Category Archives: General news

Shapes and textures for ‘The Frame’

Four weeks ago I started an exciting new project – a public art commission, with fellow artist Sue Edkins. As I reported in a previous post, we have the luxury of a studio just behind Orleans House Gallery for the first couple of months of 2015, and we have been using it to develop our ideas and experiment in the medium of collage.

We’ll be working with community groups to produce three large framed works, to be installed in June at Diamond Jubilee Gardens, Twickenham, all on a theme of WW1 and local stories connected with the war.

twick1The last few weeks have been spent researching local history – fascinating stories about local heroes like Frank Edwards and Billie Nevill, who are associated with raising morale through football at the front. We’ve also visited the Hearsum Collection at Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park, to get an idea of what the park was like during the war – it had a South African Military Hospital as well as a huge training camp, and it was also the site for some top secret anti-zeppelin experiments.

twick2We’ve got a wealth of material but needed to develop a visual language for the work. The Imperial War Museum’s current exhibition, Truth and Memory, was very inspiring, particularly Paul Nash’s paintings and drawings of ravaged landscapes and torn trees. And although he was to become a war artist for a later war, John Piper’s loose torn paper collages from the 1930s seemed to trigger some ideas. Working with monoprint to create scratchy, rough textures, and prepared painted sheets within a strict colour palette, we are starting to work out how the work could look, and how school groups can play an important role in making the work.

We’ll be developing our ideas further next week, and visiting the Richmond Local History archive, as well as the Rugby Museum. We’ve also welcomed a new person to the project, Ruby Maddock – a recent graduate looking for experience in the field of community art. Thanks for joining us, Ruby! And many thanks to the arts and education team at Orleans House, Robert and Lauren at the Hearsum Collection, and everyone else who has been so helpful so far.

Filling the Frame

twickenham_1It’s going to be an exciting year: I’ve just picked up the keys for a new (temporary) studio space at Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham. Together with my friend mosaic artist Sue Edkins, I’ll be spending every Wednesday there working on a community art project, The Frame. We’ll be working with schools and community groups to produce three collage-based pieces, inspired by true stories of Twickenham’s connections with the First World War. In June the work will fill three outdoor frames at Diamond Jubilee Gardens, just by the river in the heart of Twickenham, opposite Eel Pie Island.

We were thrilled to be chosen for the project by the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames’ arts team, and we’re both really looking forward to getting started. We’ve already begun researching this fascinating subject, and will be looking at the Hearsum Collection, Twickenham Museum and the Rugby Museum – I’ve also been digging in my own archive of historic postcards, inherited from my father-in-law who collected them his whole life. I’ve posted about this collection before – and very sadly Philip has died since then, but I think he would be pleased to know that his marvellous collection is being used for an art and education project.


All the Fun of the Fair

Yesterday was the first ever Illustrators’ Fair, held near Kings Cross in London by the brand new House of Illustration as part of their housewarming season. I was sharing a stall with Claudia Boldt and Karin Littlewood, and there were at least 100 other illustrators on stalls, with many many more illustrators, families, local people and illustration fans visiting throughout the day.


There was a great buzz to the event, with big bunches of balloons everywhere giving it a real fairground feel. We offered free badge-making on our stall which was very popular with children and adults alike – I specially liked Sarah Edmonds‘ ‘Lettuce Dance’ and Bridget Strevens-Marzo‘s Tiz and Ott badges.

We were lucky to be opposite a long blank wall, which Karin quickly converted into a wall of drawing, which kept people busy all day – one boy spent ages drawing a beautifully elaborate northpoint, and the ketchup bottle really makes me smile. And I came home with three new signed picture books, all of which will be a perfect starting point for activities at my weekly under 5s art class.

Big thanks to Bob and Michael, and all the fantastically helpful volunteers at the House of Illustration for organising this wonderful event.


Off to the Illustrators’ Fair

Where can these ten tapirs in a tuk-tuk be heading? Perhaps to the Illustrators’ Fair, an exciting event to be held next Sunday, 22nd June, hosted by the House of Illustration as part of its housewarming season.

