Blades Rubber Stamps, Bloomsbury

Did you notice my gorgeous wood-mounted rubber stamps in my homemade Christmas cards post? Well, if you’re ever in Bloomsbury I heartily suggest you make a trip to one of my favourite shops in the area, Blades Rubber Stamps. For those of you who wish to team this up with some of the best Bloomsbury sights, I’ve added a footnote at the bottom of this post with a recommended route.

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Soho Stationery Store

On Friday I popped into a shop I hadn’t visited before, the Soho Stationery Store. Nestled down a little alley just off Oxford Street, this independent business is an office supply and stationery business for commercial clients and individuals alike. Unusually for a commercial supplier, they have a shopfront which I’d strolled past before while it was closed, so I used half an hour before meeting friends for dinner to check it out.

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Kew Gardens and Stationery in-brief

My boyfriend and I are engaged! This happened on my birthday in February and is responsible for the radio silence on the London Parchment. Everybody wants to see us and celebrate; it’s been wonderful. We had a few days off in February and on one of our sunny Fridays we headed due west in London to Kew Gardens. It was fabulous. Long walks around the grounds with hardly anyone around, basking in the warmth of the greenhouses and enjoying the annual February orchids exhibition.

Before I bombard you with photos, let me tell you about a few of the recent stationery tools I’ve been using. These will all have their own posts very soon:

  • Diamine ‘Meadow’ – a little something to evoke spring time. I’m using it in my TWSBI 580 AL (extra fine nib) and it’s very zingy.
  • Word pocket notebook – my first venture using one of these. I’m moving house in the not too distant future and with its handy bullet system I’ve gravitated towards using it for punchy lists.
  • Mark’s Tokyo Days Mechanical Pencil – this is made to look like a traditional pencil. It’s fun in appearance but I’m finding it fairly average as far as pencils go. It rattles when I’m writing! Grrr!
  • Kuretake Wink of Stella and Wink of Luna brush pens – I’ve become a big fan of Kuretake and I’m still really enjoying practicing brush lettering – I’m hoping to produce some wedding invitations now that we’re engaged using my ever-evolving brush calligraphy skills!
  • Hobonichi Techo – month three. I love it, the paper is just superb, although it’s such a beautiful item that I feel the pressure filling up each page so that it’s not a wasted entry. Does anyone else ever experience stationery pressure? Good examples include opening a fresh notebook and having to tackle The First Page, and using an eraser over pen to rub out underlying sketch lines (will it smudge?!?!).

Anyway, more on those items and other recent tools in the not-too-distant future. First, Kew. Immerse yourself in green.

And here is a picture of my husband-to-be!

Oh. #KewProblems. Only joking. Here we are!

Annie Leibovitz: Women

Nestled among the wharf buildings and imitation flats in Wapping is the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station where, until 7th February, you can find Annie Leibovitz’s Women exhibition.

I’d never been to Wapping and I really enjoyed discovering it. I loved the architecture, its quietness, position right on the river, busy pubs and narrow main street. Wapping Hydraulic Power Station is a fantastic space and seems to have undergone the same sort of renaissance as many other power stations and gas holder sites across London. It is the former home of the Wapping Project which showcased several fashion photography exhibitions and a restaurant space. This Annie Leibovitz exhibition marks its first major arts use since the Wapping Project recently vacated the building.

Wapping Hydraulic Power Station is undoubtedly a London gem. I pray that this building isn’t going to go the same way as Battersea or Lots Road. It is cavernous, clad in red brick and mud-spattered white tiles with elevated, huge windows. Metal remnants and piping of the original power station usages are littered among the rooms. My good friend and I went after work on a Friday and it was pleasingly dark inside, the exhibition lit by retro-style lamps and enormous screens scrolling Leibovitz’s work.

The focus of this exhibition feels like the screen images. There’s a fair amount of seating for people to linger and watch the scrolls of Leibovitz’s most famous and not-so-famous images. One of the most striking was of a young and stripped back Venus and Serena Williams in black and white. The seating is contained by three sets of screens and one wall of prints where you can spot Aung San Suu Kyi, Meryl Streep, Malala’s autograph and probably Leibovitz’s most well-known recent piece: Caitlyn Jenner. This exhibition reads like a “who’s who” of unbelievably famous women. But it also seemed clear to me why these women allow themselves to be photographed by Leibovitz. Not having seen much of her work before, I felt like she really gets the best out of her subject. They all look so confident, but vulnerable, and real.

The second room in the exhibition is in a smaller chamber with a long wooden table on top of which are many, many Annie Leibovitz coffee table books and other art compilations. Spindly chairs are scattered around to take a seat and flick through these publications under the glow of minimalist lamps. There’s also a couple of copies of ridiculously large photography books featuring Leibovitz’s fashion shoots. This room feels like it’s more about Leibovitz’s full spectrum of work including fashion photography and Rolling Stone work. One of the most obvious examples of this are that there are lots of accessible pictures of men rather than just women as the “Women” title of exhibition would seem to indicate. I didn’t much enjoy this room because it was very crowded with people rifling through books quite frantically. I’m not sure anyone I observed was really taking in any of the work, which felt like a shame.

