Thursday, 28 August 2014

Life in a London Flat #3

Small green things make my heart soar.

The thing about living in London is that you spend most of your life surrounded by bricks and concrete. The city might be famous for its languid parks that operate like green lungs pumping oxygen into the air, but there is still a lot of pavement to contend with on a daily basis.

The solution is to bring a little green into your home to add life and colour to forgotten corners. Houseplants can become your best friends.

At the moment I have a basil, a miniature rose, a convalescent lavender, and a few sprigs of ivy calling the top of the fridge home.

The rose completely surprised me. I bought her thinking she would be a demanding mistress, like the rose in the Little Prince, but she's turned out to be a wonderful flatmate.  She never asks for more than she receives, and quite literally, seems content to bloom where she's planted.

The basil is also a very easy houseguest.  I forgot to water him the other day, and he never complained. Though he did sulk for a few hours before forgiving me.

I'm starting to root the ivy shoots, as I remembered that I used to love all the ivy plants in our house when I was growing up.  Don't tell anyone, but I stole the shoots from a mass of ivy growing in a neighbour's front garden.

And the lavender? I'm not sure exactly what his issue is.  He was doing fine for weeks (weeks!), and then he suddenly started losing needles and drooping. I'm doing my best to reconcile whatever differences we might have, but worry that I might lose the battle.

The most important thing is that I love the way the air feels cleaner and more alive with them around. They make our little London flat so cheery.

Do you have any favourite houseplants?  Where do they live in your home? 

More tips for London living HERE.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Let's paint the town...

The other day I was walking home from the grocery store and I saw a blank billboard above one of our local cafes.  

I wondered, "What if artists could take over the billboards of London for one day? What would the city look like?" 

Sometimes I get tired of being forced to stare at advertising for phones, cars, musicians, movies and car insurance packages. I'd much rather wander down the street and stare at beautiful, inspired work by local artists. 

So, I came home and placed one of my own paintings on the billboard in photoshop.  

It's fun to dream, isn't it? 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A few snapshots of my studio

These past few weeks I feel like I've been participating in a triathlon, but instead of three sporting events I'm working on three creative endeavours.  The first is book one of Mattie's Magic Dreamworld for Random House Struik, the second is book two in the same series, and the third is baby!  (You can see a few watercolours from book one above)

Let me tell you, creating a person is a lot harder than I expected it to be.  It is both physically and emotionally draining.  Much of my creative energy is being siphoned off into the task of building a this little human, which is such an amazing and inspiring process!

In the meantime, I'm enjoying home-made lattes and the post-storm rainbows I've been seeing above the rooftops of London. 

What's been happening in your life lately? I'd love to know! 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Adventures in... the Netherlands

{The North Sea near Bloemendaal}

I was going through my hard drive the other day to back up my files, and I found the photos from my Easter Break trip to the Netherlands. It seems ages ago; almost like it happened in a dream. Even though it was so long ago, I thought I'd share a few of my favourite pictures, or else they'll keep gathering dust inside my MacBook. 

At the time I was newly pregnant, and suffering severe nausea.  I tried my best to make the most of the holiday and enjoy being a tourist, but to be honest, most nights I ended up curled up in bed wishing I were home.  

Having said that, the Netherlands is one of my favourite countries in Europe.  I love how small it is, and that you can cover its terrain from one side to the other easily in a day; practically any town is accessible as a day trip.

My mom and I stayed with a good friend who lives in Bloemendaal, a small town just outside Haarlem, and a short train journey from Amsterdam.  It is a gorgeous community nestled beside the blustery North Sea. In the evenings we took long drives along the coastal roads to admire the sunsets, the swaying beach grasses, and the brave kite surfers. 

A few of my favourite things to do in Amsterdam...

Amsterdam is not my favourite place in the world.  Every time I visit the Netherlands I resolve to find something to love about the city, but aside from the museums, I always find it hard to warm to the place. As far as I'm concerned it's full of noisy tourists, hippies and teenagers that reek of weed, street trams and bicycles racing in every direction (so you never know when you might be run over), drifts of litter, and annoyed dutch people (I'd be annoyed too, if I had to deal with all the aforementioned).  

If you want quaint canals, gorgeous dutch architecture and tulips, there are much more beautiful places to visit than Amsterdam.  

However, if you're in Amsterdam...

