Last week, I sat in a sun-soaked studio, pencil perched above my sketchbook and coffee stationed safely away from my drawing materials when my train of thought was interrupted. “If I can get your attention for a moment,” my module leader began. “Next week we will begin a fun project, really. It’s a great way to begin interpreting place.”
The project? Use the city as a resource. My reaction? “That doesn’t sound like an assignment; that sounds like a life goal!” My primary hope while studying in London is to absorb the culture of the place, so I can translate it into all kinds of creative output. What better way to do this than with a class full of locals who know London better than I ever will?
The class was broken into groups and given a list of places to visit and from which to gain inspiration. My group met at the Oxford Circus Station the following Friday, artsy caps metaphorically strapped to our heads, in search of inspiration.
Oxford Street, London
The first stop on our list was Selfridges, a high-end department store known for its window displays. I fell in love with Selfridges that day. And all of Oxford Street, to be quite honest. There are paper lanterns strung between the ritziest of department stores. It boasts a French Bistro PLUS Champagne and Caviar Bar. I mean, one window was home to a unicorn (not real, of course). That’s how fanciful this was. The variety of textures present in the window displays, and the street in general, gave me plenty to mull over in terms of an appropriate creative response. Collage perhaps?
Waddington Custot Galleries
Next up: Cork Street for some Friday afternoon gallery hopping. The quaint back road is home to works as varied as Patrick Hughes’ optical-illusion-based landscapes and Miró’s bronze anthropomorphic sculptures. The hardwood floors and white walls in each gallery forced attention on the artwork. White, large spaces receded to complement the masterful artwork. Noting the space’s exemplary restraint, our merry expedition took pictures of both artwork and space then headed to…
Burlington Arcade. A red carpet led the way through a treasure trove of all things well-crafted and extravagant. All manner of luxuries dotted the charming, turn-of-the-century windows. Leather gloves! French macaroons! Christmas decorations! In the midst of all of these shiny, glorious things, what struck me was the quality of light that illuminated them in such a becoming way. This reinforced to what extent light is a powerful tool in creating atmosphere and mood. In this case, the light pouring in made the space feel expansive, full of possibilities. This lovely space served as a fitting transition to the pièce de résistance of our day in the city…
Fortnum & Mason
The best way I can explain Fortnum & Mason is as the Tiffany’s of food. Marzipan sits behind glass like diamonds. Treasures travel home in little blue boxes. People come and marvel at the beauties to be found there. In this gleaming space of confections and gourmet provisions, I was reminded of the importance of craft. Each chocolate was handcrafted with immaculate detail. Every marzipan apple looked remarkably like a tiny apple. Artisans pour time and affection into these baubles to make them exceptional. And, I’m inspired to do the same.
The day was far from over. We stopped in bookshops and took inspiration from everything from cover design to carpet choices. We walked through Piccadilly Circus and took note of the lights, architecture, and faster pace there. We ate at a McDonalds because, well, we were hungry. The most important thing we found, though, is that inspiration comes from all kinds of places: great and large, quiet and small, famous, infamous, and obscure. The key is taking notice of the beauties, wonders, and curiosities in your backyard and the world at large. I’m privileged to use London as a resource while I’m here, but the tools I’ve learned abroad will enable me to use my environment as a resource wherever I go.