Contact Report: Alex McLeod

A few months back i wrote a post on a piece of Alex Mcleod's 3D work, called Terror Twilight, discussing how well it was done, from concept to finish! It never entered my mind that he might actually ever read the little essay, but he did, and very kindly offered to answer any questions i ever had. I gratefully took him up on this offer and asked him some questions that i was interested in finding out about, and McLeod didn't go back on his word! Here it is below!

Hey there,

I recently wrote a mini essay on one of your pieces, Terror Twilight. I never expected you to ever read it but i really hope I did you justice because it is such a good set!

Anyway, it would be really good to gain a little more information from you if that's ok? Also if it would be ok to put the information on the blog as well, that would be great!

1. You have so many models and sets now on your site, i have no idea how you find the time to make them all! Is there a system you go through before the production that saves time? I can imagine it getting quite confusing if there isn't much organisation involved before!

AM: The buildings are just cubes, they just have good materials applied to them. some models are from turbosquid or 3d warehouse, but i re-use everything a lot so it helps.

2. You have some very tranquil sets, and then some that are based on destruction, quite a contrast! Where do your themes come from and do you have a particular favourite?

AM: All the work is about the process and recycling of mater, like life cycles, so death - decay - new life

3. The system of creating a whole city or land seems really fun, but i can imagine the process becoming quite tedious at times. Are there any techniques you use to keep you motivated and interested in one model? For example, working on two at once and swapping between the two maybe?

AM: I do a lot of things like that, i usually have advertising illustration at the same time so i bounce back and forth to keep interested.

4. Can you ever see yourself moving away from this style in the foreseeable future, or would you see anything you produce now more of an evolution?

AM: I dont know what else i would do :D

5. How important would you consider the other elements of the work, like lighting and photography, in contrast with making the models?

AM: They are all equally important, if they didn't look convincing then they would fall flat.

6. And finally, any advice for anyone that wants to break into the world of art and illustration?

AM: Just work a lot and try to model things you like to find your own style. once you have a body of work you are really happy with you should send it to blogs that you like, or that feature similar work and cross your fingers that they share !! :D

Thanks for your time, much appreciated!

If anyone would like to check out any more of his work other than the piece i put up, you can find his site here.

Hendrik Dorgathen

Here is another illustrator i was pointed towards after showing my editorial work, specifically for his book, Space Dog (the final three images). He has done comics, illustration and animation and even showcases a lot of his sketchbook ideas on his website.

I can understand why i was directed to Dorgathen's work. He uses a think black outline in all of his foreground and mid-ground objects, and this in a way forces the lines to be kept to a minimum, clarifying the panels. The colours he uses seem to be bright but at the same time manage to achieve a slightly dark quality to the atmosphere, maybe that's just me, or maybe it's the way he draws his figures. This i s a very distinctive style that looks like it's been practiced well over the years. I think my favourite aspect of his work though is the characters; it is a very interesting take on how to draw people, and something i might need to take on board since i have a lot of trouble getting faces right. Dorgathen makes them simple and effective, and even manages to still inject personality into each character he creates.

Olimpia Zagnoli

Olimpia Zagnoli was an illustrator who was suggested to me by someone who had seen my recent work. She suspected i might like her because of the similarities she found in our work, so i thought i'd check her out.

Zagnoli is from Milan and is only five years older than me, which in itself is an inspiration, to see young illustrators getting work published. It help gives me a target to set myself. She has had many important clients as well, ranging from The Harvard Business Review (the top two images) to the Rolling Stone, to creating crazy machines for Moon's Factory Website (the bottom three images, as i'm sure you might have worked out).

To be honest, i'm not sure how similar our work is, but I may be biased as i'm obviously too involved. So it's good to hear from an outsider a different point of view. Saying that, i do like the playful quality of Zagnoli's work, and does remind me of a time when i liked playing with cutting and sticking. The colour simplicity is also a factor i really like, limiting the pieces to simply three or four colours really does help the work gel together, so there's a lesson here for me to learn.

The same idea with colour applies to these three pieces, which work really well as part of a set. They show that the colours and shapes are all you need, and with a great creative mind you will achieve strong images. I can imagine this being a really fun style to work in and at the same time receive lots of positive results in a short space of time!