1. The Rijksmuseum. It has a stellar collection of Vermeers and Rembrandts, and much more. Plus a great cafe if you want to rest your eyes, feet and sample some nouveau dutch cuisine. 

2. The Van Gogh museum.  Van Gogh's paintings are so full of life and emotion; seeing them always leaves my heart both full of joy and a little raw.  

3. The Amsterdam Flower Market.  This is the only floating flower market in the world.  It blooms with fragrance and colour in any season. 

A few of my favourite day trips... 

These are the small towns and cities that epitomize everything I love about the Netherlands: glittering canals, gracious city squares lined with cafes and restaurants, amazing museums, and friendly people.  

1. Haarlem: Visit the Frans Hals museum and wander the narrow streets tracing webs around the wide canals. 

2. Delft: Visit the Vermeer museum and buy some stunning blue and white Delft ware china.  The central square is long and narrow, and has a tall tower to climb so that you can see the whole town laid below you, as well as the all horizons of this small, flat, little country. 

3. Leiden: A bustling university town filled with trendy students and great restaurants and cafes.  It was the birthplace of Rembrandt. 

4. Den Haag: The centre of Dutch government. Every street is lined with chic boutiques, gracious palaces and government buildings. 

5. Keukenhof gardens.  In the spring, this is the ultimate place to see more tulips than you could ever imagine.  We happened to go on the day of the flower parade, which made the gardens and nearby town very festive. Go early in the day to avoid the crowds. 

6. Utrecht.  A gorgeous university town with lovely cafes, boutiques and a church tower near the main square that plays a full carillon (a song played on the bells) at midday.  It's the perfect place to sit for lunch while listening to the pealing bells and water lapping in the canals. 

What to eat... 

1. Make sure you try a stroopwafel with your coffee.  This is a small biscuit or cookie made with two thin layers of waffle filled with caramel.  To soften the caramel you lay the waffle on the rim of your cup so that the steam warms the sugars.  There's no need to dunk. 

2. Vla.  This is a dutch version of pudding or custard, but so much better.  

3. Go to a Pannekoeken Huis.  The dutch serve their pancakes almost like pizzas, with numerous sweet and savoury toppings.  The best pancake houses are in the smaller towns and rural areas. 

4. Cheese.  There are cheese at every corner with windows stacked with delicious looking blocks and wheels of cheese.  Make sure you pop in and sample some of the local delicacies.  

Have you been to Amsterdam or the Netherlands? What's your favourite thing to see or do?

Or, Do you have a favourite holiday destination that you keep going back to time and time again? 

You can find other Adventures in... posts HERE

{Blooming trees in Bloemendaal}

{Delft cheeses}

{the clear, slanting light of the Dutch masters was everywhere}

{Delft from the tower}


Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Life in a London Flat #2

Two days later, Maureen woke to a bright sky full of promise and a light breeze that played at the leaves.  The perfect washing day. She fetched the step-ladder and took down the net curtains. Light, colour and texture over the room as if they had been trapped in the space behind the nets all along. The curtains were white and dry within the day.  Maureen folded them into bags and took them to the charity shop.  -- Rachel Joyce "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry"

London is a city filled with 8 to 15 million curious people (depending on how you count it).  They're all busy living their lives, and avidly watching everyone else as they do it.  With so many people-watchers around, it's vital to carve out a private space just for yourself.

Windows are wonderful, don't you think?  They let the light in.  You can sit by them and daydream while watching the sky.  But also, since people can see in, they can become like mini-theatres where passers-by watch the dramas of our lives unfold.

So, how to let the light in, but not the prying eyes?  Net curtains, of course.  

I find it interesting that in Rachel Joyce's book, net curtains were a symbol of the repressed life that the character Maureen wanted to leave behind.  She thought she was hiding behind them and not letting anyone or anything new into her life.

To me, they are a symbol of safety and freedom, and they are an absolute necessity for London living. With gauzy curtains in one's windows, one can live freely and uninhibitedly without worrying that other people are watching.

There is a lovely family who live in the flat across the road.  (You can see their window boxes in the photo above).  They don't have net curtains (or any curtains at all, as far as I can tell), and in the evenings, I actually have to make a concentrated effort not to look at them as they sit and watch TV or eat their dinner.

Perhaps in the small village where Rachel Joyce's characters lived there were fewer prying eyes, making net curtains unnecessary.

