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Article: How to curate your collection ready for a commission or workshop


How to curate your collection ready for a commission or workshop

When it comes to the art of collecting, the first thing to learn is how to curate your items to create a bespoke artwork or for a Memory Box commission or workshop.

“You must have such a collection,” is something I hear all the time when people see my art. Swiftly followed by: “However do you part with all these lovely things?” It’s true I do have drawers and drawers full of vintage and antique keepsakes I’ve collected over the years, but surprisingly I don’t find it difficult to part with them. Getting those objects out and perfectly positioned in an artwork to be sent out into the world to be loved and admired in someone else’s home is more of a joy to me than keeping them secretly squirrelled away for my eyes only.

So why do I collect them? Most of the items I gather for my art are ordinary mundane items, things that have been pushed to the back of a drawer for 20 years or more and ended up in a box of junk at a boot sale. But, I believe that every one of these objects deserves to be celebrated; each of them has a story to tell and at some point will have been part of someone's life, whether functionally, as part of a collection or kept for the memories associated with it.

They should be taken out of that dusty drawer and put in pride of place, whether in an artwork, a mantelpiece collection or housed in a type tray of curiosities. It’s why I create the art that I do and work with people on personal commissions or at workshops, to give these items a voice and bring them to life once more.

I would encourage you to start rooting through the boxes stashed in the loft and searching the backs of drawers to find these unlikely treasures you’ve squirrelled away. Items that may remind you of holidays you have been on or milestones in your life. There’s a reason you kept them, even if you weren’t sure about what to do with them!

A great way to honour these items is in a bespoke artwork or personal Memory Box, like the ones I create for private clients and businesses. You can see some of my recent commissions and read some case studies here. Or why not join me on one of my Memory Box workshops where I will guide you through the process of creating your own? Upcoming workshop dates can be seen here.


Whether I am working on a commission or advising someone at a workshop, I always say it’s better to have more objects than you intend to include — ideally twice as much. Having a range of things to choose from means we’ll be able to try different layouts and sizes of artwork. Plus, if you are, for example, intending to include a photograph, having a couple of options means you can choose the one that complements the entire composition, both in subject and tonally.

The next area I think about is colour. Unless you want to keep to a single colour palette, it’s better to have as broad a range of coloured items as you can for your collection. This way we can achieve the perfect compositional colour balance, which is only possible when there are lots of options to choose from. Having a variety of different shapes and textures also helps with this as it makes the arrangement more interesting, not too regimented and keeps the viewer’s eye flowing around the piece. The aim is not to have one very large, bright item that dominates the finished work, we want your eye to wander gradually around the arrangement, taking in each item on its own merit.

Depth is a very practical consideration. The maximum depth items can be for my usual standard box frame is 2.5cm. This is so they fit within the box frame without being too close to the glass, which looks unsightly. However, if you have a collection of very large items, there are many more framing options available now so I guess anything is possible. Ideally though, it’s best to have a fairly consistent height across the collection as you don’t want one item to be so much higher than the others that it stands out from the rest — in this case quite literally!

It is important to flag any items in the collection that are particularly fragile, so then I can work to strengthen them. In all the commissions I have worked on so far I have been able to adapt to any delicate items but, if the items are particularly special, fragile or valuable, I can call on the expertise of a conservator for specialist advice on the best way to display them.

Finally, have fun! Choosing the items should be like taking a trip down memory lane, making you smile and taking you back to those special moments in time.


I hope you have enjoyed reading this piece on how to curate your collection ready for a commission or workshop. If you have further questions about commissioning me to create a bespoke artwork or Memory Box, please don’t hesitate to get in touch via email or use this commission enquiry form.

Please note that I work to three commission windows each year and you will need to get your enquiry form in by the deadline to secure a place in that window.

1. For artwork delivered by the end of April – deadline end of January.
2. For artwork delivered by the end of July – deadline end of April.
3. For artwork delivered for Christmas – deadline end of September.

You can find some of my recent commissions and read their case studies here:

Sentimental Memory Box | New Born Memory Box | Historical Artwork | Wedding Box (coming soon) | Anniversary Box (coming soon)

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