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The Nation’s Favourite Bird 2015

Robin illustration (c) Ella Johnston

The robin has been crowned the nation’s favourite bird in the National Bird Vote.

More than 224,000 people took part in the poll, the result of which was announced today.

As someone who loves birds and drawing them, this vote was of real interest to me. It was organised by ‘urban birder’ and Springwatch contributor David Lindo and polls closed on the day of the general election. Thirty four per cent voted for the robin – a garden favourite – with the barn owl coming second and the blackbird taking third place.

My favourite bird, the puffin, came tenth.
Puffin illustration (c) Ella Johnston

The result didn’t particularly surprise me as my robin cards and garden bird cards have been hugely popular for a little while now –  you can check them out on my Not On The High Street Shop.

Garden Bird Cards (c) Ella Johnston

Robin Card by Ella Johnston

Here’s the National Bird Vote top ten in full
1 Robin
2 Barn Owl
3 Blackbird
4 Wren
5 Red Kite
6 Kingfisher
7 Mute Swan
8 Blue Tit
9 Hen Herrier
10 Puffin

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Henry Moore’s Animals

Antelope 1982 Etching . Signed and numbered in pencil. From the Animals in the Zoo album
Henry Moore, Antelope 1982 Etching. From the Animals in the Zoo album

Years and years ago, I had an exhibition of my screenprints at Medcalf Bar in London’s Exmouth Market. Me and Dr B ended up spending quite a lot of time in the area showing friends and family my work. On our various visits we would end up popping into a gallery, Inked Art, at the top of the Market.

Run by the wonderful John and Pat Crossley, the gallery featured some amazing prints by 20th-century British artists, including some absolutely stunning etchings by Henry Moore. John is a master printer and learned his trade at Bradford College of Art – where Hockney studied. John has made prints for some of the most celebrated British 20th-century artists, some of which made it into the gallery.

Obviously I’d seen Moore’s sculptures before and I’d studied his war shelter drawings as part of a personal project, but I had never seen his animals sketches. The sensitivity of his line and deftness in which he draws conjures up feelings of both awe and envy in me. I’ve since been obsessed with Moore’s line and cite him as a key influence in my own work.

Sheep with Lamb IV 1972 Henry Moore OM, CH 1898-1986 Presented by the artist 1975
Henry Moore, Sheep with Lamb IV 1972 , Presented by the artist 1975

You can see some of Moore’s animal pieces here. The gallery is now a luxury kitchen showroom (that’s gentrification for you) but you can still buy from Inked Art and check out its print collection at the gallery’s website.

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Flowers from the garden

Flowers May 23 4_20sq

One of the first things we did when we first moved from our flat London to our house in Wivenhoe, was buy lots of seeds and bulbs for our garden. Finally our (well Dr B’s) years of planning has paid off as we now have a charming little space that’s full of colourful flowers throughout the spring and summer.

Flowers May 23 9_20sq

We’ve got so many blooms that now we can cut and display our homegrown lovelies – here we’ve got pretty cow parsley, vibrant geums, bright marigolds and pretty forget me nots to name a few. I’ll be posting more cuttings from our garden over the summer so you can see what we’ve been growing.

Flowers May 23 7_20w

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An opening at Dunelm


This week, in my capacity as editor of Homemaker magazine, I was invited to join The Great British Sewing Bee Judge Patrick Grant and the Mayor of Lowestoft in opening a new Dunelm store in the Suffolk seaside town. Here’s me with them looking very small (I am wearing heels – they were tall men).

I had a lovely day and was really impressed with the hard work all the team had put into getting the store ready for opening day. It reminded me of what it’s like to make a magazine – everyone has to pull together and attention to detail is paramount.

Here’s a sneak peek of Dunelm’s Autumn/Winter 15 collection, which features some of my favourite pieces from the store’s new ranges…


Wooden Hanging Heart with Leaf Pattern £1.49, Glass Bird Ornament £4.99, Green Decorative Glass Bottle £2.99.


