A long overdue visit to Ardmore Ceramics

The world-renowned Ardmore studio creates a range of functional, quality ceramic and non-ceramic products including dinnerware, tapestries, furniture, fabrics for soft furnishings and more, with distinctive imagery and styling that make them totally unique and amazingly beautiful.

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I can’t remember when I first came across Ardmore but I’ve wanted to visit it’s existing home on the Meander since we’ve been back in SA and I’ve never quite gotten round to it – small kids and beautiful ceramics do not mix and that’s pretty much been my life for the past 3 years – but thanks to a spot of load shedding a few Friday’s ago, I finally managed to tick it off my to do list.

Ardmore headquarters is situated in the Caversham Valley area of the KZN Midlands – studio, museum, gallery and offices in the most picturesque surroundings imaginable – most fitting for the beautiful work they create.

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Uplifting and empowering it’s local artists, and the community, have been a priority for Ardmore since it was established by Fée Halsted in the 80s. Artists are given training, direction, materials, a studio and a guaranteed market for their work, supported by a skilled marketing and administrative team.

Ardmore has always had an open door policy towards people who want to learn and develop their creative talent and earn a sustainable income through art. In addition Ardmore assists the artists by cooking a nutritious meal each day and providing healthcare. Training programmes have included life skills, financial planning, health and HIV-Aids awareness.

(Read more about the story of Ardmore and it’s incredible artists on their website)

It may sound completely ridiculous but I was quite overcome with emotion upon entering the gallery and museum. The workmanship and detail in each piece is out of this world. The imagery, design style and colours speak to me, and I love how there is such a strong focus on the stories behind each artist… The most touching (sad) part was seeing the portraits of deceased artists displayed all over the walls, many of them having died from illnesses related to HIV Aids which is so prevalent in many of our local communities here in SA.

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Visiting the current makers just outside the gallery and museum was an absolute highlight – to see works in progress, hear their stories, watch them as they threw, molded and sculptured wet clay. Just amazing!

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If you have any interest whatsoever in South African art – you MUST go there next time you are in the area, well worth a visit. Totally saving up now to start my own Ardmore collection at home ;)

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Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse – just go there, trust me!

Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse is easily the physical representation of my idea of heaven on earth – beautiful scenery, complete peacefulness, delicious food and wine! It completely exceeded my expectations food and service-wise, and I literally cannot wait to go back one day (hopefully very) soon!

This is the opening blurb on the Cleopatra website:

“Within a decade, Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse has earned global renown as a romantic gourmet getaway. Nestled in the heart of the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg, we are a luxury, gourmet lodge dedicated to sumptuous food and rustic luxury. With just 11 rooms we are a haven for those looking to break away from their fast-paced life to enjoy mountain walks, roaring log fires, 7 course dinners and time for relaxation and pampering…”

You tell me right now that you don’t want to jump in a car (or a chopper, even faster!) and go there immediately?!

After a beautiful morning spent at HIghmoor Nature Reserve last Sunday – a fishing treat for my dear husband as a birthday gift – Part Two of our child-free adventure for the day was our reservation for a four-course gourmet lunch at Cleopatra.

Feast your eyes on the homely decor, stunning views and delectable delights we had to endure during our visit – tough life, I tell you…

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I must say a special thanks to Phillipa, Ashley and the team who looked after us for the entirety of our visit – making it even more memorable for hubby (whom they know through business) by spoiling him with an amazing chocolate cake for his birthday! These personal touches are what makes a place like Cleopatra successful, special and unique – so appreciated :)

PS. Check out the Hospice recipe book (Feast: The Midlands) that I designed, right there next to the well-known Cleopatra recipe book ;) Was quite chuffed to spot that in the in-house gift shop, LOL!

A Fishing Trip to Highmoor Nature Reserve

Hubby looooooves to fish, although since we’ve been back in SA (two and a half years, can you even?) he hasn’t had much time to do any fishing, so as a birthday treat, I booked the babysitter (aka my mom), and we headed for the hills at the crack of dawn on Sunday…

Highmoor Nature Reserve is situated in the central region of the Maloti-Drakensberg Park not far from the well-known Midlands Meander stretch. It offers accommodation, picnic spots and beautiful walks, but most-importantly for our needs, it has two well stocked trout dams.

