Barcelona, Gaudi and mosaics

A couple of years ago I enjoyed an Autumn break in Barcelona. Looking through my photographs recently, I thought it would be nice to share them. The main difficulty was in deciding which images to share!

My overwhelming impression of Barcelona was that if it doesn’t move, then it gets decorated with mosaics. Even the trees look to be covered in mosaics (yes, that is the tree bark on the left), and I love the building with the umbrella ‘mosaic’.

Much of the best known mosaic work in Barcelona is the work of Gaudi. It’s a difficult choice, but Casa Batlló was probably my favourite of Gaudi’s buildings. As well as being the architect of this building Gaudi was also able to design the interiors, including light fittings, door handles and even decorative (but efficient) ventilation systems. It is designed in its entirety. The main central hall has tiles of varying shades to compensate for the amount of light that reaches different levels – there is such attention to detail here. But I also particularly liked the stables and gate at Finca Güell, especially the idea of putting bright mosaic pieces into the mortar in the brickwork.

But Barcelona is more than just Gaudi’s mosaics. The Palau de la Música Catalana is stunning. Designed and built in the early 20th Century when Gaudi was also designing, it has a more structured and illustrative style while still employing the mosaic technique. One day I hope to go back and see the inside of this impressive building. There is only so much you can do on a short city break.

What I particularly like about Gaudi’s work is the joyful randomness of the mosaics. The pieces were not cut into perfect regular shapes and exactly placed into geometric patterns. There was always the feel of the work being hand-crafted rather then precision engineered. To create that feeling of almost casual randomness takes a great level of skill and confidence.

Before my visit to Barcelona I knew of Gaudi, but I didn’t understand very much about his work. Nothing prepared me for the explosion of colours, shapes, and textures that his work presented. I was also surprised to discover the diversity of his work, and the way he referred to legends and his cultural history. Casa Batlló is actually based around the story of Sant Jordi (or Saint George) who is the patron saint of Catalonia. A good explanation can be found here. And the wonderful dragon gate at Finca Güell was also inspired by literature and legend.

Visiting Barcelona gave me a much wider appreciation of Gaudi’s work. He paid great attention to detail, wanting everything to work together to tell a coherent visual story. And he worked in so many media and different design disciplines. This attention to detail is evident in the scale and structure of Sagrada Família, where you an also see his models and working drawings that he used to calculate the various architectural constraints.

Barcelona is a beautiful and inspiring city to visit. The bus tours are great to help familiarise yourself with the city before deciding where you want to focus your time. Although I visited many places, there are others that I simply didn’t have time for. So one day I will return, as I am sure there are plenty more sights waiting there to wow me.










Turkish Carpets

Last year I spent a wonderful holiday in Turkey. I did very little sightseeing, preferring to just relax by, and in, the pool. One of the places I did visit was the Temple of Apollo near Ephesus. While the Temple itself was impressive, I want to share some photos that I took at a carpet seller nearby. Most, if not all, of these carpets and rugs were probably produced for the tourist trade. I loved the strong geometric shapes on most of the designs, together with the gorgeous colours. I hope you enjoy the photos. I will also be sharing some of the colour schemes that I extracted from the rugs on my Instagram feed








“The Durrells”

Over the past six weeks I have been enjoying the TV program “The Durrells” on ITV.  This has been (in my opinion) perfect Sunday evening TV, gentle and beautiful to watch.

For those of you who don’t know, it is based on The Corfu Trilogy, an autobiographical book series by the naturalist Gerald Durrell. The story is of when his widowed mother suddenly decides to move her family of four children to Corfu in search of a better life for them all. They struggle with language difficulties, lack of electricity, no money, and cultural differences. But this post is not really about the TV series. It is about the TV titles.


Image by kind permission of Alex Maclean of Rupert Ray

The tiles of the program have had me mesmerised. In fact, I was inspired to try and find out who had created them. The company behind the titles is Rupert Ray, and the particular designer is Alex Maclean. The full title sequence can be seen here.

So why do I like this title sequence so much? I have been thinking about this and have identified some of the reasons.

