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Paul J. Riley’s artistic journey is a compelling narrative of transformation and rediscovery.

Originally trained in industrial design, Riley’s early career saw him creating innovative products for renowned brands like Haagen Dazs and Vivienne Westwood. However, a return to his artistic roots led him to embrace painting, where he combines his technical precision with a vibrant, free-spirited approach.

Now residing in Grenada, Riley draws profound inspiration from the stunning landscapes of the Caribbean and his native Wales. His work, characterised by its dynamic compositions and rich, emotive themes, explores the interconnectedness of nature, personal resilience and the search for a higher power. Riley’s art is a testament to his enduring creativity and the powerful influence of his diverse experiences…

Your journey as an artist has been truly fascinating, from your beginnings in industrial design to your rediscovery of painting after a hiatus. Can you walk us through the pivotal moments that shaped your artistic career?

At school, I was always the kid winning the art competitions, though I never actually studied art due to curriculum clashes. I did engineering design because I liked the technical drawing and physical work with metal. Career advice was patchy back then, and for some reason, I ended up doing three science “A” levels, which I struggled with, and a first year of a degree in polymer chemistry. This included a day release in industrial design, where the lecturer let me straight onto the design BA degree course after one student left for medical reasons. From there, I went to the Royal College of Art.

After my education, I formed a company and worked for eight years, during which we had a factory in Newcastle making plastic spoons for Haagen Dazs, as well as consultancy work until my first son was due to be born.

Your diverse background includes designing products for renowned brands like Haagen Dazs and Vivienne Westwood. How has your experience in industrial design influenced your approach to painting?

I always approach a canvas with a plan, which in design, we would call a brief. Although I’m not formally trained as a painter, I’m very obsessive about composition and line. These days, however, I usually stay as free as possible around the plan and let my second son mark the canvas if he’s present. Sometimes, this creates a new magic or added element.

Many artists find inspiration in their surroundings. How have the landscapes of Wales and Grenada influenced your artistic style and themes?

The sky and shadows here are higher and bigger, like an “L.A.” light at 7:00 am. I had spent over 20 years in London without seeing the horizon. Initially, I painted outrageous versions of the walking tree I can see from my window, which is like a cathedral full of iguanas, and the curve of the hillside opposite, which resembles a woman’s hips or part of an infinity symbol. The nothingness of the horizon reignited a spark in me, the feeling that nothing is forever. 

I had some health challenges (heart attack, new hips, some medium-level addictions, and type 2 diabetes) and wanted to leave something behind for my sons. I had previously been working on a music project (Paul J Riley), but it gradually morphed into visual art in the new surroundings. My inspirational parents sent me paint as a hint to ease off the bar hopping, which gradually pulled me away from drinking and lit a fire under me for visual art.

Your artwork is described as exploring the energy that connects us and the possibility of a higher power. Could you delve deeper into the concepts and emotions behind your work?

Having had a heart attack, I have seen the light on the other side that people often describe. Here, we get what the Italians call chiaroscuro daily—those moments where you think there must be a god. I have a level of telepathy with my partner here, which inspires some of my work.

In addition to your art, you’ve also pursued a music career under the name “Paul J. Riley.” How do you see music and visual art intersecting in your creative process?

The music visits periodically. The last time, around 2015-17, when I sat down and listened to it, I realised it was telling me to get out there and love someone again. So, one art form bounces off the other. I lived in London for 30 years, and that produced a darker introspection in the painting and a useful biographical one in the music.

Building your own house in Grenada must have been an incredible journey. How has living in Grenada impacted your creative mindset and artistic expression?

Yes, if I had known how much work and money it would take, I probably wouldn’t have done it. We did it in small increments over about a year and a half. My first son reminded me that I had been meaning to do it for more than ten years, and I’m glad we did as it changed everything. We carved our names in a gum tree there. Meeting my life partner here, who also dreamed of living by the sea, made me realise that the time is now. Life is not a dress rehearsal, as someone once said. I no longer procrastinate. The landscape of Mongolia is mind-boggling, and I have a whole set of paintings planned from there.

Your art seems deeply personal, reflecting your experiences and struggles. How do you navigate the balance between vulnerability and privacy in your work?

I’m not sure it’s possible. I’ve never worked for anyone else, so I never developed a dividing line between home and work. I’m on a journey to inner space, and attempting to feed the algorithm on Instagram is the closest I’ve ever come to having a regular job. But I generally treat it like a portfolio, so it has a positive creative function in that it helps me know where I’m headed creatively. I don’t generally post pictures of my son looking at the camera, and my partner usually declines to be featured.

You’ve exhibited your work in various prestigious venues, from Art Basel to Art Innsbruck. What have been some of the most memorable moments of your career so far?

It’s fairly early days in this incarnation as a visual artist. Seeing lots of school kids picking my art out of a room of paintings at the national museum here in Grenada this year was memorable. When I was in college, the Victoria and Albert Museum took one of my design drawings for their permanent collection. At the time, it didn’t seem significant, but now I wish I had paid more attention to the career message! I’m about to do a solo show from April 24-30 at J/M Gallery in Portobello Road, London, which is quite exciting. There is a Geest boat with 56 paintings on its way to the UK as I write this.

Can you share some insights into your creative process, from the initial spark of an idea to the finished artwork?

I have a sketchbook next to me at breakfast, and I generally note down four or five ideas as the sun comes up before my brain jumps onto mundane thoughts. I run my second son to playgroup, then work on three or four paintings for an hour or two at the same time. It’s very hot, so there’s a lot of sweat and some self-criticism, but ultimately, it’s a bit like surfing or meditation. The paint dries quickly but isn’t ready for another layer for a few hours. Usually, my “12-cylinder painting brain” will get burned out, and I’ll switch to “8-cylinder practicalities” like making stretchers or whatever.

Your use of acrylic and car paint on canvas and wood panels is quite unique. What draws you to these particular materials and techniques?

The fact that car paint is available on a car-obsessed island and uses different thinners than acrylic (which is hard to get at good quality and always with a wait) means I can remove one without touching the other. The wood is usually recycled from shipping boxes, and often canvas is sewn together from smaller pieces as the idea grows (see “All That Glistens” or “The Penitent”).

Parenthood is often a significant source of inspiration for artists. How has being a parent influenced your artwork and perspective on life?

I watch my son’s carefree approach to mark-making and life itself and attempt to keep that with me as I work. We usually go swimming when he comes home around 3:30. I’m painting firstly for myself to keep me on the outward journey, but secondly to help him when I’m no longer on planet Earth.

The theme of resilience shines through your art, despite your struggles with self-criticism and addiction. How has art helped you navigate these challenges?

Art has definitely saved me, and life has given me more things to paint than I will have time to paint. I am lucky to be able to reinvent myself after a heart attack in 2011.

Your work has been described as visually stunning with a unique Caribbean twist. How do you balance your Welsh roots with your life in Grenada in your artistic style?

I have the darkness you get from a Welsh winter, with the hope of spring and the amazing shadows of a 7:00 am light. They both seem to go together. There is usually some sort of orb replacing the sun or moon, representing my fear and hope for whatever is going on in the painting.

Exhibiting at the Grenada National Museum must have been a special moment. Can you share your thoughts on being part of such a significant event celebrating Grenada’s Golden Jubilee?

It was fabulous to be included as an outsider and to see the reactions of the kids to a less than traditional style of art. It was also the longest exhibition by far.

Your Instagram reels give us a glimpse into your creative process. How do you use social media to connect with your audience and share your art?

