Sunday, 27 January 2013

Januarys books.

One of my new year resolutions was to read more fiction. I have been doing this and rejoined my local library too. I am now reading voraciously.

I was going to recommend a book of the month, but this month I read two that I really loved.

For me a great book is one you can't put down, one that makes you laugh and cry and one you keep thinking about.

These would be: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery and Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.

The first is a very modest but philosophical tale of a French concierge and the people who live in her building. It's a bit like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance with a heart and a sense of humour.

The second is an epic (long) story of two comic book writers in New York during and after the war. It's also about creativity and identity.

I really loved both these books and urge you to try them.

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Friday, 25 January 2013

Harlaxton Manor

Following on from my last post, I thought I'd try and do an A4 drawing. And for that I needed a really big, fiddly house. Where better than one of my old obsessions; Harlaxton Manor. 

I've never been there. I'm not even sure you can visit as it is owned by the University of Evansville. But it is the first house in my much loved architecture tome 'The Victorian Country House'.

I love the big, rambling, weird, extravagant, even ugly Victorian houses with their endless wings and millions of rooms devoted to obscure activities such as boot polishing or oil lamp filling. Harlaxton was built between the 1830s and 50s (it took a while) and is both Elizabethan and Baroque in style. This enormous house was built for a single gentleman brilliantly named Gregory Gregory.

This also marks the official end of my fifteen year creative block. After I left art college every creative atom had been exhausted and I didn't draw or paint again for that fifteen years. It was like having an arm cut off.  But I'm back. Incidentally, this drawing is inspired by the amazing drawings of the autistic artist Stephen Wiltshire. 
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Thursday, 24 January 2013

Start Drawing!

Everyone is creative. Yes, you. And drawing and painting can be learned. But I thought I'd start with some simple helps which I use.

You need a soft pencil (not a normal HB, an art pencil of 2B (it will say on the pencil)), and a squishy rubber.  You will not need a ruler, this is art not maths.

It's ok to start small. A teeny wee picture has it's own charm and doesn't take long or get tricky. If small is fiddly, draw bigger. Use paper bigger than you think you need and lightly draw a blob, box or line to show where your picture is going. That way you won't end up squashing it in.

Ideally, draw from something in front or you. Or use a photo if that isn't practical. Please don't copy other people's pictures, you have your own originality.

Look carefully at the object or image. Look for the shapes it is made up of. Is it round, square, triangular? Look at the sizes of different bits and the proportions. Looking is the most important part of drawing.

Now draw these shapes very lightly onto your paper. Try not to rub out too much. If it is going wrong it is always better to start again because you have already learned from your first go. Once things start to look right you can draw over them more strongly, but don't go too dull and heavy. Don't worry if your lines are wibbly or wonky, your picture will still look good. Now add in some detail. Again, look carefully to see how the shapes work. Are they curly, boxy? Is there a pattern on the object? Draw it on lightly.

Carry on doing this until you have included as much as you like. It may a simple drawing or it may be very detailed, it's up to you. Look at your drawing and feel pleased. You did this!

That Bigger Painting

One of my New Year resolutions was to do some bigger paintings. This, admittedly is not huge, it's only A5. (For anyone who doesn't know paper sizes, that's half as big as A4. A3 is twice as big as A4 and so-on...) Here is a useful link if this interests you.

I was attracted to the lovely St James on the top of Holburn Street partly because it is in my usual stomping ground and mostly because it is pink! Pink granite is especially lovely when everything is so grey. The church has also just been cleaned so looks especially good.

I visited the inside on Doors Open Day. Being an Episcopal church it has gorgeous architecture and stunning stained glass and interiors. Many Scottish churches are deliberately plain and dour, which is disappointing for the building enthusiast. If you get the chance to go in, do. More information about the church on their website.

And yes, it should have a tower and spire, but that never happened due to an acrimonious and complex religious and legal problem which absorbed all the church funds for many years. Sadly I can't remember the ins and outs of it, but hopefully someone else might...

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Caring for Vintage

Following on from my last post, I was pondering that vexing question...'I've just bought something great from a vintage or charity shop or ebay, but how do I clean it?'

First off, does it need cleaning? Check it carefully all over and smell it. If it is clean but fusty, try hanging it overnight in a room (or even outdoors) to see if it smells better. Do not spray with Febreze or similar, these cleaners are damaging.

