Lionheart issue four: shapes

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Lionheart is possibly my favourite magazine ever (and I’m a real mag-nut, so that’s saying something). It’s got pretty much everything I look for in a mag: clean lines, lovely thick matte paper, a good smell (years of working in book production have turned me into a passionate paper sniffer – don’t judge), beautiful design, incredible illustrations, a community feel, REAL ACTUAL WRITING YOU CAN ACTUALLY READ the list goes on and on.

Issue four is all about shapes, a theme I found really interesting but hard to interpret when I was trying to come up with ideas for my contribution. In the end Hels (the wonderful editor) asked me to interview the fashion designer Helen Bullock, and I’m so glad she did. I love interviewing artists about their work, especially when they share my obsession with colour and pattern. I knew instantly I was going to really, really like her – and I was right.

We met at Cafe Oto in Dalston, which is my favourite place to drink tea and do  interviews. I interviewed Simon Costin from the Museum of British Folklore there a while back and it went really smoothly, although, this time around, I could barely hear a word when I sat down to transcribe it afterwards. There’s a top tip for aspiring journalists – never sit too close to the coffee machine! You’ll regret it later. You can read my interview with Helen, whose work is so so inspiring, on pages 12-15 of the mag.

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Helen decorated the spreads herself, I love the result – makes me want to get my paints out.

There’s so much more to read though, and I mean actually read – there’s real content here, which makes a nice change. I particularly enjoyed Hels’ interview with Oana Befort. Her floral watercolours are so beautiful.

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Hannah Bullivant’s piece on Margate really made me long for a cheeky weekend visit and Daria Hlazatova’s illustration for the architecture article is just… Daria is the BOMB.

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So, what are you waiting for. Head on over to the website and buy the mag here. I promise you won’t regret it.

Biba in Brighton

On Saturday morning I went with my mum (and a nasty little hangover, but we won’t go into that) to Brighton to check out Biba and Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki at the Brighton Pavilion Museum and Art Gallery. I’ve been obsessed with clothing, particularly vintage clothing since like, forever, so I couldn’t possibly pass up the chance to go and see some of those gorgeous Biba pieces in the flesh. As it happened I managed to win a couple of tickets on Twitter (thanks Brighton Museum people) which was an added bonus. The first thing that struck me was the sheer beauty of the museum itself, and how many amazing objects they have in – what I assume – is their permanent collection. If you haven’t been, you surely must go for the furniture and crockery alone.

I could talk here at length about the enormous influence Barbara Hulanicki has had on the fashion industry, how she revolutionised the high street shopping experience as we know it, how she practically created Twiggy and fast-changing disposable fashion but we all know that what really matters is the clothes. Classic Biba shapes are iconic; romantic and incredibly elegant. Those maxi lengths, empire lines and bell sleeves must have made the wearer feel like they’d just swept out of a John William Waterhouse painting, only with a wide brimmed hat on, of the kind Bianca Jagger might wear to snort cocaine off of Brian Ferry’s naked butt cheeks.

Look at that symphony in  black on the far left.  Amaze.

Look at that symphony in black on the far left. Amaze.

Look at that black dress. The quality of line is just breathtaking. It reminds me a little of the outfit Nicole what’s-her-face wore to the NTAs but with a soupcon more… how shall I put this… class. If  I was an evil sorceress with nymphomaniac tendencies, who lived in a castle surrounded by vast frozen lakes and drove a chariot drawn by rabid wolves with glowing violet-coloured eyes, this would be my signature look. I would also be impossibly thin obvs  (it was clearly designed to fit an actual twig).

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The sleeves on that brown dress in the centre of the shot are amazing. Not in the least bit practical though. How would you do anything? You’d just have to waft about. You wouldn’t have a choice. You certainly would be able to eat soup, that’s for damn sure. Perhaps that is why they were all so skinny – the sheer length of their sleeves simply prohibited nourishment of any kind.

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I can’t leave without showing you a close-up of some of the swirly patterns in the exhibition. If you’re thinking ‘That’s weird, they wouldn’t look remotely out of place in a high street collection today’ you’d be right, they wouldn’t. That’s because people have been ripping off, allowing themselves to be inspired by Barbara Hulanicki’s Biba designs for decades. I just love the art deco inspired sun bursts that appear on practically everything Biba related. I bought a postcard. Yes, another one.

