amsterdam

Swarm Studio, Amsterdam...

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Those who’ve known me for a long time will know that artist + founder of Swarm, Leslie Oschmann, is a dear friend of mine. We got to know each other ten years ago when I was living in my houseboat in Amsterdam and scouting hidden ateliers for my second book, Amsterdam: Made by Hand. We soon became friends, and went on many adventures together around the city and beyond. I’m drawn to people who see the world around them in a unique way, and can transform something overlooked into something extraordinary, which is what I call Everyday Alchemy. Leslie is one of those unique people.

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My daughter Laly, taking in the atmosphere of Swarm & ready to paint, 2016

My daughter Laly, taking in the atmosphere of Swarm & ready to paint, 2016

Each time I’ve been back to Amsterdam since moving to Sydney, I spend time with Leslie and her sidekick, McDuff. I love being immersed in her creative world - her home & studio, which is always filled with her latest projects. There are chairs hanging from the ceiling, piles of found oil paintings ready to be transformed into something new, paintbrushes, textiles, leather straps, ropes and the most incredible found objects from her travels - many of which she sells in her online store.

When I visited her new studio in 2016 with Laly, Leslie had just embarked on the epic journey of writing and making a book. She’d been approached by Rizzoli to write a book about her creative life in Amsterdam, centered around her muse, wire hair fox terrier McDuff. The book was inspired by Leslie’s fun photographs on instagram of the sometimes obscure places her and McDuff would visit, and the playfulness of exploring these interesting landscapes together. Because wherever Leslie goes, so does McDuff - when she heads back to New York, he’s on the plane with her, and travelling to her new studio-in-the-making in France known as Q, he’s sitting beside her in her van. I remember when Leslie and I went to Beaune in Bourgogne for New Year’s Eve some 8 years ago, and McDuff wandered the frosted cobblestone streets with us.

With this book project, Leslie wanted to find a way to create the unique visual layout she had in her mind, and we’d discussed the idea of creating them by hand - each page spread as an assemblage which could then be photographed. When I got there, she had the page layouts pinned up on one of the studio cabinets. It was an honour to be able to see the book in progress at this early stage - to see how Leslie’s visual directing translated into book form, and I couldn’t wait to see the final result….

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Earlier this year, her book was published. It’s called Me & McDuff, and it’s filled with her creative energy & love for her sidekick. Every page is an artwork in itself, with each assemblage created by Leslie & photographed by Sarah van den Bosch. The book tells the story of Leslie & McDuff’s creative companionship in her way - minimal words, maximum visual effect…

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With some of her favourite captures from the book, Leslie has made some into pouches which I love, you can find them in her store.

While on my trip to Amsterdam this year in August, I took my camera with me to photograph her studio for one of my book projects. I won’t be able show you many of the incredible captures (her space is seriously amazing), but here are a few of the photographs from my shoot…

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…in her zone. 2018

…in her zone. 2018

Laly & I playing, Swarm Studio, 2016.

Laly & I playing, Swarm Studio, 2016.

Okay here is one more…

The Alchemist’s kitchen, in all it’s utilitarian glory.

The Alchemist’s kitchen, in all it’s utilitarian glory.

You can click on the links to have a look at Leslie’s new objet d’art, her new book Me & McDuff, and her latest bag collection is stunning. They are one of a kind and they sell fast, so if you see one that pulls at your heart strings, you’ll regret it if you don’t get it (believe me, this has happened a number of times to me and my friends and we still lament over the ones we missed out on).

Thank you Leslie for continuing to be such an inspiration in my life & for sharing your world with us in all that you create!

With Love,

Pia xx

photo story for Christmas edition of Happinez 2016...

1. "let me take you for a walk through my favourite neighbourhood": hand drawn map of Amsterdam (which I made a few years ago for my   Amsterdam: Made By Hand   tour, antique French book from our bookshelf, gold fabric from  Major & Tom . 2. "a wander on the beach": Bottle from  Major & Tom , as well as gold scalloped dish, made by beautiful  Bridget Bodenham .  ..............................................

1. "let me take you for a walk through my favourite neighbourhood": hand drawn map of Amsterdam (which I made a few years ago for my Amsterdam: Made By Hand tour, antique French book from our bookshelf, gold fabric from Major & Tom. 2. "a wander on the beach": Bottle from Major & Tom, as well as gold scalloped dish, made by beautiful Bridget Bodenham.

