Monday, 30 June 2008

Through the keyhole - ALISON MILNER & STEVE SPELLER

Steve Speller, photographer and Alison Milner, designer moved into their five bedroomed Victorian terrace house on the seafront in Worthing ten years ago with their two children who were then four and six. They work together and also in their own right. Alison has recently been selected for Reflect Forward she will be making new work based on the Wellcome Trust Collection.

Outside of house and front garden. They noticed the furniture abandoned next to a fishing boat on the beach and asked the fisherman if they could have it.

As soon as Steve and Alison looked around the house they had to have it, despite not really having made the decision to move to Worthing. The two factors that decided them were; firstly the amazing view which stretches from Newhaven to Worthing Pier and secondly the huge amount of space they would have compared to their much smaller terrace house in Bow, East London. The down side was that there were plastic windows and no garden. They grew to appreciate the windows! and dug up the paving stones at the front and bought a few hundred weights of soil which they planted with hardy seaside plants. The house had formerly been part of a guest house for retired milkmen. The décor was very institutional with loads of magnolia woodchip wallpaper, firedoors painted brown, no smoking signs and safety rails. They have done loads of work on the house but parts of it still prompt people to ask if they have just moved in. The best thing they did was make the whole of downstairs into one interconnecting space.

View from window, showing their favourite tea drinking place on the seawall.

Living room: prints by Sarah Young and Jenny Newson, ceramics by Kate Malone and Arwyn Jones, tiles by Christiane and Alison, folding chair from Portobello Road (£12 in 1982) and utility chair from a skip in London.

Wire basket by Jemma Lumber who Alison taught at Northbrook, stones and leaves found on walks get deposited in it.

Hanging grass animals from Delhi Craft Museum, Lampshade made from plastic cups, clocks from a Worthing skip, sofa from Islington junk shop (£50 in 1986) chairs from ikea.

Kitchen reclaimed slate surface from Shoreham cement works, table by Simon Pengelly from Habitat, Bent wood chairs from a Conservative club in London made in Estonia in the 1940s. Crystalline glaze fruit bowl by Gordon Murdoch.

Alison took loads of photographic details around the house in preparation for this blog and this accidental but passionate meeting of a sponge and a soap dish was her favourite.

Alison has always collected bones since she was a little girl. A seagull left a dead pigeon on their roof terrace and within a few days it was reduced to this by the crows … it looks a bit like a cartoon character… Its in a part of their house not seen by the casual visitor! The Eskimo was one of Steve’s favorite toys when he was a child and has lost it’s face.

Alison will be showing Ceramics made in collaboration with Christiane Kersten at Made08.
See Alison and Steve’s website to see the wide variety of work they are involved with.

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Friday, 27 June 2008

Maker of the Week - Laura Anne Marsden


Interior accessories made from 'Eternal Lace'. This is a hand stitched lace, made using waste plastic bags instead of traditional yarns. The lace is put through various processes which change the properties of the plastic. The resulting textile is supple, flexible, waterproof and delicate in appearance, casting ethereal shadows on nearby surfaces. Eternal Lace is used to create wall pieces,cushions, panels, hangings and decorative vessels. I aim to preserve traditional stitch techniques while making them more relevant to society today, by addressing issues such as recycling and waste. Inspiration comes from many places, particularly vintage lace, organic forms, architecture, textile archives - such as at the V&A and exhibitions.

What place in the world has inspired you and why?
Paris is the place that has really inspired me in many ways, and continues to do so. I've been there many times since I was tiny as my Mum is 'Parisienne', and I'm still discovering new gems with every visit. The Museums and galleries and fantastic, I particularly love the Musee D'Orsay and Musee de la Mode et du Textiles. The latter puts on inspirational exhibitions of fashion and textile designers twice a year. The most recent was Christian La Croix, whose use of traditional stitch techniques, and sometimes outlandish colour combinations was really striking. The shades of grey found in the architecture are beautiful, and I use these greys regularly in my work. I relish discovering new independent shops. The last was a haberdashery, piled high with draws of buttons and walls covered in reels of ribbons. The flea markets provide much inspiration, rummaging through vintage textiles and old, decoupage postcards from 100 years ago.

What was the last art/craft/design thing you purchased?
The last design pieces I purchased were Margo Selby cushions when I moved house. Her use of colour and pattern is so effective.