Biba and Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki is on at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery until 14 April 2013. Don’t delay going though because you know how these things are, you’ll put it off and put it off and then suddenly you’ll realise it’s too late and you’ve missed yet another great exhibition! GO NOW! Unless it’s night time, in which case GO TOMORROW, or possibly at the weekend, GO.

5 Ways to Maximize Your Creativity

'I dunno what to draw' Pablo howled like a wounded dog 'I am in a glass case of emotion.' Pablo could be well intense sometimes.

‘I dunno what to  Goddamn draw!!!’ Pablo howled like a wounded dog ‘I am in a glass case of emotion!!!’ Pablo could be well intense sometimes.

I’m taking a little break from making at the moment. It’s nothing serious. I am just having a breather before starting my next big project. To tell you the truth I tend to feel a bit twitchy when I’m not engaged in some form of craft or another, but I know that my creative levels peak and trough. I’m in a bit of a trough just now, and it got me thinking about how I go about maintaining, and maximizing my creativity. So, I’ve compiled this little list of tips. Here goes:

1. Be generous with your ideas.

You know those kids at school who deliberately shielded their artwork from everyone else in the room just in case one of their classmates became so intoxicated by their raw talent  that they couldn’t help but rip them off? I’m willing to bet that not one of those kids ever went on to create or invent anything particularly good.  Never treat your latest flash of inspiration as if it’s the last train home on Christmas Eve. Treat ideas like they’re ten-a-penny and soon they will be, unless of course you’ve come up with a design for like, a supersonic death ray that runs off paper shreddings – then maybe you might want to keep it on the down-low.

2. Limit the amount of time you spend looking at other people’s stuff.

There is nothing wrong with Ravelry, or Pinterest or Instructables or any other website where you might legitimately find examples of lots of other people’s work. In fact, I love all of them and I look at them often. All I’m saying is that you can easily spend so much time looking at other people’s work that you forget where your style begins and everything else finishes. When I get to feeling that my stuff is all rubbish, you know that ‘I’m going to build a great big bonfire and set light to everything in my stash box’ feeling, it’s usually because I’ve spent far too much time flicking from pin board to pin board comparing myself to everyone else.  Don’t do it. The less you look at what everyone else is doing the more likely you are to make something completely unique and special. Go for a walk on the beach, go to the library and find a book on birds of the British Isles – look at lots of other types of art, but NOT stuff within your own discipline.

3. Always keep a notebook – take one everywhere.

I don’t know about you but my ideas come to me in the weirdest of places, usually very late at night. I always have a notebook to hand where I can jot things down. It’s not a pretty notebook  – I’m usually scribbling in the dark – but it does the job. And I can always revisit old notebooks when I need inspiration.

This is a page from one of my sketchbooks. I was drinking tea out of a bowl in a posh French bakery.

This is a page from one of my sketchbooks. I was drinking tea out of a bowl in a posh French bakery.

4. Don’t spend a lot on materials.

I have learned from bitter experience that if I go out and buy a load of posh yarn for a specific project, I will never end up using it . It gives me the fear, frankly.  This is why the vast majority of my projects use nothing but the cheapest garish double knit yarn. A, because I really like the challenge of making something pretty from very basic stuff and B, because when I haven’t spent a lot on my materials I am less worried about making mistakes and that means I try things I wouldn’t otherwise have a go at. I hate the idea of spending  fifty odd quid on top-notch stuff, but maybe you feel differently. I’d love to know if you agree or not.

5.  Spend time hanging out with other creative people, especially productive ones.

It doesn’t matter whether they’re textile types, musicians, photographers, painters or printmakers; creative people from all walks of life speak the same language. They understand what drives you and can offer advice and inspiration and, if they are being positive and productive it WILL rub off on you. Don’t ask me why, it just will. My creative friends are special to me. I talk to them about my work, especially when I feel something isn’t going as it should – that’s when they really come into their own. If you don’t have any creative mates, find some. That’s what evening classes are for (that, and copping off with middle-aged divorcees called Marc)

So there you have it, my 5 top tips. I could have gone on and on tbh. Do you fervently disagree with any of them? Do you have any of your own to add? I’d love to get your take on this!

