Monday, 29 June 2015

9 Top Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Museum Visit

How to make the most of a museum research visit as a quilt artist
Floating heads by Sophie Cave
Following on from the first weekend of the C&G Certificate in Patchwork and Quilting 10 days ago, last weekend was the first weekend of the Diploma (more advanced) class.  It was lovely to see some familiar faces who had undertaken their Certificate with me at the Loch Lomond Studio and to meet the new students.  Our two topics for the weekend were research and playing with mixed media.  Permission to play is very important!
Urn from the Early People's Gallery
As part of the research, we made a visit to the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow.  If you haven’t been, it is well worth a visit.  The breadth of the collection is huge and there is always something I haven’t noticed before that takes my interest.  Which is why we were there.  As part of the Diploma, each student has chosen their own subject matter for research and I was hopeful that the Museum would have something to interest everyone.  I decided I didn’t want to put them off research by taking them to a specialist museum, although I think you can (virtually) always find something of interest no matter how unpromising the museum’s collection sounds.
Part of a very old boat
Although the members of this group, like me, were generally museum junkies, many newbie artists/quilters don’t visit museums regularly and some don’t know how to approach a visit to get the most out of it.  So here is some advice on things to do to get the maximum inspiration from a visit (and yes, quilters should visit museums and art galleries as well as quilt shows – perhaps more so)
From the Early People's Gallery.  I forgot to note down what this was as I was mostly interested in the detail than the whole object
1.   Look for an object or painting that relates to the subject that interests you.  Sketch it in two different ways (ie a line drawing, shading it, drawing with dots rather than lines).  Also you don’t need to draw the whole object – just the bits that matter to you – you’re doing research not trying to recreate someone else’s work.
Have I mentioned I like the Floating Heads by Sophie Cave?!
2.   Try out different media.  Draw an object/painting more than once using different implements such as pencil, pen, felt tip, Inktense, charcoal etc.  Get really adventurous and use several media on one drawing!  Before doing this, do check that the museum allows you to do this – some will only let you use pencils (so don’t forget the pencil sharpener and the eraser).
More Floating Heads
3.   Draw before photographing.  Yes, it can be intimidating, especially if you don’t think your drawing is any good, but remember most of the passers-by can’t draw any better than you, no matter how bad and it is a great way to start a conversation.  You will be asked lots of questions.  Why draw first?  So you commit the artwork to your memory, rather than to your camera’s memory.
4.   Find a work by an artist you haven’t heard of.  Think why you like it and find out more about her/him either at the museum or when you get home to see if you like their other pieces.
The Surprise Find - this is a Lowry and there isn't a matchstick cat or dog in sight
5.   Find an artist who creates work on the subject which interests you and look at how they have approached it – what do you like / don’t like.
Pattern on a Viking stone
6.   Look for five patterns you like.  This could be on the floor, the ceiling or on an ancient pot.  Obviously the number 5 is arbitrary, but having a goal is always useful.
View of the floor down one of the long first floor galleries
7.   Find a work you really dislike and work out what about it has triggered such a negative reaction.
I loved this work by John McLean, but many of my students were less keen on its 'naive' style
8.   Look in the bookshop – you may discover books that you didn’t know about or old exhibition catalogues of interest.
9.   Enjoy the cafe!  You will need a rest – your brain will become saturated, which is another reason to start with drawing first before this happens and before your feet get sore.
A detail of the building

I think that just about sums up how I tackle museum visits... in theory at least!  This time, I spent most of the day in the cafe, making sure that the students could find me if necessary.  When I did finally go for a wander around, I realised I was rather hungry and couldn’t concentrate on drawing, so just photographed instead, thus breaking my own golden rule.  However, I do have some plans to use the photos in the future.  Watch this space!


Margaret said...

A useful reminder that it's been a while since I've been at a museum, even the one here in my wee hamlet, and good pointers on how to improve on my past experience. Thanks!

Gillian Cooper said...

Thanks Margaret. Museums are such a great resource for us. I also find them a useful place just to think and mull over ideas. Somehow it is more inspiring than doing so in a cafe as so many books suggest.

Margaret Cooter said...

Another approach to using museums as inspiration is to spend some time drawing something you don't "like" at first glance - in my case, ancient greek drapery! - that detailed look can help break down barriers.

Gillian Cooper said...

Good idea Margaret. I was wondering if you would notice a museums post as I had suggested to the students prior to the course that they check out your blog for ways of approaching sketching at a museum. They were very inspired (and slightly intimidated!)

Maggi said...

Excellent advice Gillian. I don't often go to museums as I have a bit of an aversion to local towns/cities. I had to go for my C&G course and found plenty of inspiration there and did a lot of sketches as trying to take photos through glass is never good, unless you're looking for reflections of course.

Vickie Martin said...

I loved this - I haven't been to the museum here in Atlanta in a few months -and I'm definitely in the mood to go - unfortunately it is 4th of July weekend. But - my next trip will be alone so I can savor and experience it in my own time! I too love those floating heads - that is an artist I'm unaware of - so I'm looking it up!

Gillian Cooper said...

Thanks Vickie. Going on your own is a great idea as you can really concentrate on the things that interest you for as long as you want. Enjoy the 4th July weekend!

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