Sunday, 21 December 2014

Skipping ahead to Christmas

The advent challenge theme for Christmas Day is 'what does Christmas mean to you?'

It means more time to enjoy being with my family. And I've realised by setting myself this challenge, and insisting on keeping to it I am reducing the time I'll have with them, since they've now all finished work / uni / school.

So I'm not going to stick to it. I hope you don't think less of me but if you do, that's too bad and I'll have to live with it. It's been a bit of a difficult, exhausting (physically and emotionally) Autumn for various reasons and I think I need to cut myself some slack.

After Christmas I intend to spend a lot more time creating and therefore a lot less time writing.

So for the moment at least it's

Au Revoir and Have a very Happy Christmas, full of all the things you need from your own Christmas whether that's excitement or tranquility; turkey, goose, beef, duck or vegetarian and vegan options; country walks or wild parties. Whatever you need to recharge and refresh.

Be healthy, be happy. Create.



Thursday, 18 December 2014

Who am I? and to which icon is this a little homage to?

Bet you didn't think my Dundee Cake would end up looking like this!
One of the tricks to finding your style is apparently to define who you  are - what your personality is - and allow that to come out in your work.

This is something of a challenge for me! I once did a full Myers-Briggs type indicator test as part of a high level training course for work. Before you receive the computer analysis of your response you have to do a quick verbal Q&A version with the assessor. Of the four indicators, my verbal version came out opposite to my computer version on three and the fourth indicator (where I matched) was the indicator on which I was, according to the computer, the least firmly placed. The assessor said that either I really was a very flexible person or I didn't know myself very well!

I think it's a little bit of both (unhelpfully). I certainly know myself better now, but I think years of working to other people's expectations and putting other people first (parents, customers, line managers, spouse, children..... one is brought up not to put oneself first), means I cannot always say what I would do or how I would react in situations if it was entirely my choice. As soon as someone else is in the equation, perhaps it changes.

So when working on my own personal style, trend research is actually quite distracting, as can looking at other people's work sometimes be. And when you add in all the various possibilities in terms of medium (pen, pencil, watercolour, oil pastels - my current voyage of exploration - photography, pencil crayon, stitch), then add in all the wonderful possibilities for developing those in Photoshop and Illustrator, it is perhaps no wonder that I am taking so long over this.

Have you got the answer to the question in the title of today's post yet?

Damien Hirst. Icon because (although I don't like or indeed sometimes see the point of some of his work - 'Three ball 50.50 tank' for example, and I query whether his 'spot' paintings can in fact, really be called his since they mostly weren't done by him anyway)

What do you think?


Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Feeling a bit better - three ding dong patterns for the price of one, plus icons x 9!

Yesterday I was convinced I was no good at this SPD lark. And then (& from talking to others this is often the way it goes), you come from a place of being semi disgusted by all you produce to a place where it all flows again.

I'd started with my Lewis F Day inspired layout:

and set it up as a pattern, just.....wasn't.....singing to me! I can't explain what that means easily. It's just a general dissatisfaction, an inner knowledge that while the pattern is 'okay', that's all it is. It isn't yet ready. And the breathlessness and lack of energy from my chest infection made me feel incapable of producing better.

Still a bit breathless this morning but I'm much happier.

I know the circle one still needs adjusting and I might play about with some colour variations but overall this is much more what I wanted to achieve. Still not Christmassy in feel, which is interesting but I could possibly see them as (non-specific to season or event) wrapping paper? Or funky wallpaper?

These still use strong photographic elements, mostly for speed but I feel I am not pushing myself enough artistically. While too breathless to design much, I've gone back to Pinterest to redo the ABSPD exercise of trying to define what patterns please me and why. I've drawn my icons for today from that.

