The legend, Norman Ackroyd is a master etcher and print maker. After catching the BBC documentary, What Do Artists Do All Day?, his imagery has been permanently etched into my mind, the atmosphere, the rolling heavy weather, you can hear it, squally and wild.
"I don't have any grand plan, I just go where instinct takes me." - Norman Ackroyd
Fascinated by Thorunn Arnadottir's collection, Skip Ahoy! The quirky range was born out of a project called: 'Austurland: Designs from Nowhere', initiated and curated by Karna Sigurdardottir and Pete Collard. The project aimed to explore the possibilities of small-scale design and production in East Iceland, using locally sourced materials and skills.
Catching up with Thorunn, she shared her story of working alongside the team at Egersund who make and repair fishing nets. Using the same materials and techniques, but on a smaller scale, she created the curious collection from materials from their workshop. Focusing on ‘playtime’, the range features skipping ropes, hula hoops, bags and key-chains made from hard wearing net material in a variety of colours. Some pieces in the collection include reindeer antlers and bones as handles, bringing together elements from land and sea in East Iceland. Some of the products also include material that was no longer in use at the factory. Even though the factory waste would have been sent for recycling, I love how Thorunn has extended the life-span of the material bringing a smile and a whole lot of fun to her community before it too can be recycled at the end of it's playful life. To see more: thorunndesign.com
Cat Bennett is an artist and author with an infectious positive spirit and one who can see the creative potential in each and every one of us. I admire her tireless enthusiasm and nothing will stop her believing in you. I've not come across many people like Cat and I've been incredibly lucky to work with her these last couple months and I cannot recommend her books highly enough; The Confident Creative and Making Art A Practice
I asked Cat if I could share an extract from her first book, The Confident Creative and she kindly said yes. It's a real honour and a pleasure to share it with you today.
It was a howler of a night as the wind whipped itself around our creaky house here in Devon, so I can only imagine the wildness that is being faced on the isle of Orkney, the home of knitwear and textile designer Hilary Grant. If anyone can be qualified in the art of staying toasty, Hilary is your girl. Along with a skilled team of craftsman, she creates colourful and practical knitted scarves, hats and gloves from high grade lambswool, throwing a lifeline to us teeth-chattering folk.
What I love about Hilary's work is that it's far-away from fast fashion and bang-on in terms of style and practicality, with each piece designed to be cherished winter after winter. And for those wondering if businesses can thrive when not based in a city, here's proof that with a wifi signal and a 'get-outta-here' ocean view, it is very much possible, along with a fascinating and authentic story to boot. To see more of Hilary's work and journey, be sure to check her website, Instagram and Facebook pages.
A couple weeks ago, Jim Marsden, a passionate and talented photographer posted one of his trademark black and white photos along with an Edward Abbey quote on Instagram. A winning combination. After a couple weeks, it's still with me and when this happens you know it's good. If there's one career path to follow, part-time crusader sounds like the one.
I often find myself trying to peer under the blanket of marketing and perfection to find the interesting and authentic bits. If there's any sign of imperfection or a mark of the human hand it makes me breathe a sigh of relief followed by a woop-yeah of excitement. Neasden Control Centre, AKA Stephen Smith is an artist and Illustrator who's work has an unapologetic honesty. Instinctive, unique and colourful. Whether it's art, Illustration, installations or ceramics, I'm very much in love with every bit of it. Here's just a small selection of his work. To see and learn more visit NeasdenControlCentre.com
For me, talent doesn't come much greater than that of photographer and film maker, Mickey Smith. Luckily for us, he's got himself a web gallery, and it's awe inspiring stuff! There's also the opportunity to grab yourselves an epic moment in time in either print or canvas form. If there's a place to escape to on the web, this is it.
I hope for those reading this little blog of mine, you're not too fanatical about rules, as I've just broken a so-called blog one: 'Blog consistently, perhaps a couple posts a day.' Last year I decided this blog would be a find-something-I-honestly-love-and-post-it-type-blog. I hope you're still with me? Here goes, a chaotic and rule breaking wave of blog posts coming up this week, I hope you LOVE them.
There's a great film in the making, Made You Look, a feature length documentary exploring the UK Graphic Art scene and the challenges and triumphs of living in a hyper digital age. With interviews ranging from Anthony Burrill, Hattie Stewart to Adrian Johnson ( and many more), it reveals a fascinating insight into how creative people, although reliant on digital networks are also turning to mediums that take them away from their computers, making real, tactile items to be cherished and kept, instead of being consumed and forgotten.
