Illustrated Life



For something a bit different this week, I thought I would share with you some fascinating illustrations that I came across a few weeks ago.

I found “The Complete Encyclopedia of Illustration” by J.G. Heck, in a local cafe – they have a whole wall of books to dive into there and this one caught my eye.

First published in 1851, as “The Iconographic Encyclopedia of Science, Literature and Art”, the work was based on one of the finest encyclopedias of its day, the “Bilderatlas” by Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus. It contains over 12,000 black and white engravings, illustrating just about everything a Victorian reader could have possibly imagined. It is separated into ten major sections – Mathematics and Astronomy, Natural Sciences, Geography and Planography, History and Ethnology, Military and Naval Sciences, Naval Sciences, Architecture, Mythology and Religious Rites, Fine Arts, and Technology.

Each single item is painstakingly captured – some fall into dreamlike representations of clouds, birds, and creatures, some show the fascinations and inventions of scientific fervour, and the quest for discovery. As well as finding each illustration totally fascinating, I love the language used to describe each one – the beautiful Latin names that roll off your tongue, and the intriguing descriptions which transport you back to a time of mysterious, yet to be discovered worlds.

As well as providing me with a great moment of tea and inspiration, this book has reminded me to always keep looking and noticing – in times where we feel that all is discovered, it is warming and uplifting to be reminded of the curious beauties, oddities and fascinations in the world, and the depth of human endeavour it has taken, and still takes, to discover and record them.

I hope you enjoy my selections! Click the images to see larger representations.


Plate 26: Phenomena of clouds and light.

1-9. Phenomena in clouds

10-12. Rainbows

13. Aurora borealis

14. Midnight sun in the polar regions


Plate 16: Theories of force and gravity; demonstrations of these and other physical laws


4. Parallelopipedon (yep) of forces

14. Illustrating Varignon’s funicular machine

17, 18. Atwood’s machine for demonstrating the freely falling of bodies


Plate 92: Members of the orders Anseriformes, Pelecaniformes, Charadiiformes, and Sphenisciformes


1. Carbo cormoranus, cormorant

7. Anser segetum, bean goose

10. Merges cucullatus, hooded merganser


Plate 228: Gymnasium and acrobatics

Upper division

1-12. The German gymnasium

Lower division

1-8. Acrobatic feats


Timorous Beasties


Some of my favourite wallcoverings at the moment from design studio Timorous Beasties. (Click twice to enlarge)







1. Birds ‘n’ Bees, Duck Egg Blue. Shimmering, light reflecting, ever so slightly textured, in the most beautiful range of colours. The details in this design, the bird colours in particular, are heavenly.

2. Euro Damask Hand-Print, Reds on Cream.

3. Iguana Superwide, Black on Ivory. An intricate pattern with a hand drawn quality, reminiscent to me of historical botanical book illustrations. Manages to be both sweet and a little nasty.

4. Butterflies, in Ochre. Here are golds, powdery silver hued pinks and mauves, and tiny patches of green that really catch the light. The paper has a lovely textural quality to the surface, like tissue paper.

6. Tree of Life, in Raspberry. A soft, dreamy pattern that has a hint of the past about it, brought to life by smooth ripples of pale pink.


There are printed fabrics, cushions, lampshades and rugs too, in many different colour choices.

Timorous Beasties also provide a bespoke service, from custom colours to original artwork. All design work takes place at their Glasgow Studio, where they continue to hand-print many of their fabrics and wallpapers.




Check out this beauty!

I first saw one of Dan Harding’s Hotpods in a gallery in St. Ives. At first glance, I honestly thought it was a sculpture, and spent a while looking at it before the gallery owner came over and told me more. He talked about this interesting man he knew who lived in St Ives, surfed, and made things out of old recycled car parts. This was one of those things.

I love the cheekiness in this little stove. And I don’t know if it’s because I first saw it on a sunny, sandy holiday by the sea, or if it’s because I now know of its history, but the design really makes me feel creative, happy, and warmed by its fiery heart and cheerful wave.

Designed, developed and entirely put together in Dan’s forge in Cornwall, not far from the sea on the edges of St Ives, these meticulously finished stoves have a great little story.

