Inspired by... blog

32 posts categorized "Art"

18 August 2014

From the felt Cornershop to Marinetti’s Futurist Tin Book

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Lucy Sparrow’s felt Cornershop project is all over the news at the moment, and it sounds so fun. She raised £10,000 on Kickstarter to create a cornershop in Bethnal Green with products made entirely out of felt. And I mean everything. Chewing gum, fish fingers, Irn Bru, cat litter and instant noodles.  Even the cash register is made of felt!  It’s open until 31 August if you fancy a visit.

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Image: Fish fingers from the Cornershop

It got me thinking about some of the books we have in the British Library collection that are not made of paper. They fall under the category of 'artists' books' and we have items from around the world. Our Curator, Carole Holden, has written in the past about Andy Warhol’s Index Book which includes a balloon and Klaus Scherübel’s Mallarmé: The Book, which is made of styrofoam.

With help from The Art Fund, in 2009 we acquired Marinetti's metal Futurist book Parole in Libertà, also known as The Tin Book. Its full name is Parole in Libertá Futuriste Olfattive Tattili Termiche (‘Futurist Words in Freedom - Olfactory, Tactile, Thermal’). It is about rejecting the current format of sentences and words and moving towards "words in freedom".

The production of the book is fascinating. Its designs are lithographically reproduced over 30 pages. It was manufactured in a tin can factory in Italy. And of course, the tin pages reflect the Futurist love of the machine.

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Image: Marinetti's Parole in Libertà

Futurism was an artistic movement celebrating the beauty of technology, with the belief in looking forward, rather than the past. Marinetti even went so far as to say “destroy the museums, the libraries...” A little ironic in that his book is now in our collection, to be preserved in perpetuity.  I’m very glad we do have it, as it is visually stunning.

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Image: Marinetti's Parole in Libertà

If you’re a fan of his work, you’ll be interested to know that the British Library has over 70 books written by Marinetti (1876-1944), as well as a number of his manuscripts and sound recordings. It’s a fantastic collection.  You can find out more about how you can use our collections on our 'Help for Researchers' page for artist's books, fine presses and book art. And I've done some of the hard work for you - here is the catalogue link for our Marinetti Tin book.

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Image: Marinetti's Parole in Libertà

30 October 2013

In the ‘hood: Camden New Wave Festival

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There’s never a dull moment in our Camden neighbourhood. Something wonderful is being installed in our piazza and will be revealed in early November. Every week there’s a new yummy treat to try at KERB. The skyline behind King's Cross looks different every minute with all the construction. Today there is a giant crocodile in our front entrance hall.

And this week Camden New Wave festival is staging a bunch of wonderful events across the borough to celebrate creativity. 

From making sessions with artists Tracy & Hobbs on the Floating Cinema to 3D printing at Swiss Cottage Library – there’s something fun for everyone to do.


Phantom Railings is a sound installation on Malet Street Gardens. This guy seems to enjoy it.

The public are welcome to add sound recordings via mobile phone to Bridge Links, a soundscape project along Regent's Park towpath.  If field recording is your thing, check out our excellent environment and nature sound archive

Over at Central Saint Martins you can play on a digital PaintWall that mimics the colour of any object held close, allowing users to build up images, text, and pattern with everyday objects – hats, bags, books. This could make for a more interesting lunch break.

I hope you check out these events and stop by the Library on the way. Our free exhibition Picture This: Children’s Illustrated Classics is delightful, our coffee is good and there’s never a shortage of creativity.

Camden New Wave until 3 November 

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06 September 2013

Inspired by... Exotic prints and drawings

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We are continuing our Inspired by show and tell event series (previously we've featured maps, artist's books, and zines) and this time we'll be showcasing Exotic Prints and Drawings. 

Our international collection of prints and drawings spans 500 years and work from India and other parts of Asia are particularly exquisite. From slick stingrays to opalescent octopuses, brilliant birds to feisty foxes, plus a rainbow of fascinating flowers - I, along with our visual arts curators, have hand-picked some of our most beautiful items for you to enjoy and be inspired by.

