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.

Stargazing

Welcome, Mr Bond.

This is the Observatory Science Centre, in Herstmonceux. There are a number of reasons why this spot occupies a special place  in my heart – first of all it is the place where the BBC Radio 4 pips used to be made. Don’t ask me exactly how or why they were generated here. It’s been explained to me loads of times and still I don’t get why there wasn’t just a man sat behind a desk in the studio who looked at his watch and made the noise himself like the rest of us do when we’re doing our best radio 4 impression. Still, that makes it The Most British Place in Britain, as far as I am concerned.  Legend has it that, back in the days when this was a fully functioning research centre, the astronomers would spend all day playing cricket, and all night gazing at the stars, like Peter Davison as the fifth Doctor, kind of.

Ta BBC

EXTERMINATE

Secondly, I have been a little bit obsessed with observatories (and libraries) ever since I was a little girl. My dad owned an amazing  book called Moon Journey, which was an illustrated adaptation of Jules Verne’s novels, by Jay Williams. In it there is an illustration of a kind of  steampunk observatory – all intricate Victorian iron work and brass piping. It totally captured my imagination (Dad found me a copy for Christmas this year and I still LOVE IT), and, while Herstmonceux is nothing like the picture in the book, it is still as near to an evil-genius’s-volcano-lair as I am ever likely to come without sleeping with a Ecuadorian drugs baron. So I am happy with that.

Thirdly, it is a portal to another world. Ok, not actually – but you can go there to look at them, and that’s pretty magical. Recently I have been working on another 7 Steps piece for the irrepressible and gorgeous Lionheart Magazine . I decided it called for some stargazing, so my Dad and I went to Herstmonceux to partake in one of their stupendous open evenings. This one happened to coincide with a meteor shower.

The first shooting star I saw that night was the first shooting star I have ever seen. It looked a little like the stray sparks from a firework, darting through the sky like a frightened fox. It was noiseless, of course, but in my head it made a faint zipping sound. Over the course of the evening I spotted 6 in total, one even whizzed past the lens while I was looking at a double star called albireo, part of the Cygnus constellation, through the big telescope.  I also saw the M13 globular cluster – a kind of intergalactic salad made up of 300,000 separate stars. Amazing. The most special moment of the evening though had to be watching a little boy, who must have been no more than eight – stand on his tippy toes to reach the tiny eye-piece of a telescope about 4 times as tall as him in order to look at a distant galaxy. The guide leant in and said to him ‘you see that star? It’s 380 light years away. The light from that star, the light you are seeing now, left it 380 light years ago. It just arrived at this moment, and now it’s gone… forever.’ Mind =blown.

GLITCH’S BREW #3

Hello everyone, How are you keeping? Me? I’m fine, you know how it is. Can’t complain. As usual it’s been a chequered week here at Glitch Towers. Last week was a total write-off because of various family DRAMAZ, and my head is still all over the place as a result. Usually I spend a good deal of my time daydreaming – I love a good daydream. In fact, I’ve come to think it’s vital to my existence and if I don’t have a chance to do it, it knocks me all out of balance. Happily things are now back to normal-ish, so regular service has just about resumed. It does however, mean I have a backlog of things to daydream about, but I guess that’s family life for you.

Slink Magazine

On Tuesday my printed copy of Slink Magazine arrived in the post. Slink is a rare animal indeed. A magazine aimed at curvy ladies, in which all models featured are a size 12 or above. It was an interesting experience, to pick up a mainstream fashion mag (for that is what this is) and not see the same hungry, hungry eyes staring back at me from those glossy pages. I’m used that little pang of wrong you get when you read one of Those Magazines, so I felt quite pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t there. The models in Slink are all sturdy enough to move a large cabinet up a flight of stairs without needing one of those shiny tinfoil blankets and a saline drip when they reach the top, and d’you know what? I’m probably biased because I’m a bit on the… ahem, curvy side myself, but I think that’s sexy… look!

‘milk, two sugars please love, where do you want the cabinet?’

This is the money issue. It carries lots of pieces about how to manage your moolah, including one by moi, in which I confess that I am utterly hopeless at it all. I hate banks and if I never had to enter one ever again I’d be a very happy woman indeed. Alas, unless somebody important decides we’re all going back to the goat-swapping antics of old, I’m stuffed. So I decided I would just have to grow up and start engaging with my cash even if it does hurt my eyes and my brain a lot. I had some help from a wonderful financial expert called Piper Terrett, so it turned out things weren’t really all that bad. Buy the mag to find out more.

To finish off this Glitch’s Brew I thought I’d feature some retro knitting pattern pics (from my extensive collection), because… well, they’re always worth a giggle.

After 56 minutes, Linda and Keith began to wonder if this game of musical statues was ever going to restart.

One day little sister, everything you see here will be mine. MINE.

FREELANCE

I have dreamt of making my living from writing ever since I was a little girl. Over the years my dream has led me down various paths, more than one of which culminated in some form of humiliation. When I was 10, my work was shortlisted in a national poetry competition run by a major high street brand (I think it was WHSmiths). My elation was unbridled, that is until my headmistress insisted that I stand up in assembly and read both poems in front of the entire school – with accompanying sound effects. I’ve never experienced fear and embarrassment like it, before or since, and it’s really a miracle that I ever picked up a biro again (I am a huge masochist). I never took the chance to thank her for that particular act of kindness. Thanks Mrs Loader. I will forever remember you in my prayers.

When I was 15, when everyone else was under Eastbourne Pier heavy-petting and listening to Cypress Hill, I was busy writing for a community paper for young people called The Generation News, which was run by The Eastbourne Herald and distributed in all the schools in the area. It was around this time that I first smelled a newsroom – intoxicating – the first time I saw my work in print.  Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who spent their teenage years on work experience, I’ve never dabbled in crack cocaine, but I imagine the feeling you get is something like that. Magical, exhilarating – a proper buzz. Nobody read that paper. I doubt my parents even flicked through the pages. These were, after all, the musings of a bunch of 15-year-old dweebs with bad hair and even worse spelling, but I couldn’t wait to recreate that feeling. I still can’t.

So, (well) over a decade later I am finally taking the plunge and going freelance. I’ve worked in publishing for 7 or so years. I’ve learned that the book trade isn’t all massive advances and evening soirees, and I still LOVE IT (I am a masochist). I’ve been thinking like a freelancer for a long time now – juggling work with kids with magazine writing, but suddenly it’s a reality.  The safety net is gone. GONE. It’s just me, myself and I (and one day probably an accountant – I hate maths). Am I scared? Not as scared as I was that day in assembly, but something approximating it. I wake up and go to bed wondering WILL IT WORK? At 11.30 at night, after another graveyard shift working on a book about… graveyards, I think to myself  ‘no, it almost certainly won’t’, but then a little bit of sleep can do wonders for your dreams, and the next morning I think ‘maybe, maybe it will.’

Please get in touch through this site if you think I could bring something special to your brand literature. I love a challenge (I am a masochist).

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