Yes, for me, the best part of the exhibition is in the main room. I enjoyed the lull of watching the scrolling photographs and the opportunity to see Leibovitz’s work outside of portraiture. I also loved the airiness and expanse of the main room juxtaposed against the omnipresent photographs. At the back of the room is Leibovitz’s famous portrait of the Queen which is the only digital static image. It’s like she’s watching over us all as we admire the many other great and good women that Leibovitz has been lucky enough to work with.

I would really recommend that you spend an hour at this exhibition if you can. It’s difficult not to be impressed by the sheer power that Leibovitz clearly commands in this field and to appreciate the common thread that connects these immensely famous women. I didn’t find it informative, but I enjoyed seeing first-hand the images I’ve subconsciously drunk in through my exposure to the media and thinking about them in a new way, without the burden of surrounding words colouring my perception of the person in the photograph.

You can find more information about the exhibition here.

Greenwich in Winter

Where has this year gone?! Time is such a strange phenomenon. It feels as if I’ve done everything and nothing over the past few weeks. Unfortunately I had one of the worst chest infections I’ve ever had for about three weeks which meant that most activities went out of the window. Somehow I also managed to start a new job within my company in this time. Change is good and it’s remarkable how easy it is to become complacent and over-comfortable within a familiar bubble. The new role is a great opportunity and I’m really enjoying it so far.

Speaking of change, I wrote about how gorgeous autumn was in Greenwich a little while ago. Autumn doesn’t feel like a real season to me. It is characterised by beautiful colours, a new rhythm of weather and people defying winter’s arrival by getting outside and making the most of the days still being of a reasonable length while they last. Retrospectively autumn feels like it lasted a few wondrous days. In actual fact I know I spent a good few weekends admiring how Greenwich and London is made so beautiful when touched by autumn light. Winter really does feel like a real season though. Although it’s been very mild in temperature (I shed my coat today and strolled around in a t-shirt and my scarf… what chest infection?) I can’t help but feel as if I’m living in near-constant darkness as, like many, I leave my house for work in the dark and it’s already dark by the time my working day is done. I feel as if we’ve settled in for winter for the next six months.

I suppose getting through challenging times of year is made more bearable by trying to find the beauty in such times. One of the best things about this season, obviously, is Christmas and all of its traditions. A personal tradition of mine is that my boyfriend and I go to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum and treat ourselves to fancy food and drinks afterwards. We celebrate our anniversary in November so it’s become a yearly tradition which I always look forward to enormously. I’ve kept our tickets from each year we’ve visited and they’re preserved happily in one of my scrapbooks. I’ve slowly been absorbing Christmas spirit and I’m hugely looking forward to my annual pilgrimage to the Cotswolds to celebrate. Winter does have a charm of its own though. Today on the next street down I came across a charity event for Demelza where participants were dressed as horses and there were various challenges to undertake, including a good old fashioned race, in full horse costume, on space hoppers. Naturally.

I’ve also been popping in to local pubs for mulled ciders and asking for my coffee extra hot to keep my hands warm for a bit longer when strolling. I’ve been acquiring bits and pieces to make a homemade Christmas wreath, wrapping presents in brown paper and adorning them with red twine and gift tags that I made out of last year’s Christmas cards. I’ve been trying out party food recipes including some goats cheese and caramelised red onion tartlets, jerk chicken and pineapple skewers and chorizo and halloumi bites.

So I am resolved to be more optimistic about what winter has to offer. I’ve managed to capture many valuable moments so far.

A winter rose clinging on even in December.

 

 

Mist in Greenwich Park.

 

Christmas lights inside the Greenwich foot tunnel dome.

 

Fresh brussel sprout trees at the local greengrocer surrounded by winter clementines and pomegranates.

 

Hot coffee!

 

 

Quiet moments in Greenwich Park’s Rose Garden.

 

Konditor and Cook looking lovely in Southwark (not strictly Greenwich as this post suggests all images will be but Southwark is part of my life nonetheless)

 

Christmas meat in the local butchers.

 

Greenwich town centre’s Christmas tree with the Cutty Sark’s Christmas lights.

 

On Small Business Weekend the local shops on Royal Hill offered free raclettes, fish stew, champagne and mulled wine. It was all delicious.

 

The Ranger’s House.

 

There’s a newsagent on Nevada Street in Greenwich which features on its window adverts that are good for a chuckle.

 

Christmas tree buying at the top of Greenwich Park.

