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Give Up Art and Shaun Bloodworth

4 Sep

A couple of weeks ago I popped down to one of my favourite areas, Spitalfields, to see a body of work by one of my favourite people at the Truman Brewery.

My old friend, and one-time colleague, Stuart Hammersley had a retrospective of the amazing work he and photographer Shaun Bloodworth have  produced for the London-based radio station and label, Rinse.


Go Stuart and Shaun!

I love Mr Hammersley’s (AKA Give Up Art’s) design. I’ve always admired his celebration of colour, sheer enjoyment of typography and playful approach to layout. And it’s all shown-off to the max in this collection of work – see for yourself…


Art work

This clean, colourful design sits wonderfully alongside Shaun Bloodworth’s photography. Shaun is one of the sweetest people you could possibly meet yet he produces moody, hard images. His portraits are evocative and dramatic and provide a strong sense of narrative alongside Stu’s graphics. In short it’s a really powerful collection of work. Here’s my  favourite piece from the show; I think it really illustrates the marriage of talents between these two creatives….


The show’s over now but I’m really glad I got to see it below is a video of the opening night and for more on their work visit their websites and

The Work of Shaun Bloodworth & Give up Art from Josh Cohen on Vimeo.


Birdie Books!

4 Sep

“To live in a silent world would be a really dreadful thing”
Andrew Motion

The above quote is taken from a book I’ve just finished reading, Birds Britannia by Stephen Moss. This particular passage contemplates the gradual disappearance of countryside birds and considers the great loss that would be. The writing points out that this loss would not only be felt in our wider sense of ecology but it would also manifest itself in our hearts and minds. This is kind of the essence of the book – almost every page directly relates our relationship with our feathered friends to our sense of self.

Birds Britannia

Birds Britannia covers the worlds of Town and Garden Birds, Water Birds, Sea Birds and Countryside Birds, illustrating beautifully the history of our interconnectedness with these different British landscapes and the creatures we share them with.

Moss provides some amazing anecdotal insights into the lives of birds, for example the dirty Dunnock. Yes it may look all brown and ordinary to you but this tweetie-pie is a sex machine. Let’s put it politely; these birds are known to ‘breed’ in groups – if you know what I mean. Chicks within broods will often have different fathers; in fact it’s not uncommon to see two males and a female in one nest.

Dirty Dunnock pen sketch by Ella Johnston

Then there’s the Avocet. Who’d have thought this funny looking little wader is one aggressive mo-fo who, when defending its territory, will take on a bird twice its size? The Avocet also provides a nice little wartime story. During World War Two, a stray bomb tore a hole through the Havergate Island sea wall, resulting in water from the tidal river flooding-in and in turn creating a perfect habitat for Avocets. In the Spring of 1947 the Avocets came and started to breed – apparently people saw this as some kind of sign; a metaphor, if you will, for British servicemen coming back home from overseas. There was even a sign drawn in mud on the sea-wall saying “Welcome Home Avocets”. The bird is also used on the RSPB logo.

Avocet pen sketch by Ella Johnston

The book takes us through the history of birdie Britain and how our story (class, agriculture, industrialisation and war) can change and affect our view of particular birds. There are also several scary, cautionary tales, one of which is that of the humble house sparrow. Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that these guys are now on the RSPB red list.

Poor little sparrow pen sketch by Ella Johnston

The book is also rich with fascinating human, as well as bird, stories – it features some fascinating characters in the fields of ornithology and conservation. There’s tales of Ronald Lockley who set up the first bird observatory in 1933, a great account of the Victorian women who essentially founded the RSPB, the POWs whose study of birds went on to inform the conservation movement, Edward Grey the liberal politician that went bird watching with Roosevelt and the Great Peter Scott…

Often cited as the Patron saint of conservation, Scott (who’s Dad was Scott of the Antarctic) is a fantastic character. His story is lovely, charming and a real pleasure to read. He is also credited in the book as one of the first people to recognise the importance of preserving habitat as well as species.

