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.


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?

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

Timberyard, a Stunning New Restaurant Slides Open its Big Red Door

There is little more uplifting than watching a derelict building being saved, clawed back from the brink and allowed to breath again and I’ve been lucky enough to witness the Radford Family do just that over the last year (you may remember the post What Colour For a Salvaged Interior  where ideas were discussed for this very project).

The building formerly, the old Lawson’s Timber Yard (many Edinburgh residents have visited at some point over the years to pick up a chunk of 3 x 2 timber for a DIY project) is on Lady Lawson Street in the heart of Edinburgh and the Radfords have transformed it into a stunning space which perfectly reflects their style of cooking – sustainable, artistic, local and often foraged.

Timberyard has notched up several great food reviews already but it’s the interior (and exterior) that interests me in this post.

What the Radfords have made is a restaurant packed with character, quirky details and peppered with design classics (great before, during and after photos here.)  It’s a space which has stories to tell and such a relaxing vibe it makes it hard to leave. They have created something which can be lacking in high end interiors. We all know the sort of characterless spaces I am thinking of – the kind where a high budget has done no favours to the interior because the perfectly executed design configured in a swanky design studio could in fact belong anywhere from Dubai to Barcelona. But Timberyard has been lovingly and very personally restored on a minimal budget which has dictated that virtually everything has been salvaged and it has given the restaurant a sense of place.

Take the clear suspension lights illuminating the entrance – formerly used to light up chicken runs. Or the beautifully pared down metal external cylindrical wall lights, salvaged from a post office building about to be demolished. And the bulkhead lights, robust and perfectly engineered in a factory in Glasgow decades before and rediscovered on ebay.

The furniture tells of a similar story – early Wimbledon Tennis Club chairs in the courtyard, tables constructed from old railway sleepers, Gubi chairs reused from their last project (Atrium & Blue restaurant) and radiators heading to extinction. Saved.

The history and conversations absorbed in the old walls gives instant integrity and warmth to this restaurant. It’s as if the walls can talk and sometimes old walls do…

The Lammermuir Festival currently taking place in East Lothian has a motto that great music shall be played in great venues. Last night in the pitch dark and near freezing conditions several hundred spectators sat under the clear starry sky at the relatively remote ruins of Tantallon Castle to witness a spectacular music and light display, Tantallon! These Lands, this Wall. The great stone curtain walls of Tantallon spoke of what they had witnessed, felt and absorbed over the centuries – a fourteenth century construction which has witnessed sieges, coastal storms and countless sagas.

I’ve started looking around me at the walls I see every day and I like to imagine what they have witnessed. It gets you thinking…

Borrowing Themes From The Catwalk

Just in case you thought I had abandoned ship, (I was just distracted by the Olympics and  The International Edinburgh Festival) I thought I would share my photographs from the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the de Young Museum, San Francisco taken in July.

As I am not a fashion writer, I will not attempt to elaborate on the various themes and ideas behind Jean Paul Gaultier’s designs over the decades apart from to say that he is highly influenced by his grandmother whom he idolised and her collection of cloths. His designs celebrate the female form, sometimes with humorous undertones but always in ways to project inherent powers and strengths he sees in women.

As we all know, interior trends are deeply entwined with fashion trends and while looking at Gaultier’s mannequins  (which incidentally and quite unnervingly start speaking when you approach them) I enjoyed visualising potential interior projects with the colours, forms and themes Gaultier uses in his spectacular designs.

I am thinking Nautical boathouse fused with the 2012 trend for lace detailing – something Scottish lace mill MYB Textiles has been at the forefront of.

And the opulent and dominant boudoir interior…

and the current paint trend for David Oliver’s metallic mix of gold and silver for which he coined the term ‘gilver’. Celebrating the ‘hedonistic exuberance of the 1920’s ….associated with drama, power and wealth…but equally it can be simple, understated and quietly bewitching’,  David Oliver from Paint & Paper, A Master Class in Colour and Light.

with a nod to the current native interior references,

and tribal chic a predominant interior trend in 2012 where skins have been used extensively over many forms of seating –  more frequently sheepskins and deer skins draped over classic mid twentieth century Scandinavian designs.

Okay, so my parallels are a little tenuous but nevertheless they are all themes which have played a part in recent interior projects including this next image fusing punk, biker -rock, street with tartan, probably more in bars than domestic interiors but a strong influence for sure.

Talking of trends and themes, the most talked about colour for Winter 2012/13 appears to be Ox Blood, not a description I hugely cherish, perhaps an earthy beetroot cordial sounds more appealing but as it’s colour combinations that interest me I am paring the Ox blood with some squid ink (!) and I can suddenly see how this rich palette could make a big impact this Autumn.

