The Isle of Lewis, Scotland

On a remote beach on the Isle of Lewis why bother with words, or order, or classification, for there is no chaos here.

One beach, different times of the day. It could render even the most wordy person speechless.

The Sea Turns Mauve

The Sea Turns Mauve

Inky Tide

Inky Tide

Violet Edge

Violet Edge

Luminous Aqua at Dusk

Luminous Aqua at Dusk

A Rain Cloud Passes

A Rain Cloud Passes

A Fresh Wind

A Fresh Wind

This is for Michele who was telling me the winter landscape inspires her to paint more than the summer one – but then added, “unless I am in the Outer Hebrides”

When We are Deprived of Colour…

If you’ve read my blog before (thank you), you will know that I am a big fan of Iceland –  see Colour At The Edge and Inspiration From Reykjavik. I was over again last week and something dawned on me. What do you do if your natural surroundings starve you of colour? Of course, I know there is colour in Iceland – the hot lava and the bubbling mineral pools (below) but much of the country is covered in barren lava fields (second image). Add to this the long dark Winters and the mild but often grey Summers and you soon discover that there are a lot of natural grey tones to this magical island.

 

A beautiful blue hot pool

A beautiful blue hot pool

Lava fields near Keflavik

Lava fields near Keflavik

So, a lot, even perhaps an excess of grey around.

What happens to compensate for the lack of colour is this…

Interiors BURST with colour

Interiors BURST with colour

and you paint your homes like this…

You Paint Your Homes BRIGHT

You Paint Your Homes BRIGHT

and your computer power cables get some treatment too:

power cables

and your road signs and bollards look like this:

Reykjavik streets

and one of your most celebrated Icelandic artists, Erro,  paints in this palette:

Icelandic Pop Artist Erro

Icelandic Pop Artist Erro

and shops look like this:

A Shop in Reykjavik

A Shop in Reykjavik

Ok, I think you can see what I’m saying. Starve the human psyche of colour and soon we will find our way to compensate.

Reykjavik Rooftops

Reykjavik Rooftops

But something else struck me on this visit. At first I thought the parks and small gardens looked rather untended. They were full of weeds, dandelions, buttercups and cow parsley mainly, growing out of every crack or gutter. But remember, it’s pretty difficult for anything to grow here on the hard lava rocks and the tricky climate. If you had a barren patch of land and a bright yellow flower appeared, you are hardly going to go and pull it out are you? They absolutely embrace little plants that we in Britain get excited about pulling out. I quite honestly see my garden at home with new light, and it’s not just an excuse to avoid weeding, it’s about appreciating life form.

Buttercups next to Tjornin

Buttercups next to Tjornin

 

And one last thing. Artist and product designer Almar Alfredsson, has just designed a set of wall plaques to commemorate Iceland’s 70 years of Independence this year. It’s a replica of a copper plate from 1944 showing the head of Jón Sigurðsson (1811-1879) whose birthday, the 17th of June was chosen to be Iceland’s annual National Holiday  in recognition of his work on independence. And of course, why are these plaques so attractive and collectible? – he designed them in several bright colours of course!

 

Jon Plaques by Almar Alfredsson

Jon Plaques by Almar Alfredsson

 

 

 

3rd May, Makers Market Edinburgh. 7th May, The Turpentine, London

For anyone in Edinburgh tomorrow, Saturday the 3rd of May, who fancies visiting a Makers Market in Morningside, I will be exhibiting and be delighted to see you there.

Makers Market

 

For anyone in London on Wednesday 7th May, why not pop along to a new creative hub The Turpentine in the heart of Brixton, a brand new exciting stockist for unifiedspace

The Turpentine Opening

 

More news on stockists next week…

International Colour Day, 2014

Today is International Colour Day – nicely chosen to coincide with the Equinox.  Around this date, “night and day are equally long which symbolically juxtaposing the complementary nature of dark and light, of shadow and illumination, that are expressed in all human cultures“, Colour Group GB

pencil shards

To celebrate, here are some of my photos where I think colour speaks for itself. I know, I know, white isn’t a colour but I view it as utterly magnanimous because instead of absorbing or snatching wavelengths, it reflects and shares them straight back again thus becoming the most pure, peaceful and generous ‘colour’ in my mind…

White Peace

White Peace

Beautiful, Elegant Green

Beautiful, Elegant Green

Warning, Agressive Red

Warning, Agressive Red

Endlessly Creative Blue

Endlessly Creative Blue

Ray of Yellow Hope

Ray of Yellow Hope

For more colour inspiration have a look at the  Dulux Colour Awards 2014 which is run in partnership with The Guardian – definitely worth a look.

