Archive | March, 2011

My Grandad

31 Mar
Granddad, me and cousin Matthew 1994

Grandad, me and cousin Matthew 1994

Something reminded me of my Grandad Victor today so I thought I’d write about him. Please indulge me…

He was a magical gentleman and he came from a kind of magical place – Dún Laoghaire, right on the east coast of Ireland and home to the famed James Joyce Tower in Sandycove. I went there recently; the weather was inclement (it is coastal Ireland after all) but as me and my husband Martin stood on Sandycove and looked out onto the sea it was so still and silent – very much like Grandad’s demeanour.

Martin at Sandycove

Martin at Sandycove



Me in Sandycove

Me in Sandycove

Grandad came over to England in the fifties – by that point he had six sons (one of which was our dad) with Nanny Marie. He came to England because small boys need feeding and there was no money in Ireland. It was during the climate of “No Blacks. No Irish. No Dogs” and, though I don’t know a great deal about the time he was working in England while sending money to my Nan over in Ireland, it must have been a difficult, not to mention lonely, environment for him, a massive strain on her and confusing for six beautiful little boys.

Then the whole family moved to London, and though they had to leave their country, they still had very little money in their new homeland. My dad tells me of stories of prejudice, terrible poverty and the humiliation meted out to poor kids and this always makes me feel for my dad and his brothers (now joined by two sisters). Dad tells me lovely stories too, of fun times in Spitalfields playing on bomb-sites in sixties London and the little scams these urchins used to pull. But there are times when I can’t help but contemplate the awful strain it must of put on my grandparents – the sacrifice, the struggle, the frustration, the isolation and hard work simply to put food on the table, create a life.

But I never saw that – I knew fluffy, loving grandparents who drank strong tea (Nan, who still does) and milky Maxwell House coffee (Grandad – who liked it a particular way and we all knew how to make it) in a semi in Luton along with family pictures and religious iconography. I encountered (and encounter still with my formidable grandmother) a couple who’d fought their battles and triumphed while picking up war-wounds along the way.

There were many wounds and I won’t recount all of them here, but one such wound was Grandad’s fingers. He lost all his fingers above the first joint in an industrial accident with acid before I was born. Again, I can only imagine the physical pain and the psychological loss of identity for a man who’d always worked so hard. But again I never saw that (he told us grandchildren that he lost his fingers by getting carried away biting his nails in the dark – we were never scared by his fingers, his gurning on the other hand was a different matter) and it was only a matter of time before he was back at work and, more importantly, back rolling his Old Holborn rollies. The smell of old tobacco still takes me to a soft, safe place.

The smell of childhood

The smell of childhood

In fact I remember a man that was good with his hands – making little birds and butterflies out of paper, bubble-blowing games from ring-pulls and washing up liquid and playing the spoons – he was a fabulous spoon-player and it was amazing to watch a quiet man make such a racket! I flatter myself in thinking he inspired my own forays into origami.

My handmade paper flowers

More handmade paper flowers

More handmade paper flowers

He always had a story, “now I worked with this fella, he was a funny fecker…” and he was full of romantic references and lovely little phrases. His nickname for me was Veronica Lake as I always wore my blonde hair over my eyes – he had nicknames for all us grandkids and songs too.

And it was a song that got me thinking about him. My sister is called Lucy and every time he saw her, he’d sing a little song that I’d never heard anyone else sing until today. The song is called “Put your shoes on Lucy” – hearing the song today made me sad that I hadn’t heard it for such a long time and that I’m never going to hear him sing it again. But it also made me happy – happy that my beloved sister has a special song and unique bond with Grandad that is hers and hers alone, and happy that I can share in a wonderful memory of a lovely man, wearing his socks and sandals, who is very much loved.

Here is the song… 


Oh for the love of type

25 Mar

I’ve liked the art of words since I was a kid and I have a fascination for slogans, propaganda posters and advertising campaigns. I’m particularly obsessed with early 20th Century posters that recruit soldiers to war and promote virtues of thriftiness, discretion and national pride. I’m always struck by how such messages are communicated through carefully considered illustration, amazing copy writing and tremendously artful graphic design.

