Monday, September 12, 2016

Where are they now? - Helen

Where am I now? That's  the question I was told to answer for this blog series. But you know me. Rebel to the last.... I think the most interesting question actually is: how did you get where you are today? Because today has been a day I would not have imagined last time I posted here ( which was February 2014, with  this post.

I started the day out on the golf course. Not what you expected? No, me neither, but read on and I'll explain. Then I packed up some of the art from a solo show I did at the View Two Gallery in Liverpool in May and popped it in the car to take to the Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery third ( and for me the final) show with the Etcetera Group. Whilst at the gallery I talked to the curator and agreed to do a little mini show of six more of my pieces later this year. then I got in the car again and drove to talk to a different gallery owner about a proposal for a duo show with another artist. then I came home to deal with a contact for representation by a second Liverpool gallery. None of that was even in my imagination in February 2014!

So what happened?
Urban Myth - 20/12 series

When the Twelve by Twelve Project ended, I was a person who still had a great deal of difficultly believing my myself as an artist. I wanted the group environment because it gave me an identity/ If they were artists and I was a member then I must be an artist. Identification by Association if you like. I was only just finding my voice - if you look back the 20/12 series shows a big leap in how my work looked and was when my current voice started as a tiny exploratory whisper. But in the intervening years I have done a lot of coaching and Masterclass Work with Lisa Call on redefining myself in my own mind and coming out boldly as an artist and I have dome that so much I almost don't recognise myself now!
Brick Lane A - Transitions Show, Etctera

Last year I had just done the first Etcetera show which hung in the Platform gallery in Clitheroe and had sold art work from that show for the first time. I was yearning to be an artist not just within what I perceived as the 'safe environment of the quilt world where I was known and accepted, but in the wider art work and also by people in my day job. But boy was I scared. Some of that was due to the peculiar constraints what is and is not acceptable in  my day job. and I was worried about crossing boundaries when I wasn't sure where the boundaries lay.  But far more was that  I was scared people would pity me. That they would say whisper, behind my back, that I was the person who thought I was good enough to be an artist and I didn't even know I wasn't. Scared I would be the Florence Foster Jenkins of the textile art world!

And then I had an Idea. Its a long story ( which you can read here) but it involved a charity project with other artist/barristers called Artists-in -Law and it required me to stay up in conference rooms full of colleagues and actually say the words "I am an artist'.  Effectively I leapt out of the closet and once out I just had to keep going because saying I was an artist and not being very good was better in my mind than saying I was one and not actually producing any art! Plus I didn't catch anyone sniggering at me. So I put some of my art on sale and people bought it. For real money.

Here I will always stay - Liverpool Skyline

At that stage I was playing around with the beginnings of my graffiti based work. the first quilt in that series went to the SAQA Wide Horizons IV juried show and I was playing with adding paper collages over graffiti backgrounds to make Liverpool scenes, which turned out to be commercially popular but not quite where my soul was. I was still stretching, trying to find the real me.

Graffiti from Berlin

In December 2104 I went on a city break to Berlin with my family to celebrate my Dad's seventieth Birthday. Now I love my family but really, we all needed some respite  from each other, so the deal was that we all got to do one thing alone if we wished. I chose to go on  a walking tour of graffiti in the old East Berlin. I took photos every step of the way, finding huge inspiration in the overlap of tags. The close up photos of the edges of other peoples art seemed to me to create new, unintended pieces of abstract art.  The tour ended in an abandoned margarine factory where we were given an A4 piece of canvas and access to spray cans. My mind went into overdrive and I called the tour guide over and explained, with the aid of pictures of my quilts on the iPhone exactly why I needed much much, more canvas and much much more information about spray can suppliers! That night I usde the hotels wifi to shop online at a Graffiti supply shop back home. (Who knew such places even existed!)