Las Vegas to San Francisco – a Colourful Journey

It’s been a while since I last posted and that’s because I  escaped the floods of the UK and have been on a very colourful road trip from Las Vegas to San Francisco. I better point out though that jet lag is a new experience for me and my brain and my body seem to be strangely detached from each other so please bear with me…

We started in Las Vegas, now please picture the scene – Scotland to Vegas in one long leap. It’s midnight and we are slap bang in the middle of Las Vegas. We tentatively drive down The Strip in our new, rather huge, hire car (in clothes that felt quite normal when we left Scotland but suddenly feel like something from a previous century) on the eve of Independence Day. Our luggage is lost. Need I say more.

Before going to Las Vegas, a good friend who knows me all too well gave me some advice. She said, “go with it, don’t fight it”. I suddenly knew exactly what she meant. It’s not a city for me, it’s way too frantic and unnatural and it’s the only place I have ever been where I couldn’t find a single thing to point my beloved camera at. Call me a kill joy but I am just being honest. So, my photos are a bit odd and the one in the middle was an image my teenage son, who’s eyes were on permanent stalks, pointed out (!?!) – it’s apparently how you dress to check in at Sin City…

and my Las Vegas colours are red, black and shiny gold.

Next stop Grand Canyon. What can I say, it’s massive, it’s beautiful and the colours change every time you look at it. Stunning.

Burnt earths, violet shadows and dusty pinks.

The next section involved driving through Death Valley and the white hot salt pans of Bad Water Basin (125 F the day we were there).

Spectacular colours are smeared across this strange landscape. Iron oxide pigments are smudged over the alluvial fans. Hematite, limonite, volcanic ash and cinder all pop out across this chaotic geology. We could have been on Mars.

Head North and the Sierra Nevada protrude from the earth like a great wall. A wall we would have to cross to reach Yosemite. The high meadows were the first signs of greenery we had seen for hundred of miles. It was strange and very comforting seeing green again.

The first thing that hits you when you reach Yosemite National Park is the smell of fresh pine trees and the sound of the water rushing from the granite outcrops. All your senses are stimulated by this beautiful place. Pictures don’t do it justice (well unless you are Ansel Adams). It is exactly like walking around inside a beautiful fairy tale.

I could continue and tell you about the farmlands growing walnuts, cherries and peaches in amongst the wild wheat we crossed to reach the old Victorian Gold Rush town of Nevada City, a historical gem of a place. And the lush vineyards dripping with fruit in Napa Valley but I fear I may lose your patience plus, my brain is screaming for some shut eye.

So on to San Francisco, the final destination of our tour. It would seem obvious to pick  international orange, the paint colour of the Golden Gate Bridge, for my final colour palette but San Francisco is just too colourful to select a small palette. It is well and truly multi-coloured in every respect. For us, it was the colourful people we met who made San Francisco a special place. The taxi driver who knew more about the contemporary art scene and costume design than many curators. The heavily tattooed man who took time out to tell us what to do and see in Haight. The lady from the Commonwealth Society we met on the bus who invited us as guests to the Jean Paul Gautier exhibition at the De Young Museum .The people we shared a sushi table with at the Ferry Building who told us about Beach Blanket Babylon who have now become friends. San Francisco is about people, great people, and what a place to end a fantastic holiday.

Thank you USA!

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.

There Are Some Things You Just Can’t Improve

I always look forward to reading the What’s Going On at Conran blog and a recent post made me think about design very carefully. They quoted Sir Terence Conran’s affection for ‘plain, simple and useful’ designs.

Being able to really look at something in its stripped down form is one of the most useful things to do before embarking on any kind of project and you will probably find that there are some things which cannot be improved upon. No embellishment, no tweaks required, full stop. This post is a bit different from my usual ramblings as its about some of my favourite things – perfect exactly the way they are.

Perhaps its the colour, perhaps its their simplistic form but stumbling across a rambling mass of forget-me-nots never fails to stop me in my tracks.

Despite living in a city like Edinburgh crammed full of art galleries, museumssculpture parks and stunning architecture , I still need to get into ‘the wilds’ now and again. Last weekend I was in Perthshire and amazingly you can reach the foot of Ben Vracky by car from Edinburgh in 90 minutes.

This is the start of the walk – complete with gurgling burn running next to the path. Can this be improved? I don’t think so.

Half way up the mountain you look down and see the extraordinary colours of the landscape. I’m not quite sure why the vegetation changes so abruptly here, perhaps its the change in altitude, perhaps its the edge of controlled burning, but for a colour boffin, its pure joy.

Higher again and you can see see the weather moving in – in this case snow is coming.

Reaching the summit of any mountain metaphorical or physical is a feeling that is impossible to better, but standing on the summit of Ben Vracky surrounded by swirling snow (in May) has to be one of life’s greatest feelings (provided you are properly kitted out of course).