There's so much out there, it's very easy to be attracted briefly to all manner of things. I constantly ask myself  'could I live with this pattern or would I soon tire of it?' - I also try to separate out that which I like, from that which I just admire for its skill. Here's (some) of what I came up with - the 'why' is the tricky yet potentially crucial part for moving me forward (the links all go to visuals):

  1. William Morris - an obvious one to many perhaps but.....satisfyingly regular but detailed patterns drawn from the natural world. A lot of them are like jewels.
  2. Piet Mondrian - his more subtly coloured work anyway.  I like the geometric shapes coupled with the irregular size of them.
  3. Paul Lang Kurz  Art Nouveau - this link is to The Textile Blog which describes Art Nouveau in terms of interpreting 'the essence of the spirit of nature as if it were a dance', which I quite like. 
  4. Marthe Armitage - simplicity & detail; mostly naturals.
  5. Paul Klee - linework and colouration more subtle than Mondrian's; abstract
  6. Rex Ray - strong colours (accent pieces?), bold geometric and abstract shapes with texture
  7. Sophie Munns - strong abstract shapes, texture, subtle but satisfying colours
  8. Tim Pugh - using the natural world as material for pattern (like Andy Goldsworthy) - shape, colour, tones, irregular repetitions. 
  9. Ophelia Pang - irregular abstract shapes, irregular geometry, bright use of colour. I also love the sense of her journey - purely visual - as she says 'I'd rather speak in colors and shapes'
So - a mixture of abstract, geometric & naturals, with mostly subtle colours, but some vivid, rich & contrasting ones too. Some I like for their satisfying and detailed repeats; some for their unexpected variations. I like texture, whether that is achieved by detail of patterning or subtlety of colouration and line strength. 

I have discovered that although I like some 1950s / mid century work (as they call it) - as a style movement I am not overly drawn to it. Which is a result. I think. Perhaps I need to spend time after Christmas going over my own designs with similar yardsticks......

Tomorrow's pattern theme is 'Festive Food' - yesterday I made our traditional 'double the mixture' Dundee Cake - it may well feature!

Have a good evening


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Normal service will be resumed....when I'm better. But enjoy Jools Holland in the meantime.

Please forgive the break in advent icons - a chest infection is sapping my energy.

Jools Holland was to be my icon for yesterday. Actually Jools and his piano (the two are inseparable in my mind). And what inspiration does Jools bring to the artcraftdesign mix? Passion and energy. And all those patterns in sound.

To see him live is an item on my (before I kick the) 'bucket' list. Enjoy.

No patterns from me today sadly - got to go back to bed again. See you when I see you....


Monday, 8 December 2014

Planning your patterns - icon guru & hero (8) Lewis F Day

Lewis F Day (google him!) was an English decorative artist and designer, and a one-time vice-president of the Society of Arts. He wrote several books and even contributed to the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica. I have a copy of his book 'Pattern Design'. I love this book. I go back to it again and again, sometimes learning, sometimes just enjoying and being soothed by the diagrams & illustrations before I go to sleep.

My sister bought it (on request) for my birthday last year but I never imagined what a joy it would be. It was written in the 1880's so the language can be a bit archaic, long-winded and hard to get your head around. He covers squares, triangles, octagons, circles, how patterns evolve, borders, planning, drop repeats and 'scaffolding' - among others.  It is full of the most wonderful (black and white) illustrations - the dotted diagonal lines on this one indicate how the pattern was formed on a diamond shape.

And it's also full of wisdom ("If you would avoid the unforeseen in your completed work - and the unforeseen reveals itself often in the most unsatisfactory manner - system is essential"). Yes, some of it has been eased or even superceded by technology. But that doesn't mean it's irrelevant. And some of the language might even be thought beautiful. Consider this:

"Painters unpractised in design assume sometimes that they have only to repeat at given intervals no matter what study from nature, and make good the connection between the repetitions of it, and the trick is done. It is not quite so easy as that.......The natural lines of a flower, determined by no thought of repetition, are scarcely likely to bear repetition very well, and the difficulty of working up to nature, and comprehending such naturalistic details in any satisfactory scheme of composition is extreme. If anything results that way which goes for ornament, it is by accident and not design. Emphatically that is not the way to set about it. A designer makes his flowers grow his way."

