Monday 29 June 2015

Brit Decor: Talks to HeraldBLACK

Whilst at University one of my favourite things to do on campus was mooch around the Fine Art building and explore the various studios, where I would always find a hive of creativity as artists worked with various media.  I loved soaking up that creative buzz, even though my own choice of artist's tool was a computer, it all felt very organic. 

In this setting I was always drawn towards print-based works, fascinated by the sense of process that goes into, for example, screen printing. I also used to spend time gazing at the finished pieces of artwork and visualising these framed and hanging in my own home - and this thought process is still with me today. 

There is no doubt about just how easy it is to pick up a stunning mass-produced print but you can't beat the sense of satisfaction from acquiring  a unique version, fresh from the artist's studio. And this is how I came to discover the work of Stephen Dow aka HeraldBLACK, when I recently became the proud owner of one of his works Arches II, which now takes pride of place at the cottage (see 'below'). 

Intrigued about the artist behind the work, I decided to catch-up with Stephen and find out more...

Why HeraldBLACK?

I wanted something that was a bit more anonymous, a nom de plume but for artists I suppose. I didn't want to use my name, although HeraldBlack is based on it. My first name is derived from the Greek for crown or garland, symbols used in heraldry. My surname comes from the Irish for black so indirectly I am using my name. 

HeraldBlack is something that feels very personal and connected to me. To me it also sounds like a font or a paint colour, or even a printing term so these connotations sit fine with me.

Where did it all begin?

I studied printed textiles and photography at art college almost 20 years ago. After graduating I undertook an internship with John Rocha in Dublin but did not pursue printing after this. I didn't have the self confidence at that time to set up as a freelance designer.

I ended up in retail & worked as a home accessories merchandiser for the last 10 years but always yearned for something more creative. Eventually I gave that up at the end of 2013 and stepped on to a new path in 2014 at Shadwell Print Studio. I set up my website 6 months later & have been printing, learning & developing since then. 

What inspires your work?

Sometimes literature. I was very inspired by the descriptiveness of François Mauriac's novel Thérèse Desqueyroux and used this as a reference for years. I'm often inspired by my surroundings and avidly photograph and Instagram as a means of keeping a visual diary. I've also kept notebooks for years so a sketch or collage there may end up being translated into a print.

Which other artist do you most admire?

That is such a hard question, it's very difficult to narrow it down.

I really like the work of photographer Eadward Muybridge who did studies of locomotion of humans & animals. I love the notion of a series, repetition and slight differences between each image. The strange arenas and rooms that Francis Bacon painted his subjects in always fascinate me as does his handling of colour. The Beckett Suite of etchings by Diarmuid Delargy are works that I have always loved since seeing them in a gallery in Belfast in 1996. His depiction of Beckett reminds me so much of my grandfather that I have wanted to own a print ever since then.

How does a typical day begin in the studio?

The day usually starts with gathering up the previous day's work off the drying rack and laying it out, reviewing it. A break from looking at the work you've spent hours producing can be very helpful. If the muse is present then I'll get set up & working on some new prints straight away. If not then it's probably time for a coffee and some critique with one of the other printmakers in the studio. Depending on the process I'll set out inks, paper, printing plates & cloths on the workbench and get going. I tend not to have too rigid a plan of what outcome I want, I've learned that this can lead to a certain amount of frustration & disappointment. Being more flexible and open to the possibility of 'happy accidents' generally makes for a more rewarding day. I'm typically at the studio three days a week for between 4-6 hours. I will work the rest of the time from home, working on notebooks & plans for prints, updating the online shop & responding to queries & queuing in the post office sending orders out.

Do you have a favourite piece of work? If so, which one and why?

I don't have a favourite piece of my own work. There are probably elements & sections of a print that I like so I suppose that's what keeps me printing, trying to perfect my craft & achieve that perfect print (if such a thing exists!). I'm constantly re-evaluating the composition, colour balance & overall sense of a piece that there isn't one print I prefer the best. I am rather pleased with the Arches: Sun & Sea series I recently added to the shop. This was a development of a previous series of prints but in response to a customer's request for more colour in my work. It was a pleasing outcome. 

If I had to pick one piece of someone else's work I greatly admire it would be Picasso's 'Girl in a Chemise' c.1905 from his Blue Period. The sense of melancholy from this painting proved a source of inspiration for my final year degree, and I'm still haunted by the painting almost 20 years later. 

Images/ Mike Ahern & HeraldBLACK

What does the future hold for HeraldBLACK?

HeraldBLACK has had an online presence for one year. I'll reach out to new customers by exhibiting and participating in art fairs later this year. The face to face engagement and discussion about a piece of work and the process sometimes gets lost online so its always good to have direct feedback. I'm working toward having a stockist this year too. 

I'm considering applying some of my print designs to other products, I'd love to see how my work would translate onto textiles, or a stationery range. Working collaboratively with someone that could do this would be wonderful.

You can view & buy works by HeraldBLACK by clicking here and follow his progress via his Instagram page.

Friday 26 June 2015

Brit Decor: Coastal Colour / Tenby, Wales

All images / Copyright Mike Ahern

Well it's Friday and Summertime - so I thought it highly appropriate to share these vibrant and  colour-happy shots I took whilst on a recent visit to the Welsh seaside town of Tenby. It's difficult not to become completely enchanted by the array of candy shop coloured homes which line the sedate and pretty streets, framed by pale golden sands, deep blue seas, and a picture-postcard harbour.

Tenby also holds a strong sentimental connection for me as it evokes memories of childhood visits. Also, this was a place where my Mum used to spend family holidays when she was a child, and it's that sense of re-living old memories and creating new ones, which is so powerful.