Last best read?
'Trawler' by Redmond O'Hanlon. This gives an insight into the treacherous journeys endured by fisherman.

What do you have on your pin board?
At the moment it is a bit of a mess. I have samples up to remind me to develop them later. There are postcards of Queen Elizabeth 1st, in various ruffs, which inspire shape and form in my work. There are also scraps of antique lace, a pair of lace gloves and a starched collar. Many cuttings of fashion garments by designers such as John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. I find their use of drama and exaggerated scale very inspiring.

Where and what is your studio?
My studio is in my home, which I share with my husband. It is the smallest bedroom, though we are looking to convert the garage into a studio to accommodate equipment, and banish the mess! I work alone, which I like. I do miss the atmosphere of art school where you can bounce ideas around, and crit each others work during tea breaks. I work listening to the radio or i-pod. I find that if I work in silence I have a tendency to get distracted a bit.

When and where did you first want to do what you do?
I have always been creative and cut up my vest age 5/6 to make a cushion. Throughout school I was convinced I wanted to be a fashion designer. However, following a Foundation Course and some good advice I was steered towards Textile Design and a degree at Chelsea College of Art and Design. Initially I thought I was a print designer. After completing a 'Stitch' brief, I knew I wanted to manipulate fabric and challenge existing techniques. I specialised in 'Stitch' during my second and third year and carried on to do an MA.

One favourite historical artist?
Edgar Degas. Particularly the Dancer pastel drawings. The light, costume and body studies are very engaging. I also like the feeling of intimacy anticipation he captures in the 'backstage' drawings.

How much do you bend your 'vision' to suit the marketplace?
I try not to 'bend my vision' too much, however all designer makers have to, to a certain extent. I aim to create the large pieces I love making, as well as scaling them down and thinking on a more practical level. It's a balance between following your creative vision and appealing to the market and selling pieces! I find that people often buy a smaller piece first and then may invest in something more ambitious later.

How do you set about starting a new project? I begin by stripping my pin boards and tidying the studio. I then seek new inspiration from books, magazines, films, many sources. I then produce a few drawings and take photos. These are usually colour, shape and texture studies. I use these to inform pattern, colour and any image that I may incorporate in my work. I love the beginning stages of a project and carrying out all the research.

Do you have a good work/life balance?
I think it's difficult for most creative people to switch off completely from their work, it's a bit of an obsession. I'm a worrier, so if I'm working on an important order or for a show I find it hard to shut the door on it in the evening. I do get up in the night and jot down ideas for products or techniques quite regularly. Even on holiday I always have a small sketch book with me, in case I have any good ideas!

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Thursday, 26 June 2008

Caveat Emptor - E-Joinery - La Porte French Doors

Just by way of an update on the new studio, Damian's work has weathered the winter wonderfully, the pond is populated with plants, frogs and scurrying water beatles. The insulation has meant that the studio is usable throughout the winter and it's nice and dry. We haven't sullied the space with computers as yet and would like to keep it as non computer painting/printing studio. In fact the only problem is the only thing that we had to buy in - the doors.

We found these wonderful doors at a reasonable price on the internet from a company calledE-Joinery based in Coleshill, Birmingham. The doors were called La Porte (American White Oak french doors). They looked very good, simple, Oak doors with a big double glazed window to allow the maximum light into the studio. They also came with a one year warantee which reassured us about buying over the internet and showed that the retailer had confidence in their products. We gave the doors 3 coats of yacht varnish, hung them and they looked fantastic.

Until it started to rain. The problem was that the seal between the window panel and the wood had been fitted badly and with the wet summer, water was left standing where the seal had dropped into the frame - soaking directly into the inside of these doors. Where this happened the joints began to swell,discolour and the bottom of the doors swelled and distorted so much that they couldn't be properly closed.

A simple manufacturing error, you may think, but when refusing our claim for a replacement it turns out that the seal wasn't the problem at all but the fact we used yacht varnish rather than stain to finish the doors!

The message I suppose is double check your purchases immediately - don't let any seemingly minor fault pass, send goods back, and don't necessarily trust a guarantee, as there can be wiggle room to void it. We're pursuing the matter as we paid a lot for faulty doors and as you can see the doors have spoilt the look and utility of our bautiful new studio and we're really upset!. - I'll keep you posted.