What colour are you feeling like today and how will you celebrate today, March 21st 2014, International Colour Day? 

New Homes for Vintage Designs

We chuck more, we buy more, and we keep making more, me (unifiedspace) included. The planet is literally awash with homewares. This poses a real dilemma for someone like me who loves designing and producing new ranges, so, in an attempt to rebalance my own input into this mass overindulgence, can I introduce you to, Vintage Nik’s

Having recently been searching for a 1960’s,  Norwegian coffee cup to add to a depleted collection I had inherited I was blown over when I came across a brilliant vintage site called Danish Mood. The knowledgable art historian running the site had the cup I was searching for. I duly bought it and completed my set. Easy as that. The ‘orphaned’ cup in Denmark now has a new home and future here in Edinburgh. Satisfying is not a powerful enough word to describe how enriching the experience was and it set me thinking. I wanted to find homes for more unwanted beautiful designs. Perhaps this is how ‘empty nest syndrome’ is going to manifest itself with me (eldest leaving home later this summer) but whatever the reason, I can assure you it’s soothing my guilt about producing new ranges and feeding my desire to nurture.

I am specifically looking out for mid century British and Scandinavian homewares, both utilitarian and decorative, purely because that’s what I like. I’ve found some great treasures already including a prized Stig Lindberg saucier, a 1942 Royal Copenhagen vase, some Phoenix glass, and several stunning pieces of ceramics from Britains finest potteries. I’m only looking for pieces in near perfect condition that I would be happy to find space for in my own house. And it’s staggering looking at the quality of the pieces, especially the bone china  produced in Stoke on Trent in the 1950’s. Really wonderful.

So I look forward to producing more of my own work (lots of textiles on the way) and finding homes for unwanted, thoughtfully designed objects from the past. A good balance I think.

Do you collect vintage designs and if so what is your favourite era or style?

A Foray into Mindfullness and Meditation

Ever fancied trying some meditation or learning about mindfullness? Well that’s just what I’ve been doing. You may well ask what this has got to do with colour or form, quite a lot in fact.

path

I will not attempt to describe all the techniques I’ve been learning, far from it, as there are experts who will do just that. I wanted to tell you about three things which really stood out for me which I thought may interest you too, who knows?

1. If you suffer from a lot of ‘chatter’ whirring around in your head when you are attempting to get to sleep, Tara Brach‘s  book, True Refuge, has a brilliant technique to quieten your mind. She asks you to visualise outer space. Most of us will think of a vast and empty place especially compared to our own more solid world. However, she points out “the atoms that make up our own bodies are actually 99.9% empty space and the distance between atoms, and the space within atoms, compared with their mass makes us as spacious internally as the universe we live in” Now visualise the space behind your eyeballs or the space between your ears while thinking about all this space between your atoms. My head which had previously felt ready to explode with a massive ‘to do’ list, suddenly feels quite empty. Voila! Please try it, it really works.

2. Mindfullness and remembering to live in the moment. This isn’t a new concept or even a difficult one and I think most of us are good at this while on holiday but tend to get caught in the rat race as soon as we get home. It’s not difficult to live in the moment while standing in one of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet. These snaps were taken (without any filters or photoshopping) last summer while on holiday in the Plitvicka National Park in Northern Croatia. A stunning natural wonder where I would defy anyone not to live in the moment.

Plitvicka lakes

So, remembering to notice, absorb and appreciate things around me even in a seemingly ordinary normal environment, these pictures were taken looking out of my kitchen window at breakfast time – not one of my best times of day (!) and a time when we are all flying around with tight schedules. However, it was certainly worth pressing ‘pause’ and looking at the sky in Edinburgh last week (again no filters or photoshopping)

Edinburgh sky

3. Visualisation during meditation. My meditation teacher gave our group many different techniques to help ‘let go’ but the most successful method for me, surprise surprise,  involved colour. She told us to imagine our bodies were a transparent glass statue, completely empty inside. She then said ‘scan’ the body with your mind exploring from the head to toes all while visualising it as an empty glass statue. Then she told us to imagine a coloured mist entering our bodies which would gradually fill the empty glass space with colour. The mist would reach and fill all parts from the finger tips to the back of the legs and around the skull. At this point I had a very clear mental picture, and colour (aqua in my case), flooding through my body. After a while we were to imagine the coloured mist sink down through our body as if it were getting heavier and it would flow down our legs (taking with it any negative thoughts) and out the soles of our feet leaving behind our empty glass vessel again. It cleanses your mind. Really.

