Setting up a textile art group
A love and experience of handling textiles informs much of Barbara Cotterell’s current work. Recycled materials are her preferred medium, reflecting both a frustration with and a passion for more careful stewardship of resources. Barbara is fascinated by the subtle changes of the repeating image. These three factors combined; cloth-like quality, reuse of materials and pattern characterise her creative expression.
Barbara grew up in a world where necessity meant that she learned the skills and techniques to make her own clothes; to this day a careful and imaginative use of resources is reflected in her work as a textile artist. She is passionate about using her chosen medium to raise awareness of our collective responsibility and impact upon the environment.
Barbara is an integral part of the art group Material Space. In this article, which is part of the Business of Art series, she explains why her and her fellow artists set up the group and the long term benefits from doing so.
Getting down to business
Barbara Cotterell: Material Space is a small group of textile artists who meet once a quarter to critique our work, provide stimulus and encourage each other through honest sharing together. Our aim is to exhibit our work in spaces which challenge both ourselves and a perceived view of textiles. We believe we share a common vision which has enabled us to practise together and gain expression on the edge of textiles.
We are a very practical group, used to short meetings and getting down to business. Hence we have put together a straightforward account of where we have come from and how we have set about putting ourselves out there. We would hope to encourage others who find themselves at the end of study and wondering what to do next, this may be an option to consider.
Pippa Andrews, Barbara Cotterell, Debbie White and Jane Neal gathered at Windsor College from various City and Guilds Embroidery courses to continue our creative studies in textiles. City and Guilds focused upon building a comprehensive portfolio of embroidery skills including contemporary and historic British techniques and embroidery traditions from other countries. We worked through a library of stitch and studied design, developing our skill as textile artists. In 2003 we continued together our Diploma in Stitched Textiles under the guidance of an experienced and talented pool of lecturers and practitioners including Jan Beaney, Jean Littlejohn, Ros Hills, Janet Edmunds and Louise Baldwin. Their combined expertise helped to underpin and support looking beyond stitch, stretching and encouraging us to look beyond the obvious, for inspiration from the art world and stimulating conceptual expression. Emphasis was on developing as an artist and a good proportion of the course was practical art. It was, upon reflection, a time of great enjoyment, learning and experience culminating in planning and mounting our final exhibition. This was to set the bar in developing a professional approach to displaying our work, eg., Knitting and Stitching show in 2012.
Frustrated at the end of the Diploma that we were unable to continue studying for a degree at Windsor we chose to study in different locations; Pippa studying Fashion and Textile Design at Bath Spa University near her home, Barbara doing Art in the Community at TVU in Reading, Debbie and Jane studying Applied Arts at Hertfordshire University. Perhaps this was a good thing as we all moved from the relative comfort and familiarity of Windsor into new settings and different challenges, ultimately bringing fresh thinking and ideas.
Following our studies Debbie sent an email outlining a plan of action for forming a group. We had all considered individually what we might do after University and how to actively promote our new skills.
We felt working in a small, like-minded group may well be the answer. Working in isolation presented just that, little opportunity for honest and constructive critical feedback at a time when it would be most helpful, such as those moments when ideas seemed to stagnate or before an exhibition.
We were clear from the outset, our prime motivation was the sharing of our work, selling our work was not to be our focus.
At our first meeting we decided to;
- Meet up 4 times per year to support each other and discuss our work.
- Identify places we could exhibit our Graduation show work.
- Visit a major textile exhibition each year to keep up with current trends.
- Set up a group website to promote our work.<materialspace.com>
- Fund our expenses on an as needs basis, but aim to keep our costs down.
As with all groups, getting to know each other takes time and individual circumstances and paid work at times dictate levels of commitment.
We find ourselves together because we a have shared interest in textiles and increasingly our work sits well together with its recurring elements of repetition and pattern and we get on quite well!
Organising ourselves and allocating tasks has developed along the lines of where our strengths lie, who is comfortable with what and also has time availability.
We did not want to actively practise together as this was largely impractical as we live some distance from each other and we had done that already for many years. We wanted to share our work and offer constructive critique to help each other move forward.
Our thinking has always been to push ourselves to develop our work, not to remain static but to challenge ourselves and each other. We accept that there will be times of relative inactivity and we embrace new ways of working as part of individual circumstance and artistic growth.
Setting up an exhibition
We would work through the following;
- Identify possible venues. We aim to spend as little as possible, looking for free rentals in the first instance and taking into consideration commission. Consideration of likely footfall. Location of the venue for our own ease of access and visitor numbers. Wheelchair accessibility.
- Suitability of the venue for a variety of display, ie wall mounted, floor, ceiling and roof fixings. Types of acceptable fixings and rules for making good. Lighting. Availability of technical assistance and equipment for display.
- Discussion of a possible theme for the exhibition and type of work we would like to consider for display. Does the venue offer us a challenge in terms of progression or a side step and opportunity to repeat or rework an exhibition?
- Timings for the exhibition, considering availability of the venue and personal circumstances.
- Advertising via our website, a flyer to all previous contacts and personal contacts. Information shared with the venue and their advertising agencies. Advertising to other links eg A&N, periodicals. Additional posters and flyers nearer the opening date.
- Visiting the venue and reporting back to the group. Drawing up a floor plan with suggestions of what will go where. Identifying need for plinths, fittings for display. Information on lighting and security of the artwork.
- Decisions about opening times, meet the artists or workshops, private view and catering. Setting up and take down arrangements.
- Pricing our work. Additional items for sale eg cards, choice, production and packing.
- Establishing a timetable working towards the exhibition, organising supporting venues and travel, completion and finalising pieces, checking advertising, display information and fixings, insurance at the venue and for ourselves, final meeting, press coverage, feedback process.
- Final arrangements re. equipment and materials for installation.
Packing and storage of packing materials. Money for float.
We have visited a wide variety of exhibitions together over the years, providing personal research and stimulating group discussion and analysis. Our visits include: Richard Long at Tate Britain; Lost in Lace, Birmingham, Antony Gormley and Tracey Emin at White Cube Bermondsey, Sonia Delauney at Tate Modern, Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft at V&A.
Stewarded Exhibitions, whilst they demand greater commitment, also bring face to face discussion, feedback, encouragement and wider opportunities to network. While un-stewarded exhibitions lack these advantages, they can still provide the opportunity to get work out there and so are especially attractive for longer exhibitions.
Selling work is a bonus. Pricing up is part of exhibiting work and is required by most venues along with information about materials used. For us as artists it is important to consider what we think our work is worth. The decision to not offer an item for sale may be for a variety of reasons, but that is also part of developing judgement. We often sell cards at our exhibitions to publicise our work although we generally only cover costs. We usually offer business cards and sometimes flyers.
We agree we need to look forward and stay up to date in the way we publicise our work and are currently considering which aspects of social media we should embrace!
For more information visit: www.materialspace.com
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