It’s very useful to ask yourself, “What am I trying to communicate?” Otherwise, I’m very isolated living in this part of the world. Generally, I use it as a portfolio (the stills), and the reels can be a bit annoying as they distract from the process if I have to film them. But I now have someone who will come out and shoot for me!

Looking back on your career, what advice would you give to aspiring artists who are just starting on their creative journey?

“Keep on keeping on.” I’ve tended to get distracted after the eight-year mark in other creative fields, so I would say just keep going!

Your paintings “How It Began” and “Experimental Landscape” were featured at the Grenada National Museum exhibition “Infinite Futures.” What inspired these particular pieces, and what message do you hope viewers take away from them?

I replaced the sun with a giant blue marble in “How It Began” and a steel ball bearing in “Experimental Landscape.” They can be enjoyed on any level, but to me, they comment on the imminent threat of the world we live in, whether by virus, nature, or war, and also the passage of time, with figures passing blissfully through unaware of world events as we often are here.

The energy of nature seems to be a recurring theme in your work. How do you capture that essence on canvas, and what emotions do you hope to evoke in your audience?

I paint with velocity, working on five or six paintings at once, and tend to ignore colour theory! Trees are like cities with whole communities interdependent. The colours are so big they bleed from the edges, and the painting changes as the sun moves over.

There are oak trees in my parents’ valley as old as the Domesday Book, and the place where I built my house feels like it has energy lines culminating in a giant banyan at the end of the garden. When I saw the piece of land, I said “yes” immediately.

Your art has evolved significantly since your days at the Royal College of Art. How do you see your style and themes developing in the future?

I have a young mind, I’m told, but backed up with a lot of mistakes and oubliettes: “colourful with a hint of danger.”

Our readers love to travel. What destination is at the top of your bucket list?

Grenada, of course, but for what it doesn’t have rather than what it does. It’s a slower pace of life with time to think, a great place to write, paint, and compose.

Where can people follow you and find out more about your career?

Yes, @pjrileyart has my newest work, and @riley_archive has the older work. Also, www.pjriley.com.

Paul J. Riley’s story is a testament to the transformative power of art and the enduring spirit of creativity. His journey from industrial design to painting and the unique blend of technical skill and emotive expression in his work, offer a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a true artist. As Riley continues to explore new horizons and push the boundaries of his craft, his art remains a vivid reflection of his life’s experiences and the beauty he finds in the world around him.

To discover more inspiring stories of creativity, resilience, and artistic innovation, visit House of Coco. Immerse yourself in the journeys of artists from around the globe, each with their unique tales and visions that will leave you inspired and eager for more.

Step into the world of Holly Kennedy, where colours dance like sunlight on water, and nature’s beauty is immortalised on canvas. With each stroke of her brush, Holly weaves a tapestry of emotions, drawing inspiration from the vibrant hues and intricate textures of the botanical world.

As the sun pours through her window, illuminating her workspace, Holly gathers her tools of creation—paints, inks, carving tools, and oil pastels—each one a gateway to her artistic vision. Memories of Kew Gardens, with its magnolias in bloom and cherry blossoms floating on the breeze, infuse her work with the essence of springtime.

Starting with a blank canvas of Fabriano paper, Holly lets her intuition guide her, selecting colors that speak to her soul. She draws upon the patterns and textures of flowers and foliage, carving them into lino blocks to be printed and repeated with ease.

Layer by layer, Holly builds her masterpiece, exploring the interplay of ink and oil pastel, creating depth and dimension with each stroke. The viscosity of the inks, the softness of the oil pastels—it’s a symphony of textures, a dance of light and shadow.

But Holly’s art doesn’t end with the canvas. Each painting is transformed into a digital file, ready to adorn silk scarves, leather accessories, and even fedora hats. It’s a fusion of art and fashion, a celebration of individuality and expression.

For Holly, painting is more than just a creative outlet—it’s a journey of self-discovery, a path to tranquility and contentment. And as her ink-stained hands bring her visions to life, she can’t help but smile, knowing that she’s captured a moment of beauty that will last a lifetime.

Join us as we delve into the world of Ink & Silk, where every brushstroke tells a story, and nature’s palette is brought to life in vibrant technicolor…

Holly Kennedy

Can you walk us through the journey of how Ink & Silk came to be? What inspired you to start designing and printing your own fabrics?

As a milliner, I was looking for a unique fabric to trim and line my hats, something distinctive. Being a painter by nature, I decided to delve deeper into abstract botanical painting. Ink & Silk was born when I began printing my paintings onto silk twill and designing other silk products I could create with my prints.

You mentioned being inspired by flowers and foliage. Can you tell us more about how nature influences your creative process and the designs you create?

Living near Kew Gardens in Chiswick, just over the river, I became a member at Kew and found myself visiting sometimes twice a week. Each visit was different due to the varying seasons and the vastness of the gardens. My father, a landscape gardener, often taught me the names of flowers, and I frequently found myself drawing them.

What do you hope people feel or experience when they interact with your artworks and designs?

Well, I think that is the beauty of art; people can feel whatever they want, and everybody’s reaction or response is different. One thing I have realised is the impact colour can have on mood. I want to bring a splash of colour into people’s lives.

How do you approach the process of capturing the vibrant hues and textures of nature in your paintings and fabrics?

I often spend time visiting botanical gardens, capturing shapes and forms by sketching as a starting point. Before I start working on large Fabriano paper with acrylic inks, paints, handmade stencils, handmade lino cuts, oil pastels, and ballpoint pens, I choose my palette and mix paints. I focus on colour, mark-making, and abstract interpretations of the botanical world around me.

How do your background in illustration and interactive media inform your work as a painter and milliner?

With a background in illustration and interactive media, I feel I have a rich and diverse skill set that enhances my work as a painter and milliner. Aspects such as storytelling, colour theory, and various digital skills all help navigate the complexities of running a small creative business.

Can you describe your experience apprenticing and studying millinery with Noel Stewart and working for Piers Atkinson? How did this influence your artistic journey?

I was first trained by Noel Stewart while studying on his Millinery course at Kensington and Chelsea College. He was such a skilled and creative milliner to learn from. Then, spending the next months apprenticing with him, I met Piers Atkinson, whom I then went to work for as a Milliner.

Piers Atkinson was truly inspirational for his unwavering commitment to his own artistic vision, and I believe it’s through working with him that I’ve developed the courage to follow my own artistic path.

How has being a mother influenced your creative process and the direction of your career?

Becoming a mother has made me more focused with the time that I get to spend creating. It has also made me less concerned with what people think, so it has been quite liberating.

What challenges have you faced in balancing motherhood with your artistic pursuits, and how have you overcome them?

Finding time to create is often scarce when you have young children, so it has forced me to become more focused and productive when I do find those free moments. I have found that gardens are great places to take the children, and while they play, I simply sketch, which is the start of the creative process for me.

How do you stay inspired and motivated in your creative practice, especially during challenging times?

Painting for me is my stillness and soul expression, a space filled with tranquility and contentment, and therefore a sanctuary in challenging times. The same is true of hat-making; I find it a meditative practice where many hours can pass unnoticed.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists and designers who are just starting their journey?

Starting on a path as an artist or designer takes time, dedication, and perseverance. Consistently practice your craft and hone your skills, and most of all, believe in yourself and your art.

Can you discuss the significance of colour in your art and how it contributes to your overall aesthetic?

Colour has always been my emotional expression. Sumptuous hues soothe my soul and excite my eyes, like a magical dusting of happiness. The desire to create my own designs for fabric comes from this feeling.

