Research

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I love kicking off a new project and delving into the research phase! I’m starting to explore my ideas for The Drawn Chorus Summer show and things are taking a bit of an Arctic turn (there’s a bird pun there if you want it!).

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I’m still experimenting for now. I like to make lots of quick sketches and tests working from reference images and also read up on subjects and find inspiring magazines and internet articles. Next i’ll try to narrow my ideas down and think about composition.

Constable, Brighton, Skying

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John Constable is perhaps most famous for his traditional, Romantic style paintings of the English Countryside. Idyllic landscapes on large canvases that must have been pretty time consuming to paint; such as ‘The Hay Wain’.

So I was surprised to see Brighton Museum’s current exhibition ‘Constable & Brighton’ which features sketches and paintings that are so different in feeling, they could have been made by someone else. Constable and his family lived in Brighton between 1824 and 1828. During his time there he enjoyed sketching and walking on the Sussex Downs, recording the countryside and beaches as he went.

Constable, Seascape Study with Rain Cloud, 1828

His beach paintings in particular have such life to them. Quick, expressive sketches of turbulent skies and stormy seas. Moody colour palettes and rough textures. Some of these beach studies are very small. He worked on location, pinning paper to the lid of his oil paint box, which can also be seen in the Museum.

I love the life and fluidity of these small paintings. They seem much freer than the elaborate works he is famous for. These scenes were perhaps not painted exactly as they looked, but instead how they felt, with exaggerated colours and angry clouds.

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He was particularly fond of painting clouds and once said ‘I have done a good deal of skying’. He would often add notes to the back of his sky work describing the weather conditions, time of day and direction of light.

The term ‘Skying’ immediately reminded me of the album of the same name by British band – The Horrors. I don’t know if there is any relation between the two, but the video for the track ‘Still Life’ features beautiful imagery and the song now flows into my head when I look Constable’s clouds!


Finally, I especially love the paintings that feature little figures on the beach. Often hunched against the wind and breathing in the sea air. Having grown up in Brighton and taken many a windy stroll on the beach linked arm in arm with a friend, I feel an affinity with them and like to imagine that friends have been doing the same throughout history.

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The exhibition ‘Constable & Brighton’ is at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery until 8th October 2017. Admission is £5.20 for adults, £3 for children and free for Brighton residents.

Opinions are my own. Images are used respectfully but without permission from the following sources (named in the order shown):

Coast Scene with Boat and Stormy Sky – Brighton Museum Website
Seascape Study with Rain Cloud – Wikipedia Commons
Brighton Beach – via That’s How The Light Gets In blog
Seascape Study: Brighton Beach Looking West – Taken from Constable and Brighton Book

Coaster Love

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I’ve realised I’ve started to develop something of a coaster habit. A current count put me at 15 which I reckon qualifies as the start of a collection. When I see a good design, I can’t help myself! I thought I’d share some of my favourites with you…

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I think the recent rise in illustrated beer and ale packaging is partly responsible for the increase of quality coasters bearing the same designs. Such as Beavertown Brewery’s eyeball popping artwork.

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I love my Adventure Time coaster pack, a Christmas present from my Brother. As you can see from the photo at the top – the Ice King in particular has seen a lot of use.

Paper and card coasters have a wonderful tactility to them. The Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club coaster has a nice vintage feel to it and the pastel colours of the Brockwell Lido Cafe coaster are very pleasing.

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The owls were a charity shop gift from a friend and ‘Pivovar Trautenberk’ travelled back from the Czech Republic with me after a holiday beverage. If you see any good ones this Summer, please do grab a spare for me!

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Blossom Trees

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There are so many blossom trees in Clapham. I think nearly every street has at least one but most boast an impressive collection. There’s a variety of sizes, shapes and colours and for the next few weeks of Spring we’ll be able to enjoy them all. Soft pinks, vanillas, whites and creams with little specks of green leaves. They contrast against their dark branches and light up when viewed against a bright Spring sky. At night, they loom out of the dark like Christmas decorations that haven’t been taken down yet.

Sometimes I find that painting or drawing things that are naturally very pretty to begin with, such as flowers, can produce results that are a bit twee and boring. I made a quick Google search to see if I could find some blossom inspired artwork that managed to avoid this.

Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Almond Blossom’ (1890, shown below) are beautiful but still have a wildness to them. The branches are crooked and spiky. The flowers are delicate but they belong in nature, not to be put in a vase on a mantelpiece.

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I’m not overly familiar with the work of husband-and-wife illustration team Kozyndan but their bunny themed work is super popular and hard to miss. In Bunny Blossoms (2005, shown below), instead of flowers, tiny pink rabbits bloom from the branches. Apart from the fact that they are HELLA cute, they bring something unexpected and humorous to the piece which references traditional Japanese blossom artwork.

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Hanami, which translates as ‘flower viewing’, is the Japanese custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers (thanks Wikipedia!). From March to May the Sakura trees blossom all over Japan and people celebrate with outdoor parties, sometimes decorating the trees with paper lanterns.

‘Chiyoda Ooku Ohanami’ by Toyohara Chikanobu translates as ‘Cherry Blossoms Party at the Chiyoda Palace’ (1894, shown below). I love the elaborate clothes and bright splashes of red. You really get the sense that the people are enjoying playing underneath the blossom.

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I made some experiments myself working from photos I took of the Clapham Hanami. I’m quite pleased with the results. I think it was a useful exercise, choosing to sketch something that I was unsure of and finding ways to tackle it to create drawings I was happy with. Wherever you are, I hope that you get to enjoy some blossom trees this Spring too!

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Bunny Blossoms by Kozyndan used in appreciation without permission
Almond Blossom by Vincent Van Gogh provided by the Van Gogh Museum
Chiyoda Ooku Ohanami by Toyohara Chikanobu via Wikipedia
All other photographs and sketches are my own.

Kraken Rum

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Rum is my favourite party drink and I was very happy to receive a bottle of Kraken as a Christmas present. Apart from being a fantastic companion to chilly nights and bad TV, I’ve been getting so much from just looking at the bottle design.

A ‘Kraken’ is of course a legendary sea beast, a giant squid famous for terrorising pirate ships. Catching them in its tangle of tentacles before pulling them down to the murky depths.


It is captured on my bottle doing just that. The illustration style is reminiscent of Victorian etchings. Inky cross-hatching that sinks into the parchment label. The etched look seems to be consistently popular today, with talented artists like Dan Hillier updating it to create weird and wonderful works (see below). There’s something so pleasing about this style of illustration that seems to instantly fire up the imagination and hint at the curious.

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The shape of the bottle is unusual and according to the Kraken wikipedia page, is styled after traditional Victorian rum bottles. These featured two, hoop handles allowing the bottles to be hung and help prevent breakages.

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The colour palette is simple and bold. The velvety black of the illustration contrasts against the cream of the label and both flatter the rich brown of the spirit. Little accents of silver around the logo mark add shine. A tiny, etched, silver kraken guards the bottle top, sealing the doom of any sailor (or casual drinker) that dares to try a measure.

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Dan Hillier Illustration shown without permission of the artist. All other photographs are my own, Kraken video borrowed from Youtube.