Elements Abstract Framed Print Assorted £29.99, Elements Coconut ReedDiffuser 100ML £3.99, Geometric Tealight Holder £2.99, Ceramic Origami Bird Ornament £3.99.

dunelm_14027612113802670 Simplicity Abstract Hand Painted Canvas £39.99, Harry Wood and Metal Desk Lamp Cream £24.99, Ceramic Wax Filled Bowl £9.99, Ceramic Ridged Taper Vase £9.99.

Wooden Painted Drawers £7.99, Illuminating Light Up My Life Wall Art £7.99, Metal Candlestick £9.99, Wooden House Shelf with Drawers £12.99, Metal Barrel Vase £14.99, Tate Desk Lamp with Chrome Ring Red £9.99, Elements Telephone Table £69.99, Ceramic Ridged Bottle Vase £8.99,Mason Large Sofa in Poeme Charcoal £999.99, Elements Geo Square Cushion £12.99.

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Veggie Week: My Five Favourite Vegetarian Suppers


This week is National Vegetarian Week. I have been a vegetarian for more than half of my life. I’ve never regretted my decision to stop eating meat and have really enjoyed discovering new and tasty ways to enjoy vegetables.

Some years ago Dr B and I compiled some of our favourite recipes on the blog Earth to Plate. As it’s Veggie Week, I thought I’d put together my five go-to veggie dinners – why not try one this week? They are super tasty.

My Moroccan chickpea stew is a like a hug in a bowl for me. It’s sweet, spicy, fragrant and comforting but most importantly it is full of chickpea goodness. I’ve topped this with a chilli smash for an extra boom factor. See how to make it here.


This Bun Xa recipe is inspired by a dish I’ve savoured many times in the Viet Hoa restaurant in London’s Kingsland Road. I love tofu and sometimes crave its texture when I want a satisfying protein hit. This meal is a real treat for me and Dr B. Try it by following this easy how-to.

Talking of protein then how about this? My veggie burgers are packed with good hearty stuff; lentils, halloumi and quinoa. Great for barbecues, these patties taste great with a salad and homemade chilli sauce. Make ’em here.

Dr B knocked up this sweetcorn, kale and chickpea broth out of things he could find in the cupboard and fridge one evening. Now this spontaneous dish is a regular favourite here. Seriously fresh and zingy with a back note of spice, this is perfect for a summer pick me up. See how Dr B did it here.

When I’m in a bad mood, a good mood, feeling ambivalent, whatever – this no-fish kedgeree is a real winner. Full of protein and flavoured with cumin, paprika and fresh parsley, it tastes great, fills you up and generally never fails to satisfy. Click here for how we do it.

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My Drawing Kit

Ella Johnston's drawing kit

If you listen to Desert Island Discs on Radio 4, you’ll know that you get to choose eight music tracks, a book and a luxury, to save your sanity in your new life as a castaway. Well, my music tracks and book selections pretty much change every month, but my luxury has been the same for the past 20 years – namely a never-ending supply of the stuff pictured above; my drawing kit.

Ella Johnston Art & IllustrationEvery one of my illustrations starts with this. I draw my initial motif in pencil on high-quality watercolour paper. I then apply washes of watercolour with a broad brush, adding little touches of detail colour while the wash is still wet with a thinner brush.

(c) Ella Johnston ArtDrawing (c) Ella Johnston

Once I’m happy with the colour, I leave it to dry and then set about putting an inky line over the composition. Years ago I used liquid Indian ink with a nib, but it was a messy process (all the sides of my hands would get covered in ink due to the way I hold the pen) and it also produced some inconsistencies in the final image. So I switched to fibre tips and have never looked back.
Drawing (c) Ella Johnston

Faber Castell India ink PITT artist pens  and Uni-ball fine line pens are my favourite to draw and write with (I love handwriting – more about that later) and I’ve built quite a stash of them – in fact you will find at least one of this type of pen in every bag I own and in practically every room in the house. Dr B sometimes says he sees them in his dreams. I mainly use the fine, small and extra small nib for my work – their precision is excellent and I really like the way their ink is absorbed into the paper. I couldn’t be without them.

