(#AD) The Hancock Gallery – a beaut Newcastle commercial gallery – a MUST visit and a gem!

Culture Vulture visit to The Hancock Gallery

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

I recently, had the pleasure of being invited along to The Hancock Gallery in central Newcastle a few weeks ago, to take in their figurative exhibition ‘Between  Distance and Desire’ featuring headline artist Mark Demsteader, Billy Childish, Ron Hicks, Milt Kobayashi, John Smyth, Chris Gambrell and many more.

If you haven’t heard of or aren’t aware of The Hancock Gallery, well you need to add it to your *must* visit list – it is a beaut commercial gallery space in a converted terrace Georgian House on Jesmond Road West in central Newcastle. It is nestled right next door to Newcastle University’s Robinson Library. Their opening times are Thursday – Saturday 10am-5pm and they sometimes host events in connection to their exhibition programme; their exhibition programme tends to change approx. twice a year. They are a fully COVID-19 secure venue and adhering to all social distancing measures. Ahead of your visit, I would check out their website, just in case anything has changed (i.e. a local lockdown or change in opening times). All the art displayed in the gallery space is for sale and they also offer the Own Art scheme, enabling you to purchase work via a flexible payment plan.

The Hancock Gallery – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

I was first invited to visit a year or so ago when The Hancock Gallery first opened and it was quickly added to my fave galleries to visit in Newcastle list. The exhibition then, was headlined by Alexander Millar with his wonderful industrial working and football loving Gadgie portraits and other collections of his work. I’ve always been a big fan of Alex’s work so as you can imagine, that was a dream exhibition to view. During that visit, I experienced a warm, friendly welcome, very knowledgeable, relaxed gallery staff and a beaut open, light space which was just a delight to inhabit whilst taking in the exhibition.

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Moving on to my most recent visit, well I was excited about this visit to The Hancock Gallery for four reasons – 1. This was my FIRST gallery visit since lockdown. So, I had pre-Eurovision excitement level butterflies (what can I say? I’m a big Eurovision fan!). I was so excited to get back into a gallery space and take in some art. 2. The exhibition featured artists that I knew but had never seen their work in real life, like Mark Demsteader AND 3. It featured artists that were new to me, like Ron Hicks.  It is fair to say, I was hyped and spent my pre-visit, reading up on the different artists and checking out their Instagram. 4. This exhibition was a figurative one (i.e. depicting figures)! Whilst, I’m much more abstract and conceptual in my art preference, through lock down, I’ve found myself drawn to hyper realistic art of people….. maybe I’m craving human connection in a socially distanced world or may be my taste has broadened, either way, I was looking forward to this exhibition.

The Hancock Gallery Manager Chris – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

For this visit, I had a socially distanced gallery tour (check me out!) with Chris, the Hancock Gallery Manager who took me around the two floors and allowed me to ask him all the questions under the sun – which was brilliant for someone like me who is ever curious. I started my visit with getting some hand sanitizer from one of their hand washing stations and getting comfortable. We launched into conversation about the provocation “Is paint dead?” – like with many things, art goes in trends and things come in and out of fashion. Painting and work using paint, has for the last decade been considered a bit old fashioned…….moreover a few years ago, if you told me, that I was going to see a figurative exhibition of paintings, the images that come to my mind are indeed conventional and a bit……. well dull and not to my taste. The exhibition ‘Between Distance and Desire’ is so much more than that- it was so vibrant, beautiful and for me, really proved that paint is back *in* and how artists use paint SO differently. I was really blown away, how different artists approach figurative work and hats off to Chris and his selection of artists for this group exhibition, because it really worked.

The Hancock Gallery – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

As we moved into the main space, Chris told me more about his role, his ambition for The Hancock Gallery and we also debated the North East arts scene. Chris explained that he is responsible for the curation of the work and selecting artists to exhibition in the gallery space and managing those relationships whilst having the ambition for the gallery to present Internationally renowned artists in the North. As the Culture Vulture, I’m all about championing Northerness and Northern artists but actually, I can get too focused in on that bubble and completely forget about the International art scene, so I really relish having a gallery like The Hancock Gallery  in Newcastle to remind me of the bigger wide world out there; introducing me to new artists and reminding me to dip into the International scene!

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Chris and I started my tour of the exhibition ‘Between Distance and Desire’ by naturally starting with the work of headline artist Mark Demsteader. Like with many artists, Mark’s creative journey to become one of the top figurative painters in the UK, was not conventional. Born into the 60s, whilst passionate about art and gaining two foundation courses to enable him to pursue a creative career, due to lack of opportunity he ended up working in the family whole sale butchery business, before eventually in the 1990s taking a school art technician, where he worked for just over a decade. During this period, he kept building his portfolio, but during a time when figurative work was not of interest to many galleries or the art market, he made little progress but kept chasing that dream; eventually he got his lucky break and was selected to exhibit at a Greenwich gallery alongside other artists and sold several pieces. From that moment, he’s never looked back and is a very successful commercial artist today!

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

I first became aware of Mark’s work, when he was drawing his Emma Watson (actress) collection – she initially approached him for a commission and he asked if he could paint and draw her. This eventually turned into a beautiful collection of work which I remember being in the press in 2011. Beyond that, I’ve been aware of Mark’s work as it’s popped up in other exhibitions or in the news. It was wonderful to take in a showing of his work right here in Newcastle.

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Mark’s pieces often feature women with 90s fashion model proportions; the work was beautiful to see up close and to me, it depicts a conventional and idealised version of femininity. Chris talked through the work and I was interested to find out that Mark often paints with his hands, a knife, uses sand-paper alongside “painting by accident” using different layers to build elements of the work. Mark’s pieces seem so precise and neat, so I was surprised to hear this. It was also interesting to learn that Mark has a rotation of 6 models, he uses for his work AND that he thinks about what work might sell, before painting; his best sellers are his figurative works of women, so of course, it makes sense that this is what he paints most of. I found his work really special, atmospheric, beautiful with a hint of comforting sadness – I can’t really describe what I felt was sad about them; may be the facial expressions of each woman connected to the weird sadness I am feeling at the moment in my life, but I felt connected to them. My favourite pieces were the yellow ones – love bold yellow!

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

We then moved upstairs to take in the rest of Mark’s work AND the other artists exhibiting. First up was Billy Childish. Billy is a painter, author, poet, photographer, film maker, singer and guitarist. Since the late 1970s, Billy has been prolific in creating music, writing and visual art. I’ve always considered Billy to be an unapologetic rebel and free spirit, therefore my interest has often been in him as a person, as opposed to his work. He is just one of those glorious humans that creativity and uniqueness flows through their veins and pulsates into everything they touch and do.