#yellowbluepink

[Full disclosure – expect a post with pictures that basically show, well, nothing! Apart from colour and the odd blurred object!]

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A few weekends ago I visited the Wellcome Collection’s #yellowbluepink installation, a temporary contemporary visual arts exhibit by Ann Veronica Janssens. The concept is simple: a gallery full of opaque coloured mist removes the most normalised method of perception (i.e. sight). In doing so the individual cannot perceive distance, depth or surfaces and is effectively isolated, relying mostly on their other senses to navigate around the gallery. It is partly an experiment with consciousness, too; I had to wait for approximately fifteen minutes and there are iPads with some interesting exercises to do with how perceptions can be distorted based on your dominant expectations.

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I found that much of the anticipation about this installation comes from the actual waiting itself! Secondly, the way in which staff facilitate entry into the gallery builds expectation, you’re put in an “isolation chamber” in between two doors to stop the coloured mist from escaping and you have to walk through some 70s style plastic door hangings to enter the gallery.

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I found the experience really enjoyable and fun, although I spent much less time in the gallery than I thought I would. Realistically my partner and I spent most of the time disappearing into the mist and reappearing from another direction, and getting worried that we were approaching walls. In all seriousness though there is a lot that is very interesting and creative about this art. Some questions I left with were to do with the actual colours themselves – unsurprisingly the gallery is mostly filled with yellow, blue and pink mists, but they are extremely well defined with very little mixing. Visibility between colours is also non-existent owing to the opaqueness of the mist, so in certain spaces of the room you’re unaware that there is any other colour but the one you’re experiencing.

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It’s strange also that voices are audible just as normal. Although the mist feels “heavy” around you, it doesn’t do anything to muffle or blur voices. This had the curious effect of making me whisper, partly because of the self-consciousness of not knowing who might be around you hearing how ridiculous you sound wondering if a wall is looming, and partly not wanting to disturb other peoples’ experience. The only niggle I have is that the room is, well, a room, with windows and strip lights and plug sockets et al. Up close you can still see all of these things and they shatter the illusion somewhat.

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I would recommend stopping by this installation if you can, although my advice to you would be to go early. As with all free things in London, there are a lot of other people competing for the space. We arrived first thing on Sunday when the Wellcome Collection opened at 11am and had a very short wait which was fine. Be warned, they don’t have Disney style queues ready for no reason; during our 10-15 minute wait the wait joining the queue escalated to an hour and a half. They limit the number of people in the room for good reason though, so be prepared to be patient if you can’t get there early. I’m not sure I’d make the pilgrimage to Euston on a weekend morning for this as a standalone event though, so join it up with a look around the Wellcome Collection’s other galleries and their great shop, and have a weekend walk around Bloomsbury. It’s open until the 3rd January 2016 and you can find out more about the installation here.

Brush Lettering: Workshop and Brush Pen Review

In late October I attended a wonderful brush lettering class run by Quill London. The session is for beginners and is hosted by Emma Block and Teri Muncey who both use brush lettering in their careers in illustration, styling and design. I had a great time, met some lovely people, came away with a piece of wall art (!) and some good quality supplies, and indulged this newfound hobby of mine.

The class flew by and over the course of a couple of hours we practiced upper and lower case lettering, numbering styles, pattern-making with the brush (useful when producing cursive letters like S and lower case E) and created our own statement piece. I chose the sentiment “work hard, stay humble” because it’s a solid motto in life (and nice and short in case I was terrible at brush lettering). When I got home I decided I would put it up above the desk as a little motivator to carry on with this hobby and as a small piece of decoration. I think it fits, and seeing it makes me very happy, especially because it’s not perfect.

An evident part of the class was the demonstration of individual style. Everyone’s brush lettering style was different, whether it was through letter spacing, darkness of the ink used, difference between thick and thin brush strokes, slant, etcetera. This is definitely one of the appeals of brush lettering to me; each person’s is unique and I genuinely don’t think you could produce “ugly” script. I’ve definitely developed my own style and I’m not really sure where some attributes of my “font” come from, as I don’t necessarily write with these decorations with other pens. Tall letters like D, L, and H have a small loop at the top, and long letters like G, J and Y have a small loop at their tails.

Although we used a paintbrush and bottled ink during the class, I have actually acquired a few brush pens during my stationery shopping sprees. I have tried them out and doodled with them, but I wanted to hold back on judging their performance until after I’d taken this lettering class so that I could get a better grasp of the basics. I certainly didn’t want to judge my lettering using brush pens in case I could use them for better results; a bad workman always blames his tools, after all.

Since the class though I have been doodling away much more with the brush pens and have put together some thoughts on how they write according to my preference. Disclaimer! I am no expert at brush lettering and very clearly need to continue practicing. These are my efforts after practicing for a couple of weeks.

