of stitchers getting together in the spring to create work and have conversations about our feelings about the invasion of Ukraine. The group continues to be a wonderful community and such a great space to connect and share. I am so happy that I created this space and that it supports so many in their creative journey. 

If you would like to spend some time reviewing your year and thinking about what you really want to do next, my Find Your Focus course is open now. The five week course begins with a holistic and mindful review of the year to help you plan what you want more of in the coming year. The course is open for the whole of January, with new lessons released each week. Find out more here.

Sanctuary Stories and Research Resonance

A couple of weeks ago Mandeep Dhadialla and I concluded our summer community project called Sanctuary Stories. I wrote a little about the project development here. The work made is now on show at Leicester Central Library until 31st August. Sanctuary Stories was part of the city-wide Journeys Festival run by ArtReach and we worked with participants from Roots Group who are all Leicester-based but from sanctuary-seeking backgrounds.

Mandeep created the project concept and ran most of the workshops while I worked on the behind-the-scenes project producer work. But delightfully, she also invited me to be part of the creative workshop side. The project focussed on print and book making exploring stories of nature, wellbeing and belonging. My part was to introduce slow stitch on the papers and books with the idea of a meditative stitch practice.

The previous week the group made collograph-style collages which Mandeep blind embossed onto heavy white paper to create beautiful textured, simple pieces. We stitched into these pieces and Mandeep later made them in to folded forms.

I created my samples around a theme I’m working on for myself on borders, boundaries, paths and journeys. The stitches represent a border, a path, containment and freedom. That’s where the research resonance of the title comes in – making the samples for this workshop created all kinds of connections with my own work. Talking to Mandeep about her work and the meanings behind this workshop programme also sparked ideas for both of us. She and I will be talking more about this in a podcast due out in mid-September. It was a real pleasure to work with this group and to collaborate with Mandeep on this project and the results are so lovely. I hope plenty of you will be able to see them in Leicester Library in the next week.


Creative Producer

Projects around making things happen and bringing together people, places and stories

I love working with people to explore places and stories. I create and deliver projects inspired by my three sources of joy: textiles, artists and heritage. I add in research, partnerships and funding to produce experiences around People, Places and Stories

The experiences I create might be for artists, for textile-lovers, around heritage and stories, by, with and for communities.

Find out more about my Creative Producer work here.

Sanctuary Stories Community Project

I’m working on a new community project this summer in collaboration with Mandeep Dhadialla / Laughing Cactus Print Studio. Mandeep is doing most of the workshops including leading this one using print making and book construction, and I’m adding in some textile elements and stitch in future sessions.

Sanctuary Stories is a project for ArtReach, working with their Roots group for people from sanctuary-seeking backgrounds. Their work will be shown in Leicester Library as part of Journeys Festival in August.

 The Roots group are local participants from around the world, who come together to learn new skills and engage in cultural activities throughout the year. The project, Sanctuary Stories, is all about inspiring conversations around stories of individuals from sanctuary seeking backgrounds, and their connection to community, home and environment. 

Mandeep Dhadialla

In this project I’m more behind the scenes while Mandeep does most of the workshop side. The project concept was developed by her with project planning and support from me and I’m really enjoying this way of working. I’ve got a couple of decades of experience in running arts projects, exhibitions and engagement activities so it’s great to be able to collaborate and share with someone else. Mandeep is also working with me on Community Spirit project. I’m keen to do more of this kind of project management where I get to be creative and not just admin, and work with great groups on meaningful projects. I also worked for ArtReach a very long time ago on a great museum project so it’s good to be involved with one of their projects again.

I’d love to work on more community projects around my on practice and the themes that inspire me with local and regional groups. Please get in touch if you think this might work for your organisation. You can find out more about the kind of things I love to do here.

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.

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

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

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

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.

Textiles in Lockdown Commission – ebook and podcast

Ruth Singer creates an archive of stories, a podcast and an ebook for Gawthorpe Textiles Collection about textile making during lockdown.

I’ve been busy sharing my finished Textiles in Lockdown commission all over the internet and I have forgotten to share it on my own blog! The podcast and ebook are now available for free online, all the links are here. It has been a really amazing project to create and develop. I have got to talk to textile makers about their work, which is probably one my favourite things to do. I loved making the podcast – interviewing people by Zoom was great! But then choosing just a couple of minutes from an hour long conversation was hard. I’m really inspired to think about making a podcast of my own one of these days, if I can work out how to find the time.

The ebook came out much larger than I intended – It was supposed to be about 30-40 pages to support the podcast but so much amazing material was shared by over 300 contributors that I needed to expand it to fit as much as possible. I know I had to leave some people’s words and images out and I feel bad about that but otherwise it would have been too big. All the contributions form a digital archive in the museum at Gawthorpe Textiles Collection to be used by future researchers.

It has been a real honour to hear and share such personal and powerful stories of how textiles have helped so many people through such a difficult year. I’ve had such warm feedback too from both contributors and textile organisations, I’m really proud of this project. If you catch this in time, I will be talking live on the Gawthorpe Textiles Collection Facebook page today (28th October) at 7pm. Please join me then if you can.

I’m so looking forward to this as I contributed in a small way to Ruth’s research that is so important to document.

Jo Hague

Chair of Leicester Society of Artists

Over the last couple of years I have been working as a consultant for Creative Leicestershire, researching the future of the role of Made in Leicestershire, a network of local artists. Since this work has now finished, I have decided to try and take some of my recommendations forward through working in partnership with another Leicestershire artist network, The Leicester Society of Artists (LSA). In early October I put myself forward as Chair with the hope of taking some of my learning from Made in Leicestershire into this thriving, well-established group. I picked the busiest time of the year to do this, just before our Annual Exhibition opened in early November. The last few weeks have have been intense, with my focus being on the exhibition judges and prizes, the preview event, working with the museum staff and then some PR and marketing activity while the exhibition is open, as well as future planning with our President Lars Tharp and the LSA Council. The exhibition continues until 7th December and is open seven days a week. I have three pieces in the exhibition too and was awarded one of the prizes as well. But the best part so far has been handing over prizes to other artists, which is a joy – and can result in hilarious photos with Tim Fowler!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Made in Leicestershire consultancy

Earlier this month Creative Leicestershire was awarded a grant from Arts Council England to enable us (me) to do more on my Made in Leicestershire development project. I’ve been working on research and consultation for Made in Leicetershire for about 18 months and this grant has allowed us to extend until the end of September and run some exciting new programmes for Leicestershire and Rutland visual artists and makers.

We are piloting peer mentoring for artists, beginning with training next week and then facilitated meetings over the next month. Those taking part will also have the chance to have a professional photo taken of them with their work and apply for a small professional development bursary. There’s still time to sign up to the peer mentoring programme which takes place on Monday 19th August.

We are also hosting a larger networking event on 24th September, where I’ll be launching a new printed report which will showcase some of the finest creative talent in the city and two counties. There will also be professional development talks and business support 1:1s for new and established artists. Tickets are just £5 and can be booked here.

I love working with artists and it is great to be able to provide development opportunities and work on ways to make the network stronger in the future. It would be great to be able to expand this area of my work into other counties and regions and to work with agencies to create support networks. Hopefully Made in Leicestershire will take flight in the next few years and be the brilliant showcase I want for this creative county.