This February I was fortunate enough to win a £15,000 Project Grant through Arts Council England to produce a new series of sculptural and 2D work, exploring ancient and modern myth. This blog documents the production process for MYTHOMANIA, including the creation of several large-scale sculptural pieces made from industrial materials such as Dibond, Perspex, stainless steel, vinyl and corrugated cardboard. The exhibition opens on 6 July 2019 at 20-21 Visual Arts Centre in Scunthorpe.
It’s been a busy few days, now that I’ve finished a sculpture commission for Our Big Picture in Grimsby, leaving me finally able to work pretty much full time on my Arts Council Project Grant. It’s been years since I’ve just had time to create my own self-directed artwork (i.e. outside the constraints of a commission or exhibition brief) and it’s been an amazing experience so far.
For me the most rewarding part about it is the opportunity to experiment with new materials and processes – something you rarely have the chance to do as part of a typical commission. I’ve been working with packaging materials such as corrugated cardboard for several years now, alongside a few commissions involving Dibond and stainless steel…but what I’ve been wanting to explore for some time is fabric. I’m particularly drawn to the architectures of handbags, running shoes, and other ‘sculptural’ cloth forms typically made from stiffer fabrics. So that’s the core of what I’m going to be experimenting with over the next three months.
The first major thing I did was take the big step to buy a high-end embroidery machine. It actually wasn’t part of the grant proposal to involve embroidery…but while shopping for a sewing machine (which was part of the budget) I discovered that they weren’t quite as expensive as I’d thought…and could open up tons of possibilities for me. After all, my work typically involves ornate surface designs – so the capacity to translate my iconography into embroidery will hopefully really open up some exciting new creative possibilities.
Here’s a couple images of my first test design; I used a program called SewArt to translate my logo into an embroidery file, then sent it to my Janome 500e for stitching:
Here’s a shot of the result:
After this initial try I realised a few issues that need to be addressed, such as the alignment of colours and the incorrect stitch type used on the outer border (it should have been something called a ‘satin stitch’). But for a first try I was happy, and glad that I’ve got a whole new range of possibilities to explore over the upcoming months…
The above image is a screenshot of the acceptance letter for my MYTHOMANIA project grant. It was an amazing moment to click on the button within the Arts Council’s Grantium system and see the word “Congratulations”. Once you see that word, you know it’s good news, and suddenly everything changes.
I’ve been wanting to submit an Arts Council application for several years now. I’ve actually started, and nearly completed, at least two other applications…but for some reason the project didn’t seem right, or circumstances changed – so I never submitted them. So it was with great relief that this project, which DID feel right, was given the go-ahead.
The project itself didn’t begin with the Arts Council application; it actually started a few months earlier, in October, when I was approached by Janine Parrish and Dominic Mason of 20-21 Visual Arts Centre in Scunthorpe, who asked if I would be interested in presenting a solo exhibition in one of their galleries. Of course I said yes – but in order to make it happen it was necessary to get a significant amount of funding.
The funding was for the three key things necessary to creating new work: materials, an artist’s fee, and all of the peripheral elements such as transport, promotion, etc. I’ve created lots of artwork with very little (or sometimes no) money…but to really make the best work possible, it’s inescapable that you need to have a decent amount of funding. This is especially true when you’re making new, exploratory work, with lots of experimentation, trial and error.
So with help from Janine and Dominic, I spend about a month and a half putting together the Arts Council submission. Earlier, I had written a project proposal for 20-21 Visual Arts Centre, explaining what I wanted to do, and sketching out some of the artwork ideas. Once their committee agreed to the plan, I used this as the basis for the Arts Council application.
For those who have never written one before, the application process requires a significant amount of time and work; each individual question asked is relatively short (often as little as 1500 characters) – but cumulatively it is a lot of writing. What’s more, the writing of the application itself forces you to think through the many aspects of your project, clarifying the ideas, costs, outcomes and benefits…so that by the time you’ve completed the application, the project is actually much stronger than what you started with. This is something I hadn’t really anticipated, and although I found the writing of the grant very time-intensive and at times frustrating, it was definitely worth taking the time to really think carefully through each aspect of the project and make it as strong as possible.
It also helps to have support from other people when putting the application together. I had tons of support from Janine and Dominic at the gallery, who were able to provide detailed figures on previous visitor numbers and other impact statistics, as well as offering ‘in kind support’ and cash funding. My wife Sara was also invaluable, and read (and re-read) my application – suggesting changes that made it stronger, or clarified aspects of the proposal to make it easier to understand the ideas and intention. As an artist I’m often putting together proposals and applications…so I’m used to just writing and submitting them myself – but I can definitely say that, in the case of the Arts Council application, it helps to call on the support of others.
…And it all paid off. It suggests on the website that applications take 6 weeks for a decision – but I got my response in 5 weeks. During that time, I was still preparing to create the proposed work (since the show was going to move forward with or without the funding)…but the Acceptance Letter made a huge difference in terms of my feelings towards the project. On one hand, it provides a kind of validation for your work and project: it suggests to yourself (and others) that your project is meaningful. And on the other hand, it has real, practical benefits – namely it means you can take the time to make the best work possible, and finance the production of work that would be impossible otherwise.
So – although the MYTHOMANIA project theoretically began in October, when I first met with Dominic and Janine at 20-21 Visual Arts Centre in Scunthorpe, it actually started on 7 February, when I clicked on the decision button, and got the letter above.
I’m really grateful to Arts Council England for seeing the value in my project, and for having selected it for funding. I’ve been enjoying the early stages of work on MYTHOMANIA over the last three weeks, since the project officially began – and I’m incredibly excited to spend the next few months immersed in the creation of experimental new art…