5-10-5: Kate Blairstone, Illustrator and Print Maker

In a twist of fate, I had not realized that the Kate who had waited on our table during my February trip in Portland was a talented artist herself! Only a month later did I happened on her floral prints in her Instagram account. Her webpage is as colorful and cheerful as her personality, and Kate recently launched her online shop selling a few prints (I particularly like the Euphorbia print).

IMG_4173Please introduce yourself.

My name is Kate Blairstone – I’m 33 and live in beautiful North Portland, Oregon with my husband, dog and two cats.
Summer pink on pink: herbaceous peonies swim among rock rose (Cistus), a combination feasible in climates like that of Portland where Kate is fortunate to reside.
Summer pink on pink: herbaceous peonies swim among rock rose (Cistus), a combination feasible in climates like that of Portland where Kate is fortunate to reside.
The arts or horticulture? 
Both! I find that my many creative outlets inform and pollinate one another – it just depends on how much time there’s left in a day.
The 'Beware of Wisteria' should probably replace 'Beware of Dog' sign', and the juxtaposition, intentional or not, speaks a certain cheekiness, which Kate expresses somewhat in her work.
The ‘Beware of Wisteria’ should probably replace ‘Beware of Dog’ sign’, and the juxtaposition, intentional or not, speaks a certain cheekiness, which Kate expresses somewhat in her work.
Did your interest in gardening develop simultaneously with your professional development in art? 
Yes, in that they developed next to each other – it’s only recently that they’ve really overlapped. I’ve always been an artist, but it’s only since I’ve become a homeowner that I’ve been able to call myself a gardener. You have to have a garden to garden, right?
Like most creative types, you have a full time job at the Portland institution Besaw’s that pays your bills while you are able to produce your artwork, namely prints. How do you juggle the demands of a full time job that can limit creative output? 
When I first started at Besaw’s, I used to feel like the work depleted my creative energy available for my own outlets. In the last year I’ve been focusing more on my creativity as a practice, which really means that I can compartmentalize my output in proportion to the activity I’m working on. I’m much better at allocating only a certain time frame to a work project. I’m more efficient.
I’ve been successful at building my art practice at home by creating parameters for my work: a consistent format, process, and schedule. I feel the same way about my garden – it takes ongoing maintenance. It’s always evolving, and if you don’t stick with it it can get away from you. My husband is also an artist, so we’ve made our studio time something we do together.
Creativity can be capricious – funneling it into a productive and lucrative endeavor is always a challenge facing creative types. It’s all too easy to elapse into a dilettante when priorities divert commitment. Do you set aside blocks of time closed off to interruptions and obligations? 
I try very hard to limit my social obligations, which has been a funny transition as I’ve come out of my 20s. I used to worry over not having enough time to do everything; now I’m just much better at scheduling my time. I’d love to build my practice into a sustainable career, but at this point I’m happy to be able to create consistently. It’s gratifying to be able to see your own progress and track it over time, rather than waiting for inspiration to strike.
Artists sometimes take years to refine their techniques before they are almost confident of them. At the same time their styles evolve with age. Sometimes mastering a new tool that can bring a new dimension to your work can add to the development process. What did your education in printmaking teach and did not? 
I have a funny relationship with art school. I’ve always been someone who’s taken to lots of interests, so in some ways my choice of Printmaking as a course of study was a bit arbitrary. I transferred to art school because I wanted to take more art classes. I started out in Photography but decided I didn’t like that because it wasn’t hands-on enough, and the Printmaking department at the time had the most agreeable faculty.
I didn’t use any printmaking in my work for years after college, and still don’t print my work myself, but I think it shaped my way of image-making. I tend to think in terms of surface design and flatness; I love textiles and folk art, the way craftspeople have been interpreting the world around them for hundreds of years.
A solitary Coulter's Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) peeks forth from the chartreuse Euphorbia amydaloides var. robbiae; such surprise combinations inspire Kate's graphic prints.
A solitary Coulter’s Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) peeks forth from the chartreuse Euphorbia amydaloides var. robbiae; such surprise combinations inspire Kate’s graphic prints.
How often do you play around with colors and spacing until you are satisfied with the resulting print? I find it overwhelming to pick out colors that really complement or scream the personality of the plant whenever I set to depict it in paintings. 
I usually start out with a realistic color portrayal, and then stray from there. It’s funny – some pieces are much easier than others. Sometimes I get the color relationships where I want them right away, and sometimes it takes hours. It doesn’t help that I tend to like unexpected color combinations. I love the filters in VSCO – I like to play with screen shots of my work on my phone. Sometimes the filters will tweak colors in interesting ways that I hadn’t considered. Placement is much easier, as I try to work within the same format every time.
Kate's ceramic vessels play host to enthusiastic, unrestrained bursts of floral arrangements.
Kate’s ceramic vessels play host to enthusiastic, unrestrained bursts of floral arrangements.
You enjoy collecting antique Asian ceramics. I detect a similarity between the floral motifs on these ceramics and those of your work – sometimes the juxtaposition of colors recall Asian pairings rather than Western ones. They seem lurid in the mind but they always turn out beautiful and contemporary. The Austrian-born Swedish artist and designer Josef Frank’s work comes close in the Western world. 
I love both those comparisons, thank you so much! I work often in ink, so I look at a lot of Asian porcelain, which often has a very similar line quality. I also find that the flowers and foliage depicted are often of actual plant species, rather than imagined ones. As I get to know different plants through both horticulture and drawing, I feel that I’m connecting to a long history of botanical surface design. I enjoy recognizing the plants others have drawn as well – peonies, dogwood, bamboo, chrysanthemums & bonsai – especially on antique pieces.
Josef Frank’s surface design has a similar feeling of flatness and layering, partially because we both use similar production methods. I love love love his overgrown and colorful aesthetic.
