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Getting creative at Art in Action

24 Jul

This weekend I spent a brilliant two days exploring Art in Action, an annual festival of art and crafts in the grounds of Waterperry House near Oxford. Artists were there demonstrating everything from oil painting and printmaking to pottery and metalwork – plus we signed up for a couple of practical classes to try our hand at some new skills for ourselves.

art in action at waterperry house oxford

We spent our first day exploring the artists’ work on show, in between ducking into patches of shade to escape the blistering heat. Here are just a few of my personal highlights…

sarah spackman

sarah spackman still life in oil

In the painting tent I fell in love with Sarah Spackman‘s subtle still lifes painted in oil on linen. It was fascinating to chat to her as she painted, mixing up beautifully chalky colours on her enormous palette. Her paintings would have been the perfect thing for the living room in my old flat!

ian phillips linocut

reduction linocut ian phillips

I was really taken with Ian Phillips‘s linocuts in the printmaking tent – lots of his work features the Welsh coast, which might explain why I liked them so much – there are lots of examples on his website. He uses a reduction technique, gradually cutting away areas of his drawing and printing each layer with a different colour of ink. He’s done a step-by-step linocut tutorial here so I’m going to give this a try sometime.

helen murgatroyd printmaker

Helen Murgatroyd printmaker

Another printmaker who caught my eye was newcomer Helen Murgatroyd, who had a selection of fruit and veg inspired linocuts and lithographs on display. Opposite, we were drawn to the whirr of Harriet Riddell‘s sewing machine and watched mesmerised as she machine-stitched portraits of visitors completely freehand in just 15 minutes.

stitched portraits harriett riddell

institchyou by harriet riddell

portrait sewn by harriett riddell

Mum and I decided we had to have a go and came away with a portrait apiece. If you fancy one too, Harriet sets up her machine in Greenwich market most weeks and you can even book her to perform at an event! I totally loved her… check out InStitchYou (geddit) for more.

On the second day we’d signed up for a couple of practical taster sessions (book them ahead if you go along next year because spaces fill up fast). First up, we had a go at sculpture, which I’ve never tried before. We headed into the tent and were faced with this lump of clay on a pole, which apparently we’d be turning into a sculpted clay head in just an hour and a half!

clay head sculpture

Needless to say I was pretty sceptical, but the tutor (from The Art Academy in London) showed us how to measure different parts of the model’s face and quickly build up the shape with clay. Halfway through, the cocktail stick markers made the whole thing look a bit like a very lumpy voodoo doll…

sculpting head from clay

Ninety minutes flew by in a flash and in no time we were desperately rolling eyeballs to try and finish our heads!

sculpting heads from clay art in action

art in action sculpting clay head

Ok, so I don’t have a photo of it next to the model, but even if there’s not much of a resemblance it at least looks like a person! I was amazed that for a group of beginners everyone managed to create something really impressive in such a short time. After lunch, we’d enrolled on a woodblock printing session with Rachel Sim.

sketch of feathers

woodcut printing

We sketched out some quick ideas then used these beautiful tools to carve the design out from Japanese plywood. I thought it would be hard work but the tools were sharp and the wood was soft so it was easy to carve nice shapes. I did one block with some feathers…

woodcut printing block feathers

And another one with a funny leggy chicken-type thing…

woodcut printing block bird

woodcut printing blocks art in action{all Decorator’s Notebook}

The weekend was so brilliant I’m definitely going to make it an annual visit. If you’re at all interested in art and crafts I’m certain you’ll love it. Next year’s dates aren’t online yet but keep an eye on the Art in Action website to find out when it’s happening in 2014. I’ll be there!

The seven ingredients of a perfect guest bedroom

3 Jun

country style guest bedroom{via Danse de Lune}

I think that the day I’m able to afford a home with the luxury of a guest bedroom is the day I’ll properly feel like a grown-up. That, and a downstairs loo. Anyway, I was browsing my beautiful bedrooms Pinterest board recently and realised how many of the photos I’d given the title ‘perfect guest bedroom’ … and that got me thinking. How do you create a space for visitors that feels like a real home from home?