The MYL crew are at the final hurdle and looking for our help to complete the film and right here is the teaser trailer (below) and Kickstarter link.
"What we save, saves us. We value timeless over trendy, few over many and plain over fancy."
It was this statement that caught my attention and is the guiding principle for, Thisispaper, a Polish design studio, shop, blog and magazine, founded back in 2011. I was keen to learn more about the individual talent, approach and beliefs behind the brand that continues to provide us with quality and timeless products sourced locally and made by hand. Founders, Zuzanna and Alexander took the time to share their story and I am happy to welcome them as the 10th contributor to the Plucky Ones. Enjoy!
Hello Alexander and Zuzanna, could you share the story of how Thisispaper started?
We started Thisispaper back in November 2011 as our own digital piece of land to cultivate as we please. We published daily posts with design projects that we liked - the idea was really that simple. What we believe set us apart from other blogs of this kind was the fact that we cared about the design of our website and its content equally. At first we were simultaneously working at our day jobs and running the blog, which was quite exhausting. When we got the idea to launch Thisispaper Shop, we gave up our jobs and decided to devote all our time to Thisispaper. Then, in a few months, everything accelerated - we launched Thisispaper Stories with longer articles to complement the daily blog, published the printed magazine and started hiring people to help. Now we have a team of 6, who are working on new projects and constantly improving the ones we already run.
From then, to now, what’s the 3 most valuable lessons learnt?
1. Compromise never leads to anything good. There's a phrase in Polish, "rotten compromise", which does a good job at describing the dangers of settling for half-good solutions. They just don't work.
2. Never be complacent. We talked about complacency in our interview in Thisispaper Issue Two with Simon Watkins, the co-founder of Labour and Wait - an amazing shop in London. It's been running for 13 years now and is getting better all the time. That's because Simon and Rachel never thought of the shop as something that is good enough to stop working on. We share their approach.
3. Take risks. That's what every entrepreneur will tell you.
What products are you most proud of since you launched your shop?
We're proud of all bags and rucksacks we designed, but especially of those we made for Thisispaper's Autumn Collection. We feel that with these bags we managed to design something that's as functional as it's beautiful, and that has always been our aim. We have perfected every detail and made several prototypes before we arrived at the form we were entirely happy with. Moreover, they are made of 100% Polish materials and entirely in our studio, as all our bags are.
What’s your bravest moments and funniest memories?
We've got some funny memories with international guests. From time to time some of our international readers traveling to Warsaw misunderstand the information on our website, and think the address of our studio is the address of a shop (which doesn't exist). They show up at our door when we least expect them and there's always something funny resulting from this. All the unexpected guests that we've had so far were really friendly and like-minded, and we had nice conversations with them over lemonade in our kitchen.
What are your dreams for Thisispaper's future?
Probably what any company wishes for - evolve and grow but stick to our initial values.
Could you share a couple of your favourite books?
Right now we're really into Polish books about sport from the 1950s and 60s. It may sound odd, but they all have amazing illustrations and pretty outlandish content. They inspired our new project, Sport Support, which launched in August.
Hazel Stark's new Naturally Dyed #1 textile collection is here. An ethical and striking range, Hazel makes each piece from Oeko -Tex certified linens and coloured with organic dyes ranging from madder, weld to woad, all grown in the south of France, resulting in one heck of a candy coloured palette. As an owner of two of Hazel's previous ranges, I can vouch for the quality and care that goes into each and every design. Stark's latest collection features cushions, aprons, tablecloths, napkins and a mighty practical tote bag, all made to order from her London studio. Returning to the slow, careful, natural way of doing things, is for me, one to believe in, support and celebrate. And no compromises, they're beautiful to boot. You can see the full range here.
"Don't just except the world as it is. Don't except the street as it is. Customise it to what you want." - Mike Mills.
A great video from a workshop (2010) where Artist, Mike Mills asks a group of kids to create a personal poster that encourages them to participate in taking back public spaces.
From a studio in San Francisco, Woodworker Aleksandra Zee sources reclaimed wooden laths to create new Native American inspired patterned artworks. Zee's latest exhibition, Sea Salt, was formed of intricate chevron and herringbone inlaid installations, each in a limited pallet of bleached woods, whites and indigos.
