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Bex Shaw’s drawings of Roman Road [photoessay]

Bex Shaw has lived in Bow for 10 years and immortalised many of the area’s shop fronts with her artwork. Two years ago she was featured in Spitalfields Life, sharing drawings from across the East End. We thought you’d like to see her beautiful pictures of Roman Road. We caught up with Shaw to talk Bow, sign painting, and her evolving creative process.

What are your fondest memories of the Bow and Globe Town area?

I really love the area! I’ve actually lived  in the East End on and off since the 70’s but only recently discovered, quite unexpectedly, that I have ancestors from the 1800s buried in what is now Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park! I think my earliest memory of Bow is coming to Roman Road in the ‘70s to buy second hand furniture with my mum. 

What inspired you to start drawing shop fronts and stalls?

I have always loved market stalls and shop windows from a purely aesthetic point of view. There is something magical for me about the thoughtful displays that shopkeepers and stall holders construct! I mean have you seen London Food Centre’s fruit and vegetable display on the Roman? It’s a work of art! 

I particularly enjoy finding art in the everyday and for me displays are a place very rich in this respect. I also loved Eric Ravillious’ famous High Street book as a child, my Granny (also an artist) had a copy of it which I loved to pore over. Mainstone Press (who also have Roman Road connections!) published an amazing book called The Story of High Street all about it which I am lucky enough to have seen up close! 

My Granny’s dad was a sign writer and shop interior designer over a hundred years ago so maybe it’s in my genes… I was also a sort of Artist in Residence at a vintage clothing fair from 2010-13 where I drew the stalls and the stall holders wonderful wares as well as selling some of my greetings cards so that got me into drawing markets as a series. Now whenever I see a good stall or shop window I have to capture it. 

What materials do you use and what’s the process? Do you draw from life or from pictures?

I tend to do a mixture of drawing from life, taking photographs, and later drawing from them or using them to help me add detail and colour into drawings at home once my fingers get too cold to continue outside! I mostly use coloured pencils, watercolor, and acrylic ink on watercolor paper. However, over the last couple of years I’ve really got into using a very basic free phone app to draw with. This enables me to zoom in (I love all the little details so this is really appealing for me) and I’ve been surprised at how much fun I’ve found this process.

How do you get your art out there?

I have had a stall quite a few times with Urban Makers Fairs, including a really fun one on Roman Road itself! I really enjoy their fairs as they have a great atmosphere! I decided to do fewer stalls generally and to focus more on illustration specific events mostly because you have to sell a lot of greetings cards to cover the cost! The next fair I’m doing is Ink Paper Print at Cambridge Guildhall in November. Helen at SNAP took a few of my cards and prints to see a while ago now too. I approached her, if I remember rightly, after I attended a lovely origami workshop in the shop a few years ago.

What will you be drawing next?

I’ve nowhere near drawn all the places on Roman Road that I’d like to so it’s a bit of a never ending project for me! I’ve drawn lots of other  shops and market stalls in the East End from Brick Lane and Columbia Road to Chatsworth Road as well as other places in London and around the world! To be honest whenever I pass a good shopfront or stall I’ll stop to take photos, it’s very irritating to anyone I’m out with as I do tend to take photos or draw wherever I go. 

My dream would be to packed off to different countries around the world with a mission to draw different town’s shops and markets! Seville has some really beautifully preserved vintage shop fronts  from the ‘20s and ‘30s with curved plate glass and drawing them would be a real treat! Ultimately though visiting Japan and Mexico are my big drawing trip dreams!

See more of Bex’s work at her website and on Facebook

Drawing of Arbers on Roman Road by Bex Shaw
Drawing of George's Plaice on Roman Road by Bex Shaw
Drawing of Gina's Closet on Roman Road by Bex Shaw
Drawing of Tasty Bites stall on Roman Road by Bex Shaw
Drawing of Loafing on Roman Road by Bex Shaw
Drawing of Dennington's on Roman Road by Bex Shaw
Drawing of two women on Roman Road by Bex Shaw

If you liked this gallery you may like our interview with Roman Road’s friendly neighborhood sign man Ged Palmer

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Frederick O'Brien

Fred is a writer and researcher with a background in sustainable development. His research has featured in The Independent, the Evening Standard, and the New York Post, among others.

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