See / Hear / Taste: Clerkenwell Design Week

Clerkenwell Design Week 2015 Glaze glass structure SEE: A friend and I spent a day at Clerkenwell Design Week, mostly finding ‘Wordplay’ – a collection of words made into sculptures by Monotype which you could find via a postcard map. My favourite was Explore.

Clerkenwell Design Week 2015 - Explore in an alley Here are the others: Enjoy, Discover, Inspire, Celebrate, Experience and See.  The latter was the letters on separate sheets of mirror in a garden – a complete nightmare to photograph but my second favourite for its cleverness and way it fitted with the greenery.

Clerkenwell Design Week 2015  Wordplay by Monotype


In St John’s Square, architects Cousins + Cousins created Glaze, a glass structure and asked visitors to suggest uses for it. The top photograph on this post is a detail of Glaze; it really was a photogenic structure.

Clerkenwell Design Week - Glaze by architects Cousins + Cousins


TASTE: Finally, small tasty strawberries – does this mean it is officially shorts weather now? Certainly it seemed like summer on my balcony this morning.

HEAR: I have been living in my Live/Work apartment in Greenwich for nine years this week. As kind of celebration, I attended Evensong at the Old Royal Naval College’s Painted Chapel, with the Trinity Laban Old Royal Naval College Chapel Choir and the Schola Cantorum of Yale University. It was breath-taking. And very exclusive – about 35 people attended.  This seemed the most incredible shame, given that it wasn’t a secret event – the ORNC had it listed on its website and had tweeted about it – how I had heard about it. If you do go, just be aware that it isn’t sign-posted: the main doors are closed and you have to go in a side entrance.  I guess it is to try to avoid a group of tourists arriving mid-service, which did happen at the end anyway.

Oh, and there was Eurovision last night.  My vote went to the Austrians with the ’80s power ballad and fiery piano. Sadly the rest of the world didn’t agree at all and they received ‘nul points’. If you missed it or want to relive the final 27 songs, here is a Eurovision Spotify playlist.

See / Hear / Taste: Screen printing

Screenprinting with Zeena Shah at Summer Craftacular London (Living Abstracts) SEE: I tried screen printing in a workshop with Zeena Shah at Bust London Craftacular today. Zeena made it all seem so easy: draw a design on a piece of paper, using either the negative or positive. Then put the pieces on a tea towel or tote, put the screen on top, three big dollops of paint at the top of the screen and drag the squeegee almost 90 degrees to the screen across the design three times, scooping the paint from the bottom to the top in between drags. We removed the paper from the screen and handed it onto the next person, then used a hairdrier to dry our printed item. It all seemed so simple! It is simple when an experienced professional is guiding you every step of the way and we won’t mention the fuzziness at the bottom of the postbox. Others printed a house, a date celebrating a wedding anniversary (tomorrow), penguins and stylish dachshunds.

Screenprinting with Zeena Shah at Summer Craftacular London (Living Abstracts)

Screenprinting with Zeena Shah at Summer Craftacular London (Living Abstracts) TASTE: Sometimes it is the simple things in life that are memorable. While waiting for friends in Thames Ditton, I stopped by Limetree cafe and deli. They had hand-squeezed orange juice – delish! It helped that the sun was shining and Thames Ditton is one of the cutest places I’ve ever been.

HEAR: Blues legend BB King died this week, after a long illness. He leaves behind wonderful memories of his performance at the Royal Albert Hall about 15 years ago and an incredible legacy. If you don’t know his music – and chances are you have heard it – The Daily Beast has compiled a list of stand-out tracks here. It includes a couple of my favourites: Every Day I Have The Blues and Let The Good Times Roll.

SHT: English Baroque


Dan Cruickshank speaks on English Baroque architecture at the ORNC - May 2015

Here are a few things I tasted, heard and saw this week.

