An Unusual Medium: Murals

Photo by Toa Heftiba

Photo by Toa Heftiba

At Smoke Creatives, we’re all about storytelling. An Unusual Medium is our series where we take a look at some of the more unconventional storytelling mediums and celebrate them in all their glory. In this post, we’re looking at murals.

The History

Murals have been around since humans learnt to paint and carve on cave walls. The oldest are thought to be from around 40,000 years ago and while we can never be sure of their exact purpose, it’s suggested they were decorations, communication methods, or used in religious ceremonies. Murals have gone from adorning cave walls to covering the interiors and exteriors of all sorts of buildings but what’s remained constant is their ability to give us a picture of society at a certain point in time, showing us how people have lived, what they’ve valued, and what they’ve worshiped.

The Noteworthy

It was the Mexican Muralist movement following the Mexican Revolution that gave murals their standing as a powerful communication device. In the 1920s, the new government commissioned many public works of art to promote their values to the people, many of whom were illiterate. Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros were some of the principal artists of the movement, painting their murals in and on schools, government buildings, and the National Palace.

One of the most prominent muralists today is Banksy. Known for his (assuming he is one man) work tackling various political and social issues, his pieces are often subversive and created with a unique stencilling technique. The anonymous graffiti artist started working in his hometown of Bristol in the 90s and has since travelled around the world, leaving his mark on houses in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina and on the Israeli West Bank wall. His detractors still say his work is vandalism but Banksy believes placing art in the streets rather than in galleries is returning art to the people.

Unlike typical muralists, Haas & Hahn create their works out of entire buildings, squares, and streets. The two Dutch artists, Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn, have painted favelas in Rio de Janeiro and ghettos in Philadelphia in the hopes that their work can bring about positive changes to these areas. Acknowledging that a painting project can’t completely regenerate a neighbourhood, Urhahn believes art can alter people’s attitudes, making them take a bit more pride and care in their streets.

Why Smoke Loves Them

As a visual storytelling medium, murals have the dual impact of looking great as well as having something to say, often without words. Being accessible to everyone, easy to spot, and easily understood, murals can be powerful pieces of political art used in social activism or protest. Murals can also communicate lifesaving information. An artist renowned for his work in this area is Stephen Doe, who spread awareness of Ebola in Liberia during the epidemic through creating murals detailing the symptoms of the disease. Whether relaying important messages, making a politically-charged statement, or giving neighbourhoods some character, murals have both power and responsibility.


Q&A with Edward Tuckwell

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Smoke chats to the illustrator about his work, what inspires him, and his brilliant Waterfront covers.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what makes you tick

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to pursue creative outlets and I ended up sticking with that approach until I wound up with a career as a freelance illustrator. I’m always drawn to cinema as a source of inspiration as it tends to be an exciting marriage of sight and sound, which acts as a great source of stimulus to channel into the personal work I make.

2. How did you get started as an illustrator?

After studying a degree in illustration, I ended up working part-time whilst continuing to produce a portfolio of work. The real leap came when I took the plunge and quit my job to focus on freelance design work full-time, taking on any creative opportunity that I could get my hands on.

3. How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started?

I’ve always been torn between the clinical bold style of graphic design and the more analogue approach to illustration. So the sensibilities of my work haven’t changed that drastically over the years, but as I’ve continued to experiment with different tools and mediums the visual approach has developed into something quite different than when I began.

Mute Swan, Waterfront Issue 5

Mute Swan, Waterfront Issue 5

4. What was it about illustration that opened up a career path for you?

When I was starting out I found that illustration was a good compromise between graphic design, traditional art and photography, and this multidisciplinary approach kept things really exciting for me. It boiled down to the simple idea that I enjoyed making images and was prepared to invest the time into making it my living. Editorial illustration is also a great gateway into the industry because the work is usually low risk and allows art directors the freedom to take a punt on a young artist to give them real world experience in the early stages of their career.

5. What would you be doing if you had not chosen art?

Probably architecture, or some creative role within the film industry.

