Category Archives: Art

Monet to Matisse Exhibition (aka Mother’s Day, Sorted)

Monet to Matisse exhibitionRhododendron in Tuxen’s Garden, Laurits Tuxen

With Mother’s Day exactly a week away, it’s definitely time to start planning a lovely day out with your Mum if you haven’t done so already. I happen to have the most perfect suggestion! A few weeks ago, I took my Mum along to the Royal Academy’s latest exhibition, Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse. It was absolutely glorious and felt just like walking through the most luscious of gardens, with bursts of pinks, purples, reds and yellows everywhere you looked. As lovers of flowers (although not exactly talented gardeners!!), my Mum and I were completely enthralled, and I had a deja vu feeling of being back in Paris, where I’d first seen and admired so many of Monet’s work, including his iconic water lilies.

Monet to Matisse exhibitionWater Lilies, Claude Monet

Monet to Matisse celebrates the important role gardens and flowers played in inspiring some of the world’s greatest Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Avant-Garde artists from the 1860s to the 1920s. The exhibition hosts an impressive 120+ paintings, featuring work by Sargent, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Kandinsky, Van Gough, Matisse, Klimt and many others.

Monet to Matisse exhibitionMurnau The Garden II, Wassily Kandinsky

It was truly special to see so many works from several of my favourite artists under one roof. I was thrilled to admire some glorious John Singer Sargent paintings I’d never seen before, and who could ever tire of Monet’s Japanese bridge?

Monet to Matisse exhibitionThe Pond with Water Lilies, Claude Monet

The exhibition was busy, but we took our time, patiently waiting our turn to stand in front of each painting and admire the finer details up close. There were few barriers in front of the paintings, so it was possible to move in very close – a real treat! I felt rather as if I’d walked through a wardrobe into another kind of Narnia: one in which it was always summer, with everlasting blooms. Glorious!

Monet to Matisse exhibitionChrysanthemums, Dennis Miller Bunker

Monet to Matisse exhibitionThe Artist’s Garden at Giverny, Claude Monet

Monet to Matisse exhibitionPoppies on the Isles of Shoals, Childe Hassam

There is a real treat at the end of the show: Monet’s Agapanthus Triptych, all three of which were specially reunited for this exhibition (and marks the first time they will be seen together in the UK). If you’re a Monet fan, I’d say it’s worth going only for that, but, honestly, there is treat after treat in store for you throughout the exhibition.

The exhibition is so vibrant and colourful, that it makes the perfect setting for a Mother / Daughter Day Out. The Royal Academy always puts on wonderful shows (remember my review of their former Ai Wei Wei exhibition?), and Membership would be a wonderful gift for any Mum who’s keen on culture, as it’ll save her any stress about booking tickets or having to plan ahead, as well as many other benefits.

Monet to Matisse exhibitionNasturtiums, Gustave Caillebotte

Monet to Matisse exhibitionThe Artist’s Garden in Argenteuil, Claude Monet

After seeing the exhibition, it’s easy to spoil your Mum even more as there are so many fantastic places in the area. You could have a suitably decadent afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason, Sketch, The Wolseley or The Park Lane Hotel. If you don’t fancy tea, then how about a bite to eat at Le Caprice, which also happens to offering some excellent deals for those who have booked to see either the Monet to Matisse or Vogue 100 exhibitions. You could also enjoy a simple lunch at the Rose Bakery, or a scrumptious cocktail at the RA’s Shenkman Bar (note the bar closes at 6pm on a Sunday).

Have any of you been to see the Monet to Matisse exhibition yet, or do you have plans to go? Have you enjoyed any other cultural outings in London lately? I saw the Alexander Calder exhibition yesterday, which was fantastic, and I’ve now seen Vogue 100 twice, with plans to go a few more times!

