The smell of books

I am adamant that I can smell the books when I walk past Blackwell’s bookshop in Oxford's Broad Street. Isn't it a lovely thought, that there are enough books in that quirky building with its vast maze of shelving, for their inky, papery fragrance to escape through the doors?

The smell of books - inky square

It's not just the smell of books I love. Any printed paper will do. Magazines, catalogues, meeting agendas fresh from the office printer: they all have their own character. But there is something about books – the familiarity of that favourite paperback, the authority of an aged academic tome, the promise of this brand new hardback novel...

Smells of course can send you back in time like nothing else. Thierry Mugler's Angel, if I ever catch a hint of it on a passer-by, takes me straight to a summer in Cambridge, when I'd just started wearing it. It's all there in the smell: the desk I sat at under the window, drinking tea and writing letters, the poetry seminars and lunches on the grass.

Breton dictionary - inky square

It happens with books too. Sometimes a book will smell just like, perhaps, a series of novels I read as a child, or one of those old copies of Agatha Christie I always picked up on holiday, and I'm transported to the beach, or a deckchair in the garden, some time in the 1980s – sand or grass underfoot, suncream, the sound of waves or a cooing wood pigeon. 

Or, most of the time, I just walk past Blackwells on my way to work and take a deep breath in, inhaling all that bookish goodness in readiness for the day ahead.


Why I don’t (yet) call myself a calligrapher

Calling your work by its real name… I have listened to Sara Tasker’s podcast on the subject (twice) and read inspiring posts from fellow instagrammers, most recently @elin.loow and @hello_kathryntaylor. They are all absolutely right, and I am cheering them along. But I’m not ready yet.


Many calligraphers and hand letterers have launched successful businesses just months after attending their first workshop. The quality of the work created by some near-beginners is jaw-droppingly impressive — no doubt the result of countless hours of practice, raw talent and determination.

I am finding my path at a much slower pace. I don’t practise every day. In fact I hardly practise at all. Life is busy, and difficult, and there are other priorities that must take precedence. Time is precious, and calligraphy is not the only thing I need to make space for. And that’s OK.

I have however started to think more seriously about becoming a calligrapher. I am taking classes, reading books, beginning to imagine what services I could offer, what my life might look like if I made a success of it. So far I have just been testing the waters, just dipping a toe in. There is no schedule, no targets, no firm commitment. I haven’t even shared the idea with family and friends.


Calligraphy takes up a lot of my thinking space and free time. I take it seriously, and it brings me joy and satisfaction. Yet the title of calligrapher does not quite fit. I haven’t sold any work, but that’s only part of it. It just seems to be a little further away, just out of sight, just round that corner over there.

This is not a negative take on my own abilities or prospects. I will get there (unless of course I decide to take another path). No, this is not self-doubt. It is motivating, and exciting, to build up the skills, experience and inspiration that might make the idea come to life, to dream and try it out for size, to enjoy and trust in the process.

It is a year since I started my Instagram account and set up this website. I wrote at the time that it was a work in progress, as I discovered where my experiments would take me. I have grown in the last twelve months, in more ways than one, and have a better idea of where this might be. But this is still only the beginning.

How to bottle up weather using Lumyer

A few people have been asking how I created my 'rain in a jar' cinemagraph, which I posted on Instagram last week, so I thought I'd put a quick tutorial together. 

Lumyer is a free-to-download app, available on both iOS and Android. I have an iPhone, so these steps apply to that version. I understand that the Android version has fewer options for adjusting effects, which is a shame, but you can still get some good results. 

Before I start, another word on cost. While the app itself is free, there are quite a few additional charges to get the full functionality. You'll need to pay to remove the watermark, and to add a third effect on an image (the first two are free). While there are some free effects, you will also need to pay for additional ones. I still think it is pretty good value, but it can add up if you buy a lot of effects.

So let's bottle up some rain!

1. This is the Lumyer start screen. To import a photo from your phone tap on 'Gallery'.


2. Select your image, and tap on the tick mark (top right)


3. The edit screen will come up:


4. Explore the effects. You can browse free effects along the bottom of the screen. If you scroll all the way to the right and tap on 'see all' you'll be able to browse all the effects available. You can preview them before you buy, but unfortunately not on your own photos. Once you've bought an effect it will be added to the menu on your edit screen.


5. Time to add an effect! Simply tap on an effect from the list across the bottom of the screen. It will immediately be applied to your image. You can then adjust the size, rotate the effect, and fade it. To choose which control to use tap the three dots on the right, and use the slider to adjust. 


6. Shrink your effect to fit the image. To add weather to a jar (or more generally to apply the effect to a smaller area of your picture!), you just need to adjust the size down and move the effect to the correct area of your image. You won't be able to change the shape of the effect (although it can be rotated), so a square object or area will work best. 


7. Add more effects to create your scene, by tapping Fx2 and Fx3 at the top of the screen. For my rain in a jar I used two layers of the mist effect, to add height and give some depth, and a layer of the heavy rain effect. And there you are: rain in a jar!

Props, props, props


I rarely share photos of my calligraphy without a prop or two. It isn’t just a matter of styling the lettering for best effect: to me the photograph is the finished piece.

 My little box of faded flowers

My little box of faded flowers

I enjoy the process of composing and shooting just as much as I do putting ink on paper... which is why I keep a full supply of dead vegetation on my desk! My stash of stationery also comes in handy of course.

 Desk tools in wood and white

Desk tools in wood and white

 Herbs and stationery

Herbs and stationery

Sometimes the props do just as well on their own, too: who knew washi tape, string, sage and ballpoint pens could look quite this satisfying?