Lately I’ve been digging 60s and 70s illustration and surface design – the psychedelic color relationships remind me of golden hour in the garden.
The Swedish-Austrian designer Josef Frank's graphic botanical prints have a lot in common with Kate's work, and it isn't surprising to discover how she enjoys their playful feel.
The Swedish-Austrian designer Josef Frank’s graphic botanical prints have a lot in common with Kate’s work, and it isn’t surprising to discover how she enjoys their playful feel.
Do you have a preferred medium or media in which you render your prints? Are graphic design programs or digital printing part of the process?
I love working in ink – that’s how much of my work starts. It can be loose and heavy, or light and scratchy. I build up parts of each plant in layers of ink on tissue paper. Then I scan each layer, and colorize them in Adobe Illustrator. It’s instant gratification, but also keeps my work hands-on for much of the process.
Bright colors always tickle Kate's aesthetic senses - her photograph of these red chairs against the green foliage of cosmos reflects that preference.
Bright colors always tickle Kate’s aesthetic senses – her photograph of these red chairs against the green foliage of cosmos reflects that preference.
Retro prints are enjoying a revival as people crave bright colors as an antidote to our modern, monochromatic styles. Have any of your prints been reproduced for wallpapers and home decor? 
I’ve sold work for home decor, and would love to produce a line of wallpaper. That’s my dream! If I could have wild prints everywhere I would.
Unexpected sights, such as swags of red roses gracing the front facade of this modest house, always inspire Kate to pause and take photographs.
Unexpected sights, such as swags of red roses gracing the front facade of this modest house, always inspire Kate to pause and take photographs.
No plant seems to escape your attention – orchids, succulents, euphorias, and even temperate woody plants have been immortalized in your bold and colorful patterns. Where are you likely to seek plants for floral and botanical inspiration? 
I help with social media for the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon, so when I get a chance, there are many fabulous open gardens throughout much of the year here in Portland. I also take tons of pictures everywhere I go. I often pull off the road when driving to take pictures of plants!
Irises are a favorite of Kate who favors their brilliant colors and sword-like leaves.; here a few iris flowers really steal the scene here.
Irises are a favorite of Kate who favors their brilliant colors and sword-like leaves.; here a few iris flowers really steal the scene here.
Portland has a vibrant horticultural community that benefits from its ideal climate for plants. What are some of your favorite gardens and nurseries to visit in Portland? 
I love to visit Joy Creek Nursery in Scappoose and Cistus Nursury on Sauvie Island. On a sunny day, that beautiful drive (plus free chocolate chip cookies at Joy Creek) is my favorite day trip. This year I went two weekends in a row to Schreiner’s Iris Gardens. I am now a huge huge fan of iris. I love getting to see a huge variety of the same species all together like that. I also love the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden and Pacific Bonsai Museum outside Seattle. So good.
Any advice you wish to impart to those seeking to blend their artistic ambitions with plants and the greater natural world? 
For me, making art is about seeing, observing. It is also a practice. Going out and looking at plants, working with plants, studying their structure and growth season all contribute to understanding how they might translate artistically. I favor illustration and printmaking as well as folk art when looking for inspiration (and comparison); it’s not about realism, it’s about style and mood.
An unlikely combination made possible in the maritime Pacific Northwest climate: Tetrapanax papyrifer with Cornus.
An unlikely combination made possible in the maritime Pacific Northwest climate: Tetrapanax papyrifer with Cornus.
If you do have a garden, could you say that it is an extension of your personality you confidently exhibit in your prints? I imagine a garden full of graphic architectural plants paired with softer romantic ones – such as the dogwood with Tetrapanax you posted on Instagram. 
My garden is two years old, and started as a very weedy patch of grass. Much of it is still that way (we’re gradually working on that), but it’s now much more colorful. My husband and I got married in our backyard last August, so I spent a lot of time last year creating my “wedding garden”: brugmansia, Yucca rostrata & lots of kniphofia. As Mexican as possible! I think you’re right, though, my favorite combination is my Tetrapanax and white Japanese anemone. As my friend Kate Bryant says, they’re gonna fight it out!
Your desert island plant? 
Can I lump all the poppies together as one plant? If not, I’m in love with Lewisia. #OregonNative!
We creative types never cease to have something coming along shall our interests flag. What projects do you have in the pipeline? 
My husband and I recently went to Croatia for two weeks! I saw and drew as many unusual Mediterranean plants as I can. After that, I have plans for some limited run screen printed editions and hopefully some wallpaper!
Select 6 prints and explain briefly their inspiration behind them. 
Peony & Wisteria
Peony & Wisteria: Honestly I was surprised that these bloomed together this year. Am I crazy? I was looking at vintage Uzbek Russian Trade Print Cotton fabric at the time – which is loud and bright and floral and retro: a fun eBay search when it pops up.
Itoh Peony: My Coral Charm bloomed, and it was amazing! I was playing with grass textures, and enjoyed the juxtaposition. One of my favorite design challenges is “Vintage 70s Tea Towel.”
Poppies: I often work in flat, digital color, so I’m always looking for ways to imply texture. This was another 70s Tea Towel Challenge- but maybe somewhere in the Mediterranean.
Aeonium: For a while we didn’t have a scanner, so I was taking pictures of my ink drawings with my phone, emailing them to myself, and then manipulating them in Photoshop and Illustrator. A pain in the ass, but an unintentional, happy result is the way the layers are offset. I like that hand printed, vintage feel. I studied this aeonium for a long time while drawing; it’s great meditation.
Euphorbia: This Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ was one of those plants I thought hadn’t made it – there’s a good amount of neglect in my garden – and it suddenly reappeared this spring. I love that bright center; the huge clump of it at Joy Creek is one of my favorite things in their display garden.
Peggy Anne:  I love illustrating variegated plants. It’s a way to gradually convince myself that they’ll be cool in my garden. I spotted Peggy Anne on my visit to Schreiner’s. Adelman Peony Garden is just down the road, which made for a fabulous nursery trip. Those splotchy Itoh peonies were a natural pair – I wish my yard were that adventurous!

