Final day @ AQC 2014

Come along to my Living Colour! curator floor talk at the Australasian Quilt Convention, today at 1.30pm.

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Babbarra Designs at AQC

Wonderful lino cut printed fabrics by Babbarra Designs are available from Stroppy Sheilas at the Australasian Quilt Convention. This one is mine!

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The X Factor at AQC 2014

Here is a selection of quilts from the 2014 AQC Challenge – Ten – including my piece The X Factor. If you are attending AQC, you can put in a vote for your favourite.

AQC Challenge 2014

Living Colour Premiere at AQC

Living Colour! opens today at the Australasian Quilt Convention 2014. I’ll be giving a floor talk each day at 1.30pm. In the meantime, here are some before and after photos. There are more photos over on the Living Colour blog.
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Colour Me Happy

Today is travelling and set up day. I am off to Melbourne to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Australasian Quilt Convention and the premiere of Living Colour!   In addition to seeing all the other wonderful quilts and checking out the new products, fabrics and books, I am really looking forward to catching up with my quilting friends.  If you are going to be at AQC, do say hello.  During the middle of the day, you can find me at Dyed & Gone to Heaven (Stand 38) where I will be helping out while Lisa Walton is conducting inspiring mini workshops.  And at 1.30pm each day, together with some of the artists, I will be conducting a Living Colour! floor talk.  See you there!

Living Colour - Green TrioAnd if you can’t make it to Melbourne, you could always try this out at home!

Introducing Living Colour!

In anticipation of the premiere exhibition at the Australasian Quilt Convention this week, 10-13 April 2014, the comprehensive Living Colour online gallery  is now live!  Click the image below to access the gallery:
LCmosaicFinal7April600hFor more curatorial insights, and to view an advance copy of the Living Colour! catalogue, I invite you to join me on one of my floor talks – daily at 1.30pm. The catalogue is 36 pages in 7x7in (18x18cm) square format. Each textile work and artist statement is featured on a separate page. The catalogue is available for sale directly from the curator at a discount. (See the catalogue page for details. ) Alternatively, you can purchase the Living Colour! catalogue via Blurb. Either way, check out this online preview!

LIving Colour Catalogue Button

The Living Colour Selection Process

I received 171 entries from 160 textile artists for the Living Colour! exhibition that premieres at the Australasian Quilt Convention this week.  Many people have asked me how I selected the 32 finalists.  This post gives you some insights into my curatorial selection process and some takeaway tips.  You may also be interested in these related posts:

Setting the title theme

While non-themed and survey-style exhibition definitely have their place, a theme can help to unify an exhibition and appeals to many galleries and other exhibition venues for promotional reasons.  This travelling exhibition was always going to have a theme and it needed to be engaging.  I keep a running list of potential exhibition concepts and themes.  This time, I also consulted my wordsmith friend, and Beneath the Southern Sky artist, Monica Johnstone.  When Living Colour! independently appeared on both of our short lists, I embraced this serendipity and set this as the theme.

To maximise participation and provide creative freedom, the theme was intentionally broad and did not prescribe any particular colour scheme, techniques, style or materials.  Any kind of textile or fibre art was welcome. The only essential requirement was to address the theme and specific size and that the work be robust enough for the rigours of a travelling exhibition.

As it turned out, I received many colourful entries that, much as I pondered, did not appear to have a “living” component.  I also received some drab, dare-I-say beige, works and there was even a square (not 100x40cm) black & white work stretched on a travel-unfriendly frame that depicted sushi!?

Takeaway tip:  Ensure you address the theme and, if your interpretation is more tangential, at least leave a hint in your title or artist statement.

Receiving the Entries & First Impressions

I received the first submission via the online entry form almost five months before the closing date.  In addition to a master database (Excel spreadsheet), I immediately set up two folders of images – one on my desktop computer and one on my iPad.  From then on, as entries arrived in my in-box, I would copy the images into the folders.  I also created a 240×600 pixel rough cropped thumbnail of each image for later use.

General presentation

While I naturally looked at the photos along the way, this was only cursory at this stage.   It was still long enough to remark upon general presentation.  As I was planning to rephotograph all selected works, I wasn’t looking for super-professional photographs – just something square/face on against a white or light coloured background.

Approximately 30% of entries were let down by their presentation including: poor lighting; excessive cropping so I could not see the edges of the work; distracting backgrounds including beds, floors, lattice, shoes and trees; crookedness and “keyholing”.  Every textile artist should ban keyholed photos from their portfolio!

keyhole2 I get that textiles are tricky to photograph sometimes but these are relatively small works; easy enough to hang on a wall or door with some loops of masking tape hidden on the back and take a snapshot front on.  (And if your doors are dark-coloured, throw an ironed sheet over first!)

Takeaway tip:  Learn how to photograph your work!  Here are some useful resources:  How to Photograph Textile Art and Digital Photography for Textile Artists.

