recent posts

social media menu

Spotlight on... Pencils

I've been snooping around the London Design Festival this week, of which there is SO much to see. 

More about that anon, but a quick share to tell you about an exhibition that's part of the event, on this weekend in London, dedicated to the humble pencil.

The Secret Life of Pencils exhibition had its debut earlier this year. But if you, like me, missed it, then do check it out at its second airing at Designersblock, just by the Oxo Tower on London's Southbank. It's wonderful.

From left to right: pencils belonging to Tom Dixon, Julia Quenzler and Posy Simmonds
Pencils belonging to David Bailey

The idea is simple, and came from photographer and Mike Tinney and industrial designer Alex Hammond, who felt saddened at the demise of the "once powerful pencil", particularly in the arts. So they set about showing this humble instrument some love by contacting a number of high-profile pencil users, a rare breed they discovered, and asking them to donate an in-use pencil which Tinney would photograph, quite beautifully, for the show. Pencil owners include David Adjaye, Dame Zandra Rhodes, Celia Birtwell, Sir Peter Blake, Thomas Heatherwick, Mike Leigh, Stephen Fry, Lord Norman Foster and Jay Osgerby and many more (the full list can be found here).

Pencils belonging to Alexander McCall Smith (left) and Julia Quenzler (right)

Collecting said pencils, Tinney told me at the exhibition, was a logistically lengthy process and involved determined chasing of dozens of busy creatives' PAs. Well worth the wait though. If you think portraits, which, effectively, these luscious photographs are, of pencils might be boring and tell you nothing about the people who've used them... well, let this little sample show you otherwise.

Pencils belonging to Stephen Fry (left) and Celia Birtwell (right)

Posters, prints (£20) and postcards (£2 each) are on sale at the show, and on the Secret Pencils website.

Having recently rediscovered the scratchy (or smooth, depending on your preference) joy of pencils and, especially, of rubbing out, I particularly connected to this. Do you use a pencil? Share any pencil thoughts in the comments below.

The exhibition is on at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London SE1 9PH and runs until Sunday. Hours 11am to 7pm.

Spotlight on... Artbooty, Brixton

London Design Festival looms and details of interesting events are popping into my inbox.

If you've never been, the main thing to know is that, aside from the main events (the likes of Design Junction, Tent and 100% Design) it's pretty much an excuse for the design-inclined to show off and have visually stimulating parties for the best part of a week in September. What's not to love?

One such event, Artbooty, part of Brixton Art Trail as well as the London Design Festival (LDF) and hosted by local design shop, BRIXI, is on my doorstep in south London – and if you're in the capital for the festival, it promises to be worth the trip to these parts.

The event – an art sale with booze, installations and performances and food – runs for one afternoon/evening and you should take cash for beer (and, quite possibly, spontaneous art purchases). Here are some of the highlights in pictures.

Nigerian-born folk painter and architect, Abe Odedina, was a BP Portrait Award nominee in 2013 with his painting The Adoration of Frida, a self-portrait and tribute to the Mexican artist. He works in London and Salvador, Brazil.

Obedina has been inspired by "the expressive figurative paintings found in the streets in cities like Lagos, Salvador, or Port-au-Prince adorning the sides of lorries, the walls of temples, beer parlours, love motels or advertising the services of barbers, vulcanisers, healers and other specialists'.

Over the years I've been going to BRIXI to browse the always-intriguing and beautiful and frequently joyfully unusual selection of wares on sale, Obedina's paintings have often hung huge from the walls and totally sucked me in. They're pretty special.


These humorous pieces – named (clockwise from main image) Atkins Day (a diet themed sculpture); GGrrrrrrr and I Lost My Head – are by ceramics restorer and artist, Amy Douglas. As well as offering her artworks for sale Douglas, I believe, will be touting cabaret from a golden horsebox on the night.

Douglas also does 80s themed linocuts (this one will only make sense if you know the lyrics to Wham Rap). Check her out at

There's also some of this.

Stephen Wright is so much more than a mosaic artist, as you'll know if you read this previous post on his quite astonishing home/museum, the House of Dreams. For the Artbooty, Wright will be taking the quirky creatures he creates on a road trip.

Other artists will be: recycler, Jo Gibbs (see her lacy tiles, above); Soozy Lipsey; textile artist, Brian Merry; surrealist printmaker, Lizzie Learman plus her printing press for demos; sculptor and inventor Stephen Stockbridge, who's offering confessions; Jamie Palmer (AKA Pen & Gravy, whose work, pictured below, is for sale on Etsy and is written about in this previous post).

Which artist's work do you most like? Do share your comments below.

ARTBOOTY takes place on Tuesday 22 September 2015, 4-11.30pm, Brixton East 1871, Barrington Road, Brixton, SW9 7JF. See more about what's going on in the area at or check out the city-wide events at London Design Festival www.londondesignfestival.comRead about the Artbooty organiser in this previous post.

Object of the Day: Dutch StoryTiles part II

I was excited, last year, to discover StoryTiles, a collection of hand-made tiles, some based on traditional Dutch 16th century designs given a modern twist, others just about the modern twist.

The tiles are designed and made by Marga Van Oers, who has just launched a new collection of tiles in collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. As you'll see, she's taken one of the artist's most familiar works and given it her trademark dose of surrealism...

The series is called ‘The Sunflower Expedition’. 

