Thursday, 29 August 2013

South Coast Road Trip

Tansy at Bexhill-on-Sea
Two invitations combined to inspire us to plan a road trip along the South Coast. One was from the picturesque Much Ado Books in Alfriston and the other from old friends just moved to Brighton. A desire to see Merchant & Mills new shop in Rye topped off the idea and enabled me to plan a quick squint at an icon of Modernist architecture in Bexhill-on-Sea that I have been trying to see for the last 35 years...

Our first stop was at Much Ado - and enchanting burrow of a place run by the most welcoming Cate and Nash Robbins.
Much Ado Books inAlfriston
On arrival they announced that they had not received the food for lunch they had planned so proposed to take us out for a countryside experience with pheasants and peacocks. We piled into the Volvo and arrived, after a bumpy drive along a dusty track, at the Beanstalk Tea Garden
Sun shade at the Beanstalk Tea Garden
Run by Caroline Fuller, it is right on the South Downs Way and more easily accessible by foot, bicycle or horse than car. The path runs along the Old Coach Road at Firle, not far from the Bloomsbury Group's country home at Charleston Farmhouse. The tea garden is idyllic. An Indian tea tent stands ready for inclement weather, but as we basked in gloriously warm sunshine, we sat amongst the heavily laden apples boughs with the strutting peacock proudly adding ornament to nature.
Jonathan and Tansy with Cate and Nash
The courgette and pea soup with big hunks of freshly baked bread was perfect and the delicious ham salad was generous and imaginative. We drank homemade lemonade and elderflower cordial.
The Barn at Much Ado
The Charleston inspired Members' Room at Much Ado
Back in Alfriston we looked around the bookshop, the area above the shop which hosts workshops and 'Artists Upstairs' and the cosy Members' Room. We also enjoyed tea and a large piece of Victoria sponge brought from the Beanstalk in the Barn before setting off to view the Long Man of Wilmington.
One man admires another
Here he is, a Ravilious landscape in the flesh. Although the elusive dummy for a Puffin Picture Book Ravilious proposed to Noel Carrington in 1941 was called 'White Horse' it was likely that it would have included other chalk figures including the Cerne Abbas Giant and this lovely Wilmington chap. There are plans afoot, I hope, for the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes, which bought the dummy at auction for almost £5,000 in January, to publish a version.
Brighton Dome with johnsonbanks identity
From Wilmington we headed by Berwick Church with its Bloomsbury murals, past the turn to Charleston, and on to Brighton. Our friends' house was ideally placed just off the Victoria Gardens and alongside the eternally hippy yet cool North Laines. Our foray in the morning included a stroll to the sea, past the magnificent Pavilion, through the Laines, and back through the North Laines, acquiring a pair of very fine orange poi at Oddballs before setting off on the next leg of our trip.
Barnett Freedman for Lyons Teashops
Heading East along the coast road proved rather tortuous but extremely geographically educational with names like Rottingdean, Saltdean and Peacehaven gliding by. We arrived at the Towner in Eastbourne ready for culture. The Lyons Teashops Lithographs: Art in a time of Austerity is a mesmerising exhibition. The lithographs vary in quality, beauty, interest, colour, charm - but all are intriguing and draw one in to wonder at the technique and skill. The whole is very evocative of the post war period, with some examples so surprisingly modern you're pulled up with a start to re-assess your pre-conceptions of art and context. Barnett Freedman is without doubt the master of the medium, but I do love the John Nash 'Landscape with Bathers.'

Continuing our easterly journey through the golden sunset of the suburban south coast we wiggle through Bexhill-on-Sea and arrive at the De La Warr Pavilion.
When I first learned about this beauty of the Modern Movement by Eric Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff in the late 1970s it was unloved and unlisted.
I was desperate to visit it then, but never quite got round to it. Its road to rehabilitation and restoration started in 1986 with its Grade I listing and the formation of the Pavilion Trust in 1989.