6. Who inspires you?

Directors - Paul Thomas Anderson, Denis Villeneuve, Steve McQueen, Damien Chazelle, Alejandro González Iñárritu. Image makers - Eyvind Earle, Moebius, Fumio Watanabe and Saul Bass.

Water Bat, Waterfront Issue 2

Water Bat, Waterfront Issue 2

7. What does your workstation consist of and what are the tools of your trade?

I conceive most ideas quickly in a notebook, and then use a combination of a Wacom graphics tablet, Mac computer, and scanned textures to produce the majority of work. Usually with a coffee to hand.

8. What was it about the project with SMOKE to create the Waterfront magazine covers that appealed to you? 

From the outset, the project sounded really exciting. The creative vision from Paul Pensom (Waterfront's Art Director) to produce a series of covers with a house style, which aimed to define the identity of the magazine was very appealing to me. The level of trust given to me from the team also means that it is consistently something I look forward to working on at the soonest possible opportunity.

9. How did you come up with the idea for the front cover of issue 1?

In the beginning Paul and myself worked to define the style of the first cover. The idea was anchored around the concept that each issue would depict one creature from the British waterways in their natural habitat, to be chosen by the Canal & River Trust, with the first being a Red Damselfly. Along with the limited colour palette, the image itself needed to be bold and modern whilst retaining a sense of tradition, so I suggested a graphic approach to the animal paired with some softer analogue elements to breathe some life into the scene.

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"The idea was anchored around the concept that each issue would depict one creature from the British waterways in their natural habitat"

10. We’ve seen that you’ve designed a very unique cover theme for Waterfront. Can you tell us about what inspired them and when are we likely to see issue 6?

We drew on inspiration from the periodicals of the 40’s and 50’s such as the John Hanna illustrated ‘Country Fair’ magazines or the ‘Men Only’ illustrated covers of the same period. This allowed us to retain the nostalgic qualities requested in the brief through a similar use of colour and subject matter whilst defining a consistent modern identity with the use of crisp vector art. The creature of the next issue will be tricky to catch unless you have a net handy… It’s due out November 20th.

11. Are there any big projects you are currently working on that we could look out for?

I’ve recently been working on some large-scale projects for a couple of drinks companies which I’m excited to share in the near future. For the time being, I’m going to be visiting Japan for a few weeks and am planning on using that as a springboard for a larger research project in the lead up to the new year.



An Unusual Medium: Obituaries

Photo by Kingston Chen

Photo by Kingston Chen

At Smoke Creatives, we’re all about storytelling. An Unusual Medium is our series where we take a look at some of the more unconventional storytelling mediums and celebrate them in all their glory. In this post, we're looking at obituaries.

The History

Obituary comes from the Latin obitus, which has several meanings including “an approach”, “going down” or “setting”, and, of course, “death”. Obituaries have been running in papers for a very long time, with death announcements being found in newsletters printed on papyrus in Ancient Rome. They’ve evolved over the years and gone through a couple phases – you can see what societies valued at certain points in history through the way an obituary was written. For example, in the Industrial Revolution writers would focus on the deceased’s wealth, status, and job tenure. In the later 20th century came the rise of the ‘common man’ obituary which detailed the lives of ordinary people. Around the same time, big publications began taking a new approach to their obit writing, making an art out of telling the stories of the departed.  

The Noteworthy

The transformation in obituary writing to becoming the interesting pieces we read today can be credited to Alden Whitman, a writer for the New York Times who interviewed people in advance of their deaths to craft more personalized obits. He interviewed many notable figures including Pablo Picasso, Charlie Chaplin, and Harry S. Truman.

The New York Times launched a video series of obituaries in 2007 called “The Last Word”, recording the subjects of the obits and giving them the opportunity to literally have the last word on their own lives. The first was dedicated to American humourist Art Buchwald. The video opens with Buchwald smiling at the camera and saying, “Hi, I’m Art Buchwald and I just died.”

