Wine and Watercolours – RBSA and Artisan Alchemy

A rather unusual invite dropped into my inbox a few weeks ago. Would I like to explore two of the Jewellery Quarter’s arts venues, drink wine and learn to paint with watercolours? At first, the painting scared me off a little. I am a great admirer of art but have not a shred of artistic talent of my own. But the promise of finding some great arts venues (and the wine) lured me in and I said yes.

Artisan Alchemy

Bespoke furniture

We started the evening at Artisan AlchemyArtiscan Alchemy is a unique gallery, owned by Michele White. The venue houses a gallery filled with stunning bespoke furniture and Michele’s award-winning jewellery, meeting spaces and artist workshops. Michele aims to curate a space that brings together the traditions of making with modern design. The gallery is lined with cabinets of Michele’s beautiful jewellery, while the room is filled with incredible furniture from variety of makers. You can browse the gallery or buy the pieces on display and take home a truly unique piece of furniture.

Hutchinsons Talk

After a glass of wine and some nibbles, we were given a talk by Hutchinsons, a producer of hand-made bespoke furniture. They showed us some of the incredible creations, including a staircase with drawers in the steps, a flexible family dining table and a stunning curved dressing table. Cabinet maker, Charlie, spoke about combining traditional hand-drawn designs with modern CAD, the skills to create furniture like theirs and being a woman in what is seen as a traditionally male industry.

Artisan Alchemy jewellery

We moved downstairs to see Michele’s workshop, where she creates her jewellery. Her work struck me as very ‘organic’ looking. The crystals and stones she uses seem to grow out of the metal, fusing together to look like an almost natural piece. She takes inspiration from the stones themselves, as well as art work. Her work is available to buy in the gallery, or you can commission something special.


Next, it was on to the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, or the RBSA. The RBSA supports local artists (both budding and established) through exhibitions, workshops and demonstrations. The exhibitions are free to view, spread across several floors and cover everything from paintings to textiles.

Ann Hackett ARBSA


Upstairs, amidst the exhibition of New Curators: Watercolours, we were introduced to Ann Hackett ARBSA. Ann teaches a variety of workshops and classes at the RBSA, as well as being an artist herself. Wine was poured and we settled in to learn some of Ann’s favourite watercolour techniques. I have never attempted to paint in watercolour (I don’t think I’ve even tried painting anything other than walls and cosplay armour since my year 9 art classes), and had assumed it was still a pretty traditional style.

Ann was fascinating, and showed us that are lots of ways to work with watercolour beyond the usual painting it on to a canvas. We were shown how to print with leaves, and how to use kitchen materials including cling-film, salt and kitchen roll to create combined with the paint to create interesting textures.

Art workshops Birmingham

Fuelled with more wine, I somewhat nervously gathered some supplies and began to attempt some artwork of my own. Ann is a great teacher, and very reassuring, so I was soon over my nerves and began happily making a total mess on my paper. It was a bit like art class at primary school where you’re just enjoying splashing bright colours about. It’s worth noting that there were more artistic types around me, who produced actual art pieces, so whether you know what you’re doing or you’re a total novice like me, you can go to these classes and get something out of it. Watercolours are quite slow. You need patience as you work with them, and this makes it quite soothing. I had a go at generally slopping paint about, embossing, printing with leaves and sprinkling my paint with salt to create patterns.


Imagine my surprise when after all the mess I created two passable cards, with some pretty leaf prints and embossing. It was a lot of fun too, and I highly recommend you go and just try playing with art and creating art of your own. It doesn’t matter if you make anything pretty; it’s just so satisfying to create.

Go and explore your local arts venues, buy art, and create your own, even if it’s mostly mess. Massive thank you to RBSA and Artisan Alchemy for a blogger event like no other I’ve ever attended. It was fantastic.

I was a guest of RBSA and Artisan Alchemy in exchange for my thoughts. All opinions are honest and my own. 


Paddington Bear

Yesterday, it was announced that Michael Bond CBE, had died, aged 91. It was one of those deaths I read about and felt genuine sadness. Michael Bond, and his wonderful creations, are a big part of a lot of happy childhood memories. His stories make me think of my family, my grandparents in particular.

Bond wrote a children’s television series, The Herbs, which was filmed in gorgeous 3D stop motion model animation. First aired in the 60s, my grandparents had the whole thing on tape, and I remember watching it endlessly. During the summer holidays when I was small, I always stayed with my grandparents one night a week while my parents were at work. I vividly remember sitting in the living room in their house, watching these lovely old shows.

Paddington Bear

Most important of all though, was of course, Paddington Bear. In 1956, on Christmas Eve, Michael Bond bought the last stuffed bear on the shelf in Selfridges, as a present for his wife. They named the bear Paddington, after the station they lived near. Bond began to write stories about this bear, and in 1958, A Bear Called Paddington was published in hardback. Since then, Paddington Bear has featured in more than 20 books in 30 languages, which have sold 300 million copies worldwide. Paddington has also starred in three television series, a movie (with a second currently in production), a series of adverts for Marmite, a collection of stamps and an marketing campaign for Golden Shred marmalade.

My Gran loved Paddington. She owned a lot of Paddington merchandise, mostly in the form of stuffed bears. The best bear though, was this friendly chap.

