Happy Lunar New Year! I thought I’d post some photos from the last Pig cycle (12 years!) These were taken in Liverpool, U.K. and shown as part of a Lunar New Year exhibition at the Chinese Museum of Melbourne Australia, now residing in their permanent collection.
As Liverpool has one of Europe’s oldest Chinese populations, the lunar new year celebration each year is always a colourful, noisy and fun affair. It is also really crowded, but as a photographer you have to try and find your angle somehow, which is an interesting challenge. The event is held underneath the gorgeous arch made to mark the millennium by expert artisans from Shanghai, Liverpool’s twin city in China.
Exhibition photos courtesy of curator Lorinda Cramer.
‘T’was the week before Christmas (ish.) What could you make with cardboard, no storage, borrowed paint and a handful of volunteers? Turns out, you can pull off a stage set for an Early Years Winter concert!
After my initial idea was ruled out as the Production Manager was super busy (concerts upon concerts!) and couldn’t let us use the wooden stage flats, I had to come up with another plan. I decided on rooftops made of cardboard to host the reindeer and the sugar plum fairies. This was a modular solution that we could make in a small area and store until the show, and didn’t require volunteers to have specific skills to be able to help out. I asked parents to cut up rectangles of card at home of specific dimensions, and these were turned into roof shingles. The school facilities chaps were so helpful when I kept stealing the recycling, and I visited Michaels on delivery day to snag some of their large scale packing card.
In between running around Christmas shopping some of the parents popped in to help as I set up in a corner of the school and constructed and painted the rooftops, using kitchen sponges to print brick texture. Karen, another Mum introduced me to Tuck Tape which was amazingly reliable for construction – (I won’t use anything else now!) apparently its used for actual home construction. Karen also made cute curtains which we hung inside cardboard dormer windows and lit from within.
The final set looked lovely with the addition of some fir trees (just like West Vancouver!) but the real show stoppers were undoubtedly the children, we were all so proud of their performance!
I devised this event as a fun way to bring our new Kindergarten parents together at school, but it would work equally well as a team-building exercise or corporate event.
When we decided to host a wine tasting as part of our school community building, I knew involving an element of art would be fun. I decided to incorporate something of a leveller for the playing field so that people’s inner critics would not discourage them from joining in. Leading a session of ‘blind contour’ portrait drawing surreptitiously encouraged the participants to engage with one of art’s best exercises, that of careful observation.
The exercise involved creating portraits in pairs, with the artist not allowed to look at their drawing whilst in process, and with the rule that the pen has to stay on the board at all times. Drawing each other in turn was fun and engaging, and there were a lot of laughs as our participants posed, drew, sipped and swapped notes. I also demonstrated the use of the colour wheel and provided paint so the participants could take their piece even further.
The event was a great success, with wonderfully positive feedback. Anna and David, my hosting partners, provided a lovely selection of wines from France and California and wrote helpful tasting notes, as well as allowing us to use their beautiful home for the event.
I branded the invite and handouts (tasting notes, and art history cues) with a custom logo and consistent look and feel. I’m looking forward to hosting another session!
This year, the Scholastic Autumn Book Fair theme was ‘Enchanted Forest’. I volunteered to decorate a section of the school library as part of its magical transformation.
Considering the space, I was inspired to create some enchanted ‘flying’ books to hang above the readers. I hollowed out discounted children’s hardbacks and using Mod Podge to glue the pages open at different states, and hung them with nylon wire.
The signage was really fun to make, I painted wooden boards with freehand calligraphy and added autumnal detail and glass eyes for a touch of fantasy. I made headdresses for the librarians and signage for the cashiers to match.
I prepared faux foliage garlands and festooned the trees and windows, which looked beautiful with the light shining through the Fall colours. I added details to the trees such as battery-operated candles in lanterns, LED lights, sparkling rhinestones and strings of pretty ribbon with tags for the students to write on their book fair ‘wishes’.
I love an opportunity to decorate for a party, and even more so if I get the chance to make the decorations myself! The last few years we have hosted a Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) party, inspired by the Mexican holiday and the annual festival in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.
For this year’s party I used some foam core on which I hand-painted bright calavera (skull) motifs. I created a skull and lace backdrop with twinkly lights and garlands with faux marigolds and lace ribbon, with plenty of hot glue. I painted and collaged a large polystyrene skull and a vintage sombrero that Chris bought from a work auction, which were fun decorative items and photo props. Papel picado was the inspiration for some cut paper-style foam core signs.