Note to Self

On my return home, I made a quilt in my old style and then took the cans and spray painted it. I maintain it is interesting but truly ugly but others clearly went with just the interesting as it was juried into the European Quit Triennial. That quilt was called Note to Self and it contained both readable (just) and disguised messages to myself about being bold and having belief in myself. It was the first thing I made that felt to me like something no-one else was doing (probably for very good reason!) and its acceptance gave me huge confidence.  Months before I had been talking with my coach about the artists I looked up to  and I made made a list of them in my journal because I had been reading an about the power of physically writing down goals and aspirations and dreams. When I got the list of participating artists in that show, all bar one on my list were in that show and the missing one was  a juror!
Then Sings my Soul - Urban Scrawl 

Then one day I was at work and I decided to go for a little  lunch time stroll. I remembered that someone had told me about a gallery I had not heard of before so I went to try and find it. It was open and I climbed up many flights of stairs to find the top room and found the owner. We got chatting, he asked to see my work, he liked it, he asked me to give him three pieces for a Christmas show and I nearly fell down all these stairs again with joy and shock. I had, entirely by accident obtained gallery representation!  Email correspondence followed and within the week we had agreed that I would have the whole room - 100 feet - for a solo show which I called Urban Scrawl. I maintain that that only happened because of all the work with Lisa to get me to a point where I could both say those words : I am an artist and here is my portfolio"  and actually have a portfolio on my phone!

Paving Stones - From Urban Scrawl Show

I had four and a half months to prepare for that show and, as most of the work I did have I either deemed unsuitable or had committed to Etcetera shows, I had to start from scratch. My husband (who we call Thirteen because of his role in selling the Twelve by Twelve book some time ago at Festival of Quilts) was a star in supporting me by feeding me on my arrival home from the day job and sending me up to the studio to work. You can read some blog posts about the preparation and the work in the show on my blog at It was the intense work put in for that show that helped me finally, finally (finally!) make art I was proud of and actually would hang in my own home! The preview night was heaving with people and I sold seventeen pieces, most to the very people I had at first been afraid to tell I was an artist in case they laughed at me.

 Again, the work I had done on the Masterclass and reading other artists blogs on subjects such as setting up studio systems, publicity, how to present myself on social media and the like played a huge part in that show.  I used to have a keyring that said; behind every successful woman is a pile of washing and ironing. That remains true but I also want one which says: Behind every artist is a legion of fellow artists who have gone before and are generous with their experiences.

Empty Street - Urban Scrawl Show

Once the show was over I decided, pretty much on a whim, to learn to play golf. I had tried at the instigation of a dear, golf obsessed friend about 20 years ago and was dreadful. Really, humiliatingly bad. So I had spent 20 years defining myself as someone who was not sporty. Someone who couldn't even  though I wanted to. However, the process of redefining myself as an artist allowed me to see that I could refine myself as a golfer if I wished. So I took lessons and joined a club and now I am a baby beginning golfer (and loving it and improving quickly) much as I was a baby beginning art quilter when Twelve by Twelve started off my art career.

So the short answer to the questions are:

Where are you now?
Deeper in in the art world than I ever thought possible when I started making log cabin quits. Exploring  more graffiti based ideas, contemplating moving those ideas into encaustics as well as textiles. Making what I want to make even if its unconventional or I think people wont 'get it'. working on showing in art galleries where there are no other textile artists. Trying hard to balance time in the studio with time on the golf course and time at the day job.

How did you get there?
By other people believing in me and taking a chance on me before I did that for myself. And learning overcome fear of people laughing at me, of being a beginner. That started with the day Diane Perin emailed to ask if I wanted to join  an art quilt group. I remember telling my husband and he asked, a little confused, "Do you make art quilts?' "I do now,"  I said. and so I did. I still have fears of being the Great Pretender but I like the line at the end of the Florence Forster Jenkins Movie: "They may say I couldn't sing, but no one can say I didn't sing."

They may not like my art but no one can say I am not now an artist.

More images from my Urban Scrawl show can be seen at


Sarah Ann Smith said...

Standing on my chair, applauding wildly, yelling WOOOOHOOOO and You GO GIRL!

Renate said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this! Your experience is evidence that a person can redefine themselves and become successful. You have helped me understand this concept in a way that so far has eluded me.

Helen L Conway said...

Then if it has helped you it was worth doing! I would say: follow your wildest dream but I think you should aim a bit higher than that!

Helen L Conway said...

Sorry. Couldn't quite hear that. Could you say it louder 😂😂😂

Carol said...

I will reread your post often. Thank you so much!

The Joyful Quilter said...

SEW interesting to see how your art has changed over the years and how you image of yourself has changed along with it. I thoroughly enjoyed my copy of the Twelve by Twelve book!