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

In this exhibition, Billy’s work was a beautiful and brilliant contrast to Mark’s; it really highlighted how broad “figurative art” actually is. His work was colourful, playful, unapologetically Billy and nods to the fact, he’s known as being a “pop culture outlier”. I wasn’t surprised to hear from Hancock Gallery Manager Chris, that Billy has often rejects the mainstream art scene and yet, finds himself drawn back in time and time again due to his popularity and folx curiosity. Chris also told me, that Billy Childish used to be involved with Tracey Emin – that info I treated like art world gossip and I’m hoping it, may help me in a pub quiz in the future!

The Hancock Gallery’s Chris – Billy Childish’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Next up was Bristol based artist Chris Gambrell and his work – his pieces were stunning, colourful and crayon seemed to be the material used. His work caught my eye as soon as I walked into this room – I loved the colour, the angles, the layers, their unfinished nature and just a hint of *diva* in them. Hancock Gallery Manager Chris shared with me, that Chris had a background in fashion illustration and you can really tell – his work is SO fashion and that is what makes it special!

The Hancock Gallery – Chris Gambrell’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Then we moved on to a new artist discovery for me and a personal favourite from the whole exhibition, American artist Ron Hicks. Ron is a brilliant black artist and his recent work often depicts people of colour in his work – “Static series” (not on view at The Hancock Gallery) represents his feelings about being racially profiled and black representation. Ron is a fascinating artist to read about and to look back at his back catalogue of work – as you will see he used to paint rather traditional and romantic depictions of people, before really flipping his style into something more impressionist and much more to my personal taste. I could certainly see a Hicks hanging up in my house and his work, reminds me a little bit of my fave muralist Dan Cimmermann which is probably why I love it so much!

The Hancock Gallery – Ron Hicks’ work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

I next took in John Smyth and Milt Kobayashi pieces! Scottish artist John was another new artist for me! His beautiful figurative paintings at The Hancock Gallery, use decorative patterns to make them feel a bit more abstract. They felt so Instagrammable and perfect for a particular styling of interiors. American artist Milt, was also a new artist discovery (honestly, what a morning, full of new artists!) and I LOVED their work; it’s sophisticated, ethereal, sometimes playful and brought a big smile to my face.

The Hancock Gallery – John Smyth’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

My tour with Hancock Gallery Manager Chris came to a close with me finding out about what the next exhibition is and potential future exhibiting artists – I was sworn to secrecy not to tell, so my lips are sealed but I’m MEGA excited for it and thrilled it’s happening in Newcastle. I’m sure I will be posting all about it on Vulture, so keep your eyes peeled!

The Hancock Gallery’s Chris – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Post tour, I went back round the whole gallery space taking my time, taking it all in on my own and doing Instagram Lives (you may have seen them if you follow me on Insta – @theculturevulturene). I made a wish list of pieces I’d love to buy – I’ve collected so many pieces of art and I can’t wait to fill my forever home with it all. I also spent some time in The Hancock Gallery Art market which is a beautiful space full of cards and art books to purchase – my two favourite things. Art books are such a weakness of mine and they had an amazing book for sale all about womxn artists – which of course was my vibe. They have the most amazing comfy seating in this area, so I chilled whilst checking out a book or two.

The Hancock Gallery (Image Credit Coffee Design)

On the way out, I stumbled onto Elizabeth Power’s work (not officially part of the exhibition but on sale) and it was textbook Culture Vulture – so much so, she’s hopefully the subject of a future Culture Vulture interview.

I left The Hancock Gallery with a huge smile on my face- I had a wonderful time. Social distancing was very well managed whilst feeling really welcoming and it was a lush experience. You can find out more about the gallery, the artists exhibiting there and have a deeks at their online exhibition via the website. Their opening times are Thursday – Saturday 10am-5pm; so, go on and plan a visit to The Hancock Gallery soon and keep an eye out on their socials for future exhibitions and future events.

And thank you The Hancock Gallery and Chris for such a lovely time!

Until next time Culture Vultures.

The Hancock Gallery – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Interview with Liv Hunt – artist, activist, proud freelancer & puppet master!

Liv Hunt – Culture Vulture Artist Interview

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

One of the biggest blessings of 2020, is that whilst the year hasn’t played out as anticipated (understatement alert!), I’ve had the privilege of working on lots of brilliant and unexpected projects. One such project was #Gateshead10x10 – as someone born and bred in Gateshead, it’s always exciting to work on something in my own community, on home turf and especially a project like this, that really has such brilliant aspirations.

Creative community project 10 x 10 Creative Gateshead launched in August to connect and inspire Gateshead people during the pandemic, through activities devised by Gateshead artists. 10 x 10 Creative Gateshead involved the creation of two booklets, one for adults and one for young people and families; each with 10 creative activities created for the people of Gateshead. The activities include a wide range of art forms from mindful writing, to puppet making, to origami, to Gateshead celebrating creative prompts and can be used indoors or outdoors, alone or as a group.

Gateshead based community organisation Dingy Butterflies has been heading up the project and across August, hundreds of activity booklets were distributed across the Gateshead community. Each booklet features 10 activities created by Gateshead artists, developed in collaboration with 10 Gateshead community and creative organisations. These physical packs are targeted at people who have limited or no access to the internet; Gateshead has a high proportion of residents without internet access and low levels of digital literacy.

In addition to the hundreds of physical packs being distributed across the community, there are digital versions of both 10 x 10 Creative Gateshead booklets available for ANYONE download now from www.dingybutterflies.org/10×10-creative-gateshead/ – follow the link to check out the booklets and have a go at something creative. All materials for the activities are inexpensive and easy to find in shops or you will find them around the home.

10 x 10 Creative Gateshead has also provided paid work for 15 Gateshead artists/freelancers during a challenging time for the cultural sector, in which paid freelance work has been decimated (how lush is that!?) It has been such a beaut project to work on and meeting so many artists (some I knew and others I didn’t) was ace! So al a Culture Vulture – I thought I’d reach out to one of the #Gateshead10x10 artists for a Culture Vulture interview to find out more. So for this interview, I went after a goodie and an artist, I’ve wanted to interview for a LONG TIME!

So step right up – Liv Hunt – artist, theatre maker, puppeteer, lovely human and freelance champion……let’s GO!

Liv Hunt – photo credit : Michelle Bayley

Well helloooooooooo – for my Culture Vultures, can you tell me who you are, what you doyou’re your practice?

Hello, I’m Liv Hunt.

I’m a theatre-maker, facilitator and activist working in participatory arts. My practice is centred around telling, sharing and imagining stories and to do that I use different mediums such as music, puppetry and sensory theatre. I began my career delivering theatre projects in care homes, schools and community centres working with people from varied backgrounds and abilities in partnership with Equal Arts charity for older people. I then began developing my practice with arts organisations, delivering on freelance contracts to produce theatre. 