With the thought's that I'm starting to get a lot more serious about my work, which includes creativity, technique and professionalism, i've decided that it would be good to start a facebook page showcasing my work. I was going to do this later but I think it would be beneficial to do it now for a few reasons:
  • Generate an early target audience for before i finish the course
  • Get an insight into what other designers are doing with their work and pages
  • Receive feedback from the world rather than just those in my class
  • Motivation to please the audience by posting more things, therefore producing more.
I'm happy with the feedback i've had so far! If anyone would like to check it out in it's early stages click here!


Editorial Evaluation.

So I know that it's always good practice to look back on your work and reflect on the finer points and the the parts that need work, so i'm going to give a quick summary of my summer work. I swear this will be the last post on this set, i'm sure you're all sick of seeing it by now! Here goes!

For this piece I had to think of a cool way to show foreign animals that were being transported illegally to the UK. I quite like the idea that it was in the animals interests to come over for itself and thought it would inject a little humour into the story if i personified an animal, so came up with this panel. I do quite like how it ended up, because the turtle looks like quite cute and old, but in hindsight I should have tried using a snake as that animal was in the title of the story.

The Meatball Shop was one of my favourite little editorials because it was just so exciting to hear about such a place! It made me think about what a child might think about if someone said the phrase to them and came up with this. I tried to limit the colours, maybe i could have done that a little more, but i'm also happy with the side buildings that represent NYC. I tried to find a background colour that represented fun and New York but proved difficult so ended up with this bluey colour. This is one of my favourites from the set.

I had fun drawing Santa in the sun, it's not often you get to do it! I'm usually quite avoidant of drawing actual people, but drawing Santa was refreshing. I made him bubbly, encouraging the audience that he enjoys the sun just as much as we do,, so added typical features to him like flip flops and sunglasses.

The concept behind this piece was the fact that it was the US planning a space mission. As this was only a poll as well i went off the readers comments, and found responses mainly to do with using robots instead and how Americans wouldn't get the job done. So I played on the responses and came up with astronauts mixing with the robots, none of them getting the work done (so the picture didn't take sides) and playing baseball, the traditional American sport. I also added as much red as i could to emphasise the American flag. I think this one answers the brief really well.

I have to admit, I love comics so as soon as i found an article that would let me start drawing a superhero I wasn't going to let it go! I had to think of superheroes doing their daily chores, and i love the idea of Iron Man ironing! This was the first time drawing him and I think he definitely looks recognisable as well as me adding a slight artistic licence to him. I had a few problems with the angle of the iron but it works ok, and the colours on the ironing board were going to be green to contrast Iron Man but i ended up using similar colours which i prefer because it integrates into the picture better!

This is based on the story of Amir Khan being excited for his boxing match n Las Vegas. I was really not up for trying to get Khan's iconic face right and showing him boxing so i substituted people for Las Vegas tropical palm trees, which i think adds some excitement. However, i'm disappointed in the background, where i came across a problem. These colours obviously represent the beach, but the audience would have been more familiar with the casino strip. It would have been just too complicated with the style i was working with so had to settle with the beach look.

My original idea for this piece was to try show using new cloudburst technology in frond on no. 10 downing street to ensure that the audience knew it was all about the government form a single glance. Then i did some research and i had no idea how big the building was! I knew it would have been difficult to create a strong piece as the building would take away the concept of the cloudburst technology so i opted for the Big Ben, a place close to the sky, and i was extremely happy that i did because i think i came up with a successful piece here! My only thought on hindsight is that i should have found a way to show "clouds bursting" as such, and not just out of the way of the rays!

Luxurious bath. Foamy, comforting bubbles. Bottle of water for tap? This was based on the fact that although the article said "the worlds most expensive beauty treatments", i read on and found that these treatments could be solved with just bottled water, so i wanted to play on that, and that's shown in this little scene. I had trouble with colour mainly in this piece, trying to find the right tones to represent luxury and comfort, but i think i came up with a good selection in the end.

With this set of illustrations i also had the task of making sure i stuck to one particular style. One problem i was having in my second year was sticking to a style, i was constantly on the lookout to try something new without considering what i'd just produced and what i could have taken away from it. I'm quite fond of the style i injected into this project, thick lines and bold, bright colours, and keeping it as simple as possible, i think it worked on the whole, especially as a set where it all sort of glues together. However, they are very 2 dimensional, and maybe next time i want to consider using less colours and more textures to tell the story, as that would invite the audience a little more.


Editorial's finished! Part 1

Right so i have finished off my eight editorials, all based on different sections of "The Guardian" newspaper. They are all stories that i chose out myself of which i thought would help me be able to bring out a strong illustration with. Here they are below.