Today's design challenge theme was 'ding dong'. As in 'Merrily on high' I assume. I don't have a bell but we do own a wrought iron triangle which gets rung on a daily basis to bring everybody down for dinner. So here are some sketches inspired by our triangle and tomorrow I'm going to try to create a pattern planned in a way of which Lewis F Day would approve!

Researching Lewis F Day, I started to want to see and read some of his other books. I've just made the most amazing discovery - you can download them free from this website.

Go on - spoil yourselves!


Sunday, 7 December 2014

Andrew Carnegie - icon for advent (7) - Icon of libraries and philanthropy

One can define ArtCraftDesign in terms of 'art' and 'craft' and 'design' but also in terms of the 'arts, crafts and designs' of actually living - trying to live well, honestly, according to one's beliefs and making the most of one's talents.

As a librarian there is obviously a direct connection for me with my icon for today, Andrew Carnegie, whose philanthropic work emphasised public libraries around the world. So today I want to revert to my former public librarian status (I now run a school library rather than co-ordinating the work of several public ones) and ensure you are all aware (and it always amazes me how many people are not aware) of just what you may be able to benefit from - often for free - from public and other libraries as designers and business people. There is much much more you could also benefit from as parents and individuals in your own right but that would take more than one post. And while the following has a British perspective, I encourage those of you from other parts of the world to investigate what's available to you locally too.

Discovering surface pattern design I heard of a book and searched for it on Gloucestershire Libraries online catalogue. I reserved it and it was delivered to my nearest branch. For the next few months that book bounced between me and an unknown other library member in Cheltenham. Every time I reserved it, they returned it to let me have my go and they duly reserved it to borrow it again after me. Share and share alike and a 'greener' use of resources. Plus I didn't commit my own funds until I was sure I needed to own the book (I didn't, as I got what I needed just from borrowing). So try before you buy. Public library membership is free; local charges for reserving books may vary but are kept as low as possible.

Local library authorities vary in the exact services they provide and the books they buy depending on their catchment areas and their budgets. If there is something you think they should have, suggest it. They will not always be able to justify purchasing (eg if it is likely to be just you wanting it), but they will often consider it.

From the main library website for your area, a good link to follow would be to online / virtual or e-reference services. These will often include business research services: Worcestershire Libraries for example offer Cobra (Complete Business Reference Advisor), and British Standards online; other authorities  also include something called Kompass - which is business to business information, or MintUK business information. Cornwall Libraries also link to local business help and support from their pages; other local authorities might keep that information separate from their library pages. Internet use in public libraries can often be free or minimally charged.

University and academic libraries won't let you join (unless you are a student or staff member obviously) but many of them do have to allow public access as part of their charter. You won't know what you'll find necessarily, but if your local institution runs art related courses or business, law, etc courses then it's worth a morning spent browsing. Sometimes the most serendipitous 'findings' occur (eg I now know that a book called The Luxury Strategy is held by the University of the West of England in Bristol). Don't forget such institutions may also run short courses and summer schools of interest.

We librarians both honour Andrew Carnegie and curse the difficulty & expense of maintaining, heating, insulating and adapting for modern use such (often listed) buildings.

Let me tell you another reason why he inspires me: I do not know whether I will make my fortune or even a decent living in the surface pattern design / luxury scarf world.  I (like most of us) could sometimes wish for a bit more freedom & flexibility in my finances, a bit more security about the future. But right from the beginning I recognise that I am not in the world alone and relatively speaking I am lucky. So 5% of any profit I make will be donated to Unicef. There are many charities I could have chosen but it has taken me till I'm nearly 50 to know what I want to do and have the courage to go for it. How much talent for the world dies when little children die or have to spend their lives fetching water, scrabbling a living from rubbish heaps, are enslaved to make chocolate for the rest of us, and so on? I want  to make sure my supply chains are as 'blame free' as possible and that will not be easy. Carnegie built his fortune on steel and that process, I'm sure, was not always 'blame free' but his attitude was that with the wealth created he had a chance to improve things; without it he didn't. Life is ever a compromise.

