Category Archives: Art

Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy


After our fantastic lunch at Rose Bakery, Mum and I went on to the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. I’d heard amazing things about the exhibition so was dying to see it, and happily it did not disappoint.

I was first introduced to Ai Weiwei’s work by his highly memorable sunflower seed installation at Tate Modern in 2010.  Weiwei is a fascinating artist and is considered one of the most significant cultural figures to have emerged from China in the past few decades. Known for his use of recycling, the first installation that greets your eye in the Royal Academy courtyard is an impressive avenue of trees painstakingly pieced together from parts of dead trees collected on the mountains of Southern China. Inside the exhibition, a gorgeous chandelier made with old bicycle wheels is equally dramatic.

Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy

Many of the installations speak of Weiwei’s personal struggles as a radical artist in China: in the entrance way of one room stands a lone wall, cobbled together from the detritus of the artist’s former Shanghai studio, which was bulldozed by the authorities. Ai Weiwei threw a lunch party of river crabs to commemorate both the completion and immediate demolition of the building. Apparently, the Chinese word for river crabs, He Xie, can also mean ‘harmonious,’ a word used widely within government propaganda, but which has started to be used as internet slang for censorship. Although Ai Weiwei was placed under house arrest and unable to attend the lunch, around 800 guests did go, and this event is remembered in another of the installations: hundreds of porcelain crabs tumbled in a heap, with one lone crab breaking free.

One of the most touching pieces is a room filled with the names of school children who were victims of a huge earthquake in south-western China, which caused twenty schools to collapse, killing more than 5,000 students. In China, government buildings are known for being badly and often cheaply built, and a wave of steel reinforcing bars Ai Weiwei collected from the aftermath of the earthquake and painstakingly straightened lies in silent but striking rebuke.

Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy

I was absolutely mesmerised by this exhibition and can’t wait to go back again soon. I’ve repurchased my ‘friend’ membership at the RA just so I can go back as many times as I like without feeling guilty, and also because the Jean-Etienne Liotard exhibition that is also currently showing is fabulous too (although very different!) and well worth seeing more than once as well. By the way, if you haven’t yet tried the Shenkman Bar in the Keeper’s House basement at the RA, then you definitely must! We went along for a cocktail after our tour around the exhibitions, and I loved the bar and the brilliant cocktail list. The La Dolce Vita cocktail is amazing if you’re looking for a recommendation, and I have to say the cheese straws were decidedly more-ish too!

Have you been to the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy? What did you think of it?

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Miranda Loves: Luke Martineau Prints

Luke Martineau

When I was at Skittle Alley Coffee and Pantry over the weekend, I admired the collection of beautiful prints by Luke Martineau that are displayed on the cafe’s walls. Martineau is a London artist, and I adore his alphabet series that somehow remind me of the Ladybird books I read as a child. The prints are described as celebrating ‘the simple pleasures and enduring themes of childhood,’ and they really are utterly charming.

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Miranda Loves: Secret Paris

Secret Paris Colouring Book for Mindfulness

I know colouring books for adults are all the rage right now, but I think this one really is particularly special. Secret Paris: Colouring for Mindfulness depicts scenes from one of the world’s most beautiful cities, as well as drawings of all things fabulously French. I particularly like the pages devoted to perfume bottles (you can get a lot of joy from colouring in a Chanel No 5 bottle), and of course I’m charmed by the sketches of dainty patisserie too!

Honestly, if you love Paris and colouring in, then you’ll adore this book!

Do you have any favourite colouring books you’d recommend? I’m also a fan of this one.

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A Chat With: Alice Stevenson

Alice Stevenson Interview | Miranda's Notebook{Alice Stevenson, writer and illustrator of Ways to Walk in London}

Last week, I met up with the charming author and illustrator, Alice Stevenson, at Tate Britain. I’d recently read and greatly enjoyed Alice’s latest project, Ways to Walk in London, an illustrated personal guide to unusual and beautiful London walks, and I was delighted when Alice agreed to meet me for an informal interview. We strolled through the Barbara Hepworth exhibition together before having a drink in the Members Room, where Alice very kindly answered some questions I had for her on her work and inspiration.

