Finished Bird of the Fortnight: Black Headed Gull

Black Headed Gull (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

As I mentioned earlier this week with my black and white drawings, the black headed gull is a constant companion for any Wivenhoe resident.

The gull isn’t a particularly glamorous bird I suppose, however it is quite a handsome creature in my opinion. It has a gorgeous sleek head (this dark colour comes along in the spring and summer for sexy mating times) and rather lovely white and silver feathers. I love these guys and I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to see them everyday!

I didn’t have to overwork this piece for the final illustration. Although the colour looks light, there are actually several layers of  washes in a range of silvery, blue, purple, pink and grey watercolours. Because this bird is quite sleek I don’t want to go to town on fine detail on this drawing, so I kept my ink lines gestural and fluid, maybe a little rough and ready like the birds themselves.

DIY: Update a wooden box

Customised pencil box Posca Pens ellasplace.co.uk

I’ve had this little wooden box for years. It was plain and unloved for ages. I kept pencils in it and every time I retrieved them I thought “I should really do something with this” and then I’d leave it.

Customised pencil box Posca Pens ellasplace.co.uk

Then a couple of weeks ago I was asked if I wanted to do some projects with Uni-ball the makers of Posca pens. Before I started on the projects I thought it best to re-familiarise myself with them and have a little practice. The pens work on a range of surfaces, so after I used them on a set of notebooks I thought I’d give them a try by drawing on that plain old wooden box.
Customised pencil box Posca Pens ellasplace.co.uk

First I painted the box to give it an even white background. Then I used my wood anemone sketch as a basis for my hand-drawn box design. I wanted to make it look quite retro so influenced by sixties and seventies floral patterns I gave the flowers a bright blue colour.

Customised pencil box Posca Pens ellasplace.co.uk

What I like about these pens is that you can layer them without them bleeding and apply lighter shades over darker ones which means I could add depth to the flowers with lovely yellow centres and white pollen.You can set the design by simply spraying some varnish over it.
Customised pencil box Posca Pens ellasplace.co.uk
Customised pencil box Posca Pens ellasplace.co.uk

You can set the design on the box by

Bird of the Fortnight: Black Headed Gull

Blackheaded Gull Sketch Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

This fortnight’s bird may be rather mundane to some but to me it’s rather special.

Essentially we share our home town with the black headed gull, you only have to walk around the corner from our house and you’ll see these critters flying about or picking at the Wivenhoe mud. They make a great racket too, especially if you’re having chips on the quay!

So if you haven’t seen my bird of the fortnight posts before then what I do is start the week with three black and white pen sketches. I then finish the week with a worked up colour watercolour and ink drawing. Join me on Friday to see the final illustration.

Blackheaded Gull Sketch Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

Blackheaded Gull Sketch Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

Completed Plant of the Fortnight: Thistle

Thistles, Watercolour and Ink, (c) Ella Johnston

After whipping up a set of black and white thistles earlier this week I got carried away and did two final watercolour illustrations and a fabric pattern using this gorgeous flower as my motif.

Thistle, Watercolour and Ink (c) Ella Johnston
I love a thistle and used them a lot when I style photo shoots – I admire their structural quality and blue, green, two-tone colours. I particularly like drawing them though, you can be really expressive with both the watercolour and the pen work as you can probably tell. They also work incredibly well as an indigo and white pattern – I’ve ordered some fabric in this pattern from my  Spoonflower shop so I can make some nice stylish textile bits and pieces.

Thistle Pattern indigo and white (c) Ella Johnston

10 Painterly Purchases

10 Painterly Buys ellasplace.co.uk

Obviously I love this currently trend for all things painterly. I love the range of hues available, the visceral, gestural, almost spontaneous quality of this style.

This painterly effect look is fantastic when you want to perk up a bedroom or give a hallway a quick update. The great thing is you can pick pieces from this trend that suit your home; you can go subtle and select items with soft, fluid watercolour washes or go big and bold with confident bursts of colour – the choice is yours. Check out these ten picks…

10 Painterly Buys ellasplace.co.uk
Personalised Watercolour Word Print from Not On The High Street
10 Painterly Buys ellasplace.co.uk
Bluebell Grey Nevis Rug from Kelaty
10 painterly purchases ellasplace.co.uk
Watercolour Bedlinen from Homesense
10 Painterly Buys ellasplace.co.uk
Butterfly watercolour lampshade from Not On The High Street
10 Painterly Purchases ellasplace.co.uk
Wall Hooks, Paper Empire
10 Painterly Buys ellasplace.co.uk
Jewellery box from George at ASDA
10 Painterly Buys ellasplace.co.uk
Melamine plates from BHS
10 painterly purchases ellasplace.co.uk
Feather and Egg Linen Lampshade from Not On the High Street
10 Painterly Buys ellasplace.co.uk
Watercolour Effect Wallpaper from tapetenagentur.de
10 Painterly Buys ellasplace.co.uk
Ceramic ombré tea light from Berry Red

Hack: make your own storage buckets

Hack, make a bespoke bin ellasplace.co.uk

Okay I’ll come clean, I’m using these as storage buckets but they are actually waste paper bins.

