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. 


Thursday, 26 June 2014

5 things that have made me happy this week


It has felt like a long, but very productive week. I've been doing a juggling act balancing midwife appointments, painting for a huge illustration deadline, and unpacking the flat and studio.  This has necessitated numerous trips up and down a narrow ladder into the attic to fetch boxes of pots and pans, books, and other ephemera.  I'm sure my midwife would have a conniption if she saw me scaling those dizzying heights!

So, amid the effort to find order in chaos, I thought I'd share a few things I've been enjoying...

1.  This basil plant, purchased at Sainsbury's for one pound.  What can anyone buy for one pound these days?  Not much.  I'm so happy to have the company of its heavenly fragrance in my kitchen. I wonder how long I'll be able to keep it going?  

2. Unpacking my studio and discovering art supplies I never knew I had. It might instigate a whole new phase of experimentation in my artwork as I figure out how to use them. I've never gotten the hang of watercolour pencils, even though I use normal watercolour all the time.  Any pointers? 

3.  Celery and hummus.  This is my favourite afternoon snack right now.  I never used to have snacks, but now that I'm pregnant I seem to need to eat more often (or at least that's my excuse). I just love the watery crunch of the celery with the zesty, garlic hummus.  

4. Being back in this glorious country of Great Britain.  Over the 9 years I've lived here it has become a place of great comfort to me.  I just love the layers of culture and history that you can't find anywhere else. 

5.  The gradual emergence of order out of the chaos of our flat. I've been sorting and unpacking for days. I have a strong impulse to simplify and keep only that which is either beautiful or useful (thanks, William Morris, for the inspiration).  Everything else has been short-listed to the "charity shop" pile. There is a wonderful feeling of lightness to starting afresh with fewer possessions.  

What has made you happy this week? I'd love to know.  


{antique British flags in Cape Town's St. George's Cathedral}




Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A New Arrival - How I Learn {Plus a Giveaway!}

Don't forget to join the One Picture, Three Stories Linkup!


This morning I finally opened up the large cardboard box that had been sitting in the corner of my bedroom since I arrived back in London. 

What could be inside, I wondered?

Look!  Advance copies of the new book I illustrated called "How I Learn!" with Magination Press. It will be released in August 2014, but I thought I'd share a sneaky peak with all my lovely readers. 

It's a story about three children who all have difficulty with learning in some way; one struggles to read, one struggles to write, and one struggles with math.  But, with the help of their parents and teachers, they all find a way to make learning easier!  

The story really touched me, because I often felt self-conscious about math when I was in elementary school.  I remember having to do mad minutes, where we had to solve 10 math questions in one minute.  They were simple adding and subtraction, and should have been easy, but the time pressure meant they were agony for me.  I just couldn't do them!  Math remained arduous until I had an amazing teacher in grade 12 who made everything clear for me.  (Thank-you so much Mr. Pries!)  

I can't wait to show you more of this book and some of the original sketches and paintings in August!  For now, this is all you get to see. 




And, coincidentally, I'm hosting a giveaway on Hayley's lovely blog A Beautiful Exchange.  So pop on over to her blog and enter to win an 8 x 10 print from my shop!  

If you could win any print from my etsy shop, which would you choose? I'm curious.  Why not let me know in the comments? 

Or, how about this?  Did you have trouble with anything in school, and was there someone who helped you through it? 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

What I will miss / won't miss about Cape Town


Don't forget to join the One Picture, Three Stories Linkup!

{Love for Cape Town}


I can hardly believe that I'll be leaving Cape Town today. 

When we first moved here I didn't want to stay.  The adjustment to the new city, the new culture and the new routines (including security worries) was difficult; I wanted to turn right around and fly back to London. 

But now that I've spent 3 years here, I've come to love the city like a second home. I love the warm, generous people; I love the vibrant mish-mash of cultures; I love the mountains and the sea.  

I'm so excited to be heading back to London; the timing is right in so many ways. And I can't wait to share the next chapter of this adventure with all you lovely readers! 

But, even with all this new excitement, it doesn't mean I won't be thinking longingly of Cape Town from time to time.  

What I will miss: 

-- Our gorgeous courtyard garden, filled with lavender, frangipani, bougainvillea, mint, rosemary, wisteria, and the world's largest grape vine.

-- Walking down the hill to ballet classes at the Cape Ballet Centre, and all my wonderful ballet friends. 

