Reading Inspiration: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Sometimes you find a book that really resonates with you, revealing parts of yourself that you hadn’t fully recognised.

I love finding these kinds of books, and in a stroke of luck Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl caught my eye while I was browsing the bookshop. I devoured this book in two days, hungrily pouring through the pages in every spare moment.

After glancing at the cover – beautifully illustrated by Charlotte Day – it was Lucie Green’s review from the Observer that compelled me to flip through the first few pages – ‘Leaves become elegant machines, soil is the interface between the living and the dead, and seeds, well, they are transformed into the most patient and hopeful of life forms’ – elegantly describing the way Jahren looks at the world, and her love of plants and science.

Jahren is a geochemist, geobiologist, and professor at the University of Oslo. What I found particularly nice about this book was how it finds common ground between the scientist and the artist. The way Jahren describes her lab powerfully echoes with the way I feel about the artist’s studio:

“My lab is the place where I put my brain out onto my fingers and I do things. My lab is the place where I move. I stand, walk, sit, fetch, carry, climb, crawl. My lab is the place where it’s just as well I can’t sleep, because there are so many things to do in the world besides that. […] My lab is a place where my guilt over what I haven’t done is supplanted by all the things that I am getting done. […] My laboratory is like a church because it is where I figure out what I believe. […] It is my retreat from my professional battlefield; it is the place where I cooly examine my wounds and repair my armour. And, just like a church, because I grew up in it, it is not something from which I can ever really walk away.”, – (pp.23-24).

A place to retreat, a place to work and make and do and reflect. That, to me, is what the artist’s studio is all about. I also loved the part where Jahren talks about how what she does forms deep part of her identity. “In our tiny town, my father wasn’t a scientist, he was the scientist, and being a scientist wasn’t his job, it was his identity. My desire to become a scientist was founded upon a deep instinct and nothing more; I never heard a single story about a living female scientist, never met one or even saw one on television,” (p.22). In the same way, being an artist has been part of my identity, and I imagine many artists feel the same way.

Other than finding a lot of personal identification in Jahren’s description of herself and her work, the book is beautifully written and is a great read for anyone interested in plants. There’s enough information to learn something new, but none of the language is too technical, so anyone who doesn’t have a scientific background can easily pick it up and dive right in. The way that Jahren describes the natural world – as a person or a friend – is incredibly moving. A particularly lovely paragraph is:

“Every piece of wood in your house-from the windowsills to the furniture to the rafters- was once part of a living being, thriving in the open and pulsing with sap. If you look at these wooden objects across the grain, you might be able to trace out the boundaries of a couple of rings. The delicate shape of those lines tells you the story of a couple of years. If you know how to listen, each ring describes how the rain fell and the wind blew and the sun appeared every day at dawn.”, (p.102). 

I really enjoyed every page of this read and would recommend it to anyone who has some kind of passion, because I think that we can all find some form of identification in Jahren’s words.

H. Jahren, Lab Girl (New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing, 2016).





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Art, Theatre and Tarot: The Extraordinary Life of Pamela Colman Smith

“She has always been strange. There is not a page of her life, not an incident, that is not overflowing with romance.” – “Winsome Witchery in London Drawing Rooms”, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. New York, Tuesday, November 1, 1904.

I recently worked on an incredible exhibition with the National Trust that I was so happy to be a part of. It tells the story of an incredible woman who lived an extraordinary life. Pamela Colman Smith, or ‘Pixie,’ was an artist, writer and occultist. I was given the task of creating the exhibition and sharing her story through interactive illustrations and animations.


Pamela was the artist behind one of the most famous tarot decks, the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, more often known as the Rider-Waite Tarot (1909). The cards are completely captivating, incredibly vivid and full of imagination. Without creating the cards she would have fallen into obscurity, and despite them she died as a fairly unknown artist and with little money to her name. Despite this, she was a fascinating and truly unique woman.