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Stop What You’re Doing And See This

Kate Moss| Vogue 100 Exhibition at the National Portrait GalleryKate Moss by Corinne Day, 1993

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! I hope you’ve woken up to the prospect of pancakes and flowers this morning, whether single or not. Anyway, even if you hate Valentine’s Day, I’ve got some news to cheer you up. The Vogue 100 exhibition (on until May 22nd) at the National Portrait Gallery is INCREDIBLE. Honestly, you should just stop reading this post right now and go to the exhibition to see for yourself (you’ll thank me later).

Twiggy | Vogue 100 Exhibition at the National Portrait GalleryTwiggy by Ronald Trager, 1967

Remember the other day I gave you suggestions for things to do on Valentine’s Day? Well, you can pretty much scrap those  – file them away for a rainy day instead – and head to the National Portrait Gallery. The show will likely be sold out, but it’s worth buying membership so you can skip all the queues (and you’ll probably want to go back several times anyway). I went yesterday and am half-seriously contemplating going back today (this time with comfy shoes – I made the mistake of wearing heels yesterday and suffered accordingly. But then I felt it was very Vogue-worthy to suffer for fashion, and the killer heels certainly made me more at home with all the Anya Hindmarch bag-toting fashionistas who are currently flocking to the exhibition.).

Gwyneth Paltrow | Vogue 100 Exhibition at the National Portrait GalleryGwyneth Paltrow by Mario Testino, 2002

Vogue 100 is bold, exciting and sexy. It’s a must see for anyone who loves fashion, photography or super models. It’s the exhibition I’ve enjoyed the most since the Alexander McQueen one last year, and it has the same electric buzz to the air that made the McQueen show so special. The connection between Vogue and McQueen is highlighted in the exhibition too: this famous photograph of McQueen dominates one end of the show.

Alexander McQueen | Vogue 100 Exhibition at the National Portrait GalleryAlexander McQueen by Tim Walker, 2009

I’d been looking forward to Vogue 100 ever since attending the exhibition’s shop launch at the NPG last week. The exhibition itself was very much kept under wraps, and I wasn’t too sure what to expect. Also, even though I was excited to see it, I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much (I’m still recovering from the rather disappointing Hepburn exhibit last year). All the more pleasurable, then, was my shock of surprise yesterday as I walked into the first room and was instantly blown away by collection of so many incredible, iconic images. Here are a few more highlights for you to scroll:

Lara Stone| Vogue 100 Exhibition at the National Portrait GalleryLara Stone by Alasdair McLellan, 2010Naomi Campbell | Vogue 100 Exhibition at the National Portrait GalleryNaomi Campbell by Patrick Demarchelier, 1987Kate Moss | Vogue 100 Exhibition at the National Portrait GalleryKate, 1998 by Nick Knight, 199870s Fashion | Vogue 100 Exhibition at the National Portrait GalleryLouise Despointes and Donna Jordan by Sacha (von Dorssen), 1972Claudia Schiffer | Vogue 100 Exhibition at the National Portrait GalleryClaudia Schiffer by Herb Ritts, 1989Christy Turlington | Vogue 100 Exhibition at the National Portrait GalleryChristy Turlington by Patrick Demarchelier, 1987

Unlike the Hepburn exhibition, Vogue 100 is huge, comprising several rooms and a couple hallways, and there’s been fantastic attention to detail. The rooms are in chronological order, tracking the history of fashion and Vogue, with the decor often matching the period (the 20-30s rooms have lovely Art Deco finishes). Many of the images have been blown up to be plus size, which adds real drama to the exhibition and means you can truly appreciate the details.

Donna Mitchell | Vogue 100 Exhibition at the National Portrait GalleryDonna Mitchell by Bob Richardson, 1966 Vogue 100 Exhibition at the National Portrait GalleryLily, 2008 by Nick Knight, 2008

I loved this exhibition because I felt it truly celebrated style over fashion: it was as much about the personalities and iconic looks of the figures that have dominated the fashion world for the past 100 years, rather than simply the clothes they wore.

I found it too hard to decide which room was my favourite: I have to go back and see them all again! Have any of you been to the exhibition yet? What did you think of it? Did you have a favourite room?