The picture above shows Dan in front of his surf bus, Gregory, in 1992. Running out of head room, he applied an interesting moment of inspiration when he decided to take the top off his van, and weld a big old Beetle roof to it. (I just love this kind of creative lunacy..!)

This wasn’t an idea totally without history however. Blacksmithing runs in Dan’s family – his father, Dan Harding senior, is a blacksmith and farrier in West Cornwall.
Growing up by the surf, as a young man Dan spent his time on land helping out his Dad at the Forge, learning skills, taking things apart and making new experiments out of any odds and ends he found.
Being chilly in the van, he designed and made a little stove, from an old gas bottle, to warm the toes of himself and girlfriend Lucy.
This started the little seed of creativity that began the Hotpod journey.

Gradually, designs developed into various “Prepods” – different evolutions which were slowly refined and improved.

As Dan himself says, “By living with my designs, I know what works.”

The first proper model was made as a Christmas present for Lucy when they bought their first house.

Now made from carefully selected recycled materials, including gas bottles and Volkswagen parts,  these limited edition Hotpods are incredibly labour–intensive to make. I think that you can feel this in their spirit. Each have their own numbered plate, and only 350 will be made.

Hotpod soon became a real viable business, and due to demand, Dan had to come up with a solution to be able to make more. The new Hotpod ‘Unlimited’ was born. Made from hunted and gathered re-melted brake disks, train wheels, park benches, pipes and gratings, engines, railings and more, this is a cast version of the original. Cast at the Thomas Dudley foundry in the Midlands, and hand-finished in Cornwall, it is just as beautiful.

I will always have a soft spot for the first one that I saw however, sitting in the corner of the gallery, quietly owning the room.


You can find out more about Hotpod from their website,

Maps of the Human Heart

I was led to these illustrations when I was reading Donna Seger’s wonderful blog Streets of Salem. I think they’re fascinating.

Supposedly created by “A Lady”, and published in 1830 by the Kellogg Brothers of Hartford, Connecticut, they are beautifully drawn, and very much reflect the times in terms of the social perceptions of men and women.

Apparently, the idealised view of “True Womanhood” was very much promoted to middle-class women at the time. Historian Barbara Welter wrote, “The attributes of True Womanhood, by which a woman judged herself and was judged by her husband, her neighbors, and her society, could be divided into four cardinal virtues—piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. … Without them … all was ashes. With them she was promised happiness and power.” 1

I’m intrigued by the outer edges – the “Country of Eligibleness”, and opposite, “The Land of Oblivion”…! (Click to enlarge)



The man’s heart here seems mainly dominated by money, power and “The Dread of Matrimony”

You can see these, and other wonderful lithographs, at the online gallery of the Connecticut Historical Society and Museum.


1. Welter, Barbara. “The Cult of True Womanhood.” American Quarterly 18:2, Part I (Summer 1966), pp. 151-174.

Andrew Bird and Stephen B. Macinnis


This week, two artists from two different countries share their work and thoughts – Andrew Bird from Derbyshire in the UK, and Stephen B. Macinnis, from Charlottetown, Canada.









I felt an instant connection to Andrew Bird’s paintings the moment that I saw them. It may be in part that I share his love for the Cornish landscape and coast, a subject often depicted in his work – but I was also instantly struck by his live sense of movement, form and colour. You can feel the breeze blowing across your face, the slide of the sea, the flash of sunlight on a coloured boat. I can feel the handmade in the gestures and strokes too, each mark has energy.

I asked him to tell me a little more about his work and practice..

“The themes in my paintings tend to come from the experience of being in a place for a period of time and the images become composites of this rather than an attempt to accurately represent a scene. I try to paint what I have seen and felt in equal measures. This could be anything from the way the light captures an object or lights up a hillside, the weather, texture on rocks, paint peeling on buildings and boats and many other things. I also try and reflect on how I experienced a place within my work.