She was born in England in 1878 and spent much of her life traveling between London, New York and Jamaica. Her mother was Jamaican, and she was highly influenced by Jamaican culture, eventually going on to write a short book of Jamaican folk stories. Her art was inspired by Art Nouveau and 19th-century symbolists. She was also inspired by synesthesia, and in several of her works she shows how her senses could blend. Pamela was able to ‘see’ music, and created captivating pieces where she translated music into paintings. She was particularly inspired by Bach, Schumann and Beethoven. At example of her synesthetic work is her painting Overture. “Egmont” Beethoven, where the figure of a woman seems to blend into the mountainside as three figures peer into the distance.

She dabbled in many areas, which is maybe why she was never distinguished in any field. She worked as an illustrator, a set designer, and a writer of novels and children’s books. She was also a member of the 20th-century occult movement, and a strong supporter of women’s suffrage. She created many political cartoons as part of a group of political artists known as the Suffrage Atelier. She was described in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1904, in the paragraph: ‘In London drawing rooms the enthusiasm and the fashion of the hour is Pamela Colman Smith, who, in a brilliant frock of orange with a red turban, sits on a board with two lighted candles in front of her and tells before crowds of delighted people weird and strange folklore tales of Jamaica.’ It also noted that she was ‘highly unconventional and full of mystery in her art, as well as in her life, a wonderful colorist […] a most ungirlish individuality, yet full of curious attraction.’


The part of her story that my worked focused on was a journal that she created while crossing the Atlantic on the S. S. Marquette with famous figures like the Shakespearean actress Ellen Terry and the Dracula writer Bram Stoker. Accompanying them was Bram Stoker’s theatre group, and they set out to on a theatrical tour of America. The journal, titled The Book of Merry Joys, contains lots of beautiful, and sometimes mischievous, caricatures of famous figures that accompanied her on the journey. My role was to take these illustrations and animation them with the same playfulness that fills Pamela’s pages. I love the vitality and fluidity of animation, and I had so much fun bringing the illustrations to life. I collated the animations, together with the story of Pamela and the creation of The Book of Merry Joys, on an iPad.

Smallhythe Place (National Trust)

I wanted the exhibition to be on display on an iPad in a National Trust property, instead of online, for two reasons. Firstly, I like my work to have an interactive element. I like that visitors can interact with the iPad, touch the screen, linger on an animation or drive the narrative forward at their own pace. I also wanted the iPad to be on display in a place that gave it context, a place that Pamela connected with. Pamela lived in National Trust property Smallhythe Place in 1909, when she was creating the Tarot Cards. She had a strong connection to the property and developed many friendships there. The iPad is now in the property on permanent display.

I am so proud to have been able to share Pamela’s story, to give her a ‘voice,’ 67 years after her passing. It means a lot to me that more people will be able to see her work, and that she will not simply be another female artist whose work was forgotten and regarded as unimportant.

You can see the project at Smallhythe Place, which is open Wednesday to Thursday from 11am to 5pm.

Pamela Colman Smith and the Book of Merry Joys project was created, designed and animated by Hannah Rose Shaw in collaboration with the National Trust. 

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Sophia Shaw: Watercolour, Nomadic Lifestyle and Connecting to the Land

Sophia Shaw lives a nomadic lifestyle with her partner on the UK waterways. She works from their narrowboat, finding inspiration in the surrounding countryside. Her illustration style is light and playful, and has grown from her experiences of travelling and connecting with different lands and cultures. 

Tell us about you and your work?

My name is Sophia, the face behind Sophia’s Illustration. I am 29, a dreamer and tea-drinker who loves to draw, paint and live quite a nomadic lifestyle. Last winter my partner and I bought our first home together – a 1987 Springer 42ft narrowboat, the perfect life for us right now!

Sophia Shaw.

What are your artistic tools of the trade?

For the past few years I have been working with watercolour, ink and gouache. I use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator  to prepare my work for print, but never usually for anything more – I have always preferred to work by hand with paint.