fresh garden flowers in bedroom{via Curated Style}

When I go home for the weekend my Mum always puts a vase of flowers from the garden in my room. It’s such a small but thoughtful gesture and always makes me feel extra special. Shop bought flowers will do too of course, but there’s something about the casualness of a homegrown posy that makes me feel especially welcome.
Allocating space as a dedicated guest room is a luxury most of us don’t have, but it’s still possible to give your friends and family a little nook of their own even if the room has another function – like a home office or storage – the rest of the time. Hang a panel curtain from the ceiling or invest in a folding screen to give your visitors a small private area of the room.
It’s always nice to be able to unpack your bag when you go to stay, so try to provide a little space to hang clothes if you possibly can. A few hooks on the back of the door and some wooden hangers is enough… these ones are made from a collection of pretty drawer handles screwed into a piece of wood.
calm grey bedroom with hanging bedside light{via Griege}
Ever stubbed your toe finding your way back from the loo in an unfamiliar house? Spare you visitors the agony by popping a simple lamp next to the bed. If you don’t have room for a table lamp, consider a space-saving wall light or hanging bulb instead.
This one’s very dormitory chic, but I love the idea of fitting a washbasin in the corner if you have the space. There are loads of incredibly compact options, even some that will easily fit inside a fitted wardrobe. Look for teeny tiny wall mounted basins designed for downstairs cloakrooms.
I’m a total fuss pot when it comes to my bed – I like a nest of duvets and blankets wrapped around my body but my head always on the cold side of the pillow. Most people have their own picky preferences so the only way around this is to offer several bedlinen and blanket layers they can add or take away as they like.
Warning! Only consider this one if you really like your guests… bringing up a cup of tea first thing is sure to earn you the accolade of perfect host and you run the risk they’ll want to stay forever!
Do you enjoy preparing for visitors or do you find it a chore? How do you make guests feel extra special?

Trying my hand at pottery at West Dean College

14 May

West Dean College Chichester

West Dean gardens

I love ceramics and always enjoy having a go at new crafts, so when my friend Amy suggested we try our hand at pottery, I agreed straight away. We decided to make a weekend of it and signed up for the throwing pots taster day at the beautiful West Dean College near Chichester. After a sneak peek of the house itself (former home of surrealist art collector Edward James) we headed to the pottery studio.

pottery studio at West Dean college

head sculpted from clay

pottery studio details

glaze sticks

art pencils in craft shop

There’s always something so lovely about craft studios and now I’m getting used to my camera, I couldn’t stop taking photos of all the little details around the place. To begin with we were shown ram’s head kneading, which gets rid of any air pockets in the clay and can lead to wobbly pots. Once we were ready our tutor Alison Sandeman demonstrated our first task: a simple cylinder.

Alison Sandeman pottery demonstration

how to throw a clay pot

cylinder thrown pot

Simple as that!

There were eight of us in the class and pottery was new to nearly everyone, but after seeing how effortless Alison made it look we were all confident about our chances as we started the wheels.

learning to throw pots on a potters wheel

cylinder pot on wheel

It soon became obvious that it’s most definitely not as simple as that! Thankfully, Alison was really encouraging and always on hand to share her 25 years of experience. Even though I was far from a natural, I fell in love with the challenge and it was hard to tear myself away from the wheel at lunchtime. The little bowl above right was my first attempt… unfortunately it kind of went downhill from there. Here’s a couple that didn’t make it!

failed thrown pot

failed thrown pot on wheel

By the end of the day we all had five or six pots of varying size and shape to show for our efforts. They’ll be glazed for us in the next few weeks and hopefully some will survive so I can show you the finished articles.

beginners thrown pots
beginners thrown pots{all Decorator’s Notebook}
I definitely want to go look into doing a longer course and have to admit I’ve been searching for secondhand potters’ wheels on fleabay. I’m hooked!

Out of Office

26 Oct

Next week I’ll be here.

{The Developing Photographer}{Wolfy}

There is no mobile phone signal. There is no wi-fi. For the first week ever, there will be no posts.

Don’t take offense, but I’ll be trying not to miss you…

Love, DN x

Hastings: 28 years later

10 Sep

I was born in Hastings but my family moved to the Westcountry when I was a toddler so I don’t remember much except the inside of our house and mixing paint at playgroup. 28 years later and living in London, I decided it was time I took a trip down memory lane.

I’ve heard so many good things about exciting new shops in the Old Town so armed with 91 Magazine‘s Vintage Lovers Guide to Hastings I hopped on the train and a couple of hours later I stepped blinking into the strong autumn sunshine.

My first stop was supposed to be Dyke & Dean but it turned out to be closed on Sundays (take note: it’s only open Thursday to Saturday). A little crestfallen and chastising myself for having become a presumptuous Londoner I pressed onto the Old Town where I hoped things would be a bit more lively!

Thankfully stop two – Butler’s Emporium (above)  – was well and truly open for business and inside I wasn’t disappointed. The walls are lined with tiny little drawers and the huge counter harks back to a bygone era when the shop was a hardware store. Unfortunately the lady behind it wouldn’t let me take any photos but I loved poking around the tableware, vintage prints, stationery and other lovely bits on offer.

A little further along George Street I stopped at Warp & Weft (above) a beautifully presented vintage clothes shop. You’ll find none of the usual ’70s kaftans and patterned polyester here – stylist Leida has selected chic and simple linen shirts, buttery leather boots and wafer-thin cotton undergarments that wouldn’t look out place thrown over a chair in Picasso’s studio.

