International working: A road well-travelled by Cas Holmes
Cas Holmes is an acclaimed lecturer, workshop leader and writer, but is best known for creating her mixed media textile art combining colour, paint and stitch. Classically trained in fine arts, Cas enjoys the process of creating with scraps, leftovers, and found materials.
She is a regular contributor to TextileArtist.org, travels extensively, and is responsible for the the upcoming publication Stitch Stories, a collection of work by the many artists she’s met through her ‘travelling practice’.
In this guest post, Cas Holmes shares her tips, advice, and best practices for those who travel with their art.
A road well-travelled by Cas Holmes
Two years ago I was invited by TextileArtist.org to write an article ‘Find Inspiration for Textile Art’ that focused on the inspiration and ideas I gathered as I travelled and work. As part of the reflection on professional practice I have been invited back to reflect on some basic guidelines to working abroad. This is a complex and often intense area of my practice so forgive me for just touching the surface with this article.
My Romany Grandmother always said I had ‘itchy feet’ and inherited her love of the road. Ever since I started to work, the travelling life began also. I have been fortunate to see much of the world though travel for work and whilst it can be exhausting, it is equally richly rewarding. I have built up good relationships and partnerships and recognise so much of what I do is based on trust and willingness to make things happen.
I have had no fixed way of setting up work abroad. Each project such as my third visit to Australia this Summer, again largely supported by Fibre Arts Australia is uniquely planned. Some come as a more formal invitation to talk, exhibit or run workshops for a conference, and other projects are private invitations from individual, groups or organisations. The Netherlands has seen me exhibit in Memory Cloth at the Museum de Kantfabriek (Lace Factory Museum) and with workshops Zijdelings, as well as in Europe in general.
The invitation to deliver workshops and exhibit abroad has evolved over many years. When I think back to my first workshop in Germany in the late 1990s, I wondered how it was organised at all without the relative ease of the internet. However, I am aware that so many of the principles I adapted then are still in place today with adaptations where needed for each project.
Some projects may be 2-3 years in planning but I have responded to some opportunities with a few days turn around. I keep a basic kit ready for this purpose.
Glenys Mann, artist, curator, and the face behind ‘Fibre Arts Australia’ explains what she looks for when inviting tutors to teach:
What does Fibre Arts Australia look for when searching for an international tutor to teach in Australia?
I do it in a number of ways…. see what is exciting me on Pinterest! Look at what is happening on Facebook! and sometimes a student will offer a suggestion! But when it all boils down to a decision…it mainly comes from what I see and if I say out loud…which is something I do a lot…”Boy! I would really like to do this workshop” then I email the tutor to ask if she teaches and would she like to come to Australia to teach for me!
Rarely do I get a knock back…which makes it all the more exciting! I plan and plot with the tutor for about 18 months to make sure that we have everything organised…I also offer extra teaching gigs in other places within Australia and New Zealand and do all the domestic travel plans to get them from point A to point B! Who wouldn’t come with all of this on offer!!!
I really love what I do!
Preparation before going
Email and internet: Usefulness of email cannot be underestimated. I try and keep in touch with contacts as and when needed and almost never use the phone. It means there is a digital trail you can refer back to. Most of my projects have evolved out of interest from my web presence or recommendation by people who have worked with me before. It is through email I establish what the project may be. Facebook is a useful tool for quick notes, etc.
I only ever put open bookable workshops online and link to the hosts promotion where possible. (Some of the work I do is for established groups and organisations who have invited me come and these are not usually posted publicly)
Schedules and lists: The relevance of a filing system that works for you can never be overestimated and still I find I can be snowed under.
I am a keeper of schedules, lists and Post-it notes. I keep a list of things to do, I keep it up-to-date, and refine or amend it as needed.
I keep several core pages in a folder with the project name on my PC and a hard copy of the most relevant stuff. This contains:
- Names, addresses and broad outline of how I may be working with them.
- A breakdown of each project with images. This includes fees (and if I need to cover international travel from these fees), and discussions about venue, groups and materials.
- When a workshop has been arranged, I make up a proposed guide for everyone to agree to. Once signed, I send out notes for participants in advance, thus allowing for translation when necessary.
- Booked flights and travel arrangements, including accommodations. Often, accommodation is offered by the hosts as this helps to keep the cost of the project down for all involved, and this is my preference. If you prefer to be accommodated in a hotel or guesthouse you need to be clear from the onset as this will reflect in the costs to the hosts or the fees you need to charge.
- I always carry a folder with essential stuff in it when I travel, such as basic schedules, contacts, visas, passport, insurance and bank information, as well as keeping a copy on tablet or USB drive. (I also email myself a link of most relevant stuff accessible online from a secured PC just in case I lose everything)
The days before
I always ensure I have a few days clear before a major trip to rest up and check last minute details. I also ensure I have the emergency telephone numbers for home and my first host while travelling. I try and clear up important admin work and remind people that I will be on the road.