Alice Stevenson Interview | Miranda's Notebook

It was such a treat to go to an art gallery exhibition with someone as knowledgable as Alice, who told me she had formerly studied Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture in school and clearly has a spectacular knowledge of and interest in this era of art (as do I  – interest, not knowledge though!). We recalled that we’d first connected via instagram over a hashtag related to the marvellous book Romantic Moderns, which we were both greatly enjoying reading. I know, like with anything, there are pros and cons to the world of social media, but the possibility it allows for connecting with like-minded individuals is most certainly a pro!

Alice Stevenson Interview | Miranda's Notebook

If you haven’t been to the Hepworth exhibition yet, then I do encourage you to go – I loved it! The mesmerisingly beautiful sculptures were perfectly set against backdrops of pale blue and grey toned walls, which made the experience of walking through the exhibition rooms wonderfully soothing to the soul. After admiring the graceful sculptures (the wooden ones were a particular favourite), we picked up some postcards in the gift shop and had the excitement of seeing a pile of Alice’s book, Ways to Walk in London, for sale!

But on to the interview. Alice shared some fascinating insights into her writing and drawing processes, as well as book recommendations that had me scrolling through Amazon later that evening and a touching account of the women who have inspired her the most. I’m sure you’ll enjoy her words (which I’ve paraphrased slightly below) as much as I did!


MN: When did you first realise you wanted to be an illustrator?

AS: I wanted to be an artist from when I was a child, because I enjoyed drawing more than I did anything else. I won an art competition when I was 3, and it was something I always loved to do. My best friend and I used to write and direct plays. We would draw and create characters together and make up stories for them. What’s amazing is she’s now a playwright, and I’m an illustrator, and we’re still best friends!  I went into illustration at art college as I decided I wanted to do something where I could do the most drawing and image-making.

MN: What in particular feeds your inspiration for your art?

AS: I’m really interested in pattern, detail, form and composition. An emotion or atmosphere or sense of place really inspires me too, particularly in the form of colour. I find nature and architecture inspiring: anything that you can find a pattern in.

Alice Stevenson Interview | Miranda's Notebook

MN: Which artists do you admire the most?

AS: That’s really hard! There are so many I admire for different reasons. Having just been to the Barbara Hepworth exhibition too; of course I love her. She captured something in her sculptures that is just so perfect. I love Eric Ravilious, particularly his watercolours and the limited colour palette he used. My favourite artist of all time is probably Paul Klee.

MN: Have you always loved writing as well as drawing?

AS: I’ve always made up stories in my head, and I’ve always had a book on the go in my mind, but I never thought I would be a writer until I started this book [Ways to Walk in London]. I read constantly – reading is the art form I love the most – but I never thought I could be a writer. Then I was approached to write Ways to Walk in London, and I had a go, and it turned out that creative writing was something I could do.

MN: Was it difficult to jump into the process of writing more creatively?

AS: It was really hard, and I still find it incredibly difficult. Writing has made me appreciate drawing so much more. For me, the process of writing is quite painful, but then it feels amazing when it’s done. With drawing and making art work, I love the process, but I rarely think about what I’ve produced when it’s finished. When I’m drawing and making pictures, I just love it. I feel like I’m in the perfect state of calm, where creativity can flow and it feels really nice. Writing, though, reminds me of the few times I’ve tried to take up running – it’s the mental equivalent! At the same time, I do still love it and have realised that I do want to write more, and I’m potentially interested in writing fiction too.

Alice Stevenson Interview | Miranda's Notebook

MN: Your illustrations are a huge part of what makes Ways to Walk in London so special. I love the added layer of detail and emotion the accompanying pictures give to your words in the book. Do you find that you often get images in your head that go along with your words when you’re writing?