 Thank you Kate!
~ Eric

‘Aesthetics is for…’

plinthetal. jmcgrath

Aesthetics is for the artists as ornithology is for the birds.

– Barnett Newman, American artist

“I found I could say things…”

Plinth et al. J.McGrath

“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

5-10-5 Preston Montague, artist & horticulturist

Cape Fear I know who you are but can you introduce yourself to those who might not?

I’m Preston Montague, and I describe myself as an artist who designs experiences in the landscape. Horticulture is one of the tools I use to make them happen.

For those that don’t know, can you share a bit of your background?

I developed a passion for the natural world while growing up in the foothills of Virginia and now work as an artist, educator, and landscape designer. I learned to express myself as a child through the visual arts and focused mostly on drawing the landforms, plants, and animals of the Shenandoah Valley. I was introduced to gardening in my 20’s while pursuing a degree in painting. At the time my gardening friends were interior designers, punks, and Quakers. They taught me that a gardener aught to have a sense of taste, a suspicion of convention, and an interest in social responsibility. Since those formative gardening years I’ve attained degrees in horticulture and landscape architecture, and have begun a career in landscape design. Though the latter takes up a lot of my bandwidth, I also make time to teach botanical illustration and environmental awareness. I like to think that so many of our ills and woes come from a lack of meaningful, physical contact with nature. Encouraging contact with nature, particularly through the exploration of art, design, and gardening, helps me understand myself and has turned me into a proselytizer for the outdoors. I recognize nature’s ability to moderate the dangerous gift of digital life, and I advocate for an equal investment in one’s visceral contact with the biotic world.

Landscape Design Can you recall your first gardening memory?

One of my most treasured gardening memories has to be my first designed landscape. When I was six, I had a place under a dogwood tree where I played with Star Wars figures. I transformed that little space into an alien planet by digging craters in the blood‐red soil and transplanting cedar seedlings from the surrounding forest along their edges. I often dragged the hose to the spot and filled the craters with water, making frothy lakes that somewhat resembled Yoda’s home planet. During these intergalactic episodes, snacks were inevitably dropped and left to compost as well as leaves brought in to bury characters that had died. I haven’t visited the spot in twenty years, but I’m sure there’s a handsome cedar growing there that benefited from the enrichment of soil and a child’s imagination. Perhaps Chewbacca is still there too half‐embedded in that tree.