HEAR: Art and architecture historian and television presenter Dan Cruickshank (above) gave a talk on the English Baroque at the Old Royal Naval College this week.  He was FASCINATING! His passion for his subject, especially the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, makes listening and learning easy. He knowingly and charmingly ran 15 minutes overtime and could probably have talked for another hour or two without drawing breath. This was the first in a series of ORNC Architecture for All talks and he is talking again on May 28.

Blueberry water - a tasty way to drink tap water

TASTE: Inspired by Instagram posts, I tried fruit water – that is, putting fruit into water overnight to infuse the water with fruity tastes.  I had done this previously with lemon and cucumber, which were both delicious, but didn’t know whether there would be much taste in the likes of a whole strawberry.  Five whole strawberries in 1.5 litres of water added a lovely light taste, as did about 10 blueberries. Next week, I want to try some soft fruit such as a peach as well as a green teabag for an iced tea drink with virtually no sugar.

Home-made fruit water with blueberries blueberry-water-05

SEE: I don’t have a TV, but did watch the BBC Young Dancer competition last night online. I enjoyed every kind of dance represented, especially the works that had been choreographed especially for each dancer and the music was fascinating – ballet, Asian, hiphop, contemporary – well worth a watch if you’re able to connect with iPlayer.

SHT: Roof Gardens

Canary Wharf roof garden at Crossrail Place by Foster + Partners 2015

SEE: Canary Wharf’s Crossrail Place over the forthcoming station opened partially this weekend, with a promotion throughout the other mall areas involving many musicians and meringues from The Meringue Girls. Musicians included the Xavior Quartet playing the likes of Love Cats by The Cure and Britney Spears’ Oops I Did It Again and singer/guitarist Jamie Balcanquall. It was SO lovely to have live music while out and about. The Foster + Partners’ Crossrail Place has a roof garden, partially open to the elements, unlike the one at the top of the Walkie Talkie building. The photographs above and below are from the Crossrail roof garden and the path getting there.

Canary Wharf roof garden at Crossrail Place by Foster + Partners 2015 Canary Wharf roof garden at Crossrail Place by Foster + Partners 2015 An escalator at Canary Wharf roof garden at Crossrail Place by Foster + Partners 2015

TASTE: This week was a bit of a dud as far as deliciousness goes. There was a disappointing quiche when out and a Deliciously Ella berry ‘cheesecake’ style dessert from her app that was an epic fail on flavour and presentation when I made it for friends. There are no photographs – it was just too sad.

HEAR: Was listening to a few episodes of Later … with Jules Holland on iPlayer while editing. He introduced south London singer Andreya Triana – a real find. You can hear her on Spotify here.

SHT: Maker Spaces

SAW my own copy of Emily Quinton’s Maker Spaces, which was launched last week. It was delivered wrapped in stunning ribbon from one of the makers in the book, textile artist Vicky Trainor and included a letterpress card by Kimberly Austin.

Emily Quinton's Maker Spaces wrapped book in ribbon by Vicky Trainor emily_maker_spaces_415_02emily_maker_spaces_415_04 emily_maker_spaces_415_03

Saw the first half of Light Shining in Buckinghamshire by Caryl Churchill at the National Theatre. STUNNING design at the start, with a large sloped platform in the centre, almost like a stage on a stage, which started as a banqueting table with candelabras, shiny platters and goblets surrounded by dining gentlemen in velvet. An antiqued mirror suspended above, reflected the action, lighting and smoke, adding a dramatic visual layer. The play itself wasn’t my cup of tea, so I left at the interval. Still glad I went, though. Oh, and the singing at the start was fab. You can see a photo of the production’s first half in this Guardian review.

HEARD: Blues Connection station on Tune-in radio app on the iPhone for the first time. I’ve been listening to blues for many years and this station was a great one to discover many news artists including Willie Mabon (The Seventh Son), Bex Marshall, Percy Strother, BooBoo Davis and Skinny Molly as well as those more familiar such as Sonny Boy Williamson, Roomful of Blues and Charlie Musselwhite.

