29 Jul 2017

A Sailor's Life

Rain lashing down on a slippery ship’s deck.  Gales whistling in between the rigging.  And through the sound of the wind and the water,  sailors’ voices are singing in unison roaring between the hauling of wet rope…

Walking around the sailboats in the Bristol docks has really fired my imagination - the S.S. Great Britain standing tallest among them, peering proudly down over the lowly little boats surrounding it.  I've always felt like harbour towns have a strongly poetical connection to their past.  Looking out to where ships used to pass is like standing at the edge of another world where history can almost sail up through the ages to meet you.

My latest collection, now up on my website
As my Facebook and Instagram follows will have seen, I'm very happy to have finished my latest collection, ‘Seafarer’, which I have been planning for a long time and finally can announce this week.  Living in Bristol, a nautical-themed collection always felt like something I would like to draw and design for and they are now all up on my website at www.katherineoshea.co.uk/seafarer

My new Seafarer lampshade featuring denizens of the darkest ocean
I wanted my illustrations to have a darker edge to them - less beach hut holiday, and more Jules Verne adventure!  A sailors' life, magnificently adventurous though it must have been, would have been full of mysterious peril, so I let my own designs to reflect a little more of the dangers of the deep… After all, would the British ships have continued set off across the seven seas, were it not for the draw of the ocean’s unknown wonders?

The perils and pleasures of life of the waves

For this third collection, I thought I'd share a little bit of historical sea shantying to set the scene for my new adventurous seafarers theme.  This one is from the wonderful 'Roaring Trowmen' - who I’ve seen set a room singing with nothing but their own voices and some traditional tunes:

The sea shanty - a derivation from the French word “chanse” - to sing, came into the world of sailing for surprisingly practical reasons.  When you listen to these types of songs, you soon notice they have a particularly rhythmic pattern to them, with a lot of 'call and response' parts to them.  Interestingly, the origins of 'shanty' can be traced back to the work songs of the Deep South, when sailors spent their days hauling onto loading vessels the cotton picked by African Americans in the plantation fields.  Around this time, the magnetic beats of African music were just beginning to blend their way into the songs of the West, and music to make you move became more popular.  

The infamous Kraken
The work on a boat was hard-going manual labour, but also required precise rhythm, meaning that timing your efforts to the sound of a shanty was useful as well as entertaining.  For sailors heaving the heavy ropes of the enormous merchant vessels of the day, the Heave Ho! of a hearty tune belted out in time with your crew mates' labouring became an integral part of surviving the hard graft of naval life. 

Unfortunately, the days of public singing are long gone.  For years and years, work songs were carelessly belted out and handed down as a matter of course, however I doubt you find a factory or a worksite where you could get away with that now!  I'm really not sure why this has happened, but I think it's kind of a shame...  Wouldn't it be hilarious if it became a trend again?

So the next time you find yourself humming along to Drunken Sailor, maybe you'll think of our brave boys on the waves, hanging on to a rope, and possibly eachother, for dear life, belting out some happy tunes all the way home.

11 May 2017

My launch at the Country Living Spring Fair

 Regular readers of this blog will remember I attended the Country Living Build-a-Business workshop in February...

Little did I know that I would soon be exhibiting my work alongside the Country Living brand at their annual Spring Fair in Alexandra Palace, as part of their "Kitchen Table Talent" showcase!

The building it's self is just stunning - all stone arches and stained glass windows - although like every Victorian exhibition hall it seems to have burned down, twice.  In any case it created a very grand atmosphere.  I felt very privileged to be sharing a stage with a real classic among British magazines, and in such a iconic London building.
The Ally Pally on fire

It meant such a lot to have been selected, and it came at just the right time for me, having just launched my website...


...It's the new home for my online store, although I will still be posting up my stories and regular diary entries here on this blog. 

I'll also take this opportunity to invite you to join me on social media - there are going to be lots of special offers, discounts and sneak previous coming along soon.  Followers, lurkers and browsers are all welcome!



My website is open for business and general exploration! Here's a few of my products for sale...




4 Apr 2017

Poisonous green

Have you ever seen a colour so sickly and lurid it makes you feel quite unwell?

In which case, you might be interested to know that there was actually a colour, used liberally in Victorian times, which could kill you from the comfort of your own sitting room.