The World's most expensive beauty treatments.

What are the most extravagant beauty treatments?

This week Fashion Statement has come over all Bad Science. What prompted this unusual outbreak of scepticism? The news that Mila Kunis, star of Black Swan, recently treated herself to a facial that cost $7,000. No, that isn't a typo. Seven thousand dollars for a facial. We can only hope she's worth it.

So where does the science come in? Well, according to the creator of said facial, Scott-Vincent Borba of BORBA skincare (nothing says luxury skincare like screaming capitalisation), this particular treatment contains rubies and diamonds, which provide antioxidants and a "lustrous sheen". Much like going for a gentle jog, then, only with more bling. FS fondly imagines the industrial-grade diamond-crushing machines at Borba's salon, grinding away priceless gems into a topically applied paste, while the merry little workers trudge back from the mine with the latest finds, singing their "Heigh-Ho" song.

Borba's website is well worth a browse, particularly for his musings on the philosophy of beauty. "What I particularly love about beauty," he says, "is that it sits right in the middle between science and fashion, drawing inspiration and content from both ... For me, that's the most intriguing and exciting thing in the world." Poor chap; clearly he needs to get away from the coalface a bit more.

Should Ms Kunis be seeking more ways to flush her money down the drain, perhaps she should head to Florida, where the spa at the Hotel Victor offers an Evian bath for a mere £5,000. This, apparently, consists of 350 gallons of Evian sprinkled with rose petals. Now, FS was never good at maths, so bear with us. At Ocado you can buy a six-pack of 1.5 litre bottles - so nine litres in total - for £3.66. You want 1,324 litres, the equivalent of 350 US gallons. So to do this treatment at home you just need 147 packs (and a splash more, but let's not be picky). So [sound of rusty FS brain cranking] for a mere £538.02 and, let's say, an extra £5 for the roses ... bargain! You've saved yourself an absolute fortune. And you'll enjoy a thoroughly, er, wet bath into the bargain.

Ocado, alas, does not stock rubies and diamonds, so can't help you if you want to release your inner facialist at home. However Forbes.com does have a very handy list of the most expensive spa treatments. Not so much how to spend it, as how to flush it away.

Cameron Advisor suggests abolition of consumer rights and job centres.

If you remove tiny factors such as affordability, legality, practicality, equality or realism, some of Steve Hilton's "blue sky thinking" ideas might sound reasonable.

The prime minister's strategy director has devised a number of radical solutions (most often to problems that do not exist) to help Cameron cut red tape and make further cost-savings.

According to the Financial Times, Hilton's wackiest ideas included abolishing maternity rights as well as all consumer rights legislation to help kickstart the economy into life.

He allegedly suggested that Cameron should ignore European labour rules on temporary workers – a decision that, if implemented, could have seen the prime minister breaking the law. A solution to long-term unemployment was to close all jobcentres and fund community groups instead.

Consumer rights legislation could be suspended for nine months, just to see what would happen. Presumably, suspending Cameron's and Hilton's pay for nine months (just to see what would happen) did not make the list.

Perhaps the best suggestion was for the government to purchase cloudbursting technology to up the hours of sunshine across the UK. Resulting headlines about Cameron even controlling the weather were perhaps too much for the PM to stomach.

Twitter has been quick to mock Hilton's ideas, the blueskyhilton prompting a flurry of sarcastic tweets containing crazy, Hiltonesque suggestions for the government to consider. One user wrote: "Everybody on (any) benefit gets put in a Big Brother house, if they don't complete task no food for the week." Another suggested: "Team up with mobile operator to boost vit C intake in poor, hand out citrus fruit one day per week, call it Orange Wednesdays."

"Scrap benefits and open a megaworkhouse managed by Securicor," was suggested by another Twitterer, while my personal favourite was: "Corridors are the least productive part of a building, let's ban corridors, growth in no time".

So what do you think of Hilton's ideas? If the sky's the limit, what ideas would you suggest could revive our stuttering economy?

Amir Khan relishing in Las Vegas stage against American Zab Judah.

Amir Khan is relishing his return to "the Mecca of boxing" when he takes on the wily American veteran Zab Judah in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

Lennox Lewis, Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe have all entertained the masses in Sin City over the past decade and the WBA light-welterweight champion Khan will look to add another chapter to that British lineage on the famous strip against the 33-year-old IBF title-holder Judah.