1972 Gabrielle Designs Paddington

In 1971, Shirley Clarkson made two stuffed bears for her children, Joanna and Jeremy (yes, that Jeremy Clarkson). The next year, Clarkson’s company, Gabrielle Designs became the first Paddington licensee and began to mass produce these bears. Gran being quite a Paddington fan, she heard about the release of these bears and she had to have one. That year, it was the only thing on her Christmas list.

Paddington Bear label

These beautiful bears weren’t cheap, but Granddad dutifully set off to Hamleys, and bought the bear. These bears by Gabrielle Designs have become real collectors items, and in good condition can sell for up to £150. Gran’s bear has been well-loved, so he’s certainly not that valuable anymore, not that we’d part with him anyway.

When I was small, Paddington lived on the landing, where he was stood on a little stool underneath a bookcase full of photo albums. With no concept of his advanced age, or indeed, future value, I liked to play with Paddington and would clatter about the house and garden, with Paddington in tow. Gran made a pair of pyjamas for one of my dolls, but they ended up being much too big. I realised the pyjamas were a perfect fit for Paddington, so his famous outfit was always swapped for his new night gear in time for bed, whenever I stayed. Paddington stood up well to such undignified treatment, and even though at that time I’d have probably told you my favourite bear was Winnie the Pooh, Paddington was already occupying a special place in my heart.

Please look after this bear

When my grandparents moved house, Paddington went along as well and took up a new position standing on a chair in the front hall. He stayed there, watching over the kitchen, until my Gran died. After that, Paddington came to live with me. He’s moved house several times with me since then, and he always has pride of place in my living room. He’s an extremely popular gentleman, and visitors tend to find themselves taking him down from wherever he’s standing, and sitting with him in their laps. After a few swan dives from the top of my bookcase, he’s now standing on the floor in front of the bookcase, where he can keep an eye on everything that’s going on. Wherever I move next, Paddington will come too and take up his traditional guard position.

His coat and hat are faded now, and at some point he acquired a charity pin badge in his hat (my Gran added this at some point, and I won’t remove it). He might not be of interest to a toy collector anymore after a little too much love and sunlight, but he’s a very important member of my family. This bear, and Paddington in general, are always associated with my grandparents, for me. Whenever I pass through Paddington station, I have to go and visit the life size Paddington statue, even though I’ve seen it a hundred times. Paddington has been in my life for as long as I can remember, and I know he’ll always stay with me.

Thank you, Michael Bond, from me and my Gran, for my lifelong friend, Paddington Bear. Rest in peace.


Blogger Problems

From the outside, it can look like bloggers lead a charmed life. A life that is a whirlwind of events, free products and Instagram. Alright, sometimes it is like that, but usually it’s actually pretty unglamorous. At an event last week, I caught myself with a couple of bloggers talking about the really silly parts of blogger issues. So, with tongue firmly in cheek, here’s the worst blogger problems out there.

Blogger Problems

  • It is surprisingly challenging to eat a canape at the same time as photograph it. Those more networking style events are a minefield if you’re trying to get content from them. You need one hand to hold your drink, another to hold a canape, another to hold your camera to photograph that canape, a hand for your phone so you can tweet and instagram about your swank life and yet another hand for shaking the hand of the PR someone is trying to introduce you too. Add in trying to hold your bag or your coat (sometimes your laptop if you came straight from work) and you need to be some kind of octopus blogger.
  • You can’t remember the last time you ate food in a restaurant (or often your own cooking at home) that was the intended temperature. By the time you’ve rearranged the table, shifted the plate around to find some non-orange light (WHY IS EVERYWHERE LIT SO ORANGE!!), upset your dining companion by asking them to please get their bloody arm out of your shot, and finally got  a photo of your meal that you’re happy with, it’s gone cold.
  • People have started refusing to come for dinner with you. Either their dinner is cold after all the rearranging, you’ve scolded them or stabbed them with a fork for trying to eat before you’ve finished taking pictures, or you’ve shamed them by standing up, standing on your chair, or generally whipping out a giant camera and flash gun, to take the very best picture. You find yourself saying things like, “Photos before forks!”. So now you have to eat alone…
  • You’ve bought a new product, maybe a coveted eye shadow palette or something like that, and you’re desperate to try it out. Trouble is, you need to photograph it first before you ruin how pretty it looks, and the idea of setting up the shot seems like a lot of hassle just to put on some eyeshadow.
  • You’re so used to making flatlays for Instagram, you keep arranging everything you own into attractive flatlays. The food shopping, your makeup, your outfit choice. The cat. Your housemate.
  • A huge part of your day is involved in looking for suitably cool looking walls to take your outfit photos in front of.
  • Events are a minefield. You’ve come straight from work and arrive an underdressed, sweaty mess. You’ve smeared canape down your coat. Someone important from a magazine fell over your work bag after you tried to subtly put it down so you had enough hands for cameras and drinks and hand shaking. You’ve forgotten that blogger’s actual name and can only remember their Twitter handle. Somebody asked where you were from and you cheerfully answered, “Worcester!” before realising they meant, what blog are you from. So much cringe ahead.
  • Photography can be the best fun, but also a bloody nightmare. You get set up and the sun goes in. You bought a beautiful camera, but it won’t fit in your bag, and it’s so heavy it nearly pulls your shoulder off. You feel like the world’s biggest knob making your friend take ‘candid’ photos of you for outfit posts. It’s just all very awkward.

What’s the silliest blogger problem you’ve experiences?