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. 

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.

 

Professional Development Workshop

I’m running a professional development day for artist and makers at Llantarnam Grange Art Centre on Saturday 20th October. 10am-3pm. £20.

Join artist Ruth Singer to explore research-led craft making; about creating original work with a meaningful narrative behind it. Find out about Ruth’s research and development process; explore, develop and test your own ideas and take part in creative planning and group making activities. This workshop will also include ways of working with museums, heritage and archive collections. This session is designed for makers of all levels of practice who want to stretch their creative horizons and develop new ways of working. Ruth works predominantly in textiles but this session is suitable for all makers, whatever material or method you use.

The workshop runs alongside Suffrage exhibition which includes a newly commissioned piece made for this exhibition. The workshop is just £20 for the whole day 10am-3pm and can be booked online here. Please note: We regret that due due to the nature of our building the artists workshops will be taking place in our first floor workshops rooms which do not have disabled access.

 

Makers In Museums Symposium

I’m running a symposium for textile artists and makers at Gawthorpe Hall, part of my Emotional Repair exhibition programme.

The event on Wednesday 6th June is designed for makers, particularly textile makers, who want to develop their work inspired by and in partnership with museums and heritage. Tickets for students and artists are just £12* including lunch! (*National Trust entry fee also payable, please bring cash on the day or your membership card).

Full details and booking on Eventbrite

 

 

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Cyanotype workshop with Hannah Lamb

I’m never quite sure if a day spent at a creative workshop counts as a day off or as work, when it is both enjoyable and professional development. Either way, I don’t do it enough and always resolve to do it more. A couple of weeks ago I spent a day experimenting with cyanotype under the guidance of textile artist Hannah Lamb at my favourite independent gallery, Unit Twelve.

 

My test pieces on paper worked well but the pieces on fabric weren’t the most successful. They got exposed to light before I had them ready and then they got rained on! I have ended up with a couple of pieces that I will use in my own work at some point, even though I don’t often work with blue. The hands pieces in the top left image will become part of a new series of Criminal Quilts and I have ideas to play with from the other pieces. It is a wonderful thing to spend a day experimenting with no particularly end, to simply to find out how things work and to stretch yourself to come up with new ideas, outside of the usual comfort zone.

Selling craft in the fine art market

I recently attended “Making it in the fine art market” a Cockpit Arts Making It seminar and made the following notes.

Event chaired by Susan Mumford Be Smart About Art, with panel including  and Sarah Myerscough.

Katharine Morling

Katharine Morling

Breaking into the fine art market
Clear, consistent body of work, suitable for the market. Pricing should reflect fine art market not craft market (considerably higher)
Work on a strategy and research your potential gallery market. Where do you want to sell? Which galleries suit your work best? What about outside of London, where can work for you?

Create a broader strategy / plan of where you want your work to be, what museum collections do you want to be in, what countries might you do well in.
Before considering overseas markets, establish yourself in your own and your gallery might well introduce you to overseas galleries.
Collect is a key event for selling in the fine art market, therefore getting into a gallery which show at Collect would be a key target in strategy.

No problem to approach galleries direct but be very targeted and only approach ones that really show your type of work. Ask for feedback if rejected and keep in touch with them. Things change and they might find your new work suitable for them.

Getting your work seen is vital. Top tip is to apply for all sorts of opportunities (that are relevant) where your images will be seen by a selection panel. Even if not selected for the opportunity, your work is seen by influential people who will remember it next time.

Market
New and established collectors are happily spending thousands of pounds buying art online (degreeart.com). More traditional galleries prefer to market to bring people into the gallery and buy in person. Two distinct markets. The art-buying market are particularly interested in small editions (around 10) and exclusive works. (not applicable to objects which are one-off anyway).

Amelia May's Quilt

Amelia May’s Quilt, Ruth Singer 2012.

Being represented by a gallery
Usually an artist is represented by just one gallery in a city or area, particularly only one in London
Gallery will take work for specific exhibitions and art fairs, potentially internationally
Commission is usually 50% of retail price. Give galleries retail price and negotiate commission. Ensure consistent market price wherever you are selling. You must not undercut gallery price.
Out-of-gallery sales. If someone buys direct from you after seeing you at a gallery, the gallery has the right to demand commission. Openness and communication with your gallery are essential to create a supportive relationship. Important to find out where your buyers have found you.Nowadays many artists have an exclusive body of work represented by each gallery rather than an exclusive relationship with just one gallery.
Artist needs to work as a team with gallery to avoid mixed messages and confusing buyers
Role of galleries: to put work in context, give credibility, to expose your work to the right buyers. Your commission helps them do more marketing.
Keep your gallery informed of everything you are doing, even with other galleries. This helps with their marketing of your work and helps build a productive relationship.