The Mandalay Bay Resort plays host to the unification match-up, the scene of Lewis's comprehensive knockout of Hasim Rahman in 2001 and Khan's points triumph against Argentina's Marcos Maidana last December.

"Vegas is the Mecca of boxing nowadays," Khan said. "The biggest fights are over there and the Mandalay Bay has seen some big, big fights. It's the second time I'm going there and I'm only 24. Not many fighters have ever done that at this age.

"Normally fighters head there towards the end of their careers. I love fighting away from home because I'm not one to feel like the outsider. It's going to bring out the best in me."

Khan will hope for a more routine outing against the two-weight world champion Judah than he experienced over 12 brutal rounds with Maidana.

Despite flooring his man with a vicious first-round body shot and pocketing many rounds on the basis of superior speed and skill, Maidana's power was always a threat to Khan and a succession of thunderous right hands had the Bolton fighter virtually out on his feet in round 10.

He weathered the storm to earn a narrow but unanimous points verdict and bask in the plaudits of luminaries such as Oscar De La Hoya, who branded the contest "the fight of the decade".

"It was a very important fight for me," Khan said. "It was my first one in Vegas and that makes you nervous. You want to leave a statement and I think I did that.

"Very often people can go to Vegas, fight and it's soon forgotten about. But my fight against Maidana is never going to be forgotten. People will always talk about it as being the best fight of 2010."

Khan's capacity to withstand Maidana's late onslaught – quite at odds with his first-round capitulation to Colombia's Breidis Prescott in Manchester in 2008 – was widely credited to the work of the strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza.

It therefore surprised many when Ariza was not present alongside the trainer Freddie Roach for Khan's bout against the European champion Paul McCloskey in April, his place taken by fellow American Michael Vale.

Stories of contractual wrangling were widespread at the time, but with Ariza back on board for the encounter with Judah, Khan insists all differences have been resolved and claims the main issue was the division of the coach's time between himself and Roach's star pupil Manny Pacquiao.

"We know how good Alex is," he said. "We parted when I had the fight against McCloskey because at the same time he had Manny Pacquiao before his fight with Shane Moseley. I didn't really want to step on toes. I knew he'd got Manny and would be rushing so I thought I'd bring someone else into the team.

"We sat down afterwards and planned the year to make sure that me and Manny Pacquiao get 100% of Alex's time. We're happy with everything. We've put all that other stuff behind us."

Houses of Superheroes.

There are a few essentials that every self-respecting superhero needs to get right before embarking on a crime-fighting career. A cool name. Some great powers. The ability to sew your own costume. But after a long night spent keeping the streets safe from supervillains, what you really need is somewhere quiet to get away from it all. So who would live in a secret lair like this..?

Wayne Manor/The Batcave

Location A very quiet corner of suburban Gotham which nobody ever drives past.

Estate agent pitch A miraculously preserved late-Gothic manor house. Breathtaking original features, oak panelling, fine carvings, suits of armour, antique butler.

Facilities The cavernous basement includes a gym, trophy room, parking for car/boat/bike/plane.

What it says about the owner Split personality alert: materialist playboy on the surface; sinister hidden depths.

Would also suit Elizabethan nobleman, billionaire chiropterologist, wealthy al-Qaida operative.

Drawbacks Miles to the nearest shops. Miles to the end of the drive. May require pest control.

For a quick sale Spruce up that dingy basement.

Superman's Fortress of Solitude

Location The Arctic

Estate agent pitch Minimalist cool meets Kryptonian bling in this spacious open-plan eco retreat. South-facing windows on all sides.

Facilities State-of-the-art entertainment system, repository of galactic knowledge, ice machine. Er, did we mention the crystals?

What it says about the owner Dangerously antisocial, seriously anal in decor tastes, paranoid about security.

Would also suit Lady Gaga, Crystal Palace fan, Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

Drawbacks No heating, electricity, wi-fi, doors, walls, etc. Terrible transport connections. Global warming could affect value.

For a quick sale Bung in some fan heaters and turn it into a Swarovski showroom.

Iron Man's retreat

Location Point Dume, Malibu, California.

Estate agent pitch John Lautner modernism meets Zaha Hadid-style high-tech in this stunning cantilevered clifftop pad. Great ocean views.

Facilities Tennis courts, helipad, wrestling ring, extensive underground parking for vintage cars, entertaining and shagging facilities.