Less musical, but very effective, was the new sound of AwayFind alert, also on the iPhone. It notifies you if emails with a particular phrase or from an address you nominate are sent to you, so you don’t have to keep checking your email if you’re waiting on something – a great find from a tweet on productivity … we just won’t mention the 20+ minutes spent browsing the website the tweet linked to. Ahem.

TASTED: The first strawberries of the year. They were a bit tart, as expected and now am doing my best to be patient in waiting a few more weeks for


Jack Monroe quote

When life gives you lemons, reject them and demand pudding and wine instead - a quote from Jack Monroe (A Girl Called Jack).
Quote heading for Jack Monroe quote about 'when life gives you lemons ...'

The first printable quote is from the Instagram feed of Jack Monroe (@msjackmonroe) this week.  Here is her whole quote: “Life just got better. Sticky toffee pud with butterscotch sauce and honeycomb ice cream and a Picpoul AND a dessert wine, oh my local does look after me. Finding my happy again. When life gives you lemons REJECT THEM AND DEMAND PUDDING AND WINE INSTEAD.”

It very much seems a quote to live by! If you haven’t heard of Jack or her blog A Girl Called Jack and like food on a budget, do have a look. Her blog started as a place to talk about politics and developed a following for the recipes she cooked for herself and her son, living on £10 a week. Those recipes led to a book deal, a Guardian column and now a second book. Jack still talks politics and a great deal of common sense on her Instagram and Twitter feeds. And she’s funny.

Download Jack’s A4 printable quote by clicking on the image on the left.

Wardrobe Conversations

Living Abstracts has had a number of focuses since its start several years ago: creative inspiration in London, what to wear if you don’t follow fashion trends, Instagram and planners + time management. It finally hit me in the past month that I am interested in ALL of these things – and all of them are about having greater beauty in our lives. Talk about a ‘Doh’ moment!

There is a new Sunday column – See / Hear / Taste – which has items about what I have seen, heard and tasted in the week. And a range of other items on Wednesdays. I’m so happy that the blog feels whole now.

To help support the new style, I’ve moved the site from SquareSpace, where it has been for about a year, and rebuilt it in WordPress. It is still being tweaked, some older blog posts need new images and the shop has been closed for now. I’ll let you know when it returns.

So, onto a wardrobe discussion. This was sparked last week at the launch of Emily Quinton’s Maker Spaces book at West Elm in London by meeting stylist and blogger Jane Day of Tea with Ruby, pictured on the left. She was wearing a fabulous long, navy dress that looked cool, smart and relaxed. What we especially loved about it was it being long enough so that she could wear flip-flops or other flat sandals.

The maxi or almost maxi also seemed to be the answer to what a female wedding photographer wears to a summer wedding – another discussion had with a colleague earlier in the week. We need to wear flats of some kind, given that we are carrying around heavy equipment and may need to walk for an hour or two on some shoots. We sometimes end up lying on the ground or in other odd positions, so the only realistic options are trousers or maxi skirts. I love ASOS for basics like maxi skirts (and its VIP membership for £10 a year gets you free next-day delivery, good value if you use them more than a couple of times) and Jane recommended Cos; since she doesn’t live near a branch, her Cos shopping is all done online.

SHT: Savage Beauty

A collection of things I saw, heard and tasted this week. 

SEE: I visited the Savage Beauty exhibition of fashion designer Alexander McQueen at the V+A Museum, which opened a couple of weeks ago. It was superbly staged and one double-height room in the centre of the exhibition was breathtaking in its complexity (I won’t say any more than that in case you’re going and it can be a wonderful surprise). It felt a little odd seeing McQueen’s work again, after the Isabella Blow exhibition at Somerset House last year, with quite a number of the same tailored items in common. All in all, I preferred the reality of seeing frayed edges, a few stains and marks on the clothes in the Isabella Blow exhibition over the glamour and glitz of the V+A show. McQueen was remarkable, but still what we’re looking at is clothing that can be damaged by life, just like Blow and McQueen.