If you haven’t seen it yet, my advice is to dress up in your most Vogue worthy clothes and head on over!

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A Chat With: Alice Pattullo

My interview with the fabulous illustrator Alice Pattullo, where we discuss her background as an artist and her current exhibition at Mascalls Gallery.Bow-Wow Pie print, Alice Pattullo 

I’m so excited to bring you the latest ‘A Chat With’ instalment. This interview is with the outstandingly talented Alice Pattullo, an illustrator based in South East London. I’ve been collecting Alice’s prints for years, and I love her use of bright colours and references to British folklore and traditions that are prevalent in her work. Alice recently illustrated a new edition of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, which is absolutely stunning and a must buy for any Janeite!

My interview with the fabulous illustrator Alice Pattullo, where we discuss her background as an artist and her current exhibition at Mascalls Gallery.Alice Pattullo’s illustrated Pride and Prejudice

One of the projects Alice has been pursuing over the past 2 years is her A-Z animal prints, which are currently exhibiting at Mascalls Gallery in Kent. You may remember from my visits last year to Mascalls to see the Ed Kluz exhibitions and School Prints series that I love this small, but charming gallery located in picturesque country fields, and I’m so looking forward to going again at the beginning of February to see Alice’s exhibition. If you’re in the Kent area (or fancy a day out from London), I definitely recommend going too (make a day of if by seeing the beautiful All Saints’ Church with its Marc Chagall windows and stopping by The Poet at Matfield for a fantastic pub lunch or supper).

My interview with the fabulous illustrator Alice Pattullo, where we discuss her background as an artist and her current exhibition at Mascalls Gallery.Turtle print, Alice Pattullo

Alice very kindly agreed to answer some questions I posed her about her background and inspiration behind her A-Z prints. I found her answers fascinating, and I’m sure you will too! Go grab a nice cup of tea, make sure you’re settled somewhere cosy and have a read through her thoughtful answers.

***

MN: Could you tell me a little about yourself and your background? Did you always want to be an artist?

AP: I was brought up in the North East within a creative and encouraging family; my dad is an architect and my mum is a textile artist, so I guess it was fairly inevitable that I would follow suit ( although having said that my brother took a different path completely…). I don’t think I had particularly identified that I wanted to be an illustrator specifically, that early on, but I did know that I enjoyed drawing and designing from an early age.

My interview with the fabulous illustrator Alice Pattullo, where we discuss her background as an artist and her current exhibition at Mascalls Gallery.Enchanted Forest print, Mandy Pattullo

MN: I know your Mum, Mandy Pattullo, is an artist too (I love her Etsy shop, and my own Mum owns several of Mandy’s works!) – does her work influence you at all? Do you discuss your work much together?

AP: My mum has definitely had a big influence on me. To the point that I chose not to go down a textiles route because I worried we would be competitive! Although I might not have shown it while growing up, I always appreciated her time, help, wealth of knowledge, and open access to both my parents’ books and materials. We used to discuss our work much more when I was younger; I think in some sense I pandered to my mum for praise, which she wouldn’t give undeservingly so our critiques often ended in arguments, although I usually took heed of her advice without verbally accepting it!

Now that I have established my own creative path I feel much more confident and capable in my own work so I don’t necessarily feel the need to discuss everything so much now. However, I do enjoy being able to discuss our work together more as peers now, without a feeling of parental hierarchy being in the way.

MN: What was the influence behind your ‘An Animal A-Z’ series, which is currently exhibiting at Mascalls Gallery in Kent? Do you have a favourite of those prints?

AP: I originally started the ABC thinking it would be a nice and fairly quick project to work on in the quiet period that tends to occur at the beginning of the year, but as work started coming in the ABC took a bit of a back burner; I would work on it as and when I could in between commissioned projects, so in the end it took me around a year and a half to complete all 26 animals!

