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

 

 

 

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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? 

21st March 2013 is International Colour Day!

Did you know it is International Colour Day this Thursday 21st March?

Logo designed by Hosanna Yau

Logo designed by Hosanna Yau

President of the Association International de la Coleur (AIC), Berit Bergström explains very well in this extract why we should celebrate this day.

An international colour day has been considered as appropriate since colour is, thanks to sight, one of the most influential phenomena in people’s lives and also one of the channels that most greatly contributes to the perception of reality. All around the world memorable colour activities are developed during the same day.
The proposal to establish this international colour day is spread throughout our international network and has been supported by its members. AIC is today represented by 38 different nations and I hope that you all will start your preparations for celebrating March 21st 2013!
The adoption of an international day of colour and light was proposed in 2008 by Maria Joao Durao, the Portuguese Association. Light and colour are inseparable. Colour is always connected with light, without light no colour therefore an international colour day will also celebrate the light.
Few things affect us as much as colour. It plays a vital part in our surroundings, whether at work, in public spaces or in our homes. Colour and light seem to interest everybody and are such a common component of our existence that we don’t give it a thought, in spite of all vision. All surfaces are coloured.  Colour has an outstanding role in our society and tells us much about different cultures as a crucial aspect in defining our identity.
WHY MARCH 21ST?
March 21st, every year the “equinox” – aequus (equal) and nox (night).
Around the equinox, the night and day are approximately equally long, symbolically relating to the complementary nature of light and darkness, light and shadow expressed in all human cultures.
Many different colour activities can be arranged worldwide in such a day. Here are some of the activities and events that could be unfolded on the International Colour Day:
•       Arts exhibitions, architectural projects, design, decoration, fashion….
•       Meetings, debates, scientific events…..
•       Workshops on the use of colour and light for both adults and children.
•       Contests on colour and light design.
•       Decide your identity colour, and wear it and use it during this day!
•       Start discussions…..
 
I realise it will be difficult to think more than usual about colour on Thursday because I   analyse colour and colour combinations all the time, every single day. I find it impossible to go anywhere without giving the colours around me a lot of thought. It’s a habit that can on occasion be quite tiring because I find it almost impossible to stop analysing and have a clear or empty head. I was attempting to explain this to a friend last week to find out if she did this too. I have come to the conclusion that we all look for different things despite looking at exactly the same view. I tend to immediately get rid of the detail and pull the view into simplistic flat blocks of colour. I didn’t think it was an odd habit until I started talking about it! I expect some people will be more interested in intricate details and be inspired by ornamentation or light and shadow. I think perhaps it is because I get confused when I am surrounded by too much detail and I therefore automatically start simplifying my surroundings.
How do you look at things?
I have tried to demonstrate in the photos below what I tend to do, let me know if you do this too!
Primary blocks
Teal, white grey
Red, white and blue
pink roses, deep door
On  Colour Day this year, I have decided to do a quick tally on what colour interior magazines are using on their front cover titles – should be a fun task and interesting to see what they think we are currently responding too.
How will you celebrate it?

When Inspiration Deserts You

It’s been a while since I last posted and that’s because something rather strange happened to me. To put it bluntly, my inspiration evaporated, vanished, dried up (partly due to a rather long bout of labyrinthitis) . Oh dear, I know on social media we are all meant to be oozing with creativity and positive energy but for one day only I will break the unspoken ‘bubbly’ rule. However, I am delighted to report, that finally I am back on track and raring to go. Phew, about time!

orange hull, violet below.

orange hull, violet below.

I mentioned previously that I am working on some woven textiles using blended colours and with this in mind  I photographed some of the huge ships docked at Leith, Edinburgh’s commercial quay this morning. I hope you enjoy the colour blends and shapes which were boosted by the glorious sunshine we have here today.

blue stripes, red overall

blue stripes, red overall

orange hull and below
metal stripes

metal stripes

orange hull, blue tape

orange hull, blue tape

sun through containers

sun through containers

I enjoy reading great blogs and comments from jewellers, cooks, artists, poets, writers and dress makers and all your posts come thick and fast. Does inspiration ever evade you? And if so, what do you do?