“The process of making the work usually starts from wanting to describe a specific situation. I don’t have a rigid idea of how this will progress and let the work develop instinctively. It does, however, need to be successful in whatever the aim of the painting was at the start. I will work and re-work the whole image to achieve this. The paintings are made from many layers of paint that I build up to form textures and forms. For this I use a knife, brushes and quite often anything that comes to hand to make marks. Layers of paint are constantly scratched into to reveal underlying texture. I use recurring forms and marks within my work. These invariably represent large structures around coastal areas such as docks, harbour walls, the superstructure of ships etc. The smaller inscribed marks are usually closer detail such as steel rings on walls, groynes, buoys, windows on boats etc.

“I try to achieve a rhythm and a sense of movement throughout the composition and with the use of colour, I think that this helps to outline a sense of time rather than the image being a static snapshot.

“A large portion of my current work is based on visits to the South West of England and more specifically coastal areas of Cornwall. I find Cornwall to have a unique sense of place within the UK and find it a fascinating area to be and I hope that my work reflects this.

“Which artists do I find inspiring? I would have to include Nicolas de Staël, Patrick Heron, Scottish Colourists, Arshile Gorky, Antoni Tapies..and probably lots of others!”


You can see more work from Andrew and make contact with him through his site, here.








I’ve been a huge fan of Stephen’s work since the beginning of the year, when I discovered his blog, where he shares his work and documents his creative journey. Stephen is currently in the middle of a project entitled the “Long Series”, of which the works above are a part. He told me a little more about the idea:
“I guess the best way to explain the Long Series is that I’ve always been torn between large and small work. I most often work on a smaller scale, but I enjoy working on a bigger scale too. The only problem with working large is what do I do with the work after I exhibit it? I live on an Island on the East coast of Canada and sending large work out can be expensive, and often I end up putting things in my shed, or taking them apart after they are shown.
“The Long Series became the great answer to my problem. I think of the series as one big piece with over a 1000 smaller parts. The individual paintings do stand alone, but I prefer to show them as a large installation.
There are several ways to show the work, as a large grid on a wall, as a large stack, or as selected framed paintings.
The rules I’ve set for the series are simple: 
  • The paintings are all about 12×12 inches. 
  • All done by hand. 
  • An element of chance is essential to the work.
  • No editing. If a work doesn’t seem to be successful it remains part  of the series.”

You can see Stephen’s work in context by watching the video below. I found it moving to see the work in action, a whole series of days, thoughts, moods, almost a visual diary, each one unique. The music is Stephen’s brother in law, Daniel Ledwell. You can visit Stephen’s site here.



Smooth..soft curves to caress..

Contact Elin direct for commissions, via her site.



RIchard is represented by by the Medici Gallery in Cork Street, London and also the McGill Duncan Gallery in Castle Douglas.


Visit Sylphs site for more information about her work, and a list of stockists.


I hope that you enjoyed this moment of quiet gazing!


I Want, I Want!

The fire of aspiration, yearning, a leap of the imagination into the undiscovered and unknown. We all need these places of mystery. This well known illustration, “I want! I want”, by William Blake, is one of 18 tiny engravings, published as “For Children: The Gates of Paradise” in 1793. The book documents the course of human life. Etched in intaglio, the work is based on designs Blake drew in his notebook. I love each tiny stroke.

Karen McRae – Winter Wrapped Trees






I was really excited last week to come across the blog of Canadian photographer Karen McRae. I had such a strong reaction to her images. These winter wrapped trees seemed so alone, bent and burdened, like they were waiting for something to change. There is also a sense of great strength and resilience, of pulling together. You can’t help but see the human and animal in them – condemned souls, or hard frozen mourners called to prayer.

On Karen’s blog, draw and shoot, you feel like you are there with her, in the moment, like you are being let into a secret. There are rushes of quiet, overwhelming beauty, dignity, elegance and strength – instantly compelling.

Karen was kind enough to share a few words with me about her work. I began by asking her what had first inspired her to pick up a camera..

 “I was about 8 years old. I remember the reason distinctly, remember taking the specific photographs, the emotions behind the camera. We were moving over 2000 km across the country. I was taking pictures of my friends, attempting to capture some memories in black and white. It was winter and the ground was snow covered. My parents had given me an old film camera and I immediately fell in love with it.

