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Receiving in the Giving Season

Author: Karen Mead

I volunteered to decorate the Christmas tree for my local Samaritan group here on the island. Not for me the usual tinsel and baubles!

I carved some ears out of candle wax and cast them in ordinary silicon. I used the molds to cast more ears – out of candle stumps – I didn’t plan the realistic pink. Then I sprayed them with gold paint and glitter.

 I took the middle out of lengths of nylon string and replaced it with soft wire. Curled the wire around a marker pen and sprayed with glue and glitter to make sparkly spiral phone cords. The handsets were made with card and glue.

The fairy on the top got an outsized ear and a telephone.

Voila! A listening tree.

And here is the back-story:

Receiving in the Giving Season

Last year, when I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and a bit lost after our move back to the UK from Hong Kong, I went along to an information evening about the work of the Samaritans. I put myself forward for selection, did the training and the mentoring and I have been taking phone calls answering emails and texts 5 times a month from spring this year.

I don’t think I can exaggerate the difference this spur of the moment decision has made to my life and my out-look.

Firstly I have to say the other Sams are lovely – perhaps you would expect that, but it instantly gave me a circle of empathetic acquaintances and a few really good friends.

Secondly the training is excellent and it helps you hone your listening skills and gives you the confidence to ask the tricky questions you need to help people uncover their feelings.

Thirdly and most importantly, my goodness, what a privilege it is to be invited into the intimacy of people’s inner-most thoughts. Yes, you do hear some eye-opening stories (for which the training and the support system helps you cope). You are there to listen non-judgmentally to people whilst they work out what they want to do with their lives, which may include ending it.

You come off every shift with your own problems put firmly in their place. Sometimes you drive home in the early hours of the morning elated because someone said thank you and really meant it. Even if a caller is determined at the end of a conversation that they are going to go ahead and take their own life, we can accept their self-determination and give them the space and respect to explore and say what cannot be said in public.

More often, you have conversations not with the suicidal, but with the chronically lonely, the sad and the mentally disturbed. You have talks late into the night which may be unintentionally hilarious or genuinely cheerful. Sometimes you cry – but you never let it show in your voice because it is never about you. People tell you things which remain confidential and you tell them nothing about yourself because this is their time. A rare, safe space, just for them.

Why do I do it? I think we all wonder that sometimes, but I can say truthfully it has given me so much. I am grateful for the constant reminder of how messy all human life is regardless of the superficial gloss. We are all lonely, lost, sad, bad and mad at various points. We are more alike than different and all those other clichés at which I cynically roll my eyes.

Often when I am talking to people who are stuck in fairly un-traumatic ways; lonely, bored maybe or stuck in some existential rut, I want to tell them ‘Go out and volunteer’. Get involved. Give away something of yourself and see how richly you will be paid back. For entirely selfish reasons I recommend it.



Ps: There are 22,000 Samaritans in the UK and their free phone line  (116 123) is a national number manned 24 hours a day throughout the year. When the phone rings the call may be answered anywhere in the country and Samaritans do not always use their own names which keeps the calls confidential on both sides.

Suicide is the most common cause of death for men between the ages of 20 and 49 and 1 in 15 of us will make a suicide attempt at some point in our lives.


FWeasel at New Year FuckWeasel
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Chrimo-Limbo Musing

Friends who follow us regularly will know that posts from me have been few and far between recently. 2017 was a trying year. We didn’t think our relocation to the UK was going to be easy but it turned out to be much harder than we expected and we had quite a lot of unexpected bad luck – not least all of our stock going missing for 8 weeks in the crucial spring period. We are so grateful for the many supporters in UK and HK who continued to champion the brand.

All this quiet though has given Lauren and me much needed time to think about the direction we want to take our little company. There have always been lots of ideas which we have juggled to fit into our story and this seems like a good time to rationalise, focus and come back with a strong idea of who Louella is.

With our roots in Hong Kong and our toes firmly in the sea I think our outlook will always be international and islands and oceans focused. As such it has bothered me greatly that we might be contributing towards environmental pollution ourselves. The amount of plastic packaging that is used to ship handbags from the factory to our warehouse is frightening. I am also perplexed and confused by the leather/pleather arguments – faux leather might be vegan friendly but when you see and smell the thousands and thousands of rolls of essentially textured plastic in a factory it doesn’t feel like a viable alternative. There are organic products being developed that mimic leather and this is an area I am actively exploring. I promise we will minimise our use of PU in the future and we will be changing our packaging to remove all single use plastics.

Inevitably one of our biggest losses this year was leaving Lamma Island – for me it embodied everything that I love about Hong Kong contrasts – it was simultaneously connected and remote, quirky and communal, rural and convenient and it was a great place to live and work. There are some wonderful things about living on the Isle of Wight – it is definitely remote, inconvenient, quirky and very beautiful. I can see this island being a good creative base as I do crave solitude, but we have always wanted Louella to be a discovery brand, so travel and sailing will remain our focus and I think you will see more of a reflection of this in both our patterns and in our bag styles.

The biggest change I think will be what we do with our Fuck Weasel. We have gone round and round and round with this. What do we call it? What does it stand for? (For those who don’t know how it started, here is a link to the original story).

The discovery of this hidden pin in our bags and its story has provoked really wide reactions from hilarity, (often) confusion, (sometimes) and very occasionally outrage and disgust (because of the F word). We have been really happy to let people who wanted a free pin define for themselves what they thought the F’Weasel represents. We have now sent out hundreds of pins for people who described sending them on to those they cared about who were struggling with everything from unrequited love, distressing home decoration, too many teenagers and inevitably – and closer to my original intent; office bullies. It remains both a symbol of support and a reminder of your own personal strength and we are just so happy that it has connected with so many people.