Booking for fishing is ESSENTIAL – even as a day visitor – because they only allow six people to fish the dams per day. We found this out the hard way…

Even though I actually phoned the head office beforehand to find out, I was told that I wouldn’t need to make any sort of reservation. When we arrived, the ranger on duty had other news for us. Luckily, she made a plan and we were allowed in because one of the other bookings hadn’t arrived. (She was obviously feeling bad when I spontaneously burst into tears, feeling so crap that I had potentially ruined our special outing – not a ‘ploy’ on my part at all – was genuinely gutted and couldn’t keep the taps closed, but it probably worked in my favour anyway!)

Those few moments of distress were well worth it though because it was such a beautiful morning – hubby had a blast, caught a fish in each of the dams (catch and release), and I wondered around snapping pics with my Nikon and soaking up the Autumn sun…

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Would highly recommend a trip up there for nature lovers, and anyone needing a break from life – the scenery was breathtaking and I can still feel the benefits of that fresh mountain air in my lungs. It wasn’t too far from civilization (just under an hour away from Nottingham Road) but would like to warn that the road is quite bad in one patch – still worth the trip because the drive up alone is spectacular.

Finish off your outing with a meal at the famous Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse nearby, which is exactly what we did – blog post to follow ;)

Freelance learnings so far…

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I’ve been a freelancer for a while now – I quit my last full-time design job at the end of 2009 in London and started freelancing in January 2010.

In the beginning I did mostly long-term contract work for industry contacts I already had – it didn’t really feel like freelancing but I couldn’t complain. My biggest and most recognizable job at the time was probably working as part of the Event Communications team responsible for graphics at the award-winning Riverside Museum of transport in Glasgow, the structure of which was beautifully designed by world famous architect Zaha Hadid.

Since moving back to SA, my freelancing has been up and down because of the kids, but it’s definitely taken on a more typical / ‘traditional’ feel of late where I’m juggling LOTS of clients and LOTS of different types of projects at the same time – and I LOVE it!

I get to do what I thrive on (being creative; solving ‘problems’ creatively) while being involved in so many varying industries all at once – no time to get bored here!

But as with any sort of job/freelancing role, there is a lot of learning to be done and things don’t always come easily/naturally – the learning never ends either but over the past 9 months or so I really feel like Im getting a grip on the whole freelancing game…

So here they are – my pearls of wisdom to share with anyone who may be interested – some of the things I have learned over the past few years that I now try to live by when it comes to freelancing:

You choose your clients as much as they choose you.

This may sound arrogant or crazy in a world where people are competing for work daily but I truly believe that a good fit with a client is more important than money and can help to eliminate the possibility of issues later down the line, time wasted and the potential to produce sub-standard work. If a client contacts me with a brief and I don’t feel the vibe, or can tell that said client is going to be a mare, I politely decline the work and where possible recommend an alternative designer who I feel might be a better fit. It has happened before that I’ve had to ‘axe’ a client or two mid-project, yikes – not an ideal situation at all but totally the best decision for both parties – if I don’t feel like I can give you my absolute best then I would rather say so as soon as possible. I try to only work with people / on projects that I will be proud to show off.

Honestly IS (mostly) the best policy.

In line with point number 1, being straight up with a client is the utmost respect I can offer as a freelancer. If this means giving my advice or opinion too, I will. If it means I lose out on work, so be it. A client may not always like what I have to say or may not always follow my advice, that is up to them, but I feel better knowing I have given someone all the info they need to make that decision. I like to pride myself on designing like I give a damn, because I really do.

There is more than enough to go around.

Some people are cagey and don’t want to share information, leads, work opportunities, contacts and knowledge. My thinking is the opposite. There is plenty of whatever you are looking for around – in the words of the late great * Paul Arden: “Do not covet your ideas. Give away everything you know, and more will come back to you.” The same goes for work – if you are proactive, genuine and provide an excellent value for money experience for your clients, I really don’t think you will ever want for work. Share, learn, share some more, collaborate, grow – the more you give, the more you get. The power of attraction is strong.

