Sunday, January 29, 2012

Weekend foodie: Wholemeal drop scone pancakes

Stolen. From Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall. But so good I had to share them. Perfect for a Sunday morning brunch. And honestly, really quick to make (and much better for you than sugar-loaded cereal that the manufacturers would have us believe is good for us!

Serves 4 (or 2 for both Saturday and Sunday brunch!)

250g wholemeal flour (I use spelt, but wheat will also work)
2 tsp baking powder
2 organic eggs
a pinch of salt
275ml organic cow's milk or soy milk
50g melted butter
some sunflower oil

Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Create a well in the middle, crack in the two eggs and pour in half the milk and stir to create a batter, adding more milk as you go and finally the salt and the melted butter (omit the salt if your butter is already salted). The batter should reach a consistency a bit thicker than double cream.  Heat the oil in the pan on a medium high heat, spoon the mixture in (each dollop should be about 2 inches in diameter). When bubbles have appeared all across the top of each pancake, you can flip, cook on the other side for 30-40 seconds and then transfer to a plate in a pre-warmed plate (or to the plates of your breakfast companions).

Great served with any of the following: a little butter, lemon juice, agave syrup, ground cinammon, jam or any kind of fruit conserve (I heated up a handful of blueberries with a splash of water and a squeeze of agave nectar).

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Illustration pour Vogue (Exercise 2, Illustration Course)

The second exercise of the OCA Illustration course involved choosing an editorial (magazine or newspaper article), reading it through a couple of times, picking out some key words, working out what the key message of the editorial is and then creating an illustration to communicate that message.

I thumbed through one of my old Vogues, and came across an article called "Liquid History" by Sophie Dahl. I love her writing (her cookbooks are brilliant), so although the subject matter (perfumes) was not really my thing, I was drawn to read it, and decided to use it for this exercise.

I can't replicate the entire article here, but in short, it went through Sophie's personal history of perfumes, how they relate to your identity, how you choose different perfumes at different times of your life either to reflect who you are, or who you'd like to be.  I took two key words away from the article: "Scent" and "Identity". In one section, she talks about "a glamourous friend whose French-Iranian mother wore stockings and suspenders, fur coats and the patchouli-laced L'Heure Bleue". The perfume was as much a part of this woman's outward identity as her glamourous fur coat. I loved this description so much, that it ended up being the inspiration for my final piece for this exercise (fig. 1).

Fig. 1

The Process

For my tutor and those interested to read more, here was the process I went through to get to this.

1. After reading through the article a couple of times, I did a spider diagram of key words (fig. 2):

Fig. 2

 2. I decided that the article really boiled down to two things: "Scent" and "Identity", and so I set about drawing a few thumbnail sketches with some different ideas (fig. 3):

Fig. 3

3. I decided to go with my third thumbnail, inspired by the French Iranian patchouli doused mother - woman as a perfume bottle (John Paul Gaultier-esque), with a fur coat draped around her shoulders, a 1950s Dior style hat dipped to disguise the face and other bottles in the background (the implication being that those other perfumes don't have the same personality).

4. I wanted the image to be very simple, quite graphic, a limited colour palette of black, red and grey (reminiscent of the Dior New Look era). Bearing in mind the audience (Vogue readers), I wanted it to have a fashion illustration feel about it, but more 1950s than anything too modern. I flipped through some books I have on fashion illustration for inspiration (fig. 4a) and then sketched out a rough composition. I then experimented with gouache paint using different brushes and brush strokes until I was getting the kind of strokes and textures I wanted for my final piece (fig. 4b).

Fig. 4a
Fig. 4b

5. Initially I painted over my sketched out composition, but this lacked the fluidity and spontaneity I wanted, so I started afresh on a blank sheet. I think this provides much more looseness to the brush strokes, because I wasn't trying to follow any sketched out lines. Finally I scanned it in and applied a warm filter over the image in Photoshop to give it more of a 1950s feel (fig. 5).