What about the first time you were captivated by a piece of Art or a color?

I’m really bad at convention. As an approach to life it has never really worked for me. I remember being very suspicious of convention early on when I learned that boys weren’t supposed to like pink. I remember making a big deal about pink being my favorite color one time at a birthday party. I explained the many outstanding qualities of the color to the other boys, but they weren’t convinced. I’d like to think I was fighting the good fight for critical thinking, but I was probably just enjoying being contrary.

Eastern North Carolina
Eastern North Carolina

You first became a painter and then, later, turned to horticulture. In what way was this progression beneficial, how do you feel the former help shape the latter?

I was raised a painter. Though I was technically gifted, I didn’t feel like my early work said anything more than, “hey, isn’t this pretty.”  When I left school I was deeply self-conscious about that and hesitated to paint for fear of only being able to produce beautiful one-liners.  

Looking back, I realize that I was always depicting the gorgeousness of the landscape or some natural phenomena from a distance. Horticulture forced me to zoom in and understand not only the large processes of nature, but the minute ones as well.  With new insight into the machinations of nature, I felt like my work had more to add to the conversation.  Horticulture gave my artwork a much bigger vocabulary. Conversely, art training informed my landscape design and this reciprocal relationship between art and horticulture caused both to grow and bloom.   

In creating a space of your own, in what order of importance do you place the following design principles from a visual standpoint.  Color, shape, texture, space, form, scale/proportion. What is the foremost important principle to you in descending order to the least?

  1. Space
  2. Shape, form, scale/proportion
  3. Color
  4. Texture
Hanging Rock January
Hanging Rock January

When painting, what subjects catch your eye most?

Light has a funny way of creating relationships between things.  It zooms in from the sky at… well, the speed of light I suppose. The photons crash into things without any artistic sensibility and we create meaning from the interplay of forms, colors, and textures that then bounce against our retinas.  It’s extraordinary our ability as humans to abstract this phenomenon into stories and elicit a desired response.  As a visual artist, I’m most interested in light as a subject.    

When painting a landscape, what must it possess or what qualities are necessary for it to become your subject?

With any painting, landscape or otherwise, the subject(s) must inspire an emotional response in me.  Additionally, communicating that feeling must also be appropriate through painting. If painting is the wrong language, I just take a photograph or log the experience in my journal. 

Yaupon BlueJay   &     Carnivorous Sundew
Yaupon BlueJay & Carnivorous Sundew

You have an incredible talent for botanical Illustration and I love looking at the work you create.  What is the Old North Alphabet and what prompted you to create this series?

Thank you, James.  The Old North Alphabet  is a series of 26 botanical illustrations featuring plants historically native to North Carolina that have traditionally been used for food or medicine (view here).  Loosely shaped into the first letter of their common name, each plant exhibits its seasonality as well as associated animals and insects.  I draw the plants from life, usually scouting them out with friends first and then camping by them for a weekend.  Spending that sort of time with a plant in the wild yields surprise encounters with wildlife that often find their way into the illustrations.  

The Old North Alphabet is part of a larger initiative designed to foster environmental awareness and natural science literacy through art and storytelling.  The project emerged out of a budding interest in ethnobotany, which is the study of relationships between humans and plants.  As an aspiring landscape architect primarily interested in how plants shape places and experiences, ethnobotany (particularly the folklore of plants) provides me some insight into how plants have historically impacted our imaginations.  Evoking the imagination is my primary goal in landscape design, and is a priority largely inspired by my background as an artist.

Capturing Buckwheat on paper

Drawing and painting in plein air come with its own set of variables, so when you find a particular plant that you do want to sit and sketch, do you have a process, routine or formula that that you have found over time works best for you? Certain materials that you prefer to work with?

Many of the plants I draw require stable, mature environments to thrive in and simply aren’t found in the urban and suburban places I choose to live.  Because of this circumstance, I usually have to travel long distances and into rather tough terrain to find specimens.  Hiking into these environments and setting up a studio can be very challenging, so I choose colored pencils as a medium because of their portability and resistance to rain and humidity.  

Before I embark on my journey I do loads of research on the plant as well as some preliminary sketches from photographs to become familiar with the plant’s structure and habits.  Rarely do I find a specimen exhibiting a range of seasonal characteristics, so I try and catch them at some sort of peak (flowering, fall color, etc.) and work the composition around that moment.   Drawing the specimen en plein air can be like a performance.  You have to be in the “now” and ready to react to all sorts of surprises as nature rarely allows for an entire day without some sort of weather-related interruption.  Often I’ll bring a stack of photographs gathered from books and the Internet to help guide my drawing.  But, I rely on the plant in situ to provide me with the story.

