26 January 2014

Happy Birthday Virginia Woolf

25th January marked the 132nd anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s birth, which made me think of Charleston House in East Sussex – that bohemian bolt hole that has been such a big inspiration for me.

It was Woolf (ensconced in Monk's House four miles away) who recommended Charleston to her painter sister Vanessa Bell and her painter husband Duncan Grant: “The house wants doing up – the wallpapers are awful. . .” Virginia wrote, and Vanessa and Duncan certainly set to task on the interior painting and stenciling as well as decorating the furniture they found in junk shops. So you might say that without Woolf (who became a frequent visitor) the Bloomsbury decorative style would never have graced Charleston!

A Room of One’s Own

On a more personal note, as an art school student I read and loved Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own. It resonated with me during that time of women’s lib in the late ‘60s early ‘70s. It was a tremendously potent feminist text – how necessary it is for women to have their own room, their own space, just as men had their office or study. This was especially the case in the 1920s and '30s when such a space was virtually non-existent for women artists. In 1929 Woolf self-published the essay with her husband Leonard, as The Hogarth Press. (Right is the cover for the essay, designed by Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell.)

Woolf was writing about creativity for women AND men. Her book “Orlando” – with its blurring of gender or saying that gender doesn’t ultimately matter – had a big impact on me too (there’s also a film version with the gorgeous, androgynous Tilda Swinton). I feel Woolf’s saying it’s important for all artists – male or female – to be able to do their own thing.

The image below is a glimpse in to my room of my own – my studio in Oxford, which I also call 'the Potting Shed'.

The Colour Green

I hadn’t realised that Woolf tried to capture the sensation of colour through her writing and express herself much like her sister did as a painter – that is in a boho style, freeing up the brush strokes and being a bit wild.

Woolf also liked to decorate to help her relax from the rigours of writing and was especially fond of a light green which is evident in many parts of her home.

As a secondary colour, green covers probably the largest range of any colour and I particularly love green on old furniture. As for walls, well Woolf's choice may not be that far off a touch of Antibes with Old White from the Chalk Paint® range. You could also add a little English Yellow to create a lime green.

In my studio in Oxford, although I haven't painted the walls green, you'll find I've actually painted the rafters in Chalk Paint®, using a Woolfish mix of Antibes and Old White. This quiet space that I call my own gives me the freedom to think and do and create, just as Woolf believed everyone should be able to.

Yours, Annie

19 January 2014

The eye-catchy colours of Paul Klee (1)

What can I say about avant garde artist Paul Klee except he really knocks my socks off! I’d forgotten how much he has influenced me until a recent visit to the Making Visible Exhibition at Tate Modern (on London’s South Bank).

Katie Harrison (‘honorary daughter’) made me go with her boyfriend Hugo Manual (my youngest son aka Chad Valley) because as a creative herself she’s very keen on the idea that you need to ‘feed yourself’ as an artist; and she’s absolutely right!  But I need to be told this as otherwise I just keep my head down and work. So seeing the Klee show spurred to me to produce new pieces AND to think about the nature of colour.

What’s the key to Klee?
To my mind Klee (1879-1940) was a great colourist and colour has always made a huge impact on me. 

He was a very measured artist, very very thorough – though when you first see his work you think he is (oddly) lyrical and light, and quite slight. In fact when he gets into something he’ll do it again and again and again really understanding it.  He’s actually quite a mathematical artist, which I really appreciate as I love the mix of art and science. Klee was exploring a whole system: take a look below at Fish Magic (1925, 77 x 98.3 cm oil and watercolour on canvas).

It’s his exploration of colour using squares and rectangles on other background colours that knocks me out as below with Lowlands (1932, 30 x 48 cm, watercolour on paper) ...

Learning from a master of colour
The watercolour that impacted the most for me was Polyphony (1932, 66.5 x 106 cm) and on seeing it I knew I had to get home and work something up from this. In this work, he creates layers and layers of colour using a pattern of squares overlaid with different coloured dots.
It’s all about how colours are affected by the colours underneath them… how colour works and I’m tremendously interested in that. This piece made me think I want to do something like that, so I went to work when I got back to the studio.