Ok, so at this point, I might be loosing some of you and you may well be thinking, oh dear, poor niki, she has lost the plot, but fear not! I was a sceptical as anyone else and having been brought up in a purely scientific world which needed proof and results, I didn’t hold high hopes of benefiting from any of this but I was curious and willing (which is all it takes).

So having finished the course and finished Tara Brach’s brilliant book, I admitt I have benefited in several ways. Apart from meeting some highly interesting people on the course, it has unleashed a torrent of new designs – oddly enough, very different from my previous work, so much so, I may well set up a new range with it. The new textiles are not printed yet but I look forward to showing you them soon – they are watercolour and pastel designs which I plan to print onto a fairly heavy 519 gsm linen.

One last thing I really liked from Tara’s book. A group of students were shown a photo, something like this,

gull

and were asked what they saw. Of course they said ‘a bird’ but the spiritualist leader said, ‘sky’ . A  great example of keeping an open mind and looking past the obvious. I liked that a lot.

If you do try any of these techniques, I would love to know how you get on. Training your brain to use slightly different neurological pathways can be pretty interesting.

Norway’s Porsgrund Meets Finland’s Marimekko

I’m treading carefully here and may sound overly laconic but I’m coaxing my brain into defrost mode (doesn’t help having a broken boiler, mind you…)

Terracotta man by Lawrence Epps

Terracotta man by Lawrence Epps

Where do designs come from? The conscious and unconscious routes a designer takes are of great interest to me. Perhaps we constantly collect design inspiration throughout life, storing it in our brains until a spark unearths it? Personally I would go even further and say that design blueprints from centuries ago are stored in our DNA. I’m sure that’s why a strong and recognisable design ‘style’ can be be attributed to succinct geographic locations. If you’ve read my blog before, you will know I am drawn to Scandinavian design and the Northern colour palette.

I’ve recently been searching for some new dinnerware and while sifting through hundreds of images on line, I came across Marimekko’s siirtolapuutarha plates. I knew within a split second that I had found what I was looking for.

Marimekko plate

marimekko close up

Then, one evening last week I was enjoying an evening meal on my new plates (colourful food looks fantastic on them by the way, which is a relief as I’ve previously erred for trusty plain white dinnerware) my eyes drifted onto my all time favourite possession, a porcelain coffee set made by the Norwegian company porsgrund which my parents bought for themselves from a design shop in Edinburgh in 1962 and have since given to me. It is fine white porcelain with a shiny gold design on it. It’s delicate, slightly naive and utterly beautiful and even after many years of feasting my eyes on it, I still get butterflies in my stomach whenever I look at the set. What I hadn’t realise when I bought the Marimekko plates was that I was buying a piece of Finnish design in 2014 that looked like the ‘grandchild’ of the Norwegian Porsgrund coffee set my parents bought fifty years earlier. Do you see a passing resemblance or is it just me?

coffee cup coffee cup cream jug

Unfortunately I don’t know the Norwegian designers name (I must contact the porcelain factory to see if they have any information in their archive) and I think my Marimekko plates are designed by Maija Louekari and I doubt there is any connection (other than both being Scandinavian) between them but I think the essence is definitely there.

I am working on some new designs at the moment, something a little different from my other pieces and already I am wondering why I have come up with each particular design and indeed do I have any conscious decision in the end result at all or is it predetermined from some primal calling deep within or has it stemmed from a previous visual experience which is surfacing in the design work I do today? Who knows. However, in order to delve a bit deeper into neurological pathways and how I use them, I have enrolled on a meditation course which starts this week and my plan is to work on designs immediately after each class – I can’t wait to see what it unlocks.

Do you meditate and if so, do you feel more creative as a result?

+ I am delighted to report that since writing this post, the Norwegian porcelain factory, Porsgrund have been in touch and my beautiful coffee set is ‘Regent’ model and the design is called ‘Corona Gull’. It was designed by Tias Eckhoff who trained in Oslo and Denmark and his pioneering porcelain work for Porsgrund and flatware for Georg Jensen in the 1950’s earned him many awards and was seen as a pioneer in the Scandinavian design movement. I am absolutely delighted to have this precious information, thank you Marte at Porsgrund.+

Stormy Weather, Stop by at Etsy

With a Winter storm forecast here for tomorrow, I’ve turned all festive here at unifiedspace and I am unashamedly going to give my etsy shop a little plug…

Tjornin Mug

Tjornin Mug

Tjornin tea towel

Tjornin tea towel

cotton fennel bag

cotton fennel bag

Two tone tjornin mugs

Two tone tjornin mugs

funky apple cushion

funky apple cushion

urban tea towels

urban tea towels

Night Fennel silk scarf

Night Fennel silk scarf

Summer Fennel silk scarf

Summer Fennel silk scarf

…and there is plenty more on the shop and free shipping to uk addresses.