Why Smoke Loves Them

For a medium that was once considered to be a punishment for the reporters assigned to them, obituaries have been brought back to life by the talented writers working on them. Writing about the dead isn’t as morbid as it seems either. In Vanessa Gould’s documentary Obit., New York Times obituary writer Margalit Fox says, “Obits have next to nothing to do with death, and in fact absolutely everything to do with the life.” From neighbours in the local papers to illustrious individuals in the international press, obituaries are often celebrations that note great achievements and offer a snapshot of history through the lens of a particular human being. They also remind us of our own mortality, sometimes making us question what the hell we’re doing with our own lives and, potentially, what we’d like to be remembered for.


Smoke Fan Club - October 2017


Books, blood, and bolognese: here’s a roundup of some of the things we’ve been loving at Smoke this month.

KFC only follows 11 people on Twitter

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A Twitter user discovered KFC’s account only follows 11 people – the 5 Spice Girls members and 6 men named Herb. The reason? The secret recipe for KFC’s chicken includes 11 herbs and spices. The news has since gone viral, proving the fast food chain has a seasoned social media manager on their team.


There will be blood

AMV BBDO’s #BloodNormal campaign for Bodyform and Libresse uses red liquid instead of blue to represent periods. Sanitary product advertising has long tried to convince us that periods are a pretty great, clean time. This isn’t entirely their fault – stigmas surrounding periods still linger and just this year The Assorted TV Broadcast Authorities Worldwide stated ‘The sight of period blood is unacceptable’. This ad decided to challenge their thinking and hopefully it'll help to change it too.


none of us are the product of staying put

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Jigsaw’s autumn/winter campaign celebrates immigration and diversity, pointing out that without it the brand wouldn’t be able to exist the way it does today. Alongside images of models and the tagline ‘ immigration’, the campaign includes a manifesto that calls for love, openness, and collaboration. The brand has taken over Oxford Circus tube station as well as placing their ads in print and digital. Jigsaw have also been continuing the conversation on social media and have even partnered with Ancestry UK to offer 10% discounts on genealogy tests.


Don't judge a book by its cover


Blind Date with a Book sells books wrapped in brown paper with only vague clues of what’s inside listed on the cover. It’s a pretty ingenious way to offer up a new experience in the world of analogue, leaving your next read completely up to chance and possibly picking up a book you’d never have even considered.


Food Films

Last but not least, food artist and commercial director David Ma imagines what it would be like if some of our favourite directors tried their hand at recipe videos.


For more regular updates on what we’re loving be sure to follow us on Twitter.


An Unusual Medium: Fortune Cookies

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At Smoke Creatives, we’re all about storytelling. An Unusual Medium is our series where we take a look at some of the more unconventional storytelling mediums and celebrate them in all their glory. First up, fortune cookies.

The History

Fortune cookies have a bit of a disputed origin. Researchers have concluded they’re most likely a Japanese invention - an illustration of a man preparing tsujiura senbei (‘fortune crackers’) was found in a 19th-century story book. But the version of the cookies we eat today hail from California. As to who created them, there are two main claimants: Makoto Hagiwara and David Jung.

Makoto Hagiwara was a Japanese immigrant working at the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco. He began serving cookies based on senbei (rice crackers) in the early 1900s. Instead of containing fortunes, the cookies had thank you notes to customers. It’s said Hagiwara did this to thank the public for reinstating him after he was fired by a racist mayor.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Chinese immigrant David Jung founded the Hong Kong Noodle Company in 1916. The story goes that he created the fortune cookie in 1918, filling them with inspirational passages of scripture and handing them out for free to the unemployed on the streets.

While nobody takes the official title of original fortune cookie creator, their fame can be attributed to the rise in popularity of Chinese-American cuisine.

The Noteworthy

No fortune cookie manufacturer can match the might of Wonton Food in the USA. The company produces 4 million cookies each day and has over 10,000 fortunes in their database. Until recently the CFW (Chief Fortune Writer) was Donald Lau, Wonton Food’s CFO who landed the role due to having the best English out of the company’s employees at the time. Lau found inspiration everywhere – from newspapers to subway signs - keeping a notebook with him to write down ideas whenever they struck. In an interview with CNN he said, “I may never be able to write the great American novel but I can write fortunes and be the most read author in the United States.” Lau stepped down this year due to writer’s block; the demand for fortunes to be inspirational, yogi-esque messages not being his style.

