26 June 2014

“I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America…”

…said the indomitable actress Sarah Bernhardt, and you kinda have to agree: the city is really buzzy; or as Frank sang it: “Bet your bottom dollar you lose the blues in Chicago”. So after this year’s Annie Sloan Stockist conference in New Orleans I just had to stop off in one of my favourite places. I’ve visited Chicago a few times before, but I’ve never had the time to take it in, or take my husband David with me (seen here snapping the ‘bean’ – more on that below). 

Blueprint for modernism
We stayed at The Langham, a fabulous hotel tucked into the ultimate statement in modernist architecture – the IBM building. And that’s saying something because Chicago is the city of architecture for me. The minimalist steel-and-glass tower (the dark one next to the Trump Tower above right) was designed by Mies van de Rohe, a tour de force of modernism. The building (and Mies himself) just oozes corporate power with its structure, shape and composition. At art school I studied him and the Bauhaus experimental art and design movement of 1930s Germany where he was director. The Nazis forced its closure and Mies came to the USA. He was an unreformed character who liked to puff big cigars and said stuff like “A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous.” Mies own ‘Barcelona’ chair (below) is a pretty cult object too.

Since college I’ve continued to be immensely interested in the Bauhaus (see my post on Klee) and the later modernist movement – especially because of the gap between people’s perception on the lines of “oh those modern buildings are so ghastly,” and then they see them in the flesh and you hear “oh my aren’t they amazing?” You can’t fail to be impressed by those gleaming high-rises along Lake Shore and dotted around the city.

It’s certainly not painterly, it’s not New Orleans, nor Charleston House (UK) – and there’s little or no colour involved, but it still has an extraordinary exuberance and depth and boldness, which I admire. It’s actually all about form and structure and of course there are other styles to see too, such as postmodernism with its filigree and Chippendale flourishes and the flying buttresses of the early steeple style skyscrapers.

Every building here seems to beckon in some shape or form, or provides a neutral frame or backdrop for another building to emerge or stand out. It’s like having a little bit of one of my neutral colours like Paris Grey next to a bright primary such as Emperor’s Silk!

Ultimate Art House

Chicago also houses one of the most amazing art galleries in the world – the Art Institute of Chicago, in which you could spends literally days there are so many wonderful paintings and furniture pieces. I really like the Post-Impressionist collection here and Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1891) in particular. The painting shows people relaxing in a suburban park on an island in the Seine River. 

The scene is stylised, formal, with echoes of Ancient Greece but what really gets me is his mastery of pointillism to capture the qualities of light and harmonies of colour. Stand back and the black looks black from afar, but when you come in close you find it is in fact a mix of orange and blue. That’s pretty much impressionist colour theory and what I base my colours and colour mixing on.

Seurat also re-stretched the canvas so he could add a painted border of red, orange, and blue dots to act as a visual link between the interior of the painting and his specially designed white frame.

Bean around

Outside not far away in Millennium Park we strolled over to walk around and under the most exciting sculpture by English artist Anish Kapoor. It’s called Cloud Gate but most people know it as the ‘bean’ for its obvious shape (also a bit like a globule of liquid mercury apparently). 
It’s fun to see this gleaming stainless steel sculpture mirroring Chicago’s famous skyline and the clouds above as well as the observer! 
Right next to it is a Frank Gehry piece of architecture and again that’s what makes Chicago my kinda town.

Someone suggested to me that Chicago is a sort of a cleaner, more spacious, less frenetic version of New York and I reckon that’s a very apt description.

Yours, Annie

PS. Thought you might like this ‘Skyscraper Cabinet’ I snapped at the Art Institute (by Paul Frankl c.1927).

15 June 2014

Practical Style

I’ve got exciting news to share with you all today. I am joining Fresh Style magazine as a Contributing Editor – starting with their current issue!

My regular column is called ‘Practical Style’. This was the name of my first shop in Oxford and represents the essence of what I stand for – not just here on my blog, but also in my books and in my line of products.

In each issue of the magazine, I’ll share with you an exclusive project that you can recreate at home using simple-to-follow instructions and tips. I’ll also give you an insight into how I work and where I find my inspiration. My hope is that these practical projects will give you all the tools you need to find your own creative expression and style.

For my first column, I guide you through the approach and method that I took to create a table inspired by America’s abstract expressionist movement. I’ve called the piece my ‘Jackson Pollock table’ as the techniques I used and resulting effect remind me of the artist’s iconic abstract paintings. Although this project might look complicated at first, it really is very easy to achieve with a little help from my decorative paint, Chalk Paint®, and clear Soft Wax.


Here’s a sneak peak of the project and what you’ll find inside the issue:

Fresh Style magazine is available on newsstands across the USA, as well as via participating Annie Sloan Stockists around the world.

Fresh Style have also created a subscription offer, to find out more follow this link: http://bit.ly/1io0hnj

Yours, Annie

6 June 2014

Bookmark (2) – Traditional Paints and Finishes


… After completing the groundbreaking (and back-breaking) 'Complete Book of Decorative Paint Techniques' [Bookmarks (1) February 2014],  my publishers in the early 1990s were after the next bestseller, so with Kate Gwynn again designing, I wrote 'Traditional Paints and Finishes' (US title 'Classic Paints and Faux Finishes'.) 

This was a the history and sourcebook of all the different sorts of artisan paints, pigments and colours – a lot about making paint, and less on techniques. Check out the back cover contents below which features shots from my step-by-step stencilling and distressing a cabinet!

If I was to pick out a feature I was particular pleased with, it would be the plaster finishes – and I did lots of them. 

Creating the props and effects for this book was a huge task, literally. This was in the days before Photoshop so we made these huge boxes with plaster in them and then I painted them and we shot them. The pic below also show my early infatuation with sgraffito which I’ve also recently blogged about.

There were no computer geeks and graphic designers doing fancy stuff on Macs! You had to make these things. And they were so beautiful, even if they weighed a ton! And the greater shame was that after the photo shoot, we had to throw them away. Anyway, looking back at my first big breaks in publishing I am very, very proud of these early gems.

Absorbed by paint
Researching the history of decorative paints –including limewashing, découpage, fresco and the use of glue size, and old varnishes and waxes, as well as how to make paints from natural pigments – spurred me on to develop my own paints as I became more and more absorbed by what paint is and how it works (and there’s a post to come on that…). It wasn’t about nostalgia, it was "a reaction to the blandness and uniformity of modern paints.”

I was reacting against the standardisation that plastic paints produced. Oil was traditionally the classic paint everybody used, so we did both books using oils – back then I thought it was the only way I could get that translucency. I had by then started to try out my own paints (e.g. early versions of Chalk Paint® in Chateau Grey and Aubusson Blue) and some of these featured in both books.

I suppose, in a modest way, with these two titles I helped kick start the rediscovery of traditional paints and paint effects. The use of many softer and subtler colours allowed novice and more experienced decorators a chance to reclaim the look of earlier times. Some of it will look dated now as fashion in decoration comes and goes (and I have developed more deeper, warmer colours), but the principles and fundamentals hold good. And of course today I have my fabulously versatile Chalk Paint® range so you don’t have to make your own paints from scratch as I had to all those years ago.

You could say that you get my whole history in paint mixing and colour theory in each Chalk Paint® pot!

Yours, Annie