I don't know. But I certainly love the privacy; I love way the sun catches them at certain angles transforming them from ordinary netting into gossamer lace; or, the way the wind makes them billow and dance like summery ante-bellum skirts.

What do you think? How do you keep passers-by or neighbours from peeping into your world?

Curious about London flat living? More here.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Windows of London - Queens Park

Last night, in the face of the imminent deadlines (books! baby!), I decided I needed a little creative break.  I love what I do, but sometimes working on the same project for too long can cause creative burnout.  I needed to draw anything else but what I was supposed to draw. 

And what would that be?  

I few weeks ago I stumbled upon the website called Windows of New York, which is a digital sketchbook by a graphic designer who draws New York windows in his free time.  Each drawing is a beautiful little poem of love for his city.  

So, rather than drawing children, or elephants, or giraffes, I thought I'd draw a window.  This is one of the windows I see on my daily walk to the high street.  It's so cheery with its bright box of geraniums and blowing curtains.

Part of this creative break also involves using different art supplies to exercise my artistic muscles.  I love coloured pencils, and I don't use them nearly enough.  I think I might fill my recreational sketchbook with more coloured pencil work in the near future.  I love the scumbly, soft texture of the pencils on textured paper. 

And while we're talking art supplies, will you indulge me while I geek out a bit and share what I used?

Sketchbook: A5 softcover from Seawhite of Brighton
Pencil: Faber Castell Polychromos in Burnt Umber
Watercolour: Winsor and Newton in Alizarin Crimson

What do you do when you feel stuck on a project and need some inspiration? 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Today is... monochromatic

Today was mostly monochromatic.  As I wandered the hot, hazy, summery city, I saw lots of black, white, beiges and greys.

I spent the morning visiting the Matisse exhibition at the Tate Modern, which was definitely not monochromatic; I loved his bold use of primary colours. Afterwards, I sipped my decaf latte in the Tate cafe and made lists of all the things I need to accomplish this week. 

Don't you just love this view of the Thames river and St. Paul's Cathedral in the distance?   

That's a little glimpse of my part of the world.  How was your day today? I'd love to know! Is there one word you could use to describe it? 

P.S. And don't forget to join the One Picture, Three Stories linkup! There's still time before the first week of August to get your ideas brewing! 

{beautiful birches in front of Tate Modern}

{Finally a cool breeze in my bedroom window}

{And to all a good night...}

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Life in a London Flat #1

Now that we've moved back to London, we're trying to make our flat feel like home. This city can sometimes be big, busy and overwhelming (and so, so inspiring at the same time), so our home needs to be serene, quiet and cozy.  It has two bedrooms, one bathroom the size of a mouse's waistcoat pocket, and a kitchen/living area that feels pretty spacious because it's open plan.  

I had thought of titling this post "Life in a small London flat," but as far as flats go, there are plenty that are smaller than ours.  Even so, sometimes our little home can feel quite small, indeed. 

For me, this flat has to be home, office, and studio, all rolled into one.  So, I thought I'd start a serialized guide on how to make all this work in a small space (in a big city) and stay sane...

Here it goes.... Survival tip #1: 

Paint everything white. 

This might sound sterile, or boring, but believe me, it makes the world of difference.  When we first moved in, the flat was a rainbow of colours; the hall was Van Gogh yellow (including the ceiling); the main bedroom was dusty lilac; the living area was ultramarine blue. Coming home felt like entering a kaleidoscope. 

London is colourful enough as it is. The last thing anyone wants is to return home after a busy day and be bombarded with even more sensory overload.  And besides, there's nothing like white walls to make a space feel big, light and calm.  Which is exactly what one needs during the long, dreary London winters.  

What do you think?  Would you paint a small space in bright colours, or stick with whites and neutrals?  
{Cozy cushions to curl up with after a long day}

Friday, 11 July 2014

Thinking about Life and some Inspiration for the Weekend {7/12}

{Lovely spring blossoms in the Netherlands}

Sometimes I get frustrated that life never gets any simpler. I try to pursue the ideal of zen calm, but it always seems to be a losing battle against the ever escalating storm of chaos. Do you know what I mean? No matter how hard I try to meditate, or eat healthfully, or exercise, or keep a daily routine, I never seem to make any headway against this craziness we call life.

Now, I see that this is the way things are meant to be.

Life is like the plot of a novel, which gets more intricate and complicated with each turn of the page. The plot rises until the very end with lots of twists and turns to add interest and intrigue. And the denouement (the last chapters) should be as many pages, and as many days, away as possible, because that means the story is finished. And we want to keep on telling our stories, don't we? 