I originally bought two Needcraft bin making kits for our upgraded study (pics coming soon) and our ‘continual work in progress’ bedroom. The kit is really easy to use with simple step by step pictorial instructions, I’m not a particularly neat sewer so I like a no-sew quick fix when I can.

The thing is when I made the bins and I didn’t have the heart to put rubbish in them.

Hack, make a bespoke bin ellasplace.co.uk

As I’m aiming for a relaxing cool blue vibe in my bedroom and I covered the first ‘bin’ in my storm-grey Scandi leaves fabric from my Spoonflower shop.

Hack, make a bespoke bin ellasplace.co.uk

I was really happy with the end result, so much so that I really couldn’t face filling it with make-up removing cleansing wipes, laddered tights and other bedroom rubbish stuff. It looked too pretty!

So, inspired by a rather nifty idea from Black Parrots Studio’s Sarah Mitchenall on her first round of The Great Interior Design Challenge my bin turned into a book bucket, which has proved to be very handy, as the one thing our house has got is an abundance of books. So this now lives at the bottom of our bed for all our reading needs.

Hack, make a bespoke bin ellasplace.co.uk

Now the study REALLY needed a bin so I set about making the next one in my tropical trio design, also available at my Spoonflower shop.

Hack, make a bespoke bin ellasplace.co.uk

Because the instructions are so easy to follow you can make these bins in minutes with either fabric or paper. I’ve had this tropical design for a while and, although I loved it, I was at a loss as to what to do with it. However the fabric’s subtle hues and graphic design suits our workspace perfectly.

Hack, make a bespoke bin ellasplace.co.uk

And you see that was the problem – too nice. Once I finished that one I could not face using it as a place to throw receipts and scrap paper for recycling. I do however have lots of gift wrap, large format paper, bookbinding cloth and posters I need to keep in one place so my tropical bloom bucket is being used for precisely that.

Hack, make a bespoke bin ellasplace.co.uk

Hack, make a bespoke bin ellasplace.co.uk

Plant of the Fortnight: Thistle

Thistle illustration (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk
I have very good associations with the thistle, that’s why I picked them as this fortnight’s plant. They may be prickly but I think they are a great alternative to ‘girly’ flowers and I love the look of them either cut or as beautiful structural blooms in the garden. I enjoyed sketching these quick black and white drawings.

Thistle illustration (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

I also like thistles because they remind me of a very special friendship. Many years ago we had some new mates over to ours for dinner and it turned in a very boozy affair. One particular guest left her handbag at ours when she left in the earlier hours of the morning. The following day she turned up to pick the bag up with a full bouquet of white daisies and blue, green thistles and we ended up talking over strong cups of tea (and many crisps and biscuits) way into the evening. A bond was formed and we have been buddies ever since.

Thistle illustration (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.ukThistle illustration (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk
Thistle illustration (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

Easy ways to display cut flowers

Home flower display ideas ellasplace.co.ukI love using fresh flowers to brighten up my spaces. Even when I was a poor student and lived in the worst house in England* I would buy some daffs and irises for a pound a bunch and display them in mugs and tin cans (this gaff did not have vases – in fact I would be being kind if I said the place was basic at best).

My love of fresh flowers grew way after I graduated and I went on a  Paula Pryke training course (amazing) and even worked as a Saturday girl in, in my opinion, one of the best florists in London; Rebel Rebel – two kinder, sassier and stylish women you will never meet, they were wonderful to me and I learnt so much from them in terms of floristry but also kindness and generosity.

Every time I arrange blooms for my home I remember my PP training and time spent with RR. The things that have stuck with me is the PP team’s celebration of colour and form. RR taught me to be brave, to enjoy design and look out for classic blooms and unusual receptacles ( I once spent an entire day sticking red glitter to shoes for table centres – it was brilliant).

Below are just a few ideas to spruce up your floral displays – I’ve deliberately kept the arrangements themselves quite easy that don’t take any skill, after-all this is simply to brighten up your spaces not to create something formal.