Changing up the fortunes shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Wonton Food; the company are open to some experimentation. In 2007, they tried a run of realist messages with pearls of wisdom like ‘It’s over your head now. Time to get some professional help’ and ‘Your luck is just not there. Attend to practical matters today’. Needless to say, not every diner took them well.

Wonton Food’s fortunes have also brought huge fortunes to customers. In 2005, the March 30th Powerball draw saw 110 players get 5 out of 6 numbers correct. After some investigation from the Multi-State Lottery Association, they traced the winning combination back to a batch of fortune cookies produced by the company. Each winner received a sweet sum of up to $500,000 depending on the amount they had bet.

Why Smoke Loves Them

Who doesn’t love a little glimpse into the future or appreciate some sage advice every now and again? Fortune cookies are basically horoscopes in dessert form (and remember you have to eat the cookie for the fortune to come true). For the writers of fortunes, it can be a challenge to craft the perfect prediction. There’s a strict word count and a wide audience to cater to. And for the cookies served in restaurants, fortunes can be a highlight of a diner’s evening. After all, is there a storytelling medium that gets people more excited to read and share?



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The Turner Prize-winning London artist tells Ossian Ward why house prices make him ill, and what putting his teenage bedroom in the Hayward Gallery did to his chi.

I am sat in a plastic seat in an unassuming north London caff - somewhere between a greasy spoon and an Italian restaurant - waiting for a Turner Prize-winning artist. Not only has he had a major mid career retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in 2012, but he also produced one of this millennium's most enduring and interesting artworks, 'The Battle of Orgreave' (2001), in which he restaged the bloody 1984 clashes between striking miners and police as a painstakingly accurate battle reenactment. The irony of Jeremy Deller becoming a household name, at least in contemporary art terms, is threefold. Firstly, his inaugural execution actually took place in his family home, although without his parents' knowledge, at least until as many as ten years later, recalling the old joke 'I'm not even a household name in my own household'. Secondly, his calling as an artist has never been clearly defined. Not only did that first execution, titled 'Open Bedroom', happen relatively late for him, when he was pushing 30, but he was never formally trained as an artist in the first place (unless you count secondary school: having had the same art teacher as Deller I would never make that claim myself. Indeed, he later says: 'I was embarrassed to call myself an artist, I wasn't sure if I was allowed to or if I even was one.') Finally, Deller has always firmly resisted the more despicable trappings and habits of the famous artist; he doesn't command exorbitant prices, nor does he present any lofty airs or graces and there are no legions of assistants staffing a large studio - he has never really practiced art in any traditional sense of the word. 'Before the internet I didn't have any money for a studio,' he says, 'and didn't feel I deserved one, really. I wouldn't have been able to check emails. I would have just sat there getting stressed, so I might as well do that at home for free. If I am doing a big thing, then I try to use all the people in that organisation; their offices, their teams.' Hence us meeting at his local caff. 

Deller has meetings and even photoshoots here (and of course his breakfast: tea and marmite on toast, in case you were wondering). When he has ordered his usual, I comment favourably on his latest televisual appearance, presenting a BBC show about folk art, which he is something of an expert on, having amassed an archive of material that now forms part of the Arts Council Collection - including homemade Princess Diana memorials - with his friend and longtime collaborator Alan Kane. I ask him why his previous outing on the BBC, a documentary about Deller as an artist, was entitled 'Middle Class Hero', when that bastardisation of John Lennon's 'Working Class Hero', sounded like a filed criticism of Deller, or at best, a backhanded compliment?

'I had used the phrase on a T-shirt years ago,' he explains. 'It was a joke.' He made an earlier series of sloganeering T-shirts in the same vein for 'Open Bedroom' that include 'My Drug Shame' and 'My Booze Hell'. 'Also,' he says, 'there were a lot of people in the art world who pretended they weren't from that background: pretending they were proper working class, putting the accent, pretending to be tough.' He says he had to come up with a decent title for the programme as the production team were going to call it something along the lines of 'The People's Artist', at which he laughs incredulously.