How did you discover art and illustration?

My mum was always creative and really inspired me as a child. We used to have lots of crafty days and once I sat for her to draw. I always knew that I would like to be an artist and it was always a strong subject for me at school. In college I studied an amazing full-time arts course and it was my tutor who advised me to apply to study Illustration, which I studied at Swansea University.

Map of Wales © Sophia Shaw

How did you begin map-making and what kind of projects have you worked on?

After I finished university I was so over illustration! I went travelling with my partner to Australia and Asia and ended up being away from home for two and a half years. We had the most amazing time and we learnt a lot. Whilst we were away I always carried a sketchbook around, but I still hadn’t found my ‘style’ of working, which was a constant pressure throughout university. I played around painting large scale murals in Australia and also in Kuala Lumpur. It was amazing to enjoy painting without any pressure. We spent six months working in Fremantle, Western Australia, and lived in the garden of the most amazing house. There was no exterior wall at the back of the house and the kitchen and living rooms were outside. Matthew, the owner, was an eccentric photographer who created recycled sculpture from old metal objects, which were all over the roof and garden. It was Matthew’s house where my style of working was born. The very first ‘map’ I drew was his wonderful house and gardens. Once we returned to the UK we moved back to Swansea and I started painting maps of Wales to reconnect with the land and culture.

What inspires you to create your work?

My paintings are often inspired by things that I see in day-to-day life, such as the shapes in a landscape, or a glimpse of a cat sitting in a field or a beautiful allotment. I am a big day-dreamer and always looking for the perfect composition. I have a sketchbook which I use to jot down little ideas of things that have happened, or things that I see, that I can refer back to when painting.

Do you find that you often use certain motifs, themes or colours in your work?

The colour green definitely features most in my work at the moment. I really love to paint gardens and the countryside. I also like to add in little personal details; if I paint animals I will often add pets of mine who have passed away. I really like the personal touch and the connection that this work has to me, but a stranger wouldn’t know.

Boat Workspace © Sophia Shaw

What is your creative process like?

I feel like I am one of life’s great procrastinators! Give me a sketchbook and I can draw and paint all day every day, but when it comes to painting a final piece I find myself doing anything but starting the painting. I seem to get an ‘artist’s block’ and feel like I don’t know where to start. Often I can overcome this if I have a deadline to work to, so this is usually what I do – I seem to work better under pressure. Once I get started I can work quite quickly. I can never finish a piece in one go, but have to leave it a few days and see it again with fresh eyes.

Tell us more about your workspace, and your life living and working on a boat on the UK waterways?

Living on the boat is awesome, but space is tight. The boat is just 13m in length and 2m in width. I have a desk which takes up half the living space, but can be packed down if we have guests. My partner is very chilled out, and we are both very used to living in small spaces, and so it suits us. Under the bed I have a large A3 scanner/ printer and I have to make my prints in very small quantities. In the summer we installed a solar panel to the roof, so I can charge my laptop easily now. At the moment my partner is working in West London and so we have to float around in one area, but our licence states that we must move a couple of miles every 14 days. In the summer we roamed the countryside and enjoyed our freedom! Life on the boat is wonderful, but there is a lot to learn and a lot of time spent opening and closing locks in the pouring rain!

What are the most challenging parts of working as an artist?

I think that taking knock-backs is the most challenging thing. It is quite hard to separate yourself from the work and not take knock-backs too personally. Also making yourself stay motivated; it can be quite a lonely life working as an independent artist from a home studio! My dream is to one day have my own studio/ gallery space to invite people in for arts workshops.

In The Wild © Sophia Shaw

And what are the best parts?

The best part of working as an artist has to be when somebody chooses to own a piece of my work, it’s a lovely feeling that somebody has made that connection and wants my work in their home!

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Be patient! Work hard and always make sure you are enjoying creating your work.

What are you currently working on? And what’s next?