What impact do you hope to have with your art and designs on individuals and the broader community?

I design my pieces for the confident and stylish individual who values quality and uniqueness. All my products are made in England because quality and sustainability are important to me.

What role does experimentation play in your creative process, and how do you approach trying new techniques or mediums?

I am always exploring different ways of creating marks and textures, from finding dried seed heads and plant stems to paint and print with, to exploring how oil interacts with acrylic ink and the textures that ensue. I love the viscosity of ink to work with, how it flows and saturates the paper, interacting with other marks and paint that come across its path as it spills forth a flood of feelings.

Our readers love to travel; what destination is at the top of your bucket list?

I would love to travel to Japan in springtime to experience the cherry and wisteria blossoms coming into bloom. I imagine it to be an extraordinary sensory experience.

What’s your go-to quote when you are lacking motivation?

“Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while working.” – Henri Matisse

Finally, what brings you the greatest joy and fulfilment as both an artist and a parent?

I love seeing someone wearing one of my hats or silks and witnessing the pleasure when a customer finds a piece that is a perfect match for their personality or a perfect gift. As a parent, I feel such happiness when my children are being their natural creative selves, seeing them create whether it’s on paper or in imaginary play, showing me how unhindered they are in their creativity, to which I can only aspire.

As we bid farewell to this captivating journey through the world of Ink & Silk with Holly Kennedy, we invite you to continue exploring her vibrant creations and delve deeper into her artistic vision.

Follow Holly on her creative odyssey by visiting her website, where you can immerse yourself in the beauty of her handcrafted silk scarves, leather accessories, and more.

But the adventure doesn’t end here.

Join us on House of Coco, where we celebrate the extraordinary stories of artists, designers, and visionaries from around the globe. Discover more inspiring tales and uncover hidden gems that ignite your imagination and fuel your passion for creativity.

Located along the southern edge of the Californian Central Coast is the super scenic, Monterey County.  This beautiful seaside city was made famous by writer, John Steinbeck whose novel, Cannery Row was inspired by the renowned, waterfront thoroughfare lined with former sardine factories that is now home to hotels, shops, and restaurants.

What makes Monterey worth a visit is the plethora of things to do.   Whether you are looking for adventure, want to explore the local marine life, enjoy a taste of the local wine or kick back with a book on the beach there is something for everyone.

Just further along Highway 1 (which reopens in April) is the neighbouring town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a charming picture postcard destination that packs some punch for its size. 

Carmel’s romantic cobblestone streets are brimming with art galleries, great places to eat and boutique shops.  The main stretch of road runs from downtown directly to the sugar-white beach.  The town is jam packed with culture, unique backstories and film buffs will also be excited to discover that Clint Eastwood who served as mayor of Carmel resides here, and is often seen dining in Michelin Starred, Aubergine restaurant. 

One of the best times to visit is towards the end of summer. It’s less crowded and you can still expect balmy weather.  Start in Carmel before exploring Monterey Bay and the surrounding area.

Where to stay

Just a stone’s throw from the beach and a short stroll from the shops and restaurants, is the Carmel Beach Hotel.  The hotel opened in 2023 and is one of six new boutique hotels in the town.  The vibe here is laid back luxury, this intimate property has just 26 rooms and three suites.  My room was contemporary and spacious, with fresh whitewashed walls and bedding with accents of marine blue taking inspiration from the ocean.  The large bathrooms comprise of double vanity units, shower and a free-standing roll top bath.  There’s a pretty courtyard restaurant, cocktail bar, spa and gym.  The staff are friendly and deliver a personal seamless service you don’t get from big faceless chains.  During my stay I was running late for a dinner reservation and the manager personally drove me to a local restaurant. 

The breakfast here is fabulous, both mornings I had it delivered to my room.  A cute basket of continental delights are served alongside your preferred hot dish.  The eggs were cooked to perfection, toast still warm and bacon crispy.   

The location makes it ideal for sunset walks and picnics on the beach.  

The Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa sits on stilts directly above the crashing surf of the Pacific and in the prime location of Cannery Row.  The hotel is plush with lots of polished marble, soft carpet, dark wood and large ceiling to floor windows that look out over the bay.  The rooms are spacious and have a similar classic design and décor that continues throughout the hotel. 

When it comes to dining you are spoiled for choice.  There’s lobby café’s, excellent room service and for more casual cuisine guest can head to Schooners, there’s a heated deck and uninterrupted views of the ocean.   The menu includes classic American staples making it the perfect choice for breakfast or a light bite. Coastal Kitchen offers fine dining.  Executive Chef Michael Rotondo serves an ever-evolving tasting menu that showcases the culinary treasures from the region.

The adult only spa is decadent retreat for those looking to relax after a day exploring.  Located on the roof, with dramatic panoramic views from the sundeck, there are two outdoor hot tubs, a steam room and indoor sauna. There is also a gym.

Eat and drink

Chez Noir’s French inspired menu showcases innovative, seafood-centric dishes that have earned them a well-deserved Michelin star.  The menu boasts a fusion of flavours, from tantalizing appetizers to decadent desserts. Highlights include their perfectly seared scallops and the melt-in-your-mouth chocolate fondant. The staff’s knowledge and passion for each dish add a personal touch, making Chez Noir a must-visit for those who appreciate culinary artistry.

Lucia restaurant at Bernardus Lodge and Spa is nothing short of spectacular.  Situated in the Carmel Valley it’s nestled on the grounds of rolling vineyards, olive orchards and 28 acres of fragrant lavender.  With beautiful vistas, tables at Lucia are sought after.  Slick service and a menu dedicated to delicious farm to table fare is what sets Lucia apart from other restaurants.  The wood brick pizzas are divine, the seasonal salads are served like a work of art and the larger plates source prime cuts of meat and market fish. Choose from a selection of wines from the Bernardus vineyard to accompany your meal.

For a seafood feast that celebrates the bounty of the ocean, Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette is the place to be. This award-winning upscale seafood restaurant is a short drive from Monterey Bay, and exudes coastal charm with a menu that pays homage to the region’s maritime heritage. The raw bar is a standout, featuring an array of oysters and an abundance of seafood. The wood-fired grill adds a smoky richness to dishes like the grilled octopus and honey glazed duck. The casual yet sophisticated atmosphere, coupled with the welcoming staff, makes Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette a go-to spot for those craving a seafood extravaganza.

What to do

While staying in Monterey you must pay a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium who are celebrating their 40th anniversary in October.  Here, you can see leopard sharks meander through kelp forests and sea turtles bobbing amongst schools of colourful fish.  Floor to ceiling tanks span two floors at one of the largest aquarium exhibits in the world.  There are interactive experiences, a variety of behind-the-scenes tours (some of which allow visitors to feed penguins) and touch pools, where you can get close to sea cucumbers, bat rays and tide-pool creatures.  This is no run of the mill aquarium, and it’s easy to see why it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in the region, it showcases more than 35,000 animals and plants representing over 550 species.   

Embark on a wine adventure like no other with Kombi Wine Tours, where vintage style meets exquisite vintages. Board the classic VW Kombi, ‘Sweet Pickle’ and journey through the scenic vineyards and wineries of Monterey, indulging in a curated selection of wines from the region. You’ll be collected from your hotel by their knowledgeable guide, Steve who will keep you entertained with the inside track on all things Monterey.  Expect to stop off at some of the finest wineries along the coast, make sure you call in to Galante Vineyards tasting room to see Jack!

