Meeting locals and hearing their story is a big part of travel for me – even when I explore my home. Living in a city where I was not born, means that there is still a lot to discover and learn from the people who have been here a whole lot longer than me. Recently, my journey brought me to the Hidden Lane Glasgow, a lane tucked away in the trendy neighbourhood of Finnieston which has become the home for artists, designers and curators to produce and exhibit their work. I want you to meet some of them.
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Entering the Hidden Lane Glasgow is like stepping into another world – falling down the rabbit hole, only that the tunnel is horizontal and you actually stay on your feet. Watch the cobble stone though! Once inside you are overwhelmed by a maze of low buildings and alleyways; trucks and cars are parked in apparent chaos. Seems like the perfect place for artists to find new inspiration every day!
Libby Walker – Illustrator
The first studio I step into belongs to Libby Walker, an illustrator who has been based in the Hidden Lane Glasgow for just about a year now. Having graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art and making a name for herself with commissions for brands like Jo Malone or Estee Lauder, Libby has moved into her little studio in the Hidden Lane which is part creative space, part shop, showroom and gallery.
She lends her artistic talent to local businesses such as Trakke, Dear Green Coffee or the Meadow Cafe in Partick, while working at her own signature style cityscapes. Inspired by the places she lives, works and wanders in, she creates mosaics of architecture, street life and local flavour.
What I loved about Libby’s work is how much inspiration she draws from her immediate surroundings. She tells me about the Finnieston piece, which she also prints on dish towels and brings them to local business owners. It’s important to her to give something back to the community she lives and works in, and people are so happy when they see their own shopfronts or buildings in her art.
Talking to Libby and hear about her process of engaging with her surroundings through art make me think about my own practice. How often, do I walk around a part of town, or through a new city or country, and take what I need without giving back. I take photos of everything that catches my eye, sometimes buildings, other times people going on about their daily lives. But how can I engage more with my surroundings in order to create more meaningful content. Writing stories like this one is my attempt, but I’d like to do it more often.
Mhairi Mackenzie aka “Bonnie Bling” – jewellery designer
My visit at Bonnie Bling’s studio was super brief, but long enough to leave a lasting impression. Actually a graphic designer, Mhairi Mackenzie created Bonnie Bling in 2010. She now crafts acrylic jewellery and fashion accessoires.
The big breakthrough came for Bonnie Bling in the year leading up to the Scottish Independence Referendum, she tells me. Her “Aye!” and “Naw!” pin badges were at the pulse of time and catapulted her into the public eye. No wonder, she already prepares for a potential second indy ref, with #indyref2 pin badges!
Her best-selling design, she tells me, is the Highland Cow, which you can get as a necklace, brooch or enamel pin. Yet, what makes Bonnie Bling so special is her interest in the Scottish language and particularly slang words. The Scottish accent, particularly Glaswegian, strikes many visitors as more or less incomprehensible. There are so many words you will never hear anywhere else in the world – and the Scots take a lot of pride in this. Bonnie Bling takes these words and phrases, uses them in her designs and turns them into cheeky jewellery.
I don’t think you could get a more Glaswegian souvenir to take home! I’ve got my eyes on another Bonnie Bling series though… can you guess?
Interlude: The Hidden Lane Tea Room
While some people don’t know about the Hidden Lane Glasgow at all, a majority of people has at least heard of the Hidden Lane Tea Room before. For a good reason!
This little cafe offers an indulging selection of chai teas, cakes and almost-bite-sized sandwiches – it makes you thank the UK for the invention of afternoon tea! So when you make your way to the Hidden Lane Glasgow to meet some artists and check out there work, come with an empty stomach and fill up on delicious food and drink at the Hidden Lane Tea Room!
They also have a vegan option and happily serve their chai teas with soy milk!
On my way out of the lane, I quickly pop into Decadent Riot, a quirky little boutique filled from floor to roof with gorgeous designs by local and not-so-local artists. It’s almost too easy to miss, tucked away in a far corner of the Hidden Lane, so I’m even happier I made the discovery for myself.
I don’t really need anything, but I browse the beautifully arranged selection of designer jewellery, home accessories, bags and tote bags either way. There it is – a little golden makeup bag with big open eyes on it. Didn’t the zipper on my makeup bag just break? I must have it. It’s so easy to be distracted when in assignment in the Hidden Lane.
The card machine is acting up, so the owner and I start chatting. I don’t even ask her name, thinking that this is merely a polite conversation while I’m waiting for the money to disappear from my bank account. But alas, there is a surprise behind every corner.
“You have a beautiful shop”, I say. “Thanks, it’s nice to get all these different things together. My friends always call me a curator when they see my shop”, she responds. There it was – like the scales fell from my eyes. Blinded by the face-less retail businesses I often end up doing my shopping in, I forgot, that behind every little design boutique is a person who curated the selection of items on display. Someone made the decision to place items in a certain spot, next to another certain item. She’d take this collection, but not the other; one colour scheme, but not the other. And I was talking to her.
Suddenly flushing at the thought of standing in someone’s personal gallery, I take back my card. I ask for a photo – but she is shy. I can photograph the store though, and I feel like that captures her personality pretty well too!
If you spend some time in Glasgow, chances are high that you will find yourself in Finnieston sooner or later. Just a stone’s throw away from sights such as the Kelvingrove Art Gallery or the University of Glasgow, this neighbourhood is a mecca for students and young creatives, who flock to the rich culinary offer as well as the local bars and pubs.
The Hidden Lane Glasgow is populated by over 100 artists, craftspeople, designers, small business owners and other creatives. Many of them open their doors for visitors and customers throughout the week – new this year are the HIDDEN LANE SATURDAYS, a kind of open door market with live music, open studios, coffee and cake as well as vintage sales. To find out more about HIDDEN LANE SATURDAYS and the participating studios, click here!
Do you like to be a tourist in your own town? What’s the most surprising, hidden gem you’ve ever discovered?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner (except Instagrams).