Despite not being the Princess Diana of the art world, Deller has successfully campaigned on behalf of a number of worthy causes and charities he believes in, from the right of artists and the state education of arts to more prosaic topics including the plight of cyclists and bats, for whom he built a special home at the London Wetland Centre (bats, not cyclist). I ask him about the importance of having a home himself. 'I was very lucky during that period [leading up to 'Open Bedroom'], as my homelife was always stable,' he says. 'Basically I was far too old to be living at home, but my parents were going away for two weeks and I thought I would turn my bedroom into an open studio as everything I had ever made or thought about was in that bedroom.'

The show, an 'installation of juvenile', as he describes it, spill out into the dining room, the garden, the hallway and even the loo, where he printed out some choice bits of erudite lavatory graffiti, sourced from the stalls at the old British Library. 'And then at the Hayward there was this idea to reconstruct my bedroom, as a way of showing all that early work, the stuff that is slightly embarrassing or not very good. It worked in that context and was funny to see but also awkward as it still looked like a teenage bedroom. I think a lot of people take their teenage years into adulthood, men especially, so the things that obsessed you when you were 17 still obsess you when you're at 27. This was a way of getting all of that out of the way, getting things off your chest and clearing your mind. Thats what exhibitions are really, it means you can move on and to work about those works again.'

Although Deller has since gone on to the aforementioned bigger and better things - including his bouncy-castle Stonehenge entitled 'Sacrilege', which has toured the world, and the project he created around a suicide-bombed car from Iraq, which is now on show at the Imperial War Museum - there was something poignant and prescient about the obvious constrains he was experiencing as a fledging artist stuck in his mum's house. 'I didn't really have much work in those days,' he says. 'While I was secure enough not to snuggle financially I still struggled mentally. Being unemployed is horrible; I spent years waking up, not knowing what I was doing for the next eight hours or the next week. It's quite frightening, really. That is probably why I do too much now.'

Indeed Deller was busier than ever, preparing performance, processions and other interventions for Gwanju in South Korea, Helsinki next year and the centenary of World War 1, for the UK-wide programme of events called 'Lights Out': 'Thats proving quite difficult,' he says. 'Im trying to find an eclipse during the war. It will end up as four short films that reflect the end of civilisation, that's all!' He is also curating exhibitions, with one forthcoming in November on the links between Andy Warhol and William Morris while continuing to tour his incredible contribution to the last Venice Biennale, called 'English Magic' , a travelling charabanc of his thoughts, works an obsessions that is about to move from Bristol to Margate's Turner Contemporary.

It's not the intense travel schedule that's making him fidgety as he orders more toast from the caff's owner Dennis, but a different kind of pressure, caused by being a lifelong Londoner. 'I am obsessed like everyone else is in London with this ridiculous hype about house price,' he says. 'I can't understand how people do not understand that this is total madness. This speculation makes me almost ill: much more anxious than whether I am an artist or not.' If not quite a fully fledged Marxist, a middle-class hero or 'the people's artist', Deller is still very much a people person and could well be described as an 'artist of and about the people', insofar as he holds up the idea of collaboration and the celebration of others over his own egotistical concerns. It's all about as far from Claridge's as you can get as he says goodbye and disappears down the Holloway Road.

Ossian Ward was the art editor of Time Out an is now head of content at The Lisson Gallery London  


Home is where the art is - Stella Vine

Artist Stella Vine went from foster care and teenage pregnancy to selling her work to Charles Saatchi. Then she ended up living in a car park. 

Was the 'Dorothy' skirt that you painted for a recent Shelter auction a deliberate reference to the idea that there's no place like home?

I'm fascinated by the concept of home, especially as I'm always moving, but no: it didn't cross my mind till later on that day. I just follow my instinct and improvise. I like the way the skirt came out cute and girlie. I found the process of making it immensely enjoyable, partly because sewing reminds me of my mum who passed away from a brain tumour in 2003. She was a seamstress and I still have her thimbles. She was quite absent for most of my life and I longed to spend time with her but my stepdad wouldn't allow her to be with me. Sewing helps me feel closer to her.

What's your definition of home?