Monterey Bay is California’s best location for viewing whales, great white sharks and spotting an abundance of marine life including dolphins, jellyfish and sea lions.  Discovery Whale Watch trips depart from Fisherman’s Wharf daily and the team onboard are the best in business for spotting and guaranteeing whale sightings.   The three-hour tour is an extraordinary experience that allows you to get up close to these amazing creatures, I got to witness a humpback breech and a pod of dolphins escorted our boat out of the bay.   Throughout the trip the crew tee up sightings, impart knowledge and facts with passion, ensuring you have a memorable experience.

House of Coco travelled to Monterey County courtesy of See Monterey.

Disclaimer: This #TeamCoco writer does not know anything about art. I would never pretend to and I actively shy away from Arty talk; that’s why we have our residential art guru Rachael Lindsay.

However, if you are spending any time in DownTown LA (or DTLA as the cool kids call it) you have to get a free (FREE?!) ticket for new modern art museum on the block, The Broad (S Grand Ave, DTLA). Open since September 2015, the stunning piece of modern architecture acts not not only as home to Eli and Edythe Broad’s extensive collection of influential art but also a mix of permanent and special exhibition space.

When we visited we were lucky enough to experience the permanent collection to gawp at life changing pieces of art you didn’t even know you knew or had influenced you from Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Barbara Krueger to Takashi Murakami and Roy Lichtenstein.

The special exhibition ‘Creature’ thematically displayed pieces by some of the artists in the permanent collection (notably Koons’ ‘Metallic Venus’) alongside pinch-me-I-can’t-believe-I’m-in-front-of-this work like Damien Hirst’s ‘No Arts, No Letters, No Society’ and Andreas Gursky’s ‘SH III’.

Heading back to the stunning foyer we got our timed tickets for the star attraction, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room. As an incredibly personal installation, the lines for this are long as it is designed as a single person experience.

Lamentably, a mirror selfie in this space seems to be the main reason for most of the excitable people in the queue, hoping to nail their Tinder profile pic that says ‘Oh hey there, I’m cultured AND fun!’.

We go in, camera firmly in pocket and sit on the floor of the platform that is surrounded by water to enjoy 1 minute alone with this astonishing piece. Get in the queue early when you arrive as there was a 5 hour wait for this experience, but you can leave the gallery and come back when you are texted to do so!

Tickets are available for this incredible museum from https://www.thebroad.org/visit

They are completely free and released at the start of each month.

In addition to the art you’ll find in LA’s incredible museums be sure to check out some Street Art while you are in town. A great place to start is https://www.discoverlosangeles.com/what-to-do/culture/urban-art

Question! (say it like Beyonce, go on) …. On a Taco Tuesday in central Los Angeles are you going to settle for the local bar’s offering of limp, soggy excuses for tacos or go on a quest to hit not just one, but two of LA’s most gossiped about food trucks?!

Answer: Of course you are going to scour twitter to find these beacons of tortilla joy and take that all important ‘food against the sky’ shot your social media followers are dying to see.

Last week the wonderful team at Discover Los Angeles tipped us off about the trucks we had to visit and so we found ourselves heading up the queue at Korean BBQ dreamland, Kogiat their Downtown LA spot, which is just across from the incredible The Broad (seriously, go!) and the MOCA.

The truck itself looks like something out of the skateboard movies of our teenage dreams, fully metal, covered in stickers and manned by a very efficient team of chefs.

We kicked off Taco Tuesday with a short rib Taco at Kogi BBQ which, at the bargain price of $2.50 was a two bite piece of meaty BBQ heaven. The warming spice of the meat is balanced by the griddled corn tortilla and we’d wager is probably the best thing you can get change on three dollars for.

Our appetites whetted we hunted down our next taco stop; Guerrilla Tacos. You might remember these guys from our interview with head chef, Wes Avila, when he teamed up with Breddos Tacos here in London (see here for more on that). This time we’re visiting him on his home turf, in the iconic, spray painted taco mothership. You’ll always find the Guerrilla Taco truck pitching up outside a coffee shop or wine bar; marrying the street food deity perfectly with a little pick me up.

An aqua fresca and innovative sweet potato taco set us up perfectly for an afternoon of adventuring. Just full enough to trek up to the Griffith Observatory but not too full that we couldn’t entertain indulging in a sneaky little donut on the way!

If you are planning a trip stateside we’d wholeheartedly recommend checking out www.discoverlosangeles.com for all your foodie delights…you can thank us later!

Among all the hustle loving entrepreneurs we work with on this series, we love when we meet someone who’s passion and experience has lead them to filling a crucial need gap and positively impacts the world we live in. Rodney Durso, an artist and avid supporter of emerging talents talks us through his journey to where he is today – and some advice for all our creative readers.

HOC: Great to meet you, Rodney. Tell us about your journey from your graphic design business to becoming an artist?

Rodney: My first love was advertising and design which I studied at Boston University. Through that program I also studied British advertising and TV commercial production in London for a year and worked as an intern for Spot Films near Leicester Square. When I returned to New York I returned to graphic design, and after a few years of study and freelance projects I started my own agency called Stormhouse Partners. For about 8 years I ran the agency and was Creative Director.

We had a good run and won a ton of awards, but in the end I was totally burned out. I decided to try my hand at a few new things, including teaching at Parsons School of Design, which I did for four years. I also started a Masters of Architecture and began painting.

Well it’s the painting and fine art that stuck.

HOC: Being a graphic designer by trade did you find the leap from taking a brief (from a client) to working from your own brief challenging?

Rodney: Interesting question. One of the reasons I left design was frustration with meagre budgets, impossible timelines and short sighted strategies. Painting did away with all that. However in the brand business having a creative brief actually made it very clear what was needed to solve a marketing or business problem, and that part I liked. I knew what the rules were, there were guard rails, so to speak. In a sense it was easy to measure success, and failure.

In fine art, there is none of that. There is no one and nothing to tell you what to do, which seems great, right? Well the truth is that having no boundaries can be much more difficult. In fact, being an artist, and having to create something from nothing makes you go deep. It’s super personal, I tell people it’s like looking in the mirror all day, everyday. It’s not only a monastic practice, it’s a little too self involved at time. So, there’s that. But after a time, the challenge becomes more about getting your work seen and sold. To me, that’s where the challenges now lie.

HOC: I believe you don’t create art full time as you also run ArtBridge and OffSite, how do you balance these varying demands on your time?

Rodney: I founded ArtBridge in 2008/2009 and ran it full-time for a number of years. As we developed a board of directors and expanded our staff I was able to transition to Board President and stepped back from the day-to-day. So somewhere along the way I was able to dedicate more time and space to my art making. At this point I’m in the studio three days and working on ArtBridge and other projects the other days. I’m still always pushing for new connections and opportunities for ArtBridge, and my ‘elevator pitch’ is always at the ready for anyone who’s interested.

HOC: Can you tell us more about ArtBridge and OffSite?

Rodney: I founded ArtBridge in those first years after I left the branding business. I was looking for an innovative way to get the work of emerging artists seen outside of the gallery system, which I saw as impossibly closed to new artists. The idea of exhibiting art on construction scaffolding around the corner from major Chelsea galleries was pretty bold. Art that the galleries would never consider was all of a sudden printed and installed at 100x a few blocks away on the largest building in Chelsea! It was pretty exciting for those first artists. In fact that was exactly 10 years ago, and we are about to stage a 10 year anniversary exhibit on London Terrace Gardens, the same place we hung our very first exhibit on West 23rd Street and 9th Ave. It was a few years later we started Off Site Art (OSA) with Veronica Santi in Italy when L’Aquila was destroyed by a terrible earthquake. The idea of creating a sister organization not only to carry the same mission but wanting to help L’Aquila on it’s way back seemed important and something we could help with. (Editor’s note see www.offsiteart.it for more!)