Meanwhile I’m off to listen to Eddi Reader’s beautiful new song I heard her sing here in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on Saturday night, ‘Snowflakes in the Sun’.

What are your favourite festive tunes?

Christmas Shopping Event

Please join me and artists Michele Mathieson and Nikki Monaghan  for our 2013 Christmas Shopping Event.

Red Leaf Christmas Event

We will be at Red Leaf Studio, 6 Church Wynd, Bo’ness, West Lothian, this Sunday 1st of December from 12 – 4:30pm.

There will be a selection of affordable paintings, prints, homewares and accessories, not to mention home baking, tea and coffee. If you are in the area, it would be great to see you!

Stags on Red Mountain by Nikki Monaghan

‘Stags on Red Mountain’ by Nikki Monaghan

 

The Story Behind The Design

After having a conversation with a customer today it dawned on me that there is often a reason behind a design – unless of course you are like one of my all time favourite artists Agnes Martin who claims her head was like an empty vessel which captured external artistic messages which she then applied to canvas – she doesn’t seem to take much credit for her beautiful paintings as she claimed she was just a receiver and her hand automatically carried out the work. Wow.

pencil sharpens

You may well find yourself connecting with a piece of art or design but be totally unaware of the inspiration behind it. That’s great but I find if I am able to speak to the artist and hear their story, the art takes on a new depth or an extra layer.

I was lucky enough to meet artist Sandra Robinson at the Waterside Arts Centre, in Sale, close to Manchester last month and I made an instant connection with her ‘21:00 From London Euston’ train window series. I found them immensely atmospheric as each painting depicted dramatic and ever changing natural lighting conditions on a journey. She explained she was on a train from London to Manchester and she made written notes of what she saw from the window. She took these notes back to her studio and painted from her written instructions and the result is a very intense series of beautiful paintings full of movement.

A series of ten paintings by Sandra Robinson

A series of ten paintings by Sandra Robinson

The designs I have on my mugs also have a story attached. I was working in Iceland last January and as you can imagine there was very little light and it was brutally cold. I was watching the birds at the central lake, ‘Tjornin’, in central Reykjavik when I spotted some tiny low lying flowers growing on the banks of the lake. They made me smile that despite the very harsh conditions they were still determined and gutsy enough to grow! I knew straight away that I wanted to use these brave flowers in a design. The finished design is screen printed onto bone china mugs because I liked the idea of a hot steaming drink (obviously there are lots of steaming hot geothermal pools in Iceland) being enclosed by these tough little Icelandic flowers. The sky changes very quickly in Iceland and within a few hours I witnessed a stunning pink sunrise, intense clear blue skies, grey, snow laden skies and was hoping for a green Northern Lights sky – hence the colours of the mugs…

Tjornin Mugs

I also found the town and the Icelandic people very colourful so the two tone set of mugs represent the brightly coloured houses of Reykjavik, the black one the dark winter sky – nobody would know this but I thought you may like the reasoning behind the design!

Two Tone Tjornin mugs

T

house facades Reykjavic

The powerful, strong and elegant birds I was watching are depicted on these mugs.

Flying High Mugs

My ‘urban’ series of linen tea towels were inspired by the huge brightly coloured cranes and loading machinery at Leith Docks, Edinburgh. It’s a gritty, industrial and efficient place where tonnes of cargo start and finish their massive journeys across the sea. A magical place actually, full of intrigue. I really wanted to convey the bold, brash, powerful bright shapes and screen print the designs onto linen.

urban linen tea towels DSC_0019

And lastly, my Botanical DNA scarf was inspired by my Dad who was both a geneticist and a gardener. When I placed the plants in long rows, they reminded me of DNA helixes! The design is printed on a semi- sheer, floaty silk cotton blend.

Botanical DNA Scarf

Well I think that’s probably enough about my own designs for now (!) but you can see more (like my Sol LeWitt inspired cushions) on my shop

What are the stories behind your creations?