AS: It’s lovely that you say that! I’ve always enjoyed making abstract or semi-abstract artwork, but in the past it has sometimes felt purposeless to me. Finding a way to write that incorporates art gives that sense of purpose. I love to explore the relationship between text and image. When I’m making the artwork for my book, I’m drawing from memories and my interpretation of an experience, and I use the incidental patterns and small things I noticed on my walks in the illustrations. I’ve always loved walking and travelling and having a sense of place, and I’ve always loved patterns and the decorative arts, and I try to find a way to combine them through my own work. I find walking in particular makes very good memories. When I look back on my walk, all the varied things I saw during it become one image or a series of images in my head.

Also, I have a very visual mind. When I read – I think it’s why I love reading so much – I often see in colour. I have synesthesia so I’ve always seen letters of the alphabet and numbers as colours, and I visualise every word. I think this is quite common to a lot of artists though.

MN: Have you always loved walking? What first inspired you to start?

AS: It’s something I’ve always done, though initially not so consciously. As a teenager, I grew up in London and lived a 1/2 hour walk from the nearest tube station. I was really annoyed about it at the time, but actually I think it was a blessing in disguise. London lends itself to walking – it’s easier to walk from place to place than deal with the stress of public transport. I don’t mind buses or overground trains, but I really hate the tube, so I always try to walk instead. So it was out of necessity to start, but then I realised how much I love walking and how inspiring I find it. It’s the best way to experience a place. I’ve always been really interested too in the atmospheres that different places have. London is so varied and different areas have such individual atmospheres – it’s like walking through different worlds. Walking is such a good speed for noticing things as well – you can notice so much more about the detail around you than you could driving in a car.

MN: Do you have a favourite walk or area in which to walk?

AS: Right now, because I’ve just moved to South East London, I’m loving walking around my area and having that feeling of exploration. Telegraph Hill is an amazing place to walk. You get incredible views. I love Nunhead, East Dulwich and Brockley too. I also have a soft spot for walking around Richmond and Teddington and along that part of the river. They’re real comfort walks for me.

Alice Stevenson Interview | Miranda's Notebook

MN: You said you love to read. What have you particularly enjoyed reading lately?

AS: I’ve just been rereading Moominvalley in November by Tove Jansson. She’s one of my favourite artists, and she’s such an accomplished writer too. Real comfort reads for me are the Cazalet Chronicles which are such favourites. They’re so well written, but at the same time are a wonderfully easy read [I think I’d love these!]. I also recently read Peerless Flats by Esther Freud. I love her books (she wrote Hideous Kinky), and this one was wonderful too. I also read H is for Hawk and I absolutely loved  it [this is one of the books I recently read and loved too!]. Helen MacDonald’s writing style is very distinctive, and it’s such a strange but extraordinary book.

MN: I love celebrating inspirational women through my blog. Who are the women who have been the most inspirational in your life?

My godmother was a wonderful inspiration to me. She was the most amazingly strong woman who lived her life exactly as she wanted to and didn’t care about what other people thought of her. She was really funny and was a good, loyal friend to people. She was passionate about what she loved – she was really in to sport and ballet – and that gave her so much pleasure. She showed me that it was ok to be a woman and to feel strongly and to live the life you want to live.

My Mum is also an inspiration to me. She’s very strong in a different way, and she’s such a good and kind person and has devoted her life to other people in a way I really admire. She too is so engaged and interested in the world, which has been a wonderful example to me.

MN: I also like to write about my philosophy behind living stylishly, meaning trying to be the best version of yourself. How do you strive to be the best artist you can be?

AS: I have incredibly high standards of the work I produce, and I don’t know if that’s always  a healthy way to be, but I refuse to put out work I don’t truly believe in or that doesn’t meet my standards.

MN: Finally, do you have any particular London recommendations?

AS: My very favourite pub is The Telegraph at the Earl of Derby in New Cross. It has the nicest atmosphere and does such good food – the Sunday roasts are the best! I also love Review Bookshop in Peckham – they have a really nice selection of books and it’s a great place. My favourite book shop to go to in London is Persephone Books [I worked at Persephone Books for a short time a few years ago, so it was lovely to hear Alice is a big fan!].