Long Leaf Pine, Pinus palustris

There are many images in my head in my head when you talk about these surprise encounters you have had while working on your illustrations. Can you share a favorite memorable experience you like to revisit in your mind from time to time?

When I first began the project, I envisioned it as a very strict, academic study of plant structures.  But, as I began drawing the plants from life I realized that each specimen had layers upon layers of structures that related to one another and to the environment in which they grew.  Isolating a plant from its surrounding environment soon began to feel artificial, fundamentalist, and less engaging.  So, I began considering the addition of companion plants, or even the visualization of invisible forces like wind and time.  But, as I was sitting beside a mountain stream drawing Yellowroot and considering how to relate my subjects to their surrounding environment, a chance encounter happened.  

After four hours of quiet drawing I had become essentially invisible and at one with the forest and the stream.  The clouds broke and the pounding sunlight summoned a swarm of metallic-green damselflies (Calopteryx maculata) to the scene.  With complete disregard to my presence they began to chase one another in dizzying patterns, the males stopping occasionally to slowly flap their wings in a contrived manner that resembled bicep-flexing.  At one point a damselfly alighted on my drawing, had a “gun show” moment, then turned to me as if to say, “C’mon dude, wake up.  There’s more to life than just plants.”  A few moments passed and the clouds returned, swallowing the sun and shutting down the disco that had suddenly erupted around me.  In that moment I realized that I was doing a disservice to the project’s narrative by illustrating plants in a vacuum.  The point of the project is not the subjugation of plants with an interesting stories.  Instead, this is a project about the evolving relationship between people and plants.

In regards to ethnobotany, can you share with us a plant that has interesting folklore and a surprising story to tell?

The project involves a great deal of storytelling, and one of my favorite stories is about the mysterious indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora).  Indian pipes emerge from the forest floor as translucent, scaly fingers with a characteristic bend that resembles Native American peace pipes.  Often confused with fungi, these plants are actually related to azaleas.  Indian pipes are parasitic and get their food not from sunlight as most plants do, but from the roots of Beech trees.  This strategy limits their range to that of their host, but allows them to grow in dark, understory conditions that other plants might not be able to survive.  Because they feed on surplus nutrients from the Beech, indian pipes do not need to grow branches and leaves, further separating them from their more familiar relatives.  The part of the plant you see is actually the flower, and has historically been harvested as an ointment for eye infections.  The Cherokee believed them to grow in a place where a quarrel happened and a peace pipe smoked before a resolution over the disagreement was made.  Wild, right?!  

Panthertown Garden

Gardens public or private, what inspires you?         

I am most inspired now by landscapes where man’s intervention is reduced to suggestion and whose experiences are too powerful, too complicated, and too nuanced to have been designed in CAD. Nature, take the wheel (or in this case, the mouse). My favorite garden is a 10,000‐acre granite bowl in the southern mountains of North Carolina called Panthertown Valley. The generous precipitation and temperate climate of the area makes plant life in the valley explode with the diversity of a tropical rainforest. The terrain is equally diverse, leaping from squishy lowland bogs to soaring granite cliffs in a matter of yards. Panthertown is a nature mirrorball. The diversity of Panthertown’s terrain yields a wide range of experiences, and has a rhythm between them quick enough to compete with the highstimulus circus of digital life. Because of these factors, I consider Panthertown on par with the greatest of the world’s botanical gardens. Though considered by most to be “wild,” Panthertown is a garden. It is just as planned and cultivated as any other environment in North Carolina (the world, for that matter). But, the only traces of man are the odd trail marker and footbridge. Otherwise, the garden is left to evolve on its own and exhibit the great, ever‐solving math equation I believe nature to be.

You are left alone on an island and can choose one plant and one piece of art to keep with you, what would you choose?

I’d be content to spend my time on a deserted island whistling and growing strawberries.

Botanical Illustration Class Your dream project, what would that be?

My dream project is my career: working to improve public health through art, environmental education, and landscape design.

Western North Carolina
Western North Carolina

Do you have specific sources of creative outlets do you often turn to?

I like to express myself creatively in the outdoors. The truths there seem somehow truthier, and nature’s indifference to my little version of reality gives me the freedom to just “be.” That’s a powerful state, and from “being” I find the encouragement and inspiration to risk self‐expression.

Me and Halle If you wanted your work, both your art and in horticulture, to accomplish one thing as you continue your inspiring career, what would message or goal would that be?         

Hmm… an enduring legacy, let’s see…  I’d like to say, “…help people live healthier lives through education and increased activity outdoors.” Honestly though, all my work may simply be motivated by an inner ten-year-old trying to encourage people to love nature more so they’ll come poke around the forests and creeks with me.

Leave us with a quote you admire often..