2013 Blimey.

Hello dear reader and a very happy new year to you. I trust January finds you all fit and well and ready for another jaunt into the unknown. I’ve seen lots of NY posts over the last week or so, and most of them have been of an ‘I’m going to do this, this and this’ variety, and while I am definitely of a similar mind – determined to give myself a full overhaul this year – I should think you are as bored as I am of talking about diets, dry Januarys (as if this month needs to be any less fun), money saving and other types of puritanical posturing, so I won’t go on.  My main resolution this year is to invest in myself. Because, lets face it, no other bugger is going to unless I bite the bullet.

The first manifestation of this resolution occurred the other day when I became so desperate for a bit of peace and frigging quiet that I actually booked myself into a local hotel for the night. Yes. I did that. Christmas has been hectic! I took a couple of Katherine Heigl DVDs (she is good in everything), a great book, my notebook and a lot of chocolate and I went and spent a beautiful evening doing exactly as I pleased, BY MYSELF.

I watched crap TV, read a bit, ate tons of fruit and nut, made some insightful notes about how I really should stop eating so much junk, and then went to sleep.

OK, so maybe not EVERYTHING

OK, so maybe not EVERYTHING

Or, I would have gone to sleep had it not been for the pillow which was like resting your head on a cotton-covered breeze block (I had forgotten that hotel pillows are always horrible), and the bathroom toilet which was one of those ones that constantly run all night long. A Stupid Idiot Maddening toilet, I believe they are called. Apart from that it was lovely.

Pole Dancing in The Wicker Man

Pole Dancing in The Wicker Man

In the morning I checked out and went over the road to the Towner Gallery, to see this exhibition. It’s not on for very much longer but if you have the chance I’d really recommend a visit. I had the pleasure of interviewing the founder of the Museum of British Folklore, Simon Costin, for Tantrum Magazine a year or so ago and he was one of the most interesting and inspiring people I’ve ever met. It sparked a fascination for British-born rituals and festivals, so I was really keen to see this show, which features photographs taken by Sir Benjamin Stone alongside the work of contemporary portrait photographers like Faye Claridge and film makers like Tom Chick. Think Wicker Man, only real, and you’re along the right lines, I guess. Anyway, I loved it, it really brought home how really very odd we are as a people, and I’ve since bought a load of books on the subject. I’m thinking of making some embroidery portraits based on the colours, patterns and characters from the exhibition. We’ll see.

Some things I have been doing like

Hello there, how are you? Yeah, I’m fine, you know how it is…busy…writing…making stuff…staring at the fridge and wondering how many Laughing Cow cheese triangles I could fit in my mouth before I gag. If you’re a regular reader of this blog (hello you!), you might already be aware that I am a hopeless lover of fairly silly challenges. Basically I am never happier than when stretched to my physical, emotional and intellectual limits by some peculiar – and ultimately futile – quest I’ve set myself.  Since coming to the end of my Seamless Pledge about a month ago my subconscious has been aimlessly casting around for a shiny, new Thing to amuse itself with and well, I’ve been wanting to improve my drawing for some time now, so I decided to try and complete a drawing a day for a year. Unfortunately (and not a little paradoxically) I’d forgotten that I had already made a rule not to make any new silly rules for myself, so I haven’t done one a day but I have managed to turn out one or two fairly awful sketches. I thought I’d post them here for posterity so you can point and laugh.  Hopefully, if I keep going, there will soon be some discernible  improvement.

What's in the glass? I hear you ask. The truth. The truth is in that glass. Or perhaps gin.

What’s in the glass? I hear you ask. The truth. The truth is in that glass. Or gin…it could be gin.

I'm actually kind of pleased with this one, even if Gaz isn't.

I’m actually kind of pleased with this one, even if Gaz  really isn’t. What does he think this is anyway? The Tudor court? History joke.

And then I drew an enormous hairy beaver-monster clutching a cup of tea. He's glum - it's not very good tea.

And then I drew an enormous hairy beaver-monster clutching a cup of tea. He’s glum – it’s not very good tea.