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Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Shed Finished!!!

At long last and with various delays for wood to be delivered and painted floors to dry our new shed is finally finished and we are now in and working out how to use it apart from lounging on the deck. It does feel very posh for us, now that we've painted the inside, but it is a studio so it is going to have to get scuffed and paint splattered sometime. It's lovely working virtually in the garden with the doors open and with all the insulation we've used it's beautifully cool for most of the day until the late afternoon sun hits the windows.

We can't be spending too long slobbing in the hammocks yet though, as the pond has to be dug, clay puddled and pond lined and then all the proper work we've been dodging whilst playing builders has to be done - and the sun's out....

Anyway we're very pleased with the shed and it was a pleasure having Damien from Splinterhouse building it. I hear from other people that 'having the builders in' isn't always a good experience but I can recommend Damien both for delivering a building better than we commissioned and being good to have around. We think we got a bargain.

If you are interested in your own bespoke studio drop Damien or me a line.

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Clacket Lane Tote Bag

Mibo is a small design firm run by Madeline Rogers who was our next door neighbour when we worked from a lovely mews in Hove. Madeline gave up her day job as an Art Director for Film and Video to found Mibo and her designs found immediate resonance being quickly taken up by Habitat, Heals and the Conran Shop.

Chicken Stock Linen Cushion (Screenprint)

Mibo produces a large range of products that fit with the retro/scandi flavour that's huge at the moment however Mibo keeps it fresh and exciting. Mibo started out with lighting/printed lampshades but now covers everything including wallpaper, tiles, lighting, cushions and bags.
Clacket Lane Large Shade

Mibo isn't too grand to sell to the likes of us and has an good online shop where new products and old favourites can be bought direct from the studio.

Selsey Grey Wallpaper

Shanklin Blue Tile Tattoos

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Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Worthing Museum and Art Gallery

I finally made it to the Centenary Open Exhibition and Competition at the Worthing Museum and Art Gallery and was amazed by the variety and high standard of work on show. The competition is open to all ages and to amateur and professional artists as long as they live in East or West Sussex. The themes for the competition are;

• Reflection
• Worthing Today
• Moving On

Most of the artwork is for sale and the exhibition provides a wonderful opportunity to buy original and highly affordable artwork across all media.

I particularly liked Rosina Godwin's stitched textiles in the Reflection's section - wonderfully intricate - one of which had won a prize from local artists group RAG.

Local artists Maggie Tredwell and Sin Mui Chong-Martin both of whom are exhibiting at the Brighton Art Fair had work represented too. Sin Miu's Worthing seafront etching was lovely - especially with the hints of wood debris splashed across the top left hand corner.

Also worth a mention were illustrator Peter Slight's beautiful card cuts, Sue Cole's humorous collages and Gillian Hill's absolutely stunning mixed media collage of Worthing.

The exhibition runs until 23 August, 2008. Well worth a visit.

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Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Daily Painting

Earlier today I was at the studio of Eastbourne artist,
Julian Sutherland-Beatson. Whilst there I saw some of his new paintings, small panels inspired by the beautiful seafront and downland close to his home and studio in Eastbourne. Julian explained how he was painting every day, with a committment to creating a "daily painting", which would discipline him to a daily practice. This format of daily painting is undertaken by artists around the world and certainly seems to work for Julian who is creating some super new work.

All the work is then posted up on his website alongside a short blog. It could be quite addictive, visiting his website each day to see the latest painting!

The painting are available for sale unframed at £65.00 and can be bought almost before the paint has dried.

Julian will be exhibiting his work at several venues in the coming months. Or you can visit him at his studio by appointment. For all the details and to learn more about daily painting and Julian's work visit:
or see

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Friday, 13 June 2008

Open Houses in Henfield and Shoreham

For those of us who still want to visit Open Houses after the marathon of Brighton's festival, this weekend Henfield and Shoreham have their own festivals. Both towns have one up on Brighton as they are both very walkable and have lots happening as well as Open Houses.

Can very much recommend Alison Rankin's Felstead Cottage, Henfield, for a good selection of artists and makers as well lovely lunches and teas in her lovely garden. AND for the shed-ophiles out there Alison has build a fantastic wooden studio in the garden. (which we are hoping to feature in our 'through the keyhole' section one day)

Henfield's festival of 'Gardens and Arts' includes lovely gardens, and live music as well as visual arts and craft.