I have a running list of quotes in my journal that I could share, but perhaps the most important one to me at the moment is a popular meme making rounds on the Internet that reads, “Old ways won’t open new doors.” I’ve scrawled this on the inside of my front door recently so that I read it every time I leave the house. I haven’t heard any feedback on it from guests yet, but the UPS man said it made me look crazy. “Crazy for change,” I told him.

Links :


Old North Alphabet

Instagram: preston_montague

Thank you Preston for your time and openness during this interview, it was a pleasure to learn more about you,  your motivations and your passions. Thanks for inspiring the rest of us.. – James

‘All cities are mad’


Eulogio Varela, born in Cadiz, Spain- detail of Portada, Blanco y Negro, 1906

                    All cities are mad: but the madness is gallant. All cities are beautiful, but the city is grim.- Christopher Morley, an American novelist, journalist, essayist and poet.

5.10.5 Shira, jewellery designer

We met through a mutual friend during my time as a student at the Jerusalem Botanic Garden in Israel. Bonding instantly, we often spoke excitedly about many topics, creativity, art, plants and of course, Israel. Shortly after meeting, Shira and I discovered we shared the same birthday and she has been a talented friend and inspiration ever since.

Shira and one of her grandfathers jewelery pieces that inspired her to start creating her own designs

How was it that you came to the realization you had a passion for jewelry design?

My passion for jewellery and adornment has been present since childhood. I was making pieces from whatever materials were available, from beads to threads and used colorful electric wires.  But there was an ideal I grew up with; my maternal grandfather was a jeweler, never professionally, but that was his dream. His life was too hard to follow on it, though. You see, he was born in Poland and as an adolescent he went through the Holocaust. He moved to Israel as a young man, the country itself was very young and poor too, and he needed to get a proper job. So he became a blacksmith and as a hobby he also made some beautiful metal work, as well as some jewellery for my grandmother and mother. I, myself, never knew him, he died before I turned a year old, but I was always surrounded by things that I knew that he made. The idea then fascinated me, so I went on to study it, both to feel closer to that man I didn’t know and to understand how I can create such magical, shiny things myself.

‘A Pearl Necklace’ – a series confronting modern ideas concerning femininity and beauty

What was the progression from studying at school to arriving at Vanilla Ink Studios?

I graduated with a BFA from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem, in 2008 but five years passed and I was not doing anything jewellery-wise. My degree show was called “A pearl necklace” and it confronts modern ideas of femininity by contradicting materials and ideas of beauty. This project was very successful and was showcased in different locations worldwide.  I then moved to London for three years, and had a job at an enamel goods gallery in Mayfair. After London I was living in Israel again, a bit discouraged with life and art, so I studied another profession and got an MA in Gerontology, the study of old age.

Moving to St Andrews was another new start and while checking opportunities available in the area, I found out about Vanilla Ink (click for link) a Dundee based jewellery collective, where we get a bench at a workshop, and receive business development sessions. I was very surprised to get accepted to it as I’m one of eight girls, all the others are Scottish, but I’m sure they liked me being exotic and I saw this as my opportunity to get back into creating.

14 of the individual handmade beads from a series of ’31’, one of Shira’s most recent projects

What current project you are working on?

Being part of Vanilla Ink made me realize I love the craft of jewellery making, but the commercial side of it freaks me out completely…

So this is me trying to get back into art jewellery. It is something I’m still working on, a project called “31”, made of 31 brass beads (I’m now up to 14), each one is hand made individually to the same sort of pod shape, but each one is different in design.

This is a very personal project (I am 31), through which I am trying to grow up and embrace my age and my journeys, drawing inspiration from what I have done in my life, and sort of try and pull myself together. (Video of the bead making process at Vanilla Ink)

taking cues from her daily life surroundings, it’s easy to imagine the beautiful Cyclamen persicum foliage (the national flower of the State of Israel) were part inspiration for these freshwater pearl earrings

At the beginning of the creative process, how does it take shape for you, is it an idea, a series of ideas for a collection, or does it come from organically like seeing an object or image that sets it off?

When I start the creative process usually there is one idea that’s always in the background:  to show beauty in imperfections, because nothing is perfect, each of us and each piece should be unique. I collect visual inspiration from different places, Jerusalem, my city of birth, is completely diverse and very inspiring and I’m influenced by the shapes and colors I find in nature, flowers, leafs, seedpods are all part of it; no two are completely alike.

another strong textural piece from ‘A Pearl Necklace’ easily reflects the atmospheric landscape of the Negev Desert, Israel

With having moved a number of times in your life and experiencing different countries and cultures, has this affected your design process?   Israel is a small but very beautiful country, and I was amazed with how quickly the landscape changes there. With the Mediterranean Sea, the Jerusalem Mountains, the Negev desert and Dead Sea in your presence growing up,have any of these landscapes influenced choice of color and materials? Some designs, like those in the pearl necklace series, reminded me of the flora I had seen in the Negev desert, so do you think there is any subconscious connection to your home?