Anyone who respects you and your skills will not expect you to work for free.

I’m not saying don’t do pro bono work – I do think it has a place and I have one or two clients who I choose to work with for free – BUT under-charging and constant freebies for friends and family will only lead you down the deadly path of resentment and discontent. Your time IS worth money. Likewise with your skill and experience. OWN IT! I’ve worked out what I feel is a fair rate for my time and skill level, and I try to stick to it, within reason – I do give close friends and family ‘mates rates’ which I think is a fair compromise. The people (mostly charities) who I do do free stuff for are generally very grateful, always offer to pay even though I seldom invoice them, and often show their appreciation in other ways – through word of mouth and recommendations.

Social media is your friend.

Your very BEST FRIEND! Do it, but do it properly. And engage! There’s no point in accumulating ‘followers’ if you are not going to connect with them. Rather use fewer social media channels well, than use all of them without the time to do each one properly.

Always have an accountability partner.

This is nothing new in the world of freelancing – pick a friend or fellow freelancer who thinks and works similarly to how you do. Someone who you can bounce ideas of, someone who can put pressure on you to get stuff done when you need it, someone who can advise you when you are stuck – do the same for him / her if they need it! I’ve talked about Nicola before, she has been one of the main contributing factors towards my growth as a freelancer. And whenever I need to have a work-related-rant, she is also always there to have a glass of wine with me ;)

Constantly re-assess the way you work and the way you engage with your clients.

I mentioned above that creating an experience for your clients is what will set you apart from others – you can streamline this to work for yourself too, to make your work flow more smoothly and efficiently, and to help you to manage your time… Ask yourself: How can I do that better? How can I make this a more efficient excercise? How can I help my client communicate with me better? Often, the answers to these questions will lead to ways in which you can improve the way you work and the way your client experiences your service.

Surround yourself with inspiration and immerse yourself fully in your craft.

Design is everywhere. I’m always on the lookout for inspo. I read design related books and blogs. I follow other designers on social media. I pin stuff (oh boy, do I pin!) and I look around at how other people are doing things. I also do other non-computery things (DIY, crochet, pottery etc) that help to keep my feeling like a hands-on creative. Before I open up a new document in Illustrator, I often draw my idea on paper first… As a freelancer, we fly solo for the most part and by immersing yourself in the culture of your craft, you will help yourself to keep ahead of the crowd – to notice the trends, to see what is working out there and what isn’t – to keep yourself inspired :)

Trust your gut.

This is a big one and related to so many of the points raised above – I have learned that using my gut instinct is the best way to vet potential clients and jobs and to get a feel for what people really want from me. Instincts based on my interactions with a client right from the first hello will tell me if this person will be fussy, problematic on the finance front (in terms of paying) and/or whether the job will be right for me or not. From a work perspective, sometimes I have clients who  think they want something, but my gut tells me they need something else and this is where my Honesty Policy often kicks in. Not listening to my gut has landed me in a few tricky situations so – at the risk of sounding completely airy-fairy (but then again, isn’t there an element of that which actually makes you a good and perceptive designer?) – I have discovered that connecting with my inner feelings about a client / project is generally what influences the outcomes.

* One of my favourite #freelancelife related books is It’s Not How Good You Are, Its How Good You Want To Be by Paul Arden – TOTALLY worth a read if you are keen for some quick, sharp and thought-provoking nuggets of inspiration to be a better freelancer!

New Winter Boots, because BRRRRRRR!

I’ve definitely noticed a chill in the Midlands air recently, and after quite a cold spell last week and the beautiful Autumnal sunshine streaming through my windows daily, suspicions have been confirmed – Winter IS on it’s way!

Cue angels singing and cherubs on harps, I just LOVE LOVE LOVE this time of year – it always makes me nostalgic for London – bring out the boots, scarves and coats already!

