Artist Gillian Arnold has brought her striking designs to the high street, opening a new shop in Darlington. She tells Jenny Needham why

GILLIAN ARNOLD, an artist and surface pattern designer, works with pressed cuttings of British wildflowers to compose ethereal landscapes and dramatic, colour-infused patterns. All her designs are printed in her studio in County Durham and she is proud to say her products are made in Britain. Now she's opened a shop in Post House Wynd, Darlington, a showcase for her striking range of lampshades, jewellery, ceramics and glassware, including repeat pattern wallpaper and home furnishings.

But at a time when high street shops are closing as internet sales boom, isn't she rather going against the grain?

"There is no doubt high streets are suffering, especially market towns, which historically were booming hubs of retail trade," says Gillian. "What I am seeing however, which is wonderful, is many entrepreneurs such as myself, slowly but surely filling all these vacant premises and turning our high streets into a collection of wonderful boutiques and shops, all selling made-in-Britain goods. There are many examples of this in Darlington, which is one of the reasons we chose it, but also it offered a high footfall in a beautiful and flourishing town."

Another draw is that the town centre premises she decided on was large enough to house a full production unit and retail shop, making it possible to make all the products on site.

Gillian's vibrant prints in striking colours, with names such as Spring Spectre and Tropical Sunshine, would brighten up any home... or any garden. She sells a range of deckchairs, which also comes in the hugely popular 'floral alphabet'. "This is a couple of years old and has really taken on a life of its own," she says. "We also do a lot of sales online and the floral alphabet, especially on our deckchairs, has become extremely popular, selling as far away as Hong Kong and the US."

Recently, as well as textiles, Gillian has also been perfecting working with leather. "I have just released a range of personalised leather keyrings that are printed with your own photos onto metal slides, bound in hand-stamped leather. They make a wonderful gift and the feedback has been wonderful."

Ultimately, though, Gillian's inspiration comes from nature, from the countryside of in Northern Ireland where she grew up, and County Durham, where she lives now. "As always, I hope to get back to the Emerald Isle this summer," she says. "It’s always wonderful to get home and breathe in all the natural inspiration that started me on this journey. Beyond that, you’ll probably find me on British roadsides sampling wild flowers and rambling through the alleyways picking ferns from brick walls to carry on creating new designs."

It’s important to Gillian that production of her artworks and homewares is kept in this country, and in-house. "The workshop is located above our shop where we print all our fabrics and still use traditional artisan production methods to hand-roll our lampshades, sew our cushions and craft our jewellery," she says. "I needed to focus all our attention on bringing the Darlington shop up to speed. There is a lot of work to do and we have an even bigger expansion to the retail space coming soon, so the Bishop Auckland boutique is closed."

But that won't mean Gillian will be giving up on the community side to her business venture; through her community interest company (CIC) Pineapple Castle, she provides arts-based opportunities and training to help people and social groups with many different issues. "We have done so much great work already in Bishop Auckland, from our arts business training programmes to our community maps and school projects and I am very keen to continue this. We will also be launching lampshade and other crafting workshops from our boutique in Darlington soon, which I am very excited about."