Find the perfect image to transfer onto a dress, manipulate for an illustration or animate for a short film.  

You will meet our visual arts curator Malini Roy and hear about the stories behind these rare items. My colleagues from the Business & IP Centre will also be on hand to tell you about our business services if you're interested in commercialising your ideas. 

Come see these gorgeous collection items for FREE on Wednesday, 25 September from 13.30 to 15.00 at the British Library Learning Centre. This event is perfect for practitioners in fashion, film and design but all curious creatives are welcome! Book now. 

If you can't make this event, there are more beautiful items to be seen at our Fashion Forecasting workshop

Here's a sneak peek at some of the items that will be on show. My favourite is the stingray. I would love to wear his colours and stripes on a frock. 


Natural History drawing, NHD 7; [Anon]; stingray; watercolour c.1802 South Indian/Tanjore style  Creative commons


Natural History drawing, NHD39, [Anon]; bird from Srinagar; watercolour c. 1794 Punjab/Pahari style  Creative commons


NHD45_2 [Anon]; Peacock flower; watercolour c.1840  Creative commons

23 August 2013

Hidden Treasures - Unique and rare British Library collections

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This week the Library took part in Hidden Treasures, a national initiative to celebrate collections in UK museums and archives. Our expert curators and conservators selected some unique items to illustrate the variety in our massive collections. It was a very popular event and for those of you who weren't able to join us, here are some photos.  


Yantra - A miniature ceremonial bowl used in Buddhist rituals in honour of the deceased. Made of blackened brass, Khom script. Maker unknown, (1916) Shelfmark Or.16864 


Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
 - Book cover tooled with gold and inlaid with topazes, turquoises, amethysts, garnets, olivines and an emerald. Stanley Bray (1989). Shelfmark  C188c27  


Goat skin satchel - Storage for a late 18th early 19th century Sub-Saharan Africa Quran.  Shelfmark Or.16751

Index - Pop-up book by Andy Warhol (1967). Not yet catalogued.  


Bhagavata Purana - Hindu religious text, Sanskrit on silk paper (18th century). Shelfmark Add MS 16624



The Book of the Psalmes - Embroidered silk binding (1640). Shelfmark C143a10
The British Library has a substantial collection of English embroidered book bindings dating from the 14th century to 20th century. I wonder, what is the significance of the severed head? If you know, holler at me on Twitter @BL_Creative


Kammavaca -  Buddhist sacred book in Pali language (Burmese square characters) on 14 sheets of ivory leaves decorated in gold and red lacquer. (1750-1825) Shelfmark Add.15291

These rare and beautiful items are wonderful inspirations for designers and makers. Learn more about researching our collections for your designs at our Fashion Forecasting workshop.  

20 August 2013

Alice in Wonderland-inspired ceramics and prints by Eleanor Stuart

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I met designer Eleanor Stuart last week at PopUp Piccadilly where she was selling her Alice in Wonderland-inspired collection of plates, prints and cards. The Library holds the original Lewis Carroll manuscript of Alice in Wonderland and we also have it available online through our award-winning Turning the Pages software which Eleanor used for her research. Here she tells up more about her work.

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Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind your designs? 

When I first came upon Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the illustrations by John Tenniel, I was struck by how intricate, surreal and detailed each drawing was. What I was particularly taken with was the expressions each character had that tell a story in themselves; from the rather angry-looking Queen of Hearts to the nervous and very late White Rabbit to the mischievous Tweedle Twins.

The inspiration for re-working and adding my own touches to the original work was a feeling that these original illustrations were being lost in a sea of cartoon versions of Alice far removed from these wonderful originals. The originals are also quite small and in black and white, so I felt there was a great opportunity available to revive the illustrations, bring them sharply back to life and add colour, quotes and my own little spin to the work.

We love when people use our collections to make something new. Can you tell us about how you used the Library for research? 