I am also the community engagement coordinator for Alphabetti Theatre where I designed and coordinated participatory projects Walter (2018) in collaboration with The Discovery Museum and Write Something Junior (2019) in collaboration with 6 primary schools across the North East. My role is to ensure that everyone has access to the theatre and to develop Alphabetti’s networks within the community. My approach is quite hands-on. I get out and talk to people and, in the process, have formed strong relationships with organisations, groups & individuals.

In 2019, I formed Woven Nest Theatre with Poppy Crawshaw. Our aim is to create theatrical experiences with, for and by older and neuro-diverse audiences. Our first company project was to create a piece of multi-sensory theatre for people with advanced dementia who are bed-bound. I am driven by arts for social change and champion for inclusivity and accessibility in theatre.

Tell us about your journey into creative industries?

I wasn’t initially going to be in the creative industries. I liked drama at school but I wasn’t really sure what I would do with it. When you’re at school you’re not taught all the jobs that are in the arts. So, I thought studying drama would make me an actor, a director or a teacher. I had no idea about participatory arts or how the arts work with communities and the possible jobs tied in with that. A friend told me about a drama course at Northumbria University called Applied Theatre – I had no idea what applied theatre was but when I started looking into it, it grabbed my attention. I knew I wanted to learn more about it, so, I enrolled. Towards the end of the course I became interested in working with older people with dementia, which framed the first 3 years of my career in the creative industries.

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

Tell me more about your experience in theatre and puppetry?

My experience with theatre and puppetry is through a participatory arts perspective, the work is centred around the communities and people I work with. In my early career I was developing theatre in care homes, community centres and schools. In 2017, I was commissioned to work on a project with St Marks Care Home and Battle Hill Primary to develop a piece of theatre, celebrating the Gateshead born Dodd Sisters who founded The Little Theatre, Gateshead. The project was to produce a retelling of The Pitman’s Pay written by Ruth Dodds, to be performed at The Little Theatre.

I have been a drama worker for Live Youth Theatre for the past 4 years where I have directed youth theatre shows with young people aged 13 – 25. In 2019, I started working with Unfolding Theatre to develop a Christmas show with Edberts House over 12-weeks. The Edberts Express was then performed at St Mary’s Church. I am an associate drama worker with Open Clasp Theatre Company where I have delivered drama workshops exploring issues related to women.

I’m currently developing a theatrical film with my company, Woven Nest Theatre. The film is called Mariana’s Song and is about a woman who is in love with the sea. We are just in the pilot phase of this project. It has been created for older people with advanced dementia who are bed-bound and incorporates sensory stimulation, lighting and sound.

Prior to lockdown we were developing a touring puppetry show specific for care homes. We were developing a tea trolley theatre complete with tea-pot puppets, original music and sensory surprises. We were commissioned by Sunderland Culture to develop the piece with a Sunderland care home but sadly due to COVID it was postponed. When we get the chance and it’s safe to do so, we’ll be dusting off our teapots again!

Wow….what an accomplished portfolio! Puppetry is something that absolutely fascinates me….can you tell me a little more about your puppetry experience?

I’ve always really loved watching puppets and puppetry shows. I became interested in using puppetry within my own practice after I did a course at Northern Stage with Tom Walton. He taught us how to make really simple puppets using materials found at home. I loved the way you could make a puppet out of an old newspaper and some masking tape. I was doing a lot of work in care homes with older people at that time and decided to try it out in there. We built a simple newspaper puppet as a group which they really enjoyed (it involves a lot of repetitive actions such as crunching and rolling the newspaper.) I then brought the puppet to life and moved it around in the space.

I was amazed at the reaction that this had. The older people were calling for the puppet to come towards them and when I came over with it they would smile, laugh, stoke and talk to the puppet as if it was a living breathing thing. I don’t think they really saw the puppet as though it was real, but they were able to take it for what it was in that moment and connect with the emotion that the puppet was portraying. So, if I was portraying sadness, they would comfort it and if I was portraying happiness they would laugh and smile with the puppet. That’s what I love about puppetry –they can portray emotions in a really pure form.

What is the puppet scene like in the North East?

The puppetry scene is good and growing in the North East. We are really lucky to have a growing number of puppetry companies in the region and of course Moving Parts – Newcastle Puppetry Festival which was held at Alphabetti Theatre last year. The festival showcases fantastic puppetry from companies all over the world so what you see there is really diverse. I love going and just soaking up all the different kinds of puppets. Moving Parts have also brought lots of training opportunities to the region which has meant that more artists, such as myself, are starting to use puppetry as part of their practice. So, what we’re starting to see is a ripple effect of more freelancers starting to use puppetry in performance and also participatory arts which stems from these training opportunities.

Tell me about a recent project you’ve worked on?

Last year, I co-founded my company, Woven Nest Theatre with Poppy Crawshaw. We are a company that produces theatrical experiences for neuro-diverse audiences, specifically older people with advanced dementia. We were just about to start our first company project, with a care home in Sunderland when Covid-19 started so everything had to be cancelled and put on pause. The project was to develop a theatre show in collaboration with the elderly residents there at their bedsides using elements of puppetry, lighting and sound.

In June, we were funded by Northumbria University to do a research project, looking at ways in which we can provide a theatrical sensory experience, digitally. It has been great – we have had space to collect our thoughts, plan and start filming snippets of our story. The entire experience has been really eye opening. I would never have dreamed of doing a digital project but now I genuinely believe using digital media is better suited to the project than the original idea on pause.

I think this time is really interesting for artists, we’re having to adapt our work in a really interesting way. We are not able to work like we used to, but by having this new barrier, it’s starting to unleash new artistic possibilities which is producing some really exciting work.

Can you tell me about a recent theatre production you’ve contributed to?

I was commissioned by Alphabetti Theatre and Fulfilling Lives charity for people who experience homelessness, substance misuse, ill mental health and offending. I worked with a group of experts by experience and their support workers over a 2-month period to develop a piece which would later be performed at the Fulfilling Lives Annual Forum. The piece was centred around commemorating the lives of the experts by experience who had passed away in the previous year, which had been particularly high and so the group was experiencing a high level of trauma. We developed a series of short pieces, taking inspiration from creative writing, spoken work and contemporary performance, which we then crafted into a script. The piece was performed to a backdrop of an outline of a human which was gradually filled in as the piece unfolded. The aim was to show that people who had died weren’t just numbers on a page but people with complex and rich lives that deserved to be celebrated. The group performed the piece themselves and then we took part in a Q&A with the forum.

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

Can you tell me about your experience as a freelancer so far?

Generally, I love being a freelancer. I love how versatile and surprising the work is and all the lush people you work with along the way. I like the thrill of starting new projects and don’t get me wrong writing funding applications is a nightmare but when you finally get funding it’s like you’ve won the lottery. That being said, I definitely find it stressful sometimes. It’s a lot, constantly. And the idea of job security sounds dreamy.

