Advice From Art School #1

Just in the first couple of months of my art foundation I've been given so much helpful and invaluable advice about art and creating from a group of tutors that really do know what they're talking about. A year is a very short space of time and I realised very quickly that I really need to make the most of the time I have with such talented and experienced people in the art field. That's why I started my 'Advice Book'. Since my very first week at art school I have been noting down little snippets of advice and general comments made during workshops, lectures, one to one sessions etc. that I don't want to forget and putting them into a tiny little sketchbook. I figured that once my year long foundation is over, I'll be able to keep and remember the advice I was given for a long time after!

So I thought, why not share a few pages in my advice book on here? I'm not sure how often these posts will go up, it will probably just be when I feel I have enough new helpful tips to make a new post out of. 

I hope you enjoy!

p.s. I need to think of something to do on the front cover of this little sketchbook! Any ideas? 


How To Have A Productive Day

1. Write A To Do List The Evening Before
As I've mentioned before, I'm one of those people that are very into making lists. If I write all my 'to dos' down on paper, I find it helps stop them scrabbling around in my head and I can actually get on with doing them. If you have a particularly busy day ahead of you, I find the best time to write your to do list is the evening before. You've finished your work for that day, so you know exactly where you stand for tomorrow, yet you're not using up any precious time in the morning brainstorming all the things you need to get done (and probably causing yourself more panic than is needed in the process!).

2. Wake Up To Your Alarm First Time
I know this is a tough one, and I may be being just a tiny weeny bit hypocritical including this, however it really does put you in the right frame of mind to be productive from the outset. When you pull back your covers and jump out of bed first time your alarm goes off (ok, maybe jumping out is asking a little bit to much..), you almost feel as if you've gained some time from nowhere that simply didn't exist before. Of course in reality that time has existed in the past, we've just all been using it to catch the last few minutes of that dream where we married Bradley Cooper.. or whatever it is you may do with your time on the pillow. 

3. Make Your Bed
There's nothing that makes me feel more like a grown up respectable adult than making my bed the moment I get up. It's almost as if i'm over the first hurdle and I've completed a task already. There's also the whole idea of tidy room, tidy mind and it actually does hold some truth. Getting on with work seems much more manageable in a clean and tidy space.

4. Make The Most Of The Morning
Never underestimate the power of your first few hours awake. They have the power to set the pace and overall mood for the entire day. Say you find yourself having lunch at 1pm having done not very much so far, it'll probably be well into the afternoon before you've actually made a decent start on your tasks. On the other hand, if you woke up at 8am and worked solidly until 1pm, you'll feel much more accomplished and motivated to carry on through the afternoon (that is if you haven't finished already!).

5. Focus On One Thing At A Time
I'm a big worrier. I fret 24/7 about things that will probably never happen and this overspills into my work life. If I have say 5 reasonably large things to do in one day, instead of taking it one thing at a time, I'll dabble in one thing before my mind wonders onto worrying about another. MORE HASTE LESS SPEED LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. If I force myself not to even think about another task before the one at hand is finished, I find I get my workload done much faster overall. Plus, if you don't attempt to do a bit of everything at once, you'll be able to tick off whole tasks much quicker which can give you a big boost and sense of achievement. 

Chocolate Bourbon Biscuits

There's something quite lovely about baking something that is almost always shop bought. It's great to have something homemade, a little bit lopsided and not quite as perfect as mass made factory goods. I won't pretend for a second that this is my own completely original recipe, in fact I'd like to thank all the lovely people I've seen circling these reciepes around on various blogs and websites for inspiring this bake! 

Ingredients For The Biscuits 
225g Plain White Flour
125g Unsalted Butter
75g Cocoa Powder
125g Unrefined Golden Caster Sugar
2tbsp Golden Syrup
1tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
3tbsp Milk

Ingredients For The Filling
3tbsp Custard Powder
100g Icing Sugar
25g Cocoa Powder
75g Unsalted Butter
2tsp Milk

1. From the biscuit ingredients list, mix together the flour, butter, cocoa powder, sugar, golden syrup and bicarbonate of soda.

2. Gradually add the milk until the mixture forms a dough.

3. Wrap the dough in cling film and pop it in the fridge to chill for 10 minutes.

4. Unwrap the dough and roll out to a thickness of about 1cm.

5. Cut out your classic rectangular bourbon shapes and use a skewer to indent the traditional dots on each one. Mine are quite large compared to the ones you buy in shops these days but you can cut them whatever size you like.

6. Place each shape onto a lined baking tray and chill again for a further 30 minutes.

7. During the chilling time preheat your oven to 180°C, 160°C fan, gas mark 4.

8. Bake the biscuits for 20-25 minutes, then leave on wire racks to cool completely. 

9. To make the filling, blend together the icing sugar, butter, custard powder and cocoa powder from the filling ingredients list.

10. Put a generous amount of filling onto one biscuit and sandwich another on top, repeat until you run out of biscuits!

Keep the biscuits in an air tight container, I would say consume within about 5 days but they certainly didn't last that long in my house! I hope you enjoy making (and eating) them.

    My Top 5 Instagram Editing Apps

    I've had Instagram for 2 years now, but over the past six months in particular, Instagram has become one of my favourite social media apps. For me it has turned from a simple photo sharing platform into something which I can express myself in a creative way. Like most people, when I first set up an account on Instagram, I would just snap a quick picture with my phone and use one of their filters/boarders and up it went. Now it's a whole different ball game! The people of Instagam have stepped it up. My boyfriend will vouch for me when I say posting a photo on Instagram has become a bit of a process for me, because the ritual drives him nuts! But what does he know huh? I'm not saying I have the best Instagram photos out there, and I'm far from having the most followers, but nevertheless, here are my top five apps that I use for editing pictures for Instagram.

    1. Afterlight
    This little app is my number one holy grail of Instagram editing. This is where most of the 'magic' happens so to speak. All of my recent-ish posts will have been edited using this app as I now use it for every single photo I post - that's how much I swear by it! It offers so many high quality features and stunning creative options. My favourite features include the light leaks you can overlay and the fact that filters can be layered over each other and the intensity of each filter can be adjusted. This app does cost but I never buy apps if they cost more than £2 and I think this was even less than that. 

    2. Squaready
    If you didn't know about Squareready, where on earth have you been? This is another app that I use on every single one of my Instagram posts. I use it to get the white boarders around my photos and this app makes it easy to get your photo central (or not, if you like). Its's free, it's easy to use and it does exactly what it says on the tin, what more can I say?

    3. PhotoMirror
    I tend to use this nifty little app if I have a photo that's just a bit bland and boring stood alone, even after filters. It's great for creating reflected images in all different directions and photo sizes. Another free app that does what it says on the tin and does it well.

    4. Bokehful
    I only use this app occasionally when I want to add a bit of something extra to a photo. Just to make it clear because I'll be honest, I didn't know this when I bought it, this is NOT an app where you overlay pre made bokeh onto your photos. You have to individually place the 'dots' or hearts or whatever shape it may be yourself. That being said, this is better in some ways. While more time consuming, you really can create some very beautiful results with this app.

    5. Photo Editor- 
    And finally, a bit of a failsafe! This little app has a few useful features that I just keep going back to that don't feature on my beloved Afterlight (at least as far as I know). It has some great tools for editing shots with people in such has redeye removal and blemish fix. I also often use the blemish tool to blot out personal information. The tool creates a blur to remove things such as addresses without having to scribble a big ugly black mark across your lovely photos. 

    5 Ways To Make Use Of Your Commute

    An average week at uni for me consists of full working days from Monday-Thursday, and a self directed study day on Friday (which I usually spend at home..*guilty face*). I commute to and from uni by train which takes 30 minutes each way, meaning I spend 1 hour per day on trains at least 4 days a week. That’s not even including all that time I clock up waiting on the platform! I’ll let you do the maths on that one but ultimately the result is a lot of time wasted on flappy bird. 

    In fact, the average UK employee now spends roughly 4 hours 40 minutes a week on their journey to and from work. I’ll be honest, for a long time I was guilty of wasting that time on sitting, thinking about not very much, and generally trying not to make eye contact with anyone. But then I'd get home, get started on all my work and regret all that wasted time. I'm an art student, so in general the train isn't the most practical place to get uni work done, however, there are other things that I just don't get the chance to do as I always seem to be busy in the evenings. Time to make use of that 4 hours of dead time!

    1. Read
    Here it comes, straight in at number 1, use your commute as a chance to read. It seems like something pretty obvious, but for me its one I really need to start doing! One of my new years resolutions was to read more, and in a way I have succeeded in that I started off the year full on intent and got a few books read very quickly, more than I had read the entire previous year. However, that sort of tailed of as I reached the final stages of my a-levels and I haven't picked it back up again since. I don't think we can or should underestimate what regular reading does for the brain, and train time is the perfect opportunity to read, something many of us claim not to have time to do. 

    2. Make A To Do List
    I'm a big list person. A real 'lists about lists' kind of girl. In fact, you can tell if I'm really excited about something if I start making multiples lists about it. But you don't have to be a list-aholic to write a simple to do list, and your daily commute is the perfect time to do it. Look forward to the day/week ahead and go through everything that needs to be done, prioritise if it's a super busy one! Once I have a list written down in ink on paper, I find I can stop concentrating on all the messy thoughts in my head about everything that needs doing and when, and start concentrating on actually getting on and doing it!

    3. Learn
    How many of us say we wish we had time to learn something new, for example, a language? There are now hundreds of thousands of podcasts available to download for free, covering subjects from language to history to the arts to health to science. Even if you drive to work, this is something which you can do during your commute. Have a scout around on the Podcasts app and find something that interests you personally. You never know, you might be speaking french by Christmas...

    4. Tie Up Loose Ends
    I've already mentioned that as an art student, it can be difficult to compete any work I have during my commute, and this can be the case for many people in many different professions. But I am of the belief that there is always something you can be doing. Try to get all those little 1 or 2 minute tasks done that seem to build up over the course of a few days. Reply to that e-mail, return that call or do a quick google search on something you've been meaning to look up. Tying up all those odds and ends will clear the bulk of your day for bigger tasks.  

    5. Play Games To Sharpen Your Mind 
    And finally, if you really can't tear yourself away from games on your phone, try to swap them for something more stimulating for your brain, like Sudoku. Some researchers believe that playing mentally stimulating games such as this may help reduce the risk of age related memory loss. Not bad for a quick commute time killer! 

    How To Break Creative Block With Oblique Strategies

    In 1975, musician Brian Eno and his painter friend Peter Schmidt published the original pack of Oblique Strategies cards, through thinking about approaches to their own creative work. The idea behind their deck of cards was for artists to break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking through following the aphorism on a randomly selected card

    The reason I want to blog about these little cards is that they were mentioned to me on my very first day at art school. I'm certainly no stranger to creative blocks - and when I hit that brick wall, I really hit it hard! Creative blocks can turn into a vicious downward spiral, and the oblique strategies are an excellent tool for encouraging a new perspective on things in order to break the negative loop in one’s head.

    To give you an idea of the kind of 'advice' the cards dish out to you, here's 10 randomly selected card messages:

    Retrace your steps
    Turn it upside down 
    Use your own ideas
    Emphasise repetitions 
    Just carry on
    Is there something missing?
    Use an unacceptable colour 
    In total darkness, in a very large room, very quietly
    What else is this like?

    The impact of the cards on creative block has been described as “Like when you’re feeling a pain in your foot and someone slaps you in the face, suddenly you’re not feeling the pain in your foot anymore". Just one of these cryptic messages has the power to throw you off your original thought process, and that can be all it takes to get the ball rolling again. During the creative process, sometimes your thoughts solidify, and the effect of the cards is to make them liquid again. 

    The first edition of Oblique Strategies was privately printed in a limited, numbered and signed edition of 500. If you want a physical copy of the new fifth edition you can buy them for £30.00 (about $48). However there are several online versions available for free such as this one, and even Twitter accounts that tweet messages from randomly chosen cards. 
    It is a universally acknowledged fact that if our practising becomes monotonous and thoughtless, it will not be productive. So, perhaps add one of the online versions to your bookmarks and hopefully next time you're at a creative loss they might just relight that creative spark. 