The colour was called Sheele's green, and was used in all sorts of furnishings, but most predominantly in wallpaper. 

Green - so relaxing...
In the Victorian Age, the general population went mad for wallpaper.  Gas lamps for the home had just been invented, and people suddenly found their dark and dingy drawing rooms thrown into a rather awkward amount of light.  Cue the clamour for beautiful patterned wallpaper.  The colour was an all important factor, and was considered have a significant effect on everything from your general mood to the health and well-being.  And, of course, your fashionability.  Brighter hues were favoured to make the most of the new light in their daily lives.  Thus the garish emerald shade - Scheelle's green - was born.  And which compound was chosen to produce this miraculous colour?  Why, arsenic of course!  The pigment-of-the-moment favoured by Pre-Raphaelites and poets - for painting and for suicide, respectively.

If you are a house owner in the 1800s, domestic life is changing enormously for you.  You and your dear significant other are now spending more and more time reclining in your home than the previous generation.  A great deal of emphasis is put on ownership of decorative objects - and keeping up appearances was the height of importance.  You turn to your Cassell's Household Guide to learn 'The Principles of Good Taste', wherein green is described as a most "reposeful" colour to introduce to your walls.  You would certainly never think to connect the slowly declining health of your family to your wallpaper, not when there are so many other weird and terrifying diseases around to scratch your head at.  And what could be more indicative of your intellectual and cultural good taste than a room papered with Scheele's Green wallpaper...?  Except perhaps if the room is papered with a green William Morris designed wallpaper. 

Most of us will be familiar with original hipster William Morris, that famous hero of the decorative and handmade, steadfastly supporting the artisan over the mass-manufacturer. 

But perhaps less of us will be familiar with William Morris, director of the largest arsenic mine in the UK, and profiteer of nationwide poisoning.  Is it possible that he might have had an ulterior motive when writing the following in this letter?

"As to the arsenic scare, a greater folly was hardly possible to imagine; the doctors were bitten as people bitten by 'witch fever'." - William Morris

Morris eventually did cave in to pressure, and create an 'arsenic-free paper', but only at the whim of a public demand.  He continued to deny the possibility of any ill-health resulting from his dangerous decorations.  Because of the excellent amount of money to be made from arsenic use it was indeed an inconvenient truth, as proved when the banning of arsenic wallpaper was brought up in parliament and duly ignored.  To this day no legislation has been passed.  In the end what really killed it dead was Queen Victoria joining the cause against it in 1879, after a foreign guest spent one night in a green guest room at the palace, and ended up feeling rather green himself.

It's hard to imagine that, despite the increasing cases of slow and mysterious deaths being linked to poisonous paper during this era, many people still bought them in swathes.  Then again, people still bought cigarettes long after they had been proved poisonous...

So, hey - what's one little feature panel in the bedroom?

Nowadays, vintage-style patterned wallpaper seems to be very in vogue again, after a brief post-Laura-Ashley hiatus.  As my blog readers will know, I love anything patterned, detailed and vintage, so I'm very happy with this turn of events!  I am now trying my best to get my own patterns printed onto wallpaper.

What do you think?  No poisons - guaranteed!

11 Feb 2017

My day at Country Living's 'Kitchen Table Talent'

I have such a soft spot for good magazines...

There I was sat in my armchair on a dark January evening, happily flicking through my issue of Country Living, pretending I can buy a country mansion and fill it with beautiful antiques (hey - a girl can dream).  Basically, I was in my happy place.  I turned the page and came across an advert for something called the 'Kitchen Table Talent' business workshop day.

As my readers will know, I am in the early stages of a new creative project, and currently feeling like I'm peering over the edge of a precipice, pencils in hand, both a little excited and a little afraid of jumping off...  I thought it was about time I met a few more people doing the same thing and listen to some much-desired advice.

And so I booked a shift off from my day job, signed up, and found myself into room full of creative women, most of whom had careers, children, and other commitments - and all of whom were asking;

"Am I supposed I be here?"
"Do I really count?"
"Is this for me?"
"Could I do that?"

Universally all of them.  Even those with fantastic careers and a long string of successes to their name, which seemed pretty intimating to the likes of me!  It seemed I was in good company.