We were in Clarens this weekend for a wedding (so lovely!) and given the altitude, we really felt the cooler weather. Of course, as always, we hadn’t quite packed for it though… Spotted a Tsonga shop when we arrived and after a quick gander, fell totally in love with these soft, wool-lined flat boots…

tsonga boots cleverbirdbanterI didn’t buy them immediately but literally could not stop thinking about them so had to go back the next day and try them on. It was game over after that and my bank account is hating me, but right now, my feet think I’m pretty rad…

tsonga-boots-cleverbirdbanter-2I remember owning my first pair of Tsonga shoes (some low-wedge mule-type numbers!) as a young teen when the local-born brand was still in it’s infancy and nowhere near as well-known as it is now, and they lasted forever!

So excited to get some good wear out of these ones – totally worth the spend for the quality and workmanship involved :)

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Plastic Bottle Cactus Collection

Spotted on BoredPanda – some people are just too clever! Check out these amazing plastic bottle cactus sculptures by Veronika Richterová, , based in the Czech Republic…

 

plastic-bottle-sculpture-recycle-art-veronika-richterova-17 plastic-bottle-sculpture-recycle-art-veronika-richterova-9Maybe I should do this instead of real life gardening seeing as I haven’t even been able to keep some of my succulents alive lately!

To see more, visit: www.veronikarichterova.com

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT! My A1 South African Colouring In Posters are now on sale – visit youbiscuit.com

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Just over 2 weeks ago I revealed my  * Secret Project * and my A1-sized South African Colouring In posters went on sale shortly afterwards… The response to my hard work, and support from people far and wide has been overwhelming – I just want to say a big THANK YOU to you all – wishing you many hours of fun and relaxing colouring in!

FOR THOSE WHO HAVE PURCHASED ALREADY – dont forget about the colouring in competition we’re hosting where you can win R500 by sharing a pic of your completed poster!

FOR THOSE STILL WANTING TO ORDER – drop me an email on hey@youbiscuit.com or visit youbiscuit.com for more info!

IF YOU ARE FEELING LUCKY and would like to win a poster of your own – visit this page on Facebook: Africa, this is why I live here and enter by liking the You Biscuit! Facebook page and sharing the featured competition image (the big one that says GIVEAWAY! GIVEAWAY! GIVEAWAY! ) Good luck!

Don’t forget to share your colouring in progress with us – we love to see your photos and hear your stories! #ColourInSA

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The 1000hearthaikus Project – by Jen Thorpe

I LOVE this! The 1000hearthaikus Project is  instagram-based project by fellow Rhodent and feminist writer Jen Thorpe who aims to write 1000 Haikus by the end of 2015.

For those who don’t know, Haiku is a form of traditional Japanese poetry – each poem is a 17-syllable verse consisting of three metrical units of 5, 7, and 5 syllables.

Jen writes daily and posts pictures of her Haiku for all to see – I’ve been following for a while and love to see what pops up next in my feed – a few snapshots below – be sure to follow the project for more absolute gems!

Thank you for sharing your beautiful words Jen :)

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{ All pics by Jen Thorpe, borrowed from her dedicated The 1000hearthaikus Project instagram account }

Time To Share My Secret Project!

Those who follow on instagram and FB will have noticed me alluding to it often and, Im happy to announce that I can FINALLY share my #SecretProject with you all!

Hours of work, over many weeks (in between client work, and, real life) have resulted in the creation of an A1 sized colouring in poster – comprising a collage of South African objects, animals, structures, plants, products, icons and symbols – for ALL AGES, and suitable for use with crayons, koki’s (felt tip pens), pencils, paint and more!

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My idea was to offer something that would appeal design-wise to BOTH kids AND adults (yes 18-and-overs, that means you get to colour in too!) and I’ve had so much fun coming up with ideas for it, inspired by South Africa’s beauty and individuality as a country.

Posters will be available for sale @R99 each (ex. postage) from early March (next week, meep!) and will initially be sold directly via a dedicated site (You Biscuit! – coming soon!) Each poster is printed on quality 160gsm matte paper, and packaged in a protective hard-core kraft document tube, suitable for a journey through SA’s postal service ;)

I hope to get some in stores across SA too, but baby steps first, as I only sent them to print yesterday!

Super exciting stuff I tell you :) Thanks to friends and family who have supported me along the way, I appreciate each and every one of you x

Email hey@youbiscuit.com for enquiries / direct orders / wholesale queries and follow YOU BISCUIT! on Facebook for more news, offers and competitions!