For me, it's wherever my paints are. Ideally it would have a shower, but some of the places I've lived haven't even had a toilet. What I need above all is an atmosphere that inspires creativity. I'm currently living in a small room in Camden, which has fantastic light. I'm fairly happy there. If I start to feel isolated I go for a long, soothing walk around the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Occasionally claustrophobia strikes and I recoup to the seaside in Cornwall to the North East. But London always draws me back.

You ran away from home at 13. How have your experience of being in venerable situations shaped you?

My mother got remarried when I was seven years old; we moved to Norwich and everything changed. My stepdad was a cruel man who enjoyed humiliating me. A lot of things happened which I know were wrong. It got to the point were my survival instinct kicked in and I knew i had to leave. I was fostered briefly but clashed with the family over my refusal to go to school - I wanted to self educate in the library. I ended up living alone in a bedsit and fell into a relationship with a caretaker, who at 24 was ten years my senior. By the time I was 16, I was pregnant. When you have those experiences at such a young age, it's a struggle to stop seeing yourself as a victim, and you keep repeating the same patterns. Only now, at 44, have I ceased blaming myself for everything that went wrong.

Have you expressed your feelings about your past in your work?

Although my work looks like it's based on other people, it is extremely personal. My style could be described as "sickly sweet", like that feeling you get when you eat too much birthday cake as child. Originally I wanted to be an abstract painter, like De Kooning or Pollock, but I got sidetracked. People, and in particular their eyes, hold a fascination for me - there's so much fragility and complexity there. I usually end up projecting part of myself onto my subjects. That was the case with my painting of Rachel Whiter [a 21-year-old student who died from a heroin overdose in 2000] that Saatchi bought in 2004. She was a kid living on her own in a bedsit when she died and I identify hugely with her. The work provoked such a strong reaction that it caught me off guard. People accused me of capitalising on her tragic death to make shocking art and become famous. I censored myself enormously after that.

You were briefly addicted to cocaine at the height of your success. How did that affect your ability to identify with the dark side of humanity?

I stared using cocaine in 2005 when I was given a show at London's Hamilton's Gallery after David LaChapelle dropped out. I had just over two weeks to make all the work and was painting flat out. After a few sleepless nights, I contacted a local dealer and bought some cocaine. I desperately needed to stay awake to finish the work. The show was okay, considering the short timescale, but I ended up with a bad coke habit. I couldn't even go out to buy milk without having a line. For the next six months I just stayed in, worked and took coke. I painted all my Kate Moss pictures on it; it gave me self confidence I always lacked. I was just falling to bits, a mess, painting six feet of brown sludge for hours on end, with a hefty £400-a-week habit which became hard to maintain. The whole experience changed me. I was depressed when I came off it - I didn't seem to have the natural energy as before. It reminded me how easy it is to get stuck on repeat in life.

Do you worry that your personal story might influence how people see your work?

I found in the past that people on the periphery of the art world thought they could make money out of me, due to the press interest in my personal life, having been a stripper and a single parent, plus the kind of work I was making: "celebrity", as they saw art. Or they wanted to try to draw attention to their galleries through me. [It's] exploitative, really: not respectful to my creativity. I've also encountered a lot of snobbery form people who seem to think that because I'm not educated I can't make real art. It baffles me.

Do your experiences make it harder for you to put down roots? 

I have this fantasy that if I had a home of my own, then I would make themes of amazing art from ceramics, etching, sewing, sculptures, oil paintings: a place for everything. Occasionally I look online and see some shack in the Outer Hebrides for around £20,000. That seems achievable, but somehow I never manage to save. Everything costs so much these days. There have been so many times in my life when I've lost everything. A year after my big solo show at Modern Art Oxford in 2007, I ended up broke and living in my car in Bloomsbury Square Car Park. I had a resident pass from when I had a lovely little flat there. I can laugh at it now, but at the time I didn't know what to do with myself.

How hard has it been to make your work while living in such small spaces?