Secondly, how to clean it? The important thing here is to identify the material and any trims. There won't be any care labels or materials listed on any vintage item. If it is cotton, knitted wool, linen, polyester, Dacron or nylon you should be able to wash it yourself. Don't put it in the machine! I handwash with Alur liquid wash (small things in the sink, large in the bath). Always use tepid water so things don't shrink and dry them naturally.

If you don't think you can clean it, take it to the dry cleaners. I go to Timpson's who will offer an honest opinion on if it can be dry cleaned and many other useful thoughts. Build up a relationship with your dry cleaner, I always get this great lady in the Timpson's in Sainsbury's Garthdee. Usually dry cleaners will do your woven wool such as coats, jackets and skirts. They avoid early synthetics which can dissolve during the process. Beading, sequins, fur, buttons and metals can also be damaged by the chemicals.

Avoiding cleaning: This idea is anathema to us today, but in history elaborate garments were rarely cleaned. They were worn with washable layers beneath so they didn't get dirty. Long dresses even had detachable hems to collect mud and dirt. In the 1930s and 40s dress shields were worn (still available) in the armpits to prevent the horror of sweat ruining your dress. Be careful of sweat, also of foundation, fake tan and greasy make-up etc touching your garment when you wear it. The easy way to avoid these problems is to buy vintage clothes that don't need cleaning often, such as coats, jackets, skirts and evening dresses. Avoid anything you wear everyday or next to the skin unless you are sure you can care for it.

Altering vintage: Feel free to remove any non-original alterations but please don't alter anything special or from before 1970 or the Curator in me will feel a disturbance in the force. Respect the History.

Vintage Obsessions

Vintage Shopping. The thrill of the chase, the nostalgia of times gone by, the romance. Sometimes I even dream about finding an enormous wardrobe of vintage clothes to try on...drifting silk dresses, rustling ballgowns, dramatic coats...

Speaking of dramatic coats, my latest ebay buy, pictured on left. I love buying coats (which is good as I live in Aberdeen and need them most of the year.) And evening bags, but I've already pictured several on here. This is probably an early 60s coat (my favourite vintage period). Black wool with Enormous buttons and fake fur trim and an all-encompassing bulged shape.

Things I like on coats: really big buttons, fur, heavy fabrics, structured shapes. A good coat gives you drama and glamour and is an armour against the outside world.

It's snowing again outside my window, and I am blogging to stave off cabin fever.  So pretty though. And means I've actually spring cleaned the whole flat this month.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Interior Inspiration

Many of you may know this, but I actually did a degree in Interior Design. However, as we concentrated on big, architectural stuff this left me unusually uninspired in the face of the small flats (rather than derelict industrial buildings or giant stately homes) that I actually lived in.

As always, I sought inspiration in the happy world of books. As I am currently rejuvenating my collection of interior design books, which tended toward the 'Lady Fetherstonehaugh shows us around her Georgian Drawing Room' school I thought I would list some old and new favourites.

For me, the bibles in interior design are 'Terence Conran's The House Book' vols 1 and 2 (reviewed here on the excellent Apartment Therapy blog). Volume 1 is especially brilliant, being of the 1970s Habitat period of decorating, essential for that Bohemian 70s look I grew up with. Vol 2 is more 80s/90s but still chock full of great rooms. I inherited these from our family book collection when I moved.

Recently, my two new favourites are the inspirational and useful 'Design Sponge at Home' by Grace Bonney (thanks to Sarah Rooftops for recommendation) and the fabulously decadent 'Seductive Interiors' by Sera Hersham-Loftus. The former is great for creative ideas for where you actually live and the latter for fantasising that you actually live on a houseboat done out like an Edwardian boudoir.  Actually I mostly fantasise about living in a decrepit Gothic country house. Or an apartment on Paris' Left Bank. Or in that cliff top modern house in Diamonds are Forever (where Bond is attacked by Bambi and Thumper in an amazing swimming pool.) This is actually Elrod House of 1968 by genius architect John Lautner, all of whose houses are just stunningly glamourous, spectacular and eye bogglingly modern.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

January the Longest Month

January. It's dark, it's cold, it's long. Xmas and New Year have passed. Many people (like Alistair) are working like dogs. So how to cheer yourself in this grimmest month of the year?

Here are some of my January Lightening ideas, to stop the month being just about survival and maybe glean some enjoyment from it.

Read Library Books. These winter months are the perfect time to catch up on some reading. Try some new authors and genres!