When I began it I was using it as a personal project to just enjoy drawing, without being tied to a brief or introducing a narrative as I normally do in my work. I enjoyed being able to indulge in painting nice textures and patterns and not overthinking it too much. I went for less obvious animals for certain letters, I wanted to avoid owls and squirrels for example and instead went for an okapi and a sloth. I keep changing my favourites now I’ve got the perspective of seeing them altogether in the Mascalls gallery exhibition, but from the beginning my overall favourite has been the turtle.

My interview with the fabulous illustrator Alice Pattullo, where we discuss her background as an artist and her current exhibition at Mascalls Gallery.Good Luck Guide, Alice Pattullo 

MN: Your work often references folklore and superstitions. What first sparked your interest in these topics?

AP: I’m not 100% sure! I’ve always enjoyed reading and particularly like little nuggets of information, which I guess could be why I’m drawn to folk rhymes and tales or dictionaries of superstitions – it’s an easy size of information to mentally digest and think about. Not being particularly superstitious, I find the lengths people go to/ went to particularly humorous which I think also helps engage my interest – some things seem to just be so obscure/ irrational!

I really started using folklore and superstitions as a recurring theme in my work when I was at university- in my final year I was working simultaneously in a project looking at the folklore of the sea and another looking at the history and superstitions surrounding the topic of hair!

MN: Which artists do you most admire?

AP:  A few of my favourites: Edward Bowden, Eric Ravilious, Barnett Freedman, John Piper, Michael Rothenstein, Enid Marx, Barbara Jones…. I could go on! I think I’m particularly drawn to the work of these mid- century artists as they all managed to successfully bridge the gap between ‘art’ and commercial ‘illustration.’  For example, they would be working simultaneously on paintings and murals as well as producing posters for Shell for example.  I think you could see both sides of their work feed into each other, which I find inspiring.

I think because of the printing processes of the time they all had a very good sense of colour and composition- having to work with a limited colour palette. I often adopt this method of working with a small colour palette and constantly pay homage to these artists by using colours, etc synonymous with design from that time. 

My interview with the fabulous illustrator Alice Pattullo, where we discuss her background as an artist and her current exhibition at Mascalls Gallery.The Worshipful Company of Glovers, Alice Pattullo

MN: Can you tell me something about your work routine? Is there a particular process or routine to producing your artwork that you find helpful? Do you have a strict 9-5 schedule, or are you more flexible?

AP: I have always been pretty motivated to work a ‘working day’ but I do enjoy the flexibility of being freelance in terms of being able to take a holiday spontaneously (not that I actually do that much in reality), or have the afternoon off to go and see an exhibition or something. I do tend to go in to the studio from 9-6 Monday to Friday. Working at a studio away from home is refreshing in terms of establishing a line between life and work, which can sometimes be hard when you have made a career out of what is effectively your hobby. Being able to get distance and perspective from a project or input from studio mates when you’re stuck is really useful, rather than wallowing in a problem which is what I think I used to do a bit when I worked from home.

Most days are the same really; I cycle to the studio, make a coffee, check and send emails and then get down to drawing. I always draw in black and white into a sketchbook, using a combination of painted collages, textures, and painted lines. I then scan these drawings in to digitally colour and compose the finished illustration for a commission, or to put together the layers if making a screen print.

MN: What advice would you have for young creatives starting out today?

AP: Just to work hard and stay true to yourself! I think if you are really determined to make something happen, that will reflect in your work and will help you make it happen… It’s not just going to fall in your plate. Life’s not that easy…!

MN: Through my blog, I like to celebrate successful, creative women. Which women are your particular role models?

AP: As I mentioned before, artists like Barbara Jones and Enid Marx who were strong minded and successful within the illustration world at a time when it was much harder to be successful as a working woman. Louise Bourgeois was pretty fantastic. I’m always proud of my female friends and peers who are doing well in this industry… Of which I consider them all to be. My mum is a good role model as she is one of the most prolific people I know so puts everyone else to shame!