I think most artists reflect in their works the places they come from and feel most attached to. Israel is very beautiful and has a great variety of landscapes for such a small place, but it can also be quite intense and a difficult place to grow up. Jerusalem and the surrounding mountains have always been a main inspiration. Until I was 26, I never left Jerusalem for more than 3 weeks, and its views and colors are very much with me. Living in London for three years, then the Negev desert for two years, and now in Scotland, I feel I keep coming back to those beloved views of my complex home town, probably in a desperate effort to define and form my identity, which is harder when you keep moving around. I find that the different landscapes, people and culture influence me and my design process, and have added much depth to my creative (and non-creative…) thinking; but in essence I’m still trying to realize where I come from, who I really am, and what I would like to be.

It is interesting how the colors of my pearl necklace collection have reminded you of the Negev desert flora, if I meant it, I am sure it was quite unconsciously done, but I do like that idea! On this project I was working on conflicts and contradictions (which do very much connect to the place I come from), and with working with superb materials such as sterling silver, lovely pearls and raw white wool, part of the conflict needed to come from the choice of colors and materials, and I wanted to contrast them with something that will look almost dirty, something that will take away all their freshness, and that’s when brown, hairy looking materials were brought into the designs.

More of her current and colorful work, handmade earrings created by Shira in Scotland

1506405_10152258216398057_1747039475_nHas the local landscape or culture in England and Scotland influenced your way of arriving at your ideas or materials?

Since I moved to London, the British culture has been a major influence on me but while living there the only creations I made were baskets. To Scotland I arrived five years after finishing my BFA in Jewellery design, in those five years I was not having anything to do with jewellery, so I am very grateful to Scotland and to Vanilla Ink who accepted me and gave me the opportunity to get back into the world of jewellery and silversmiths. As I returned to this line of work in Scotland, I really think it has influenced my ideas and choices I make; a lot of it comes from comparisons to different places I have lived. Here is the first time in my life that I live right by the sea, so it is bound to have some kind of influence on me in the long term.

a woman of contrasts- favorite gardens include Great Dixter in winter and wild but well-tended Jerusalem gardens

Is there a favorite garden, public or private, that you know you will walk away from feeling inspired?

My parents’ garden in Jerusalem, is a pretty little wilderness, with different trees and plants, amazing for such a small garden, but it has everything – from the most fragrant climbing Jasmine, a lovely vine with sweet green grapes, a fig, a cherry and a lemon tree, a great rose with massive white flowers. In springtime, tulips, freesias, narcissus, loads of cyclamens and much more. My family moved to that house just before I was born, and I grew alongside that garden.

The Jerusalem botanical garden is also a lovely gem, with beautiful native plats alongside more exotic ones. In the spring there is an extraordinary display of anemones that will make your heart leap with joy.

But my ultimate public garden simply has to be Great Dixter, since no other place can ever be as beautiful to me as Dixter, which is magical in each and every season. It is very easy to love in the spring when the magnificent tulips are everywhere and everything looks so charming, during summer with the long border just so full of colors and excitement, and autumn with the dahlias and that fantastic mulberry tree they have there. It is in winter when it’s at its most magical, when you can really see how the garden is built and all the trees are just beautiful skeletons.

The Poppy Field near Argenteuil, 1873, painted by Claude Monet

If you were to be left alone on an island and could have only take one plant and piece of art with you, what would you choose?

It depends; do I need them for survival? I will assume it’s a no and choose pelargonium, as it can sometimes blossom all year long, has bright colors and reminds me of Jerusalem. A work of art is so hard to choose, as I’m not even sure about which medium I would like it to be. I guess it should be a painting, an impressionist work surely, possibly one of Degas ballet dancers or maybe Monet’s poppies field, with the mother and child walking down the hill? They always cheer me up and reaffirm my will to live, but it’s difficult to choose

proving that her creative skills extend beyond jewelery design, Shira hands make good baskets- handmade pieces include twined jute and jute coiled on sisal

When not working with jewellery, do you have other creative outlets do you turn to?

