Why Skull & Heart Created a Book and Exhibition Championing Female Illustratiors

Skye Kelly-Barrett tells us about curating an all-female art book and exhibition, and how the representation of women in the industry needs to get better.

In 2015, Skull & Heart – aka the equally cool-named and cool Skye Kelly-Barrett – created Hear Me Roar, an all-female exhibition that celebrated women artists not because they are women, but because they are great artists.

It gets better: now you can enjoy the collected work without time travel, with the Hear Me Roar book, and have the added bonus of in-depth artist interviews on their lives, work and gender. 

In this interview, we point the spotlight at Skye, curator of the exhibition and book, and ask her about curating a unique collection, her thoughts on the representation of women in the industry and, of course, her beautiful, funky book. 

Image: by Hannah Adamszek

Mimi Launder: Why did you create an all-female art exhibition?

Skye Kelly-Barrett: “The idea behind the exhibition actually came about due to a conversation with one of my good friends and talented photographer, Shae DeTar

“We were discussing life as a female in the creative industry, and she made me realise that I had this incredible platform that I should be using to promote and champion female artists and creatives. 

“A lot of the the past projects and exhibitions I had curated for Skull & Heart had been really 'male heavy' and that had been playing on my mind quite a bit. 

“I knew there were so many incredible female artists out there who were killing it everyday in the business, out-pitching their male counterparts and producing beautiful, ballsy artwork. So I thought to myself, ‘right, lets do this’. So 34 artists, and 60 pieces later, Hear Me Roar was born.”

Image: by Caitlin Hackett

ML: What were the challenges in curating this exhibition?

SKB: “One of the hardest parts of curating the show was actually reigning myself in with the artists I wanted to work with, I knew I had a large space to work with, and this made me think on a really large scale. In the end I had to stop at 34 artists, otherwise it would have been too much! 

“The usual challenges that come with putting on an exhibition were there - you know, chasing artists, remembering to write press releases, suddenly realizing you have to prepare the show as it’s next week…”

Image: by Christina Mrozik 

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ML: And the best bits?  

SKB: “Each of the artists were asked to provide 1 or 2 pieces that would then be printed up for the exhibition, and would be available to purchase as a limited edition Giclee print. 

“It was a really interesting project, because I had a real mixture of artists I was working with, some of whom were used to working in a digital format, and others who had never transferred their work into a digital format before.

“So I guess that was both a ‘challenge’ and ‘best bit’ because, obviously, turning a giant painting into a digital file is never going to be plain sailing, but it was also exciting to know that we were creating an environment where these artists could reach a different audience, and experience their work in a new, perhaps more accessible format.”

Image: by Bunny Bissoux 

ML: What did you learn?

SKB: “A lot. I always think that every project and event should be a huge learning experience for whoever is involved, as that means you’re pushing yourself to do something different and unknown. I think the most important lesson learnt is to always be prepared, have a backup plan for everything because things will go wrong, so just be ready for it!”

Image: by Elena Gumeniuk 

ML: How did you pick the artists to exhibit?

SKB: “Some of the artists I had either already worked with, or knew personally. The others were artists that I had saved in my ‘must work with in the future’ list (which is genuine, and exists in a notebook on my desk!)

“All the artists were picked because I personally think they are incredible, and the work they do is both brilliant and inspiring. I really wanted to emphasize the fact the artists that were chosen were done so not just because they were women, but because they are brilliant and it just so happens that they are women.

 “I honestly cannot wait for the day where doing an ‘all female’ exhibition will be obsolete, and un-needed, but until then, lets make sure all artists, both make and female, can see what epic talent there is out there.”

Image: by Ellannah Sadkin 

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ML: Why did you go beyond the exhibition and create a book? 

SKB: “I had previously put together a book for Skull & Heart’s first screen print series,The Colour Series, and it had been received really well by our fans and customers. 

“I think people like to delve deeper when it comes to art and artists that they are inspired by, so I wanted to put together something that would showcase the artists and their work, but also reach out to the artists and talk to them about what it actually means to be a ‘female’ in the creative industry, and if it impacted the way they work or see themselves."

Image: by Hekena Perez Garcia 

 ML: What was revealed from artist interviews in the book? 

SKB: “The most incredible thing I personally felt from reading the interviews was actually how little being a ‘female’ came into play in their working lives. 

“I found it really refreshing to see that although yes, of course, there were certain situations and instances where being a female in this industry can be frustrating, but it’s something that many of artists have taken in their stride. 

“Perhaps it’s because I chose to work with such strong and focused artists, but I found all of the interviews to have a really positive outlook, and also really positive message to those who are reading it.”

Image: by Jess Das 

ML: The book took longer than you hoped (though it was worth it). What practical challenges did you face making it?  

SKB: “Ha, it really did. This was a huge project, one that I completely underestimated. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really set out a realistic time frame for just how long it would take me to write, wait for, edit, and place over 30 artist interviews. 

“So many factors come into play in these situations, and one tiny set back can halt a project for a month, and there were quite a few tiny set backs along the way! 

“But after months of non-stop stress and becoming best friends with InDesign, the Hear Me Roar book was done, and even though it was a little later than anticipated, it looked amazing and at the end of the day, that’s what is more important than rushing it and not being happy with the end result.”

Image: Marjolein Caljoun

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ML: How do you think it’s best to tackle the underrepresentation of women in the creative industries?

SKB: “I think we need to keep the conversation open and honest – if we’re aware and we’re talking about it, then hopefully soon we won’t have to 

“There are so many incredible female creative out there, running studios, starting magazines, doing exhibitions, and just being all round awesome that it seems ridiculous that its even a thing anymore. 

“But it would be incredibly naïve to say that it’s not an issue, so lets just keep pushing, and keep doing the work we are doing, supporting each other every step of the way, and soon we’ll be running the damn world.”

Image: by Sam Dunn 

ML: What is next for Skull & Heart?

SKB: “We’ve just finished our second screen print series, which was based on a selection of artists’ interpretation of Paradise Lost, so hopefully an exhibition and accompanying book. 

“After that, we do have a couple of big projects coming up, but everything is hush hush at the moment, you’ll just have to keep checking on skullandheart.co.uk for updates.”