Thank you, Huldufólk

Finding the right hole for your peg may take a while. Kids are asked to make ‘career choices’ when selecting their subjects at school. Do they really know what they want to be at that age? Great if they do but I think it’s important for people to know that it’s alright to make career changes throughout life.

Letterpress Christmas Cards

Letterpress Christmas Cards

Perhaps I’m just trying to justify my own wandering career path but I bet I’m not the only one who has discovered what they want to be later in life. I think every job you have is important whether you like it or not because you always learn something – it’s like walking through life wearing a sticky cape – some experiences stick  and others just tumble off until finally the cape feels complete and you feel ready and informed to make the right decisions.

I’ve always worked for small family organisations because I like seeing processes from the start to the finish and enjoy floating from menial tasks to important pitches and although my jobs have all been quite varied, one fact remains absolutely constant – there are always visible people in an organisation and a whole team of ‘hidden people’ supporting them. They often go unnoticed to the end user but they are an integral part of every company.

I work for myself now and that constant layer of hidden people are more important than ever. You may look at my products all finished and ready to buy but other people have helped me reach that finishing line. I always create all of the design work and decide what I want to make but there is of course a process. Take the mugs for instance. I don’t have a kiln to fire the design onto the china, or the skills to do so. That is done by a skilled craftsman, Graham, in the very heart of Britain’s potteries, Stoke- on -Trent. My textile designs are printed here in Edinburgh by the immensely helpful sisters Solii and Zöe from the print bureau BeFabBeCreative. I have had a beautiful tailored blouse made from my ‘Fennel Tangle’ print by seamstress and poet, Claire from Make Me a Frock and no, I don’t have the skills to make bespoke ties – I can design fabric that I want to see as a tie but without Nina and Adam from Kalopsia Collective who constantly encourage and mentor me as well as sew my ties beautifully, I would not have ties in the shops. And in case you wondered, no, I don’t have a Letterpress machine in my studio, but Euginia a superbly helpful and talented Siberian living in Edinburgh does and she presses my cards for me. I’ve talked about Hosanna Yau before, my friend from Hong Kong who is most certainly the best logo designer I have ever come across and she gifted me the ‘niki’ logo. Her mantra is ‘using the least to represent the most’ – perfect.

Linen ties, Made in Edinburgh.

Linen ties, Made in Edinburgh.

 

Letterpress Card Made in Edinburgh.

Letterpress Card Made in Edinburgh.

 

'Tjornin' Mug named after the lake in Reykjavik.

‘Tjornin’ Mug named after the lake in Reykjavik.

 

 

 

Twigs Linen Union Tea towel - fresh new shoots

Twigs Linen Union Tea towel – fresh new shoots

'Toffee Apples' ' printed onto Fife Linen in Edinburgh

‘Toffee Apples’ printed onto Fife Linen in Edinburgh

So, I now have a range of products that are stocked by very supportive independent shops, The Turpentine in London, Persora in Worcester, Concrete Wardrobe and Red Door Gallery in Edinburgh, Kerachers in St.Andrews, Wooly Blue in Newcastle and Teasel and Tweed in Aberdeen and several more which I will tell you about early in 2015.

But back to my title and the Huldufólk. I find my home country of Scotland massively inspiring from the busy colourful urban ports to the utter wilderness of the Western Isles but I have to mention the huge influence Iceland has had on me over the years. I have been several times at varying times of the year and the land, its people and its culture touches me every time and so I hope a little part of Iceland somehow appears in my designs. As this post is about all the people who help me and allow me to work in an area that I very definitely want to stay in, (Surface Design), I think I can borrow the word ‘huldufólk’ from Icelandic folklore – the word for the elves that stay hidden but have such enormous powers and should always be respected.

Thank you Huldufólk, you know who you are.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Thank you!

 

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

 

 

 

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? 

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…

Colour at the Edge

It gives me great pleasure to be asked by Wendy Murray to be a guest blogger for The Velvet & Silk Cafe.  For my own readers, I hope you will find a little about my background and work of interest.

Although officially, a geographer (obviously attracted by the heavy use of coloured pencils) I have been working in the design industry for the last twenty years specifying contemporary brands of European furniture, lighting and modern art works for domestic and commercial spaces. I then began to specialise in restaurant interiors where I became increasingly interested in the use of colour as a design tool. This passion for colour led me to consult for Valtti paints where I designed colour palettes including ‘Fauvism 55’ which was awarded a Living etc Loves Award. I am currently working on a range of home wares and consulting on colour choice and placement in public spaces.

My work in colour simply relies upon the 10,000 hour rule, I do not have a colour qualification but I have probably read most books ever written on  colour theory (!) and I am in frequent discussions with members of the IACC (International Association of Colour Consultants) and Colour Group GB.

The place where two colours meet is my real passion. The perfect fusion of art and science exists at this point. Being able to alter a perceived colour by placing another colour next to it gives designers a very powerful and dynamic tool. I’m sure you know that placing two complimentary colours side by side strengthens their respective hues and allows them to be more luminous. In their fight for leadership the two colours ‘tout’ or strengthen their parent colours and retract any common hues resulting in a greater contrast.