It is now gloriously renovated and gleaming, a thriving arts centre, high up on the Bexhill seafront.
The final leg of our trip was to Rye - the home of Merchant & Mills. We asked for Roderick at the counter to be informed he was crawling over a table out the back cutting oilskin.
The shop is a delight of notions and muted fabric, Merchant & Mills quietly distinctive identity gracing notebooks, oilskin bags and boxed sewing kits. We were taken behind the counter to see an industrious workshop with shelves of boxes and piles of samples - and a large cutting table with evidence of Roderick's handiwork.
Our visit to Rye was topped off with toasted teacakes, raspberry bonbons, wine gums and chewing nuts  from the traditional sweet shop, Britcher & Rivers, on the High Street and then a bag of excellently crispy chips each from Marino's for eating in the car as we set off back to London.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Our new Tide Song Collection

Some of the new Tide Song Collection
This year we re-doubled our efforts in our preparations for the annual Artists at Home weekend and decided to launch a whole new collection.
Jonathan, inspired by his love of all things seaside, made some new wood engravings including our lovely Mermaid and Nine Interesting Seaside Things.
These, along with some other fishy wood engravings, formed the artwork for us to create a range of lovely things. Three new large silkscreen prints Mermaid Song, Nine Interesting Seaside Things and the very popular Vermillion Goldfish. The title was based on a quote from Matisse who said, I believe, "I wouldn't mind being a vermillion goldfish."
Vermillion Goldfish
Nine Interesting Seaside Things 
We also created a new set of ceramics, the new Mermaid Jug and two Tide Song mugs.
Tide Song mugs
The Mermaid Jug
New stationery items include the Tide Song Stationery Box, a set of six notecards in a stripy pillow pack and new cards based on the silkscreen prints.
Tide Song Stationery Box
Tide Song Notecards pack
The weekend (14th - 16th June 2013) was delightful. We are always surprised by how much we enjoy it - when hours before the doors open we are wondering why we signed up! It is so lovely to see friends and strangers who enjoy our work and many returning fans!
Jonathan was busy in his shed again, showing people how he does the intricate wood engravings and demonstrating the press. Several lucky Dads received freshly printed Father's Day cards featuring our lovely dachshund, Toffee - D for Dog, D for Dad.
The Mermaid Jug with peonies, sea holly and snap dragons 
The new collection went down very well and many people commented on how it captures the spirit of summer - with the evocative blue and white stripes and the lovely little vignettes of everything from oyster catchers to a bucket and spade.
Young Starch Green fans!
Various of our children were on duty over the weekend with Polly doing a very sterling job front of house when I had to visit Jack's Degree Show in Kingston on Saturday, and Tansy with her ever popular fairy cakes. Thanks to them both.
The artist swigs a quick coffee from his Tide Song mug...

Monday, 10 June 2013

Sneak preview behind the scenes for Artists at Home

Jonathan's shed with intriguing new prints drying...
As we sipped chilled Prosecco on Askew Road this Saturday afternoon we raised a glass to the 'Askew Road Season'. Having lived on or very near Askew Road for the last 28 years or so it's heartening to experience a feeling of community and optimism on our local 'high street'.
Our Edible Askew Tree outside Long Live Vintage
We were celebrating the successful culmination of the Edible Askew Road, three weeks of the Chelsea Fringe with fruit trees outside many of the shops along the road. Quite delightful and evoked many comments on how lovely the Askew Road was looking. It was October 2011 that we welcomed part of the new wave of classy shops to Askew Road with the Ginger Pig and Long Live Vintage. Since then Leiths Cookery School has thrived just around the corner and a number of coffee shops. like Brackenbury's, Lavelli's and Louche, have stepped up to the mark to provide appropriately lovely refreshments.
Ooo - that looks like a mermaid...
The next date in the Askew Road Season is Artists at Home, with 72 artists in 58 studios around Chiswick, Shepherd's Bush and Hammersmith throwing their doors open from this Friday, 14th June, 6pm - 9pm, and through the weekend, Saturday and Sunday, 11.00am - 6.00pm.
A new silkscreen being printed
Jonathan has been working away on a new collection called Tide Song, using a range of new seaside themed wood engravings to create new prints, silkscreens, stationery and ceramics - including the new Mermaid Jug and Tide Song mugs.
Adding gold to a goldfish - another new silkscreen print
We've been printing, sticking, labelling, painting walls, Tansy has planted a new tub - and we have our lovely Edible Askew apple tree in the garden too. 
Our apple tree in the garden
Fingers crossed that everything comes together in time for our kick-off at 6pm Friday. Do come and join us for a drink and to see the new collection premiere!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Extreme localness

