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How I added a ‘Memphis lite’ element to my home

Memphis style tealights (c) ellasplace.co.uk

Last summer I went to the Pick Me Up show at Somerset House. Every year the show features a fresh line-up of artists and designers who are considered to reflect the best of new illustration, graphic design and related disciplines. It’s a great event for picking up on trends.

Almost every item in the 2015 show was influenced by the Memphis Group, an Italian design and architecture collective founded in Milan by Ettore Sottsass in 1981 that designed Postmodern furniture, fabrics, ceramics, glass and metal objects from 1981 to 1987. Since the show I can’t seem to pick up a magazine or visit an interiors site without reading a reference to this group. This style is big in 2016, so if you’re new to Memphis style take a look at my Pinterest board to familiarise yourself with it.

I must confess that it’s taken me a little while to embrace this particular look – I was a child in the 1980s so anything from that era has to work extra hard to win my favour. However the Memphis look is fresh, playful, fun and actually very easy to incorporate into interiors and crafts projects. It also, even 30 plus years on, looks surprisingly contemporary. You can go all out with it or incorporate little elements of this style to give your home or craft creations a quirky, on-trend edge.

So starting softly, I took Ettore Sottsas’ iconic Letraset design, as seen below, as an inspiration for a quick interiors update.

‘Letraset’ textile design by Ettore Sottsas

It’s a wonderfully simple, effective design that works well as a standalone pattern but can look fab  layered over different shades. It’s also great at different sizes.

Memphis style tealights (c) ellasplace.co.uk

I used this Letraset pattern as a ‘Memphis lite’ starting point to update some funky tea-light holders as a gift for my lounge. I got these little shot glasses from a charity shop and they are perfect lanterns for my tea-lights. However, left plain, I felt they were rather stark.

Memphis style tealights (c) ellasplace.co.uk
I used black permanent marker (the Memphis Group use a lot of black) to very loosely apply a similar pattern over the glasses. I wanted to play with the scale of the motifs to make the lanterns more varied and create interest when they were arranged together. I literally did this while I was watching telly one evening, and I’m pleased that this easy make made me think more about the Memphis Group’s work and has spurred me on to check it out further.

Memphis style tealights (c) ellasplace.co.uk

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New! Bird of the Fortnight: Chaffinch

Bird of the fortnight. Quick sketch Chaffinch (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

Welcome to my new little series, bird of the fortnight. Every two weeks I’ll do three quick black and white sketches then one really detailed, worked up illustration of a bird that takes my fancy. At the start of the week I’ll show off my sketches then give you the finished, polished drawing at the end of the week with some info on the creature itself.

My first one is a favourite of mine, the colourful chaffinch. I love these little guys. Look out on Friday for my final portrait of this most charming of garden and woodland bird.

Bird of the fortnight. Quick sketch Chaffinch (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk
Bird of the fortnight. Quick sketch Chaffinch (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

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DIY: Scandi folk pattern boxes

Scandinavian folky patterned boxes (c) ellasplace.co.uk

I don’t know about you but I have been addicted to BBC Two’s Great Interior Design Challenge, I love the whole thing; the architectural history, updating spaces, adding special touches and answering client briefs, the reveal, everything. I’ve watched the show since it started and am always inspired by the ideas that the amateur designers come up with and the advice and insights the experts outline.

This series has seen loads of creative ideas and I was particularly struck by Lucy Tiffney’s Scandinavian Folk bedroom. I love the way that illustration, painting, craft and interior design have crossed over in this project and the sweet, rustic lines and simple motifs, executed in a muted colourway. I couldn’t wait to reconnect with some folky drawing myself.

Scandinavian folky patterned boxes (c) ellasplace.co.uk

Freshly inspired, I set about studying Scandinavian patterns. Some of my favourites are pinned on my Pinterest board. What’s lovely about these designs is they are so easy to recreate and then add your own twist to. From simple stem and leaf motifs, lovely lace edges and symmetrical composition, this folky style is great for when you want to achieve an effective looking, intricate decoration without feeling you have to be hugely technical or an amazing drawer.