I have just finished painting my Christmas card designs for this year ready for some Christmas markets that I am selling my work at in West London. Next thing I am working on is illustrated map tea towels, I have always loved the kitsch holiday souvenir tea towel designs and I want to create some in my own style, watch this space!

English Country Garden © Sophia Shaw

Connect with Sophia at, and

All images copyright of Sophia Shaw.

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Make Your Own Handbound Notebook

I recently added these hand-bound notebooks to my Etsy store. I had a lot of fun making them and wanted to share a few tips on how to get started with book-binding. The idea can seem quite daunting, but once you get the hang of it there are so many options for customisation.

What you need:

  1. 10x sheets of paper. It is best to use a high quality writing paper, but you can also use regular printing paper. 10 folded sheets will make a 20 page notebook (40 sides) when the binding process is complete.
  2. 1x sheet of thick printing paper. Make sure that it is 150gsm or more.
  3. A small awl.
  4. A needle.
  5. Thread. There are many different kinds of thread that you can use for book binding. The best is linen thread, but cotton will work as well. The important thing is to choose a natural fibre that will last a long time and be strong enough to hold the notebook together.

Step 1

Print your chosen design onto your printing paper. This will be the cover of your notebook.

Step 2

Fold your notebook cover in half. Repeat with the 10x sheets of writing paper, and place the writing paper inside the cover, as you want the pages to lay.

Step 3

Find the centre of your notebook. You should start binding from the inside. You may want to use paperclips to hold the pages in place while you begin threading. Use the awl to make three holes – one in the centre, one an inch from the top, and the last an inch from the bottom. If you want the binding to be perfect then you should measure the holes to make sure they are at equal distances, but this is not completely necessary. Begin by threading the needle through the centre hole.

Step 4

Flip the notebook over and pull the thread through. The cover should now be facing up. Thread the needle back through the top hole, and flip the notebook over so the writing paper is facing up. Thread back through the centre hole.

Step 5

Repeat step 4 by threading through the third hole at the bottom of the notebook, so that the cover is facing up, then push the needle back through the centre hole. You may repeat steps 4 and 5 twice if you would like the binding to be particularly strong.

Step 5

Finish by laying the notebook and the writing paper facing up, and tie the loose ends together. Trim the loose thread and you’re done!

There’s so much opportunity to play with this process, designing your own covers and working with a variety of paper sizes, creating mini notebooks as well as larger books with different types of paper. Notebooks, sketchbooks and journals can all be created in the exact same way.

If you decide to try it out, I’d love to see the results!


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Artist Interview: Amber Roberts on Photography, Nature and Empowerment

This week I interviewed one of my closest friends, Amber Roberts. She is a photographer based in Kensington, and can be found shooting in the surrounding areas of Notting Hill and Holland Park with her partner, Philip. She has a calm, tranquil style full of warm, dreamy tones. We talked about how she began her photography business, shooting with her partner, her love of nature and her aim to encourage female empowerment through her work.

Tell us what inspired you to start photography?

This is the first year I’ve pushed myself to pursue photography as my full-time passion rather than a side hustle. As a child it enabled me to escape the reality around me and be anyone I wanted. My mother didn’t have a lot of money so 35mm film was hard to come by. I loved the chances that I had to use the film camera and show what was happening around me at that moment in time. I kept it very real, and rather than removing the bad bits I recorded as much as I possibly could. When digital cameras became more accessible I would “steal” my best friend’s camera and take as many photographs as possible. This inspired me to study photography during my A-Levels where I developed my love for film photography, there’s just something so magical about the dark room.

How has your style developed over time?