Spring Clean. It's horrible out. You're stuck in. So make the most of it and blitz the house. Rearrange some stuff and maybe get a few new things. Those old tins, boxes, jars and bowls you are hoarding make great storage. Get stuff out that you have stored away and think about displaying some of them. Buy flowers, which will cheer you up. They are very cheap in supermarkets. My favourites are tulips, I love all bulb flowers somehow, and my Granny used to grow fantastic tulips.

Buy some winter clothes. The sales aren't always that revelatory, so get to some charity shops or on ebay and buy a second hand winter coat. Not a chain store one, a proper old one. Good coats last forever and a second hand one is half the price of something cheap and new. Pyjamas are also a great thing to buy, get a really kitsch pattern like roses or tartan to cheer you up.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Glowing Windows

This is a special post for Leen, my most faithful blog follower. Who recently got some books on architectural details, and likes windows.

This is a lovely art deco geometric window I spotted while driving through a council estate in Aberdeen. It is good to think that even council houses were thoughtfully detailed.

I especially notice windows when it is cold and dark in winter (or in Aberdeen, most of the time). Many older houses here have gorgeous stained glass windows which are beautiful with the light shining through. As you pass outside you think how cosy and welcoming it must be inside.

Where I grew up in West Bridgeford, the houses in the street next to mine had different round stained glass windows by the doors (photo 3 with windmill pattern) showing the sea with boats, the countryside and so on, all in a lovely 1940s(?) style.

Look for stained glass today!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Cute Tech

As a complete contrast to the last post, with lovely old technology, here is some lovely new technology.

When I was young, a stereo was about the size of a coffee table, always black and covered in loads of unlabelled dials, sliders and illuminated graphs that went up and down.

This is my portable stereo. On the left, a speaker shaped like a bunny head. On the right, an ipod. This picture is lifesize. I am amazed that this is possible, truly The Future is Now.

Alistair very kindly got me a new ipod for Xmas as I had filled the other with upbeat music to run to. This one has easy listening to relax me on long train journeys and while doing my collections care work. Stuff like Henry Mancini, Xavier Cugat, BB King, Dave Brubeck and Herb Alpert.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Things you find when You're Tidying

Every Xmas break, I try to tidy the house, clear out stuff accumulating in cupboards, boxes, magazine racks etc.

My local Oxfam shop is often overwhelmed by the bags of stuff I (slightly shiftily) drop off with them. I'm painfully aware it is a side effect of my love of shopping.

One of the great things about tidying though is the things you find that you'd forgotten about. No, not a vintage phone sadly, but a set of Vintage Office style ink stamps.
I love old office stuff, when I worked as a Curator in Manchester I was always zooming out to see old tills, pre-computer counting machines and the like. Incidentally, does anyone else remember dial phones, or am I just being old. I loved the Brrrrrr noise as the dial swung back and you stuck your finger in for the next number. I can also use a slide-rule, which you don't see much anymore. I also love old office interiors. I remember going with my friend Sarah Rooftops and sneaking into an old building where they sold hoover supplies. The wood office partitions with the frosted glass! The worn linoleum! The enormous safe! I love places like that.

Learning Running

Learning Running? We all run, how hard can it be?

Well, there are still things to know, and most I learned the hard way. Here are my (completely unofficial) running tips based on my personal experience.

Follow a running programme so you can build up your strength and stamina gradually. It's more satisfying and keeps you motivated. Try aiming towards a race, not to be competitive but so you can achieve something brilliant.

Always stretch and walk for a bit before and after or you will hurt yourself. If you are sore, arnica gel is good rubbed on the legs. If you start to hurt, slow down or walk for a bit until it passes.

If you get stitch you may be overdoing it. Try slowing down and concentrate on your breathing until it passes. Also wait at least 1hr after eating before you run, but not until you are hungry or you will have no energy. Have a healthy snack after and drink plenty of water. I don't like to drink while running, but I know many people do.

Keep trying hard: you need to be sweaty and breathing hard or it won't be working. Breathing hard expands your lungs (good for asthmatics like me) and will improve your breathing. It's ok to breathe through your mouth. You should be sweaty and have a gentle ache in your legs when you finish. I found, initially, my upper body and core ached a lot too as this was also being exercised and strengthened.

Find nice places to run, a friendly gym for bad weather and local pedestrian routes in parks and scenery, it will lift your mood as well as helping your body.