What it says about the owner Insecure narcissist who's yet to work out what he's overcompensating for.

Would also suit Formula One driver, Roman Abramovich, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Drawbacks Structurally vulnerable in high-impact combat situations. Large window-cleaning bills.

For a quick sale Convert it into a boutique rehab facility.

The Incredibles house

Location Suburban Metroville

Estate agent pitch The last word in retro chic, this mid-century modern villa in the space-age "googie" style maintains all its original fixtures and fittings. Think the Jetsons open a Danish furniture showroom.

Facilities Fully fitted kitchen. Modular open shelving. Den/trophy room.

What it says about the owner A family that knows what it wants and knows where to get it: from secondhand stores and eBay.

Would also suit Betty Draper, Charles and Ray Eames, Amy Winehouse.

Drawbacks Stultifyingly conformist neighbours.

For a quick sale Don't change a thing!

Hal Jordan's apartment in Green Lantern

Location Coast City, which looks a lot like San Diego.

Estate agent pitch Live the urban bachelor dream in this sought-after warehouse apartment, located in a fashionable part of the movie studio backlot.

Facilities Fashionable exposed brickwork. Masculine, quasi-industrial interior aesthetic. Comes with own lantern.

What it says about the owner Thrusting young jock who cares more about mountain bikes than his feminine side.

Would also suit Charlie Sheen, Jason Statham, Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.

Drawbacks Lighting options limited; any colour you like as long as it's green.

For a quick sale Put in some Cath Kidston curtains.

Editorial's finished! Part 2

Here are the final four images from the project, completing the set!

Illegal wildlife trade is far more terrifying than snakes on a plane!

Last week, an Iranian man was stopped by customs officials trying to smuggle 50 live snakes on to a plane in Bangkok, hidden in rolled-up socks in his hand luggage. The "snakes on a plane" headlines have once again focused attention on Thailand as an international hub for the illegal trade in wildlife, a trade worth a staggering £6bn a year.

The arrest is the latest in a number of high-profile detentions at the Thai airport. However, local environmental organisations have expressed frustration that police enforcement remains inadequate to tackle a trade that is decimating local ecosystems, hastening the extinction of scores of endangered animals and plundering the resources of developing countries for profits abroad.

In May, a passenger bound for Dubai was found to have a gibbon, an Asiatic black bear cub, a marmoset and four baby leopards in his carry-on baggage. Having got through the security checks he was reportedly only stopped after one of the leopards made a "muffled cry" at the departure gate. Other recent seizures also include a drugged tiger cub hidden among stuffed toy animals and three suitcases full of 200 live animals – containing everything from endangered tortoises to pythons, boa constrictors and a parrot.

While superficially promising, these headline arrests actually reveal a deeper problem with law enforcement. The smugglers involved in these cases had not engaged in shadowy criminal networks to procure their animals, they had simply gone shopping in Bangkok's sprawling outdoor Chatuchak market. One local environmental organisation is so frustrated by this state of affairs that it has published an open letter questioning how "wildlife can be openly sold every weekend" just down the road from the offices of the Thai authorities who regulate the illegal trade.

With rare native creatures, a large international airport and long land borders with its south-east Asian neighbours, Thailand is an attractive hub for both the import and export of rare animals. Live lizards, snakes and big mammals are increasingly in demand in the Middle East as exotic pets, while tiger bones and bear gall bladders are exported to China, Hong Kong and Singapore for use in Chinese medicine. Acres, which campaigns to stop the illegal wildlife trade, recently ran an undercover operation in Singapore which found tiger parts for sale at just under half of all jewellery and antiques shops visited. The organisation runs public awareness campaigns to challenge such cultural traditions – something that is essential in tackling the demand side of the trade.

Thailand has also become a major importer in the illegal ivory trade, mostly from Africa. Ivory from domestic Thai elephants can be sold legally – so illegal ivory is taken to Thailand to be "laundered" into the legal domestic market. Thai customs have seized over 8.5 tons of ivory since 2009 – equating to more than 1,000 elephant tusks. Traffic, the global wildlife trade monitoring network, explains that Thailand now hosts the world's largest unregulated domestic ivory market, and argues that "Thailand needs to close [this] domestic ivory loophole once and for all".