I am delighted to be sharing a stall there with two very talented illustrator/authors, Claudia Boldt and Karin Littlewood. We’ll be making badges, telling stories, selling books and prints and also I hope meeting many of the other 100 illustrators who will be exhibiting at the event.

The Illustrators’ Fair is at 2 Granary Square, King’s Cross, London N1C 4BH from 11am to 6pm, on Sunday 22nd June.

Full details are here, all welcome!


The Great Ink Experiment


A few years ago I went to a tiny but excellent exhibition all about ink at University College London, where a video was showing about how to make ink from oak galls. It’s been in the back of my mind ever since, so when I found myself camping under a line of oaks on the Gower in south Wales last week with oak galls dotted all over the grass, it seemed as if the time had come to give it a try. (oak galls – or oak apples – are little hard balls made when a parasitic wasp larva injects certain chemicals into developing leaf buds on the oak tree).

A little bit of research on the internet showed the key ingredients of this ancient ink (first known recipe by Pliny the Younger) are oak galls and iron, with gum arabic as a binder. The dark colour is created by a chemical reaction between the tannic acid in the galls and the iron sulphate. There’s a very informative website here. There are all sorts of minor variations, so I decided to create my own hybrid method, and here’s how it went:

Firstly, I put all the oak galls in a plastic bag and used a hammer to break them up. Then I ground up some out-of-date iron tablets I found in the cupboard, and threw in some old chunks of iron I found on Chiswick Eyot last week when learning about fish for Thames 21 (but that’s another story…). I put it all in an iron pot with some rainwater, and set some heat under it on the stove. Amazingly, it was only a couple of minutes before this orange soup turned a proper inky black. I boiled it all for a few more minutes, then strained it through an old tea towel. Finally I added the gum arabic, which gave the mixture a nice viscosity. In all I made half a pint of ink, which has a good dark brown colour – and once you’ve put it on paper, it continues to darken for a few hours. (the labels on the bottles are written with the ink)

It’s been a very interesting experience – much easier than I thought it would be to get a good result, and definitely something I would do again. I don’t know how long the ink will last, but I’m certainly going to start using it for drawing right away. Big thanks to Humphrey (age 4) for collecting all the galls for me!


They took all the steam, put it in the Steam Museum…


I am hugely looking forward to a very special event tomorrow – the grand re-opening of the London Museum of Water and Steam (formerly Kew Bridge Steam Museum) after a big refurbishment. I’ve designed, written and illustrated the family trail for the museum – it’s based around the character of Robert Smith, a 15 year-old boy who worked there when it was a functioning pumping station in Victorian days.

If you’ve never been there (or even if you have), it is well worth a visit – it’s fabulous for families (specially with the brand new splash zone and the ever-popular steam-engine hauled rides at weekends). It’s also a must for anyone interested in Victorian architecture and engineering, and it’s a wonderful place to go and draw for the day – the engines are breathtaking in both scale and detail (Dickens went there and said “What a monster” when he saw the Ninety-Inch engine). It’s a particularly special place for me as both my parents are volunteers there, and I even had my wedding reception there many years ago. If you’re visiting, make sure you go up past the Hammersmith Beam to the wonderful wildflower and vegetable garden which was created by my mother – and don’t miss the Victorian lady scarecrow she made to keep the birds off the broad beans.

There are also artists’ studios and a forge, and a brand new cafe – so many reasons to pay a visit to the Museum, which is just by Kew Bridge station in Brentford. Apologies for the title of the post, but every time I think of the museum this version of the Joni Mitchell song Big Yellow Taxi pops into my head and makes me smile…


Furious river lions


Urban exploring is one of my favourite activities, and yesterday I set out for Vauxhall with my artist friend Jill to do some sketching. Icy winds made drawing difficult, but we found plenty of interesting things to look at. Just below the MI5 building are some very angry looking lions. Judging from the tide marks, they must get water up to their noses twice a day which might account for the bad temper. Jill gathered some interesting flotsam (or should that be jetsam?) and we peered at some debris in a dock before stumbling on the old Doulton building, an astonishingly ornate edifice where every surface is decorated with heavily patterned ceramic tiles. It was also a great opportunity to get some inspiration for my forthcoming Thames exhibition, with a bright cold sky and gulls wheeling overhead.