The idea of bringing new light, color and life back to L’Aquila’s city center after such a disaster was something we knew we had to do, and for the last several years, Veronica and her team have done quite an amazing job. In fact, the ArtBridge/OSA partnership is one of our most successful projects to date and OSA is now looking at projects in other Italian and European cities. We’re also talking to art advisors about possible inclusion of an Off Site Art project in the 2019 Venice Biennale.

HOC: Why, in your opinion, is it so important to link the public to art?

Rodney: Good question. The gallery system is changing, some say it’s dead. I’ll just say it’s less important that it was 10 years ago. There are so many online opportunities and other ways to see art, but here in Chelsea there are still plenty of galleries. Or look at Instagram, and how that has changed the public’s access to art. The point is that we need as many channels as possible to get people in front of art, and I think Public Art is one of the most important ways to get that done. Art in the public realm is uplifting to the daily pedestrian experience. Seeing art on your way to work, or anytime you’re walking is a treat, and it’s especially important in an urban environment of concrete and steel, for example. Color, shape, line, and light in an artistic form enriches are minds, makes us think, and stimulates. It’s a very different experience for our brains and nervous system then just looking at billboards, or such.

HOC: For our creative readers, what advice would you have for them to grow their artist practices and get their work seen?

Rodney: It’s so multi tiered. There are so many options and ways to grow your practice and get your work seen, you have to really follow the path that not only feels right for you, but one that you get some joy from. It’s always going to be work to get your art out there, but if it feels like drudgery you’ll never succeed. Pick a channel that you can push on that brings you some joy as well.

For me, with my design and branding background, I love the brand and promotion aspect. I like posting on social media, I like designing postcards, and books of my work. I love a photo or video shoot that promotes my work, but that’s me. I also need to see new work, I need to be inspired all the time, or I get sluggish with my work.

Being in NYC, I’m a bit spoiled. Running out to a gallery or museum in the middle of the day can change the direction of my art, or inspire me into some new idea, and then I’m back in the studio and working again. I would also really suggest doing studio visits with friends and other artists. I do a newsletter every few months and I always include an interview with another artist. This keeps me connected to my peers and reminds me that it’s not “all about me”. In fact we’re working on the next newsletter now, so check back soon to see who’ll be next.

HOC: What artwork that you’ve created means the most to you and why?

Rodney: I spent a few weeks at the American Academy in Rome in May 2016 as a visiting artist and was deeply interested in the ongoing presidential campaign back in the US at the time, but being in Italy gave me a very different perspective. Italy has had its issues with crazy political leadership, and the similarities between Italy’s Berlusconi, and the then candidate Trump, were too similar to ignore. From that perspective I created a series that, although it gets a lot of attention from galleries, no one actually wants to own and hang in their home. I totally understand that, the work is hard to look at for very long. The series is called Disconstructing Trump and here is a bit from my curatorial statement:

“Watching Trump being interviewed — I began to photograph the TV screen with my iPhone and using the high-speed, (multi-shot function), I took about 300 photos in less than 10 minutes. With those images I began to build collages that, to me, capture Trump’s multiple personalities. In these works,

I believe, his true conflicted and disturbing nature begins to be revealed. At once contradictory, creepy, binary, multi-layered and unsettling, I’ve only started to reveal the real persona. Dismantling, cutting, disassembling, rearranging then reassembling this imagery is the essence of Disconstructing Trump!”

(Editor’s note, to find out more visit www.rodneydurso.com/artworks/disconstructing-trump )

HOC: Who / where do you get your inspiration from?

Rodney: The inspiration comes from the usual sources; anxiety, fear, pain, love, rejection, uncertainty, anger… you know, the regular stuff of life. But more seriously, I do think that I channel all of these emotions into my work.

To start my work I have a process. I start by putting on my messy painted jeans, and a couple of layered old t-shirts. I have a pile of painting clothes that I leave in the studio. Then there’s always strong English tea, like P&G, or Yorkshire Gold, or sometimes I’ll have a coffee instead.

Then there’s the music, and it’s got to be loud. One of my favorite albums to start my work with is Paul Weller’s “Wildwood”. Something about those first guitar lines and songs — Sunflower, and Holy Man and then Wildwood — that get me into that headspace and ramped up to create. It’s one of my favorite records ever. Full stop. Once I’m into my work I can switch it up and put on BBC, or NPR — the kind of American equivalent.

At other times, my inspiration comes from new materials, or news stories, or the need to complete a commission. Having a timeline, a deadline always gets me working. Not necessarily inspired, but moving and making work.

With my background in marketing and design, I still believe that art is just a product at the end of the day. A very personal one albeit, but a product nonetheless. So sometimes we can’t rely on inspiration alone to get us making work, we have to have multiple methods to push us forward.

HOC: If you ever have a creative block / funk; how do you get yourself out of it?

Rodney: That’s a very timely question, as I’m just now coming out of a block, or I like to think of it as a much needed break. I think creative output comes in bursts or cycles and I’ve learned to respect the way it works. I think these in between periods are needed resting points for the creative mind. I find that when I’m not working, I need to take in, or sponge-up art and inspiration. Last night I ran up to the Guggenheim after work to see the Hilma af Klint show, and wow, it really jolted me with new ideas about color and scale.

I would say that any input whether visual, or musical or even travel can inspire new work, so when I’m not actively creating, I’m taking in ideas for whatever will come next.

HOC: The ’10 years ago’ challenge is all the rage on insta at the moment, what advice do you have for the 2009 you?

Rodney: My best advice for the 2009 me would be stay focused!.. or more specifically, to make a plan with more specific goals. Ten years ago, I was doing too many things and chasing too many dreams. I think I would have been a little less crazy if I had stuck to maybe one or two ideas instead of three or four. In the end, it’s all good, I’ve created a successful nonprofit organization with both domestic and international projects, and started to make headway in the artworld. My interest in branding and design is also alive once more and I’ve begun to do projects again in that realm.

I guess the truth is, as a creative soul, we are restless and always looking for the next thing. I’ve come to terms with that part of me and I’ve got a lot of gratitude for my sometimes childlike excitement for whatever’s next.

We’re sure you’ll love to find out more about Rodney’s work – see the links we’ve thoughtfully scattered throughout the interview and go to RodneyDurso.com and follow @RodneyDurso

North Jutland in Denmark is a region known for its stunning coastline, rich Viking history, and vibrant cultural heritage. This northernmost part of the country offers beautiful landscapes, from sandy beaches to rolling hills, making North Jutland in Denmark a popular destination for nature lovers and history enthusiasts alike.

Think that gastronomy in Denmark is just exclusive to Copenhagen? Think again. For people in the know, the Northern Jutland area is THE place to visit to take advantage of some of the best food that Denmark has to offer.

North Jutland is beautifully situated at the very top of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula. With its charming towns, stunning landscapes and powder-soft beaches, this island in the far north of the country is Denmark’s most northerly region, where Danish design and architecture meets pristine nature and then there is the food (more on that later!)

Jutting out dramatically into the sea, North Jutland is renowned for the special light it produces and has attracted artists both in current times and historically to paint here. It has more hours of sunshine than the rest of Denmark and has the most beautiful landscape which is made up of lush forests, quirky streets, sand dunes and endless white sand beaches.