In a recent interview (Dream Job Shop) Aleksandra shares her story of leaving her secure job as a Store Display Artist at Anthropologie to become independent, mastering her skills, creating commissions and building her business as well as her faithful Instagram following. Today she produces artworks that are not only beautiful but resourceful. Aleksandra Zee is making her mark and a lasting impression.
Anna Kövecses is a self taught Hungarian born graphic artist that currently lives in Cyprus in a small seaside village with her family. Her striking and simple illustrations are a delight to what seems to be, everyone! All charmed by Anna's confident use of colour, shape and intriguing characters that sit within joyful compositions. Since working on an array of personal projects from her Colorodore poster collection to the Hungarian Alphabet book, Anna's clients now range from the The New York Times to the BBC. I am thrilled to welcome Anna to The Plucky Ones who's thoughtfully shared her story and adventures to us all.
Please tell us about your background and what inspired your journey into Illustration?
My career started about 6 years ago but actually I've been deeply involved with creating stuff my whole life. I spent a lot of time alone as a kid since my parents were working all the time and we moved a lot from one town to the other. As there was often no one to play with I soon submerged in this "parallel universe" of making things. I just up-cycled pretty much everything I found and turned them into looms/toys/mobiles/artworks etc. For a really short period of time I had the ambition to go to a proper art school but shortly after graduating from high school and spending a year on a Greek island at the age of 20 (I sold my cheesy drawings of the small town and donkeys to tourists on the street) I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter so university was immediately out of my plans.
I started reading a lot of books on art and design instead and learned how to use my laptop for drawing things. At first I started out as a logo designer but found out pretty soon that corporate branding was not my piece of cake and turned to illustration instead. I did a lot of self initiated projects that gave me total freedom to explore myself and find my own style. In the meantime we had to leave Hungary as my boyfriend is actually a diver and Hungary did not have many possibilities on offer. First we moved to Egypt (right after the revolution there) which was quite an adventurous short period of time and then to Cyprus. Here we live in a small village by the sea and our daughter is already speaking Greek fluently in the local kindergarten.
You’re a self taught illustrator & designer, yet have you had a mentor along the way?
No, not really. But of course there are a lot of people whom I'm incredibly thankful to: magazine editors, bloggers, clients, agencies and design lovers who just simply saw something in what I do and encouraged me to keep on doing it. And, well actually the only other creative person in my family is my grandma, who first "explored" my talents and encouraged me to become an artist. She was a very enthusiastic forest landscape painter when she was young but never really took it further than a hobby. Anyway I think she always pictured me as a potter or a traditional painter working on elaborate still lifes in oil.
Can you share what a typical Anna Kövecses day looks like?
On an ordinary weekday, after my boyfriend and our daughter leave for work/kindergarten I usually spend the first 30 minutes doing nothing in particular holding a cup of tea in my hands as an excuse (this is the 30 minutes I always regret later at some point of the day). Then if I'm not in a hurry with work and I decide to be a good girl, I do 20-30 minutes of Pilates, which actually makes me feel 10 times better afterwards. So after an hour of warming-up and a quick shower I sit down to my tiny desk (the only way to prevent a mess is to have a tiny desk) and write a list of things to do into my notebook.
When I start working on a new project I always try to summarize key points first and take a lot of notes and sketches on paper. I also do research on the internet or select books and magazines from my shelf that are inspiring me. I usually have all my ideas ready in my head and my sketchbook by the time I turn on Adobe Illustrator, which is actually the only software I use. Then I try to realize these ideas on the screen. What I learned throughout the years is to try to really stick to and capture that first picture I had in my head when I started to think about the project. That first picture is usually a million times better than any of the ones later. I usually work until 1 pm when my daughter comes home from kindergarten, then we have a light lunch together and she goes to have a nap (luckily she's a good sleeper) so I have an extra 2-3 hours to finish my work.
For those looking to leap into Illustration, could you share your top 3 lessons learnt?
1. The only way to learn and evolve is to look at the world with open eyes and really be interested in what other artists and thinkers have come up with. You have to be tolerant and pay attention to new ideas even if at first you have some stereotype against them. You need to let others inspire you but you should never copy them. You'll only be successful anyway if you can translate these impressions and use them to create something new, something that's yours and not somebody else's.