We also set aside a maker space and I led a craft session for my friends teaching them how to make calavera headdresses to wear, which was so fun even for the craft-reluctant!
I have always been fascinated by medieval illuminated manuscripts not just for the amazing painted miniatures and flourishes but also for the typographic inspiration. The Getty has such a wonderful collection, a rotating selection of which are always on display, and I find myself drawn to them quite often during my research for docent tours. This time however, the inspiration fed into my day job as a designer, a book layout for a client on the subject of Saint Patrick, and as its nearly St Paddy’s day, I thought I’d write a little about the process.
My client, a theology professor, had written a book about the saint’s teenage years as an inspirational story for young adults – the most unlikely character turns his life around to become a role model for later generations. It was certainly news to me that St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, started his early life in my home town of Liverpool and was captured, bound for Ireland as a slave.
Studying some of the visual cues used in medieval manuscripts from the 13th century onwards, and early printed editions of medieval inspired works such as those by the Arts and Crafts movement, I was inspired by the notion of ‘rubric’. Rubric is a device used in medieval typography for a variety of reasons such as a chapter heading, title or instruction, the word originating from the latin ‘rubrica’ the red ochre pigment used to create it.
When text is ‘rubricated’ it is highlighted in red and in a liturgical context may signify something akin to stage directions for the priest – the text left in black being the actual words to be read aloud. Other uses include red being used for the congregation’s responses, a little like subtitles on a film employing different colours to distinguish various characters’ voices. Red, and occasionally other colours such as blue or gold were used to highlight important names, first lines of psalms or section headings and for large ornamental or historiated (illustrated) drop capitals.
I decided to use medieval typography cues to draw on tradition and reference the origin of the story but also to break up the text into bite-sized pieces in an attractive and useful way, encouraging reluctant readers to not be daunted by the sight of a great deal of text. For the purposes of a book aimed at children and young adults, variation in typography adds interest but I was concerned that the text remain accessible and legible so I avoided an overly fancy script style and chose clean, sans-serif body typefaces. Also in this spirit I split the text up into sections and gave these headings to hint at what that section contained, in order to encourage further reading. The first paragraphs of the following text were set in red rubric style to further lead the reader into the chapter.
Another way I was influenced by the styling of manuscripts was to use the rubric idea to distinguish between different voices within the text. In the Patrick of Liverpool story the author has included passages of rhyme or ‘rapping’ to connect with the young audience, and I set this type as centred, in a different colour and typeface. Maewyn, the main character has his own typography style as do some other characters he encounters, this is a lively break in the narrative and attention is drawn to it visually.
The book’s illustrator is an inspirational story himself – a former prison inmate who was commissioned to create the drawings. I requested a hand rendered celtic style border from him to add to the illuminated feel, and varied the illustration layout as full page bleed or with a miniature style border to accompany the text.
As the book’s story is based on theological research it was important to include notes on this, however, I ensured information not aimed at the book’s main target audience ( such as difficult wording in the preface and reference notes section) was positioned outside of the main flow of text and set in smaller type so it is visually glossed over as ‘small print’ by the target audience in favour of the main story, yet is available for teachers or other interested parties to access.
Patrick of Ireland is available to buy on Blurb or though the publisher Liverpool Community Spirit and all proceeds go to charity.
As a transplant to Los Angeles, it was exciting to be selected for training as a Getty docent. Over many years at Tate Gallery one was encouraged to lead tours using dialogue-based, object-focused methodology, with the understanding that the passive receipt of information does not supply the tools or confidence to approach artworks, nor motivate individual engagement with them. It was refreshing to find that the teaching strategy at the Getty is just as forward-thinking and interactive, carefully avoiding a disappointing and didactic lecture-on-wheels experience.
With the belief that works of art reveal themselves over time, the focus is firmly on ‘close looking’ at a limited number of objects and sharing within a supportive environment, the resultant lively dialogue benefiting from a multiplicity of perspectives. Appropriate contextual information is introduced to extend the dialogue, not suppress other possible meanings nor suggest a ‘definitive’ reading.
Summer training incorporated a fun and well-organized balance of theoretical underpinning and practical exercises. A fascinating dossier of reading material led to animated weekly group discussions. As we were tasked with developing individual themed tours, any fears were allayed as we were supported by research materials and helpful, patient staff. We were also treated to curator time – the decorative arts lecture led to a widespread re-evaluation of tour plans to shoehorn in a fancy bed, marquetry tour-de-force or gilded sconce or two.