January = Creative Time

So, here we are in January scuttering back to work but oddly enough it’s one of my favourite months. Being the first month of a brand new year, January gives me renewed focus and an excuse to try out new techniques (in other words a month where I feel no guilt about spending more time on creative projects and less time on administrative and business tasks!)

clay men by Lawrence Epps

Clay Commuting Men by Lawrence Epps

For those of us living in Edinburgh, another bonus about January is that the National Galleries of Scotland  mount a beautiful Turner exhibition. The extensive collection of paintings was bequeathed to the Gallery with instructions that they must be ‘exhibited to the public all at one time, free of charge, during the month of January’ and this has been faithfully adhered to for over 100 years.

As its normally abstract expressionism that inspires me, I find visiting the Turner exhibition each year a great way of shifting my ‘normal’ way of thinking to considering other ideas.

Butting blocks of solid flat colour against each other is something I will never tire of as the energy that is created between two sparring colours or indeed the harmonious marriage of related colours discovering each other is an infinite source of enjoyment for me. However, the pure romanticism of the Turner paintings with their semi-transparent colour washes capturing stunning moods across the paper, or as Johannes Itten described as “a psychio-expressive medium to lend mood to a landscape” made me think about translucent colours and colour gradation.

air colour gradation

As you know, colour gradation has been a popular trend over the last year and  Danish brand Hay have designed stunning textiles using this technique. You will probably have noticed shop windows filled with clothes in colour gradations and teenagers adorning ‘dip dyed’ hair.

Shop window, London So with this in mind and with the plan to have some textiles woven by one of our  fabulous mills in Scotland (and there are many with incredible craft men and woman producing staggeringly high quality textiles), I am currently working on designs with gradients punctuated by solid beams of colour. It’s early days and I am still at a messy creative stage in the process but that’s what January is all about.

My etsy shop is now up and running as is unifiedspace on facebook and pinterest and I have an alternative blog, nikispace, for those short on time and  just looking for a picture rather than words – I told you I was having fun in January!

Photo taken in the Rolf Sachs 'Journey of an Ink Drop' exhibition

Photo taken in the Rolf Sachs ‘Journey of an Ink Drop’ exhibition

Hunt, Gather, Design

Design shows are important events in the calendar and the big ones are very often held in London. When attending these shows I am often asked how designers keep current and in touch while living and working four hundred miles north of The Big Smoke. 

Well, walk this way…

We have a collection of secret weapons up here in Scotland. Weapons that fuse together and do the majority of the work for us; our landscape, our light and our space. Without exception, every single design I have produced has stemmed from a walk outdoors. Not necessarily a traverse across rugged moor or a walk on one of our many wild beaches, even the most mundane of walks will produce results. It’s simply a case of looking rather than just seeing. I hunt for shapes, gather what I see and turn them into designs.

Shapes in the city

I shall demonstrate the power of the landscape with the help of the bute fabrics collection. A quick flick through the binder and I come across several fabrics that appear to be a direct abstraction from nature. Intentional or subliminal, the designers are clearly demonstrating a raw and visceral connection to the environment.

Pitted sand and ‘Iona’, fine worsted marl

The fabric of our landscape is literally weaving itself into the very heart of designs emerging from Scotland.

Protruding rock veins and ‘Kilmory’ cloth

Natural materials but a man made wall – look how its structure emerges as an architectural weave.

Stone wall and ‘Braemar’ cloth

Busy docks have long been one of my richest sources of inspiration. I can’t help but notice a similarity of colour and form in my dockland montage with that of bute’s special yarn effect cloth, ‘Skye’. A clean, contemporary cloth that I am keen to specify.

Docklands montage and ‘Skye’ cloth

Blue panels of Hebridean water are reproduced in the interior of this room – the positioning of the ‘Turnberry’ throw on the sandy coloured  felt wool chair looks pleasing because it is a direct translation of a natural landscape. In other words, it  gains an instant authenticity.

Panels of blue sea and Bute’s ‘Turnberry’ throw

Look at the dark Lewisian Gneiss sharply contrasting with the adjacent white sand – a powerful combination. The organic form of the white DSR Eames Chair  is heightened by the dark grey back drop. Our design instincts are influenced by the natural world yet again.

A colour combination in nature emerges in an interior

A detail from an artist’s oil painting and a set of colours and shapes I see at the harbour.

Colours from a harbour and detail from an unrelated oil painting.

So no matter where we live, I am certain we are all deeply affected by the space around us. I am quite sure a primal force exists within us that connects us to the land and appears consciously and unconsciously time after time in the products we are designing.  Nature is the touchstone for truthful design and is one of the many good reasons designers continue to live and work  successfully in Scotland.