So, instead of fighting against the craziness, I'm trying to live with it.  Embrace it, even. We're all living our own adventures, and writing the story of our lives, day by day. All those twists and turns are there to make life interesting!  

So, while we all navigate our stories, here's a little inspiration for the journey...

How do you archive digital images? Amazing article for all photographers and illustrators (read the comments, too!)

How to write your name in a new notebook or sketchbook. (accompanied by fab 70s disco music)

The bluest sea I've ever seen. (Makes me want to go back to Greece...)

A woman who has kept a diary for 75 years. Fascinating.

"I found myself saying to myself... 
I can't live where I want to... 
I can't go where I want to... 
I can't do what I want to.  
I can't even say what I want to. 
I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to... 
that seemed to be the only think I could do that didn't concern anybody but myself." 
-- Georgia O'Keefe, 1923   

Thursday, 3 July 2014

One Picture, Three Stories #7 {Blog Link-up}

Welcome to One Picture, Three Stories!  This is a monthly link-up where we share one picture and tell three stories (or facts) about it. Unraveling the many layers in a single captured moment is a great way to train your brain to look at things from multiple angles. It can be as simple as sharing three facts about a photo, or as elaborate as writing three short stories or poems. It's totally up to you! I'd love for you to join me and add your link below. It's a great way to make friends around the world and to challenge your creativity! 

Story #1: I was looking through my picture archives for this month's One Picture, Three Stories post when I noticed this photo I took on a short break in the Netherlands this spring. I spent the day in Delft, which is a gorgeous small town approximately 30 min by train from Amsterdam. Seventeenth century Delft was Vermeer's home (one of my favourite painters), and also the place where the ubiquitous blue-and-white Dutch crockery was first manufactured.  

Story #2:
  I love cheese; I love the Netherlands; I love Dutch cheese.  Edam, Gouda and Leerdammer, oh my!

Story #3: This simple, symmetrical, clean image somehow sums up the Netherlands for me. It is such a small, neat and organized country. Everything is immaculate, just like these windows of cheeses; nothing is a millimetre out of place.

I want to thank everyone who participated last month!  I was so excited to look at your pictures and read your stories.  I can't wait to read all your submissions this month.  I'll be featuring a few again next month, so make sure to post your link below.  

This month I'm featuring the photos and short excerpts of the stories as quotes! 

When I look into the mirror, I see pieces of myself.
Before my eyes is my face in a square on the wall,
In the Mirror, I do not see my thoughts & memories rushing through my brain.

At the end, she sat on this log, picking at the moss, content for 20 minutes.  She would have sat longer had we decided to stay.

I picked her up, and whispered to her, “thank you for waking up early so we could have this time together.  Thank you for being you.  I love you.  READ MORE HERE.

One by one, they repeated the process until all the cans were empty and every inch of the piano was covered in paint. The students were delighted by the what they had done. They laughed happily. When they looked down at themselves, they found they too, were covered with paint. It made them laughed even more. The next day, when the paint had dried, the movers returned and took the piano to the center of a prominent street area where it stood ever since, awaiting for passerby to play it.  READ MORE HERE. 

I'd love for you to join me in sharing "one picture with three stories."  The stories can be factual or fictional, they can be inspiring, funny, educational, or entertaining. They can be one sentence long, or much, much longer.  The pictures can be photographs or sketches, or whatever tickles your fancy.

Give us a glimpse into your home, your town, your world, your past, your present. Nothing is too simple to feature in One Picture, Three Stories.  

The whole idea is that each picture has many layers of meaning. So show us all your layers! 

Follow the link-up on Twitter using hashtag #1picture3stories. 

You can see past examples HERE

One Link-up, Three Guidelines: 

1.  This will be a monthly link-up, so you have plenty of time between now and next month to add your link.  

2. I'll choose three participants to feature on my blog each month.  In order to be eligible for selection you have to link your "one picture, three stories" link-up post back to my blog in some way. 

3. Make sure you visit other linked blogs to read their stories, you might make new friends all over the world! Don't forget to leave a friendly comment to show your appreciation.  

Note: If you're reading in email or a feed reader, in order to see the link-up entry form, you'll probably have to click through to this blog post.  And, if the form doesn't work, please leave your link in the comments below.