Selecting only four objects from the embarrassment of riches on display was a headache until the realization that one could develop several tours and rotate them as appropriate. Flexibility with object choices avoids dismay when the morning gallery mapping stars are not aligned. How liberating the ability to sneak off behind Titian’s back and leave Friedrich to his pondering whilst one runs away with Puryear and Hepworth or spends time striking poses with Batoni!
It has been such fun working with the mutually supportive, dynamic people in our group as colleagues and new friends. It is a pleasure to fulfil our collective duty to keep artworks alive by creatively engaging the next generation of visitors.
(Originally published in The Gazetty, the Getty staff newsletter)
This summer I was selected as a Gallery docent at the Getty Center in Los Angeles! It has been such a great experience going through training, meeting such wonderful people and getting to know the art work in more depth. ‘Docent’ is not a word we really use in the UK, but the role is similar to the one I held at Tate Gallery Liverpool whilst at university, as a ‘freelance artist’, facilitating workshops with visitors using close study, discussion and practical activities such as drawing.
It really is a great privilege to spend time each week up at the centre, The Meier-designed complex sometimes feels like some sort of utopian spaceship filled with treasures. I spend hours in the galleries with the works and exploring the campus discovering my favourite areas to sip coffee and study or gaze outwards at the cityscape below.
Next month we will start teaching school groups, encouraging them to look closely and engage with art, and have a positive experience of one of my favourite places in LA. I can’t wait!
I returned to one of my favorite events here in LA, the Day of the Dead festival held in the impressive surroundings of Hollywood Forever Cemetery. This year I was more focused on photography (if you excuse the pun), shooting the spectacle on behalf of the organisers, rather than getting dressed up myself, which was great fun last year.
As the event was held early this year , (I suspect to avoid coinciding with Halloween parties) it was incredibly busy, a sensory experience – so many people with their own twist on the calaca costume, fun sparkly confections to buy, tasty morsels to sample, parades, and entertainers on a flamboyantly dressed stage. As the only cemetery in the US to hold a Day of the Dead festival, art exhibits inside the cathedral, rituals and dance performances on the lake,and altars nestled amongst the tombs and gravestones celebrate the unique location with both reverence and the spirit of fun. The community altars ranged from really moving dedications to ancestors or the military to cleverly humorous subjects including the dear departed dinosaurs, and demoted planet Pluto…
A selection of images are up over on my photography site
The launch event for a charity book I designed was held in a church hall in Liverpool. Many members of the local community including Ethiopian elders and community leaders, and some special guests got together to celebrate with those involved with the book’s creation. A highlight of the evening was a haunting live singing performance in Amharic. We feasted on some festive Ethiopian fare, such as delicious Lamb Wot stew and Iab cottage cheese and yogurt, with flat Injera bread.
An evocative tale of love, hardship and success, with universal appeal, coloured with traditional detail set against the rich cultural backdrop of Ethiopia.
The book ‘Tell Out My Soul’ is a story for children of a Black saint. The boy, Yared, turns his life around from a tale of failure to self-belief and astounding success as a role model for future generations. The book’s theme was underscored by the fact the illustrations were created by a former prison inmate as part of his rehabilitation. The author is a theologian who specialises in ‘Community Spirit’ courses for the workplace to raise awareness of various cultural traditions and religious practices from all over the world.
I designed and put the book together ready for print as a pro bono project. although I am not religious, it was gratifying to be involved in a project with a great role model for young people, and positive messages that reach beyond the notion of religion. This book was created for schools and community groups in the UK, however it is available for anyone to order through Blurb, as a hardback book or e-book. Here’s a little preview:
These images are of some murals I did for a ‘multicultural centre’ during a residency in a school in the UK. On the staircase you would encounter sculpture from Ghana and Nigeria, and as you climbed you were introduced to Wayang Kulit shadow puppets and various other cultural ambassadors in silhouette. These were punctuated by full colour acrylic pieces such as this one based on a sculpture from the ‘Africa Explores’ exhibition at Tate Gallery Liverpool.
During the residency I also created a site-specific sculpture for the school library. Working with books destined for the skip, I photocopied and enlarged pertinent passages from literary sources and pasted them inside the books, their jackets painted bright colours. I fixed the pages open at various states and attached tiger-tail nylon thread. I then hung a shelf and arranged the books so the ideas therein would ‘take flight’ from the shelves to inspire young minds. Voila! a little installation hanging above the heads of readers hopefully too engrossed in a book to notice…