Be happy

We started our Danish adventure in Aalborg which has been undergoing quite the development over recent years. It has been named as Europe’s happiest city, with a survey citing that Aalborg’s residents are the ‘most satisfied’in Europe. We stayed at the Hotel Cornwall Hvide Hus, a modern hotel with incredibly cool décor situated in the heart of the beautiful Kildeparken which is renowned for being the home of elegant sculpture which are nestled alongside the impressive fountain.

Singing trees?

As well as these impressive pieces of art, there is also the rather magnificent Park of Music. This initiative sees artists planting a tree to commemorate their visit in Aalborg. There is, however a twist. Some of the trees are accompanied by the artists’ own music and can be activated by the park’s visitors by pressing a button at the foot of the tree. From Beyoncé to Prince to Take That and Sir Elton John, you can meander around the park whilst creating your own symphony.

Award-winning architecture

Aalborg, with its impressive waterfront and quaint buildings, blends seamlessly with the award-winning architecture and cosy cobbled streets. It is Denmark’s fourth-largest city and is widely considered to be one of the most significant cultural hubs in Denmark.

What is GastroNorth?

As part of our Danish gastronomy adventure, we were invited to dinner by Mads Stenstrup, one of the pioneers of GastroNorth, a new foodie initiative made up of several gourmet restaurants throughout the Northern Jutland region who wants to showcase the region’s unique culinary style and has ten restaurants who are part of the Gastro North collaboration. Their aim is to enhance their skills, draw international attention and hopefully secure the region’s first Michelin star soon.

Restaurant Textur

The fabulous Restaurant Textur who has recently received three stars in The Danish Dining Guide 2018 was our first port of call and was my favourite evening meal of the trip. Texture is one of the top restaurants in North Jutland and their kitchen is headed up by renowned chefs Dennis Juhl and Frederik Østera. The restaurant aims to curtail food waste and has a strong seasonal focus. Utilising local ingredients, we enjoyed an epic tasting menu with paired wines with amazing dishes like pan-fried Skagen fish with a salsify and ramson sauce, Danish potato, oyster and caviar and Sirius cheese, berry puree and roasted rye bread. All of which were complemented by corresponding wines and ports.

The restaurant only has 8 dishes on the menu at a single time and this changes every other week. Their aim is to focus more on the dish, utilising local produce and seasonal ingredients throughout their menu.

The most authentic Italian restaurant in Denmark?

La Locanda dei Liberati is another restaurant that is part of GastroNorth and is the most authentic Italian restaurant in Denmark. It is situated in the historic Brix Court in the centre of Aalborg. We were served a plethora of delicious dishes cooked by renowned Italian chef Carlo Liberati such as grilled octopus, potato with squid ink and grilled red pepper, beef tartare, buffalo mozzarella cream and sous vide egg yolk with a refreshing lemon delice with citrus fruit sorbet to end the meal.

The décor of La Laconda is as authentic as the cuisine. It is decorated with Italian square tiles from the 17th century and carefully selected ceramics providing a true Italian rustic style. Even the paving stones in the pretty courtyard are Italian and have been laid by Italian pavers, providing Aalborg with a little piece of Italy in the heart.

Mirror Mirror

Despite only having a few hours to explore the city, we were able to visit the fantastic Kunsten Museum of Modern Art. The building can only be described as an architectural icon made of white marble. It was designed by the world-famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto in collaboration with Elissa Aalto and Jean-Jacques Baruël. We were lucky to see the innovative exhibition ‘Eleven Less One’ by Michelangelo Pistoletto which features a series of broken mirrors. The artist did a live installation where he smashed up the mirrors at random revealing a myriad of colours.

We also visited the Utzon Museum and the Nordic Centre for design and Architecture. The current exhibition celebrates the life and work of prominent Danish architect Jorn Utzon who was the architect behind the Sydney Opera House as well as several important buildings throughout Denmark.

The House of Music

Visitors to Aalborg need to visit ‘The House of Music’ which is one of the most prominent music venues in the city. The building (which is located on the edge of the Limfjord – the body of water that splits North Jutland in two) is incredible and is one of the most impressive and ambitious architectural projects throughout Denmark. The design was conceived around the idea of creating synergy and sharing of expertise and its curved auditorium was built to maximise the optimum acoustics for live music performances for both symphony orchestras and contemporary music. This highly complex acoustic concept was developed in conjunction with Tateo Nakajima.

Stunning Skagen

The second destination of our exploration of North Jutland is the beautiful town of Skagen which is just over an hour’s drive. Intriguingly, there is very little traffic on the road which makes for a speedy and very stress-free journey. Skagen is Denmark’s northernmost city and it is a small town with beaches and a busy fishing port nearby. The white sandy beaches are stunning with crystal-clear waves crashing on the shore. It is renowned for nearby Grenen, where two seas meet – the Skagerrak and the Kattegat. Both of which flow into the North and the Baltic sea respectively. On a cloudless day, you can see the point where the two seas meet. Grenen is one of the most iconic attractions in Denmark and it attracts over 2 million visitors annually.

Bohemia and beauty

Skagen is described as ‘part artistic bohemia and part natural beauty’ which is why many of the most prominent Danish artists made this their home since the 19th Century. The painters which include Anna and Michael Ancher, Holger Drachmann and Peder Severin Kroyer were all fundamental members of the Skagen painting movement from the late 1870s through to the turn of the century. Attracted by the glorious coastline and the unique light, the Skagen artists found much inspiration from this ‘blue light’ – a translucent light that merges the sky and the sea.

Nautical cool

There are several hotels in Skagen, but we stayed in the Hotel Plesner, a cosy yet understated hotel with serious nautical vibes. Situated near the harbour, it was designed by Ulrik Plesner who was one of the members of the Skagen art movement. With little details like the navy and white striped wallpaper and the cluster of suitcases in living areas are all super cute affording a cosy vibe.

Seafood extravaganza

Staying in a fishing port could only mean one thing – seafood! What better way to try some of the local seafood and produce than a visit to the acclaimed Restaurant Pakhuset on Skagen Marina where you can enjoy the freshest and most delicious seafood dishes whilst overlooking the bustling marina such as fish soup with saffron and herbs, pan-fried plaice and prawns and cod with mussel sauce, kale and Danish potatoes.

Let’s explore

Exploring Skagen can be done on foot, but it is handy to have a car to visit Grenen where you can be escorted to the very northern tip of Denmark by land tractor as well as explore the sand-buried church and the ‘wandering’ dune of the Råbjerg Mile which is the largest migrating dune in Denmark. We would definitely recommend a visit to the superb Skagen museum which is the fifth most visited museum in Denmark where you can see important works of art by members of the Skagen art movement. The building itself was designed by Guess Who? Ulrik Plesner. You can even pay a visit to the Ancher house which has been preserved in time with some of the most stunning interiors and artefacts.

A glimpse of the past

We also ate at the historic Broendums Hotel which is one of the most historic hotels in the region. Famed for being ‘the place’ for the Skagen artists to wine and dine, Broendums is a quaint hotel with fabulous décor with an exciting menu which offers seasonally inspired dishes that are made from locally sourced ingredients. Dining in this charming restaurant is like taking a step back in time thanks to its elegant décor and wall art. Paying homage to the artist’s love of wine (I know I should have gone to art school!) Broendums has an extensive wine list featuring wines from ‘old school’ vintages from France, Italy, Spain and beyond.

Michelin dining

Just a short drive away from the Marina is Ruth’s Hotel which was included in the Michelin Guide 2018. It offers two dining options. Classical French dining alongside Nordic cuisine. Diners who opt for ‘Ruth’s Gourmet’ can choose delicately put-together dishes which are created by Chef Peter Frydkjær with inspiration from local commodities. Expect to see dishes like Flounder from ‘Hyttefad’, mackerel and roasted lemon sole on the menu.