I try to travel as lightly as possible. A 20 kilo suitcase is usually my maximum even when staying away for months. Fortunately, most of my workshops are based on using found materials and using what you have, so that helps.
In the 1980s, I travelled and researched in Japan for several months with the Winston Churchill Fellowship and managed with just a backpack. Anything I collected for research I shipped back in boxes. I send fewer things back today; however, I constantly swap things based on my need to have them. In India in 2006 I came back with a suitcase full of collected fabrics and my sketchbook and camera. I gave most of my clothes and toiletries away!
In most cases, what you may need you can buy when travelling, such as toiletries and clothing.
I improvise and play a game of ‘Do I Really Need It?’ before I travel to keep my footprint light. My top tips for packing are:
- Pack clothes that you are happy to leave behind as well as clothes you can layer. Always pack something waterproof.
- Take presents in your suitcase and then as you travel, you can replace the space with new things you find.
- Take toiletries with you if you must, but leave them behind on the return. Is a bottle of shampoo really worth the extra weight? Forget towels and hairdryers… well, I do. You can buy some essentials and people will take care of you and loan things as you travel. People are well aware of the limited luggage allowance on international flights, plus the complexity of preparing for various climate zones and weather conditions.
- Always have a sketchbook, camera, and a drawing pen or pencil as a basic minimum. You can usually buy basics for additional art projects as you travel.
- Inevitably, I have more samples in my suitcase than clothes as students really appreciate seeing physical evidence of techniques.
Day to day while travelling
Peace of mind: Be flexible and accept things may not always go to plan. If something worries you, talk to someone.
Stay in touch with home: It is nice to hear from friends and family as you travel. It helps me feel connected and it reassures your family that you are okay. Check time zones before Skyping and contacting home.
Time, place and work: Allow time to check the workspace has all it needs and materials are in place as you almost certainly will be dependent on your workshops host in helping to organise this. It is in my practice to use what I can find locally at thrift shops. If there are specialised materials required, see if they can be sourced locally prior to carrying or shipping them.
In the first few days you may feel jet lagged and unable to work in different environments. Give yourself time to recover. If you hit a low, just let you host know. It happened to me in Tasmania a couple of years ago out of the blue. I needed some fresh air and a brief break and this was really no problem for my wonderful hosts Stitching and Beyond. Remember, they want you to be able to deliver a good workshop. Your hosts will respect that you are only human and are taking on a number of new things.
I take regular breaks. Even when stopping for breakfast, I try to find the time to draw or stitch, as well as seeing the local sights. It is important to remember also to have fun.
One of the great features at Fibre Arts annual event at Ballarat is the top table where each workshop group decorates and sits at the table for one of the meals. The decorations are auctioned off on the final night party for charity.
Mind your language: I have worked in a variety of countries. Aside from obvious language differences between Europe and Asia, there are less obvious ones, too. English may be a common language for many countries, such as the USA and Australia, but intent and meanings can differ. So, slow down when speaking and clarify your intentions are understood as much as possible. I always try and eat locally and observe local customs as I travel. Allow people to help you understand the locality, people and place.
Days before return: This depends on the length of the trip but usually try and have a few days rest and walking before departure. On the last day, get the washing done. I personally don’t like a suitcase full of laundry when I get back.
On you return: Allow time to wind down and rest. It can also take time to get back in to a normal routine. I find that I am often either buzzing with things to be done, or I am completely zonked out.
I once did a complete kitchen clean within an hour of my return. In the few days after, I send followup emails and check that paperwork is in order and try and get back to my regular routine or work mood.
My more recent and ongoing work, 40 Yards, part of which was first shown at the European Patchwork Meeting 2014, tries to bring both worlds together. The materials are collected as I travel, the stitch drawings reflect the changes within around 40 yards of my home.
You can see Cas’ work later this year at the following exhibitions:
Art Textil Sent, Switzerland in September
East Kent Artist Open Houses in October
For all forthcoming exhibitions and events check out: www.casholmes.blogspot.com and www.casholmestextiles.co.uk
Articles by Cas Holmes on TextileArtist.org:
- Finding inspiration for textile art by Cas Holmes
- Cloth, Creativity & Collaborating: Cas Holmes & Anne Kelly
- Travel and textile art: Less is more
- ‘Reflections, life, home and work’ by Cas Holmes
- Featured textile artist Cas Holmes: To do different
Cas Holmes does a wonderful job giving us a peek inside her many travels and adventures. Do you often find yourself travelling with your art? What are your best tips for smooth sailing? Please let us know in the comments below.