Fig. 5

What I learnt:

I really enjoyed the process of doing this exercise. It shows that illustration goes beyond just producing an image which is pleasing to the eye. It is about communicating an idea visually. In the case of illustrating the editorial I chose, it was about drawing the audience in, giving them an idea of what the article might be about, so they want to read more. I enjoyed the process of working out what idea should be communicated and thinking of different ways to show this. I also enjoyed using gouache paint. I like that the colours can be really strong in some places and more like watercolours in others. I'm sure I could have spent even longer refining this idea further, perhaps exploring some of the other ideas more fully. I also think perhaps a portrait format would have worked better for a magazine.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Weekend Foodie: Winter Salad of Lamb's Lettuce, Goat's Cheese, Pear and Walnuts

OK, I know it's snowing outside (at least here in Bavaria anyway) so perhaps a salad might not be the first thing you're thinking of tucking into this weekend. But bear with me. This salad combines some great flavours that are around this time of year. Lamb's lettuce is hands down my favourite salad leaf: soft silky, manageable sized leaves (none of that throat-tickling frisee horror), so I'm loving that it's in season right now. Paired with juicy pear (geddit..., urgh terrible pun, I know), the salty tang of goat's cheese and the crunch of walnuts, mmmm, flavour pairings don't get much better than this.

Ingredients (to serve 4)

handful walnuts
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp raspberry vinegar (or balsamic, or red wine vinegar)
a squeeze of agave nectar (or honey will do too)
4 handfuls of lamb's lettuce (or spinach or watercress work well too)
100g soft goat's cheese (organic, if possible)
2 pears, washed, cored and chopped into small chunks

1. Lightly toast the walnuts for no more than a minute under a hot grill (watch them, they burn quickly).
2. To make the dressing, in a large salad bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar and agave nectar/honey.
3. Wash and spin your salad leaves, tip into the salad bowl with the dressing, crumble over the goat's cheese, add the chopped pears and toasted walnuts, toss it all together with some salad servers until everything's coated with the dressing.

Serve with some crusty wholemeal bread.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ink, Brayer, Paper = a Weekend of Fun

Last weekend I undertook a 2 day course in printing techniques that you can do by hand. Our tutor, Yoko Omomi, was absolutely fantastic and took us through a whole load of different techniques that you can do at home with little more than some linoprinting ink, a few different types of paper and a brayer/roller.

Here are some of my favourite works from the weekend:

"Purple Swan" - made by applying purple shades of lino ink to a loose weave fabric and then randomly and repeatedly placing this all over a sheet of paper. A plain piece of white paper with the swan cut out (from another collage) was then placed over the printed paper and the eye and beak detail added digitally after scanning.

"Storm over the City" - made by applying ink to various pieces of textured cut out paper, cardboard and netting, arranging these on a plastic board, placing brown paper on top and applying pressure with a Japanese bamboo printing tool, known as a "baren".

"Bulrushes in the wind"- Monoprint on tissue paper. Monoprinting is a form of printing technique where the image can only be made once (hence "mono"). For the image below, I applying ink to a plastic board, laid tissue paper over the board and then drew the bulrushes onto the back of the paper with a pencil and gently brushed over some areas with a dry paintbrush. Where you draw prints much darker but the rest of the image gets some lovely textures. I loved the way this technique worked with the silky tissue paper.

"Intertwined" - Another example of monoprinting, this time on brown paper. The botanical design was inspired by some sketches I did from my mother's garden last summer.

"The British Countryside (Part 1) - Inspired by Edward Bawden" - Linocut. This was for an exercise in history of illustration as part of my current studies. Unlike monoprinting, a linoprint can be printed over and over again. See the previous post Inspired by the Old and the New for more on this image.

"The British Countryside (Part 2) - Inspired by C.S. Neal" - This image was created by collaging various different printed elements, mostly using the monoprinting technique described above. I started with 3 different coloured papers glued onto paper to create the water, the land and the sky. The woodland effect was made by folding brown paper in a concertina fashion, then flattening it back out, leaving some folds in, applying ink and then printing it onto the top section of the image. The swan and the house were all made separately by monoprinting, then cut out and stuck onto the image. Then I monoprinted the whole image, adding trees, bulrushes, the man and child, the path and a fence around the house. I made the shield by applying ink to a loose linen weave fabric and printing this onto brown paper. I then drew on the lettering and the frame, cut it out and glued it in place. The image was finalised with some pastels for texture and some more pen work to define some of the elements.
See the previous post Inspired by the Old and the New for more on this image.

