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Helen Lang at Elphicks Shop, Columbia Road

Today being Sunday, I thought I’d post this interview with Helen Lang, one of the artists who sells work through Elphicks in Columbia Road. If you haven’t already been, or if you’re visiting London and looking for a gift or memento to take home, then this is a great place to find something unusual – she sells a range of her own and other artists’ illustrations, prints and artwork.

The flower market is on Sundays from 8am to 3pm, but many of the small independent shops are open at other times, too – Saturdays are a good day to visit as it’s much quieter.

Helen Lang, who has recently started selling her work there, talked to me:

When did you start drawing?
I know its sounds like a bit of a cliche but I have always drawn. Family photo albums are full of shots of me on a floor covered with paper, hundreds of pencils and a rainbow set of felt pens scattered about. My Dad was a litho printer and the summer holidays were filled with going to work with him and getting to draw on all the misprints. When i went to my mum’s work I would draw for all the girls in the office and I think if you go back to the canteen and open the cupboard there’s still a drawing I did of a flamingo for the tea lady.

How would you describe your style?
Wonderfully sophistaticated and beautifully quirky?! I’m not really sure how you would describe it as a style but my illustrations are very intricate and crisp, but essentially happy and colourful. My work has developed over the last two years and has become a lot more decorative and I’ve loved exploring the typographical possibilities in my artwork. Some imagery has a very romantic lilt with other work simply being created to celebrate fun and colour. Floral elements and natural forms are also very important in my work and the ability to incorporate lettering is key to my style.

I see that you’re originally from Devon… do you live in East London now, and if so, what are your top five places?
Yes, I have to confess I’m a janner from Devon! and although I don’t live in East London currently (I live in Tooting Broadway) I do love exploring the East End. My favourite places include Bistrotheque for its unique and hilarious nights (Lipsynchers and Bearlesque especially !!) I also love Spitalfields market which, although getting slightly touristy and very cleanly organised, is still a fabulous place to see an eclectic mix of fashion, design and interiors. I love the bagel shops at the end of Brick Lane and adore queuing late at night for two salt beef (no mustard please) bagels. Columbia Road market has also been a big love of mine and it’s wonderful to have my work selling in Elphicks. I can pop over to stock up with all kinds of brooms, lavenders, pansies and herbs for a tenner and then have a chat with Sharon who runs the gallery. It’s a wonderful environment.

Do you find living in London gives you more ideas/energy for your drawings?
Living in London doesn’t necessarily give you more ideas but it does have a wonderful sense of creativity and creative networks. I do feel that there is a passionate art scene in London and the East End really showcases this passion. I’m a member of the East End Arts Club run by the fabulous Helen Edwards and her briefs for shows give me a lot of flexibility and scope to generate fresh new work. I’m really excited by her shows and the gallery spaces she is able to exhibit in are superb too.
There is a real sense that anything goes in London and the market places and galleries are so much more open to seeing new artists work and ideas. I love the exhibitions and gatherings that allow people to network and collaborate and I think that’s where I get a lot of energy from.

Any tips for aspirants about making a career as an artist/illustrator?It looks like you’ve found a good balance of creative and commercial work….
It’s all about a good balance. You can be a hugely talented artist but if you don’t have the ability to make your work accessible to buyers then you’re stuffed. Promoting your work successfully and with a clear understanding of the marketplace you will be selling your work in is key. Pricing is also a big factor and being sensible with your attitude towards selling your work is key. One thing I have learnt is never undersell yourself but do be aware of what the competition is offering.

Find out more about Helen’s work at Wet Paint, or visit her Facebook page

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A walk to the Vietnamese cafes, Kingsland Road

vietThe Vietnamese restaurants along Kingsland Road are legendary. And somehow, the competition means they all – at least of the seven or so I have tried – are excellent and honestly priced. Usually, for big groups, my choice would be Tay Do or its sister restaurant across the road (both have big, dead lobsters on the walls). 

Until the recession began, we had a Vietnamese-Aussie friend who would order for us and all we had to do was sit down, watch her in action and then wait for the most delectable dishes to arrive – green papaya salad, steamed fish with ginger, pork chops, chilli salt squid and something called shaker beef, which is small cubes of chewy beef, marinated in some delicious sauce, then quickly cooked rare and served with a bowl of salt and lemon slices. God, I’m getting hungry just thinking about it and it’s only 11am.

Anyway, in her absence we muddle through, but the magic has gone. And then, just recently I rediscovered Loong Kee, which I used to go to years ago. It’s right up the quiet end of Kingsland Road and just next door to the lovely Geffrye Museum (read about my recent visit here).

P1020795Loong Kee’s speciality is banh cuon, or steamed rice flour rolls, which arrive stuffed with either a beef or prawn filling and have a sweet sauce to pour over them. This is a slightly calmer restaurant, and it’s particularly nice on Sunday afternoons when you see families having long lunches and dishes of all sorts of seafood and meat arriving. Everything comes with lots of fresh coriander and chilli and they also serve freshly squeezed juices.

Actually, sorry, but I’m going to interrupt this blog to go there for an early lunch. Life is short, the the sun is shining and my belly is rumbling. To be continued.

Right, back now. That was well worth the walk. Vermicelli noodles with beef and lemongrass and a fresh juice. I also stopped by Oxfam (for more on this wonderful place, read here) and found three new books – Lucky by Alice Sebold, Caravan Thieves by Gerard Woodward and In My Skin by Kate Jennings, a Melbourne writer – it’s a book about her experience of working as a prostitute to support a heroin habit and it’s brilliant, I read it before but lent it to someone and never got it back, usual story, so now I’ve got another copy. Sounds depressing and somewhat tired, but isn’t. Which reminds me, I am thinking up a manifesto for book buying, which is an minefield these days.

 I also noted a few things on my walk:

Winter is here, but not in a bad way. The trees are bare and the ground is covered with leaves, dogs are wearing little coats and I may have finally discovered the perfect black faux fur jacket number 3 (I gave my first one to a friend when in my cups and then left its replacement on a bus).

Hidden Art is on December 5-6, a chance to sniff around the many artists’ studios that are dotted around the East End & do some Christmas shopping in a relaxed environment rather than the pit of hell that is Oxford Street in December.

Columbia Road is opening its shops late on Wednesday nights in December. 

And my local bus stop has disappeared. Just gone. Where there was a shelter with a display telling you when the next bus was due there is now just pavement. Bastards. Just in time for winter, too. I blame Boris.

Plus, the 38 bendy buses, where you could get on right at the back, are getting ditched this weekend. Back to double deckers. So no more of that drama of the bus stopping and about twenty transport cops getting on and busting fare dodgers. It was always rather exciting, except when you were unlucky enough to be next to the yellow validator thing and half the bus lunged towards it to zap their Oyster and you nearly got crushed by the stampede, of course.  See this article in The Londonist for details. 

Loong Kee, 134 Kingsland Road Tel: 020 7729 8344

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