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3. "I'll be your  Marie Kondo  for the day": everything found around my home - fallen bark from a nearby tree, found feathers, and beautiful velvet lined box gifted to me by an  Alchemy of Assemblage  workshop attendee. 4. "I'll knit you something warm this winter": wool bought in British Columbia many years ago, tiny knitting needles found in a vintage shop on King St, Newtown, blue silk fabric given to me by my friend  Kaspia .  ..............................................

3. "I'll be your Marie Kondo for the day": everything found around my home - fallen bark from a nearby tree, found feathers, and beautiful velvet lined box gifted to me by an Alchemy of Assemblage workshop attendee. 4. "I'll knit you something warm this winter": wool bought in British Columbia many years ago, tiny knitting needles found in a vintage shop on King St, Newtown, blue silk fabric given to me by my friend Kaspia.

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In September last year, I produced, styled and photographed an 8-page feature for Dutch magazine Happinez, for their Christmas edition, 2016, issue 8. It was titled "What money can't buy", featuring non-traditional gift ideas for the festive season. The brief was to come up with some gift ideas that celebrate sharing time together and offering a skill, rather than going out and buying something. As you can imagine, I was pretty rapt with this assignment: challenge accepted!

Would you like to know a little about how I made these assemblages?

5. "I'll plant you a rose garden": back boards from Major & Tom, hand dyed silk ribbon from  Tinctifolia , and tiny French pots from  Elements I Love   .  6. "I'll make you some healing soup": sari from Malaysia (details below), hemp string from  String Harvest .  ..............................................

5. "I'll plant you a rose garden": back boards from Major & Tom, hand dyed silk ribbon from Tinctifolia, and tiny French pots from Elements I Love . 6. "I'll make you some healing soup": sari from Malaysia (details below), hemp string from String Harvest.

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Together with the Creative Editor, I came up with some ideas and then had to figure out how to visually capture them. For example, one idea was to gift a walk on a favourite beach together. When I thought about that idea, I began to visualise a beach in a bottle, so I created just that, using a small bottle, some sand, tiny shells and a little sparkle (shown in the top right image). The layering of the objects around the bottle created depth and warmth, and I used gold threaded fabric and ceramics for texture and a touch of festivity. That was the first photograph I made from the story, as in my mind it was the strongest, but it also took the longest to create (3 hours). 

Another gift idea was to make some delicious festive soup, but instead of creating an image of a bowl or pot of soup, I decided to bundle the ingredients together, giving a textural feast for the eyes (image 6). I deconstructed a variety of fresh mushrooms from the supermarket, choosing the most interesting ones and creating a bundle with fresh herbs and watercress, wrapped with string and bells. The sari used as the backdrop for the ingredients I had bought in Malaysia many years ago when I was a bridesmaid for a modern Malay wedding. 

7. "Private concert": Gold textile from Major & Tom, Indian festive circles from  India in Balmain,  music sheet from my personal collection. 8. A beautiful mess.  ..............................................

7. "Private concert": Gold textile from Major & Tom, Indian festive circles from India in Balmain, music sheet from my personal collection. 8. A beautiful mess.

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Below each image is more information about each photograph, with links to wonderful prop suppliers and makers here in Sydney. And if you'd like to see a behind the scenes mini film of me in the process of making one of the photographs, you can see it right here

9. "I'll come to clean up your decorations": box of decorations from my personal collection, with collected seed pods dipped in glitter, vintage baubles, and an assortment of ceramic stars by  Paper Boat Press . 10. vintage sari as above.

9. "I'll come to clean up your decorations": box of decorations from my personal collection, with collected seed pods dipped in glitter, vintage baubles, and an assortment of ceramic stars by Paper Boat Press. 10. vintage sari as above.

Would you like to learn how I create assemblages like these? This year I am scheduling a few exclusive and very intimate weekend workshops to share my techniques with you, connecting to our intuition. In the next couple of weeks I'll be announcing the dates, first through my newsletter to allow subscribers to get first choice with early bird specials, then publicly. There will only be 6 places available per workshop, so if you'd like to be first in line to book your preferred date, please ensure you have subscribed

And if you have any questions, please comment below! xx