It was also great to play the interiors geek and take a moment to photograph the old lifeboat station (with the bold red roof 'above'), these days a converted home for two lucky owners, as featured on Channel 4's Grand Designs back in 2011 - just imagine the awesome views.

Unfortunately this was only a whistle-stop visit lasting just a few hours but @simonwatsonpt and I did make time to stop for a mouthwatering bite to eat at The Mooring restaurant and cafe, followed by a quick stop at a traditional sweet shop - it would have been rude not too!

We were so inspired by our Tenby adventure that we couldn't help but pick up two brightly coloured Pantone mugs, in homage to the colour-perfect buildings that we'd seen. I hope you too can take inspiration from this beautiful setting.

Get well soon Mum - you can do it!

Tuesday 16 June 2015

Brit Decor: Livingetc House Tours/ Concrete Cool

All images / Copyright Mike Ahern

Last week was manic for so many reasons, but having Friday to look forward to, more so than usual, helped my focus to remain positive all week. Following an early morning drive from Bath to London, it was time for brunch at Made bar & kitchen with Hannah and the fab Arlo & Jacob team, and of course, some awesome bloggers - Style Juicer, Little Big Bell, Block Print Social, Museum Mum, Yes Please, and later in the day - My Interior Stylist, now that's a line-up!

Morning social aside, we had gathered together for a VIP version of the Livingetc House tours and subsequently we were whisked off by private coach to snoop, snap and survey a total of seven stylish homes across the capital.

Of the seven properties, one of my favourite homes is this four-storey cube house. A haven of contemporary cool concrete and mid-century modern furniture pieces, bold blocks of colour, and equally vibrant canvases, all seem to fuse together with an overriding sense of family. With an architectural style that is frequently associated with a cold and minimalist 'look', creating a family home in this context is no easy feat. However, I love how the homeowners have made no effort to conceal their kid's toys, which only adds to the character of the building and helps to create that important lived-in feel.

Similarly, the addition of vintage furniture pieces, rather than the obvious minimalist pieces, and copious amounts of books all help to embrace a sense of 'home'. It's also surprising how visually powerful the vases of freshly cut flowers look in contrast against the concrete wall panels - a material often associated with  brutal functionality.

Due to an open full height cross-section in the centre of the house, natural light floods down into the building, and with large windows in each of the rooms, this house seems much larger than it actually is - clearly with this project the architect understood the importance of maximising the sense of space. There is also something incredibly calming about the smooth grey concrete, which made this final home feel very tranquil.

Thanks again to the Arlo & Jacob team, and to Natalie from Block Print Social - thanks for being my #BusBuddy for the day!

Thursday 11 June 2015

Brit Decor: Summer Study & Bathroom update with Dwell

All images / Copyright Mike Ahern

It seems like only yesterday since I posted part one of my mini-makeover in collaboration with Dwell, and breathed new life into the cottage with a few simple furniture and accessory additions. Today we move away from the living room, to the upstairs study and newly redecorated bathroom with a small but perfectly formed selection of practical-meets-stylish product picks.

The Brit Decor study is a space in which I spend heaps of time working on blog posts and designing interiors for clients, so it's essential that I have plenty of inspiration close at hand. Asides from researching the latest trends, thumbing through the glossy pages of my favourite interiors magazines is a 'must' for chilling out and immersing myself in the world of interior design.

There is never a shortage of new editions flowing into the household, which I had been storing in my bookcase - but I felt it would be easier if not a little lazy, to have the magazines within a closer proximity to my desk - cue Dwell's stunning bag magazine holder with it's marl grey felt material. This looks great in tandem with the dark and moody Stiffkey blue wall and the crisp white desk, under which it sits beautifully.

Into the bathroom and I wanted to fully exploit this years trend for marble. This ancient material is a sure-fire means of bringing instant glamour to any setting with its cool tones. I also love how Dwell has opted to accentuate the luxe-look of these bathroom marble accessories by adding flashes of copper for a highly sophisticated finish. As with any favourite accessories - try grouping these together for maximum impact!

This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Dwell

Monday 8 June 2015

Brit Decor: Bakes / Blueberry & almond cheesecake sponge

Images / Copyright Mike Ahern

It was a busy weekend filled by catching up with friends and family, prepping for this week's blog posts, and tidying up the garden after a week away on the stunning Gower coastline in Wales. However, this hectic schedule was not going to stop me from whipping up a Brit Decor bake - it's simply been too long since my last kitchen creation! 

I am a huge fan of cheesecake, baked or dessert-style, fruit topped or chocolate, I love them all! So I decided to take this to another level and create a cheesecake / spongecake hybrid. This bake turned out to be a melt-in-the-mouth delight, the cheesecake mix fused perfectly with the sponge to create a moist finish which contrasted nicely with the crispy flaked almonds and juicy blueberries.

This also looks great too with the swirls of cheesecake, the blue bleed of the berries and the warm copper tones of the almonds. As for taste...this baked disappeared very quickly!


(For the cheesecake)
20g caster sugar
1 large egg
200g cream cheese

(For the Sponge)
175g softened unsalted butter
4 large eggs
200g caster sugar
200g self-raising flour
Sprinkle of flaked almonds
150g blueberries
70g natural yoghurt
2 tsp vanilla essence 

To make:

Heat the oven to 1800c and grease a 23cm baking tin. Mix the cheesecake ingredients together and put to one side. 

Now for the sponge mix - put the butter, flour, eggs, sugar, yoghurt, vanilla into a bowl and mix using an electric whisk. Scoop half of the mixture into the baking tin and then sprinkle with half of the blueberries. Then add several spoonfuls of the cheesecake mix. Cover over the cheesecake mixture with the remaining sponge mix before adding the rest of the cheesecake mix along with the blueberries. Finally, sprinkle a handful of flaked almonds on top and then place in the oven for up to one hour.

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