Image Labelling

In addition, there was only 65% compliance with the image labelling requirements.  (The conditions of entry specified “Please name your file with your first initial, your last name and the word “full” or “detail”. For example: BSmithFull.jpg and BSmithDetail.jpg “)  Although nobody was disqualified on this basis, it was tedious to go through and rename so many images so that my file sorting and retrieval system worked satisfactorily.  Other curators may not bother and your entry may be eliminated as non-compliant.

Takeaway tip:  Take care to label your images as directed.

Reviewing the Entries

After the closing date,  I thoroughly reviewed all 342 images several times on both my desktop computer and on the iPad, the latter being ideal for zooming in on particular details.  I then sorted the entries into three broad classes:

  • Non-contenders (~50%) – obvious shortcomings in design or execution, in comparison with other entries, and/or failure to address theme
  • Strong contenders – high visual appeal and/or the most accomplished examples of a particular technique (eg plant dyeing, painting, printing etc)
  • Others

Initially I planned to select up to 30 works but, presented with a quality pool of work, I sought clearance from the confirmed venues to increase this to 32 works if desired.

Concentrating on the “Strong Contenders” folder (but not exclusively), I played around with different combinations.  Using the uniform-size thumbnails I made earlier,  I created various arrays on my screen and in printouts, swapping works in and out.  This was an intense, multi-day exercise.  Not only was I  keen to ensure that a broad range of techniques and materials are represented to demonstrate the richness of the textile and fibre art medium, I sought to create cohesive exhibition with a strong narrative “celebrating life across the spectrum”.  I pictured myself giving a curator floor talk and asked myself  questions: how does this exhibition flow?  how would I segue from one piece to the next?  why would I include this work?  what would I say about it?

Takeaway tip:  The role of the curator/juror is to create a cohesive exhibition out of the works submitted.  To, in effect, “make a work of art out of works of art”.  In any juried exhibition, various combinations are available and it is possible for wonderful work to be excluded to make the exhibition flow.

After considering various approaches, I decided to present the exhibition in a broad rainbow sequence, starting with red-hued works stepping through the spectrum and finishing up with some multi-coloured works.  This gave me a structure on which to build the exhibition.

As you may have discerned from the Glimpse of Living Colour preview posts,  I selected predominantly high chroma works that fill the 100x40cm space with saturated colour.  I received the works at the end of February.  It is a super collection and I am excited to share it with you in the cloth on tour in 2014/2015 and online very soon!

For more curatorial insights, I invite you to join me on one of my floor talks – daily at 1.30pm at the Australasian Quilt Convention (Melbourne: 10-13 April) and daily at 12.30pm at the Creative Textile Show (Canberra 2-4 May).

Living Colour!

How to Plan an Exhibition Layout

As part of my continuing series for my Curator Knowledge Resources page, this post sets out a method for designing an exhibition layout to scale using Photoshop Elements software. I find it a useful way to help visualise the exhibition and you may too.  (NB: This tutorial is in metric but you can apply a similar approach with imperial measurements.)

Step by Step Checklist

In the past three weeks, I have designed the layout for three different exhibitions. Or, more precisely, I have been allocated certain exhibition space and I have designed the hanging order of the selected works to best complement the flow of the exhibition and to check that the exhibition will actually fit!  In each case, I followed the same checklist:

  1. Venue Floorplan: Obtain the floorplan from the gallery or event organiser including height and width dimensions of all relevant walls along with details of protrusions, obstacles or furniture that needs to be taken into account.  Some venues will give you a very precise diagram.  Others may be a hand-drawn sketch.  The most important thing is to have the correct wall dimensions.
  2. Number each wall and create a separate file for every wall:  For example, for a wall that is 3metres by 2.4metres (width x height) go to: File>New>Blank File and set dimensions of 3000x2400pixels at 72 pixels resolution with a transparent background.  Save the file in PSD format.wall-diagram
    While you are at it, insert a horizontal snap-to guide via View>New Guide>Horizontal to set the hanging height. As a rough guide, if you are hanging large works  that fill the wall, set the horizontal guide to 50% to centre the works horizontally.  For multiple works of varying sizes, set the horizontal guide to the desired eyeline.  For smaller, uniform size works, set the horizontal guide to the desired baseline. In this example, the guide is set at 60% which is 96cm (2.4m – 60%/1.44m) from the floor as a resting point for the bottom of the works (see diagram in Step 5 below).horizontal-guide
  3. List of Works & Images:  make a list of works to be exhibited including dimensions in centimetres and check that you have an image of each work without any extraneous background (roughly crop out background if required).
  4. Make Scale Images of Each Work:  Resize each image so that, for example, a 100x100cm work is 1000x1000pixels; a 100x40cm work is 1000x400pixels and so on.  You may need to uncheck the “Constrain Proportions” box to get the desired dimensions. (See my earlier tutorial Seven Easy Ways to Resize Images.)
  5. Audition Works on Walls:  Using the layer functions in Photoshop Elements, audition works on each wall (eg Open image file>Select> All>Edit>Copy  and then open the “wall” file and Edit>Paste).  Play around with different variations.  Keep in mind that the role of a curator is to create a flow within the exhibit:

    I recently had a conversation with the director of a small museum who described putting together a show as creating a work of art from works of art. Like any good artwork, a show must have balance, the colors must make sense, and the overall composition must read well.