Klee-coloured chest of drawers
The first thing I did was find a fairly modern chest of drawers that I could work with.
1. I painted the whole thing using Chalk Paint® in Paris Grey first for a good neutral background. 
2. I then ripped off various flaps from cardboard boxes and painted onto them. I used a limited number of colours from the Chalk Paint® range to keep the effect similar in tone (but not so similar that you couldn’t differentiate i.e. nothing very contrasty).
3. Next I printed (i.e. pressed) the cardboard squares onto the cabinet which gave a slightly uneven effect. The flaps of the cardboard boxes were a good size to cover fairly large areas (if the cardboard bits are too small it gets boring trying to cover a large area – so be bold use big!). 
4. Then when that was all printed (and using the same colours) I roughly applied paint onto some bubble wrap. 
5. Finally I pressed the ‘tips’ of the bubble wrap onto the surface of the chest of drawers to create the dot effects.

Be bold, be experimental
So basically you have two layers and yes it’s very messy, your hands are covered with paint and there are bits of used-up plastic and cardboards all over. 

I want to do more because now I’ve finished it I realise it was like a rough first draft and that’s fine because it’s interesting and unique and I am very pleased with it. But having done one experiment I can see other ways of doing it – just as Klee would have seen it – you don’t have to be perfect and precise and that’s what makes it so beautiful. So I’m going to try another one, perhaps this time with a more neutral finish all in greys, beiges and white. Watch out for more Paul Klee-inspired pieces!

Yours, Annie 

11 January 2014

‘Isn’t it nice to be home again?’

Last year was a momentous year for travelling. My itinerary took me to China, Canada and South Africa (with earlier trips to Cuba and Australia). I saw some amazing art and designs which has given me fresh impetus as I take my Chalk Paints and colour inspirations into 2014.

Inspired by China
China was not a business trip but a chance to see my son Henry who was teaching in Beijing at the time. It also gave me the opportunity to see first-hand some fantastic contemporary artistic works in the new ‘art zones’ in and around the city.

The artists face some huge cultural issues, and it is hand to mouth, but it’s better than any other ‘art area’ I’ve seen in the whole world. Very imaginative and completely inspiring –giving me lots of ideas I can pass on to you...
I’ve never been anywhere like it and there is certainly s-p-a-c-e: one art district called 798 is housed in vast disused East European 1950’s electronics factories. 
The colours and vibrancy of the paintings was so eye-catching – and a long way from the cultural straightjacket of Mao’s time. How these artists handle Chairman Mao’s legacy is revealing. Take a look at these images below – the bottom 2 pics courtesy of  my son Henry (www.manuelphotos.com)

© manuelphotos.com
I particularly like this image with its quirky juxtaposition of before, during and post-Mao! 
© manuelphotos.com
On a more traditional note, I saw plenty of the exquisite and ubiquitous Chinese red pigments in Beijing’s Summer Palace – my pic above shows how warm primary red makes a great contrast to cool, faded Graphite. And this is centuries old! I've used this combination to great effect with my Chalk Paint® Emperor’s Silk on cabinets and bureaus. You can see examples on Pinterest by searching ‘Emperor’s Silk’.
Canada O Canada
After China I took off again to Canada to ‘get closer’ to my stockists as I haven’t been there for ages. I went to Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver, and tied it in with two great ‘Home Shows’ at Toronto and Vancouver. The trip opened my eyes especially to French-Canadian culture, and I got a feel for Montreal and how I need to be more French-language-orientated for my stockists there!
Also couldn’t resist getting this pic in hanging out with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver in the green room at Canada AM in Toronto for their breakfast show. He’d had hair and makeup but I hadn’t.

Whistle-stop Hop to South Africa
Then I took a weekend hop to KwaZulu-Natal to see the factory in Durban that have now started to make my paint in SA. Thank heavens there is only a 2-hour time-zone difference from the UK. I also got the chance to visit our distributor there, and to take in the beautiful primary blues and greens of the Indian Ocean. I will be going back for a big stockist’s course early this year.
With Felix Manuel and my SA distributor Simon and Mary Glaister.
A flying visit from the paint factory to see Ingrid at Palette Decor & Kitchens in nearby Pietermaritzburg.

Homeward Bound
2013 was unbelievable and a bit crazy zinging across the time zones and racking up the air miles. But I’ve been positively inspired by the sights, sounds (and smells) I’ve absorbed and I am going to pass on some fantastic news, views and comments in 2014! So Happy New Year from back home in wet and windy Oxford, and for now I’m going to unwind with that sun-drenched, very short and sweet James Taylor song ‘Isn’t it nice to be home again' playing in my head...

Yours, Annie