This latter point is particularly poignant today as Moss depicts the plight of one of my favourite birds – the Puffin. I declare an interest here as a couple of years ago myself and Dr B went to observe them while we were in Iceland – we both fell in love with these comical little creatures and they have a special place in both our hearts. However it appears that you may not be able to see a Puffin in the British Isles for much longer…

We love Puffins! Photo by MW Bewick

The book highlights that in recent years Puffin chicks have starved to death because of a shortage of land eels. This is partly due to over-fishing but also a result of climate change (marine temperatures increase at a more rapid rate than land). In fact the reduction of food supply has led to a reduction of sea bird numbers breeding in Britain over the past few years.

If all this sounds a bit heavy I assure you it isn’t – I read the book in a few quick sessions. It’s a real romp – written with warmth and affection for its subjects (human and avian). Experienced twitchers will know a lot of the info contained in the book but Birds Britannia is a beautiful way to get budding birders excited and whet the appetite of amateur social historians. Essentially it’s a thoroughly enjoyable jaunt around ourselves, taking learnings from the natural world that we may do well in heeding.

I’ll leave you with this: did you know that two out of three British households feed wild birds in our gardens? And we spend over £150million in doing so? I’m one of these number – here’s my bird table.

My bird table!

So why do we do this? I think the book sums up my reasons for doing so perfectly…

“For many people this simple act of kindness to our fellow creatures is the entry point into a deeper relationship with wildlife as a whole; a relationship that may span their entire lifetime.”

Let’s hope so!

All praise to the Gods of Indie!

3 Jun

Believe it or not I’m not big on nostalgia, I believe we live in the now and should try and enjoy it. I am, however, fond of recalling happy memories and especially fond of celebrating excellent things throughout history that evoke feelings of pure joy.

Which is why it was only a matter of time before I used this blog to write about music.

I love a wide range of music and still enjoy discovering new sounds, however I suppose I would have to describe myself as an indie kid. It was the first genre of music that captured my teenage imagination. And by the way I don’t mean the mediocre shite that has been popular over the past ten years (I hate Keene and the Kaiser Chiefs, and don’t get me started on Scouting for Girls).

Essentially, there is very little that gets me more excited than the screech of guitar feedback – even now. That ear-piercing sound represents pretty much all things wonderful for me – in 1990 it was dangerous, illicit and, dare I say it, sexy. Today it’s still pretty damn sexy but now, it transports me back to dirty indie clubs, gig venues with sticky floors, dry ice, smells of sweat and smoke and skinny boys with floppy hair – in short, a world that I wanted so badly to enter. I think it’s that anticipation, the expectation of being on the threshold of something I didn’t yet understand but wanted to immerse myself in that still lingers. Just listen to the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Upside Down and you’ll know what I mean… Thrilling!

(By the way, I think the Mary Chain are the most romantic band in the world)

I was enamoured with the aesthetic of indie too – I thought there was something so ethereally beautiful about the clothes, the hair cuts, the black and white photos in ‘serious’ music papers and most of all the cover art work. It seemed that the entire scene appealed to a ‘sensitive’ soul such as mine, who longed for meaningful conversations about art, books and French cinema (I know!).

Chapterhouse: the indie girl’s crumpet

Lush Melody Maker review

Ride Play EP

In fact I believe that the cover design for first three Ride EPs and the first album still look amazing today. I’m sure that stark, yet organic imagery and clean, yet tactile two-colour design on heavy matte paper stock, embellished with a gorgeous choice of both sans and serif fonts, ignited the passion I have for seemingly simple yet incredibly well thought-out graphic design to this day.

Ride Nowhere (over 20 years old now!)

Anyway once I’d got into the scene I obviously came across a number of souls who weren’t particularly sensitive and neither was I at times. But boy did I have a lot of fun. From the confines of my bedroom I’d imagined myself sitting in cafes having deep and meaningfuls, in reality there was dingy dives and hedonistic house parties and well, let’s just say a lot of light, rather meaningless, ‘entertainment’ (hey, it was a long time ago). And I’m not immune to making the odd dud choice either – if you watch carefully, you can spot me in the video for Oasis’ Cigarettes and Alcohol.

As I referred to earlier, in my opinion, it went a bit bad in the end (personally once Morning Glory came out and the likes of Kuler Shaker came on the scene it was pretty much over for me) but there are always new things to take its place, underground movements to excite and entice, that’s the fantastic thing about youth culture and music. Long may they reign!

I’ll leave you with some magic from My Bloody Valentine…

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.

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.

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.