Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Patina of Art

St Martins is on the move. The colleges that make up Central St Martins have magnificent buildings in the West End, especially Southampton Row and Charing Cross Road - purpose built, full of heritage, oozing artiness, smelling of linseed and enhanced by the decades of creative patina that has settled on the surfaces. Currently the whole of the Central St Martins empire is to be rehoused in new offices in Kings Cross.
As part of the moving process students, staff and alumni have the opportunity to 'Map the Move' by making drawings of the buildings. Choosing the one that held most significance for us, Valerie and I headed for 107-109 Charing Cross Road where our student life at St Martins had begun. As Graphic Design students we were delighted to be in the milieu with painters, sculptors, print makers, fashion designers et al.

I was so relieved to find the place beautifully grubby, chipped and peeling, paint splattered, scraped and scarred. The hands and feet of so many talented and inspiring people had left their mark through the natural process of just being there. The building is full of light and magic. We spent the day drawing - drawing empty chairs, spaces, windows, doors, the call bell for the lift, and absorbing the intoxicating spirit of the place.
As was our bent in the late 70s, we headed to Maison Bertaux for tea and pastries, as much a part of our St Martins experience as anything. We continued drawing and revelling in a day of such undiluted pleasure.
Charing Cross Road is a great building, although completely unprepossessing from the street front. I was overwhelmed by the need for it to stay as a place where art happens. The sense of creativity and energy is tangible in the air. The strata of experiences lay rich in its foundations. It is so much more than bricks and mortar. There's quite a few people hot under the collar about it. Have a look at the facebook group and sign the petition.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

A Feast of Pattern

The V&A is a riot of pattern. The launch of the new V&A Pattern Box Set (I seem to remember a similar flurry of excitement, from me, when they were originally published 20 years ago) has inspired an outbreak of patterned point of sale in the shop and a lovely half-term activity. Provided with a gorgeous range of pattern transfers, Tansy was able to cut up and float off the shapes, 'just like tattoos', and decorate a plate to bring home. Bringing, yet more, pattern into our life

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Things Autumnal

What a glorious time of year! Just out in the garden now, in the lovely sunshine, looking at the ripe grapes, the smell of late honeysuckle filled the still air and sounds of a strumming guitar drifted over from a garden a few hedges over.
It's the time of year to go scrambling through the hedgerow to gather blackberries, elderberries and sloes.
And it's the time of orchard fruits and harvest festivals. In Bristol at the weekend my 7-year old was in ecstasies at being able to scramble up the the pear tree in the garden and gather a good crop. I've been investigating recipes for pickled pears and pear tarts - and I made a delicious fig and pear chutney - ideal with a slice of sourdough bread, topped with goat's cheese and nicely toasted under the grill.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Pop-up printing press

Who would have thought? A printing press seems to be one of the least pop-up pieces of equipment I can think of. Heavy, inky, temperamental. However, last week, as part of London Design Week, SORT (The Society for Revisionist Typographers), popped-up in Lowndes Court off Carnaby Street. Delightful! They normally operate from Cockpit Arts studios in Holborn, whose Open Studios on 27th - 29th November I have already put in my diary.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Repeatedly romantic

With all this desperate romanticism going on, it's a joy to indulge in the products of all that steamy, decorative creativity. J W Waterhouse was a direct artistic descendant of the Pre-Raphaelites and his work is a delight of mythical stories, dreamy, diaphanous dresses and breathtaking texture and colour. The azure-turquoise in Circe Invidiosa has to be seen to be believed. Anyone who delights in pattern, textiles and beautiful boys and girls should hot foot it to the Royal Academy now.
On our way home from the Academy we were stopped on our tracks by this stunning Liberty wall, with one daughter begging that we go home immediately and wallpaper the outside of the house. Inside was a lovely little exhibition of Liberty prints including a Wendy House covered in Liberty fabric. We want one of those too.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Beach, Blake and Butterflies