And it’s not just the landscape that inspires us, don’t forget about the local flora and fauna. After curing this locally caught salmon in beetroot and vodka, I was spell bound by the colour palette that lay on my kitchen work top.

But I will leave you with a montage of textures and patterns I collected from a recent walk. Textures I plan to work on to produce some new work – not a difficult task when surround by this…

natural textures and patterns

Connected, Globally, Locally and by the World’s Favourite Colour, Blue

I’ve been unplugged. Computer off, no blogging, no commenting, no texting. Effectively, I have been back in time. I’ve even tried to use cash rather than cards and it has been interesting. It was a conscious decision, a choice I made.

Why, you may well ask?

Unison pastel, hand rolled in Northumberland National Park

I was worried about the number of small shops closing down, shops who can’t compete with the internet. So I set myself a challenge of buying all my Christmas presents from a shop/fair/market/gallery rather than on line and only buying presents which are made in Britain. And guess what? Its easy and extremely enjoyable.

I love the internet, but its ease of use can sometimes let me forget what’s on my doorstep. I have some fantastic cyber friends – a journalist, Caitlin Broadside blog, Sandra, an artist  The Colour of Ideas, Elizabeth, a colour consultant EB Color Consultants, Betsy a jeweller betsy bensen jewellery , Claire, a poet and seamstress Make Me a Frock  all unbelievably talented people who genuinely inspire me whom I would never have met without the internet. However, I don’t want to forget about my friends around the block, none of which are bloggers – apart from Kellie at Food to Glow who writes a staggeringly informative and delicious food blog.

The internet also brings me work. I’ve just finished some photographic work for AGI magazine to illustrate an article on ultramarine written by art historian Alexandra Loske, an interesting academic who I connected with in cyberspace. I think I just want to make sure both worlds, cyber and tangible and more equally weighted.

And now to colour. I guess you know that the worlds favourite colour is blue?

It’s hardly a surprise considering three quarters of our planet is covered in sea and we look up to a seemingly endless blue sky (occasionally). From this perhaps we can deduce that we like familiarity. But familiarity is not what you get on the internet. For me, its the constantly new, unseen, unfamiliar images and snips of pristine information that draw my attention. That’s all good and I am quite sure we are all super- informed beings but I just want to make sure I don’t loose track of familiar things, local places, local friends, my micro world that needs supported more than the web machine which seems to generate its own immense energy. I needed to spend more time in the familiar world and its been a nice coincidence that I have been working with that wonderfully familiar colour blue.
I have also decided to take part in my first ever Craft Fair. I will have a stand at Market Tree Events Fair this Saturday 10th November in Cafe Camino just next to John Lewis. I am really looking forward to meeting the people who buy my designs as I never normally get the chance to meet them in person.
So here’s to staying connected in our parallel worlds, local and global both working successfully and all connected by the worlds favourite colour, blue.

Inside the Mill at Bute Fabrics

Do you find that every once in a while a day comes along that blows your mind?

I am glad to say this happened to me last week when Bute Fabrics kindly invited me to see their mill on the Isle of Bute. It has to be said that arriving at the beautiful Victorian railway station at Wemyss Bay and walking onto the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to sail over to Bute is a pretty good way to start to the day.

As I mentioned in my last post, production is something I find completely intriguing and walking into the mill at Bute fabrics was no exception. The mill has a similar feel to a whisky distillery in that it is made up of a series of long low buildings and the tour involves dashing outside from one building to another between wind, rain and the odd deer. However, there is no disguising the fact that this mill is making miles and miles of crafted fabric because the constant clack clack of the looms emanates around the site.

A quick glance around and you ask the question, how on earth does this complex set of odd looking machinery mean anything to anyone? How on earth does a single piece of yarn fed in at one end become a bale of highly prized designer cloth at the other? But cloth woven in this very room on this small Scottish island is being shipped off to customers such as Bank of America, Chap Lek Hok airport Hong Kong, the Sheraton Hotel in Moscow and Royal Festival Hall, London. Well the process can happen because the mill employs passionate people who have real skills. There was a tangible feeling of pride and heritage amongst the people I spoke to. Quite simply, they know they are producing something very good indeed and they are proud of it.

