A lady of letters: Ruby Violet’s local artist

Ever found yourself admiring the labels on our tubs of ices and sorbets? We catch up with long-time Tufnell Park resident Christine Nicholls to talk about handwriting and window dressing.

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“I really like the Salted Caramel with Almond Nut Brittle, but I’m not keen on it as a flavour to write as it’s so long and, because it’s one of the most popular ices, I have written thousands of those tubs. Lime sorbet meanwhile is my favourite to write!”

Tufnell Park artist Christine Nicholls, the woman behind our eye-catching handwritten tubs, reckons that since she started working with Ruby Violet back in January 2015, she has created over 10,000 labels.

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It all started when Julie picked up one of Christine’s business cards at local florist Violet & Frederick: “She was looking for someone to handwrite the tub labels, and got in touch with me after seeing a sample of my work. The style of handwriting I use is reflective of Ruby Violet’s font – Gill Sans.”

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But before putting pen to paper there was the question of finding the right ink. Christine comments that, until meeting Julie it never occurred to her that she would be sat talking to somebody about sourcing eco-friendly pens.

“I think their philosophy really works – they have a no compromise approach and that’s something I really appreciate, such as making sure their products are compostable. I am half Swiss, and I always used to go over to Switzerland to visit my grandparents during school holidays. I remember the people there are very passionate about recycling and that was something I was brought up to really care about. We spent quite a lot of time sourcing the pens – the ink has to be permanent, to survive the freezers, and only a tiny percentage goes on the label, but we wanted it to be as least damaging as possible. In the end we approached a fabulous online shop called Cult Pens and they are now one of my favourite suppliers.”

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And when Christine isn’t hand-lettering labels, you might just spot her writing on Ruby Violet’s windows. “The window displays feel like a natural progression – a way of tying the labels, the serve over and the blackboards together – and kids just love watching me draw on the windows! I dread to think how many parents have gone home to find their kids doing the same thing!”

Working with colourful vinyl shapes, recent displays have celebrated Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, and Christine has grand plans for future projects.

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“When working out the windows for Ruby Violet, I start off by doing sketches and moving around cut-out pieces of paper until I find something that just suddenly works for me. To work up the idea into a larger scale the living room gets virtually emptied of furniture so I have just got the floor – the rug is almost exactly the same size as the shop window, which is handy! I try to install the displays first thing in the morning, so that it seems to appear overnight. I Iove coming up with ideas and playing – and at Ruby Violet I can really have fun!”

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Trained as a fine art print maker, Christine’s Tufnell Park studio is filled with sketchbooks, files and folders. “It’s a real mixture of things I have done over the years – maps, greetings cards, lots of wedding invitations and envelopes, jam jar labels and logos.” And from spending Christmas drawing a strikingly accurate picture of Somerset House, and not letting a small thing like an ice rink being set up in front of it get in the way, to working on mini illustrated books produced under the imprint The Summer Press that are next being sold from a pop-up shop on Columbia Road in July, Christine’s creative endeavors are set to soar when she turns full-time freelance next month.

“I have lived in this area for 30 years, in fact I went to school at Parliament Hill and moved away to Brighton to do my degree only to return about 10 years later. I love the way Tufnell Park has changed – the way the high street truly has become a high street with independent shops. I walk down the street and people say hello, it’s like a village within London. I really like the feeling that I belong somewhere, and I love belonging in Tufnell Park. I also work with Harrington & Squires, and I am looking forward to working closely with more local traders in the future. Making the move to freelance feels like I am being true to myself.”

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With time for one last question, we wanted to know Christine’s favourite flavour – and true to her local roots and Swiss heritage she opted for Tufnell Park Honey & Honeycomb: “My grandfather in Switzerland used to keep bees, he had two hives in his house and I think 13 in the woods. So we spent our childhood holidays turning the huge (or so it seemed as kids) centrifuge to get the honey out of the honeycombs, and also visiting the beautiful little chalet where he kept his bees in the forest. I must have a genetic love of honey, although my sister loathes it strangely, perhaps one bee sting too many!

Find more of Christine’s work online and send her a message at: https://www.inkpotandpen.com