Behind the scenes in the organ workshop: a visit to Harrison and Harrison


I’ve just come back from a few days in Durham, working on a very exciting project with a team from the Royal Festival Hall. Pull Out All The Stops is a campaign to restore the spectacular organ at the RFH, all 7,500 pipes – the restoration is now almost complete and will be celebrated with a huge organ festival next spring. Two lucky primary schools have been involved throughout, with the Year 5 classes visiting both the RFH and the workshop in Durham which both built and restored the organ, Harrison and Harrison.

My role has been to work with the two schools to produce a children’s guide to the organ, for and by children, and I will post more on this nearer the festival. Last week I felt very lucky to visit Harrison and Harrison with children from the school in county Durham, as well as a film-maker and an animator – the results are going to be fabulous! The children spent a day drawing then filming with Sam, and another day animating with John from Skidaddle Films – this was very inspiring to watch and made me really want to experiment more with film. We also had a great time inventing a board game (based on snakes and ladders), which will be part of the festival next spring.

It was thrilling to get to see how an organ is made, up close – the metal room was particularly exciting, as we were able to watch old pipes rapidly disappear into a furnace and emerge on a giant ladle as a shining river of molten lead. Dotted throughout the workshop were cauldrons of honey-like glue….I particularly loved the description of the visit one boy wrote the following day: “The smelly golden glue, sprinkling out like golden syrup out of the hot pot in steaming water falling. Saws chopping, drills cutting, metal hammers banging loud.”

There’s a lovely notice in the foyer of the workshop – Mr Harrison’s Instructions, dated 1883. Looking after the organ is important: “Should the keys get dusty, as they surely must from time to time, do not begrudge a few moments to clean them. What can look worse than to see the delicate ebonies and ivories of the notes and drawstops in a state of dirt and dust, helping them, forsooth, to lost their whiteness and polish prematurely. A soft dry duster is all that is needed.”


The Great Draw Off Draw-Off

Ever since I first found out about it, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of the Thames draw-off – an event that happens once a year when the weirs at Richmond are opened for a month or so to allow for maintenance of the lock, weirs and sluices and inspection of the river bed. At low tide this can lead to a very empty-looking river, and I have always intended to go down there to have a look.

When I mentioned the draw off to my artist friend Jill, she thought I meant a ‘pencils and sketchbooks at dawn’ competitive drawing event – and once the confusion had been cleared up, we agreed that a ‘draw off draw-off’ would be an excellent idea. And so it was that earlier today, having checked the tide tables, we went down to the river at Ham, wellies on and sketchbooks under arms, eagerly expecting to be able to walk across the dry riverbed.

Disappointingly the river was still rather full and the White Swan pub on the other side remained inaccessible – but with gloves on we settled down for some chilly outdoor sketching and enjoyed watching the subtle changes in the water surface as the tide changed. And the water was low enough to expose some interesting root patterns along the shore. Jill had the great idea of using some river mud and a stick to draw with, which created a lovely textured line. Rubbing dock leaves on the page gave a surprisingly intense green too. We finished with a pot of tea at the Hollyhock cafe on Richmond Hill, where the teapot needed gloves on to keep the tea warm.

A long-eared launch

Guests enjoying the nibbles at an exclusive launch party for my brand new baby book, This Rabbit, That Rabbit, published by Walker Books this Thursday.

Human guests are welcome to come along to two free, drop-in launch events this week: the first is at Under The Greenwood Tree, a lovely children’s bookshop in Clapham, from 10-11am on Thursday 7th November, and the second is on Friday 8th November at a delightful cafe in Southfields, Salt and Pepper – also from 10-11am.

I’ll be there to help under 5s make a rabbity souvenir to take home – all welcome! I’ll also be bringing my velvet rabbit character. Both venues sell delicious cofffee and cakes!

Under the Greenwood Tree is at 11 The Polygon, London SW4 0JG

Salt and Pepper is at 177 Replingham Road, London SW18 5LY