I had some plain cardboard heart-shaped boxes that were in need of updating. I gave them a lick of light blue paint that really suited traditional Scandinavian design. I then set about drawing my design onto tracing paper. I drew half the design then folded the paper to create a mirror image. Then I simply transferred the designs onto the painted boxes.

Scandinavian folky patterned boxes (c) ellasplace.co.uk

I finished the traced design with felt-tip pen. I chose to use black and blue pen for a strong contrasting look with the light blue but I reckon this would also look lovely in traditional red and cream.

Scandinavian folky patterned boxes (c) ellasplace.co.uk

Had my motifs been larger I would have painted them on – and I am considering doing something with a piece of furniture for a funky little upcycling project. This kind of thing would look really effective on a bedside cabinet or storage box.

Scandinavian folky patterned boxes (c) ellasplace.co.uk

I’m storing ribbons and buttons in these boxes (I have so many of both) but I’m sure you could fill these with pretty tissue paper and treats (chocolates or toiletries) for a thoughtful gift. Scandinavian folky patterned boxes (c) ellasplace.co.ukScandinavian folky patterned boxes (c) ellasplace.co.ukScandinavian folky patterned boxes (c) ellasplace.co.ukScandinavian folky patterned boxes (c) ellasplace.co.uk

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10 Pineapple Picks!

10 Pineapple picks ellasplace.co.uk

At the end of last year I went to lots of Spring/Summer 2016 press shows. From high-end interior brands to high street favourites, all the retailers featured one key motif – the pineapple.

Inspired by this, I did a drawing/illustration of one of my own little fruit, which is now available as a print from my Etsy store .

Ella Johnston Pineapple print, £12. Etsy. ellasplace.co.uk
Ella Johnston Pineapple print, £12. Etsy.

Ella Johnston Pineapple print, £12. Etsy. ellasplace.co.uk
Ella Johnston Pineapple print, £12. Etsy.

I’ve also rounded up 10 of my favourite pineapple products in the shops right now. It’s amazing how one motif can be adapted to suit such an eclectic range of styles… As a little postscript, this is as near as a pineapple as I can get to as I’m allergic to them; one bite and I swell up like a sea sponge!

Glass vase, £20 BHS, Pineapple Trend ellasplace.co.uk
Glass vase, £20 BHS
Pineapple apron, £24.95. Thornback and Peel. Pineapple trend ellasplace.co.uk
Pineapple apron, £24.95. Thornback and Peel
Prints Eisenherz Pineapple print, £7. DaWanda. Pineapple trend ellasplace.co.uk
Prints Eisenherz Pineapple print, £7. DaWanda
Pols Potten Pineapple Jar, £45 Amara, Pineapple Trend ellasplace.co.uk
Pols Potten Pineapple Jar, £45 Amara
Decorative Pineapple, £89.95, Mia Fleur. Pineapple trend ellasplace.co.uk
Decorative Pineapple, £89.95, Mia Fleur
Steel Grey Pineapple Bedlinen, £50, Secret Linen Store, Pineapple Trend ellasplace.co.uk
Steel Grey Pineapple Bedlinen, £50, Secret Linen Store
Zeus Lamp £80 House of Fraser Pineapple Trend ellasplace.co.uk
Zeus Lamp £80 House of Fraser
Temerity Jones Pineapple trinket dish SS15, £5, Lisa Angel. Pineapple trend ellasplace.co.uk
Temerity Jones Pineapple trinket dish SS15, £5, Lisa Angel.
Copper Pineapple Ice Bucket, £40 Oliver Bonas. Pineapple Trend ellasplace.co.uk
Copper Pineapple Ice Bucket, £40 Oliver Bonas
Pineapple Fruit Platter, £12.75. The Contemporary Home. Pineapple Trend ellasplace.co.uk
Pineapple Fruit Platter, £12.75. The Contemporary Home

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Hack: Simple ways to update your plates with ceramic pens

Update your plates (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

As my one of my previous post suggests I am really playing with pattern at the moment, trying to free myself up as an illustrator and exploring ways of drawing to see what ideas ‘land’.

Update your plates (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

I thought I’d try doing things beyond pencil and paper to really put my mind away from the subconscious self-imposed constraints that I may place on my illustration.