Go wild with vintage vases

Home flower display ideas ellasplace.co.uk

Myself and the good Dr B quite like a ceramic and over the years we’ve amassed lots of vases, jugs and decorative bowls in various styles, all of which are great for displaying flowers. I like to cluster pieces from around the same period when I’m putting flowers in them to great a mini still-life.

Home flower display ideas ellasplace.co.ukThis collection of shop-bought irises and home-grown daffodils and rosemary has been very loosely cut to size (always cut stems at an angle as they have greater surface area to drink the water) and very informally placed in some beautiful mid-century jugs. This arrangement now lives on my (very hardworking, aka scruffy) dining room table.
Home flower display ideas ellasplace.co.ukBe bold and punk up charity shop finds
Home flower display ideas ellasplace.co.uk

Wherever I am one of my favourite things to do is to spend a day scouring local charity shops. In the mid nineties it used to be for clothes (I may well do a post on my nineties style but then again maybe not) now it’s for homewares that I can either display with pride or customise and up-cycle. When I found this swan vase it was very twee, achingly so and not even in a good way. Initially I sprayed the vase in a beautiful neutral blue and white paint for a Homemaker Magazine project that you can see here.

Home flower display ideas ellasplace.co.ukThis time I wanted something brighter and more edgy. So I got this fab Rust-oleum neon spray paint in pink and yellow and went to town on punking this bad boy up! I also wanted it to be rough and ready so I like the little  bits of dust that have gathered (if you like it sleek you can avoid this by thoroughly cleaning and dusting your object beforehand).  I used the spray in a well ventilated area and you should too.

Home flower display ideas ellasplace.co.uk

I didn’t want a big, tight pom-pom style arrangement as I did with the Homemaker one, as I say the brief I set myself was quick and informal. So I simply filled the vase with water and filled with stems of white spray chrysanthemums. These blooms are usually used to fill out a bouquet and I normally avoid at all costs, however their spiky petals look rather apt here.

Home flower display ideas ellasplace.co.uk

Embrace easy charm with clear jam jars

Home flower display ideas ellasplace.co.ukOne of the first things Dr B did when we moved into this house was to plant hellebores as he wanted something beautiful in the garden in the first few months of the year. I must say he made the right choice. We have beautiful light and dark versions all over our patch in Feb and March and they really are lovely. Because we have so many I’m always snipping a few buds off to display indoors!

Home flower display ideas ellasplace.co.uk I like to show off these garden cuttings in clear glass jam jars to celebrate each individual stem. There’s a good reason why jam jar displats have been so popular in wedding tables, bars and restaurants – they don’t disrupt your eye-line but are elegant and stylish while being super practical. Honestly if I could get away will filling my house with flowers in jam jars I would.

Home flower display ideas ellasplace.co.uk
Create a chic up-cycled arrangement
Home flower display ideas ellasplace.co.uk
This is inspired by my time with Rebel Rebel. On my first day I helped out on a wedding doing the tables (which were long and thin). I was really worried as I thought this was going to be really complicated but the arrangement was beautifully simple and very effective. We lined the table with clear and cut glass receptacles at various heights (bottles, vases, jars, bowls, tea-light holders etc), filled them with water and placed blooms in shades of burgundy and crimson. It looked stunning. We then illuminated the glass with tea lights all down the table. Class, pure class.
Home flower display ideas ellasplace.co.uk
Since then I am always on the look out for bottles and jars with interesting shapes and indentations that I can use for flower display. I admit these Italian fruit juice bottles are a bit fancy (the drink was nice too) but I’ve put flowers in milk and cola bottles before now. The trick is to have more than one and keep to the same colour bloom so they look like a display.
Home flower display ideas ellasplace.co.ukThis post was longer than I anticipated and I hope it’s useful to you. It’s actually been really nice to share some of my memories with you from my floristry days.

(*Re the worst house in England. A bit of an exaggeration, but it was a horrible place to live. A monument to all things beige, it had layers of dirt built up over decades and to be honest me and my two flatmates only added to it. The mould made me ill and then the house had a major infestation of mice, then ants. Still, you know, student times.)

Finished Bird of the Fortnight: Blackcap

Blackcap bird watercolour and ink illustration (c) Ella Johnston

Here’s my finished bird for this fortnight. A worked-up watercolour and ink illustration of the blackcap – a beautiful little grey warbler. Earlier this week when I showed off my black and white sketches, I said I loved the blackcap song. Well according to the RSPB website its “delightful fluting song has earned it the name ‘northern nightingale'”. The one I saw certainly was very tuneful.

Folk names for the blackcap often refer to its plumage; black-headed peggy, King Harry black cap and, my favourite, coal hoodie. Other old names are based on its choice of nesting material (Jack Straw, hay bird, hay chat and hay Jack).