Before my A-Levels I didn’t really know how to take a picture. I was also afraid of working with real humans and so I focused on nature and still life – something I don’t regret. When I went to university I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. Now that I am pursuing this full-time I want to capture beautiful moments for my clients to cherish. My main goal is to enable my clients to feel beautiful, special and to find themselves during our shoot. I love to direct the models through each pose to help them to find confidence. One thing I really want to do is to help those who have been through something bad – like losing a job, a relationship break-up or a trauma – and help them to feel amazing at the end of the photo shoot experience. I want to create a special day for them, where they can come and have their make-up done, choose their outfits, have time shooting and then wind-down. My main goal is to make my clients feel happy and confident in their own body.

What are your main influences?

My main influence is nature. Throughout my creative career and childhood I have always been found reading books, drawing, painting, photographing the world around me and playing in the dirt or climbing trees. There’s something so magical about nature that helps me to reconnect with myself again. I want to create artistic portraits of the human body that aren’t sexualised by the male gaze or society’s standards. I would love to do a shoot about the female and male body, showing different angles with random objects involved – I haven’t thought much about it though! One photographer I love is Francesca Woodman. She was an American photographer who photographed herself and many females merging with their surroundings. Another photographer who I adore is Bleeblu, his feminine portraits are beautiful and very artistic.

Dorcas Serafina (Instagram @dorcas_serafina) by Amber Roberts
Dorcas Serafina (Instagram @dorcas_serafina) by Amber Roberts

You’re very open about your experience with depression, and encourage others to talk about their own struggles, something I’ve always admired about you. How does mental health affect your creative work, and what advice would you give to others with similar experiences?

Being creative allows me to stay atop of my mental health. During the depths it can even be a battle to leave bed in the morning, but photography and drawing helps to keep me in check. I’ve been fighting with depression since I was 14, and last year, when I turned 23, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. The advice that I would give to others with similar experiences is to remember that you deserve happiness, you deserve to be here and to be yourself, and someone else’s opinion of you doesn’t define you. Alongside therapy I have been working over forty-five hours a week and studying fourteen hours a week, whilst running my photography business with my partner. I’ve barely had time for myself but once you find something that you love doing it is all worthwhile.

What are some of the creative struggles that you have faced, and how did you overcome them?

Creative block, artistic block, and my mental health taking a turn for the worse are the things that I dread. I like to take each day as it comes. Starting a business is hard work, and so one thing I would say is that you need a lot of self-belief, or else your business won’t go far. You need to be one-hundred percent sure that this is what you want and the rest will follow. Marketing is a hard thing to do, there are so many avenues and funnels to go down. Take some courses, do an internship in marketing, expose yourself to as much as possible before you market your product to help you avoid the simple mistakes businesses make in the beginning – but everyone has to start somewhere, right?

Anna (Instagram @annafitlifestyle) by Amber Roberts
Anna (Instagram @annafitlifestyle) by Amber Roberts

Has the process changed since you started shooting with your partner?

Doing this with my partner, Philip, has been one of the best things I have ever done. He gives me so much love, hope and strength to pursue my passions and seeing how happy he gets when I am happy makes it all worth it. He surprised me with a Fuji x-t2 at the end of last year and I haven’t looked back since! Having his help and bringing him to shoots brings us so much closer together and I feel that working alongside each other and joining forces makes us so much stronger!

Your work has a really calm, beautiful nature. How do you achieve this look?

I like to keep a feeling of calm and tranquility throughout my work; London is hectic as hell, and I like to counterbalance it through my work. I like to involve as much greenery or nature as possible and I’m happiest when I’m shooting outside. On a side note, my flat in Notting Hill is full of wonderful greenery, and I like to always have cactuses, succulents, and plants that purify the air.

Miguel Ruizios (Instagram @migelruizios) by Amber Roberts
Miguel Ruizios (Instagram @migelruizios) by Amber Roberts

What are some of your favourite locations to shoot?

Notting Hill, Holland Park, and Regents Park are some of my favourite London locations to shoot. The Barbican Conservatory, though only open on Sundays, is my all-time favourite place in London. From the depths of the ground to the tops of the glass you are surrounded by plants, trees, cacti and even turtles! I also love Brighton, there’s something so special and magical about the Laines, the seafront and the Sussex Downs. I can never get enough of it.