What has your lockdown experience been like?

During the lockdown I found it really hard at first. All the jobs I was working on/about to work on got cancelled and you watch everything you’ve built topple down in front of you. As freelancers we’re so use dto keeping the cogs turning, day in day out, so to have everything come to a really sharp stop with no sight of starting again was really jarring. After I got over the initial shock, I decided to use the time to take a well-earned break to recharge, plan, reflect and read. I used the first half of lockdown to basically check back in with myself after years of going full steam ahead. I started doing art just for the sake of it, which I hadn’t actually done in a really long time. Then for the second half of lockdown I started to turn the cogs again, but I definitely felt the benefit of giving myself time to breath. It’s made me think that every freelancer needs a 1 month paid recharge holiday (if only!) I started picking up more freelance work and volunteer positions. One of those was being on the Freelance Task Force.

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

Ohh tell us more about The Freelance Taskforce?

The Freelance Taskforce was an initiative started by Fuel Theatre. There are over 150 freelancers from across the UK on the taskforce. And I was really lucky to have Karen Traynor and Sian Armstrong on there repping the North East with me. We formed the NE Freelance Taskforce – we have a twitter page where we post regular information out and we going to be announcing some exciting updates soon so check us out!

If you could change one thing about being freelance, what would it be?

I’m a big fan of the initiatives that pay freelancers just to be freelancers. This isn’t centred on a product or a particular project you have to work on. You can use this money however way you want obviously within reason. I think that’s a brilliant idea and would solve a lot of problems. We spend so much time looking and searching and frantically running from job to job we don’t allow ourselves time to stop and think, reflect and check in with ourselves. I think if there were more initiatives that paid freelancers to do that, more people would.

PREACH – love the sound of that! So, tell me about your role/work on #Gateshead10x10?

I was commissioned by Dingy Butterflies to create two activity packs, one for families and one for adults. The idea was that the activity packs were for people who are having to spend time indoors due to self-isolating but were unable to access online activities. The pandemic has really shown the digital divide. For some, the arts have become more accessible. Suddenly, you can watch brilliant theatre for an affordable price and in the comfort of your own home. Fab! But, for those who do not have access to a computer or internet it has been tricky to find stuff to keep the kids and themselves entertained. This project aimed to provide the community in Bensham, Gateshead with activity packs complete with instructions and materials. I was one of 11 brilliant artists who worked on the project. The artists were diverse in art form; creative writers, visual artists, illustrators, bee conservationists and theatre-makers. It was my first time making an activity pack or a booklet and I absolutely loved it!

Each #Gateshead10x10 artist was partnered up with a Best of Bensham Collaborative member organisation – which organisation were you partnered with and how did you work together?

I was partnered up with The Comfrey Project in Gateshead, a charity delivering a programme of activities in gardening, languages and arts for refugees and asylum seekers. As you come in you get a glimpse of the beautiful gardens they have there where they grow their own fruit, vegetables and flowers for the bees. I always feel 100% calmer after a visit to The Comfrey Project.

I started volunteering there around June time, and straight away I felt really at home. Over the summer I have been delivering some socially distanced activities with families visiting the centre. When we met to discuss the Dingy Butterflies project we talked through the needs of the group and ideas around activities. One of the main things that I needed to think about was how to make this accessible for people who have English as a second language. I went away and began developing the ideas and playing around with puppetry techniques that relied on easy-access materials and simple but effective steps. The packs have gone out now and I’ll be keeping up to date with how they get on. Hopefully at the end when they have created some puppetry magic we are going to have a sharing of what everyone has made.

Can you tell us about the #Gateshead10x10 two activities you developed?

For the family pack, I have done a how-to-guide on making a shadow puppet theatre out of an old cardboard box. This is really easy to make, uses materials found round the house and is good entertainment for the entire family! Once you have made and decorated your shadow puppet theatre you can then start developing your story. When I trialled this activity out on my niece we used her favourite story-book for inspiration but you can use your imagination to come up with a story as well. Once you have your story and the characters in your story you can start making your shadow puppets using black card and kebab sticks. Finally, all you need to do is put a lamp in the right position, turn the lights off and begin your theatre show.

The pack designed for adults shows them how to make tin foil puppets. This is a little bit trickier but the result is a defined puppet which looks great and has good movement. Tin foil is a brilliant material to use as you can get really good definition on the faces. One you have sculpted the tin foil into the right shape you then layer on baking paper with glue. The result makes the puppets almost look like there made out of wood. I then encourage them to start exploring with their puppets and record a short story using their puppets as the main character.

Creativity is a huge part of #Gateshead10x10 – Why is creativity important to you? How do you think it can help others?

Creativity is one of the brilliant things that makes us human. I think it plays a huge role in how we process ourselves and the world around us. I rely heavily on creativity to get me through and I think without creativity life would be really really really boring. I see it as something that we all have inside us, some people may use it more than others, but it’s still there.

When I work in communities a lot of people tell me that they are not creative, and that the arts isn’t for them. But with a little unpicking we realise that they lead very creative lives, so somewhere along the line there has been a disconnect between the creativity in people’s everyday lives and creativity as a concept. I think we have got confused in thinking creativity is only for some people and not for others. Labelling some as creative and others academic and so on. I think that’s a huge mistake as it’s robbing people of the opportunity to express their inner creativity.

What are you working on right now?

I have just been commissioned by Helix Arts & Gateshead Arts Team to run a pilot project with unpaid carers. This project has been a long time in the making, so I am absolutely buzzing to finally get it off the ground! I’m going to be working with them over 8 – 10 weeks to develop a piece of forum theatre which will then be showcased to a closed audience. That’s all I can give away at the minute but I’ll be sharing out more info soon.

Do you have any advice for future freelancers AND/OR folks wanting to enter into creative industries?

Ahh there’s tonnes…. Here are just 5

1.            Find your tribe, the people who have your back and are going to support you. We are really lucky in the North East there seems to be a really good ‘ladder-down’ mentality.

2.            Being a freelancer is hard graft, make sure you give yourself time to rest so you don’t burn out.

3.            If you can, continue to find training opportunities. I believe we should never stop learning. Whilst working as a freelancer I have continued to train in performance, puppetry, movement, voice, playwrighting. Some have directly benefited my career and others have been good for me creatively.

4.            It’s ok to ask about pay, please please do, and make sure you know your own value. I did a lot of work for free at the beginning which is fine to some extent. Sometimes I still do bits for free. My general rule is that if I feel like I’m getting experience out of it that I ever wise wouldn’t have then it’s ok. But know what your limits are – these are just mine.

5.            Shy bairns get nowt. This saying has helped me in so many ways. If you want to work with someone, send them an email. People are generally nice and want to help you. 

Great advice….you’re a gem! Anything else you want to tell us about?