Hendy’s Home Store (above) is the kind of shop that makes my heart beat faster. If you think Labour & Wait is good, then this – to be frank – is better. Over three rambling floors you’ll find Falcon enamel, Berylware, preserving jars (Kilner, Weck, Mason…), simple wooden scrubbing brushes, natural candles and all manner of other utilitarian and understatedly decorative goodies. Admittedly, the kind of stuff that looks amazing displayed all together and when you get it home – well – it’s just a vegetable brush – but that’s not the point. Oh, how I wanted it all!

After all the excitement I was in need of a dose of seaside air and a bite to eat to still my beating heart. Thankfully, Hastings seafront was right there with both. First, a fisherman’s roll from Tush and Pat’s up-ended boat at the bottom of East Hill lift.

A fisherman’s roll (in case you’re wondering) is a fluffy white bap stuffed with two pan-fried fillets of fish rescued from being tossed back into the ocean. Mine was dab which I’d never tried before – and it was delicious!

Onwards to the beach where I got a bit snap-happy with my camera. The light was so stark and strong the colours looked amazing.

Hastings doesn’t have the prettiest beach in the world but the tangled nets, scattered lobster pots, circling seagulls and other fishing paraphernalia are undeniably photogenic in a practical kind of way. I loved picking my way between the boats with the crash and drag of waves on pebbles in the background.

A very ordinary name for a fishing boat, but I thought Sandra’s vivid colours and peeling paint made her the prettiest of all.

{all Decorator’s Notebook}

This post is already much too long but I couldn’t resist finishing it with some of Hastings’ famous net huts. These tarred, weatherboarded buildings have been a feature of the shoreline for hundreds of years when they were built by the town’s fishermen to store and mend their nets and sails. In the 1930s the council limited the area allowed for each hut to eight square feet – in response the fisherman built upwards, giving them their distinctive tall, thin appearance.

Wearily I headed back up to the train station – sea air in my lungs and a windswept blush on my cheeks. I’m so pleased to have finally made the trip and discovered a new vintage-lovers haven.

Weekend in Rye

7 May

Bright and early on Saturday morning I hopped on the train to meet my friend Little Miss Married for a weekend in Rye, East Sussex.

After checking into our super friendly B&B and a bite of lunch eaten on willow pattern china we were ready to get stuck into the weekend’s main activity… junk hunting!

We started off at Strand Quay where we found a cluster of great antique shops in the bottom of some black weather-boarded fisherman’s houses.

I’ve been looking for a set of cake forks for ages and managed to find a really lovely set with a simple chevron pattern on the handle. Then I spotted an old linen map of Colombo in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where my Mum was born, so I bought that too as I thought she and my Granny might be interested to see it. I just can’t resist yellowing old maps!

Country Ways, which specialises in kitchenalia, was another top shop and we spent ages sifting through the time-softened linens, French patisserie tins and Fanny Cradock cookery books on offer.

The message on this vintage typewriter made me smile!

Cobbled Mermaid Street is famous for being the prettiest in Rye, but to be honest, the whole town is made up of quaint and photogenic buildings. Here are a couple of houses I wouldn’t say no to…

I’d read about Glass etc on Tea for Joy so was keen to check out the high class junk for myself.

Perhaps we’ve become cynical from living in London, but we were both overwhelmed by how friendly the people were in all the shops, most of which are independently owned. Andy from Glass etc (where misery, moaning and frowns are officially banned, according to the website) even made me a cup of tea and we spent nearly an hour playing dressing-up with the ladies in the vintage clothes shop, long after it had supposedly closed for the day.

After tea at Glass etc, it wasn’t long before we were on the hunt for something sweet. We sampled several establishments during our stay in the name of research. Fletcher’s House scored best for its roaring fire and freshly baked scones served with lashings of jam and clotted cream, but the prize for the best decor went to The Apothecary, where we loved the wall of labelled pharmacy drawers and Beano ceiling.

Sunday started with a full English breakfast apiece so we decided to walk to Camber Sands (about an hour each way) to burn off a few calories and ensure we had enough room for another cream tea in the afternoon! Lovely Rita (!) who ran our B&B wrote us directions and we headed across a field of adorable lambs towards the beach.

Even though the sun failed to make an appearance and Camber itself was disappointing, the long sandy beach was spectacular and we found ourselves dreaming of owning one of the stunning architectural homes right on the sand – I loved this garden decorated with driftwood and an upended boat.

Back in Rye, there was just enough time to pop into Pale & Interesting (Atlanta Bartlett’s shop) before jumping on the train back to London, where I’m already plotting my next visit!