That was decades ago, and somewhere I still have those first images. My love of photography has never waned.”

You seem to have an eye for the quiet strength and beauty in your subjects – your pictures really seem to stop time, something I loved about them – would you say that you have always had this kind of eye?

“I suppose the images that I’m drawn to have a quietness to them. Often I like to isolate things to bring our their form and beauty, but I also like a bit of an edge to an image, something that makes you question what’s going on or evokes an emotional response. Sometimes colour or a simple form is enough.”

Can you tell me a little more about your wrapped trees? Are they a common sight where you live?

“The wrapped trees in particular really fascinated me. I first saw them in the fall stretching along a newly completed highway and, as they were young they were wrapped to protect them during their first winter. It’s not that uncommon to see wrapped trees in our area due to the harsh winter conditions. What struck me about these particular trees was how figurative they look. Perhaps I just look at things differently but I think it would be hard to go by these and not relate their stature to the figure. They way they were grouped together and related to each other spatially just added to the fascination. It seemed to me they were in conversation. I couldn’t not photograph them.

When I did go back to photograph them the first time I felt like there was a bit of majesty to them. Everything was sparkling from freezing rain and there seemed to be this quiet energy among them. In the winter the images were much more solemn, it was a grey shadowless day and they were literally weighed down by the weight of the weather. Burdened. And the raggedness of their cloaks brought out more character in them, the shapes changing with weather.”

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Be Lucky!

I love the feeling of a New Year. It’s a bit like the sensations you experience (hopefully minus the dread) at the start of a new school term, where you have your new pencils, unsharpened, your new books, uncreased, and your new school shirt, a bit cardboardy. It is that sense of possibility that I love – a time when you can make all sorts of resolutions (that you probably won’t keep) and imagine all that is going to come. It’s odd how a day can make a difference. A rubbish year the day before can be transformed into a new one, time for a fresh new beginning.

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What a perfect time to find this new fabric from The Colourhouse! The fabric, a linen and organic cotton mix, is named “Be Lucky” – exactly the bright and playful spirit that we need in this wet grey January.  There is a lovely feeling of elegance and nostalgia in this print, whilst remaining relaxed and contemporary, with colours that remind me of peppery mustard fields, bone china teacups and beautiful old pieces of rusted iron.

The Colourhouse, launched at Tent London in 2011, is a small, independent, handprint wallpaper and textile company. Marian’s professional background in interior design and painting and Jo’s in costume for TV and film, gives the collection a really eclectic feel. They are also concerned with environmental sustainability, and aim to minimise the impact of their design and making processes. Keen to celebrate traditional skills in dye, print and making, their base cloths and papers are produced and printed by hand in the UK.

As their name might suggest, these people certainly know colour – almost powdery hues of cardamom yellow, tobacco, duck egg blue, sap green and stone; beautiful, earthy and bright.  I also love their collection of antique, hand woven Italian hemp.  You can also buy feather filled cushions using the Be Lucky print, and more, from their website.

I asked Jo a little more about her work, in particular the “Be Lucky” print.

“My work is based on the English landscape and the creatures that inhabit it, be they urban or rural. One of the best places for me to begin thinking about my designs is on my early morning walk with my dog Jack in Paddington Cemetery, North West London. It’s very peaceful and a real refuge from the mayhem of Kilburn High Road!

“Be Lucky” evolved from my interest in the folklore, myths and sayings that filter through into our modern world today. I love symbols and motifs and I’m fascinated by craft and folk art and the decorative impact they have had on our domestic environment, as well as their history and influence today.”

Can you describe how a design evolves from first inspiration to completed piece?

“My work processes start with research, from a variety of sources. Sometimes visiting galleries and museums (one of my favourites is Kettles Yard, Cambridge), or wandering down Goldbourne Road (the junky end of Portobello Market ) on a Friday, looking for bits of other peoples junk – from lovely old books to a bunch of old embroidery patterns, and bits of linen and china from house clearances. It’s surprising how just gathering a few things can get me going!