From mountain top to river bed and the pass of Killiecrankie. Standing on the steep rocks at Soldiers Leap you can watch the river Garry crash through the pass and fracture into a million droplets.

and a packed lunch sitting on the river bed surrounded by rocks that would not look out of place in the most fashionable city art gallery.

Beautiful, simple things which are out there, to look at, for free. You can’t beat that.

Now, on a different note, some very kind fellow bloggers have awarded me some lovely blog awards. I’m afraid, I didn’t really know what to do with them at first so its taken me a while to even acknowledge them for which I must apologise. I am only mentioning this in order to thank the people who have given me them – I’m not wanting to show-off about them!

The first one ‘Hope Unites Globally HUG Award’ came from the very kind This Mans Journey blog. Then the amazingly talented food writer, Kellie from Food to Glow has awarded me the ‘Versatile Blogger Award’ . You must try some of Kellie’s recipes, apart from all being super healthy, they are all bursting with flavours and are absolutely mouth watering (as is her photography). Patricia from deCamville Design has awarded me a ‘Beautiful Blogger Award’ so a big thank you fellow bloggers for your generous awards.

Finding Focus in the Botanic Gardens

You know the feeling when you sit down to work  with task list in front of you and for some reason or other you just can’t find your groove? It happens to us all once in a while, doesn’t it?

I have to admit when it happens to me, there is little point in even trying. I firmly believe it’s our bodies craving fresh air, natural foliage (looking at green definitely works), basically anything other than looking at a computer screen. Luckily I am self employed and can take action when that stale feeling creeps in.

You only need to look at a pristine, vibrant green leaf to feel energised and engaged with the world. And for that reason, one of the first places I seek out whether at home or while travelling, is the local botanical garden.

We are exceptionally lucky here in Edinburgh as I’ve mentioned before in Strength and Form to have The Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh. But there are others for you to seek out and visit, hundreds of them in fact, sometimes in the most obscure places. But beware, many of our fabulous gardens are struggling for funding which is terrifying considering they offer so much to such a broad range of recreational and educational purposes.
I was in St.Andrews last week (an easy one hours drive or train journey from Edinburgh), and was fortunate to be taken to St.Andrews Botanic Gardens – an absolute haven of native and exotic plants. I wasn’t really looking at the plants from a botanical angle but simply looking at their colour and form. Endless fun and a focused mind. Result.
Do you have a local botanic garden that you can tell us about?

How do you find your focus on fuzzy days?

What Colour for a Salvaged Interior?

Today, I find myself completely immersed in NCS colours as I am at the final stages of colour selection for a restaurant opening later this year. Key to the project is salvaging the fascinating semi- industrial building which is full of beautiful hinges, old bricks, timbers and worn and faded graphics. To keep the spirit of the building intact, the furniture and lighting has been sourced from redundant premises and recycled, stamping a clear message of sustainability and authenticity.

It is therefore crucial not to overpower the project with paint that looks in anyway synthetic. It must be strong and edgy but in no way contrived. As the building is such a large shell which will shortly harbour and protect it’s diners, I decided to look at containers, both man made and in nature to give me a steer.

I will be reporting back on this project as it progresses but please read on for some very good news.

It appears that there are some very exciting developments in the world of vision. As I’ve written about before our ageing eyes changes the way we perceive colour. Building regulations Part M, dictates what colours can be specified for buildings for the elderly as it is assumed that the yellowing of our eye’s lens alters the way we see colour and our ability to differentiate colour contrasts weakens. Particular colour combinations must be specified for door frames and walls to increase the visibility of doorways for elderly residents.

However, I have just received an e mail from  Professor Stanton Newman,
Dean of School of Health Sciences, City University London forwarded by Colour Group GB announcing a lecture tomorrow in London by the distinguished Professor John S Werner from the Department of Ophthalmology & Vision Science at the University of California, Davis.

His lecture, “What the aging eye can teach us about how we see”, will explore the misconception that with ageing colour perception is altered due to filtering by the ageing lens.

Using the one of the most celebrated case studies, the cataract and
paintings of the French Impressionist Claude Monet, Professor Werner
will demonstrate how the visual system continuously renormalises
itself to maintain stabile perception throughout the life span.
Monet’s paintings alongside recent laboratory results (including
high-resolution retinal imaging with adaptive optics).

I very much hope this is the case as working in colour myself, the thought of changing colour perception with age really concerns me. So, possibly some very good news to come out of this lecture. For those living in London, the event is free and is open to the public, details are as follows:

Title: “What the aging eye can teach us about how we see”
Time and Date: 1:15 – 2:15pm, 10th January 2012
Location: Room AG07 College Building, St John Street