2. Always make some time for yourself to get away from commissioned projects and indulge in some self initiated ones. Turn off your computer, grab a box of crayons or a pair of scissors and some colored paper and experiment! These little rituals can have an unbelievably refreshing effect on your work. You can even try stuff like open a new tumblr blog and publish your analog experiments (this is something I'm actually planning to do) or start a new project like you do a new poster every day for a given period of time (this is something I've already done).
3. Learn to say yes and learn to say no.
Learn to say yes to situations that might not look beneficial for you at first. Like let's say a magazine approaches you because they need some illustrations but they have absolutely no budget for the project. So this means you do the work for free, but:
a: this can be a fabulous opportunity for you to try something new as they probably won't restrict your ideas too much.
b: your work can reach many potential readers and bring new and unexpected opportunities plus it looks good in your portfolio. The same thing applies to competitions and projects for a good cause.
And you definitely have to learn to say no (it's working very hard for me) if you're overbooked and see little chance to deliver quality artworks in such a short time or you feel that the client and you have very very distant notions of the project and the end result will be a compromise you will hate.
Can you tell us what projects you’re working on currently?
Well, there are a couple of illustration projects for large brands that are a secret. But something I can talk about is for example that I've been illustrating the Diagnosis column in the New York Times Magazine for a while now that comes out every 3 weeks I guess, so you might be able to see my works there for some time. I'm also working on a book cover for Syle Press for their newest novel, The Bride for Bedivere. You'll see a couple of my illustrations in the upcoming issue of Monocle too. And I'm trying very hard to make some time to work on my own projects that includes painting, drawing and many different handmade media.
You’ve worked on some fantastic projects with clients from The New York Times to the BBC. Of all the projects, which one are you most proud of?
I'm really proud of all of them but honestly the kindest to my heart are the projects that I've done for myself or my daughter, for example the Hungarian Alphabet book. These were the projects that brought the most appreciation for me from the art world.
If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would this be and what impact would you hope to make?
It'd be fun to collaborate with a clothing brand to create prints for their garments. I don't really picture t-shirts here, rather something more abstract like scarves or fabrics.
And what plans or dreams do you have for 2014?
Well, my biggest dreams for this year are definitely revolving around the arrival of our baby son who is due to be born in early November. So far I haven't had any time to prepare for his welcoming so I'm definitely planning to go for maternity leave as soon as October begins and immerse in the lovely act of blanket knitting and crib assembling. I'm also planning to do a small series of artworks during this period of time and after his arrival that would be dedicated to him / us and preserve the memory of these incredible times.
When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?
I spend all of my free time with my small family. My boyfriend works a lot too so we really treasure every hour we can spend together. In Cyprus summer lasts practically 9 months a year so we usually go down to the sea every evening after we finish work. There's a small secret beach close to our home that lies at the bottom of a beautiful huge cliff wall. It's covered with fine sand and huge flat rocks and absolutely no one visits it apart from us. We watch the sun turning red and the three of us swim out to the open sea together. It feels so great to be this close to nature and this is why I couldn't imagine us living in a big city. I'm happy to see my daughter as she's immersed in playing with driftwood and pebbles instead of watching tv or playing on an iPad. At other nights we either go out to have dinner at the local communist cafe or drive to Nicosia, the island's capital to enjoy an open air film screening or concert.
WOOP! This is how I feel after watching the wonderful Do Lecture by Gavin Strange. Spring loaded with ideas and energy, Gavin works as a Senior Designer for Bristol’s own Aardman Animations and goes under the alias of ‘JamFactory’ by night. His excitement and energy is infectious - Great talk. Great guy. Great ideas. Watch it and WOOP!
Odd Pears is an Australian company with serious sock game. These guys are far from ordinary, they make great efforts to make socks with stoke, clashing colours and patterns whilst dazzling us with bizarre and utterly brilliant photographic compositions with the help of set designer Leta Sobierajski. And amongst the sock craziness, with each Odd Pear sold, one dollar is donated to the non-profit One Dollar Day campaign, who fund programs that help to reduce the global inequities in children’s health and education.
Toe tinglingly different. Wonderfully Odd.
Thanks to my sister I got to find out about this little lady, six year old, Quincy Symonds, otherwise known as The Flying Squirrel. I'm blown away. Her spirit, pluckiness and determination, not to mention her incredible talent. An inspiring little star this one. Go, Quincy, go!