Gosh. That was all a bit serious. Here's a (very) quick Christmas market pattern to lighten the mood.

Joy to the world!

Much love


Saturday, 6 December 2014

A brand new advent guru (6) Lidija Paradinovic Nagulov

I love it when people take the trouble to comment on my posts. Mostly this happens via the Facebook pages I post it on - my own, and the ABSPD ones. But Lidija commented via the blog.

I imagine she must have found it via one of those groups but I didn't know her name. She works as 'Celandine Designs' - which name provoked an instant smile from me as it is my father's favourite wild flower. Look at her gorgeous work! So lush.

And of course, I had a nosy around on her blog and found this advice about finding your style. And she's absolutely right - we all want to do everything but equally cannot do everything. We need to make decisions - we need to define ourselves more closely.

I can answer some of the questions Lidija suggests answering: I mostly imagine my work on scarves but also wonder about wallpaper, home decor and fashion. With some of the fun things I've produced in the few days of the Faye Brown design Advent challenge, I can see some outlet for stationery.

I work with different pattern types (floral, abstract, geometrical, mostly) and might have several on a single scarf.

I truly do love my line work - it's getting stronger and more confident and faster on a daily basis. It's flexible too, as I can take it anywhere and use any moment (dentist's and doctor's waiting rooms come to mind of late). I can do it last thing at night in bed before I go to sleep; and I can do it in front of the telly when I'm being sociable with the family and don't really (personally) need to pay attention to the minutiae of 'Guardians of the Galaxy' (though Dr Who - now that's different...!). I mainly see myself using paint as texture and depth. To what level I will continue to use photographic source material (only ever from my own photographs) I'm still mulling.

I work with layering and translucencies, so my colours aren't 'saturated' but nor are they necessarily muted. I'm more naturally drawn to colour contrasts than to analogous colours.

As for who I see buying my work: older women (45+), elegant and confident, whose wardrobe staples are classic in cut and quality and tend not to be overly patterned, but which would be perfectly set off by the jewel-like signature element of one of my scarves.

But, as I say, scarves are on the back burner and I'm going to give myself the gift of a few months working on my style without too much reference to anybody else's work. After advent, that is. Today's challenge theme was a Christmas market. Here are some snippets of sketches and tomorrow, rather than doing the Winter Wonderland theme, I'm going to continue working these up and seeing where they go.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Guru for advent (5): Michelle Fifis... and penguin development

A few years ago when I first started getting into this Surface Pattern Design thing one of the first blogs I tripped over was PatternObserver, written by Michelle Fifis. It also seemed back then that there were two main online surface pattern design courses: Michelle's 'The Sellable Sketch' and the 'Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design' courses run by Beth Kempton and Rachael Taylor.

Of the two possible routes I chose the British one (ABSPD) - in my ignorance I felt safer with home turf and it was a little cheaper. Both companies now run a range of course levels and content. As with any text book, different styles suit different people; I believe the main difference between them maybe that you get more individualised feedback from the course leader via Michelle's courses - which may account for the higher cost. Also sometimes I feel I see higher quality art based work on Michelle's site. But I could be wrong.

Despite not taking her course, following Michelle has still been immensely valuable. From time to time she offers free 'mini-courses' (eg 'Artwork Preparation: a freelancer's guide') and webinars (eg Marketing can be beautiful') on aspects of the business, which are like 'tasters' for the full courses. This allows you to sample her style of teaching at the same time as learning a new skill or gaining insight into the business. Brwosing her website just now I also came across other options and useful help eg the opportunity to have Artwork Critiques and a page of helpful design resources.