    That the pieces are cohesive and flow from one to another in a way that complements them is paramount. A show that is not thoughtfully selected and hung with equal care and consideration is just a mismatched collection of pieces, and even if each one individually is superb the end result will not be successful.

    Leni Wiener, Chair, Exhibition Committee
    Studio Art Quilt Associates Quote used with consent.

    When you are happy with the layout, save the wall file in both PSD and JPG format.  This screenshot shows four greyed out Living Colour! works on a 3metre wide wall. Because I wanted the works evenly space, I also created a “spacer” graphic (shown in white) that extends from the floor to the top of the wall.audition

  6. Create Master Layout File: After you have created a jpg file for each wall, insert these image files into a Word document (or equivalent). Depending upon the dimensions of your walls, it is likely that you will have to resize the image files within the Word document Just make sure that you do this in a consistent fashion. For example, if all your walls are the same height, set the height dimensions to the same size.  In this screenshot, the height is set at 5.29cm within the Word document.

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This screenshot from my layout for the exhibition of Australian quilts at Carrefour Européen du Patchwork/European Patchwork Meeting 2014 shows a compilation of walls with a works of varying size.

LayoutPart1Sample Master Layouts

Here are a couple of master layout diagrams.  In both cases, I have included some annotations showing signage to scale. Such diagrams are especially useful for sharing with the venue or if you are giving installation instructions to a third party.  The first diagram is for Beneath the Southern Sky at Festival of Quilts in Birmingham 2013 where installation was in the capable hands of Helen Conway:

BTSS-Layout-FoQThe second diagram is for Twelve by Twelve Colourplay at Carrefour Européen du Patchwork in September 2014:

12x12layoutEPM3-Dimensional Diagrams

The method set out in this blog post generates a two-dimensional layout.  In her blog post The Value of Questions – aka Smithsonian Prep, Lisa Call shares her some of her process in creating a 3-D display of her proposed stand at the Smithsonian Craft Show.

If you would like to create a 3-D display, go to Step 4 above “Make Scale Images of Each Work” , then consistently reduce the size of the images so that you can print out at a workable scale.  Cut out your printed images and then audition on cardboard walls constructed at the relevant scale.  (A cat assistant is optional!)

Curator Caveat

However well you plan, on installation day, you may find that conditions have changed and you may have to rejig your layout to fit the actual configuration. Who knows – you may come up with something better! Nevertheless, whether your layout diagrams are two-dimensional or 3-D, I am sure you will find that they are a useful tool in planning your next exhibition.   Please share your tips on how to play an exhibition layout.

AQC Challenge 2014: Ten

In ten days or so, on 10 April, the tenth Australasian Quilt Convention opens in Melbourne.  To celebrate this anniversary, the theme of the AQC challenge is “ten”.   I am delighted to report that my quilt The X Factor is amongst the 30 AQC 2014 Challenge finalists  and will be on show at AQC and on tour throughout Australia in 2014.AQC 2-14 ChallengeIn planning my entry, I played around with X motifs on my iPad.  These drawings were made with the Doodle Buddy and Paper 53 apps:photo2
photo3I dyed my fabrics and tried out Bella Moda PFD for the first time.  It has a looser weave than my usual Robert Kaufman Pimatex and is better suited to hand-stitching.  Scaling up the improvisationally-pieced X to fit the 125x125cm (49x49in) size requirement was a challenge.  Here it is on the design wall.
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photo5As I was travelling for 3-4 weeks over Christmas, I decided to make this a hand-stitched project.  I have fond memories of hand-stitching Roman numerals XII in the background of my Twelve by Twelve Double Six piece for the “Twelve” challenge but there is a huge difference between stitching a 12x12in (30x30cm) area and a 49×49 (125x125cm) area!
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In the end, I did most of my stitching when I got back to Australia.  Here is the final result:
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The X Factor:  The X is a classic motif in mark-making, stitching and patchwork.  It also denotes the Roman numeral 10.  My work features an improvisationally-pieced X overlaid with 9 cross-stitched X symbols, making a total of ten.  The background is also cross-stitched with a multitude (X to the power of ten?!) of X stitches.

Time Out in Orange

It’s been a busy 2014 so far and, with two significant exhibitions to launch, the pace will continue. That’s why I deliberately factored in some time out with the Laundry King for a few days in Central West of New South Wales. We are based in Orange and have been enjoying visiting some small wineries and talking to the makers. As with all creatives, it is fun to hear the vision and the stories. For this vintage, we can say, we were there at the beginning…

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