-- The noon gun, which has been marking midday since 1806. The cannon blast reverberates around the city and lets me know when it's time to eat lunch.

-- The view of the sheer face of Table Mountain every time I step out of our front gate. So impressive.

-- The wind.  I have a love/hate relationship with the Cape Town wind.  Sometimes it's so extreme that I'm convinced our stone house will be picked up like a feather and blown down the hill into the harbour. 

-- Driving around the hills and mountains and staring at the sparkling sea. 

-- My small studio in our house with a view of our courtyard and a glimpse of Devil's Peak above the roof. 

-- Coffee and long chats about art and "making things" with Jesse

-- Sundowners: the ritual of drinking a glass of something exquisite and watching the sun slip below the waves. 

--  Burritos at Tortilla Modern Mexican.  Nothing can beat them! There are burritos, and then there are Tortilla burritos. Nothing I've had in the States even comes close to the explosion of flavours in each bite. 

-- A leisurely braai (BBQ) in my in-laws' garden, playing with their dogs and chatting aimlessly about what's been happening in our lives. 

-- Our house. It's a 150 year old (or more) cottage built with stone quarried from Table Mountain. It gives off an amazing, deep, spiritual energy the minute you walk in the door. I wonder who has lived here before us and what stories the old stones could tell. We've been part of that long story, and soon new people will be adding their chapters.


What I won't miss: 

-- The wind. (See above)

-- The extreme heat in summer. My father-in-law always teases me that I spend the summer with my head stuck in the freezer. 

-- Constantly fighting the populations of cockroaches and other prehistoric looking insects (trilobites anyone?) that invade our house from time to time.  

-- The homeless people who sleep outside our garage door every winter. I feel deeply sorry for them, but they're a nuisance all the same.  

-- Hadedahs. These birds commute from the mountain into town every day, flying right over our house, and then back again in the evening.  They're big, ugly and sound like dogs with chest colds laughing when they "honk." 

-- The huge, high garden walls, burglar bars, security systems, and barbed wire that turn every house into a fortress. 

What are your favourite things about your home town or city? Why not share a few in the comments? 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

One Picture, Three Stories #6 {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. 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: It's a dark, rainy day, and I'm combatting it by filling my studio with light and colour. I'm not doing much painting right now as I'm working on pencil roughs for the two books that are due before baby.  I'll be finished tomorrow, and then I need to send them off to my editor for approval before I can start messing around with brushes and paint.  

Story #2: Meet my imaginary personal assistant.  Her name is Ellie Inspiration.  She's very small, just as big as an ink pot. She keeps me company while I'm alone in my studio. Sometimes she lines up my pencils for me (they're very heavy for her, so I don't ask her do it this very often).  Other times she plays solitaire on my blackberry while she's supposed to be answering emails.  I always forgive her because she's so cute.

Story #3: I have so much to do right now and very little energy to actually work.  The other day I mentioned to M that maybe I should adjust my expectations now that I'm pregnant. If I'm more tired, maybe I should take it easier.

Then, a day or two later, a friend of ours joked that when things didn't go the way he wanted, he just lowered his standards.  Now, what exactly the difference between "adjusting expectations" and "lowering standards?" To me, it's the same thing, said two different ways.

The thing is: I don't want to lower my standards. There's so much I want to accomplish, and I don't want anything to slow me down, not even a baby.

So.... that's why I need Ellie Inspiration around to pick up the slack while I'm napping.

A girl can dream, can't she?


P.S. Remember, your three stories don't have to be actual "stories."  You can just say a few interesting (or dull) things about your photo and there you go! Just think of this quote from Jane Austen's Emma, "...she only demands from each of you either one thing very clever—or two things moderately clever—or three things very dull indeed, and she engages to laugh heartily at them all." Don't worry, I'll love all your submissions! I love hearing what my blog friends have to say!


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! 


They have come a hundred years from the future to see a tree - something they have never seen before. To their dismay, the trees are leafless and out of season. The weather is not much better as their thin garments cannot keep them warm. After wandering around the park, they sit down to rest near a pond. As they inspect their surroundings, a creature with white and dark brown feathers and a yellow beak appears in the water. They know from photographs that it is a duck but they do not know how to interact with it since most animals in the future are extinct. They say hello to the duck. The duck replies with a 'quacking' sound. They laugh in amusement.



Smoky sky twinkles
with one hundred thousand stars
fishermen gaze on




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.