I'm not looking for another course at present; I have just done ABSPD Module Two but was in fact too ill over several weeks properly to engage with it. I feel also that I need to allow myself a good long while to squeeze all the goodness out of what I have learnt so far and work on consolidating my style. I sent Michelle a feedback email after the 'Marketing can be beautiful' webinar and was delighted to receive an email back:

Hi Catherine!

Thank you so much for this kind and thoughtful email.

When looking for your style, I recommend sketching a little bit everyday until you find "your groove". Maybe focus less on what's on the internet and more on your sketchbook!

Much love,

I do find Michelle's style helpful; I do find the idea of personalised feedback from the course leader attractive. And I believe I'm right in thinking that Ellie Cashman (one of my favourite designers as you know) also took courses from both sources (particularly praising Michelle's 'Ultimate Guide to Repeats'). So if the time comes when I'm ready to invest again I may well be looking in that direction.

And so to penguins. I'm chickening out of Faye Brown's actual challenge today: snow creatures, because to be frank, I am inspiration-less on that front. Instead I'm taking yesterday's work further.....and in doing so it's becoming less obviously penguin-y (which means it wouldn't recognisably fit any penguin trend....).

    Original from yesterday
Indexing the colours of my rock-hopper (as per the 'Artwork Preparation short course mentioned earlier). If I wanted to work with a screen printing company as opposed to a digital printers and if I'm not using images that have been created purely using Illustrator, then I need to know how to reduce the number of colours in the image to match the number of screens being used (a different colour for each screen).
Masked first then indexed to 12 colours
with a customised palette - interesting!

Using my rock-hopper's monstrous head-dress as inspiration I develop line work that is more adventurous.......
......more of 'me' in this......

'Lifted' the belly and wing of penguin,
indexed, mirrored and then placed line drawn icon

Not being sure I like the colours I try variations:


Of course, people responding to my post yesterday liked the cute penguins and the dancing penguins. I'm really not sure what anyone is going to think of this.... Christmassy, it ain't!

Let me know, someone!


Thursday, 4 December 2014

Icon for Advent (4) Laura Ashley - 'nuff said?

What do we all think we know about Laura Ashley?

Roses? 'English'? Classic? Florals? Frocks?

Think also:

  • self taught (to support husband's change of career)
  • started small - in the (London) kitchen after the children had gone to bed
  • actually she was Welsh
  • actually she always prefered the home furnishing side
  • it wasn't just Laura - husband Bernard designed the printing machines and turned out to be a natural 'colourist'; their children also became involved in the business
  • they lived above the shop in Machynlleth, Wales for six years
  • supporter of the 'local' economy; philanthropist
May I recommend her biography? Lots to be inspired by and to learn from.

Faye Brown Design's Advent challenge theme today is penguins. I fail to see what they have to do with Advent, really - cute and saleable maybe? Cute isn't something I'm ever that drawn to, so decided to just experiment with different media and some prompts from the internet.  Don't really like any of them yet and I'm definitely rusty with anything other than line drawing. More work needed I think.

Line drawn - plain and embellished - from inside my head
Rockhopper penguin - acrylics
Dancing penguin - pastels

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Advent calendar guru (3) Andrew Taylor (author) and a discussion of style

I can be quite suggestible so when my sister says some of my designs are really quite upmarket, that's the way I think I ought to go. That's the way I develop my scarf designs and I'm very happy with the brand, logo and packaging ideas I have for them.

But just as some days my taste / requirement from music is classical (sometimes challengingly so) and on other days my need is to put Pharrell William's 'Happy' on repeat and dance madly around the lounge (whatever you think of him, that song just is 'happy'), so my pattern imperatives also vary.

I use photographic sources, sometimes as the main image, sometimes as background; I also use line work and original coloured artwork in various media. Sometimes I combine all these things in one design; sometimes not. And so a 'reason to be cheerful' about delaying the scarves, is that I can spend more time ensuring they have a more coherent 'house style'.

But I still chafe against the idea of limiting myself, of squashing parts of me that still want expression out in the world. And that brings me to my inspiration guru of the day, author Andrew Taylor. Andrew is an award winning writer whom some of you might know: he came to prominence particularly when his novel 'The American Boy' was chosen for Richard and Judy's book club (in that club's earlier days).