The greatest energy or dynamism is found along the boundary where the colours touch – further away from this point the effect diminishes. However, if you wish the entire block of colour to have equal strength a simple ‘fence’ or boundary can be added around the colour block which prevents the colours sparring along the ‘front line’ and the heightened contrast will be spread evenly across the block.

red & green showing different strengths

Look at the energy where the colours touch compared to the outer edges. See how the 'fence' allows the energy to be equally spread.

There are far too many examples of colour physics to discuss in one post and there are plenty of examples on previous posts (including one on the effect of colour perception on ageing eyes which is relevant to Part M building regulations – although brand new research now questions this theory but its still too early in the research to change building regs).

In January this year I spent some time in Reykjavik and was astonished by the use of colour in the Harpa Concert Hall.

Harpa Concert Hall

As many members of The Silk and Velvet Cafe are architects I won’t begin to describe the building on its architectural merits although I do think Rowan Moore’s review of the building for the Guardian gives an excellent overview.

In a country full of colour contrasts, fire and ice, darkness followed by eternal day light and torn in half by the North American and Eurasian plates, I guess it is no surprise that Henning Larsen Architects and artist, Olafur Eliasson who designed Harpa have used dramatic colour combinations to full use.

I was stunned by the scale of the building and even more surprised to see the solid walls inside the building were black concrete. Considering the the lack of winter light, I did not expect the architects to choose black walls. Another surprise, is the white floor. Generally we humans feel more comfortable with ‘heavy’ colours below our feet, and ‘lighter’ colours above, (probably because that replicates nature). Entering this interior instantly made me feel very small and extremely aware of the building itself.

The insertion of bright yellow upholstery is a brilliant addition. Black which has a very low LRV (light reflective value) is the perfect back drop to clean bright yellow which has one of the highest LRV’s – the contrast allows the colours the greatest impact.

Image on left is untouched, image on right is inverted. The interior uses unorthodox colour placement to great effect.

The main concert hall, Eldborg or ‘Fire Castle’ takes inspiration from a volcanic crater in the East of Iceland. Red, well known to heighten ones emotions has affected some recent performers who claim their senses have been so sharpened they have been reduced to tears while on stage.

Photo by Ari Magg

The recital hall, Norourljos or ‘Northern Lights’ is shrouded in a vivid blue light to signify endless horizons and also to create a peaceful ambiance for smaller groups of performers.

Photo by Eypor Arnason

The Kaldalon or ‘Cold Lagoon’ has the ability to change colour depending on what event is being hosted. Inspired.

It is exciting to see bold colour choices and unusual colour placement  being used in such an important cultural building and a building which has become a symbol of Iceland’s new energy and optimism.

For me, it is the colour choice and placement that saved this over sized building from becoming an impersonal space. The building provokes powerful emotional and at times unexpected reactions which makes it an exciting and dynamic place to enter and a place that has firmly stuck in my mind.

Short of Inspiration? Visit Reykjavik, That Will Fix You

Having spent the last few nights standing on a remote snow covered lava field in Pingvellir National Park Iceland, I had hoped to be posting magnificent images of the aurora borealis but I’m afraid the famous Northern Lights did not play ball despite the near perfect conditions.

There are however, enough colours in Reykjavik city centre to melt the head of any colour lover.

Coloured facades, Reykjavik.

Iceland is well known for it’s contrasts – fire and ice, dark winters light summers but I hadn’t expected to find so many contrasts in the world of design. I didn’t spot a single international chain shop or restaurant, instead I found row upon row of individual shops/work spaces with the makers living above or behind their showrooms. The designers are using a huge range of ancient craft techniques and creating cutting edge designs to satisfy the hunger of the design conscious locals but also to ship to the best galleries and design stores in New York. In short, very traditional techniques are being used to make ultra contemporary styles.

design spaces Reykjavik

The Icelandics don’t appear to be influenced by design trends abroad, they have their own unique and extremely strong sense of design and as a result are producing some of the most exciting pieces I have seen in years. One of the most impressive workshops I visited was one which was attached to restaurant Forrettabarinn. There, four designers make and display their furniture, jewellery and textiles. It felt a little like some of the venues at London Design Festival, a smaller version of Tent London perhaps but with designers I had never come across making very powerful pieces that I would loved to have taken home with me.

Another striking contrast were the deeply minimal, squeaky clean public buildings (lots of black concrete and stainless steel) which were peppered with tiny elements of highly decorative antiques especially crockery. Oddly enough this gave the sometimes fairly austere and rather serious spaces a fantastic sense of quirky humour.

Minimal working with decorative

I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning the ridiculously cool Kex Hostel in downtown Reykjavik. It’s housed in a converted biscuit factory and is stuffed full of twentieth century design classics. It has one of Reykjavik’s best bars where jazz bands play and many a celebration takes place. It summed up Reykjavik to me – work hard, play hard and always, always creative.

Kex Hostel