January 13th, 2017

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January 13th, 2017

Hello and welcome back! Do you like my animated gif? I made it in about ten minutes, sitting up in bed holding my sketchbook on my lap and my phone in my hand, using the iMotion app. Animating has never been rougher! Don’t look at it for too long, it will make you ill.
This year the Small Batch List will be shorter (but sweeter!). Due to the powers that be (Mailchimp – who are marvellous but have to be practical) my hard work was being ruthlessly cut and sliced and dropped out in various mail programs as it was too long, so instead I will be making sure that everything arrives safely in everyone’s inboxes. This is also the perfect excuse for me to keep it brief and a whole easier to put together, as my work-life was becoming all about the newsletter, and I have some drawing to do this year. Hopefully this shorter-sweeter-briefer-tastier version will be easier to digest too, and a little less sprawling and overwhelming for you.

So without further ado, here is some stuff for this week:


When deliberating who might be my top 10 visual artists of all time, Yoshimoto Nara would have to be up there. Emerging in the 1990s during the Japanese neo-pop movement, Nara paints distinctive big-eyed children with clear lines and clear colours. This may sound sweet, but there is an edginess to his subjects. Blank-faced or seething, guitar-swinging, cigarette-smoking or wistfully staring right back at you whilst brandishing a knife. I love his sense of humour and whimsy. His Instagram is always the first thing I check – and lately I have been loving the ceramics he has been producing with help from the admirable Otani Workshop.



1) Watching: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (above). Watch immediately. A totally charming and offbeat story of a kid raised in foster care, who is sent to live with a quirky older couple in the New Zealand mountains. There is so much love and humour in this story… part buddy-movie, part action-adventure, part poignant, heart-breaking story of a kid who nobody wants. It’s a great family movie (for those over 12). On Netflix.

2) Reading: I’m reading Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe, which Pip Lincolne recommended in the Small Batch List a month or so ago. In the vein of Barbara Trapido or Maria Semple (creators of other wonderfully eccentric families), this is great fun.

3) Looking: AnonyMouse – this wee, tiny pop-up store makes me love people. (via Messy Nessy)

4) Watching (obsessively): My new favourite tv show is Mozart in the Jungle. It follows the trials and travails of a fictional version of the New York Symphony Orchestra.

Gael García Bernal (above right) leads this ensemble cast (and the orchestra) with a completely irresistible performance (or is that just me?). Granted, it’s patchy and in some places downright sentimental and cheesy but the characters are so good, and stories about driven, crazy, creative people are hard to resist. Streaming on Amazon Prime.

5) Drawing: Neocolor II Watersoluble crayons – my Christmas present. Waxy, lovely crayons that produce deep, vivid colours and a nice thick coverage. Plus! Just add water, and presto… watery!

6) Reading: My dear friend and confidant Carrie Cogan has a new blog and it’s really great: Dented Stars. I love her writing so much and at this point I will have to stop calling her my Editor-at-Large as she is really just off doing something so brilliant without me! Yeah, Carrie!

7) Video-ing: Inspired by Heather Champ’s 2016 via 1 Second EverydayI have downloaded the 1 Second Everyday app and have started my own video visual diary compilation. It’s not too late to start.

8) Cooking: This cake with this frosting. After decades of trying and failing at making my Mum’s chocolate cake, I decided this last weekend to give up completely and try something new. I did my usual trick and googled “Best chocolate cake recipe in the world ever” and came up with this. Success rate 100%, and seemingly idiot-proof, as I picked up my tablespoon measure rather than the teaspoon, therefore adding a huge amount of bicarb, baking powder and salt (though I did say to myself “gee that looks like a lot of salt” and halved the amount, fortunately!).

9) Listening: I have just put on Open from San Fermin, a new track from a forthcoming album. I have never heard of this indie rock outfit led by classically trained songwriter and composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone — and now I am off to explore more, starting with their last album, Jack Rabbit. Thank you Laura for highlighting this in your A Song A Day newsletter this week. Laura will be my guest in the newsletter next week!