I ran public library events with Andrew a couple of times. He's very interesting to listen to and you don't hear the same anecdotes twice. My point about him is, he has not limited himself. His 'Lydmouth' crime series has many fans yet is for me at least, sturdily of its type (think Morse / Midsomer Murders) - comfortable crime, in this case set in a fictionalised Forest of Dean / Welsh border area for the added delight of us locals. In fact he hasn't published a 'Lydmouth' novel since 2006.

More recently his work covers much darker psychological and often historical thrillers like 'The Roth Trilogy', or 'Bleeding Heart Square'. His skill with the accurate historical detail and description give the reader a great sense of 'being there'. And, if you actually ever have 'been' there as I have have been (one of his novels mentions the London street on which my sister lives) then the book lives (dances, almost) doubly in your mind as you reconcile the 'now' with the 'then' being described. No expert, I would still put the word 'Literature' (with capital 'L') to Andrew's later work.

My second point therefore should now be obvious and can be underlined if you also read his very first novel - 'Caroline Minuscule'. Andrew has allowed his 'style' to mature over time (years).

And I conclude that I am running before I can walk! My scarves will stay on the back burner for as long as they need to and I will continue to experiment. Which is why I really am enjoying the Faye Brown Designs Advent challenge: achieving something (as we used to say in the library service) 'quick & dirty' - not stressing - just playing. Letting it flow.

Christmas trees worked up from yesterday
Christmas tree decoration for today

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Advent calendar of gurus, heroes & icons (2) Sir Nicholas Serota....

... and I didn't even know his name till this week.

Watching the Turner Prize last night, it turns out that Nicholas Serota, director of Tate Modern has been instrumental in it for many years. And while I don't really remember the first Turner Prize, haven't always paid attention to it, and haven't necessarily at the time always understood or appreciated the art it offered, I have increasingly felt its presence in the national psyche. The Prize is an annual opportunity to raise art in our consciousness.

Why is art important? A complex and for some contentious question. There is of course, the economic argument:

'Businesses in the UK arts and culture industry generated an aggregate turnover of £12.4  billion 
in 2011, which is 3.5 per cent lower than its peak in 2008. The subsets of the arts and culture 
industry’s productive activities of book publishing, performing arts and artistic creation are the 
largest contributors to the industry’s aggregate turnover performance.  
This led those businesses to contribute an estimated £5.9 billion of gross value added (GVA) to 
the UK economy, also in 2011. However, the GVA contribution of these businesses has grown 
since  2008,  in  contrast to turnover.  Closer  analysis reveals that  businesses  in the  arts  and 
culture industry have been successful in cutting costs and have thus, by increasing their GVA, 
increased their contribution to UK GDP even as the wider economy contracted.' 

 And this is important. It allows the employed to earn their living and support themselves and those less fortunate to have a better chance of being supported through tax revenue.  But no less important is art for art's sake - because it enriches us, enlivens us, causes us to make connections both in our heads and socially.  Two personal examples: one from Tate Modern and one from Gloucester Cathedral near where I live.

Visiting Tate Modern one year I entered a gallery and high on the diagonally opposite wall hung a long piece of heavy blue canvas on a rail. Its drape could be adjusted in various ways causing it to be interpreted differently. Apparently one draping is likened to what I shall daintily call 'the male member'. That wasn't what I saw. For me it was a Katharine Hepburn or Lauren Bacall film star dress from the 1930's or 40's. Because it was my brain and my memories and my likes and dislikes and my artistic and fashion aspirations it was interacting with. Art as an individual experience. I bought a post card of it. I have it still. I'm going to dig it out and design that dress.......