I’m setting up a network for participatory artists – #ParticipatoryArtsSocial. It’s a space to come together and share, reflect, listen, learn, rant and support one another. We meet fortnightly and if you want to join the mailing list please email me on oliviahunt11@outlook.com. I put regular updates via my twitter @LivHunt_11

Well thanks Liv! See – I told you it was a goodie of an interview! Very excited about Liv’s upcoming projects and happenings!

If you get a chance – please check out #Gateshead10x10 activity booklets and why not have a go at the activities! I’ve love to see how you get on and see your creativity!

Interview with Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw – creative, designer, interiors & 3D visualiser….

I’ve got some corking Culture Vulture artist interviews coming up – it’s such a privilege to be able to reach out to connect with and champion creatives. It also gives me hope during this strange old world/Black Mirror episode we find ourselves in that there a wonderful talented creative people out there, smashing it. I find it really motivational on a personal level, but at a time, when freelancers have but really hit HARD by the pandemic, I’m feel it’s even more important for me to champion folks when I can and use my platform to profile and amplify!

So here we go with another wonderful Culture Vulture interview – this time with Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw (@watchsophiedraw on Insta).  Sophie has a wonderful Insta feed, sells lush prints and creative products alongside a whoppingly brilliant design portfolio.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Well hello Sophie – long-time admirer right here! For my fellow Culture Vultures, introduce yourself!?

Hi there! I’m Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw; I am a 27 year old cis woman from the North East, living in Newcastle.  I am an all-round creative and illustrator with a background in Interior Design.

How would describe your creative practice?

Watch Sophie Draw is a funnel for my self-expression. I have all these interests (some people say too many) like architecture, art history, travel and culture, psychology, minimalism and living sustainably – they all influence my work.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Have you always felt drawn into the creative industries or described yourself as creative?

Absolutely! I grew up around creative minded people like my grandad who I hail as my ultimate hero; it was always a path I was going to pursue. The biggest question was what direction I would take?

I really had no clue on what to specialise in at University and ultimately it was my lecturer’s enthusiasm during my interview that made me want to study Interior Design. Outside of my studies and developing within the industry, I have always loved the arts scene – my friends often refer to somewhere a bit arty as “very sophie”… which could be taken either way.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

You’ve had roles like “interior designer” and “3D visualiser” – tell us about those roles? What on earth is a 3D visualiser?  Are you still doing it freelance?

I was really fortunate after graduating to be offered my first role working for Ikea as an Interior Designer. I had three fun, chaotic and flourishing years designing room sets for Ikea Gateshead and commuting to London working on a brand new store, with some of the most creative people I have ever met from all over the world. I really do owe a lot to the team from Gateshead and specialists I worked with in London; they made me the designer I am today.

The best way to demonstrate my role as a 3D Visualiser, is if you look at an interior design magazine and really look closely at the “photographs” of bathrooms, 90% of them will be CGI. That’s what I did. It is now something I can never unsee; the talent and skill that goes into these images is beyond crazy. It was the most challenging role of my career.

Just last year I ventured into the corporate and leisure side of Interior Design and thought finally “this is it” but in all honesty I hated it. I really struggled to align my values with the industry and found it to be, as much as this word is overused, toxic. I quit instantly and started doing some casual freelance work to pay my bills, but it was never going to be a long term plan as I had fallen out of love with design. That was until I decided to use my time of unemployment to finish all my personal art projects and that led me to ‘Watch Sophie Draw’.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

How does your brain manage the focus, precision of technical drawing for your interior design and then the freedom to be creative and illustrate within other areas of your practice? To me, that seems opposing and contradictory – (I’m creative; the least precise person in the world and as delicate as a fat elephant)….

You are right! They are completely contradictory. I hated technical drawing when I was learning but somehow now it’s like my own personal ASMR. I used it daily for one of my roles and it is so natural to me now that the days I wanted to throw my computer out the window are long gone. It actually relaxes me now.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Oh gosh – love ASMR – obsessed and addicted. Tell me about your illustration work and how that came about?

I never set out to start illustrating, my main aim was to finish all my unfinished art projects as a way of therapy when I was in a really uncertain position after quitting my job and feeling really burnt out. I started flying through old sketchbooks, experimenting with new mediums and then my sister donated an old tablet to me and I started dipping into digital illustration. It wasn’t until lock down, that I really sat and found my groove.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Tell me about your graphic design style? You seem to have a love affair *like me* with colour!

I think my graphic design style is really driven by my interior influences. I love mid-century design and my ideas are often just me designing for myself. Which often means a lot of colour and bold lines.

You’ve illustrated iconic buildings and places in the North East – what do you love about the North East?

I love the people, the culture and the architectural history. I love how it’s so diverse and you can meet people from so many walks of life. Mostly I love the creative buzz and how, as a community, the north east always comes together to support small businesses and the arts.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

In your spare time what is your creative pleasure or indulgence? I.e. something creative that you do just for yourself?

I have an overwhelming amount of old interior magazines and I try to repurpose them into collages. It often breaks down my creative block, but it is also just a really relaxing activity. I have a few of my pieces framed around my home. They often are very punchy and bold like my illustrations.

I do love collaging as an activity – very soul soothing! Where do you seek inspiration from?

I am really fascinated by old matchbox graphics, particularly those from Japan.  I did a little sketchbook study during lock down and I am constantly going back and forth to it for ideas. The graphics are fun, bold and colourful yet still simple; I try to mirror that in my own designs.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Tell us about a highlight of your career so far?

This is probably the unexpected answer, but it would be leaving the corporate world. I am so much happier now having found something that I can really express myself doing and being part of a great community of creatives in the north east.

It’s a more common highlight than you’d think…. So, how have you been spending lock down?

I really developed my style and identity as an illustrator, I decided to dive head first into my illustration to cope with being locked up in a tiny flat all day. It really was a bridge between me and self-care, in a time where I was concerned about a decline in my mental health. Between illustrating, watching Tik Toks and my daily walks, I decided to teach myself hooping – lets just say I almost broke the tv and a few windows practicing some basic techniques.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Do you sell any of your work? Take commissions?  

I do, I’m currently selling prints on Etsy and Redbubble and I am always open to commissions. You can catch me on my Insta @watchsophiedraw or on my website.

What are you working on right now? Any projects?

My local illustrations were really popular, so I am working on a few more and I have some commissions brewing inspired by our north east mining history. So there is a lot of exciting things to come.

Can you share with me a few artists that are inspiring you right now or suggestions of artists I need to check out?

I think everyone in Newcastle already knows of Nolasean, I am obsessed with her work and it definitely inspires me especially when I’m collaging. Another is a friend of mine Curious Smark, her embroidery work is beautiful and totally reflective of her fun personality.

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nolasean

What’s next for you? Any projects or creative happenings in the pipeline?