What are some of your favourite things about being a freelance photographer?

Being a freelance photographer enables me to push myself through boundaries I never thought I would. I am meeting new people all the time, capturing intimate moments, and photographing sensitively and compassionately. I love working on new projects all the time and seeing who I will meet next and where the project will take me.

Sara De Lauretis (Instagram @sara_deleau) by Amber Roberts
Sara De Lauretis (Instagram @sara_deleau) by Amber Roberts

Can you name your favourite shoot that you have worked on?

I’ve worked on so many shoots this year – it’s hard to decide which was my favourite. I’ve worked with up and coming male and female models, mums to be, new borns, mummies and their toddlers, events, products, fashion and bridal. My favourite image from a recent shoot was with Italian model Sarah Delau, who I was lucky enough to work with. She knew exactly what she was doing throughout the shoot. She is so beautiful and has an amazing personality to match. I also worked with a good friend of mine called Ellie who is a makeup artist! She is a magician!

What are you working on at the moment? And what’s next?

I am working on many exciting things, many of which I can’t talk about but some are photography based and some are illustration based! Keep your eyes open and new work will be coming soon!

You can find Amber’s work on Instagram at @bluebirdandthorn. 

All images copyright of Amber Roberts and Philip Amour. 

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How to Find Confidence as an Artist

Creativity needs confidence.

Without confidence we limit ourselves, we stop trying new things, and we no longer take chances. By confidence, I don’t mean being the loudest person in the room. I mean that you need to have self belief, because that’s what confidence really is. Knowing who you are, what your values are, and why you do what you do will help you develop true confidence to create powerful, authentic work.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about developing a strong sense of self believe.

Write down your values

Writing down your values is a way of finding out what you stand for and what your work is about. Consider the values you uphold, your goals, and your vision of how to want to present yourself. Once you have discovered the answers you will feel more purposeful and empowered.

Focus on the process

Sometimes we are too focused on the goal or the finished piece. We build up an image of it in our minds and are disappointed when it doesn’t match up with reality. We spend too much time focusing on these failures and imperfections. It is important to remember that there is no ‘destination,’ and that the process is far more important than a perfect finished piece. In my last blog post I wrote about how much I learnt from simply making a painting without worrying about how it would look when it was done, discovering how much I liked the sketchy, free flowing pencil lines that I would normally erase. Remember to enjoy the process, to learn something each time, and to try and make each piece of work a little better than the last. Know that you are constantly improving, and even if you are not yet as skilled as you would like to be, know that one day you will be.

Find support

Sometimes we put a lot of emotions into our work and can become upset or overwhelmed when things don’t go as planned, or in those moment where we are no longer sure if we’re good enough. Analyse the situation, and you’re finding it hard, a support network can come in handy. Ask them for their critiques, their advice and their experiences. Discuss what led you to lose self-belief and act on what you learn. Friends, family, other creatives, local or even online groups are all great ways of finding support.

Challenge yourself

Belief in yourself grows when you prove to yourself that you can do it. Get out of your comfort zone, whether it’s finally sharing that piece online, doing a live Q&A, or starting a project that you’ve been putting off for absolutely ever. These spaces may be scary but they are where you grow.

Always be learning

Learn as much as you can about what you do – and everything else. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes about 10,000 hours to achieve mastery of a field. The more you know, the more confident you will be in your own ability. Not only this, but learning improves our understanding of the world around us, and gives us the inspiration for new ideas.

There you have it. As always, feel free to ask questions or leave a comment, and let me know if you tried out any of the ideas above.


Photo credit: Oliver J Cooper.

Model: Hannah Rose Shaw. 

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Rewilding: The Process


I’ve had a break from blogging for the past month. With one exhibition going on display, and another in the works, things have been pretty busy. I also escaped for a week away with my family, where I spent a lot of time reading and working on drawing studies.