Corruption and insufficient sentencing deterrents also create regulation difficulties. Freeland Foundation, an international conservation and human rights organisation based in Bangkok, has described official corruption as the biggest problem that it faces in tackling the trade. A recent example is the Dubai-bound passenger arrested with the four baby leopards. Immediately after his detention the police reported they had been politically pressured to not charge him. The smuggler's client was allegedly a Dubai prince with connections to influential Thai politicians. He was released on bail and promptly escaped the country.

Freeland Foundation director Steven Galster remarked: "Over the past six years we've seen only one trafficker go to prison. And that was because the prosecutor [...] happened to be an animal lover." While police may make low-level arrests, those ultimately controlling the trade have repeatedly gone unpunished.

A draft law to increase trafficking sentences was proposed eight years ago – but has still not passed. The Thai politician and human rights and environment activist Kraisak Choonhavan admits that previously, with "so many urgent laws to consider, something like [a new] wildlife law just never saw the light of day". However, with the recent elections providing a large democratic mandate and signalling an end to the political instability of recent years, there is real potential for a new political emphasis on tackling the illegal trade in wildlife. Without this political will, Thailand and south-east Asia risk a massive and irreversible loss of biodiversity as natural resources continue to be plundered overseas.

The Meatball Shop.

Twelve-year-olds aren't the only ones who giggle when ordering a plate of balls at a restaurant. We can all do it at Meatball Shop, a restaurant devoted to... Meatballs! Diners get a dry erase menu and marker and can pick and choose from an array of meatballs and sauces. I suggest ordering a handful of different meatball sliders -- my favorite are beef with spicy meat sauce. (I'm boring I know.) You can also order sides and desserts with your balls. There are two Meatball Shop locations -- one on the Lower East Side at 84 Stanton Street and another new location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn at 170 Bedford Avenue. Be prepared for a wait. It's worth it.

84 Stanton Street 10002-1420
+1212 982-8895
Google map: bit.ly/oRaGpb

Santa comes early to London's Oxford Street.

Oxford Street on a 25C July dog day is hot enough to make Rudolph wilt and shorten the fuse of even the jolliest of Santas.

Fortunately, fans of the Lapland climate – and people afflicted by an extreme approach to shopping – can now seek sanctuary in the air-conditioned bowels of Selfridges.

Down the escalator, past the talking hamsters and the remote-control helicopters, the cookbooks and the Mulberry bags, lurks the ghost ofChristmas-yet-to-come.

A mere 149 days before the some of the planet celebrates the birth of Christ, the department store opened its "white-themed Christmas shop", offering everything from union flag baubles (£11.95) to polar bear hats (£40).

Not everything was quite as tasteful. Away from the minimalist silver and white baubles – "white trees are … expected to rival traditional green for the first time" – were tiny elves covered in blizzards of silver glitter and a Christmas chihuahua which convulsed and shook its plastic maracas to the strains of La Bamba at the squeeze of a paw.

Fresh from the till were a couple from Bavaria. Despite being slightly bemused by such an early Advent, Claudia Beer had bought a small wooden Father Christmas to take home to Munich.

"It's a present for me – for my collection," she said. "I think it's crazy, but I've bought something as a kind of souvenir."

Her husband, Klaus, was more laconic: "In Germany, they start selling things in November. After Halloween."

Inspecting the goods on offer, from the white bears imprisoned in snowglobes to the stockings and fluorescent reindeer, was Neil O'Leary, a 39-year-old engineer from Welwyn Garden City.

"A few things have caught my eye," he said. "It's slightly early but I can understand it in some ways; sometimes they bring things out in December and then there's a rush and it all disappears."

There seemed little danger of that in the Christmas store on Thursday morning, where staff – who outnumbered customers – patiently explained that, despite looking like a kangaroo, the Ritchie Valens impersonator was actually a diminutive Mexican dog.

Nearby stood a middle-aged American couple, who didn't want to be named but who admitted being so keen on the yuletide season that they have been to a Christmas market in Germany four times.

"I'm surprised to see this so early, but we've been coming here for 10 or 11 years and we've noticed that it's all sold out by November," said the wife.

"I think we're just enjoying the display because I don't think we do anything this elaborate in the US. But we love Christmas, so we love coming to see this."

However, when the Guardian wished her a happy Christmas, it was met with a smile and a raised eyebrow.

"Now that is a little early," she said.

• This article was amended on 29 July 2011. The original picture caption referred to Selfridges employee Rosanna Harris. This has been corrected.

Should the US develop a new manned space programme?

After the final space shuttle flight touched down this week, would the US government fund a new manned space flight programme? (poll)