It was great to learn all these techniques, but one of the best things about attending a hands-on workshop like this is how much you learn from seeing what the other students create and how everyone  develops their own techniques and style. I'll certainly be having some fun experimenting more at home with what I've learnt.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Inspired by the Old and the New: History of Illustration (Exercise 1)

This exercise (the first in my Illustration course with the Open College of the Arts), involved researching a historical illustrator and a contemporary illustrator, comparing their styles and the media they worked in and then producing two illustrations, based on the same subject matter, in the style of each illustrator.

Here are my finished pieces for this exercise, on the theme of "The British Countryside", based on the style of Edward Bawden (fig 1.) and C.S. Neal (fig. 2):

fig. 1

fig. 2

And now for the longer part (for my OCA tutor and anyone else interested in the process behind these images).

Part 1: Historical Illustrator - Edward Bawden

For this exercise, I chose to research Edward Bawden (1903-1989) as my historical illustrator.  Bawden was fascinated with the printing process and much of his work was done via linocutting, lithography and copper engraving.  It is evident in the images from his prolific career (particularly his work for London Underground, see fig 3), that Bawden was very much an "observer" of life and had a great ability to find humour in day-to-day life.

fig 3.

Did his work seem "old-fashioned" to me? Well, in some ways, it looked almost contemporary, perhaps because of the clean graphic lines which the various printing processes he used (linocutting, lithography and copper engraving) lend themselves too. Perhaps also because there is a current post-modernist trend for all things "vintage". But then when you look closer at the images, the subject matter tells you they are off a time gone by (barber's shops, people wearing hats, more buses than cars on the streets of London). Also the detail in the technique immediately shows that this is not work that has been created digitally.

This high level of technique using printing media would be the first hurdle in creating a piece of work in Bawden's style. However, I started off by copying some of his simpler compositions (fig 4a, my drawing, and 4b, Bawden's original.)

fig. 4a

fig. 4b

Inspired by sketches and photographs I had taken on a walk along a canal in Buckinghamshire with my mother last November (fig 5 and 6), I decided the subject matter for my artwork for this exercise would be "The British Countryside".

fig. 5

fig. 6

This theme felt in keeping with the work Bawden did for London Underground, illustrating places that people could travel too by tube.  I chose linocutting as my medium, something pretty new to me, but a medium Bawden used frequently.

Overall I was reasonably happy with the result (fig. 7). The decorative border (of bird footprints), the composition, textures and everyday people are all inspired by Bawden's work. With hindsight, it could have had some of the underlying humour of Bawden's work (perhaps one of the swans going after the dog, although I wasn't sure if that would convey the right message about visiting the countryside). It is far from a perfect example of linocutting (I am still very new to the technique), but I like that you can tell this was made by hand.

fig. 7

Part 2: Contemporary Illustrator - C.S. Neal

I became aware of the work of Christopher Silas Neal (see through the children's book "Under and Over the Snow" (fig. 8). It is illustrated beautifully and perfectly for the subject matter. I then discovered he has done much work for the New York Times, as well as other publications and book covers.

fig. 8

On his website, C.S. Neal tells you about his processes. He works using a combination of drawing, painting, braying, hand lettering and other manual techniques and then he composes and colours the elements digitally. This combination of digital and manual techniques elevates his work beyond the often too perfect, machine-made look of digital illustration and imbues it with the definite touch of a human hand. His style often plays with perspective: large subject matter in the foreground, with your eye then being drawn to something much smaller way off on the distance.