Back from our sojourn in Norfolk refreshed and inspired. We enjoyed the Painted Lady phenomenon as the clouds of butterflies wafted over from Africa and the Continent are now breeding and multiplying. Also the charming swarms of ladybirds so prevalent this year.And the increasingly rare Sea Holly on the dunes - attracting both artists (me) and butterflies. We were whipped up by the excitement and frenetic activity of the RNLI Sandcastle Competition on Old Hunstanton beach (sadly no prizes...).
Further inland we visited Holt and its inaugural arts festival, including meeting Sir Peter Blake at the Bircham Gallery and climbing aboard his groovy (I quote the hand-out) art bus.
And meeting some of the residents. Old Town is a charming and innovative shop tucked away in Bull Street, purveyors of British work clothes. And publishers of the very witty Evening Star.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Delight in the small things

I know I'm still a child at heart when I am unable to resist 'tiny things' just because they are tiny. And perfect. And lovely. We found this delightful set at the Bedford Park Festival in June. Having set eyes on it I had to have it, to the delight of my 6 year old.
It brought to mind the amazing little Addis (the founder of which invented the toothbrush, apparently) cleaning sets that were available in the sixties. The window of the hardware shop in Queens Road, Leicester, was a tumble of lovely galvanised metal, wood, bristle and bright, modern plastic. The best of these modern artefacts was the bubble packed set of broom, bucket, dustpan and brush - all at the scale of a hardworking fairy. I was never sure of the purpose of these sets. Were they just a salesman's sample? A tantalising shop display? A toy? Or indeed (my favoured option) actually made for fairies? I know my sister and I bought at least one set each - and I think she may still have the broom somewhere...
This, oh so more tasteful, set, in wood and metal, was on the Woodland Children stall at the festival. A diaspora of memories, wishes and beautifully crafted objects that makes you just feel good. This little set seems to have been made by a company called Nadia Toys, a Dutch company who specialise in 'nostalgic wooden toys'. Indeed.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The good ship starchgreen

What a great day! The rather unlikely University of the Arts Alumni Summer Fete, held on the rather incongruously named Parade Ground at Chelsea School of Art (I'm intrigued by the idea of the trooping of the art students...). The weather was hot, with a sprinkling of rain, and the crowd were, well, arty. We sailed our Starch Green ship on the sea, we printed t-shirts, made books, iced delicious dog-shaped biscuits, arranged flowers, ate chorizo, chocolate ice-cream and strawberries, and helter-skeltered.
Polly had her nails painted with cup cakes - yes they are paintings not transfers.
Ellen made an origami chameleon with eyelashes. There were even dinosaurs roaming - and that's not just the older alumni.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Artist Designers

What better way to spend a Monday lunch time than listening to the delightful ramblings of three charming grey haired gentlemen imbued with a love of the artist designer? Not any particular artist designer I hasten to add, but the concept of the talent that slips naturally between the occupations of fine art and more commercially minded design. The three chaps in question were Brian Webb, Peyton Skipwith and David Gentleman at the Fleming Collection giving a lecture entitled, "Artists, Designers and Illustrators: Their Impact on our Society."
Brian and Peyton had just completed a book working with David in their "Design" series. The series, published by the Antique Collector's Club has so far had titles including the work of Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, Paul and John Nash and Edward McKnight Kauffer. A recently published addition was the book about Harold Curwen and Oliver Simon at the Curwen Press. A rich source of the most lovely graphic design bringing together the concept of artist designer in elegant style.
Much of the discussion boiled down to anecdotes about Edward Bawden, obviously not the easiest man to get along with. David, who was taught by Bawden at the RCA, referred to his "prickly veneer" and Brian remembered his comment on the then Managing Director of Wedgewood, with whom he had a rocky relationship, as "having an unnerving eye for the mediocre." The talk breezed over such artist designer gods as Eric Ravilious, Lovat Fraser, Paul and John Nash, David Mellor, Graham Sutherland and even Rodchenko.