We are proud to call ourselves feminists and believe in equality for all people, regardless of gender or race. The recent revelations about sexual harassment in the film industry and in politics are not particularly surprising but the amount of righteous anger being bottled up, and the sense of potential squashed by the staus quo, has resonated with me. Obviously women’s issues are important to us wherever personal growth is prevented by the actions of others – whether that is in the boardroom or girls unable to access education due to a lack of feminine hygiene resources.

 The animal, the weasel, has a reputation for cleverness and fearlessness, for punching above it’s weight when standing up to it’s enemies or protecting it’s young. It seems a very appropriate symbol for these times. I now think our fuchsia version is boiling pink with determined rage to make a change. I would like it to more clearly define support for the underdog in any situation where Might-Is-Right and regardless of gender.

Our weasel will remain hidden in our bags as I think we need reminding we have the support of many behind us but I also identify with F’weasel’s subversive nature – we can chose to release our inner weasels if we believe we can. There will also be a new line of F’Weasel products sitting alongside our bags and scarves and I would really like a percentage of profit from these to go to an appropriate charity or charities.

I am looking for suggestions and weasel-y-ways of doing good in 2018 and I would love feedback if you know of any projects that we can either support or engage with. 

Best wishes,
Karen, Lauren and the team
Karen Mead art painting sketchbook How To Draw
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Practising Observational Drawing – a licence to stare

I truly believe anyone can learn to draw well- and I really wish people were not put off trying by thinking it is somehow innate. Sketching can be one of life’s great satisfactions. As much as you might think you need to work on the mark-making, most people need to practise the looking part more.

For that you don’t even need any art equipment.

When I was still at school I traveled twice a day on the bus and was often really enchanted by various things I saw – Hong Kong in the 1970s was quite exotic. The possibility of stopping to draw was impossible and this was well before the digital era so I had no way to keep or record what I saw. I don’t think I was even thinking about picture making as such but I was very interested in being able to recreate in my drawings what I had seen figuratively and ‘realistically’.

The key to remembering how things look is to simplify and to ask the right questions, whether or not you have your sketching things with you. It has become my habit. I am probably on a spectrum of something or other as I find I must count tones and measure angles just for the pleasure of recording them for myself.

These are my habitual questions;

Firstly, what is it about what you are looking at that catches your attention? This is the most important question as otherwise when you start drawing the thing you liked so much can end up off the page because you felt the need to contextualise all the surrounding stuff. (This is one of my biggest problems)

Karen Mead art painting sketchbook How To Draw

Secondly, it really is all relative; when you are looking ask yourself questions that measure things relative to one another – Can you simplify the shape of something to a square or rectangle, circle or triangle? Can it be imagined as two simple shapes interlocking? Is the tree bigger than the house? Is the angle of an arm or leg really horizontal or vertical or (I use the clock face as a mental reference) more 2 o’clock or 4 o’clock?

You know when you see artists holding up a pencil and squinting? They are using the length of it to measure one dimension in comparison to another. Tipping the pencil to follow the angle of something and comparing that to the horizontal or vertical will also help get perspective lines accurately.

And thirdly, as I work a lot in black and white I always look at tones and divide everything I see into light, medium and dark.  Especially in landscape which can be overwhelming when you are facing it with a tiny scrap of paper and an HB pencil!

Karen Mead art painting sketchbook How To Draw

So, when you are admiring a view, ask yourself where the light is and where the shadow? How many tones of green can you see in a field? Or look at your hand and squint, to do what my children used to call ‘fuzz-eye’ (just go out of focus a bit) and see if you can identify three differing shades of skin tone. Obviously there is infinity of differing tones, angles and possible places to start a drawing but editing out the complexity makes the whole process more manageable.

When you come to draw having the answers to those questions makes recall much simpler. I am not saying I could accurately recreate everything I look at, but take it from someone who was once asked to draw a horse from memory on the spur of the moment on live television (yes, a very sweaty moment)  it helps a lot if you have previously noticed and mentally recorded the shape of something.

When you are drawing from life, regardless of what it is, asking those questions while really looking means you are much more likely to take your time and place your marks more accurately. With practise the questions lodge in your fingers and you wont be aware of your brain doing any of the work.


Karen Mead art painting sketchbook How To Draw

Louella Odie in the studio, slow time
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Could you go where the wi-fi is weakest?

Following behind the yachts racing around the Isle of Wight last weekend I thought about why island living has always appealed to me despite the obvious inconveniences.

A miniature version of anything has the potential to beguile just by virtue of its size; think miniature art works, humming birds, wild strawberries or those tiny handbags which were in fashion last year. At the same time all that twee tininess can be frustrating, think miniature bottles of alcohol or stupidly small nouveau cuisine.

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what is original art, print, print maker, louella odie, karen mead
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Fine Art Prints, what is SO original about that?

Its Art Fair time in Hong Kong again.

Of course I love the idea that lots of people aspire to own real art. Part of the reason I am passionate about print making is because I like the democracy of multiple images meaning prices can be lower and more accessible to buyers. However Fine Art printmakers get all hot under the apron when they see galleries selling Fine Art Prints, all convincingly signed and numbered, which are not true originals but reproductions. It may be difficult for the uninitiated to understand the difference especially when galleries themselves are keen to blur the distinctions, and in some cases the people working there are quite uncertain themselves.

Here is my cents worth;

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Lino cutting demonstration-reduction cut-ernes Burton buttons-registration
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Lino Cutting – you thought it was relaxing? Reduction Printing explained

I am often asked if lino-cutting involves some sort of brain gymnastics because of the idea that working with the image in reverse seems to imply a need for slightly deviant thinking. The back-to-frontness of relief printing is nothing however (unless you are using text), compared to the terror which strikes beginner printers when they have to think in coloured layers which happens with multi plate prints.

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