London part 2

November 29, 2009

And of course, besides the cultural richness of London there were the shops!

I think each person has his own personal ‘map’of a city. My London has several pilgrimage points which I always visit, and some of them are shops.  But wait a second, I am going to go off on a tangent here. I recently heard of Jan Rothuizen’s Soft Atlas of Amsterdam. He mapped out Amsterdam this way, very personally, drawing his vision of the city. Unfortunately most of the sites for the book are in Dutch, but still, you can get an idea from the pictures. 

I kept a sketchbook a bit a la Keri Smith, while in London, but when I came back and heard about the Soft Atlas, I realize I’d done something similar.

So back to my regular consumer haunts in London:

Muji, I always go there for their gel pens, cheap origami paper and irresistable plastic containers of every size, from crate to pillbox. Plus it is one of the coolest stores I  know.

The Bead Shop in Covent Garden has long been my favorite destination to restock my rocailles. They have shelves  of them arranged by colour! I also bought 4 perfect ovals of African turquoise, dusky and mottled like a jungle river.

Just around the corner near the Seven Dials, is London Graphics Centre. This time I got silver and gold water based block print ink (Speedball) which I haven’t been able to find anywhere else.

Every day I passed by Hotel Chocolat, the kind of place where chocoholics like me think they’ve died and gone to Heaven. I only succumbed on the last day, I bought a slab of orange chilli bitter chocolate. But you could also have all sorts of ‘liquid chocolate’, and too many other exotic and gorgeous treats to mention. Go have a drool at the site.

And finally, good old Waterstones, the perfect place to browse  on a cold and rainy Sunday. I saw a book about Banksey there as well as one on Slinkachu’s Little People. And I had a nostalgic time leafing through a coffee table book about the heyday of Biba.

Also, the V&A’s shops are to die for.  I treated myself to some adorable ceramic buttons shaped in hearts, flowers, rounds, ovals and squares- I’m going to make jewelry out of them.  I held back from the beaded bracelets, little bags, necklaces, books, stunning fabrics, scarves, art supplies, and just plain Things-to-buy-just-to-have.

X-factor vent

November 29, 2009

I stayed at a Youth Hostel while in London. In the evenings some of us would watch the X factor. It is good entertainment, but I grew to dislike it intensely.

One young guy, waiting to be eliminated(or kept on) was asked what it meant to him to stay.  He said,

‘Everything, this is the most important thing in my life’.

And later,

‘What I want more than anything is to be a pop star’. 

Ah, that’s it, the word ‘star’;  here is the crux of what is wrong with this whole concept- his ambition isn’t to be as good a singer and performer as he can, but to be a Star. It is fame that calls these children. Did you know that they actually live at the X-factor quarters for weeks on end, getting coached in how to present themselves?  That’s how involved they get, that is how dedicated they are to this goal, which when they achieve it, most will find empty and excruciatingly lonely.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the music of John Mayer. I like him because he is intelligent, he has something to say which matters to him, he’s an ace guitar player, and let’s face it he’s sexy as hell.

He is, 1 a human being with depth and character. 2 A skilled musician on a number of levels. 3 An interesting person with independent views, and 4. A talented poet and songwriter.

Compare this to your average X-factor finalist who maybe can sing, and has learned how to ape the moves of more succcessful stars.  What else is there?

What a dumb goal our society encourages these easily influenced teenagers to quest after. How many of the winners have anything inside themselves to sustain them for more than the first half year of hype?  Don’t they know you have to be a whole and at least somewhat developed person first before you can express something worth listening to?

John Mayer, for example, already has the X-factor- but it in him it is a combination of talent, intelligence, skill, dedication, luck and inborn charisma. 

 He, at least, will be around for a lot more years, maturing and deepening, and just getting better. I look forward to it.





November 25, 2009

I’m back from a 9 day trip to London. It was primarily a family visit, but I enjoyed being a tourist in the city where I spent many childhood summers. Later, when my mom moved there, I’d visit 2-3 times a year until she died.

The cultural highlights of my time there were: the Tate Modern, housed in an old power station on the  Thames: 4 of  Emily Young’s  angel heads, mounted on pillars outside of St.Paul’s cathedral; the Royal College of Music Museum of Old instruments; and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

The Tate is everything a contemporary art museum/gallery should be: exciting, full  but not crowded, educational, provocative, fun, aesthetic, engaged/engaging, challenging visually and conceptually, in short- an experience. Everywhere were clusters of school aged kids  sitting talking, looking, involved. There were interactive stations placed on each floor; and the free exhibitions were arranged in novel ways, juxtaposing different artists to help make certain connections one wouldn’t have thought of at first.