Thank you so much again to Alice for providing such a fascinating interview!

If you would like to hear more from Alice, then you can find her on: instagram, twitter and facebook, as well as her blog.

Have any of you read Ways to Walk in London, or are you tempted to pick it up now?

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Audrey Hepburn at The National Portrait Gallery

Audrey Hepburn Style Icon | Miranda's Notebook

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you’ll know how much I’ve been looking forward to the Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon exhibition, which opened on July 2nd at The National Portrait Gallery. I managed to make it to the exhibition yesterday afternoon, and as I walked through the entrance to the show, I fully anticipated staying for hours, revelling in the treat that is essentially a 3D Audrey-themed Pinterest board.

Audrey Hepburn Style Icon | Miranda's NotebookAudrey Hepburn Style Icon | Miranda's NotebookAudrey Hepburn Style Icon | Miranda's Notebook

I have to admit, though, that I had very mixed feelings about this exhibition, and unfortunately the reigning emotion was definitely disappointment. Perhaps because I was so looking forward to it, I’d built up too high an expectation. Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon takes up only 3 small rooms. I couldn’t believe it when I walked into the last room – was that really it? I doubled back and walked through the exhibition again, looking hopefully for another room I’d missed. But no: I’d seen it all. Trying not to feel too disappointed, I decided to give the exhibition another chance: I walked through it again, carefully studying all the photographs, admiring many I’d missed in my first quick and excited walk around.

The photographs were, of course, lovely. I had, however, already seen the majority of them several times over. Now, I know I’m a bit of an Audrey fanatic (she is my number one style icon, after all, and I myself have a whole Pinterest board devoted to her gamine grace), so I’ve probably seen more photographs of her than the average person, but I’d been hoping that the exhibition would have a much larger range of less well known, more personal photographs. I did enjoy seeing some of the very young Audrey that aren’t widely known, and it was fascinating to observe the development of her iconic image (the rooms are arranged chronologically).

Audrey Hepburn Style Icon | Miranda's Notebook Audrey Hepburn Style Icon | Miranda's Notebook Audrey Hepburn Style Icon | Miranda's Notebook

In general, though, I was thankful that I had purchased membership of the National Portrait Gallery in time to see the John Singer Sargent exhibition (which was brilliant) as well, as I think I would have felt rather ripped off if I’d bought it only as a means to see the Audrey exhibition several times. If you’re planning to see the exhibition, I recommend buying advance tickets, as when I went they had completely sold out of tickets for the day, and people were signing up for membership just for the chance to get in (and, in my opinion, this exhibition alone isn’t really worth the cost of full membership!).

I would also issue a warning that, if you haven’t seen the exhibition yet, then do try your best to go at a time that is likely to be less crowded (e.g. in the week if possible, or first thing in the morning on the weekend). As the exhibition rooms are small, and for the most part the photographs aren’t large either, I think it would become exceedingly difficult to see them properly if the rooms were any more crowded than when I went.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the exhibition – have any of you been yet? What did you think of it?

Images via: National Portrait Gallery postcards and website.

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Tate Modern Sonia Delaunay Exhibition

Tate Modern Sonia Delaunay Exhibition

I absolutely adored the Tate Modern Sonia Delaunay exhibition, which I saw last Friday night. If you haven’t been yet, then do consider making the effort – it’s an absolute must visit! The sheer scale of the exhibition is admirable: room upon room is filled with Delaunay’s art, textiles, clothes, furniture, embroidery and theatre costumes, all evoking her signature bold colours and geometric shapes.

I hadn’t known much about Sonia Delaunay before viewing the exhibition, so I was fascinated to learn more of her extraordinary life. Born in Russia in 1885, but living for most of her life in Paris, Delaunay was extraordinarily ahead of her time, not only in her use of colour and abstract art, but also in her role as a skilled business woman. Her entrepreneurial spirit saw her able to make a living through her art, and she is a fascinating example of an artist who successfully combined her talent with a sense of commerciality to sell and create a wide range of products, from theatre costumes and sets, to clothes, textiles and furniture.