Update your plates (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

I had these spare plain plates that I’d bought originally for photography props when I was editing Homemaker Mag, I actually never used them because they were too plain and the rim wasn’t delicate enough for any of the shots (it’s amazing what you obsess about on a shoot and what works and what doesn’t).

Any-hoo these thick plate rims really allowed themselves for drawing on and I thought at the very least I’d be updating some dull crockery. So out came my cobalt blue ceramic pen and had a little play, here are the results.

Update your plates (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

I gave myself a 20-minute time frame to do them so it was five mins per plate. I did this because I didn’t want to overthink it. I wanted the designs to be spontaneous and completely from the top of my head. So there’s fishes, some Charles Rennie Mackintoshesque roses, wheat germs and blue retro-style flowers.

Update your plates (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

I like the plates and am pleased with the designs. I think I’m going to looking to the wheat germ and fish shapes further. I’ll keep you updated!

Update your plates (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

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My Illustrated Christmas Cards


Christmas Stationery Ella Johnston Art and illustration. ellasplace.co.uk

While everyone was sunning themselves this summer I was busy putting together my illustrated Christmas card collections. I’ve got a number of designs available this year ranging from the traditional (we all love a wee robin) to playful (as a veggie I couldn’t help but showcase what most people will be eating at Christmas) to vintage (I’m a huge fan of retro illustration).
Christmas Stationery Ella Johnston Art and illustration. ellasplace.co.uk

I thought it would be nice to coordinate your Christmas greetings, gifting and thank you notes with my Festive Robin Stationery Box Set.

This year the robin was crowned the nation’s favourite bird in the National Bird Vote – so my festive motif featured on greetings and gift tags is sure to be a real favourite with friends and family and a time-honoured way of ‘tweeting’ your Christmas wishes.

In a Scandi-inspired theme of red and white, the pack also features a simple heart motif print, designed and printed by me. The pack features ten illustrated Robin Christmas greetings, ten thank you notecards and ten Robin gift tags. You can take a look at it here.
Christmas Stationery Ella Johnston Art and illustration. ellasplace.co.uk
I’ve got a pack of 10 illustrated Goose and Turkey Christmas cards (five of each) so you can send a season’s greeting with a cheeky twist. Get your set hereSo what better way to say ‘Season’s Greetings’ than with a lovingly drawn illustration of the creatures that are kindly sacrificing themselves to ensure your Christmas dinner is absolutely perfect; a fattened goose and succulent turkey?

Christmas Stationery Ella Johnston Art and illustration. ellasplace.co.uk
Christmas Stationery Ella Johnston Art and illustration. ellasplace.co.uk

My pack of 10 vintage inspired Christmas cards was inspired by old designs of the 1950s and 60s. There were lots of baubles, bells and kitsch motifs (which I adore). I wanted to see if I could do something similar so I went to the shed and pulled out all my old decorations and got drawing. Check out how you can get yours here

Christmas Stationery Ella Johnston Art and illustration. ellasplace.co.uk

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Creative ways with watercolour… birds

Watercolour by Ella Johnston

I’m treating you to a sneaky preview of some illustrations I’m working on at the moment. They are not finished by any stretch but I thought you may be interested in seeing them in their ‘raw’ state.

I’ve been trying out some creative ways of adding texture and colour to my avian drawings with watercolour paints for some time now. I feel that this painterly method creates further interest and depth when illustrating the individual bird’s plumage than a line drawing. I also think it imbues a sense of vitality and movement in the composition. It’s also really simple to achieve.

Watercolour by Ella Johnston

My illustrations are made on non-textured watercolour paper – it has a lovely quality that absorbs water and ink really well. I first draw a light sketch of my subject in pencil, loosely highlighting key areas in pencil. Then I apply layer of watercolour washes to the illustration. Each layer is very watered down and I like to build up the colours gradually – this gives me more interesting colour combinations and a pleasing overall texture. Once I’m happy with the colour, I leave this to dry before applying a detailed ink drawing over the top.

Watercolour by Ella Johnston

You’ll be able to see the finished drawings in a book of wading birds published by Dunlin Press next year.

Watercolour by Ella Johnston

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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