One of the reasons we called ourselves Starch Green is that it reflects our passion for making the most of our neighbourhood. We live in Starch Green and we are Starch Green. And since we adopted it, it's a name that has started to be more recognised in the area as more people dig around in local history and begin to find more interest in local heritage. We're also passionate believers in 'the more you put in the more you get out' adage. Certainly when it comes to community engagement.
When we heard that, following the success of the Edible High Road last year, there were plans afoot to run an Edible Askew Road, our very local 'high street', we felt we had to be part of it. Cathy Maund, Director of the Hammersmith Community Gardens Association, took up the role as official leader, in charge of all the grown-up stuff and everything horticultural. A band of us (latterly known as the three musketeers) took on the challenge of designing the publicity materials and devising a treasure trail.
The Edible Askew Road is working. Launched on Saturday 18th May as part of the Chelsea Fringe festival, it is a feel-good community project to put fruit trees along the Askew Road, promoting the idea of fresh, locally grown food, support our native bees and butterflies and generally beautify our patch. Early on Saturday morning the lovely little fruit trees were delivered to all the shops taking part.

We sponsored ours to go at Long Live Vintage in exchange for a 3 week 'residency' in the shop. By 11.00am we were set up on Starch Green (yes, our local green is called Starch Green) with our Treasure Trail table ready to go.

Lots of maps printed, prizes of Divine Chocolate Bees, the Hungry Caterpillar and 'Grow your own fairy garden' for the first few to complete the hunt - packets of wildflower seed to transform the city into an urban meadow for everyone. Caroline MacMillan had researched what all the shops were a hundred years ago - and each tree contained a clue for the treasure hunters to discover the answers. The hunt was enjoyed by children and adults alike.
The atmosphere was really enhanced by the lovely and lively Albert & Friends Instant Circus troupe, who performed on the Green and went up and down Askew Road on stilts and unicycles to spread the word. The library was running activities all day and the Askew Road Church had a plant sale.
Feedback on Twitter read like a dream: 'The Askew Road was buzzing', 'I went into two shops I've never been in before,' 'I've never seen Askew Road so busy.' The Eagle, opposite the Green, had a barbecue out the front and many wandered over there for a drink, lunch or ice-cream.
Well, it carries on until 9th June with the trees outside the shops. People can still do the Treasure Trail and hand their maps into Finlay Brewer or the Askew Road Library. And we're even doing a special trail for some of the local schools to keep them busy over half-term. Many thanks to all who have donated 'treasure': Rococo Chocolates, Seed Pantry, Seedball, Divine Chocolate, W6 Garden Centre and Hammersmith Community Gardens Association. And of course, thank you to all the shops, cafes, restaurants and businesses that have sponsored a tree. You'll have to walk up Askew Road, W12, to see who they all are - and what they were 100 years ago...
The benefits of being intensely local are all about a sense of well-being, community and belonging. I love that sense of going up the road and nodding and calling out 'Good morning' as I walk to the shops, pick up my daughter from school or take the dog for a stroll.

Photos by the third musketeer, Annie Pennington, whose trees for Digitalplot and Askew Business Network are outside Askewine.

Monday, 22 April 2013

The rich tapestry of life

There are moments when you just feel that being in London is the best place in the world. And it doesn't have to be all perfect - it's the richness of the experiences that add colour and edge to life.