As long as you have some kind of materials you can make art. I made some of my largest paintings, including one of Pete Doherty [6ftx7ft] and Wonder Women [9ftx10ft], while living in a small studio. I emptied the room and shoved everything into the kitchen. The canvases covered the entire floor. Wherever I am, I tend to gravitate towards a tiny corner with everything I need nearby. Ideally I like my bed to be as far away as possible from my art, so I can look at it with fresh eyes in the morning, but that's not aways possible. I made some nice work in front of a van once. You don't even need much space or materials: you can make all sorts out of things in skips if you want.

What's your idea of domestic bliss?

My ideal would be to share a home with a partner who is funny, kind, intelligent and handsome (to me). We would have dinner parties for friends; I would make paintings for the walls of the house and ceramics for the dinner table. The outside world of money and survival wouldn't exist.

Find out more about Stella's paintings, exhibitions and other work at


Songs from a room - Dynamo

The country's greatest street magician describes the tunes that remind him of home. 

Interview by Craig McLean

Cyndi Lauper

'Time After Time'  

'This was on magic FM the other day while I was driving to London. And it just reminds me of my mum, and living in our one bedroom flat on Delph Hill estate in Bradford, just me and her. Cyndi Lauper was on constant rotation when I was growing up - she was my mum's favourite artist. She just liked the excitement of this crazy New York women. My mum was a bit of a rebel herself. I saw pictures of her with punk hairstyles and going through every possible teenage culture and rebellion. She had all the looks and piercings, and Cyndi Lauper is definitely a phase in her life which is engraved on my mind.' 

Michael Jackson

'Smooth Criminal' 

'At my nan and grandpa's flat - a little two-bedroom council 1 at the bottom of Wyke Estate in Bradford - I was watching and listening to a lot of Michael Jackson. That's where I got a lot of inspiration to incorporate dance elements into my magic. For me he's one of the greatest entertainers who ever lived. "Smooth Criminal" is the best music video ever made. It actually has some elements of magic incorporated - the way he flicks the coin through the room and it lands perfectly in the slot of the jukebox. And he leans at that crazy angle, which is very similar to "The Matrix": I do a version of that in my show. So I've taken a lot of influence from him. My grandpa passed away three years ago, but the flat is exactly as it was when I was a little boy. My bedroom is just like it was then - the same wallpaper, the same posters: an Eminem "8 Mile" poster, and ones from when I started preforming in the local clubs in Bradford & Leeds.' 


'Breath Me' 

'If I think about moving to London, this song is not necessarily a happy song. But I didn't feel unhappy listening to it. When I am creating ideas I'll sit and listen to music on my iPod, and I like to find music that puts me in different emotional states. So this song by Sia, which was used at the finale of 'Six Feet Under', makes me feel kind of magical. When I first started coming down from Bradford, my friend was living in Covent Garden and I slept on his couch. But then when I actually moved down I had my own place - a grotty flat in Walthamstow. It was about £50 a week, and I was preforming in Covent Garden to pay for it. That song reminds me of developing my street magic in London. If you actually listen to the lyrics it has no relevance to me or what I was thinking. But I just found it very ghostly. It's such a minimalistic beat, and her voice is so haunting, that it makes me think of those early days, and how the song gave me comfort.'


'King Without a Crown' 

'For a while I was living with my manager, in his spare room in Highgate in north London. It did feel like it was just me and him against the world, because we were trying to build my career. My iPod was literally thousands of tracks from back then. I really like this reggae singer, Matisyahu. When I first moved to Highgate we didn't have a TV set up properly. But I brought this smart TV and it had a music video app. You could watch concerts on it, and one of them was 'Matisyahu live at Stubb's Vol 2'. There wasn't much; there were 15 different concerts, and I watched them all. But when I watched Matisyahu, I just fell in love with his music and the atmosphere his band created. 'King Without a Crown' is one of my favourites.' 