The pens I’ve been trying out are:

  1. Muji calligraphy pen.
  2. Kuretake brush pen. I can’t actually find a link for this online, mostly because the Kuretake packaging is all in Japanese. Its vital statistics are probably very obvious on the packaging to a trained Japanese eye. I picked it up at JP Books in Soho.
  3. Tombow ABT brush pen. I’ve got this in black, green and cerulean.

I’ve tried these pens out on bog standard printer paper because ink generally has good contrast against it and it doesn’t attract any particular soaking in.

This pen has a very soft, flexible brush nib and is the closest brush pen I’ve tried to an actual paintbrush. The ink is very black and the pen is clad in signature Muji style.

The pen is a good shape to hold and takes pressure well. You need to use this fairly slowly to get a consistent line and the brush fibres are quite obvious, particularly when writing round letters. Writing quickly or getting carried away with flicks means that you lose the density of the line easily and although. this can provide a pleasing handwritten effect, for me I find it makes my script look messier, like my brush was running out of ink and I didn’t think ahead to ink it up.

I found this pen the hardest to control and I think it shows in my script. I find it difficult to keep my sizing consistent and differences in thick lines vs thin lines seems more evident with this pen than with the others.

It is priced at £2.50 so is a good way of getting started with brush pen lettering and Muji shops are quite accessible in London and online. I’m not sure I’m going to continue using this pen for script too often, but I’m going to give it a go with brush sketching; the natural brush look may be better suited to this use than lettering for me.


 

The Tombow ABT is a dual ended brush pen with a fine tip at one end and a brush tip at the other. The fine tip writes very smoothly and produces a very clean line.

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This brush nib is not as flexible as the Muji brush pen, which is better for my style of writing. However, I find it difficult to achieve a striking difference between thick and thin lines to give that authentic brush lettering look. I’ve seen several videos on Instagram of brush artists producing some absolutely beautiful script with these pens.

So far I have found the hardest aspect of brush lettering overall to be achieving a consistent and yet thin line. My thin lines tend to get a little jumpy and broken and the Tombow pen shows this disjointedness. With this pen however I actually really like the effect of not trying to achieve the thick and thin contrast, but instead applying a consistent pressure. I used this pen for lettering my boyfriend’s anniversary card and used this technique rather than an alternating heavy/light pressure. This is how it came out on the envelope.

The ink runs very well and doesn’t jump. Writing at speed does not seem to affect the consistency of the line and it blends well so that if you need to go back and fill in a small line or join two letters together, the overlap in ink isn’t immediately obvious. This is very useful for me because I’m not quite there yet with joining up letters and my natural brush lettering style seems to be more isolated letters.

So far I would recommend this pen. It comes in a huge array of colours which means that getting used to using the Tombow will come in useful for all kinds of writing and crafty needs. Looking at the pictures of all three sets of script I think it’s close between the Tombow and Kuretake as to which pen wins on overall lettering appearance.


 

Is it just me or can you just tell from the lettering of the pen name that I like this one best? Or does the word “Kuretake” just lend itself well to being written and looking pretty? I was a bit afraid of using the Kuretake pen at first because it seemed very stiff and I didn’t want to apply pressure to the nib for fear of bending it out of shape. Once I’d got over this ridiculous fear though and used it as it is meant to be used… I loved it.

For the same amount of pressure as the Tombow and Muji, this pen produces the thickest and blackest line and the blackness does not fade with speed or with less pressure. It has a pleasing squeak against the page that makes you feel like the brush fibres aren’t going to come apart and produce any scratchiness in the letters, and the resultant line is extremely smooth. I’m quite prepared to admit that I like this pen so much because it’s very forgiving and it’s certainly true that inconsistencies in thin lines in particular are not as obvious using this pen – in my opinion this makes it a great choice for a beginner to use and get good results from fairly quickly.

Close up of Kuretake lettering

I also think the Kuretake is most satisfying to use because it has the best contrast between thick and thin lines which gives the script its artisan look. However it seems quite hard to come by, and strangely I haven’t managed to found it online yet.

So those are my thoughts so far! Kuretake is an easy winner, and the performance of the Tombow pen makes me want to keep trying because I’m convinced I will achieve lettering perfection with it if I apply a good few more hours to practicing with it. I’ll carry on trying out the Muji pen but I don’t think it’s for me with my lettering style and pressure. I’m going to keep my eye out for affordable brush pens and continue trying them out as I think they are a very adaptable way of using brush lettering in everyday life, whereas the paintbrush and bottled ink duo seem more suited to large lettering or specific designs. Do you have any suggestions? Which out of the three I’ve tried do you think looks best with my style? I’d be thrilled to hear any feedback!

If you would like to try out Quill London’s workshop you can find them here. They sell out quite far in advance so get your name on a waiting list of pop it in the diary for a few weeks time to look forward to! I’m going to their Modern Calligraphy class this month and I’m excited already!