My interview with the fabulous illustrator Alice Pattullo, where we discuss her background as an artist and her current exhibition at Mascalls Gallery.London Snow Globes, Alice Pattullo

MN: Finally, what are your favourite London haunts? 

AP: I love Spitalfields Antique Market on a Thursday morning. I like being able to cycle through Hackney Marshes every day- it’s refreshing being in an open natural space when living in a big city. I love that the V &A and the British Museum are effectively on my doorstep. The second hand book shops on Charing Cross Road are still satisfyingly cheap/ good! I like the canals around East London in summer and looking into people’s houses. London pubs are great- in winter the old City pubs are terrific- places like the Princess Louise or Cittie of York in Holborn, or the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping in the summer. I love that London still has some great parks too whether little or large- there’s nothing better than a beer in the sun in the park after work in summer!

***

Thank you so much Alice for taking the time to provide such in-depth and interesting answers. I can’t wait to see your exhibition!

Alice’s exhibition at Mascalls Gallery runs until 20th February. Alice is giving a talk about her work at the Gallery on 30th January from 4pm. 

If you’d like to keep up with Alice’s news, you can follow her blog, as well as Twitter and Instagram.

++ View my other ‘A Chat With’ posts featuring Nicola Williams, Cressida Bell, Alice Stevenson, Priya Parmar, and Sophie Knight  ++

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Miranda Loves: Alice Stevenson Christmas Cards

Alice Stevenson Christmas Cards

You know how much I love Alice Stevenson’s beautiful illustrations, so I was thrilled to see her latest collection of Christmas cards. Apologies for mentioning the ‘C’ word before December, but as I like to get my Christmas cards out on the 1st of the month if possible, I thought it only fair to share some of my favourites in advance. I love of all of Alice’s lovely designs, which perfectly capture the season of goodwill and merriment.

Alice Stevenson Christmas Cards Alice Stevenson Christmas Cards Alice Stevenson Christmas Cards Alice Stevenson Christmas Cards

Which is your favourite card? I find it impossible to choose!

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A Chat With: Cressida Bell

Cressida Bell Interview | Miranda's NotebookWith Cressida Bell at her Open Studios last November

I was first lucky enough to meet the designer Cressida Bell (granddaughter of Vanessa Bell) last November, when I went along to her open studio day (you can read about the fun I had here). I’d become a huge admirer of her beautiful textile designs after buying one of her scarves on a visit to Charleston, and since then I’ve bought some other scarves as well as one of her beautiful lampshades, which has pride of place on my bedside table.

I find it completely fascinating to get a glimpse into an artist’s studio, and Cressida’s is a treasure trove of pattern and colour. I was absolutely thrilled, then, when she very kindly agreed to let me pop by the studio again last week to have an informal chat and question her a little as to her work and creative process. You may well imagine that sitting down for a talk with the great niece of Virginia Woolf would be rather intimidating, but Cressida is one of the most charming and down-to-earth people I’ve met and has the wonderful knack of putting anyone at ease. When I arrived at the studio, she and her assistant Minnie were busy at work, and I was lucky enough to be just in time to see two of the latest designs emerging from the steamer to be unrolled. 

Cressida Bell Interview | Miranda's Notebook Cressida Bell Interview | Miranda's Notebook Cressida Bell Interview | Miranda's NotebookCressida Bell Interview | Miranda's Notebook

Aren’t they glorious? I’ve fallen head over heels for the Cityscape print – it seems the perfect pattern for any city girl (or indeed boy!).

But now for the interview! This was definitely one of the most fun ‘Miranda Chats’ interviews I’ve done so far, not least because I got to follow Cressida around as she worked in the studio, deftly trimming material for scarves and showing me some of the studio’s many hidden treasures, from her glorious collection of tiny baubles for her cake decorating classes to her beautiful sketch books. I recorded our conversation, and I have slightly paraphrased Cressida’s answers to my questions below. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

***

MN: How did you decide you wanted to become an artist?