Gloucester Cathedral hosts an annual exhibition of sculpture. It is one of the very best things that takes place in my city and people come from quite some distance. We get to see new works and older works, works from this country, works from abroad and from local artists. We also get Henry Moore sculptures and Damien Hirst's. We count ourselves very lucky. The event is a triple whammy of pleasure though.... We get to see all this imported art but we also get to remind ourselves of the beauty, art and workmanship that exists in the Cathedral day in, day out. And the third whammy is that people don't just view in silence. They talk about it. Even to strangers. 'That's amazing', 'oh, I love that', 'that was done by one of my neighbours', 'that's my favourite', 'I never would have thought to put that with that, but now they have - it just makes you feel...', 'it's good - you can tell it's good.....but ...I couldn't live with it.' 'couldn't you just take her home and have her striding across your house, looking out into the distance like that.'  And so on.

Life enhancing. And so, therefore, has Nicholas Serota been. Thank you.

A quick thank you also to my fabulous niece Michelle who told me her favourite fashion magazine was 'Red' and caused me to pick it up and read it in the dentist's waiting room. Serious business, this trend research.

Faye Brown Design's Advent Challenge today was Christmas Trees - it's been a long day so here's just a couple of quick sketches to be worked up properly tomorrow:

Monday, 1 December 2014

A personal advent calendar of heroes, gurus and icons (1)

I just thought I'd spend December paying tribute to people I admire and / or who have influenced me on my journey. 'Tis a time to be thankful.  Also gifted to you in the spirit of one of  'The 7 habits of highly effective people' - reading about other successful people. Although defining 'effective', like defining 'successful' is a relative exercise in itself, depending on you and your own values.

In no particular order, I present Muriel Gray.  Many of you will know of her as a writer, journalist and broadcaster and may recently have seen her on news programmes when Glasgow College of Art burnt down as she is Chair of the board of governors there. In researching this little piece I've become aware of so much more about her and of so much more I want to know.

I first became aware of her as an interviewer in the early days of The Tube. With her short dyed blond hair, her gangly figure and individual clothing style, she was very different from the people I'd grown up with. Obviously knowledgeable and with opinions, I took to her and her Scottish accent immediately, whilst also being slightly intimidated by her. The intimidation passed with the years..... I believe her to be a very warm and genuine person. There are two specific instances I want to mention: years ago I heard her interviewed on the radio about rambling (she is a great walker) and she talked about prefering that to spending Saturdays in the 'shopping sheds' that outlie all towns and cities. A comment that caused me to re-evaluate my own relationship with such sheds and the value of shopping as an entertainment in itself.

And I chiefly recall a wonderful BBC2 series she hosted where she gathered up a group of ordinary people from the North East who had never had much to do with art and artists. She took them on a tour of art galleries around the country, looking at all kinds of work, old and new, modern and traditional. At the end of the series they were each able to choose one piece of work they had seen, the one that had had most impact on them. That piece of work was transported to their own homes and hung there for a day. In the course of the programmes I and these people were introduced to artists and genres we had never heard of. Our eyes were opened and so (often) were our hearts, with that magical and somewhat unfathomable power that certain pieces of art have to connect with the individual. Curmudgeonly 'all this art's a waste of time' attitudes were transformed unexpectedly and while some people's choices were predictable (the woman who started out liking Constable's The Haywain still chose that to hang in her living room), others were much much less so. Fascinating to watch and feel and try to second-guess the transformations taking place. A series I'd love to see again; a series the making of which I'd love to see repeated on a regular basis.......A series I have tried and failed to find or name.  Reality TV at its absolute (& quite early) best.

So I think the thing I like best about Muriel is her great advocacy of the arts for everybody - for everybody to appreciate it, for everybody to 'do' it.

Two further gifts for you today: a photograph from today's walk - starry leaves for the Advent calendar (when I was a child, you didn't get chocolate - the picture behind the calendar door was the exciting thing in itself. Here's to re-instating that spirit! Not, you understand, that I have anything against chocolate.....).
Starry leaves for the 1st December

 and a quick Santa's hat - for the 2014 Advent challenge from Faye Brown Designs: