Tag Archives: art

Interview with artist Kristjana Williams

KSW Portrait Sep 2013Welcome to Kristjana S Williams studio! True to the spirit of its owner, it is full of vibrant colours, delicate patterns, fabulous maps and magical creatures…

Kristjana Williams was brought up in Iceland. She first studied Electrical Engineering in Iceland but maths wasn’t her calling. Her passion was art, something she had felt was not viable enough to pursue seriously. But when Kristjana had come to London, she enrolled in a design course with City Lit (which offers evening and weekend adult learning courses). And then she got into Central St Martins to study graphic design and illustration at the age of 25. It’s fair to say, Kristjana never looked back.

Today she is a equally successful as a fine artist and a commercial designer collaborating with such brands as Fortnum & Mason, Heal’s, Liberty, Paul Smith and Cole & Son.  Kristjana exhibited her work at London’s V&A, Design Shanghai, created art work for the Connaught Hotel and is currently working on her biggest commission to date: a giant map of London for the Shard.

It’s a five-metre map of London with Kristjana’s signature colourful collages, exotic flowers, historic characters and pieces, juxtaposed against black-and-white Victorian engravings. “The work that goes into scanning, printing and cutting all the patterns is incredible”, explains Kristjana who has three more designers in her studio to help her. I am leafing through the Victorian engravings book of royal menagerie from the 18th century, while marvelling at the contrast between the sleek outside image of Shard and the delicate design, paying homage to London’s history, being created by Kristjana for one of its interior bars.


In addition to the Shard commission, Kristjana is also working on a ceramic range for Fortnum & Mason, which will be out for Christmas 2015.

“I love that I don’t have to pigeon-hole myself, say, as a fine artist. I can also making a living by doing commercial work that is also affordable to the general public: prints, wallpaper, cushions,” says Kristjana. “I also love collaboration. It’s a fantastic experience to work with craftsmen such as upholsterers, furniture makers, embroiderers.”

Kristjana’s love for colour goes back to her childhood in Iceland, where she craved light, colour and magic during long and dark Scandinavian winters. Quite unlike traditionally calm and understated Scandinavian design, her work is always vibrant, vivid but also delicate in its attention to detail.


What is your greatest achievement? Apart from my children, it must be The Connaught commission. It was a true labour of love. The brief was to capture the spirit, richness and magic of the unique Mayfair hotel. It’s a two by three meters collage artwork with traditional Victorian etchings, which took six months to create.

What are you good at? Coming up with ideas. My only problem is that I never seem to have enough time to realise them all…

What is your weakness? I want to do everything… I get a fine art commission which is an enormous project in itself but at the same time I also take on commercial projects I am excited about so it becomes overwhelming. I think this thirst has held me back as much as it has pushed me forward. Now that I am forty, I am finally better at pacing myself but it’s been a journey and a half…

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Calm down! Be less anxious… I also wish that I saw the opportunities available to me as a creative, because I did not see them as a 15-year-old. My creative drive was strong, but I could not see it as a profession, only as a hobby.

If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? Go to the Moon! That’s the first thing that popped into my head. I don’t really want to go into space. I’d rather get a diving boat especially designed to travel deep down to the bottom of the ocean and explore the world at the core of our planet.

MaskTo find out more about Kristjana’s work, please visit http://www.kristjanaswilliams.com


Nancy Honey and her 100 Leading Ladies

Nancy HoneyLast year the Somerset House hosted a fabulous exhibition 100 Leading Ladies, a project which took Nancy Honey three years to accomplish. Nancy may have been working towards that project all her life. What she has been able to achieve is awe-inspiring. Over three cups of tea, Nancy told me her story.

Nancy Honey was born in the US and came to Britain in 1970s. She studied Fine Art, Graphic Design and Photography both in the US and in the UK. She has been photographing for more than 30 years and started exhibiting her work in 1984. Alongside art, corporate and advertising projects, Nancy has published four monographs: Woman to Woman, Entering the Masquerade, Poodle Parlour and, most recently, 100 Leading Ladies.

100 Leading Ladies… I have always been fascinated with what successful, high powered women had achieved throughout their careers. How did they manage to juggle professional and family responsibilities? I have deliberately chosen women over the age of 55 because of their accomplishments, but also because senior women are very much under-represented in the media. I wanted to change that by making portraits and hearing the views of older women. I wanted to include the voice of the younger generation as well, so I commissioned former The Times journalist Hattie Garlick to interview my subjects.

When I started my research for the project, I wanted to approach women I personally admired, for example, Barbara Hulanicki OBE, fashion designer and founder of the iconic clothes store Biba. As the project developed, it was incredible to discover so many women I have not even come across before in art and science, business and public service. I asked them where they went for inspiration, to think or just to relax. Such a setting reveals a lot more about a person than a photo studio. Some of my heroines chose the comforts of their own homes, others chose professional settings, providing fascinating backgrounds to my portraits.

Brave new world…  The research and the photography took me about two years. I funded it myself, selling my house and moving into a smaller flat in the process. The next step was to get funding for the exhibition: in addition to the portraits, I also wanted to put together a beautiful book, featuring the photographs and the interviews. I had no fundraising experience, no corporate network to access, so I had no idea where to start. I went to the Westminster Reference Library, where a helpful librarian gave me a UK Guide to Company Giving. Gradually I learned how the company funding worked; I researched then approached many, many companies that I thought were a good fit with the project. I hired an intern and an assistant to help me. I also did a huge amount of networking.  It took us a year to put together the required funding. Women push themselves, if they really want something.

Thirteen of Nancy’s portraits were purchased by the National Portrait Gallery in 2013 and displayed in a small group exhibition of recent acquisitions. The complete work was shown at Somerset House in 2014. Her accomplishment lives in a stunning, timeless book, featuring photos and interviews, which is available for purchase online.

What have you learned from the women you’ve met? They were all incredibly passionate about their work. It is also true that many women had to make sacrifices to achieve what they have.

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? I would advise her to try to look for a role model or a mentor. Although I had loving parents, there was no one in my life to look at who was the kind of woman I wanted to be.

What are you good at? I am good at organisation, managing complicated problems and taking on challenges. I love research.

What is your greatest achievement? My two children.

If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? At this point, I would build my own house.

Who inspires you? There are too many people to mention. I admire so many artists in so many fields, both young, old, alive or dead. There is so much to find out about and to be in awe of.

To find out more about Nancy’s work, please visit her website www.nancyhoney.com and www.100leadingladies.com

Meet illustrator Alexandra Burda

Alexandra BurdaAlexandra Burda (28) is an illustrator. She lives in Romania.  

I have been drawing forever… Ever since I can remember, I have been drawing and sketching. I remember drawing rooftops as a child.

I studied Graphics at the Art Academy of Bucharest… I could not imagine earning money as an artist. I thought I had to find a job which would be deliberately boring, but pay for my canvasses and brushes. I ended up working in a call centre for a Swiss internet provider in Brasov, but only lasted a few months.

It really gets to you… The time you spend in a soulless office, the habits you acquire just to pass the time and cheer yourself up. That job was changing my personality. At the end of each day I did not have the energy or the inspiration to draw. I suppose I’m grateful for the experience, because it showed me that art is more than a hobby for me. I became determined to make it work and started taking on illustration projects.

Making money as an artist is not easy… but I think I’m truly lucky to be making money from something I love. Most of my clients come from the US, UK, Australia and Canada. I live in Romania, but my art travels far and wide!

In creative work, it helps to have a deadline… Deadlines help me focus, but at the same time I often find them a bit stressful. I usually try to take as much time to think as possible before putting pen to paper. Having enough time to think and research is so important: everything seems to fall into place afterwards.

KikuWhen I am not working on a brief, I like my mind to travel…

I came across a word “kiku” which is  a “chrysanthemum” in Japanese and also means “to listen”. It perked my interest and I wanted to explore a possibility of capturing both meanings at the same time. I wanted to show a transformation of the word “kiku” depending on a context, to tell a story…

Like any other means of creative expression, painting is therapeutic… Last year I lived in a tiny 5 sq. m room, which was very cold in winter. I was drinking tomato juice and watching a BBC documentary about great painters online. Sometimes the most ordinary objects can inspire you to produce some of your best works of art.


Image credits: www.alexandraburda.com 

Romania… is not breathtaking… It is a small country. Grass and shrubs grow from every nook and crack in a city. When no one is looking, a new tree pops up. Have you ever noticed that?

I wish I had more… Time. And more space to work would be nice. And healthy snacks for when I feel peckish. Is this too much to ask?

Babushka and Me

I recently worked on a cover for Babushka and Me: Stories from a Soviet ChildhoodI read the stories and I thought about my grandmother and my own childhood. Romania too was affected by communism, shortages and a difficult transition to a market economy. My grandmother was a legendary cook and always made treats for us. I remember her holding my hand very tightly when we walked along the streets. I thought it would be a good way to portray a relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter. There is love and trust; an intangible magical bond and hope for the future, represented by a circus dome.

If you’d like to see more of Alexandra’s work and perhaps commission her to produce an illustration for you, please visit www.alexandraburda.com.

Celeste Wong on coffee and acting

Celeste WongCeleste Wong grew up in Dunedin, New Zealand. Her Chinese parents wanted the best for their daughter, which translated into wanting Celeste to become an accountant, a doctor or a lawyer – safe, secure, respectable.

It’s not that Celeste was a rebel. But studying Accounting in Dunedin was really lacklustre, so she secretly enrolled to do design instead and got a part-time job in a café, learning the craft of a barista. Upon graduation Celeste started working in fashion, helping to put together fashion shows and getting more and more engaged in arts and design. At the same time, she began to think about acting.

“I always aspired to do something creative, but given my background, I didn’t realise it was actually a real possibility”. 

Once you dip into something that is your ultimate calling, it’s hard to pull in the reigns. Celeste took acting courses, signed up for student films to get experience, went to casting calls.


Celeste holding a coffee cupOne more CelesteWhen Celeste moved to London, she got a job as a barista at Flat White, a coffee mecca in Soho, renowned for its superb long blacks and flat whites. This is where she met Chris Turner, a film director and a fellow coffee connoisseur. They started chatting, became friends and co-created an art film, G(O)OD+(D)EVIL.

In the film Celeste plays both the bride and the widow, good and evil, strong and weak – her most expressive, physically and creatively challenging project to date.

“I think talent can be learned. No one has experience at the beginning of a journey. You just have to try things out and give it your best shot. Your support network is really important. If I did not have Chris equally invested in this project, if I did not have my friends encouraging and supporting me, I would not have made it.”

Perhaps it does take someone to believe in you before you acknowledge yourself. 


Wendy Coad, a Miami-based contemporary artist

photoI met Wendy Coad at the ArtCenter in Miami, dedicated to support contemporary artists in Florida. The space contains expositions of art as well as studios, where you can see artists at work, browse through their work and say hello.

Wendy has been an artist all her life. She was born in Canada, where she studied, then moved to New York, where she lived for 25 years.

Wendy has always been fascinated with the human figure. Previously, her work was monochromatic, using brown or charcoal colours to meditate on faces and body shapes.

photo paintingBut when I walked into her studio, I saw beautiful, light fabric gently dancing with the breeze, attached at the top to the canvas painted using bright palette of colours, full of summer joy. Wendy’s latest collection of work is a study of divers, mostly female, fearlessly jumping into the ocean. Each piece feels strong, yet sensual.

Wendy moved to Miami 5 years ago. She felt it was time to swap New York to a spot in the sun.

The new place has been most inspiring to her as an artist, and her work reflects just that: she is experimenting, working with unconventional shapes and using bright ‘Florida’ rather than sombre ‘New York’ colours. It is her first experiment with fabric, and it worked a treat.

A new place, a change of scenery, an adventure, a challenge may be all you need to discover your hidden talents or find inspiration for the journey ahead.

A story of Eileen Cooper, artist and keeper of the Royal Academy

A couple of weeks ago I met Eileen Cooper, who two years ago became the first woman to be appointed an Officer of the Royal Academy of Arts since its inception. The Academy was founded by George III in 1768. Its founding members were a group of prominent artists and architects who were determined to achieve professional standing for British art. They also wanted to provide a venue for exhibitions that would be open to the public and to establish a school of art to pass on knowledge and skills to future generations. In October 2011 Eileen Cooper became Keeper of the Royal Academy, which includes her role as Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools.

Eileen Cooper

© Anne Purkiss

Eileen grew up in Derbyshire in a working class family and was encouraged to pursue her artistic potential by her primary school headmaster. She later studied Fine Art at Goldsmith’s College and Royal College of Art, emerging as one of the major figures in British art in 1980s, exhibiting solo ever since.

This year Eileen is celebrating her 60th birthday and exhibiting her latest works at Art First. This may be a coincidence, but it certainly is a celebration of talent, fulfilment and purpose. Indeed, Eileen’s collection, Edge to Edge is once again bright, dynamic, intimate and playful. How do you like Paper Doll or Red Gloves below?














Her other works explore relationships, interaction and intimacy with characteristic energy and symbolism, such as Rabbit and Fox above.

In her own words, Eileen is inspired by a wide range of art, including Indian art, tribal art, Japanese prints, photography, film, animation and early Italian paintings.  She loves works by Picasso, Alice Neel, Mary Cassatt and Louise Bourgeois.

I asked Eileen what she finds most rewarding about being Keeper of the Royal Academy:

“The most rewarding part of the job is having contact with the wonderful Royal Academy students. I learn something from them every day. I am very proud that the Royal Academy Schools operate a three year post graduate fine art course, providing emerging artists with professional education free of charge.”