{all Decorator’s Notebook}

Tips for a weekend in Rye?

2 May

My apologies for highjacking this post for my own benefit, but I’m visiting Rye in Sussex this weekend. I’ve wanted to go for ages so I’m really looking forward to it. If you’ve been, can you offer any tips for places to visit, shop or eat?

{happy_day99uk via Flickr}

{Vito’San via Flickr}

Thank you in advance! I’ll post some photos and tips of my own next week. Have a lovely bank holiday weekend – fingers crossed for a glimpse of sunshine!

Weekend in the Cotswolds

11 Apr

Wet and windy weather made me a bad blogger as far as photos of my Cotswolds weekend are concerned (sorry!) but I had a lovely time regardless. We indulged in some fantasy house shopping (one of my favourite pastimes), visited eye-wateringly pretty villages, tested out the pubs in said villages and ate cake every day. Overall, bliss!

Here’s snippet…

I knew I’d arrived in the countryside when I noticed this ‘repurposed’ cigarette bin at Charlbury station. Awwww.

Chipping Campden is a really lovely market town with interesting shops and places to eat – I much preferred it to Bourton on the Water which was mobbed with tourists and full of tacky souvenir shops. The downside of having picture-postcard looks unfortunately.

One of many beautiful houses that had us ooh-ing and ahh-ing. Though the yellow Cotswold stone makes even ugly houses look good.

Lottie didn’t know what to make of this sculpture!

{all Decorator’s Notebook}

There were antique and junk shops galore in Chipping Campden, Stow on the Wold, Woodstock and Morton in Marsh… but our best find was Station Mill antiques centre (above). We were so amazed by what we found inside this unpromising looking building in the middle of an industrial estate we went back twice!

Hope you had a lovely Easter weekend. Going back to work yesterday was hard, eh?


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Weekend in the Westcountry

Sun, sea, sand and snow

Columbia Road Flower Market (and around)

2 Apr

What better way to spend a sunny Sunday morning in the capital than wandering through the ever lovely Columbia Road Flower Market? Ok, wandering isn’t quite the right term given the hoards but there were still some wonderful sights, sounds and scents to enjoy.

A group of gorgeous tulips – I love the parrot ones best.

Overpriced, trendy shops, there were many. Even taking the hiked-up prices into account, I still can’t understand how the shop owners here can manage opening just one day a week. That’d be the life!

A man with a fox’s head, sitting in a first floor window, doing embroidery. As you do. After all the hustle and bustle it was time to sit down and refuel so my friend and I headed over to the Frizzante restaurant at Hackney City Farm.

I intended to take a photo of our amazing Farmer’s Breakfasts, but by the time I remembered there was just one sorry little tomato stalk left on my plate… I’d never be any good as a food blogger!

Photos are a bit thin on the ground at this point as basically the farm was a concrete yard filled with disappointment. I mean, I know it’s not the countryside or anything but there was hardly anything to see and no information boards to help out the inquisitive youngsters. They badly need some too, judging by this overheard question:

“Dad, do pigs eat pigeons?”

Since exploring the farm took us all of 10 minutes, we decided to walk over to the Geffrye Museum, which is in a rather photogenic set of old alms houses.

Inside visitors can walk through room sets replicating homes through the ages and learn how people lived and used their houses at various times. It’s free and definitely worth popping into if you’re nearby. Outside are lovely tranquil grounds and really sweet walled herb garden with all sorts of culinary, medicinal and household plants.

{all Decorator’s Notebook}

This giant teacup sculpture was outside too… and reminded us it was time to head to the cafe for a cup of tea ourselves before hopping onto the East London Line to head back down South.

Ps: have you noticed my new header and fonts? What do you think?


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Meet Arabella our family goat!

A sunny day at Crystal Palace Park Farm

Sun, sea, sand & snow

13 Feb

When the hustle and bustle of London life is grinding you down, there’s nothing like wild open spaces to refresh and refocus. This weekend myself and two old friends escaped to a tiny village on the Norfolk coast for the weekend – it was the first time I’d visited the county (it’s a long way from my native Westcountry) and was blown away by how lovely it was.

And I’ve never seen snow on a beach before either!

We walked from the cottage to The Lifeboat Inn for lunch (smoked haddock risotto by the roaring fire – yum!) along the coastpath covered in snow and edged with iced dune grass.

That’s the Christmas card sorted!

Striped landscape of dunes, snow, sand and sea.

The ice-crystal-laced seaweed along the frozen tideline was so beautiful in the warm afternoon sun.

I loved how graphic the wooden sea defences looked zig-zagging through the snow as far as the eye could see.

{all Decorator’s Notebook}

On the walk back an eerie frozen fog descended and my hair actually froze… a very strange sensation I can tell you!

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