Shoreham has some open houses but also a food and drink market, a horticultural show, and an evening of Polish Folk Dancing (amongst other things)
Some of the Open Houses are Open Houseboats - such as this one on the amazingly flamboyant 'Verda' the houseboats as a whole are worth a look (as is the Norman church etc ) but this gives a chance to have a look round!

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Wednesday, 11 June 2008

MAKER OF THE WEEK - Claire Palfreyman


Using clay and occasionally found objects I create one-off ceramic and mixed media figures that I build using coils or sculpt from solid clay. My practice focuses on things and beings in transition – that are neither one thing nor another but that vulnerable state between.

Money spent on someone else’s junk is never wasted -
I find it difficult to pass a junk shop without going in and sometimes there will be something I just have to have, eg, vintage Ercol chairs or vintage plaster deer plaques…

Favourite living artist?
Frank Auerbach – particularly his paintings. I love the quality of the paint, the colour, the depth and the complete sense of being in his works that are about so much more than the mere representations they depict. The melancholy leaps off the canvas.

Favourite historical artist?
Hard choosing one but Rodin for his ability to work in both small and large scale on figures that still drawer the viewer in, constantly forcing the viewer to reassess their perceptions of the work. The style of some of his pieces is still fresh today.

When and where did you first want to do what you do?
I always made stuff as a kid – being brought up in the Scottish countryside there wasn’t always much else to do – but I hated art at secondary school as I couldn’t see why we had to draw perfect renditions of shells and those terrible still life set-ups; I felt that way of teaching art stifled creativity. So I never did a qualification in art and hadn’t ever touched clay until a few years ago.

What was the last art/craft/design thing you purchased?
I have a thing about chairs and have recently bought two original Ercol dining chairs very cheaply at two local junk shops. One has these fantastic rods that form the back and continue down below the seat. It sits in our bedroom and is the first thing I see when I turn the corner from the stair: I love it. Oh, and yesterday I was in Lewes and spent £3 on a fantastic twee vintage painted plaster wall plaque of a mother and baby deer. Still deciding where to hang it for maximum effect!

What do you have on your pinboard?
On my studio wall I have a double-page photo from a newspaper showing the England football team after they were kicked out of the World Cup in 2006 – not because I’m Scottish but because the group dynamic of the picture is fantastic – these men who worked closely together yet each faced their defeat alone. Also a flyer asking for clothing donations with a group of kids on a wall on it and a photo of my son Sam when he was about 11 dressed as a vampire version of Britney for Hallowe’en, plus another great press image of Iraqi men having a meeting on the street surrounded by bombed out buildings, and another of the world leaders at a summit – all standing in near identical poses, plus a postcard of Henry VIII – can’t remember the artist!

Where and what is your studio?
I work in a shared studio on the top floor at the Kingsgate Workshops in West Hampstead. It’s nowhere near where I live so not particularly handy for nipping back to when I’ve got work to finish, but it’s a good place to be. There are around 50 artists/makers in the building. After finishing at uni only last year where there were 12 of us per room I appreciate the ‘mental’ space I have in my studio as I’m usually working there alone. I also love the fact that the building is rather old and not very sound-proof and as people arrive throughout the day the ‘hellos’ sound along the corridors through the gaps in the walls. Radio 4 starts off the day, but I often switch it off halfway through the morning when those irritating ‘comedies’ come on…

Do you have a good work/life balance? Are you able to switch off from art work?
Is any artist/maker? There’s always something demanding one’s attention and never enough time to do them all. My art work is always in my mind, as I hope it always will be. Things constantly inspire me, but I find that most ideas come into my head as I’m trying to sleep – probably the time I get to think clearly.
I had a rare weekend away to Paris without kids this weekend and found it very inspiring – particularly the new Quai de Branly museum with its fascinating collection of early art focusing on non-eurocentric work. Great architecture, great collection, great display… oh, and great café almost under the Eiffel Tower.

What one word would describe your feeling of doing your work?