Plastic Fantastic: An Interview with Anna Lomax

Portrait of the illustrator and set designer Anna Lomax, in her studio

Some artists are like sponges; they sop up whatever is in the general vicinity and wring it out into their work. Anna Lomax is no exception. In her case, the general vicinity is Kingsland High Street, with its Turkish baths, Kebab houses and matchbox-sized shops bulging with blingy phone covers, studded, candy-coloured handbags, diamante hair accessories and technicolour flower garlands. But, as far as she’s concerned, it’s all about the pound shop. ‘It always starts there, or, when I’m stuck, that’s where I’ll go back to. There’s always been a kind of lo-fi element [to the work], I guess it’s to do with mass production and how things are produced but not thought about. You get the mistakes. And a big part of my work is about the humour that comes from mistakes. Some things you find and you just think ‘I can’t believe someone bothered to make that, that’s so funny. I can’t believe someone could get away with that.

There is something of Disney’s Little Mermaid about Anna. That is to say that, if, instead of chasing after Prince Eric, Ariel had left her underwater abode to complete an MA at the Royal College of Art, and then set up a studio space just round the corner from Ridley Road Market in the heart of Dalston, I imagine her collection of whozits and whatzits would have looked a lot like this; Perspex boxes crammed full with cocktail stirrers, party poppers and afro combs – ‘these were part of a job lot – aren’t the colours lovely?’- fight for space amongst vacant and/or vaguely mean-looking mannequin heads, giant cardboard eyes and a host of other psychedelic, shiny and acid-hued treasures.

It is a feast for the eyes, but I can’t help wondering where she goes when she wants to get away from it all. Does she ever just need to go and sit in an empty room? My question is met with the ever-so-slightly manic laughter of someone who’s worked far too hard for far too long. Anna, (whose voice closely resembles Tulisa’s) claps her hands to her cheeks ‘No, I don’t ever chill out it’s terrible. My boyfriend DJs and I go out partying with him. That’s what I do when it all gets too much. I slack it all off and just go out. I don’t really ever… sometimes I’ll go down to my mum and dad’s but it’s not… they’re both artists, so they have just as much crap as I do.’

But what would happen if it all went tomorrow? I ask. I realise I’m sounding like an irritating, prissy younger cousin right now but I genuinely want to know. It’s not that the multicoloured hubbub troubles me, it doesn’t. I just think if it was me, I’d need some respite occasionally. ‘I’d fill it up again’ she says a little dismissively, as if the very idea doesn’t bare thinking about. Then, as if to qualify it, she adds ‘the stuff I’ve been working on more recently is a little bit more minimal. Obviously you evolve with what you’re doing and I’ve got more particular about the objects. It’s not just stuff. I’m being more particular about what I’m saying with each thing.

As Jiggery Pokery, art directors and set designers Anna Lomax and Lauren Davies brought their own particular brand of life-sized illustration to window displays, editorial shoots, advertising campaigns and music videos since graduating from the Universityof Brighton, in 2007. The duo began collaborating in their second year there, as a way to get as much work done as possible, ‘We were given a load of briefs at once and it was a case of divide and conquer. That’s why we started working together. We’re both from London …Lauren’s from North London, I’m from the South, and we moved back at the same time so we carried on working together because we found that the jobs were so big it really helped to have someone else, especially when you were really kind of blagging it at the beginning. It made life a lot easier.

From then on the client list (Becks; Vauxhaull; Courvoisier; Nike), the jobs, and the collaborators continued to grow in number. Anna is now working solo, but shares a studio space with seven other artists, including the illustrator/ art director Jamie Brown, the florist Ellie Jauncey and the photographer Jess Bonham. There’s a lot of banter –  I arrive as Anna and Jess are cradling mugs of tea (incidentally Anna’s mug is emblazoned with the words ‘THE BOSS’) and discussing goldfish that refuse to die with Max and Liz, the photographers –  but it’s clearly an intensely productive environment, and one I figure must be beneficial for everyone involved. Obviously everyone gets stuck sometimes, especially when you have 101 briefs flowing through at once, and you haven’t slept for a month. When that happens it’s great to have someone else to bounce ideas off. Me and Lauren worked together for so long, we knew where the other was coming from, we didn’t have to explain what we were doing. All of us have shared the studio for about a year with other people coming in and out, so everyone kind of knows each others work really well… we can all suggest things that will make sense. Me and Jess collaborate a lot. If I had a job that involved flowers, then Ellie is my first port of call. Having that network is so important. I’ve got five set designers I can literally phone up for help in the middle of the night, and vice versa. You have to have that when the pressure is on. When you’re thinking ‘I need a stuffed camel, where am I going to find one?