For me, discovering that Bute not only have their own range of cloth but can weave bespoke cloth in virtually any Pantone colour was the icing on the cake (I hope to visit the dyers in the Scottish Borders next). Can you imagine the possibilities this can open up? I firmly believe that designing home wares with a high quality raw material one needs to add very little embellishment at all. A simple form in the perfect colour in a natural material is hard beat.  Finding the perfect ingredients and then setting out to design something with it, in my mind is a pretty exciting way to start a project. Good raw materials speak for themselves.

This mill is only two hours away from where I work, which is quite far in Scottish terms but in reality is ridiculously close. The point I would like to make in this post is to encourage anyone reading this to find out what is being produced in their own area (and sometimes its not always very obvious) and just think of the opportunities it could offer. Embracing what we do well locally I am quite sure will help restore national pride. I for one am very proud to be from a country with mills such as Bute fabrics. What does your country or area produce that makes you feel proud?

How Do You Define Good Art?

How do you define good art? For me it’s quite simple. Occasionally I will look at a piece of art and I get a physical reaction. My heart speeds up, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I get a flutter deep in the pit of my stomach. It’s not a learned response to something,  it’s an instant reaction to something that moves me.

I was lucky enough to have this experience today. Inverleith House within the grounds of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh has an exhibition of work by  Irish born artist William McKeown (1962-2011). McKeown had been living in Edinburgh until his death last year. The Royal Botanic Gardens was a place he frequented and Inverleith House he saw as an ideal place to show art due to the beautiful proportions of the Georgian building and the quality of natural light that floods into the gallery space.

William McKeown said “there are two types of art – open and closed. All closed art is negative and anti life. Art which is open accepts without judgement, is expanding, positive and life enhancing”. McKeown 2002

This exhibition is certainly “open art” and definitely “life enhancing”. I was quite literally rooted to the floor as my gaze fell into his canvases. Blocks of colour dreamily fuse across the canvases but at the same time pulsate with positive, joyful energy.

I was interested to note he has painted a dark border around each work. The borders are dark and executed in a single confident brush stroke. They seem to halt any leakage of colour from the canvases and act as a boundary or fence to hold the intensity of colour inside the painting itself. The effect concentrates the image and allows each painting to become a portal to a stunning landscape. The borders surprised me though because McKeown is renowned for looking closely at  air and light and open infinite spaces. The borders define the painting but also strangely lead you into the infinite space contained within the painting itself. So important are the borders that they act as a way of taking the viewer on a private and personal journey into the painting rather than a shared experience with the rest of the gallery. I have however, no idea if that’s what he intended.

Agnes Martin paintings have a very similar effect on me, a sensation I wrote about here.  Strangely enough, Inverleith House are also showing a rare film by Agnes Martin alongside the McKeown exhibition.

I think the other ‘requirement’ of good art is that it should inspire creation. On return from the exhibition, I looked at some photographs I had taken which I had stored in an ‘unsuccessful’ folder. They were unsuccessful because there was little focal interest. However, thinking more about air and space, I looked at them again and saw them in a completely different light. I started looking at the air and space in the image rather than the objects. I have now turned my unsuccessful photos into new images of fused colours.

I only discovered William McKeown’s work today and I really wish I had been aware of it before. I would have really liked to have met the artist and as he lived here in Edinburgh, I probably could have. However, he has left us with a collection of open and positive paintings to dream over – it’s a not to be missed exhibition.

The show is on until 8th July 2012 at Inverleith House, Edinburgh.

Some New Work

You may have noticed a certain lack of posts recently, and there is a reason for that – I’ve been working on a new range of products which I’ve literally just finished this week.

They are designs that I started while working in Reykjavik earlier this year and as a result I hope they have a light and Northern feel to them. I will add some very exciting stockists details shortly.

I am also happy to tell you that I have work in a new book, Languages of Colour, an anthology edited by Alexandra Loske which will be published by Frogmore Press on 31st May. Frogmore Press is well known for its book cover art and I am delighted to show you the cover of Languages of Colour, by artist David J Markham.

And finally, the research I was carrying out on identifying some art nouveau wallpaper will be published in The Wallpaper History Review this September – and I’ve been on quite a trail attempting to uncover the designer.

Apologies for only writing about my own activities in this post but I was keen to let you know my lack of posting is for a reason!

Well, I’m off to stomp over some mountains this weekend so I hope to catch some good images to share with you next week.

Keep you posted…