Drawing (c) Ella Johnston

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First Look! AW15 collections

One of the great things about my job is that I get to see the latest collections from all the high-street names. Earlier this month I had a sneak peek at the Joules and M&S Autumn/Winter 2015 ranges.

Joules AW15
Joules AW15

It’s interesting how popular retail brands are embracing (it seems to me, at least) illustration and craft trends.

Joules’ mash-up of watercolour style graphics and animal motifs, plus monotone vintage florals with textures of beading, piping and pom pom trims, make use of a wealth of textile finishes and bring a fun sense of playfulness. Joules is well known for its cohesive colourways, season after season. AW15 is no different: the collection’s strong navies and cyans, with pops of magenta, neon and dusky pinks, really allow the illustrated designs to sing.

Joules AW15
Joules AW15

M&S also reference the handmade – perhaps even more overtly so. Its folk collection features motifs that evoke narrowboat flower painting and digital style blooms that are reminiscent of embroidery grids – all in a rich palette of purple, cerise, turquoise and dark navy.

M&S AW15
M&S AW15

Its upholstery ranges also reflect some of the trends I’ve seen in craft, particularly the woven, geometric style designs.

M&S AW15
M&S AW15

I have worked very closely with M&S Home in the past and know the retailer works very hard on giving the consumer a range of looks from which to choose. This season, its folker items are contrasted with a more opulent, almost Gatsbyesque, Deco-influenced items. However, here too I see the influence of the artisan. Not only is there a celebration of indulgent fabrics (velvets, chenilles, silks etc) but the key thing for me are the painterly references – its stunning marbled-effect wallpaper being most notable.

M&S AW15
M&S AW15

The retailer has extended the marbling theme to its dining collections. Its Nordic range of eye-catching plates have an almost watercolour-like quality. Apparently as they are individually made, each item is unique.

M&S AW15
M&S AW15


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Cocktails made with kale


Last Saturday evening Dr B and I enjoyed two delicious aperitifs with kale juice as the main ingredient.

I love eating greens and I’m particularly a fan of kale (homemade spaghetti with kale pesto is a true ‘hug in a bowl’). Kale is such a versatile leaf and I’ve loved the recent trend for using it in cocktails.

We made a Kale Collins with kale juice, gin, soda water, agave syrup, cucumber and celery leaves poured over ice. The kale juice was made by blending a bunch of kale leaves, a little cucumber and a stick of celery with a cup of water and then passing it through a sieve to remove the unneeded fibrous parts.

Kale Collins
Kale Collins
It’s an incredibly refreshing tipple, surprisingly light and great for an early summer evening. We make a mocktail version the following morning simply by leaving out the gin and substituting the soda water with sparkling mineral water. It really works a treat.

Kale Collins
We then whipped up a lovely Kale daiquiri by shaking kale juice, freshly squeezed lime, ice, white rum and ginger syrup, pouring into a coupe and garnishing with mint leaves and lime slices. Kale Daquiri
Kale daquiri
It was gorgeous. Very moreish. Too moreish in fact!


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A wood full of bluebells


The start of May means bluebells in British woodlands and I’m lucky enough to live next door to a place that’s full of them – here’s some pictures I took while out walking.


You can find both English and Spanish varieties of the flower at this time of year but, while the Spanish version is just as pretty, it can be a bit of a nuisance. According to reports it spreads everywhere and can hybridise with our native bloom, possibly ousting it from its natural habitat. In short, it’s the plant version of the grey squirrel.

Thankfully we don’t seem to have any Spanish bluebells in our local woods and the few bluebells at the bottom of our little garden are English too. I’ve enjoyed studying and drawing the home-grown blossoms.

Bluebells by Ella Johnston

I love the carpet of blue, violet and green that graces our woodland at this time of year and it inspired me to create a repeat pattern design. I’ll be using this on fabric and paper designs soon, so watch this space…