    Matisse Cut Outs Exhibition Review

    As the blockbuster exhibition of Matisse’s paper cut-outs drew to a close on the 7th September, Tate has since announced that it has become the most popular show in their history, attracting more than half a million visitors. 562,600 people went to the Tate Modern in London to see the groundbreaking exhibition, which also makes it one of the most popular paid-for exhibitions in Britain for decades. I was lucky enough to be one of those 562,600 people who witnessed the beauty of Matisse's last years of work, and I know first hand why this particular showcase has captured the public’s imagination in such a profound way.

    Henri Matisse (1869-1954) is one of the most iconic artists of the twentieth century who brought a whole new concept of colour to the art world. For the last 17 years of his life, he developed an entirely new approach by carving directly into colour with a giant pair of scissors.  From small studies that show him using cut-outs as compositional tools for paintings, to his prophetic final works, Matisse’s genius surges, growing room by room as the works themselves become ever more ambitious. 

    Every single room in the exhibition from start to finish was a joy to explore and 2 hours went by in a flash. From mermaids to dancers, circus scenes and a famous snail, the exhibition showcases an impressive range of 120 works made between 1936 and 1954. 
    I knew the exhibition was going to be something special, but what I wasn't prepared for was the way in which I would be emotionally touched by it. It was such a joyous and fascinating collection and it has stayed close to the forefront of my mind for weeks after visiting the galley - also becoming the only exhibition I've felt inclined to buy the accompanying book from! Matisse wanted “anyone tired, worn down, driven to the limits of endurance, to find calm and repose” in his art. In this he certainly succeeded. I left the exhibition inspired to start practical art again, what more can you ask of an exhibition?

    I'm no stranger to exhibitions but there was something about the fact that at a time in his life where Matisse was very unwell, he managed to not only carry on his artistic career, but reach new heights of creative triumph. There can't be many people who left the exhibition this summer that didn't want to replace their home decor with the vibrancy and excitement of Matisse's cut outs.

    I Survived A-Level Art: 5 Tips So You Can Too!

    There's no denying it - art is a tough a-level. It's demanding on pretty much everything, your time, your energy, and sometimes it feels like your mental state too! But at the same time, it can be enjoyable - it's a creative subject after all. I completed my art a-level in May/June 2014 so I won't know what grade I achieved until August, I did however survive the a-level and I feel confident that I gave it my all. More importantly, as I went along the two year course I learnt some tips that are pretty much essential if you are pushing to achieve the grade you are capable of. Bear in mind, different courses have different requirements (if you're interested, I took Edexcel's A2 Art & Design Unendorsed course), however I have tried to create tips that are appropriate to whichever specific a-level course you are taking. These tips can even be translated into other art courses... 

    1. Choose Your Subjects Wisely 
    This tip only really applies if you have not yet started your art a-level (or AS level). When it comes to a- levels, it is really important to pick your subjects wisely whether you choose to do art or not, but I feel when it comes to art there are a few more things to think about in terms of your subject combination. A classic example of this is simply choosing art for an 'easy ride'. I guarantee you this will NOT be the case. Art is an intensely demanding subject and needs to be taken seriously, only take art if you truly love it. I suspect however that most people reading my blog are genuinely interested in art, so the real issue is what other subjects to combine with it. It is always my belief to do whatever you enjoy, but make sure to bear in mind that a-level art is heavily weighted on coursework. Even the 'exam' element of the a-level feels very much like coursework. For this reason you may want to consider balancing it with an exam focused course so you are not bogged down in coursework all year. I personally paired my art a-level with English Literature (which had both coursework and exam but the main focus was on exam) and Business Studies (which was entirely assessed by exam). In short, do not consider art an easy option, and think carefully about the workload compared to other subjects. 

    2. Show Your Development
    A-level art asks students to develop ideas from initial concepts into a final piece. If you are told that your work must show development, your tutor is telling you that your work must change a little (e.g media used, composition) from one piece to the next. An a-level art portfolio must tell a visual story of where you began, where you ended up and everything in between. The use of artist influence often helps (and bags you extra marks) when deciding how to develop your work from one piece onto the next.

    3. Avoid Second Hand Sources 
    During the course of my a-level I realised that you should pretty much consider second hand sources as some kind of evil force. Drawing or painting from images found, for example, on Google Images sets off alarm bells for the examiner. It can indicate a lack of personal connection to a topic, plagiarism issues, a lack of originality and even laziness. It is often assumed that if a student purely uses images taken by others, they are simply too bone idle to take images of their own. This tip should be taken as a guideline, sometimes secondary sources taken from books, magazines etc. can add weight to your project but in general, avoid relying on them too heavily as it often results in superficial / surface-deep work.

