The Little Beach Hut of Dreams

I’m really excited, because tomorrow I get to spend the day at The Little Beach Hut of Dreams

The beach hut, on Hove seafront, was set up by Beth Kempton, who runs the Do What You Love website, which has courses and resources to help you find ways to follow your dreams, whatever they may be. It’s all pretty close to my heart, as three years ago I packed in my proper job and moved away from London to go freelance and follow my own dream of working in a more creative field. I started off by doing an MA in Surface Pattern, going into it with a pretty open mind about where it would take me – I didn’t know what I was aiming for, but knew it would be fun to find out. I’ve now found myself working as an artist, using pattern in lots of different forms, places and contexts. It turned out to be absolutely the right choice for me and I wish I’d been able to be a bit braver about changing the course my life was taking earlier on. 

Do What You Love also have links to the surface pattern world, collaborating with Rachael Taylor on The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design courses and the lovely MOYO magazine

So when I saw the opportunity to apply to be a Dreamer in Residence at the beach hut, it all seemed to make sense. I lived in Brighton or nearby for a lot of my life, so my visits here now are always a hectic whirlwind of seeing friends and family. The idea of spending a quiet day in a beach hut, looking out to sea and totally indulging myself sounds like absolute bliss. 

Part of the reason I wanted to apply was that I haven’t given myself time to stop and think about how much life has changed in the last few years. Juggling freelance work, an MA, building a life somewhere new and now navigating my way through my first few residencies and commissions hasn't left much time for quiet reflection, and that’s what I’m planning to do tomorrow. I’ve got a few little activities planned, as I seem to think better when I’m occupied, but I’m going into it with an open mind and will do whatever takes my fancy. I’m going to shut out the rest of the world by turning off my phone (eek!) but I’ll let you know how I’ve got on in a few days’ time… 

(Photos by Holly Booth)

In Certain Places: Day 11

I've been busy installing my work today - there are vinyl patterns on windows, walls, mirrors, doors and other little corners I've found. I've also handprinted some wallpaper and fabric, and made a new lampshade for under the stairs. Here are a few photos of some of the vinyl pieces, with lots more to follow when everything's set up (and I've got more used to the challenge of photographing white-on-white designs)... 

In Certain Places: Day 7

Halfway through my Project at In Certain Places, I’ve just got to a point where my ideas have slotted into place (phew!). I suddenly went from this: 

to this in the space of an hour:

Most of last week was spent on research – it’s a bit of a different starting point for me, as I’m not working with existing visual detail but thinking more about the history of the house I’m working in. 

I’ve always found history much easier to understand if I think about the human side of it – people’s stories and lives – so I started researching the family who lived in the house around when it was first built (mid 19th century ish). I’ve also been reading about the development of the area and of Preston itself over that time. 

Preston’s population increased dramatically with the industrial revolution and development of the cotton mills in the town – from 17,000 in 1811 to 117,000 in 1911. Houses like 38 St Peter’s Street were built to house the many mill workers, dressmakers, shoemakers, servants and labourers who worked there, but conditions were cramped and dirty, with the constant danger of cholera and typhus. Preston had the highest rate of infant mortality in England at the turn of the 20th century, and according to the census records, the Aspinwall family who lived in the house lost at least two children under the age of five. Two of their sons did survive though and grew up to be iron fitters/joiners. 

While this was happening, the Arts and Crafts movement was seeking to reject the mass production brought about by the industrial revolution, in part in reaction to the grim and dangerous working and living conditions that it brought. While the work of artists such as William Morris would not have been found in 38 St Peter’s Street at the time, I’m interested in the way that the Aspinwalls’ lives embodied what the movement was fighting against. 

While there are a lot of ideas here that I’d love to investigate further, I’ve only got a week, so at this stage I need to concentrate on producing work to show on Friday and save up all those other thoughts for a future project. 

My plan is to bring some of the sorts of patterns that were produced by the artists of the Arts and Crafts movement to 38 St Peter’s Street, but to make sure it’s in keeping with the white paint and somewhat institutional feel, I’m going to produce all my designs in white. They’ll be visible, but will take a bit of effort to find. 

As a pattern designer, trying to emulate any kind of William-Morris-style designs feels a bit ridiculous – they are so well crafted that anything else is going to be a poor imitation – but because of that it’s also a bit of a treat to indulge in working with some of his pattern-related rules and see what I come up with. The ‘energy of nature’ was key to Morris’s pattern designs, so I started off by doing some quick sketches of the houseplants that were part of Steph Fletcher’s In Certain Places work and producing some repeating patterns the ‘old-fashioned’ way by cutting and sticking (Photoshop and Illustrator do this at the click of a button).

I’ve included a few snaps below, but will leave it at that for now, with more photos to follow this week as the actual making starts to happen. 

In Certain Places: Day 1

For the next two weeks I’m doing a residency at In Certain Places in Preston. In Certain Places have led a programme of artistic interventions and events in the city for the last 12 years, producing an impressive range of projects that explore, question and test the boundaries of art, culture and urban development. 

They’re based in a two-up, two-down townhouse in the centre of Preston, and that’s where I’m working for the next few weeks. The space is an odd mixture of domestic turned institution, with lots of white paint, boxed-in features, a huge amount of plug points and hardwearing, un-cosy carpet throughout. But there are still signs that it used to be a home, and that’s what I plan to work with. I want to bring some character and domesticity back to the house, with a series of interventions dispersed throughout the rooms. I’d like viewers to stumble across different pieces of work as they nose around, and to have the sense that they’ve discovered something special or forgotten.  

The work that I produce, along with work by Claire Tindale, Steph Fletcher and Cherry Tenneson, will shown at In Certain Places as part of the launch of the Hannah Directory and the UCLan degree show on Friday 12 June at 5pm. The exhibition will also be open the following week.  

I’ll update this blog with notes about my progress as I go along, but in the meantime, here are my initial photos taken to help me get to know the space...