I’m hoping to host a few stalls at local markets this year, to really get out and meet the community. If all works out my first one should be in November, fingers crossed! I am also in talks to get some of my north east illustrations stocked by a local business, which would be amazing.

How can we stay connected with you?

You can follow me on Facebook or Instagram @watchsophiedraw

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

All sounds very exciting – loving hearing an empowering story of a creative finding their voice and honing their practice during lock down. Check Sophie’s work out and I guarantee you will fall in love with it like I did!

Big love fellow Culture Vultures!

Interview with artist Raphael Dada – we chat talent, doodles, the importance of language & entering into the creative industry as a black artist….

I’ve been super excited about this Culture Vulture artist interview for ages – another Instagram find through The Social Distance Art Project – artist Raphael Dada- @artbyadrafa on Instagram. I discovered Raphael’s work before George Floyd’s murder and the social justice and civil rights movement that followed and continues to the present (keep it going!). Raphael’s work explores the ‘black experience’, racial identity and his experience as a Nigerian-British diaspora artist growing up in the UK……

I loved Raphael’s work before, but now…well it’s like looking at it with a whole new lense and important reflective provocations exist in each piece of work. So please go and check it out.

This is a beaut interview – one of my faves for a while.

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Raphael Dada

Hiyer, Raphael – for my fellow Culture Vultures and readers – can you tell me who you are and how would you describe your varied practice?

My name is Raphael Dada and I am a 20-year-old Nigerian- British, multidisciplinary artist. Over the years my practice has taken many forms, ranging from videography, screen print, spoken word, installations and many more. But the one consistent motif about my practice is that through my various means of expression, what I try to do is tell stories about the black cultural experience that mainstream media or the education system will not tell you.

Most of my work is based around my own personal experiences growing up as a young black British artist in the UK. Even though a lot of my work is very personal, there are numerous entrance points, so the viewer can relate and empathise, as I do appropriate and reference aspects of black popular culture frequently in my work.

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Artist Raphael Dada

I really love you work – beautiful, interesting and very important. Tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

My journey into the creative industry was a weird one because when I was growing up, I never expected to enter the creative industry or make money off my art and collaborations with other artists. When I was young, I just knew I liked drawing and I liked colours, and when GCSEs came I was like: “Yeah, why not? It will be funny and it is one of the only subjects I actually like,” and I basically had the same reasoning when it came to A-Levels.

Then it came to applying to university and I almost didn’t choose art because there were so many different variations of the course, depending on where you wanted to go. I eventually decided on Fine Art at Leeds Arts, and even at Uni I wanted to get into the fashion industry, so I started my own clothing line in first year. As I started creating art work on subjects that I felt more passionate about, as well as working and networking with more artists, I decided the creative industry is where I belong. My clothing line is still active, and we have some new clothes dropping soon, but the creative industry will always have my heART.

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Raphael Dada

You’ve just finished Leeds University  – How was your experience studying at Leeds?

I can’t even lie and say my experience in Leeds was amazing, because if I’m being honest, it was tough most of the time. Having to adjust from living in such a diverse and multicultural town, then becoming the only black boy on the largest course at the university; it was very difficult. I experienced microaggressions on the daily and was racially abused a few times. Even got stopped by the receptionists a couple times because they didn’t believe I attended the Uni. It was tough.

But I didn’t let any of that get me down, I was able to channel all that anger and put it into my art, making art that was charged with emotion and passion. It worked for me almost like a coping mechanism, and it is because of this that my art is so important and personal to me. However, it wasn’t all bad; the Uni has really good facilities, allowing me to push my practice and continually experiment with new mediums. In my time at Leeds, I was able to meet some amazing people and like-minded creatives, and form relationships I can see myself having for life.

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Raphael Dada

Thinking about the positives, do you have a favourite moment during your study you’d like to share?

My favourite moment in Leeds without a doubt would have to be our ACS ‘2020’ Exhibition in February of this year. As president of our university’s African Caribbean Society, I was given the opportunity to oversee the running of an exhibition which included the work over 30 different artists- all from various different cultural backgrounds. This was a big deal, as our Uni is a white dominated institution, so to be able to see the work of so many different ethnic artists on display was a beautiful occasion. We also got the chance to collaborate with the Student Union, and the event was even sponsored by a local brewery. While the show was on we had over 1000 members of the general public come view it, and it was just such a great experience that gave so many artists the coverage they deserve, something that they wouldn’t normally get in the conventional gallery setting.

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Raphael Dada

That is truly brilliant – well done. How did it feel passing your course during lock down and not having a final year exhibition?

It was weird completing my degree during lockdown, because just like the rest of the world I never expected it. It took me and most third years nationwide by shock because our final module was a curation module, and you can’t really curate a show when the whole country is on lockdown.

The final degree show is what we were working towards for three years, and to have it all scrapped and turned into a digital submission was really strange and hard to get my head around. In protest I almost wasn’t going to submit, because I thought the whole idea was stupid, but looking back I am glad I did, and that the degree is over. Ideally, I would have wanted a degree show, but there are just some things you just do not have any control over, and hopefully we will have the opportunity to exhibit again soon.

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Raphael Dada

Absolutely and I hope I get to see it! (Invite me!) You work across a lot of mediums – do you think you’ll hone in and settle into one or two – or (like me) do you refuse to be pinned down?

I don’t actually know because sometimes I go through phases when I will only use pen, or only use pencil, or only screen print. I think the medium that I use always depends on my mood, or which the one I believe will best get the job done and convey my message the most effectively. I like having options.

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Raphael Dada

I’m a huge fan of your Dada Doodles –how do you select your subjects?

Ahh thank you! Dada Doodles is just a little thing I have had going for a while, they are just quick sketches I do in between major projects, or when I have taken a break from art for a bit, something light to get me back into drawing. They’re called Dada Doodles because when I was at Uni my friends used to say I was paying “9 grand to go doodle,” so I actually started doodling. But more times my subjects are kind of random and just things I like, ranging from music, TV shows and cartoons, or sometimes I can just see something and be like, “that looks like it would be fun to draw”, so I just draw it.

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Raphael Dada

Africa and African culture features in some of your work – can you talk about the personal link and why it’s important to you?

African culture, more specifically Nigerian culture is something that will always feature in my work. I was born in Nigeria and moved here when I was 5, so to me I always have to pay homage to my roots; it’s the country that made me, and it plays such a big role in my identity. And I feel like this is something that every black person should do, they should make a conscious effort to get in touch with their cultural heritage and roots. In the words of Burna Boy’s mum “Every black person should please remember that you were Africans before you were anything else”.

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Raphael Dada

Your practice and work is hooked into black cultural experience and identity…..what has your experience as a black artist been so far?

As mentioned earlier, entering into the creative industry as a black artist at first, was not easy at all. I was faced with numerous obstacles, and it was just hard getting started, because as a black artist, as much as we try and deny it, due to institutional bias, we will always be two steps behind our white counterparts, so we have to continuously prove ourselves by working twice as hard just to get noticed.

