An opportunity arose to be part of the St Albans Arts Festival in a walled garden in the town
I made some modified storyboards to see if I could adapt to the space.
The idea was to run the window frames into a bush and have them come out empty, with some of the ideas for what the wool is for in the bush.
This is my space (it was too wide for a single photo so I stitched 2 together)
The story had to be simplified for exhibition so I left out the multiple images of the dog walker (which maybe didn’t need to be in there in the first place?) and used a single figure with the original detached house as I don’t have time or space to create a terrace of houses.
It’s been a while since I used acrylic paints but I felt that the canvas gave a good solid waterproof base to start the story. I made windows with thick card and acetate and knitted a long rope to hang them from.
For the possible uses of the wool I made larger cardboard cutouts of my earlier drawings.
I used coloured pencil to try to look like knitting, sadly there isn’t time to make a knitted bear.
A trio of spies, I’m going to use the middle one which was drawn with a sharpie – I think that he might withstand light rain….
I did have time to knit an oversized jumper for a child
but the dog is using an old scarf as a blanket, I hope that I might have time to knit a blanket in one of the bright wools from the windows. (She does look very regal in her scarf though!)
The exhibition is to generate other ideas of what the wool is for so it may be counterproductive to be showing so many of my own ideas but if I don’t show any it will look pretty boring.
Below is my mock up:
The labels still need fixing and the spy needs something to hide the bottle that I’m going to use to keep him upright. The bushes in the park that I can use are a bit different so I’ll need to adapt the layout on the day.
The whole thing fits into a suitcase, plus a bag for the paintings of the house which is handy when the car park is half a mile away. I had only been able to view the site when I booked my space so I was worried that the mock up in my garden wouldn’t translate to the bushes that I had booked. I was also terrified that I’d leave one of the elements at home, as it was a bank holiday there was no one available to drive home to fetch anything extra. I packed wool, string, scissors, glue, sticky tape, gaffer tape, pegs, pens and scissors hoping to be able to fix anything, and hoped for a day that wasn’t wet or too windy. Although I tried to make my elements as robust as possible they wouldn’t stand bad weather. I also bought a length of clear plastic tablecloth which I hoped might protect everything from a light drizzle.
Fortunately the weather was great and everything fitted into my space (which incidentally had a fabulous view).
After I took this photo I moved the teddy away from the sign
The sign says “What did the knitter do?”
I found the photography hard, I draw because I have a better control of my images. Theses photos were taken first thing, just after I had set up and I was still feeling a bit stressed about the whole exercise. When I reviewed the photos in the afternoon the sun had moved and the image quality wasn’t as good.
Because it was spread over a long area it wasn’t possible to cover the whole thing with one photo and there were more bushes in front of it so I couldn’t step back far..
The video is on my title page
The story wasn’t to everyone’s taste but a significant number of people liked it, comments included:
Thank you for brightening my day
What I hadn’t appreciated when I planned and set it up was that the flow of people ran primarily right to left along the path because one of the gates to the garden was closed. The story was designed to be read left to right. Although this confused a lot of the passers by it gave me a good opportunity to engage with them as I explained that they needed to read it the other way round. I was also slightly hidden from the other stalls so I probably missed a few potential viewers, although conversely I gained a few who were really looking to exit through the locked gate!
The red arrow shows the flow of most of the visitors
A lot of people struggled to categorise it and because they couldn’t find a convenient label, I think that made them a bit uncomfortable and they dismissed the project. It was the only exhibit in the garden that didn’t want money, which I think also confused people, but I found this surprisingly liberating, I had only to talk about it, and my story with no ulterior motive. I’m not used to talking about my art but the project made it easy.
A large number of the viewers thought that it was for children which wasn’t my aim, although I have no problem with children’s illustration, I didn’t think that my style is in keeping with current fashion. This opinion may have been influenced by me not selling anything, but I got the impression that a lot of them thought that stories are for children, particularly if they are short and illustrated. It may not have helped that I had a box of pencils for my viewers to fill in the zines if they wanted to do it immediately. It seems very sad that adults cut themselves off in this way and I wonder how I could alter their view.
If I could have carried it, I should have had a table for the zines and my feedback sheet, I like to sit on the floor, and I forget that a lot of adults can’t get down to ground level. No one wrote on the feedback sheet themselves, though I noted their comments, and wrote them down myself, I’m sorry if that was because they couldn’t reach…..
No one had any novel ideas of the purpose of the wool or the ultimate destination of the knitter. Had I made too many suggestions of my own, or did they not have the time or the inclination to think? A satisfying number of people were as intrigued by the story as I am but couldn’t come up with any ideas. Hardly any adults speculated, have they lost a sense of imagination, or do they like their stories to be fed to them without having to do any work themselves?
Above is me in action, snapped by one of the other artists.
I offered the zines to anyone who seemed interested. Some of the children viewed it as a sort of exam where they needed to get a right answer which I found a little bit worrying and three of them gave me back their completed zines (to mark?). Many children unfolded the zines to see how they were made and then couldn’t reassemble them, did they see them as a puzzle? Although the design was easy to produce at home I wouldn’t use it again for children, I think that the assembly/deconstruction seized their interest instead of the story.
“What is the wool for?”
It’s being used on a loom for weaving
A bonnet for a dog
The colour indicates the weather
The colour indicates the day of the week
It is for mummy
A sick child who craved knitting (sic)
“What became of the knitter?”
They eloped with the spy
Beetles ate the wool
They ran out of wool and went to The Range to get more
The wool went away in a different season (this from the little girl who thought the wool might be a sort of weather vane)
A wolf stole the wool
The knitter was so good at knitting that she was asked to knit for the queen (another little girl who already thinks that knitting is a female occupation)
Then 2 that I don’t understand
His howes was shown and peepl coob brod’n.(sic)
The plants because they grew the wool
What would I do differently?
The picture that starts the story could be bigger. This would mean that the hanging windows started higher and didn’t drag in the dirt.
I would also conceal a pole in the bush or chose a bigger bush/small tree so that I could tie the other end higher and have it more stable. The windows could get bigger as they progress away from the house. A designer who looked at the project before it went live thought that taller thinner windows would look more elegant so I would play with the shape and see what makes a bigger impact. Distortion might help here. The balls of wool worked but construction would be easier if they had been thinner. The knitted objects got a bit lost in the leaves, although the dog was at child height and very popular, I could spread them, and the signs, out on a bigger bush. I would make the knitting more prominent on the bear, either real knitting or photocopied.
(This was just the dog’s blanket photographed behind the cutout with a bit of digital manipulation using Procreate, the tricky bit would be to get a good quality print of him)
The spy would be more stable lying down, like a commando. Also not 100% sure that the ladder at the end was right, too colourful? Originally it was going to be white, a ladder to heaven, but I wasn’t sure that would be suitable with children around. Would the signs be better if they were handwritten? I didn’t have time to play with fonts so I went for Helvetica for its clarity and to be as bland as possible. I would make everything waterproof, except maybe the wool, light plastic or with a coat of varnish,
Overall it was interesting and useful to display the work live, but I don’t feel that it has found its audience as a physical exhibition. This may be due to the available venue, visitors were looking at framed pictures for sale with a few prints and postcards, they weren’t expecting to find an end of degree show, although an end of degree show wouldn’t reach such a diverse audience. I intend to prepare the images for sequential release on Instagram as I had originally planned, taking into account what I have learned from editing the story for the exhibition and zine.