Drawing is my starting point and then I cut into the lino – that seems to transform my images into something else….I love the texture and the lines that you get from it. I then print the images off from the lino onto paper and lay them out together to see what works together. I scan them into the computer and start playing around with the imagery in photoshop, and it eventually evolves into a design that I like. The hard bit for me is having to put it into repeat and work to a screen size. But, although is is time consuming, I love the whole process!”

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In Praise of Tea

This month, I have been in need of comfort, and what more comforting thing can there be for the soul than a warm, smooth cup of tea? I have to confess that before last week, my knowledge of tea was pretty much confined to the pleasure of a short fleeting moment in the morning and mid-afternoon, when I poured out my Twinings English Breakfast. (Yes you can have English Breakfast in the afternoon if you want to. It’s ok.) But on browsing for tea related presents this week I have become aware of the whole fascinating world that tea inhabits! I knew that England was a nation of tea lovers, but I had no idea that there were so many interesting places to buy tea and teawares, and so much to learn about the story of it, and its place in history across the world.

Mariage Frères: ode to tea ceremony

I have been reminded that tea has a fascinating and varied history and it is interesting how each country and culture responds to a simple drink of dried leaves. Each place has its own peculiarities of making and serving tea, with its own peculiar meanings, and the art of serving is unique in each place.

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Chinese tea culture is a vast subject – there are so many rituals and ceremonies far beyond what I thought I already knew! Traditionally, tea is offered to convey respect to ones family and elders, as a way of apology, to connect large families on a wedding day, and as a symbol of thanks. Tea (茶) was historically regarded as one of the seven daily necessities, the others being firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, and vinegar(柴,米,油,鹽,醬,醋) I have read that the most popular way to brew tea in China is still by using a traditional gaiwan or literally ‘covered bowl’. I really love the idea of drinking from a tea bowl, I think I may have to try it, it seems like the right way to drink it somehow. I found some lovely ones here, at the Canton Tea Co, a great place that I found where you can buy all sorts of varied teas and teawares online.

Green tea leaves steeping in an uncovered zhong (type of tea cup)

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Green tea’s traditional role in Japanese society is as a drink for special guests and special occasions. Green tea has been used as both a beverage and a method of traditional medicine in most of Asia, including China, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea and Thailand, to help everything from controlling bleeding and helping heal wounds to regulating body temperature, blood sugar and promoting digestion. What I didn’t realise was just how many types of green tea there are! I love the names – Gyokuro (Precious Dewdrop), a beautiful jade tea, Matcha, an astringent frothy green tea. Sencha, Bancha, and Kukicha are other very different green teas. Genmaicha includes puffed  rice, and Hojicha is a roasted, smoky tea. You can read more about green tea here. I think I would like to take mine like this..

Matcha tea and a sweet cake

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Tea occupies a very important place in Moroccan culture, and is considered to be an art form.  They famously add mint leaves to their tea, but they also often add lemon verbena, wormwood, and  even pine nuts. Traditionally, the tea is served three times, as described in this proverb:

Le premier verre est aussi amer que la vie,
le deuxième est aussi fort que l’amour,
le troisième est aussi doux que la mort.
(The first glass is as bitter as life,
the second glass is as strong as love,
the third glass is as gentle as death.)

Tea pouring Ceremony

Moroccan Tea Glasses from Camellias Tea House

Sweet mint tea, served warm in a glass, scattered with pine nuts…mmmm…

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As well as the Canton tea company, I found some lovely things at Postcard Teas.  They say that they  pioneered “proper tea provenance” by putting the maker or estate’s name and place of production on every tin of tea they sell. They make a worthy comment when they say “Imagine a fine wine world where companies sold bottles of wine labelled only with the wine’s country or region of origin but not the estate or maker’s name!” I think that I may have to be adventurous and try out some different teas.

Well, now I really want to pour myself a big cuppa. With maybe some scones..cream…or some little sandwiches, cakes, and golden tea in a china pot. Ahhhhh……it’s enough to make me turn girly..

Afternoon Tea

Luxury Tea Room at the Hotel De Crillon, Paris

Glass of tea in a vintage Soviet "podstakannik" (Tea glass holder)

My Charity Shop Tea Set