CB: I decided I wanted to do what I do now when I was about 13 – I actually decided I wanted to go to the Royal College of Art. I’d had friends who’d been, and my dad taught art history so I knew quite a lot of people in that world.

MN: What are the greatest inspirations for your artwork?

CB: That’s difficult. This print here [pointing to her newly unrolled Cityscape print] was inspired by some tiles done by Peggy Angus. She was a friend of our father’s, and lived quite near to us in Sussex. Peggy used to get us [children] to paint Sussex beach stones with Celtic symbols, and she would sell them in Shetland as being done by local artists! Just after she died, I went to a show of her work, and saw she’d done an installation of painted tiles – and they looked like a city. I remember I drew these little tiles on the back of my business card – this was probably about 15 years ago, but that’s how I started working on this and the print came about.

Cressida Bell Interview | Miranda's Notebook

MN: Have you always been drawn to patterns?

CB: Yes, very much. And so I often look at other patterns. I love ceramics – that influences me sometimes. But quite often it’s nothing in particular. I do always tend towards the slightly more formal, geometric designs.

MN: Is it always pattern that comes first, or is it sometimes colour?

CB: Sometimes it’s colour – I went to the opera once, and the production used a mauvey grey, which is still one of my favourite colours to use – but they used the mauvey gray with a lime green too, and I thought I had to use those colours together. You don’t always know the colours are going to work though, until the print comes out and is actually on fabric.

MN: Do you have a favourite colour?

CB: Red. You can tell from the outside of the studio [the door is painted a very cheery red!].

MN: Do you have a favourite design you’ve done?

CB: I really like Indian Stripe. I went to India, and didn’t much care for the textiles – everything I bought was stripy. When I came back, I wanted to do lots of stripes in different directions, because that’s what India did for me. It’s a design that looks good in almost any colour way too.

Cressida Bell Indian StripeCressida Bell’s Indian Stripe design, image via the Cressida Bell website

MN: What are your favourite things to create?

CB: I still love doing the scarves.

MN: Did you start with scarves?

CB: Yes. When I left the Royal College, I did a show of mainly scarves, because you want something to sell! I did some collections of clothing too – I studied fashion at St Martin’s, and then I specialised in textiles at the RCA.

Cressida Bell Interview | Miranda's NotebookAn assortment of scarves

MN: Who are your favourite artists, or favourite artworks?

CB: Piero della Francesca. Eric Ravilious, of course. Howard Hodgkin. I love the Elgin Marbles and Alesso Baldovinetti’s Portrait of a Lady in Yellow.

MN: Do you have many memories of Charleston from your childhood?

CB: Oh yes definitely. We went there for our holidays (I was brought up in Leeds), and when I was about 8 we moved to Sussex quite close to Charleston. My dad [Quentin Bell] had his pottery there so he would go over to Charleston every weekend, and quite often I would go with him. We would have lunch with Duncan [Grant], and bring him back to our place for dinner. Duncan didn’t die until I was 19, and he was really more like a grandfather to me. He was very much part of my growing up. I remember my grandfather Clive [Bell] a little bit, and I remember my grandmother [Vanessa Bell] not at all – I was only 1 when she died. As children, we weren’t allowed to go into the studio [at Charleston] much – that was adult preserve. I remember we use to hang around the kitchen with the cook, because that was the most fun.

Rolling Stones Let It BleedRolling Stones Let It Bleed Cover – a perfectly normal looking Christmas Cake in the Bell family!

MN: How did you get into cake design? What are the cake master classes like?

CB: Ah, well, that’s actually through my dad. He always did the Christmas cake, and he’d always be very extravagant with lots of cherries and stuff. You know the cover of Let it Bleed [by the Rolling Stones] – which was apparently done by Delia Smith – and it was meant to be a rather gross and over the top Christmas cake, but for me it was just normal. As my dad got older he passed the job onto me, so I’ve always done the Christmas cake for my sister’s family and for friends and so on.