When researching Tenniel’s original illustrations, I used the British Library’s online Turning the Pages application to see Carroll’s original illustrated manuscript. What I had not previously realised is that Carroll had even illustrated his original work, and it was interesting to see that Tenniel’s illustrations do bear a close resemblance to those featured in the original manuscript.

I think the British Library and its collection is an inspiration in itself: knowing all these great works of literature penned by authors both British and from afar are housed within this one huge building full of rabbit warrens and glass columns full of old books where you can find and stumble upon almost anything in the world of literature is pretty amazing.

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I like that image - the British Library full of rabbit warrens! What fun! So what has been your biggest challenge as a small business?

Patience! With my designs and illustrations completed, and the ideas I always have swimming around in my head, I always want to realise them instantly which is of course not entirely doable. Learning to slow down and appreciate the processes involved with realising an idea has been something I have come to enjoy. For example when I was in the process of having my Alice Collection of fine bone china plates produced, it was so rewarding to be able to visit the potteries in Stoke-on-Trent to see how this traditional British industry is still applying traditional British techniques and sensibilities to the work they produce, and I feel this attention to detail and quality of work really shows in my pieces.

What does “Made in Britain” mean to you? 

“Made in Britain” is so important to me, I put it on my logo! Not only am I proud to be made in Britain having grown up in lovely Richmond, but I love that through the work I create I can support British industry and help to keep the skills we have in this country alive and current. I have met such enthusiastic, incredibly helpful and skilled crafts people in my search for suppliers to help create my products, which is such a rewarding experience.

I also feel “Made in Britain” is important not only to British people, but internationally as well. I have found when selling internationally and in Britain that the stamp of authenticity and that relationship between my product and globally recognised institutions such as ‘The Potteries’ in Stoke-on-Trent is really important to people. Not only British people wanting to buy British, but international customers wanting to buy into the quality and skills they associate with the British craft and creative industries.

I have also found other designers and illustrators are equally as passionate about that “Made in Britain” stamp of approval as I am. I have come to know and admire some really great people on my journey into the world of design and illustration including Jo Robinson from HAM who creates fun animal themed screen prints made by her own fair hand in London, Cecily Vessey who designs wonderful London themed illustrations across a range of ceramics, and Sara Smith (my neighbour at PopUp Piccadilly!) whose selection of colourful, gilded and illustrated teacups are really rather beautiful – and made in Stoke-on-Trent.

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The shop has been super busy, I hear. What kind of feedback are you getting?

I have had some really amazing feedback; I would say it has been one of the best things I have done as a small business in terms of exposure, testing the market and meeting other like-minded designer/makers. (Rupert Laing from Shortbread House has made mine and my fellow designers stay at PopUp Piccadilly particularly enjoyable with an ever refreshed supply of delicious shortbread samples to hand).

As a predominantly online business, coming out from behind my computer screen and meeting my customers, showing them my products and being able to have them touch and feel the quality of each item has been a really rewarding experience. I have also had a great response from potential retailers, so that is an exciting direction I am looking forward to taking my business in - with Alice and her surreal, mad and late friends in tow!

Images courtesy of Eleanor Stuart.

Check out this video from the PopUp Piccadilly launch:  


18 August 2013

Interview with Michael Jacobsen author of The Business of Creativity

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Entrepreneur and businessman Michael Jacobsen is becoming a regular at our Business & IP Centre, advising creative practitioners on how to keep rooted in business essentials and inspiring them to innovate and grow. He is the author of the popular book The Business of Creativity - An expert guide to starting and growing a business in the creative sector. Want to earn a living doing what you love? Check out Michael's book. Or come to the Library and meet him! He’s literally mobbed after events – people are so keen to ask him questions and learn from his experiences. He kindly gave us this interview:

What do you think are the biggest challenges today for small businesses in the creative industries?

Businesses in the Creative Industries need to realise that they are, in fact, in business. If you wish to make your life’s work your passion and your passion your income stream, you need to make some adjustments to your mindset and your structure.

