Jack Renwick reveals why she plans her holidays around flea markets
Glass spaceman cordial bottles, plastic jelly moulds, wooden bingo boards, a rubber King Kong figure, hundreds of stamps, playing cards, pin badges, lamps, signs, bags… Treasure hunting has been my greatest passion for as long as I can remember.
Not with a metal detector or a pirate map, but hunting for the unique – the random objects and items that can only to be found in car boot sales, junk shops and flea markets, the stuff that you just can’t find anywhere else. It doesn’t matter what you discover, it’s the anticipation of starting the hunt and the potential of the complete unknown that excites.
I grew up with parents who also had this bug. Professional bargain-hunters, hagglers and negotiators, we spent our weekends at markets, charity shops, house clearances or jumble sales. Most Sundays were spent at The Barras in the east end of Glasgow which was, and still is, one of the best places to find anything from any era you could possibly imagine. My dad was like a Glaswegian Del Boy and made his living hustling at car boot sales. For him the buzz was spotting the deal; for me it has always been the thrill of uncovering something interesting or just weird and which makes me laugh.
This hobby is also a handy source of inspiration that often influences my day job and is a much richer stimulus than any book or design blog. You have no control over what you will see; nothing is curated, or organised, or planned – every table, box or blanket on the ground presents a completely different source of inspiration and you have to take what you get.
Beautiful colour palettes in piles of shoes or stacks of chairs; graphic patterns in bathroom tiles and electrical wiring; the boldest use of typography and illustration on everything from model train boxes to hairdryers. Saturated postcard photography, fascinating materials, textures and formats, unusually vibrant print techniques on school books – now banned because the ink might kill you.
Whenever I travel on holiday it’s my main focus of choosing a destination. Yeah yeah, it might have an Acropolis, or a Grand Canyon, but before booking any flights I’ll have a Google to see if there will be a flea market or somewhere that will sell some kind of second-hand crap and if not, then we’re not going.
My latest treasures have been found in Athens, where archways are piled high with dusty junk, but with a bit of effort and a keen eye, something fascinating can always be found. I’ve had to learn to be satisfied with taking photos of half the stuff I find as my house just isn’t big enough, and trying to carry treasure home on a Ryanair cabin baggage allowance flight doesn’t work. I once carried a pair of vintage roller boots I’d found in San Francisco across America in a rucksack – it wasn’t fun, but I got them home. I’ve never worn them, of course, as it turns out I’m a grown woman…
With my sort of treasure, you can’t go searching for something, you can only see what’s there – and as with any kind of hunting, the more effort you put into the hunt, the more you’ll find. So if you’re ever stuck on a project, can’t find the way forward or are just bored: get out a Google map, put an ‘x’ wherever there’s a junk shop, and go start hunting.
Above: a selection of delights from Renwick’s treasure trove, including knitting patterns for four different styles of 1960s hoods. Bottom: Just some of the clock and watch faces she has amassed.