The Smiths

'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now' 

'I now live in a big block of flats in north London. It used to be a psychiatric hospital, and lots of footballers and pop stars live here. When i moved in, Niall and Liam and Zayn from One Direction were living there, and I moved into the block where Girls Aloud had lived. Just after I had started living there, this guy was chasing me down in an Audi R8, and he stopped me and said, 'Oh, I'm a big fan. I play football, My name's Wojciech....' I'm not an Arsenal fan, so i didn't realise until late that was their goalie, Szczesny. He was the first person I ever met here. As I got older and a bit more mature, I started listening to music you might not associate with me. When I first moved in there was some flash guy with a fancy car driving around and playing The Smiths. So I started listening to them and Morrissey. I've been here 3 years now and, other than my wife and my dog, it's the first time I've got a place where I'm not sharing with a friend or sleeping on a couch.' 

Craig Mclean writes for The Times, The Observer, The Telegraph and Radio Times. 





The house I grew up in - Lianne La Havas

Interviewed by Kieran Yates

I grew up living in Balham in a really lovely house. It was on Carmine Road. I lived with my grandad, grandma and great grandma. Sometimes relatives would stay over from Jamaica, so I ended up growing up around a lot of Jamaicans. The house was Victorian and my grandad didn't really like to do much with it, so it was quite rough around the edges. I never used to like it as a kid, because when you're young you just like new stuff, don't you? But then i grew up and realised it was a brilliant house, I'd definitely snap it up now! 

I recently went to Jamaica and realised that the way our house was decorated was very typical of Jamaicans in the countryside. It was full of fake flowers, runners and carpet everywhere, and a coffee table that had to be on top of a rug. There were loads of doilies too, loads of doilies. I've actually really grown to love the way they do stuff. It's all coming back to me now. 


'It was full of fake flowers, runners and carpet everywhere, and a coffee table that had to be on top of a rug'


I shared a bedroom with my grandparents. My grandparents would use the kitchen downstairs. The house would smell of red pea soup cooking, kidney beans, fried plantain and salt fish. The bedroom was quite big but it was still a shared space. I was very messy when I was younger, so I guess my identity was just all over the floor. I used to have a chest of drawers that opened out with a mirror inside, and I stuffed all my make-up in this one drawer; it used to get really filthy but it was mine. Those were happy times. When I got to my teens I think stuff just suddenly seemed really hard.

Communicating with my grandad was difficult because he didn't understand me. I wasn't allowed to have friends round. My grandad wasn't really cool with it, unless they stayed in the front garden with me. The next house we moved to was in Streatham, where I finally had my own room. I was obsessed with Eminem for a long time, and I had a poster of him and the Red Hot Chili Peppers all over my wall. I found new music there; I saw my mum quite frequently and discovered Mary J Blige and Jill Scott through her. I nicked her CDs often and fell in love with all these exciting new sounds. 

Going to Jamaica made me realise why I am like I am. You notice the styles within the homes. They're very colourful there, so no one really wears black. It's a big thing to stand out. It's the reason I like colour so much now. It's funny when you get older and make those connections. The Jamaican house I stayed in belonged to a distant cousin who we called 'auntie', and the place was filled with Tupperware and place mats you can only get in England, which makes her cool to her neighbours. It's expensive to get cosmetics over there, so she really appreciates when I fill my suitcases up with soap for her. I brought back a big old wall hanging of a Jamaican map, to put on the wall of my house. It's my injection of colour. I guess I'm constantly managing the hybrid identity. I think my grandparents would like my current house, but they'd want a sofa that was a bit higher off the ground; they always complain about the things being too low. 

Prince came to the house I live in now. I was confident that he'd like the decor. He said it looked like me, which was a big compliment because that's always the ultimate aim, isn't it ? I did spend a long time staring at it all hoping that it was right. He had a crew of guys that came in and made the place look like him. There was a purple lighting guy, loads of Prince plectrums and a smoke machine which just covered the ground in smoke and it was amazing. I remember thinking that he wouldn't have been allowed over when I was younger. 

The contrast of growing up with my grandparents in Balham to having Prince in my living room is pretty surreal. It got me thinking about stage shows reflecting who you are. I saw Bon Iver perform once where he had the stage set up as a living room, and I remember thinking that the one item from my home that I'd bring onstage is probably my Anglepoise lamp. There's just something about them, Isn't there? But if my great-grandmother was in the crowd then maybe a doily. Just to remind me of home. 

Kieran Yates is a journalist and aurthor writing for The Guardian and Observer.