A lot of Creative Sector businesses think they are selling their soul but the reality is - why not continue your gift to the world and earn your living from it at the same time? It’s just a mindset shift!

What advice would you give recent graduates from fashion, graphic design or film?

Don’t leave with an employee mentality. If you want to get a job sure, that’s fine, but don’t think that is your only option.

In Britain there is so much assistance available to you to start a business (which can involve being a contractor or freelancer also). Have  a good think and work out what you want to do with your life, but count this as a real option!

Students are taught to get jobs and are rarely encouraged to work for themselves! This is a mistake!

What is your take on the creative industries sector in the UK? What are its strengths and weaknesses?

The UK Creative Sector is the best in the world. Look at William Shakespeare, Emily Bronte, Indigo Jones and in this century James Dyson, Jamie Oliver and Simon Cowell.

The business community and the City need to realise that the Creative Sector is investable, and the reticence to get fully behind it (as they do the tech sector ) is a weakness and is hampering the growth of a sector that produces major financial returns and is one of the oldest sectors in the world!

Which entrepreneurs do you follow?

I love True Entrepreneurs who take risks and are all consuming passionate about their work. I love Elon Musk, Founder of Paypal, Tesla Motors and Space X. He is a major risk taker and fervently passionate about his companies’ vision.

I also really rate Simon Cowell. He has not only made a successful brand out of himself, but he has changed the face of television globally. People may not all like his shows, but the fact is he is a risk taker and has made a success of it in terms of finances but also in terms of legacy! 

You co-founded Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage. Are you a dancer too?

I have a trainer and do Pilates and Yoga also. I think if I do them daily until 2025 I may be ready to do the Dirty Dancing ‘lift’!

Michael is running a masterclass on his book The Business of Creativity on 26 September at our Business & IP Centre. For more information and to book your place click here.



12 August 2013

Happy Birthday ZOMBIE Collective!

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ZOMBIE is a collective of five graphic artists and illustrators: Joely Brammer, Rebecca Jay, Alice Lickens, Maggie Li and Frann Preston-Gannon. Together they work on a range of creative projects and workshops. They took part in our first Spring Festival and created a giant illuminated manuscript with typographic collage. This summer they celebrated their third birthday. Here are some highlights from the party and on what inspires them.

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You guys know how to have fun! What happened at the party? 

The party was a celebration of three years of Zombie Collective therefore it was perfect occasion to let our hair down with friends, family and clients past and present. It was great to organise an event where the main purpose was to have fun! Joely made a Z shaped piñata which refused to stay attached to the ceiling and Maggie baked a Z shaped cake. It was all in the spirit of a children's birthday party so we included a craft table where people could make their own props such as moustaches, beards and crowns and then have their photo taken in the Zombie photo corner.

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What have been your biggest achievements and challenges over the past three years? 

Over the years we've worked with some great people including the British Library, Tate Britain, Design Museum and the Hayward Gallery. Our biggest achievements to date have been our nautical themed show Fathoms Deep at the Hayward Gallery in May 2012 where we curated a show of 20 people and transformed their shop into a nautical setting. Our most recent event was at Pick Me Up, Somerset House in April 2013. We were selected as a collective to exhibit in the graphic arts fair which attracts a huge international audience. For this we created a 3D Ideas Machine which dispensed small objects to inspire creativity and new ideas.

It was challenging when we first started as new graduates unsure how to approach being a new collective. What we've found over time is that our different strengths help each other to tackle our creative challenges. Whilst it can be challenging to work in a group, and particularly as we don't share a studio space, our collective skills have been invaluable to the success of events.

ZOMBIE Collective at our 2012 Spring Festival - ILLUMINATE! A Celebration of Illustration (Buzz Films)

Where do you find inspiration? How does digital content inspire you compared to seeing the real thing?

Joely: Digital content is fantastic due to its accessibility.  At the click of a few buttons you can find a wealth of inspiring materials and reference points which you can then share quickly with others. I recently saw the Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan exhibition at the Wellcome Trust. I had seen the digital content online which had lead me to visit the exhibition. The intricacy and pattern making in some of the pieces was simply lost in the online versions.