On the Swing 

On the Lookout 

Taking the Lead

The miniature ceramic works of art start at around £18 each for a 10cm x 10cm tile and each comes with a little wall-hanger on the back. 

The complete tableau of all the tiles, pictured below, is around £ (all prices are originally in Euros – you can ship them from Holland or try Brixi, owned by the very stylish Emy Gray, if you happen to be in south London). 

You can see more Storytiles in this previous post.

The other half of the Van Gogh Museum collaboration is Van Oers' 'Van Gogh’s Garden' series, pictured above and below.

I've recently developed a great warmth for Van Gogh as, most days, I cycle past the house in south London where he lived (see the snap, below).

There's also a very lovely modern street nearby dedicated to him, featuring raised beds with quotes from the great man about flowers and walking and, of course, a good few sunflowers. It's a pedestrianised street and every day this summer, without fail, I've encountered some configuration of loved-up elderly couples taking in the warm evening air, large youths playing basketball, but being careful not to trip over the tiny youth out for a toddling walk with a parent, dog-walkers or just neighbours, hanging about. There's even a miniature free library, where you can leave a book and pick up a new one from a brightly painted glass-fronted box on a wall. It's quite magical – proper street communities in London are few and far between.

Moving on from the great painter, there are also more new season designs outside this range from StoryTiles. Feast your eyes on just a couple, below.


Happily Ever After 

Hide and Seek 

Catch me if You Can

It's dark out now as I type, but when it's not I'll share a photo of the StoryTile I bought for my boyfriend's birthday in situ. It's nice.

Meanwhile, check out the StoryTiles website, I'd direct you to the Brixi website too but (as its owner would I'm sure be the first to admit) it's not that useful. You'd do better following the shop on Instagram @brixi7

Shopping: Guest ed Abi's picks

Today another guest post from guest editor, Abi.

I thought I'd ease myself back into blogging here by sharing some good things I've discovered recently while pottering around shops, the internet and various fairs, markets and exhibitions. It's an eclectic bunch – just lovely stuff that I'd like to put in my home. Maybe you might like some of it too. So here goes...

Yellow pouffe, £65

Now, I'm not a design snob – if it's well made, gorgeous and a reasonable price I couldn't give a fig where it's from. And this beauty – yes, a big, yellow, knitted pouffe – happens to be from Matalan. Aside from the fact that there exists a piece of furniture rather brilliantly called a pouffe this is just fabulous. Bright and bold and £65.

Wooden letters, £3 each

These little wooden letters, also from Matalan, are just three pounds a and offer a world of design possibilities. For under a tenner I could have a quirky name tag hanging above a coat hook.

Paint drip mug, £10

Giving good gift is an art. And being able to find unusual, stylish, and useable ones for around a tenner these days is pretty hard. But this is a winner: an artist paint drip mug from Tate shops, Design created by the creative agency Designers Anonymous. I love the quirkiness of it – and it's practical, too.

The whole range is rather brilliant, although prices rise up to £22.50 for the tray, below.

Paint drip tray, £22.50 

And now for the really quite extraordinary and fabulous ceramics of Katharine Morling. I came across her work at the Cockpit artists studios in Deptford and just love it. 

Pot of scissors £190

Tape measure £165

The pieces are beautiful and odd and unsettling; really eye-catching artworks. My favourite is the pot of scissors (top image). 

Butterfly drawers £330

They're not cheap (prices start from £110) but considering each piece is made in a series and is handmade, painted and signed by the artist I think they're well worth it. You can catch Morling at Decorex later this month, part of the London Design Festival. 

From one tactile wonder to another – these cushions are just so...squidge-able.

Pebble cushion, Silversoles, £88

Made from black welsh wool felt, these are the work of felter Emma Jackson. Again, not cheap but all handmade and unique and a welcome change from the millions of printed cushions out there at the moment. I'd like to chuck one of these on my Robin Day sofa among the more traditional cushions and wait for the squeaks of delight you'd get from people as they came into contact with it. Visit her work at Silversoles.

Bird prints are a bit ubiquitous aren't they? Once you've seen one groovy bird pic you've seen them all. But that's why these little beauties caught my eye: HATS. Brilliant.

Jamie Taylor Blue Tit print, £20 

Jamie Taylor Robin print, £20

I'd hang both the fat little robin with his flat cap and the posh blue tit in his bowler side by side. Jamie Taylor paints animals, both real and fictional (his unicorn is pretty magical) in bright, splashy watercolours. As well as the titfer-tastic birdies his stag and bumblebee are things of beauty too. 

Heron string dispenser by Matt Nicholls, £20

Now for more birds, by another Cockpits artist is Matt Nicholls. And I just love this 'Heron' string dispenser – stylish and cute it's one of things every kitchen needs (well, I need it in my kitchen). Each painted wooded box comes with string and scissors (choose between red, yellow or blue) and can be wall mounted (fixing plate supplied) or free standing. 

Scottie dog light, The White Company, £42

And finally: I love a bit of kitsch me; usually to lighten up all the more stylish midcentury stuff I'd fill my house with if possible. And this little chap is right up my street... In my extended absence from this blog, I've managed to acquire a gorgeous little Westie called Monty (bonus picture below) so how could I not include this lamp from White Company? So what if it's sold for kids – stick it on a sideboard and let the kitsch commence I say. Plus it's down from £70 to £42 at the moment.

And to round things off; the promised pic of Monty. Showing off his design credentials by snoozing on our skip-saved Robin Day chair. But he's not for sale I'm afraid...