Friday evening was a delight. Jonathan and I went to an evening at the V and A entitled, "David Bowie changed my life," a conversation between Robert Elms, Gary Kemp and David Baddiel guided by the gentle questioning of Krissi Murison, ex-Editor of the NME and now at the Sunday Times. The four of them sat in front of a huge projection of Bowie in his mesmerising 1973 Rites of Spring costume by Kansai Yamamoto; sometimes the red background of the image catching the heads of the speakers, casting shadows like tiny nibbles out of the bottom edge of the photograph. Elms and Kemp were on familiar ground, rolling out well-honed anecdotes entertainingly, and with a memory for who was where when perhaps embroidered over time - but who am I to contradict? Baddiel was less of an obvious fan-boy, a tad younger, so with a slightly different perspective but also a genuinely funny person. He added a sharpness of wit and also reminded the panel, after a long rift on clothes and haircuts, that what really makes Bowie stand out is the quality of the music over a long period of time. Too right. Baddiel felt he also shared a slight feeling of alienation with Bowie, or perhaps Ziggy. Elms's quip of, "But your eyes are identical" received the cutting reply from Baddiel, "Yes, but you should see my balls!"

Despite being a "friend" of the V and A for years,  I had never enjoyed the delights of a 'Friday Late'. After the talk we strolled down the Ceramic Stairs and had supper of salmon fishcakes in the wonderfully over-decorated cafĂ© accompanied by a charming pianist (unfortunately not playing Bowie's back catalogue). Then strolling through the garden we could have been in Venice looking at a Doge's palace - what a gem.

Meanwhile our youngest was across the road at the Natural History Museum enjoying the delights of 'Dinosnores'. She was lucky enough to have been invited with a group of her best friends to a birthday party staying overnight under a diplodocus - how cool is that? They had a great time, decorating t-shirts, learning about deep-sea monsters and even fitted in a session on mini-beasts after breakfast on Saturday morning.

Then, in a head swivelling change of culture, on Saturday evening we went to see Dexy's at the Duke of York's in St Martins Lane. Having seen them on Jools Holland's Later I was impressed with Rowland's new image and loved the almost operatic nature of the performance. I booked tickets on a whim when I saw the ad in the Metro. As we sat in the stalls awaiting the start we began to feel a slight murmuring of, shall I say, discomfiture? Our last visit to the Duke of York's had been to see Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall in the exquisite Constellations - we pondered on a Venn diagram of 'people who were at Constellations' and 'people at this Dexy's gig' and cogitated on the fact that we might be the lone couple in that intersection. It hadn't occurred to me that there were Dexy's fans (sorry Dexy's, sorry fans) and that most of those fans would be men in their forties (?) who were not unfamiliar with a Carlsberg, and whose bladders had forgotten how to last a set. Unfortunate details perhaps.

Anyway Kevin Rowland's voice is extraordinary and marvellous, and sometimes beautiful. The first half of the concert with the new material was exciting and gripping, full of energy and I loved Madeleine Hyland's brilliant performance, Big Jim's (as we soon learned to call him from our enthusiastic neighbours) trombone and the repartee of 'our Pete'. We were also very keen on their sartorial style. We were lost a bit in the second half when they played more Dexy's standards as we were unable to sing along with every word (thanks again seats O5, 6, 7,8 and 9 and a few in row P), and although they did a reasonable rendition of 'Geno' there was no 'Wilson' or 'Eileen'.

A more appropriate supper back home of a shared bag of chips bought on the Goldhawk Road and a fried egg - with tomato ketchup, and there was still Sunday to look forward to...
Toffee enjoys the sunshine in Ravenscourt Park on Sunday

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Look at our Look Book

 We've had great fun putting together a Look Book for Starch Green. We wanted to create something that has more of an atmosphere than a portfolio, but that captures the range of work we enjoy and a sense what we love doing.

The book has chapters themed by colour and a 'directory' in the back that gives a reasonably comprehensive range of products and examples of our design and illustration.
Rather than just a catalogue of what we do we have included some things we like and some of our photos capturing colours and places that inspire us.
We hope the book appeals to commissioners of design and illustration in many walks of life, whether for packaging, publishing, advertising, heritage ranges, fabric, fashion, interiors, furnishing or ceramics. And no doubt lots of things we haven't even thought of. Jonathan's wood engraving has been used in lots of imaginative ways from a map engraved into a huge glass panel in the foyer of a bank to a tiny silver goldfish on a lapel pin.
The type throughout is set (electronically) in Caslon and Gill as an homage to the fact that they are the only two fonts we have as metal setting. And who needs anything else?
If you'd like to have a browse though our Look Book do get in touch and we can bring it over.