North Jutland cuisine

The region of North Jutland is renowned for the most delicious fresh produce such as seafood, videos potatoes, cheeses and more. These delicious North Jutland specialties are based on traditional regional dishes and recipes handed down through generations providing unique opportunities for visitors and locals alike to enjoy.

Why visit North Jutland?

If you are looking for unspoilt coastal views, stunning architecture with artworks plenty and thoughtfully cooked local cuisine then a visit to Skagen should definitely be on your travel bucket list. There is truly something for everyone – for art lovers, history buffs, those who want a relaxing break and above all else, foodies! If you come to the North Jutland area thinking that Danish food is synonymous with bacon, pickled herring and Danish blue, you will certainly leave with a completely different perception.

New Nordic cuisine isn’t just having a moment, it is here to stay and a visit to the North Jutland region is THE place to experience it.

Back in the stone age, and up until the dawn of agriculture, nomadism was a way of life. But in 2019, amidst concrete jungles, growing populations, and rapid fire technological development — a new kind of modern nomad emerged, and that is the wanderlust searching traveller.

In this latest #WomenWorldwide interview, we caught up with fellow nomad, Alena Mira, and talked about her innovative fashion brand NoMad. While her colourful and creative designs have been inspired by our shared nomadic history — her vision for NoMad is totally unique — and its one that’s all about embracing adventure and owning our natural power.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to start NoMad Limited?

My name is Alena Mira. For me NoMad is an internal state, inspired by the nomadic traveler living forever in me. It’s not about giving this up to live a calm, measured life.

How have your travels inspired your brand? Why the name NoMad?

I travel a lot, this is my inspiration, my life, my breath of fresh air. Nomad is a way of life, and was created for modern nomads who appreciate wonderful unique pieces. These modern nomadslove adventures, new discoveries, travelling, and are free from society to pursue their true dreams.

NoMad unites different cultures and their traditions, because true beauty is timeless, it’s always on trend. We are surrounded by stone jungles, and so we lose touch with the natural world. We forget that we are part of nature, and that we are the crown of Mother Nature’s creation. NoMad is a kind of fusion of ethnic power with the energies of the past and the future, I know for sure that the spirit of NoMad lives in each of us, even if we sometimes forget. Perhaps this is all a little wild and insane (In fact, the business itself is two-handed in translation, NoMad is both a nomad-traveler and a madman at the same time) and I mean insane in the best way.

Where do you get the inspiration for your designs?

All of our collections of originate from centuries-old traditions, and jewellery is at the heart of it all. I take inspiration from everything, from the mystical fusion of theStone Age, the nomadic past of our ancestors, and even the fashion of the present. Since ancient times, our ancestors decorated their bodies. I don’t follow fashion, everything is created in the direction of the heart, and the heart does not know time, it knows only energy and this gives the collections a unique spirit.

Who is the modern NoMad for you?

The modern nomad is all of us, and nomadism, it could signify anything that doesn’t slow down. Just before the nomads saddled wild animals, we now inhabit megalithic cities. However, the spirit of our ancestors and the endless longing for our roots, sits in each of us. And internally everyone has to do succumb to it, such is our essence — to be in endless movement, to expand horizons, to be free in our thoughts and judgments.

What advice do you have for women who would like to become a GirlBoss like yourself?

Not just for GirlBosses but for women everywhere, my wish is: Be faithful to your Life and be faithful to the direction of your life.

NOMAD.LIMITED

House of Coco caught up with Alice Mayor, the lady responsible for kicking our London souvenirs into shape with the innovative We Built This City. Be gone snow globes and magnets and hello limited edition prints and, er, pigeons!

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HOC: Hello Alice! Welcome to GBOGB – our series about ladies doing it for themselves. Something we’ve loved about our interviews so far is how so many of our GirlBosses are queens of reinvention – where you are in life or what you do for a living now doesn’t define you! How did you come to setting up We Built This City?

AM: I started life in PR and marketing for an agency with Arts clients. After being in the Arts industry I decided that I wanted to get more of a hands on feel for business. I felt there was a distance between being in an agency and actually in a business and I wanted to get involved in a start up. So, after 4 years of working in an agency I went to work for an online art and design retailer. It involved taking a pay cut but it was a lot of fun. I met a lot of artists and heard them all telling me how tough it was to be an artist. They had to do tonnes of admin and trade shows which meant they didn’t have time to get on and do what they did best!

I’m really passionate about creativity and felt sad that art wasn’t getting to a wider audience. It soon became my mission to help artists and designers with their careers through opening up and democratising art and design – so that artists could find new audiences and customers could find new products in a different way.

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HOC: What was it about souvenirs that attracted you?

AM: Post the Olympics, London was in ascendency as a city. I remember reading an article that we were the most visited city in the world. Suddenly it didn’t seem right that people visiting London would always stick to the central tourist areas and rarely see the cooler sections. At the same time, London-related pieces were selling very well at the online retailer I was working for. I think that people feel very emotional about London; they come on holiday here, fall in love here, live here – there’s something for everyone in this city.

Typical souvenirs are so outdated and there’s a huge gap between what you can buy in a traditional souvenir shop and what the city represents. Typical souvenirs also tend to be cliched, generally not made locally and don’t represent an experience of contemporary London. There’s a lot more to London; you don’t even need to a be tourist to want a souvenir; many Londoners are very tribal about their areas!

It was surprising to me that this idea hadn’t been done in this way before. Of course, you can find good London inspired products in museum & gallery gift shops and places like Selfridges and Fortnum and Mason. However, no-one was doing it with a proper design-led approach. I realised that so many of the artists and designers, being based in London, had pieces inspired by the city. And even better, they were quality products and artworks with an affordable price tag, so perfect for a diverse customer in central London.

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HOC: Your store couldn’t be more central in London (on Carnaby Street); how on earth did you get that to happen?

AM: Finding the right space was definitely the toughest thing. I literally walked around for 6 months banging my head on the walls looking for property! I couldn’t end up in Shoreditch, I knew I needed to be in central London for the shop to work. There were plenty of people who said that it wouldn’t work in a traditional retail environment as rents are so high.

In my 6 months of looking for the perfect space, I lurked around London; lots of lingering outside traditional souvenir stores, ringing estate agents, pop up managers etc. I finally found a contact who dealt with leasing around Carnaby Street and Soho; two areas where I thought the shop could work really well. The area has such heritage but you also get a lot of fashion and design in the area.

I pitched with a keynote presentation with the name ‘We Built This City’ and some example products. The team loved it but had a caveat – we would have to open in the next 3 weeks in a 3,000 sq ft space on Carnaby Street. It was crazy and utterly exhilarating and we opened on the 21st November for 8 weeks, it was really popular, so much so we were invited back in time for Summer 2015 and we’ve just moved to a new space right in the middle of Carnaby. We’re not really a pop-up anymore, I call us a ‘stay-up’!

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HOC: Wow, it happened so fast. How did you manage the transition from working full time for someone else to working for yourself?

AM: During the time I was lurking around London I left my job at the online retailer – the business was being sold to new owners, so it was the right time. I then did some freelance work with Pip Jamieson – she’s a massive inspiration and a great female entrepreneur. I worked with her to launch The Dots but the day after the launch party I had an emotional reaction that, after helping another business, told me this was my time. It was a real guttural instinct that pushed me on to get the meetings that led to the launch of We Built This City.