Would you rather be doing something else?
No! I’ve done a variety of ‘proper jobs’; from a background in marketing smoked salmon to French supermarkets I retrained as a journalist where I worked for free at Elle Decoration when Ilse Crawford was Editor, to being a freelance writer and eventually ending up at the BBC editing websites… I see now that each job was slightly more creative that the previous one but each one also became more stressful as they went on. I may never have ended up doing what I am doing if I hadn’t been forced out of work through ill health and took up an evening class in pottery as something to do. With a nudge in the right direction from my husband and friends two years later I was on a Ceramics degree course and here I am, one year out of uni and finding there aren’t enough hours in the day to make what I have in my head.

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Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

Many congratulations to Brighton artists Natalie Martin and Perdita Sinclair who have been selected against thousands to exhibit at the prestigious Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

Natalie Martin first showed her work publicly only last year at the Brighton Art Fair and was delighted with her success. Her picture Detail IX, Caretaker, Brighton has been chosen for the RA Exhibition.

Perdita Sinclair's selected picture is from her Sussex Landscapes Series. Perdita paints onto raw canvas and is gaining quite a reputation for her portrait work. In 2007 her work was selected for the BP Portrait Awards exhibiting in London, Newcastle and Scotland.

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition runs until 17 August, 2008. Natalie and Perdita will be exhibiting and selling their work at the Brighton Art Fair in September, 2008.

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Monday, 9 June 2008

ARTIST OF THE WEEK - Louise Balaam

Louise Balaam
I paint intuitively, aiming to capture the feelings of being in the landscape using colour and the energy of gestural brushstrokes.

Money spent on Books is never wasted
Books can take you to amazing places and give you access to other people’s thoughts and ideas.

Favourite living artist?
David Tress – I love the way he handles paint, and the way he engages (in his current show) with the idea of the Sublime, as exemplified by artists such as Turner.

Favourite historical artist?
John Constable – particularly the oil sketches. His work has such tenderness and emotional impact – his love of the landscape really shines through.

When and where did you first want to do what you do?
I used to work with clay, and had a hankering to paint, but felt somehow that I wouldn’t be able to do it, in particular that I couldn’t handle colour. Buying my first starter oil paint set felt very daring and somehow illicit!

What place in the world has inspired you?
I love Holkham beach in Norfolk – I think the sense of space is incredible, and the fantastic open sky. The first time I went I was only there for about half an hour – the weather was terrible – did a few quick drawings and then found that the place kept appearing in my paintings.

Last best read?
Wildwood by Roger Deakin – a beautiful exploration of his feelings for trees and their place in the landscape.

Who would you say buys your work?
People who engage emotionally with it – might be men or women, but they make a connection with something in the painting which has meaning for them.

Where and what is your studio?
My current studio is at home, after my previous studio (a shared barn) was sold. It would be lovely to have more space and a floor which would take more punishment, but it does have the advantage of being warm, cosy and has all my books in it. I can also work at night, which I often do, with Radio 4 and the World Service for company. Painting is a very solitary activity for me.

Do you have a good work/life balance?
I do some teaching which I find a good balance to the isolation of painting – it’s not too stressful and stops me getting too self-indulgent!

What one word would describe your feeling of doing your work?
When it’s going well, it’s a different kind of consciousness, like a trance.

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Felieke Van Der Leest- Amazing jeweller

I LOVE Felieke Van Der Leest!! I LOVE her work!! I would LOVE to inhabit her world!!! (or, at least own some of it).

I find her creations inspirational, funny and incredible. I will let her amazing jewellery and objects speak for themselves.

To quote her website....

Don't ask me why I do what I do...
Don't ask me how I come up with the things I come up with...
Don't ask me where it's coming from and what it means...
Because I don't know that much...

What I do know is...
That you can't get pregnant from a spermheart...
That even a sheep can get red ears...
And that some cockroaches like to dress up as an aphid or a ladybug... for lots more

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Thursday, 5 June 2008

Street Art at Tate Modern

Took a quick visit to Tate Modern on a very grey Tuesday morning to see Street Art. This is the Tate's first commission to use the river facade of the building to show six international artists whose work is linked to the urban environment.

The works are fantastically striking viewed from the Millennium Bridge with the mouth of a gun on the south side being perfectly placed for huge impact directly opposite St Pauls on the north side.

Street Art runs until 25th August. How will they take it all down??

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