10) Sleeping: Better…. yes. But, regardless, I found this Brainpickings post from this last Tuesday interesting. Sleep Demons: Bill Hayes on REM, the Poetics of Yawns, and Maurice Sendak’s Antidote to Insomnia.

Friday Five Favourites – guest-starring Alex T. Smith

Author, Illustrator and owner of many small dogs (and a brand new house!)
Most often found at alextsmith.com, Twitter and Instagram

Alex is the talented force behind the Claude books which, excitingly, will be coming to TV next year. I’m so stoked he agreed to give us his five favourite things.

I’m so excited to have been asked by Claire to be a part of her newsletter. I’m such a big fan of Claire’s work and have been a keen follower of her blog for years. This is a real thrill, even though narrowing my favourite things down to just five was really tricky!

1. LORE Podcast.
I found LORE when I was looking for new things to listen to while I’m head-down at my drawing desk, and what an excellent discovery they are. Brilliantly written and produced by writer/presenter Aaron Mahnke. Each episode (released weekly) delves into a strange and mysterious non-fiction series from around the world, and touches on folklore, history and the darker side of human nature. It’s fascinating and a touch on the scary side, and Aaron’s delivery is pitched perfectly. The show has been described as a “campfire experience” which I agree with. It’s like listening to a friend telling a ghost story on a dark and stormy night.

(Excitingly, Lore is making the move to TV in the new year! It’s been picked up for a 10 episode run and is being made with the producer of The Walking Dead and the show runner is the X-Files writer/ producer Glen Morgan. I can’t wait!)

2. My Vintage Norwegian cardigan.
I picked up this handknitted cardigan from a vintage shop when I lived in the north of England a few years back. It was constantly FREEZING ( one winter it snowed so much my chihuahuas completely disappeared when they went out into the garden!) and my then studio was like an icebox. This jumper was a life-saver – so warm and cosy, and I love the fair-isle style pattern. I do have a bit of a thing for vintage/ patterned knitwear, but this is still my absolute favourite.

3. The Swing by Jean-Honore Fragonard.
After a lot of thinking about it, I’ve decided that yes, this my favourite ever painting. I’ve always been fascinated by it and can remember spending ages pouring over it in an art book I had when I was younger. It’s got a really interesting story behind it (bit saucy too!), but besides all that, it’s just a really lovely, narrative painting to look at. I love the pink dress against the greens in the background, the beautiful outfit she’s wearing and the frivolity of both the swing itself (so fancy with its crimson velvet cushion!) and her shoe flying off and through the air (is it going to clock that man in the face?!)
In recent years, the painting has popped up in some lovely and unexpected places. It inspired the look and stylings for Disney’s TANGLED and a copy of the painting pops up in the background of FROZEN.

4. My leopard print Vans and my bright pink socks.
I took this picture of my shoes the other day and the combination of the colours and pattern makes me really happy and cheers me up on grey days! What’s not to love about a spotty shoe and a fiery pink sock?! I love the combination so much I’m about to give an old chest of drawers in my house a much-needed, neon-pink make-over and am on the hunt for something suitably leopard print-y to perch on the top. If all else fails I might just pop these battered old shoes on display…!

5. Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
This is hands down my favourite book I’ve read all year. I read it in the spring, but still find my mind drifting back to both the story and the characters. Set in WW2, it follows the odd couple story of two strangers thrown together during the war.  One is ten year old Noel. He’s an odd little chap who has no family and has, until recently, been living with an elderly, wonderfully eccentric aunt. When he is forced to be evacuated out of London, he ends up living with Vera (Vee) Sedge, a thirty-something single mother who is drowning in debts and is constantly looking for ways to scam money she desperately needs. She’s completely useless at it on her own, but when Noel becomes involved, they become a team. However, unexploded bombs aren’t the only dangerous things in wartime Britain, and soon Noel and See find themselves in danger.
It’s a brilliant, eccentric, funny and moving book. Excellently written with a Mitford-esque style and full of wonderful characters and details. A real gem!

See you next week!

Claire Robertson,
The Small Batch List
Person with a keyboard

p.s. 100 points for guessing the quote in the subject line! The last time it was Rolf Harris’s Six White Boomers.

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