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HOC: And who makes up ‘We Built This City’ now?

AM: The ‘we’ of ‘We Built This City’ has been important from day one for me. When we first opened I already had a retail analyst friend of mine on board; she had been working for 10 years and wanted to do something else. She’s been instrumental to our success; she has been incredible at setting up the store and all of the finance side of things. I never dreamt of having a 3,000 ft shop at Christmas and I honestly don’t think I could have done that without her!

In fact, as everything moved so fast with the first opening – almost everyone in my life has been involved with We Built This City in some way. I had been trying to get a start up loan from the government but that takes around 6 weeks and I only had 3, so I did a big ring round my friends and family telling them I’d pay them back at some point in the future!

For the first opening I was in the shop every day for 8 weeks and I had a team of 5 people who also did shifts. It was like having a baby; I just couldn’t leave the shop; I had the key and was in first and out last. It got to a point that, in order for the business to have a future, I needed to come out of being full-time in the shop. Now we have a great team in place: Olivia runs the Carnaby store and does all the product buying, Katy takes care of all the artist liaison and art buying – they both have great commercial eyes and are instrumental to our success at making sure there’s something for every taste and budget. We are also now very lucky to have Adam who has 10 years experience in creative marketing and PR – support in that area is vital in the early days to build a strong community and brand. We also have a really talented shop team. Above anything else, the most important thing for me is our customer relations with our shop customers and the creative community. From my time working with Pip at The Dots I was very aware of what it takes to make a business run and that’s why I’ve taken the decision to build a solid team across the board early on. My advice to anyone starting out is to be very honest as early as possible about your strengths and what you can offer the business. Then plug the gaps and build a really strong team around you to share the weight.

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HOC: Is it all about London, then or would you consider other locations?

AM: London was the starting point for me. In fact, a friend of mine came up with the name ‘We Built This City’ over a pint – I didn’t want London in the name as I didn’t want to be restricted! Tatty souvenirs are a problem the world over. There’s great homegrown craft out there but there’s always the standard souvenir store. I’m sure there is still a place for a snow globe souvenir but we can do more!

We are really ambitious to grow outside of London, whether that’s around the UK or beyond, will have to be seen. We’re still learning so much from our experience on Carnaby and need to spend some more time consolidating our offer here first. It is though very important to me that We Built This City is not just about London and we take this opportunity to more creatives around the world.

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HOC: Our series is in part inspired by #GirlBoss movement and something they celebrate are Girl Boss Moments – do you have a recent experience that made you feel like a real Girl Boss?

AM: I’ve been asked to do a lot of talks recently. When you are invited to speak about your experience it really makes you realise that you’ve nailed something! It’s also a great opportunity to stop and reflect on what you’ve actually achieved, as well as what’s working and what’s not. I was first asked to speak at the Pulse trade show and was inundated with questions – it’s then that I also realised that I can now share my story and help others in the process. I was quite humbled by it all! More recently, I’ve spoken at Guardian Masterclasses and SohoCreate festival.

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HOC: So what’s new for this new phase of We Built This City?

AM: We’re launching our online store later this summer.

We also have loads going on in our new space at 46 Carnaby Street; events and workshops that bring our designers into the store. For me, it’s so important that the store is about more than the transaction; we recently invited an artist called Rugman to design our third storefront which is a bold & colourful geometric design with a vinyl of the Queen as the centrepiece.

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HOC: Sounds awesome, Alice! Thanks for sharing your story with us and we can’t wait to pop down for a workshop soon. Make sure you check out We Built This City, now at 46 Carnaby Street. They represent over 250 London artists and so far have supported over 600.

Do your part and support local artists and their creativity when you travel. We hate to break it to you but no one really wants an ‘I’m with Stupid’ t-shirt from your next city break!

For our #WomenWorldwide series, we’ve gone out on the road to find the most innovative and inspiring entrepreneurs we can from every corner of the globe. Today’s interviewee, Zainab Akingbehin, is an interior designer at Oeuvre Designs, based in the heart of the bustling city of Lagos, Nigeria.

HOC: Great to meet you Zainab! Let’s start with the tricky stuff! What’s your elevator pitch for Oeuvre Designs?
Zainab: Oeuvre Designs is an interior design studio based in Lagos Nigeria, we specialise in bespoke designs with the client’s personality and functionality being key to our designs.

HOC: Your work is beautiful! Tell us about your journey to running this business?

Zainab: Oeuvre designs started in 2016 with as little as nothing! It’s been quite an interesting journey though, of course there have been some learnings also on this journey, and hasn’t always been a smooth ride, but the determination has been strong.
When we launched the first question was, where do we get clients from and how? But we came up with our first furniture design “Hexa Stool” and everything went from there and brought us to into limelight. I guess that’s how we started!

HOC: You are based in Lagos which is known globally for being a hub of design, what’s it like running your business there?

Zainab: Trust me, Lagos is one of those tough places to get anything done on a daily basis. The hustle and bustle is real and the design process isn’t a smooth one here, getting things done in time is quite challenging and there are limitations too as we
almost never have the right places to source for things. But, hey, we are strong people here and the passion drives us so we never get tired of the challenges!

HOC: How do you balance these varying demands on your time-being creative and running the business side of things?

Zainab: As a creative designer and a business owner in today’s industry you often have to wear multiple hats. It’s a juggling act and not always easy to get the balance right. I don’t think there is ever a perfect balance though because there is a guilt either way.

I’m a perfectionist and the reality of being a creative designer and a business owner is that something always have to give which doesn’t sit well with me. But with the support I get from my team at work allows me to shuffle both.

HOC: Who would be your ideal client?

Zainab: Definitely clients that love good finish and clean lines; clients that have creative personality and also the support co-creation process.

HOC: Why, in your opinion, is good design so important?

Zainab: Good design is important due to the aesthetic value it possess in a given space. The fact is having an interior design that looks nice and beautiful will make you like your home even more. Also, good design means functionality because it
affects your quality of life. In your home, people live in such a way that they interact with their environment on a daily basis. Trust me, if a design does not work for you it’s most likely to frustrate you more than making you happy!

HOC: For our creative readers, what advice would you have for them to grow their artist practices and get their work seen?

Zainab: Firstly, self-confidence is very important. For instance, a stranger asks what do you do, and your response is not portraying any aura of confidence, then you are not doing a good job being a creative artist and selling yourself. No matter how
amazing your work is, if you are not confident enough in your work then it’s going to take series of miracle for anyone to see and appreciate your work!

Secondly know your value. One man’s paint splatter is another man’s masterpiece. So when you are trying to decide how much to charge for your work you need to take a lot of things into account like the time and cost of your supplies.

Thirdly consider the factors in the intangibles of your work that gives it value.

HOC: What piece that you’ve created means the most to you and why?

Zainab: Definitely my “Hexa Stool” : it was the start of my furniture design and it brought me into limelight so it means the most to me.

HOC: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Zainab: I get inspiration everywhere, from nature, my environment, architecture, sometimes in books and design blogs. Also by surrounding myself with positive minded people.

HOC: If you ever have a creative block / funk; how do you get yourself out of it?

Zainab: Most times I just take 2 days off work and it helps a lot. I always have in mind the idea of finishing what you’ve started because the creative part is in seeing it through to the end and turning that dream into reality! I can also be spontaneous in nature; some of our designs are done lastminute and that is the fun part of being a designer.

Check out Zainab’s work at Oeuvre Designs at OeuvreDesigns.co

Follow along at @Oeuvre_Designs