Tate Modern Sonia Delaunay Exhibition Tate Modern Sonia Delaunay Exhibition Tate Modern Sonia Delaunay Exhibition Tate Modern Sonia Delaunay Exhibition Tate Modern Sonia Delaunay Exhibition Tate Modern Sonia Delaunay Exhibition Tate Modern Sonia Delaunay Exhibition I’d walked through Borough Market and along the river to get to Tate Modern, and my stroll was the perfect precursor for viewing Delaunay’s work. The vibrant colours of the covered market’s stalls and goods, the round, fat fruits for sale and the swirling circles in the details of Borough Market’s architecture, contrasting with the sharp jagged lines of the Shard glinting in the sun overhead: all these colours and shapes were brilliantly represented again in Delaunay’s art, making Tate Modern’s southbank setting the perfect place for an exhibition celebrating the artist’s incredible legacy. If you do go to the exhibition, I definitely encourage you to go for a walk around Borough Market yourself, either before or after: Delaunay’s perspective will certainly make you view your world slightly differently, heightening your sense of colour and shape around you.

Have you been to the Sonia Delaunay exhibition yet? What did you think of it?

Images via: here, here and here.

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Miranda Loves: Amanda White’s Literary Houses

1859008{After the Waves, Amanda White, £45. ‘Virginia Woolf’s ‘writing lodge’ at her Sussex home, Monk’s House. July 1931. After reading the manuscript, Leonard comes out to tell his wife that ‘The Waves’ is a masterpiece.’}

On my visit to Charleston and Monk’s House over the weekend, I rediscovered the beautiful artwork of Amanda White, whose prints of Monk’s House are available in their shop. I couldn’t resist snapping her latest one up! On researching more about Amanda, I was thrilled to discover her series on literary houses, which I find utterly delightful. In her signature naive style, Amanda has created prints of the beautiful houses lived in by many of Britain’s most notable authors and poets. Here are some of my favourites:

1859006{Vita and Harold in their Sissinghurst Garden, £45}

1847267{Night and Day, Monk’s House, Rodmell, £45.}

1847270{Hampstead Landscape, Letter From Naples (Keats House), £45}

1847265{Jane and Cassandra Austen Tending their Steventon Garden, £45}

1859016{Plein Air in Charleston Farmhouse Garden, £45}

 In July, Amanda is realising The Writers’ House Series calendar, which looks fabulous and would be the perfect present for many of my literary friends (I may just have to get myself one too!).

Have you been to many of the houses Amanda illustrates? Which is your favourite of her prints?

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Inventing Impressionism Exhibition

Inventing Impressionism | Miranda's Notebook

I had expected to love Inventing Impressionism at The National Gallery, but it still managed to surpass all my expectations. The exhibition’s focus is the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who had the vision to see what eluded many art critics of the time: the greatness of the group of artists known as the ‘Impressionists,’ including Renoir, Degas, Monet, Manet, Sisley and Pissarro. Durand-Ruel devoted his life to gaining recognition for these artists, and all but one of the 85 masterpieces in the exhibition originally passed through his hands.

Inventing Impressionism | Miranda's NotebookInventing Impressionism | Miranda's NotebookInventing Impressionism | Miranda's Notebook

I hadn’t expected that Inventing Impressionism would not only provide me with an incredible visual feast, but would also take me on a wonderful trip down memory lane. The paintings have been gathered together from art galleries all over the world, many of which I visited throughout my childhood in the USA and France.

Inventing Impressionism | Miranda's NotebookInventing Impressionism | Miranda's NotebookInventing Impressionism | Miranda's Notebook

I remember a journey to Williamstown Massachusetts, when I must have been 10 years old, especially. Our family had just moved from California to New York, but that wasn’t going to stop my parents from going on another road trip! Whilst in Williamstown, we went to the fabulous art gallery, The Clark Art Institute, which houses an impressive collection of Impressionist paintings. I completely fell in love with the paintings of Monet, Renoir and Degas especially, and spent a great deal of that summer trying to copy the postcards I’d bought of the original paintings into a little sketchbook.