In addition to the official collaborators, there are the work experience kids, some of whom turn up expecting it’s going to be all hanging out with celebrities at posh photo shoots. Anna is keen to point out that this isn’t the case. ‘A lot of the time it’s sweeping up around a pop star’s feet. It’s pretty full on. I have to be careful what jobs I do back-to-back. I’m pretty much always working, but I don’t like to do things that I can’t commit to 110 per cent. Because if I haven’t put it all in…you just never know what something is going to lead to. It could be that one job where you haven’t quite been able to pull it all together that turns out to be for the person you most need to impress. It’s full on graft. It’s very long hours. For me it’s fun because I love doing it, but some people don’t expect it to be such hard work.’

 She freely admits that, while some elements of the work are as fun to make as they are to view, in reality it’s neither as spontaneous nor as devil-may-care as it may first appear. ‘My work is really quite pre-planned. I am happy for there to be things that happen on set, the happy accidents that make things better, I just don’t like going in not knowing. I like to know what I’m doing so I know it will look good. The ideal on a video shoot is having a director who really knows what they want and has planned everything out to the nth degree. There’s nothing worse than arriving on set and finding that there’s something you can’t use and not being able to get round it because there isn’t enough time. If you’ve planned it all before then you know that yeah, this is the absolute maximum I can get out of it. That’s exciting.’

 By this stage in the interview process, Anna seems to have relaxed a little, and so I take the opportunity to bust out the question I’ve been gagging to ask: ‘If you could do your thing in any location, where would you choose?’ Whenever I research an interview and plan my questions, I can’t help but hear the answers in my head. It’s a bad habit, I know, but I was expecting her to say something like ‘the Pyramids’, or ‘the EiffelTower’ – somewhere that reflects Jiggery Pokery’s sense of humour and kitch sensibilities. Her answer is not what I expected, but it makes much better sense ‘ That’s funny, I did a fine art MA and at the end of the course – they didn’t really get me – I felt like I was fighting a battle I shouldn’t really have had to fight – they asked me ‘where is your ideal location to have your work shown?’ And I said Selfridges, you get so many people through the doors, it’s not locked away in a gallery where someone is going to expect a certain type of work. It’s there, at the forefront. Your average person might not understand what you’re doing but they are going to respond to it. And they might come away thinking it’s brightened their day. Any time you get somewhere in a real establishment –where you’re pushing that boundary between low art and high art. If it opens a door, then it’s cool.

So there you have it; of all the places, in all the world, Anna would rather exhibit her work in a major Londondepartment store than in any fancy gallery space, anywhere. It says a lot about what they are trying to do, about where they see themselves fitting in. Now I realise that Anna is about as native to this city as ‘Waterloo Sunset’, or Gilbert and George, or Pat Butcher’s earrings. Her work may not be about London, but it is ‘of’ London, and Londonis where she belongs. This epiphany is borne out when I ask her the following question: If you had to spend the rest of your life in one place, where would you choose? ‘The Ritz? There’s an upward lilt in her intonation, as if she’s not quite sure where I’m headed with this. ‘We’ve been there for dinner on my grandma’s birthday for the last five years and it’s amazing. It’s so naff. There’s like gold lions and cherubs on the ceiling in the dining room and everything’s mint and peach and pink. I’ve never been in one of the rooms but I bet they’re pretty cool.

Liz calls Anna over to do her portrait shot, and this feels like a good point at which to end our chat. Eventually, I find myself back on Kingsland High Street, but now I’m looking at my surroundings with fresh eyes in my head.  From here you can see the improbable silhouette of the Gherkin in the distance, but the square mile seems a thousand miles away. ThatLondon seems altogether more sober, and, compared with the one I’m standing in right now, a lot less fun.

A shorter version of this interview was published in Flamingo Magazine #3, The Homes and Habitats Issue

Image courtesy of wonderful Liz and Max, of Haarala Hamilton Photography