Army recruitment

Carless talk costs lives

Inspired by posters such as these I recently did my own set of propaganda posters – illustrating the contradictory messages we’re often fed in the early 21st Century – it was a lot of fun to explore.

After seeing this work. a friend introduced me to the Keep Calm Gallery website and I’m a regular visitor. The site is a real pleasure to explore and features a range of fantastic print artists. Right now, I’m absolutely loving, loving, loving the work of Lesley & Pea – Sussex-based artist makers who, until recently, ran the Aardvark tearoom in St. Leonards on Sea.

The Boat of Life

A fine example of their work is their Aardvark manifestos. These prints have been letter-pressed by hand in Sussex using wood and metal type.

2010 Manifesto

2011 Manifesto

Every year these guys properly spread the love. – I rate the sentiment (anyone who tells me to ‘keep it wonky’ has got to be okay) and I’m impressed by the playful typography and great selection of archival, vintage imagery. I adore their lightness of touch and am hearted by the genuine warmth and charm of the posters. Lovely.

Enid Marx – designing the fabric of London

22 Mar

Enid Marx was a textile designer who also worked as a painter, printmaker, children’s book author and illustrator. She designed book jackets, trademarks and even postage stamps. In the 1930s she designed seat fabric for London Underground trains – the influence of her designs is still present on the Tube today. The more I find out about Marx the more wide-ranging I realise she was in her craft. Simplicity, balance, a feeling for the natural world, childlike delight in form and play… it’s all there…

There’s more information about Enid Marx here, here, and here.

Lucienne Day and Angie Lewin

17 Mar

Lucienne Day: Calyx

Many things warm my heart – I’m lucky like that – but the thing that really makes it want to leap out of my chest and do a happy dance is beautiful illustrative design.

Lucienne Day is the queen of such design – not only did she display an amazing command of shape, colour, form and abstraction, but there is also, I think, a magical sense of playfulness in her work. Her designs convey a beautiful sympathy and understanding of the subjects she depicts – a real love of nature and natural forms. It’s as if she innately, intuitively ‘gets’ the basic make up of each leaf and flower. All this through the medium of textile design – amazing!

Lucienne Day: Dandelion Clocks

Lucienne Day: Trio

Lucienne Day was a pioneer of the kind of the design I adore. She died last year aged 93 after a lifetime of creating. You can see her work, along with husband Robin’s at ‘Robin and Lucienne Day: Design and the Modern Interior’, at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester from 26 March to 26 June 2011.

Contemporary artist, Angie Lewin displays a similar empathy and tenderness for flora and fauna in her work. From her screen-printed fabrics for St Judes to her amazing wood carved prints – I’m always amazed by her ability to play with the ornate flourish of natural forms while still maintaining a sense of order and balance.

Angie Lewin: Dandelion One

Angie Lewin: Seedheads

Angie Lewin: Dandelion Two

You can buy these gorgeous designs along with other great original contemporary textiles at St Judes. And, if you’re quick you can bid for the last remaining copy of Angie Lewin’s Clifftop III wood engraving which she is selling to raise funds for Save The Children’s work in Japan following the recent earthquake – click here to start bidding.

Wonderful stuff.

Owls at Twentytwentyone

14 Mar

After popping into the craft fayre/flea market at The Horatio on Holloway Road on Sunday, I took a peek into Twentytwentyone on Upper Street. I’m drawing an owl at the moment so these fellas caught my attention.

Sculptural owls made of walnut by Matt Pugh, with coloured tops in either green or white lacquer.

George Nelson’s ‘Zoo timers’ were a colourful and graphic contrast to his sculptural clocks from the 1950s. They’re made of lacquered wood and metal.

This Lagom Owl greetings card by Ellen Giggenbach is created by hand cutting specially coloured paper to produce designs which have an eclectic mix of simple 1950s and 60s shapes and European folk art. Twentytwentyone’s website is here.

Because sharing things is nice…

9 Mar

Welcome to my new blog. Rather than show off my own art, here at Ella Johnston Loves I’ll be showcasing things I’ve stumbled upon and fallen in love with. Inspiring things, pretty things, interesting things, lovely things. Posts will feature art, design, photography, online shops and other people’s blogs… anything that takes my fancy really.

And if you want to see my own work, well, that’s over at my main art blog, here.