Firstly, the style is so evocative of the story and the era in which it is set (1935). The strong, bold, and flat colours remind me of the railway and travel posters of the 1930s. I now know that these posters were part of Alex Maclean’s references for the titles. It was nice to know that my interpretation of the imagery matched with what he intended.

Secondly, the title sequence is full of character and storyline references, as well as contextual information about Corfu. There are lots of hidden details not necessarily observed at first sight. We see different activities from the story (such as Margo sunbathing and Leslie shooting), also items  or ‘props’ that we can identify (such as Larry’s typewriter and the pink bicycle). There is so much character and personality in the people we meet in the titles. And as the TV series progressed I was able to see and understand more items that I had previously missed.

Finally, it was the overall flow of the titles. Rather than being a series of more static images, the ‘scenes ‘ flowed into each other with a lovely sense of almost being on the journey with the Durrells. It was an amalgamation of different events. Not necessarily correct in terms of storyline timescales, but really effective at creating the feel and the ambience of the program. While some scenes were very literal (the sunbathing) many were combinations of different events or character traits. And I especially loved Roger the dog bouncing through them.

To find out more about the ideas behind these titles, you can see some of Alex Maclean’s developmental work here, and also visit his development board on Pinterest.

Why has this TV title sequence been important to me as a designer?


As part of the Make Art That Sells course there was a brief to illustrate a children’s book. I struggled with this and am not happy with the work I produced. But I did not really know why. Analysing these TV titles has helped me to understand why. I focused on one scene from the story, I was too literal in my interpretation. I did not pay enough attention to creating the whole context and feel of the story, putting in all the little extras that would help to create the overall atmosphere and visual interest. My focus was on creating the characters, and I am pleased with what I did there. But now I start to realise that the visual characters are only the start. They need a context rich world to inhabit and to make them ‘come alive’. Yes, Lilla told us that, but it took Alex Maclean’s work to help me realise and understand it. Thank you Alex.



Saturday Spectrum: Red

“It’s RED Week.
That’s Red.
Not Cadmium Red, Cherry Red, or Tomato Red.

As Crayola decrees it.”

These were the guidelines from Anne on the Tag Gallery blog. It is more difficult than it sounds to find this red. But my first thought with red was of the leaves and berries we are seeing here now that Autumn has started.

A design based on this colour is still in progress (life happens) so here are some photos from when Piran the studio dog joined me in hunting ‘Red’.




Maison Plastique

There was an article in the Sunday newspaper magazine a few months ago about a house in New York. This house looked to be made out of plastic, like a toddler’s playhouse. Here are just a couple of images, but you can see more herehere and here. Please go and take a look – it really is stunning.



Designed by Peter Stamberg and Paul Aferiat this house was inspired by Modernist architecture, in particular the Barcelona Pavillion by Mies van der Rohe. And yet at the same time it has an almost kitsch Pop Art feel to it. Despite the appearance, it survived Hurricane Sandy in 2012 better than most of Shelter Island. Underneath the aluminium and polycarbonate walls there is a strong metal framework to support this structure which actually looks as if it is just leaning there temporarily.

The house is nicknamed Maison Plastique by the owners, but is also known as The Speed Bump by local people as everyone driving by slows down to look at it. It is certainly bright and noticeable. I don’t usually like strong synthetic colours like these, but there is something appealing here. Maybe it is the simplicity and boldness of the shapes that suits the colours. The article and the photos made me wonder if some colours suit particular styles better than others. It also gave me some new bright colour palettes to work with.

After seeing this lovely Maison Plastique, I found another version in a local garden. And to its owners eyes I am sure it is every bit as lovely as the one on Shelter Island.



Bottle Labels

I wonder how many people (like me) choose a drink by the attractiveness of the label? So I thought I might feature some interesting bottles that I have seen. My favourite has to be the Bruidladdich Malt Whisky bottle with the gorgeous Mucha-esque woman. It sat on my windowsill for months before I photographed it and recycled it.

More bottle labels can also be found on my Pinterest page.