    4. Say What YOU Think
    It is all too easy to fall into the habit in your sketchbook of simply writing factual, surface information about, for example, an artists work. 99% of the time it is not in the examiners interest where the artist you are studying was born and what their parents did for a living. They are interested in what you think about their work and how they are influencing your project. You need to demonstrate a carefully considered opinion - WHAT do you like about the work and WHY? The same goes for your own work in your project, you must continually evaluate your process: what's good? what do you like and why? what needs to be improved? And then go and improve it! Your PERSONAL opinion is key, it does not matter if your opinion is in line with some major art critic, the key is that it must be YOURS. 

    5. Don't Procrastinate!
    I would go as far to say that procrastination is the number one barrier to success for art students. Of course, procrastination is never recommended for any a-level subject, but when it comes to art it is simply not an option if you want to achieve the grade you are capable of. Even skilful, highly talented students need time to produce a great art project and so leaving things until the last minute is simply not an option. You need to immerse yourself in the project from start to finish to produce the best result possible. Often the reason art students begin procrastinating is that they become overwhelmed by the quantity of work they have to get through and it just becomes a chore rather than a joy - I have written a post about how to overcome this here.

    Super Duper Cadbury on Cadbury Cupcakes

    These are the kind of cakes my dad likes to describe as 'a heart attack on a plate', which to the rest of us just means a big treat! They certainly don't last long in my house, here's how to make them...

    For The Cupcakes You Will Need...
    100g (4oz) softened butter
    150g (5oz) self-raising flour
    3 tablespoons milk
    2 large eggs
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    2-3 tablespoons coco powder

    To make the cupcakes simply whisk together all of the above ingredients, spoon the mixture evenly between 12 muffin cases and bake in the oven (180 degrees/Fan 160 degrees/Gas mark 4) for 20-25 minutes. Once baked, transfer the cupcakes onto a wire cooling rack and leave the to cool completely before decorating.

    For The Chocolate Buttercream Icing You Will Need...
    100g (4oz) softened butter
    225g (8oz) sifted icing sugar
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 tablespoon coco powder

    For the buttercream icing, whisk together the above ingredients. The milk can be added if the icing is too solid or you are struggling to get the ingredients to combine (it also helps to reduce the mess of icing sugar flying all over the place!).

    Now, spread a good amount of the icing onto each cupcakes. To decorate my 'Cadbury on Cadbury' cupcakes I used...
    Chunks of Cadbury Dairy Milk
    Cadbury Wispa Bites
    Cadbury Dairy Milk Buttons

    I piled on a mix of each of these goodies onto each cupcake, pushing them slightly into the buttercream icing. I then drizzled some melted chocolate on top of each of the cupcakes to finish.


    Hope you enjoyed this recipe, feel free to try different variations on these cupcakes, maybe try using different toppings, whatever you like best and can get your hands on, or you could try baking plain vanilla cupcakes and decorate with vanilla buttercream icing and white chocolate toppings!

    Why I Collect Vinyl Records

    Over the last two years I have accumulated a reasonable amount of vinyl records, enough I'd say to call a 'collection'. It isn't the biggest collection in the world nor the smallest (shall we say more than 100 but rather less than 1000), and it's fair to say I'm sold on vinyl.  Vinyl sales are surging, and though they make up only a tiny percentage of overall music sales, what is significant is that vinyl record sales have grown at such pace at a time when other physical formats are in a state of great decline. It's more expensive than other (more accessible) formats, it's fragile, some might say it's dated, so why have vinyl records become my music medium of choice, and the choice of increasingly more people?

    5 Tips For When Art Becomes a Chore

    Recently, I had been struggling to move forward with a number of projects that once excited me. They seemed to go stale and I felt as if I had come to the end of each strand of inspiration, the projects became a struggle and not a joy, I was scraping at the barrel and nothing seemed to get me out of the rut of running from it. When art becomes a chore it shows in the finished product, so here are my top 5 tips for when art becomes a chore, hopefully they will help you get excited about your projects again and get the ball rolling.