The Usher Gallery in Lincoln is currently hosting this engrossing exhibition of sketchbooks. Worth a visit if, like me, you love the voyeurism of rummaging through someone else’s creative process, just make sure you have plenty of time to spare.



The recent need to work from home due to extreme weather shutting down the UK transport system has prompted me to consider my workspace. I have the enviable position of being able to do my job almost entirely from home – through remote access, email and telephone – under these circumstances, but does a change in surroundings change the way I work and what I produce?

Objectively good places to work rarely end up being so; in their faultlessness, quiet and well-equipped studies have a habit of rendering the fear of failure overwhelming.

Alain de Botton (The Ideal Live/Work Space According to Alain de Botton on Unplggd)

Apart from the obvious distractions of home working – pets, family, the ability to chain-drink tea, I can see obvious benefits and pitfalls, some of which are one and the same. If you usually work in a studio with other people, sitting at the same desk and looking at the same wall, I think a change of scenery can bring a refreshing change in perspective. It can allow you to think differently, access a different range of resources and inspiration. It can afford you a more relaxed working environment, which is not always beneficial, but can be if you are disciplined enough. I tend to move my workspace around the house depending on the task in hand: drawing, and checking proofs at the dining table where I have space for my drawing board, or to spread out sheets of paper; web building on the sofa where I can have my laptop on my knee and feel comfortable, warm and relaxed for the inevitably long time I will be sitting working; studio with desk for drawing on the mac, photo editing, etc. where I need to use a mouse or pen and tablet.

So that’s how I work, but I’m also fascinated by other people’s workspaces – what they gather around themselves to inspire and motivate. There’s this great thread on Behance where people are posting photos of their workspaces – mostly computer stations, but there are some artist and illustrator’s studio spaces too. The Guardian also did a series which ended a couple of years ago called writer’s rooms which featured writers in their workspaces along with an article about their working practices which made fascinating reading.

If you have a photo of your workspace on flickr, tumblr, facebook, whatever, please feel free to post a link in the comments section, or email me and I’ll do a post of some of them later in the week.

Can reading make you happy?

Can reading make you happy?

This article on the BBC news site today makes some interesting points about access to wisdom and the value of libraries as free repositories of knowledge. I am certainly of the belief that reading is important. But can it make us happy? It is like the point Alain de Botton makes in his book, The Architecture of Happiness, does architecture make you happy or does the happy person just appreciate beauty more?

I have read books as if my life depended on it since I was a child. I can see that there is a fine balance between experiencing the word outside and learning about the world within, but I cannot undervalue the importance of being exposed to new ideas. A lecturer said to me once, when I was back at University, that there were three types of people: those who talk about each other, those who talk about things and those who talk about ideas. I strive to be the third type of person (although, as a designer, the ‘thing’ requires discussion as well as the ideas behind it) and I cannot help but judge a book by its cover – there are people who spend their lives engaged in the kind of design that relies on you doing just that. But the real, honest to goodness, joy of books – for me – is that they are a direct access to someone else’s world. To their way of seeing things, describing things, and of solving problems. And that ability to understand other people’s worlds, and to communicate directly to them in the appropriate way, is what makes me a good designer. I couldn’t do that without books – talking to people is important too, but it is knowledge, language and imagination, all of which is fed by reading, that makes me good at what I do.

Reading makes us rich in the things that really matter.


In attempt to convince myself I have done housework, I have rearranged some of my books – in fairness this involved a bit of dusting, so it isn’t so much of leap. I have always strugled with how to group the books I have. I have six bookcases in three rooms and I have to keep books togther which make the most sense to be grouped together. I used to keep them alphabetically by author for fiction, and otherwise by bookshop category (ie. history, philosopy, travel, cookery, gardening, etc.) The a-z for fiction doesn’t work. It means that books are not grouped by size (which looks untidy) and that if you get a new book, or decide to get rid of some, you have to shuffle the whole lot along to make or lose space. It’s inefficient. So I have decided that by bookshop category, then grouped together by author (all books by the same author together) is the way forward. This means I can have books by my favourite authors in more prominant positions, it also means I can group according to size a lot of the time. This makes me happy. Today I have created a new shelf/new group of books spanning philosophy, popular science, critical theory, biography, history and travel. This is my ‘modern life survival kit’ shelf.

Books I’ve bought/books I’ve read

Very much like Nick Hornby’s column in Believer magazine, I am going to record the titles of those books I have bought, and those I have read, along with comment, review and potentially, justification for these.

Go slow England – Alistair Sawday
The moneyless man – Mark Boyle
Free – Katherine Hibbert
The age of absurdity – Michael Foley
AA 50 walks in the Peak District
The pleasures and sorrows of work – Alain de Botton

The Age of Absurdity – Michael Foley

There’s a prevailing theme influencing my book purchases at the moment – it is a dissatisfaction with modern life, with hearing people talk about shopping and Eastenders all the time, with working hard all week, only to be too busy, or too tired to enjoy my free time. I am reading about contemporary thinking on modern society and its obsession with luxury, celebrity and entitlement. There have been some interesting television programmes recently tackling these issues, as well as long-running newspaper columns. I am not looking in these books for an answer, I am looking for inspiration and, I suppose, comradery. I am looking for the voices of people who agree with me, who share my concerns and ideas.

The walking book is for places to visit to escape the relentless consumerism, the slow England book is to plan my next getaway.