I loved David's recollections of his artistic childhood. His parents met at Glasgow School of Art in the (relatively new) Mackintosh building and had tea at Cranston's, at a time when it was important to "instil useful abilities" at art school. David's father, Tom, was an artist designer himself and became Head of Shell Studios. David remembered watching, as a very small boy, George V's Silver Jubilee parade from the Shell Studio perched below the clock in Shell Mex House - surrounded by the elite artist designers of the day.
In this school print by Tom Gentleman, the little boy in blue on the right of the horses is David.
We ended the session catching up with Brian, and getting the David Gentleman booked signed by all three contributors for my mother.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Poppies near Foxton

Driving back from Cambridge the other day we had to stop to admire this exquisite dab of heaven.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

My favourite stamp

The image of this stamp in The Guardian today took me right back to when I was five. I have loved this stamp ever since then and have it - and several other classic Goaman designs - in my little stamp book, carefully slid under the cellophane strip to hold it in place.

Michael Goaman died in May aged 88. A stunning graphic designer who worked in partnership with his wife Sylvia, daughter of JB Priestley. He studied at Reading University art school and Central, where he met Sylvia. She studied textiles in London and Paris.
His stamps seem so much part of my life, childhood and design being that I can't look at them without hearing the Beechnut machine that was fixed to the wall of the corner shop, next door to the Post Office where I bought the stamps. The three white oblong lozenges in their white and green wrapper would fall obligingly into my outstretched hand. I can feel the twist of the rubber stopper in the Tizer bottle. The fizzle of the Sherbert Fountain on my tongue. I can see every crack in the pavement I carefully avoided so as not to upset the bears. What powerful stuff graphic design can be.

Images © Royal Mail Group Ltd 2007

Monday, 15 June 2009

Donkeys and Mare's Tails

We had the delight of donkey rides in the sunshine on Sunday. My two older daughters volunteered to lead donkeys round for the lovely people at Duke's Meadows in Chiswick. My little girl got two rides, on Marigold and Daisy. And lots of ice cream. 
Duke's Meadows Trust, a community driven conservation charity, has been restoring the riverside park over the past few years. They've created a wonderful new children's paddling pool and converted the old paddling pools into a wildflower garden. Last weekend there was a Springwatch event where we spotted birds, painted pictures, made a bird feeder and a nest box. The whole place has a curious 'lost in time' feel, quiet, green and strangely mid-century. The Farmers market on a Sunday morning has that lovely French rural feel and the whole is greatly enhanced by the lovely allotments adjacent. As we left on Sunday we witnessed a 'perfect allotment moment' - a table set up for lunch with wine and bread and fruit, an artist at her easel drawing a sitting model in charcoal, a man at the table playing a violin, a general mood of timelessness and community. Mmmmm.
Above us all was this divine mare's tail sky - which seemed to be a fitting tribute to the hard working donkeys.

Friday, 12 June 2009

The Summer Show

Tuesday was a day of inspiration and possibilities. Firstly we visited John Purcell Paper between Brixton and Stockwell. An amazing warehouse where we were served by the delightful Will, got to feel lots of paper, ask endless questions about sizes, weights and deckles and took away a few samples to test. 
After that we went up to the Royal Academy to see the Summer Show. I think its real joy is the mad amount of stuff which just creates an energy and artistic wave that is too good to miss. Of course a lot of the time is spent in saying things like, "How did that get in?" and "How much?"
But there are lots of old familiars like Mary Fedden and Elizabeth Blackadder who are always worth seeing - and a rich mixture of new and old to reassure, surprise, annoy and delight. Should you think about going try the RA app for the iPhone - it has a tour and info about each picture including, importantly, the price. It costs £2.99, but is less than the List of Works at £3.95.
This piece by Prof William Alsop OBE RA called 'I wish my garden was really like this' reminded me of a rather lovely wire drawing Tansy did at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green a few months ago.
We then strolled down St James and across St James Park to Westminster Central Hall to see Portfolios, a Creative Review exhibition of photographers and illustrators (well their agents actually) which was passably interesting. We did, however, win five hours free photographic retouching from the rather delightfully named Stanley's Post in their lucky dip. Haven't decided what to retouch yet...

Friday, 5 June 2009

The first package

The first package addressed to 'Starch Green' has just arrived from The Alpha Engraving Company.
It contained the first electrotype of our logo ready for locking up into a forme and printing. It's type high and really lovely. 
You can see it next to a lemon wood block. (Jonathan wants me to say he doesn't like using lemon wood - it's just an offcut...) Can't wait to get it inked up...