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? 

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

 

Fennel, a Blouse and a Bag

Have you ever been obsessed with a plant?

I am intrigued with how a plant can become so profoundly influential and evocative. Early memories of brushing past great fronds of wild fennel on the white sand dunes of Northern Brittany have well and truly got into my system.

fennel, Brittany

A few years ago I tried to turn a small corner of Scotland (my garden) into a taste of Brittany by planting fennel and artichoke seeds.  I can now report that both plants thrive in conditions here in Edinburgh and this summer I returned from holiday to find a fennel jungle staring back at me. At this point I was reading a novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, The Language of Flowers , and I was not surprised to discover the Victorians associated fennel with strength and vigour - highly appropriate as my supremely healthy fennel plants had colonised every little crevice they could find, including cracks in the tarmac drive! 

Of course I did the many obvious things with the crop, like eating the bulb, the fronds and the seeds (fresh and dried) and I had huge vases of the decorative stalks in the house which dropped hundreds of beautiful tiny balls of pollen which I gathered to use in a colour study (still thinking of Wolfgang Laib exhibition I saw a few years ago in Washington D.C. ) When I mentioned the pollen to a chef friend from Timberyard he told me the pollen is a great ingredient to add to bread to give it a honeyed aniseed flavour, a good texture and lovely colour. This was news to me but I have since spotted the pollen, often called, The Spice of Angels,  for sale on various specialist spice sites and I have thoroughly enjoyed experimenting with it in my own kitchen. If you are after more ideas, pump in ‘fennel’ to Kellie’s  Food To Glow blog and you will learn about the anti cancer flavonoids present in fennel and find a multitude of great recipes too.

But now for the other influence the plant has had on me – some new work.

Fennel Tangle, silk

This is my most recent design called Fennel Tangle. I had it printed onto 100% Habotai silk by Solli and Zoe at their brilliant Edinburgh print bureau. Although it’s normally homewares that I am involved in, I decided this print had to be worn. Over at Make Me a Frock, you will find Claire, an incredibly talented seamstress (and also a real perfectionist and poet) who has razor sharp observational skills and I knew she would interpret the fabric into a beautiful garment…and by golly she has. Below are images of the blouse she created for me. I am blown away by the design and microscopic stitches on the extremely fine silk. The blouse has that rare power that very occasionally clothes can give – it’s my new ‘cloak’ of strength and vigour, thank you Claire.

front of blouse

back of blouse

I’ve also added several cotton canvas bags to my shop, one of the designs, surprise surprise features a fennel head.

fennel bag

DSC_0006

What is your favourite plant? Do you have early memories of a particular plant? Have any plants played a role in your work? 

Flowers From A Painter

I was given some flowers yesterday by a wonderful family of painters. They obviously spent ages choosing them (they mix their own paint colours for their interior work) and Narcissus Flowers (a flower shop on Edinburgh’s Broughton Street) tied them into a stunning bunch but the individual flowers are so perfect that I have spent the morning carefully pulling out single stems to look at in isolation. The colours, some sharp, some smudged are mouth watering but I’ve also been transfixed by their shapes. I hope you enjoy the images below.

 

Looking Inwards

It’s been a while. I haven’t been able to write because my first subscriber and ‘go to’ person to get honest opinions from about my designs, my father, has been taken from this world by cancer. It wasn’t until after he had gone that I realised I subconsciously wrote to him each time I scribbled a post (it made it easier imagining who was reading my words). I don’t want to be dramatic and I don’t want to say much more, I just wanted to say why I had not been writing or indeed visiting your blogs recently.

back to front

An interesting thing happened to me though. Towards the end of his illness every single one of my senses became razor sharp, fully focused and I was hyper-aware of every minute detail around me. I normally notice pretty small and often random (possibly irrelevant) things but this was different. I suppose it was a primal instinct telling me to be aware.

But as soon as Dad was gone I barely saw a thing, even beautiful things that I would normally feast my eyes on. Dark glasses, ear plugs inserted and an unopened camera bag was the new order of the day. Fragile.

delicate

However, good things happen too. Very, very good things. Friends. Friends bringing food, sending heart felt cards, telling me they were around but not invading. And a message from a supremely wise friend in Hong Kong who pointed out how lucky I was. She reminded me I knew it was coming, I could prepare my mind and most importantly Dad knew the most important people in my life – my husband and my children. I have a charmed life and so did Dad.

The world has begun to zoom back into focus and I’m noticing things around me again. I am also really looking forward to dipping into all your inspiring  blogs and hearing your news.

I hope you are all having a great summer and I look forward to catching up soon.

pigeon

Colour Theory Tested

I’ve been keen to produce some designs while experimenting with colour theory.

Pear Drops and Toffee Apples are both designs where I chose analogous colours, i.e hues adjacent to each other on the colour wheel, red and pink for Toffee Apples and green and blue for Pear Drops. As I like simple flat designs, I outlined some of the shapes in black to act as a fence to contain the colours from spreading. You will see where I haven’t done this, the green and blue on the pears blend together and reinforce their similar hue parentage.

Having been blown over by the movement that Sol Le Witt created in his Wall Drawing 1136 I was determined to design something where some physical energy might appear. So for Funky Apple, I butted up complimentary colours i.e opposites on the colour wheel because these are groups of colours that spar beside each other and reinforce their differences causing a perceived vibration which in turn can give a design some energy and movement. As the colour bands are almost circular, I hope your eye will be taken on a journey around the apple.

Before I get too theoretical, there is always a danger in applying theory directly into designs, and almost always a bad idea getting too theoretical when selecting interior paint colours as there are far too many other factors to consider in a space, my final design is simply because I like vegetation and I was keen to see it on a natural linen back ground.

The cushions are all 40 cm square and printed with pigment inks onto a linen cotton blend and will be appearing in my etsy shop soon.

It’s a fabulous sunny bank holiday weekend here in Edinburgh so I’m off to prepare a picnic, with plenty cushions to sit on…

The Clothes Our Parents Wore

Having recently embarked upon designing my own textiles, I asked Mum and Dad to look through their photo albums and send me any snaps they had of Mum’s dresses in the late 1950′s. Well I wasn’t disappointed. Mum and Dad appeared looking out of the vintage, slightly crushed photos looking massively stylish…and look at the printed textiles.

These photos were all taken before I was born but I clearly remember the colours, designs and even textures of the cloth Mum and Dad both wore while I was growing up. It made me think how we all subliminally influence our children. The designs Mum and Dad chose are imprinted in my mind and have certainly affected my own taste as an adult (interestingly my eldest teenage son has just bought spectacles which are exactly the same as the ones my Dad, his Grand Father, wore in the late 1950′s).

How clearly I remember interior textiles that surrounded me too. The curtains that hung in our houses tended to be flat blocks of colour in varying but simplistic shapes, something I still crave and indeed base my own designs around. They favoured Danish furniture, something I do too. And then I started thinking a bit harder about my childhood interior and I remember a cylindrical copper suspension lamp shade that Dad (who is a scientist, not a designer) made for the dining room – all before Tom Dixon was even born!

The 1950′s and 1960′s were of course extremely creative decades where people had the confidence to experiment, customise and have fun with clothes and interiors. A time before the dominant big huge brands  that many seem to crave now. However, a wave of bespoke and individual designers which have global platforms like etsy and t.v programmes such as The Great British Sewing Bee have shown the public a glimpse of how much talent is out their and believe me, if you have any spare time, surf through etsy and be prepared to be amazed.

Do you remember the textiles your parents wore? If so, do you think they have influenced your choices as an adult?