Emily’s sculptures slayed me as usual, and I stood in the middle of the large square outside St.Paul’s, communing with them the best way I know how- by drawing them.  It was an amazing interlude in the middle of busy noisy London to bask in the eternal stillness that these sculptures radiate- I can still feel it. If you read her statement on her site, you’ll see that she is very conscious of this aspect of her work.

I’m not a museum person, but the V&A was so constantly recommended that I finally just went. It is anything but stuffy, musty old things. It, too, is a vibrant space, almost holy, enshrining and keeping alive craft, contemporary as well as historical, at its highest expression. Out of curiosity I visited the jewelry halls and it was literally dazzling- the most exquisite necklaces, earrings, rings, crowns and gems were displayed against a backdrop of black velvet in lit cases within a dimly lit  hall, beautifully arranged in a gallery with a  plexiglass spiral staircase in its middle. 

I also loved the Chinese and Japanese galleries, dark and mysterious with perfectly placed simple forms of ancient pots, jade circles, knives, and other artifacts subtly lit in glass cases.

The building itself is a wonder, high arching ceilings, stained glass, ceramic staircases encrusted with gold and mosaics and reliefs and sculptures, and inscribed stone. It was like being in a wonderland with new sights at every turn. I went back twice, and would have returned more if there’d been more time.


Chocolate for the Soul

November 8, 2009


At work during yesterday’s Personal Creativity Workshop

We had 17 enthusiastic women who came with open hearts and minds, you couldn’t have wished for a better group.

The main concepts were Exploration, Creating and Reflection. Most exciting for me was to see people take risks and really move.

The simplest exercise surprised me the most. We took one material to explore, in this case, crêpe paper. The assignment was not to ‘make’ a product, but to see what the material could do. First it was torn, folded, twisted into threads, knotted, cupped, stretched. From there we worked with connection methods like sewing, glueing, tying, taping etc. And finally the brief was to combine two elements into one object, say a twisted rope with a bunched up wad.

Each table then got to choose the best objects and combine them into an exhibition for the rest of us. They were to find a uniting theme in the objects, name the exhibition and make an invitation for everyone. 


This group’s exhibit was mounted on the wall and called, ‘Freedom’.

Like me, many of the participants were moved by the cooperation and exchange of ideas and inspiration such a simple concept could lead to.

We happily went to enjoy the delicious lunch cooked and catered by the organisers Aafke and Martine.


Afterwards, we made leporello( accordion) books and simple pamphlet bound books. Here are some of the results.


I had a wonderful day watching people get inspired by the materials and each other.

In designing this day, I drew a lot of inspiration from Keri Smith’s approach to playing with materials without having expectations or valuing the outcome. For many, the underpinnings of this approach; valuing mistakes and surprises, starting with what you have, paying attention to details in the environment, using the imagination and documenting your findings, were very different to the usual art class approach, ie, learn how to do something then make an aesthetically pleasing ‘good’ product with that technique.

Thanks to everyone, Baukje for your beautiful studio to work in, and the organisers and participants for making it a rewarding and fun day!


November 1, 2009

Spinnet virginal harpsichord

For 2 months, this harpsichord (spinnet virginal, replica of a 17th century instrument) has lived on my work table while I painted the sound board. Normally this isn’t a problem, but recently I’ve had several commissions coming in at once, and I’ve been going crazy.  In the studio I also have a light table and another drawing board, but they were taken up with office and drafting work, so all the other projects  got spread out on the floor or the bed.

I am organising a workshop, and I’ve literally felt that I couldn’t think straight with all the clutter around, and without a clear area to just spread things out to look at.

Well, it all changed this morning. The instrument was picked up at 11:00 AM and I have Space.

Space, I just sit there looking at what seems to be endless acres of fresh, virgin potential.  I fantasize spreading out all my workshop plans on that empty white table, being able to see for the first time the structure of the day and how the exercises lead into each other.  After that is cleared up then I can draw, cut and assemble my craft kits, (soon to be available through my webshop). Oh what a luxury to have everything at hand, all on one table, and pile and stack things according to progress made. And to see in a glimpse what has been done and what still needs doing.

Having my table back has shown me how much my well being and ability to think and organise are dependent on space, space to move and space to think.

 The Dutch have a saying,’ A clean house, a clean spirit’.  That’s sure how it feels today.