Inventing Impressionism | Miranda's Notebook Inventing Impressionism | Miranda's Notebook Inventing Impressionism | Miranda's Notebook

That summer is embedded in my mind so vividly: I was thrilled to have made the exciting journey across the United States, and although we were having to live onsite at Brookhaven National Laboratory (where my Dad worked) in a tiny house for the first few months, I didn’t mind as there were lots of other families in a similar situation. I got on especially well with two girls who lived next door and spent almost all summer playing with them out doors in the park and sitting, sketching together at a table outside. The paintings I so carefully tried to replicate are forever interwoven in my memories of that happy time and seeing some in person again at The National Gallery was like being reunited with old friends.

Inventing Impressionism | Miranda's Notebook Inventing Impressionism | Miranda's Notebook Inventing Impressionism | Miranda's Notebook

I have already been to this exhibition three times, taking different friends with my membership, and I want to go back again before it closes (which is very soon – May 31st – so you have to hurry if you haven’t seen it already!). Have any of you seen the exhibition too? What did you think of it? Do you have any happy childhood memories of visiting art galleries?

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Miranda Loves: Liz Mosley

Liz Mosley | Miranda's Notebook{Dream Big and Make Plans print.}

Yesterday, my lovely friend Siobhan (of Bless the Weather) opened her brand new online shop, Calder & Byrne. The shop is full of beautiful accessories, stationery, jewellery, beauty products and ceramics that are all handmade in the UK by independent designers (do pop on over to take a look – you may recognise the model for some of the pieces too, ahem :D). I love absolutely everything in it, but I was especially delighted to discover the work of Liz Mosley, a graphic designer based in London. Liz’s prints and cards are so delightfully quirky and fun, it’s hard not to fall in love with them instantly! I bought the above Dream Big and Make Plans print, and I’m very tempted to get some more for friends and family! Here, I’ve picked out some of my favourite Liz Mosley products, both from her Etsy shop and Calder & Byrne:

Liz Mosley | Miranda's Notebook{You Are My Fave card}Liz Mosley | Miranda's Notebook{Created to Create print}Liz Mosley | Miranda's Notebook{Adventure print}
Liz Mosley | Miranda's Notebook{Hello card}
Liz Mosley | Miranda's Notebook{Keep it Simple print}

Discover more about Liz Mosley on her website | twitter | instagram | Etsy shop. Which of her prints do you especially like?

Images via Calder & Byrne and  Liz Mosley.

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Miranda Loves: Kiran Ravilious


In a wonderful moment of serendipity, I stumbled by chance on Kiran Ravilious‘ work soon after seeing the fabulous Eric Ravilious exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Kiran Ravilious is a designer and printmaker who married Eric Ravilious’ grandson, Ben Ravilious. The beautiful, muted palettes of her designs remind me of Eric Ravilious’ artworks, and I love the hint of the tropics that is incorporated into her work in celebration of her own heritage. I was fascinated by Kiran’s account of meeting her husband and her connection to such an artistic family that is given on her website:

Soon after arriving in Leicester, on a very cold summer’s day, I met Ben. On one of our first dates, I showed Ben these little paintings that I had been doing and he asked me if I’d heard of his grandfather Eric Ravilious. I had not! We hit it off anyway and and were soon inseparable!

I am definitely influenced by my love of nature and the colours of the tropics. I also love visiting and spending time with Ben’s aunt, Anne whose house is filled with hand printed loveliness and who has inspired me by telling me stories about Peggy Angus and her mum Tirzah Garwood and by showing me their beautiful handmade works. My illustrator mother-in-law Robin Ravilious who has a great eye for colour and detail is my biggest fan and is always encouraging me and giving me her honest opinion on my work.

I’m completely smitten by Kiran Ravilious’ beautiful notebooks, cushions and homeware. I have some important birthdays coming up soon, and I have a feeling quite a few gifts will be bought on the Kiran Ravilious website!

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