Alice: I spend a lot of my time thumbing through books and old type catalogues to pick up the next idea. Hunting out things on the web is also invaluable and it’s great to keep an eye on new work that’s coming out as well as plundering those weird and wonderful internet finds like Bulgarian stamps from the seventies and all those amazing things that you wouldn’t get to see otherwise.

Maggie: The internet and digital content have been indispensable when it comes to my work as I often have to research subjects I know nothing about under tight deadlines. It’s vital that I can access information quickly and the wealth of content online makes my job easier in a way. Having said this nothing compares with seeing original artwork and artefacts. I like to think digital content opens us up to more things and generates curiosity to go out and see the real thing, which can only be a good thing.

What are your plans for the coming year?

We're currently in talks about putting together a new exhibition in the new year. Alongside the show we’re planning a series of events such as talks from industry professionals and portfolio surgeries to help out fresh graduates and young illustrators. We’re also delighted that Frann, Maggie and Alice will have new books released in 2014 from Anova.

Photos courtesy of ZOMBIE Collective 


08 August 2013

Shirin Sahba's Mughal-inspired paintings

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Beijing-based artist Shirin Sahba takes you around the world with her enchanting paintings. Her work is inspired by Mughal art so naturally I thought of the connection with the Library’s vast Mughal collection. Here she talks about her inspirations.

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Shirin Sahba_Flora+Fauna detail

Shirin Sahba_The Falconer

Shirin Sahba_The Falconer detail

What is it about Mughal art that really inspires you?

My Persian heritage and a childhood spent in India deeply influence my aesthetic. I have always been attracted to the ornate beauty of the architecture, textiles, and illuminated manuscripts of that era. I especially adore miniature works with their stunning unity of pattern and colour, and the elaborate and painstaking detail with which they were so exquisitely rendered.

You are an active Pinterest user, how does digital content inspire you compared to seeing the real thing?

As an artist in this new and exciting digital age I think it is very important to harness the creative resources we have on the internet. But it is really only a supplement, and I feel it's necessary to discover ample real-life visual inspiration as well, I do this in part by traveling and exploring the world for myself. Pinterest is a great way to collect or bookmark the things that visually inspire me. These online tools can be very helpful - their immediacy and ability to foster relationships. I have even had a few collectors find me via Pinterest!

With online restrictions in China, is it difficult to access digital content for inspiration?

It can be a challenge for sure, but I usually find a way. Art, possibly because of its flexibility with interpretation, is one of the few things that transcend censorship. Thank goodness!

Your artwork was used for the award winning documentary film "The Gardener". What are your thoughts on how art and design influence film and/or vice versa?

I see the two as inextricably linked. All forms of visual art inform and inspire one another. I have always been incredibly inspired by old films of the 1950s and 60s, and often use visual references from my favorites. Film-maker friends also tell me they look to paintings for inspiration. Mohsen Makhmalbaf is a legend, and his award-winning film "Gabbeh" remains one of my favorites of all time. Each scene is like a painting unto itself... So you can imagine how thrilled I was when asked to do a painting for his latest film, "The Gardener"! 

Shirin Sahba_The Gardener

How does your blog Limonana help your art business?

It was through my blog that I realized how my audience is actually a global one. It's given me a voice, and in turn access to an audience that subscribes to see my work. It is so exciting because it becomes a sort of international gallery that transcends walls and allows all people to view and appreciate the work without the intimidation. I've met so many interesting people this way, both online and in real life.

What are your plans for the future? Might we see you and your artwork in the flesh in London?

I'm taking it day by day, painting what inspires me in the moment. This past year I've had offers for exhibitions in Spain, Italy and Beijing. I would absolutely love to show in London. It is on my top list of favorite places to show, so hopefully soon!

Shirin Sahba_Into the Mint

Images courtesy of Shirin Sahba