By pure coincidence, I ran into this spiffingly suited gentleman at Borough Market a few days later, collecting delicacies for his picnic on the London Tweed Run. He charmingly posed for me and in return, I suggested the sausage rolls from The Ginger Pig – a top tip from friend and children’s photographer Helen Bartlett.

London Tweed Run participant at Borough Market, stocking his picnic satchel.

HEAR: Love the Rockett St George Cover Up Spotify playlist, especially First of the Gang by singer/songwriter Zee Avi and Paloma Faith’s version of INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart. What a nice way of exploring a completely different range of music!

Lemon presse on a hot spring day from Fernandez + Wells

TASTE: Lemon presse with mint from Fernandez + Wells, just around the corner from the V+A Museum. The PERFECT drink on the first properly hot day of the year. I have bought lemons and mint for a home version, dreaming of more sunny spring days.


SHT: Morris Men

This is the first week of a new Sunday column, sharing some experiences from the week – things I’ve seen, heard or tasted that others might like.

SAW the original men with beards – Blackheath Morris Men – carrying out their Easter Monday tradition of lifting a woman up on a decorated chair in Greenwich, next to the Cutty Sark. They are funny and wholehearted in their dancing.  Do have a look at their  website: it is the original grumpy old man’s site and looks like it was built in FrontPage in about 2002.


And visited the National Gallery’s Sansovino Frames exhibition – a collection of very ornate gold painted wooden frames in Room One (turn left from the main staircase under the skylight).

Blackheath Morris Men lifting a woman on a chair for Easter Monday

National Gallery Sansovino frames from Venice

HEARd Radio Three’s Composer of the Week – Chopin.  He certainly wasn’t a well man and seemed to have a nightmare travelling with his family and still managed to write such sublime music – no idea how he managed it.

TASTEd roast beetroot this week. They were small and organic, so should have tasted as good as they get, and served with butternut squash (also roasted) and goat’s cheese. Not awful, but not lovely either, so won’t be doing that again. The purple-stained cutting board will also be grateful. A much bigger success was making up my own granola recipe in a small quantity (to avoid eating a month’s supply in two days because it is so delicious). One cup of oats, one cup of assorted nuts, three tablespoons of coconut oil, three of maple syrup, heat oil and syrup in small saucepan until liquid, mix in bowl with dry ingredients and bake at 150 degrees celsius for about 20 minutes, turning once after 10 minutes. Very tasty – will be doing that again. Favourite home meal this week was a bed of green leaves with a generous heap of warm potato salad dressed in homemade lemon mayo with chives and slices of smoked salmon on top.

Photo backgrounds

I’m so happy to share with you what i’ve been working on for the past couple of months. It’s a set of photo backgrounds that you can download and print for your styled projects, Instagram photographs and blog or website images.

With the rise of styled photographs on blogs and Instagram, I was surprised that something like this didn’t already exist. Many of you – and I – had been using sheets of paper, painted canvases and other household surfaces for photographs. But what if we wanted something a little different, like planks of wood for a food or recipe photograph but didn’t want the weight or storage?

 IMAGE TO BE RE-UPLOADED: Grey and wood photo background for food styling, product display and styled Instagram vignettes. The photo backgrounds are easily printed, stored and carried.


Hence this collection of 15 backgrounds: 11 colours of linen, three woods and a metal background. They’re all designed to sit behind your styled items without overpowering the photograph. I’ve been testing them out over the past weeks and am excited to see what you create with them.

They’re set up as an instant download, so when you buy the photo backgrounds, you’ll be taken to the download page and you can be printing and using them in minutes. The examples you see here are all printed on a home computer onto A3 sheets of regular copier paper.  You could also print them larger (they’re sized 12×8″ at 300dpi) or have your favourites printed onto photographic paper.

So do go ahead and try them and see what you think, and let me know how you find them. There is a 20% off early bird special until midnight on Wednesday February 25, bringing the price to £28.