As I am only just starting to learn the Adobe Illustrator software, I didn't feel I yet had the skills to produce artwork in C.S. Neal's style digitally. However, it struck me that essentially he works in collage. So, I opted to use manual collage techniques with coloured paper, pencils, pastels and a variety of hand printing techniques (that I learnt on a recent printing course) to create my "contemporary" C.S. Neal inspired version of "The British Countryside" theme (fig. 9 and fig. 10).

fig. 9

fig. 10

From what seemed like an impossible task in the beginning, I'm pretty happy with the final artwork. I like the textures from the hand-printed elements of the collage, particulary the trees at the top (made by inking up some folded brown paper) and the house and I like the shape of the swan and the textured "plaque". I'm not sure about the reflection, whether that takes up too much room at the bottom of the composition, so perhaps that would go if I did this again. I think the image could look a bit more like the British Countryside too - it's a little too open and not green enough, but that probably comes from taking the "Over and Under the Snow" book as inspiration - it's set in North America.

What I have learnt from this exercise:

It has been really informative to look at other people's work, both historical and contemporary and to have a go with some of the media that these illustrators have used. Next time, I will try to consider more options and do more "thumbnail" sketches before deciding on a final idea. I need to think a bit more freely, consider more options and just play around with techniques a bit more. I have a tendency to be fairly single-minded in my thought process (probably from my days as a lawyer), planning and executing everything carefully, so now I am conscious of this, I will try to loosen up a bit!

Nevertheless, I have learnt both technical skills (linocutting, printing, drawing, painting textures, hand-lettering, collage) as well as compositional skills. I hope to improve on these throughout the duration of the course, but I am happy with the start I have made through this exercise. I will definitely continue to expand my knowledge of historical and contemporary illustrators and work on both manual printing and collage techniques and getting to grips with digital illustration.

Key Resources:
Edwards Bawden's London, Peyton Skipwith & Brian Webb
Design: Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, Peyton Skipwith & Brian Webb

Monday, January 9, 2012

"Chirpy Bird, Grumpy Bird" and the problem with New Year's Resolutions

This is a little sketch I did while in Strasbourg from a decorative lamp at the hotel. I just loved the little iron birds on it. It was only when I looked at it again once I got back home, that I saw how one little birdie looked really happy and chirpy while the other looks downright grumpy. It made me smile and I thought it would be an apt image to start the New Year with, as you'll see if you read on.

I'm feeling all optimistic about 2012 (like the little chirpy bird on the left). I am full of all good intentions about the things I will achieve this year. There's definitely something liberating about the beginning of a New Year. Even though it's simply a date, you feel as if you can start anew, do all the things you didn't do the year before. But there, lingering in the background, is the fear that, despite the best of intentions, any New Year's resolutions will inevitably fail. So it got me thinking, is there any point in making New Year's resolutions? Do they help us achieve anything? Or just make us feel like failures (like the grumpy bird on the right) when we don't keep to them?

Well, I think this is part of the problem: the notion of keeping or sticking to a New Year's Resolution. It means that the thing you promised to do, is something so absolute, like "exercising 3 times a week" or "drawing every day", that the minute you don't stick to it, you have failed. And if you have failed, well, why bother continuing to try again?

The other problem with New Year's Resolutions is that they are often so vague as to be completely immeasurable. You know the sort: "I'll spend less/lose weight/get healthy".  How can you tell if you've achieved these goals, when they are so vague?

So here's my take on it all:

1. Forget New Year's Resolutions.  Instead, take some time to think about what you achieved in the last year and what you'd like to be saying you achieved at the end of this year. Think of those future achievements as goals for the year (rather than a resolution you have to keep/stick to).

2. Divide those goals into "must have"s and "nice to have"s. In other words, you are putting priority on those things that are most important to you, but still allowing yourself to pursue other goals.  Here are mine:

3. For each goal, work out a plan of action as to how you will achieve it, including individual steps required, the timeframe you'll need to do them in, contacts you'll need to make etc.

4. Use the support network of friends and family that you have around you - communicate your goals (both the long-term goals and the intermediary milestones towards those goals). That way, you'll feel accountable if you can see yourself going off track.

5. And finally, be kind to yourself! Stuff happens, and life doesn't always pan out as we plan. Things get in the way of best laid plans or the overall plan changes. So don't worry if you don't quite achieve what you set out to or if you take off in a different direction. Look back on the  positive things you have done, the new experiences you've had, people you've met and things you've learnt.  You'll probably realise you've done way more than you set out to at the beginning of the year.  And as Dory from Finding Nemo says, "just keep swimming, just keep swimming...". Eventually you'll get there!