Before I go ahead and explain the thoughts behind my newest painting, go ahead and take a look below at my Youtube video showing the full painting process.

I started this painting because I wanted to make something without already knowing how I wanted it to look. The plan was to put pencil to paper and see what happened. Like most creatives I am a perfectionist, but sometimes perfectionism can limit your work. In this piece I left in the rough pencil lines that I would normally erase. I like using flowing line work to create a sense of movement, and I like how alive they make the portrait look.

Rewilding, Hannah Rose Shaw, 2017, ink and watercolour on A4 watercolour paper.

I’ve recently been inspired by Clarissa Pinkola Estés’s Women Who Run with the Wolves. Estés talks, among many other things, about how a creative inner world needs to be fed. My work often comes back to the theme of inner lives, an introspective nature appearing in my colours and bringing together of the ordinary and the extraordinary, the external and the internal. I’m planning on this idea becoming a series of work, and I’ll talk more about it in posts to come.

For now, let me know what you think of the video, and I invite you to a challenge! It’s this: get out a pen or a brush and set of paints, and start making. It doesn’t matter how you do it, what it is or what the outcome is, just enjoy the doing and use it as a chance to work without worrying about perfection.


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Five Biographies Every Artist Will Want to Read

I am a huge fan of reading, and while I usually stick to fiction, I’ve started reading artist biographies. I love having a glimpse into the lives of such creative people, lives that are wild, impetuous and moving. I have compiled a list of some of my favourites-only five of many such books, of course, so if you don’t see your favourite on the list, add it in the comments below.

Life with Picasso by Françoise Gilot

The focus of this book is Picasso, one of the best-known figures in 20th century art. Though from Spain he spent most of his life adult life in France, where he developed the revolutionary Cubist style. This biography is interesting for fans of Piccaso’s work and private life, but what I found more interesting was the voice of the author, Françoise Gilot, partner of Picasso and an influential artist in her own right. This is Gilot’s story as much as it is Picasso’s. It is the story of a young woman who left her home in the middle of the German occupation in France to become an artist. It is the story of how she met, studied under, and, eventually, became the partner of Picasso. She describes Paris, life during the War, and Picasso’s friends (Henry Matisse, André Breton, Gertrude Stein) in vivid detail, and reveals all the highs and lows of building a life with him. After their separation she went on to become a prolific painter, best-selling author and a designer at the Guggenheim. If you haven’t seen any of her work, I highly recommend that you take a look.

Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

This book is a beautiful glimpse into the life of Vincent Van Gogh, one of my favourite artists. It has clearly been researched in painstaking detail, drawing on Van Gogh’s letters to his brother. The focus on these letters and Van Gogh’s own words is what makes this book special, an inspiring account of his life that will leave you feeling as if he only just walked out the room.

The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait, Frida Kahlo

A beautiful facsimile of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s dairy, exploring the last ten years of her life. The emotions in this book are often raw and heavy, and if you’re expecting a traditional diary detailing what she did each day, think again. The diary explores her life in watercolour illustrations, hand-written love letters, memories and poems. The varying mediums come together in beautiful chaos to help you get a little closer to Kahlo’s inner life and art.

Virginia Woolf, Alexandra Harris

This is an intriguing book about a vibrant and complex woman. It follows her life from the early days where she would write it the attic while her sister, the artist Vanessa Bell, would paint by her side for hours on end, to the final days of her life in the Sussex countryside. It is an inspiring look at Woolf’s inner life, her life-long struggles with depression, her inspirations and the development of her ideas. Harris combines a staggering amount of research with a fresh perspective and thoughtful commentary. This biography is an excellent gateway to Woolf, her work and Bloomsbury.