I weave baskets, twining and coiling them from soft materials, and find it to be very relaxing. I like photography too, always have, recently joining instagram, which brought back this old love of mine. I enjoy painting, colored pencils and acrylics, sewing, loads of stuff apparently. If I really need a creative outlet and none of the above are available – then I usually bake a banana-chocolate cake…


Thank you Shira for a view into your creative skills and thoughts.  If you would like to see more work or contact Shira here is where she can be found:

Derek Jarman: Gartdener

Derek Jarman

         Film director, stage designer, author, gay rights activist, artist and gardener, Derek Jarman, was a man of many hats. Born in London, 1942 , Jarman was interested in art, poetry and stories,  he went on to study at King’s College, Slade School of Fine Art and the University College London. He directed music videos for bands such as The Sex Pistols, Pet Shop Boys, and The Smiths, while also shooting short and feature films.  While establishing himself as a film director, Derek Jarman, gave his longtime muse and collaborator, Tilda Swinton, her first role in his film Caravaggio (1986).  This is the same year that Derek Jarman was diagnosed as H.I.V. positive, with his illness causing him to leave London and move to Prospect Cottage, a converted fishing hut on the coast of Kent in Dungeness.  His paintings sometimes focused on linear compositions and geometric forms within a limited color palette, using only three colors at times (here). Later in his life, his paintings became more dark with heavy color,  paint covered the canvas in a less controlled manner and words  were scratched into or painted on, words that usually expressed his thoughts and emotions about him being ill. His illness later caused him to go blind, but it did not deter him from continuing to create more work, making a film called Blue, (click to listen while you read), consisting of a blue screen background with a soundtrack overlaying voices, sound effects, and music.

          Prospect Cottage is located in the  atmospheric surroundings of Dungeness , situated on the coast of Kent, and lays claim to having the largest expanse of shingle in the world.  It is not a place for the faint- hearted, and I am sure this is why he loved it, as it is a place for solitude, with not much around  except a few fishing huts, the continuous whistling of the wind, the ever present sea spray and the constant humming of the nearby nuclear power plant.

great dixter 1407               The  wooden cottage is a dark timber frame made slightly more enticing by the color yellow painted on windows and door frames. Seen clearly from the road, it arises like a desert mirage,  easily standing out against its stark surroundings, with much help from the candy colored garden.  The garden, limited by choices of what he was able to  grow here, uses a cast of plants content with sharp drainage and that respond well to the warmth of the stones when basking in warm  sun.  He echoes the simple color palettes of some of his earlier paintings .  The front garden is very formal and symmetrical, which lines up with the house,  and makes order of an environment that could easily be disproportionate to the vast and open surrounding landscape.  Symmetry plays a very important role in some of his works in film and this trick is seen crossing over here into the design of his garden layout.

                                              Liking the magic of surprise, he paid homage to his admiration for poetry on one side of the cottage where raised letters  bear the first stanza and the last five lines  of John Donne’s poem The Sun Rising , a love poem to the sun in which the sun is reprimanded by the poet.

The Sun Rising

Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
In that the world’s contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere ;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere

John Donne

English poet and satirist

Jarman tirelessly carried found objects and flotsam from the beach and shingle dunes back to his garden, creating another layer of character in an already other worldly environment. By installing these wooden pieces upright, we see a continued correlation to his earlier paintings, in which the canvas is pierced with vertical lines painted against the horizon. This correlation is seen in the link provided earlier of his paintings (here – see Avebury Series No. 4,  Avebury Series II (1973),  Landscape, and Landscape II).  The date of completion on some of these paintings predates the design of the garden at Prospect Cottage, and though these wooden pieces are found objects that he did not create, the compositions  created in both the  paintings and garden are very similar.

      Helping to create a natural sense of divide from the garden to the landscape beyond is the yellow blooming shrub, Ulex europea, which only slightly keeps the ominous Dungeness nuclear power plant at bay. Other shrubs played a role here, specifically Santolina, Helichrysum and Ruta graveolens, all silver leafed plants that have adopted a windswept look.

            Just off in the distance, like the great land of Oz, is the Dungeness nuclear power plant. Sometimes barely visible through the fog, it reminds you of its presence with a constant humming noise.

Creating a slightly disconcerting soundtrack, the power plant, mixed with the wind and the taste of the salty air, the experience gets into your bones and gives you chills.

                                         Skeletons of old fisherman boats seemingly buoyant litter the surrounding shingle, stirring up memories of the past, causing you to wonder if there used to be more life and activity in this area at some point.  The pink blooms of Centranthus ruber and Crambe maritima, which is found  in Dungeness more than anywhere else in the world, help soften the cold harsh landscape.

        After encircling the whole of the cottage, you see the front garden again, with  Eschscholzia californica creating a carpet of blooms, reseeding enough here that it is almost considered a weed. Derek Jarman, clearly enjoying his new medium,  saw his garden as a form of therapy, even asking to leave the hospital at times when he was very sick so he could visit his garden at Prospect Cottage.  In February of 1994, Derek Jarman passed away in London due to complications of his illness.

 “Paradise haunts garden, and some gardens are paradise. Mine is one of them….”- Derek Jarman, 1942-1994