The cake workshops are good fun. We tidy this table up [pointing to the work table that stretches almost the entire length of the studio] and cover it with white vinyl. Everyone gets a cake, and I demonstrate what people can do. They’re really not difficult to do though. You know the fashion for colouring in at the moment? It’s rather like that. You can sit and just fill in your designs. It isn’t actually very skillful – it’s really easy! It’s design led though, so it is a lot of fun. And people do such brilliant things – let me show you [gets out phone and shows me snaps of cakes created by former cake class attendees – they are all fabulous!].

Cressida Bell Interview | Miranda's NotebookSome of Cressida’s cake designs framed on the wall (my favourite is the peacock!)

MN: What is it like to be part of the Hackney Community of artists? Is there still a community left?

CB: I think where we are here [Clarence Mews] there is quite a community, and it’s really nice. When I was first [in Hackney] I was down by London Fields, and I was the only one [artist]. It was rather grim! I really like it round here though – it’s not like we live in each other’s pockets, but it’s a friendly crowd. We’re all going to have open studio together – I think there will probably be about 15 studios open [click here for dates and details]. There are people doing jewellery and leatherwork. And just up the road is an architect who turns out to be related to me! Her husband has a stall on Broadway Market too. Generally, there’s a lot of goodwill amongst us all.

Cressida Bell Interview | Miranda's Notebook

MN: What is your creative process like? Do you have any particular routine to your work?

CB: I’m afraid I’m very boring – I work 10-6 every day, and I don’t work at weekends. It depends what we’re doing at the moment. We’re not always printing – we may be designing or painting. Any of my designs start in my sketchbook – I’m very precious and have them all going back to the Royal College of Art [flicks open her current sketchbook and lets me have a browse through its gorgeous pages].

Cressida Bell Interview | Miranda's NotebookCressida’s sketchbook

MN: What advice would you give to up and coming artists or creatives these days?

CB: I would say do try to use paper and paint – rather than just doing everything on the computer, where it’s easy to over neaten your work. I think you can always tell a computer generated design. Don’t try to follow a trend – just do your thing. If you follow what’s fashionable, you will lose your way. It’s important not to look over your shoulder at what other people are doing. I would also say to anyone starting out – never undersell yourself.

MN: Finally, through my blog, I like to celebrate interesting, successful  and creative women. Which women have inspired you the most?

CB: Some of my teachers really inspired me. One in particular said to me: ‘look at the way you draw. Try being more free.’ That really helped me. I had to become more free, before I could be more controlled in my designs again. My mother [also inspires me], but I suppose that’s a bit of an obvious answer isn’t it. Sonia Delaunay – I love the fact that she had a car in her own design. That’s why I love having my ipad covers and iphone cases in my designs [my iphone case is a Cressida Bell design, and it’s constantly admired]!

***

Cressida Bell Interview | Miranda's Notebook

Thank you so much again to Cressida for providing such fabulous answers to my questions and for taking the time to show me around the studio. I absolutely recommend marking off a day in your diary (see below for dates) to make it to one of her open days this year – it’s an incredible chance to get a glimpse of a proper Hackney studio, as well as a terrific opportunity to stock up on Christmas gifts, as there’s a wide range of stock available, from cards to lampshades, wash-bags, ties and scarves (there’s generally also a selection of seconds available at a good discount too!). I’ll definitely be attending again this year, and I can’t wait to see some of the other neighbouring studios that will be open as well.

Cressida Bell Open Studio 2015

If you can’t make it to the open studio, but fancy spending the day with Cressida decorating your Christmas cake (and frankly, who wouldn’t want to do that?!), then do note that her cake decorating master classes  are coming up in December (11th & 12th December – click here for details). I think the classes sound rather marvellous!

You can also find out more about Cressida through her website, or follow along on instagram (I’m addicted to her colourful feed!), facebook and twitter.

++ For more in the ‘Miranda Chats’ series, read my interviews with Nicola Williams,  Alice Stevenson, Priya Parmar and Sophie Knight. ++

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Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy

aiweiwei_11

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!

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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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