And I think I got to understand this quite early as my sixth form was quite white dominated in comparison to my secondary school, so once I understood how the game worked, I was able to use that to my advantage. In a way I kind of like the challenge as well; it is what keeps me going, because I know if I do eventually make it big, it would be a well-earned W for the culture.

Raphael Dada

In your about me section on your website you say “I also explore how language has been used both historically and in contemporary society in relation to the black experience and culturally the impact this has not just on me as a black British artist, but on my generation as a whole.” – can you talk me a little bit through that and what you mean?

As well as art, English Literature has always been one of my passions growing up, and till this day. I have always been fascinated by words and the use of language, and the power we give words when used in certain context. On their own words hold no weight nor power, but it is how we use them that determine their effect. For example when we see the word “blacks” it is not a racist word, the New Zealand rugby team are referred to as the All Blacks, simply due to the fact their kit is all black, but if we are to flip it and change the situation, let say a white lady says something like “all blacks are murderers”, then the word becomes racist, because it has been charged with animosity towards a racial group and its being used derogatorily to generalise and stereotype black people .

And this is something I find so interesting, especially when exploring racial matters, and how language has evolved over the year due to factors such as education, colloquialism and migration. No word is inherently offensive, it all depends on context. Even the word nigger (or nigga, however you want to spell it), it comes from the Amharic word Negus, which refers to Ethiopian royalty or emperor. But when colonialists come to Africa they didn’t like the idea of black royalty and excellence, so they took a word which was used to glorify black people to dehumanise a whole race, and due to centuries of subjugation and racism, the true meaning of the word has been lost. And I just find it crazy how a word that was twisted to subjugate a whole race, still holds so much weight and power over us today.

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Raphael Dada

Can you tell me about one of your recent projects?

Since I finished Uni I have not really taken on any large projects, I have just been chilling to be honest- it just been a lot of small commissions here and there, nothing big. But as mentioned earlier, I have been working on some new items for my clothing line, which are set to drop middle of July, fingers crossed.

Same for me…I keep reminding myself that it’s ok to not start a new project right now as….well…there’s a global pandemic and all! I know you take commissions – what type of commissions do you tend to take? How do people engage you for a commission?

All my commissions are all different if I am being honest, I have never received any two similar commissions; they are all personal and catered to the individual. And the thing is about being disciplined in most mediums, I don’t limit myself in the type of commissions I take in, if you can describe it, more times I will be able to draw it. I take most of my commissions through Instagram, if someone wants anything they can just drop me a DM (@artbyadrafa on Instagram), or through my phone number, which is on my website.

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Raphael Dada

You often collaborate with other creatives and artists – how do you choose who you collaborate with or how do you connect with collaborators? Can you tell me about some of your recent collaborations?

I can’t give you a straight-forward answer to that because all my collaborations have all come around so differently; sometimes people approach me, or I could be scrolling through Instagram and see someone’s work I like and be like “Yeahhhh I wanna work with you, your work is dope.” Or I could have an idea or project in mind that I want to execute, but the work load is just too much, or  physically don’t have the ability to do it, so I create a meticulous plan for the project, and what I want to do, then message people who I believe could be best fitted in helping me actualise this idea.

For example, before lockdown, a project I was working on was a photography series called ‘Black Baroque’, where I was recreating Baroque paintings but replacing the white aristocrats in the paintings with black models. But even before I started I knew this was going to be a big task at hand, because I would need help with photography, set design, costume and much more, all which are alien to me, so I pitched the idea with a couple of my friends who studied fashion photography and they were all aboard and agreed to work with me.

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Raphael Dada

Can you share with me three black artists that I MUST check out immediately and why?

If we are talking black artists, I am going to have to plug the work of some of my friends because these guys talented for real. They are all black creatives I met in Leeds and have had the honour of working with at some point.

Instagram: @artizham

Zhama Jumbo is all round talented guy- name it he can do it. Animation, illustration, graphics; anything, that’s my guy. He has such a distinct art style that no matter what he does or what medium he takes on, you will always be able to tell it was him, and I have had the pleasure of working with him a couple times. We have a collab we are working on soon, so make sure you follow his page so you don’t miss the drop.

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Instagram: @artizham

Instagram: @KapturedbyBennyK

Benny is a freelance photographer and stylist based in Leeds and Derby. She has worked and collaborated with clothing brands, make-up artists and social media influencers, she has a lot of experience under her belt with a rapidly growing following on Instagram. She has also just started a styling page as well @Stylehauss, so please follow that as well.

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Instagram: @KapturedbyBennyK

Instagram: @Gullygolden

A Leeds and Bristol based documentarian. Out of everyone I would say I have worked with Gully the most- she has such a distinct way of capturing life and moments, nothing like I have ever seen before, and what makes her so different in comparison to other documentarians I know, I have only ever seen her shoot in 35mm, and she has an aesthetic I don’t think anyone else could imitate if they tried.

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Instagram: @Gullygolden

Three amazing creatives right there to follow and each very different. Back to your work…can you tell about something you’ve got planned for 2020? A future project?

I had a few events and exhibitions that I was meant to be debuting some prints at, but because of corona, I don’t know when these will be happening. For the mean time, I am just chilling with no major projects on its way, mainly focusing on my clothing for a bit (make sure you give us a follow, Instagram @rddesigns99

Anything else you’d like to tell me about?

I think I have gone on for ages, so I don’t really have anything left to say but I will leave on this note: Black Lives STILL Matter. This is a movement not a moment, and we will keep going until we put an end to centuries of institutional bias and racism, not just in the UK but globally.

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Absolutely agreed and thank you Raphael Dada and for being so honest!

You can catch Raphael over on his website, his art/personal Insta and his clothing Insta.

Please check out his work. He’s going to be massive – I just know it!

And as Raphael reminds us – we (and I say that in relation to white people as a whole – myself included) need to keep doing the anti-racist work needed, challenging and questioning everything especially as the world begins to reopen and spin again – it must not go back to “normal”.

All my love The Culture Vulture. xxx

 

An interview with The Social Distance Art Project Team – a response to cancelled 2020 degree shows for artists & audiences

The Social Distance Art Project popped up on my radar towards the beginning of lock down – and what a wonderful gift to lock down me it was! I have discovered and connected with SO many wonderful artists through it.

The Social Distance Art Project started as a response to the reality, that for many students studying Arts related degrees, their final year physical degree shows or degree related “creative sharings” were off the cards and for the majority cancelled. This was truly heart breaking – for many artists, the degree show is THE thing you’ve been working towards for your whole degree and for some, it is their first opportunity to exhibit. These shows are important to their creative career, as a means of showcasing their work, profiling themselves as artists and a moment of achievement! I still meet artists my age (mid 30s) and many still talk about the positive experience and value their final year degree show brought them!