Lee Miller: A Life, Carolyn Burke

This book is both a glorious glimpse into life during the early 20th century and a remarkable portrait of the photographer, model and war correspondent Lee Miller. Burke does not sugar coat or hide any parts of Miller’s story, and at times you will hate, pity and be in awe of her. She lived a spectacularly messy life; she was a model for Vogue, maintained a long standing in the surrealist world, was close to Man Ray and Picasso, reported on the devastating impact of the war and the Nazi death camps (breaking new ground for female journalists), and eventually sunk deep into alcoholism. Both glamour and sadness seep through the pages. It’s all impossible to believe and yet wonderfully true.

If you read any of them I’d love to hear if you liked them as much as I did! Let me know your thoughts, and suggestions of other great biographies, in the comments.


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My Top Seven Daily Drawing Tips

If you think you’re bad at drawing, or that you’re uncreative, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. Drawing is a skill that can be improved, and if you practice once a day for one month, I promise that you will see a difference. I’ve put together a few ideas that help me in my drawing practice. Why not challenge yourself to 30 days of drawing?


Begin with a cheap sketchbook where you can scribble ideas. This way you don’t need to worry about messing up expensive paper, just sketch whatever ideas pop into your mind without thinking too hard about the outcome.


Make yourself a desk or workspace where you can draw. Make sure it’s somewhere you won’t be disturbed. For more tips on creating a workspace with little space, check out my last blog post.


Create an inspiration board where you can keep colour palettes, beautiful photographs, pages from magazines, book quotes and anything else that gets your creativity buzzing. It can be a pin board, a scrapbook, or a digital board like Pinterest.


Choose the amount of time that you want to spend practicing everyday. The more the better, but starting at 10 minutes a day is just fine.


It’s OK to release your inner child and have fun. It isn’t about being perfect or comparing yourself to others, it’s about the process.


Hold yourself accountable for your improvement. Once you have finished drawing for the day, tick it off on a diary or calendar. Take an extra step by sharing your daily drawings on Instagram or Facebook.


Try drawing with someone and sharing your work. It will make the process more fun and sociable, and if you have an artistic friend, why not ask them for some tips?



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How to Make an Art Studio With Little Space

“This is the place of creative incubation. At first, you may find nothing happens there. But, if you have a sacred place and use it, take advantage of it, something will happen.” – Joseph Campbell.

If there is one thing an artist needs, it’s space. Space to keep materials, to lay out paints and papers, and to find inspiration. Lack of space is one of the biggest problems that get in the way of people making art. If you want to make art and creativity a part of your daily life, then you need to make space for it. Here are some of my favourite ways to carve out an art space at home.

List your wants and needs

From materials to tables and chairs, list everything that you would like in your studio space. Look over your list, starting with the essentials, and decide what you really need to work. You can always add more later.

Repurpose old furniture

Whether it’s a desk or a chest of drawers, use it. Start by finding something that you can use as a table. For now, keep it clear – you’re going to need it later! To save extra space you can use a folding table that can be stored neatly away when you’re done.

Divide a room

Divide part of a room into a studio space. If the room is part of a family or living room, use shelves or a screen to delineate it. If you don’t have a room large enough for this, try taking over an attic, basement or garage.

Make space for storage

That old chest of drawers that you found earlier? That’s going to come in handy. Divide it up into sections – one for paper, one for paints, one for brushes, and so on. If you don’t have a drawer you can use, try buying a small plastic storage box or rolling cart.

Use portable art kits

Many art supplies are small and portable, so you can work from anywhere. Carry an art pouch filled with all the essentials and work in the work or your local coffee shop.

Keep your space alive

You’re going to feel much more likely to work in a beautiful space filled with inspiration than in somewhere dull and drab. While you’re repurposing your furniture or putting up that screen, why not re-decorate them yourself by adding a pop of colour or some collage. Decorate the walls with art prints, postcards, pages from magazines. Make it personal, a unique space to fuel your sense of creativity. I make sure that my space is always filled with big, leafy plants, beautiful ceramics, colourful art prints, and music.

If you need inspiration, take a look at these beautiful studios for ideas.



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