From this challenging and shitty situation, the wonderful TSDAP was born and the team (5 Northern lasses – BOOM!) set up their website to champion artists providing a collective digital space to feature themselves so that folks like me can discover their work. AND as a platform for Universities and students to tell the world about the reinvented digital versions of the degree show and connected events!

Out of the gutting nature of cancelling these final year degree shows and sharings, I think they is an upside…..the TSDAP has shown the potential of taking elements of a degree show online, uniting audiences and artists in this way and being more accessible. Whilst I’m a regular attendee of North East University degree shows – through the TSDAP, I’ve been able to engage and attend things across the whole country and chat to artists Nationally – that wouldn’t have happened before! I hope that Universities consider keeping a digital strand forever!

Another positive, for me, is that the artists and their work are presented within The TSDAP by name and not split up by medium. This has meant, that instead of just seeking out the stuff I normally like, I’ve been taking in such a wide variety of work. Honestly, if you have a spare hour, instead of mindlessly scrolling on social media, go to the Directory and just click through each artist. It’s my favourite thing to do right now!

As I’ve loved the TSDAP so much, I of course, reached out to the team behind it to tell them and to thank them – I invited them to take part in a little Culture Vulture interview so here we are doing just that!

Take it away TSDAP team!

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Well hello The Social Distance Art Project team….. can you all introduce yourselves!?

Julia – There are five fine art graduates involved in the project! The founders were Natasha Alexander, Alex Appleby and Jasmine McKnight (York St John University). Julia Pomeroy (Leeds Arts University) and Emma Trevor (Newcastle University) joined us a little later on as things really started to pick up!

As a proud Northerner and passionate support of womxn in creative industries, I’m buzzing that a womxn led Northern team created this!  Can you each give me a flavour of your journey into the creative industries?

Natasha – I’m originally from Sunderland; I wouldn’t say that working in the creative industries is pushed as a possible career much in the area. I’ve had a lot of “so your degree is just drawing pretty pictures, right?” and a lot of questions about how I will earn a living. I got into the arts because I didn’t have the best time throughout my time in Education and when I decided to go to University, I really just wanted to do something that I loved. As it is, studying a fine art degree has opened up so many doors I never even knew existed. I have no regrets.

Alex – Upon looking at my university choices, I originally planned to study Psychology, a more ‘academic’ choice; but through exploring the possibility of studying Fine Art I knew that this was the right choice for me. Throughout my studies many opportunities and avenues have opened up, and I cannot wait to see where my further studies at MA will take me.

Jasmine – I pursued a creative degree as art is something that is just a necessity to me; there was never anything else that I wanted to do. My degree has allowed me to explore my identity as an artist in a way that I couldn’t have done on my own; now I’m ready to carry on with my artistic career by continuing my practice while pursuing a job in design.

Julia – My degree has given me the confidence to maintain a strong momentum with my practice’s direction (oil painting at the moment) and how to take on the artworld as a freelancing artist. This combination and just being determined that my artwork can have an impact is what’s driving me in this career decision and completing my Fine Art BA at Leeds Arts University this year. I’m ready to see what the creative industries think.

Emma – There was never a question in my mind that I wanted to study fine art at university. For me, the creative process has always acted as a mental escape and studying in order to build my practical skills as well as engage in critical reflection of my work has allowed me to turn a hobby into a viable career path. My long-term goal is to become a forensic art therapist, using my experience to help inmates reclaim their identities and hopefully make a positive impact when it comes to recidivism in the UK.

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A piece by Team TSDAP Natasha

Honestly, if we were in person – I’d love to unpick all of that more over a gin! I’m so excited for you all at the beginning of your careers! So, let’s chat the Social Distance Art Project….for my fellow Culture Vultures, what is it?

Julia – TSDAP aims to give a platform to graduating creative students of 2020 whose degree shows have been cancelled due to the outbreak of Covid-19. As fine art students, we felt like we’d spent the most part of our degree preparing for the exhibition and so were heartbroken at its cancellation.

The project consists of an Instagram (@thesocialdistanceartproject) where we upload submissions daily and a website which acts as a library of all past submissions.

The idea is to give creative students a space to show off their work in the absence of a degree show and a space where students from all institutions can get together in solidarity, getting to know each other’s work and how they’re staying creative during current times!

Why did you set it up? What was the impetus?

Julia – We set it up the day our studios closed. We just felt like we couldn’t just sit by and do nothing when hundreds of students were in the same position as us. We started with the Instagram account, getting in touch with Universities and their followers hoping that they’d get involved. It took off in a way we never expected!

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Emma

It has been so brilliant – honestly from the bottom of my heart, thank you for doing it! And well done! From your perspective, how did students feel when the realisation dawned that shows were cancelled?

Julia – We’ve had so many messages from heartbroken students and the majority of our submissions start with a note about how disappointed everyone is. We’ve spent three/four years planning for this and it’s just so quickly been taken away and it’s such an awful situation for everyone.

And, your own experiences…..how did you all personally feel when your shows were cancelled?

Alex – It was immensely underwhelming, the degree show was something that drove my practice throughout third year, both in terms of opening up opportunities for our futures and as a final celebration of our achievements. Online alternatives have given us some exposure as artists, but I am still saddened that we did not get the chance to have a physical show.

Jasmine – Extremely disappointed. Our whole degree works towards this exhibition. Now it’s been taken away, it feels like our degree has been left open, without any real closure.

Julia – It was incredibly disheartening that the big finale of our creative degrees just wasn’t going to happen. I think I was subconsciously in denial about it because it seemed so set in stone for such a long time. Once the upset and anger subsided, I learnt that we still need to make the most of showing off our artworks, and for now doing that virtually is the best thing to do.

Emma – It feels like such an anti-climax, we’ve spent the last four years of our lives working towards degree shows which open up so many post-graduation opportunities and are almost seen as a right of passage for it all to be cancelled in a matter of weeks. Documentation of degree shows is vital in future applications for studios and grants so it’s hard not to feel at a disadvantage compared to those graduating in years before us.

For those who aren’t aware of the importance of degree shows within the creative degree framework, can you tell us why they are important?

Julia – There’s such an opportunity for networking; you really don’t get online – speaking in person to other creatives and people from outside of your institution. Even the planning and curation of the exhibition is a really vital experience as we all embark on our careers. Through the degree many of us have had the opportunity to put on smaller shows but the degree show is really where you get to experience the organisational aspect.

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Alex

What has the response been like to the project from Universities and artists to SDAP? And the wider world/audiences?

Julia – Universities have been super supportive of what we’re doing! Especially since we’ve been using our home page to promote virtual degree shows across the UK. We’ve had a lot of contact from institutions asking for their shows to be added and sharing links to their student’s work on our platform. I think it’s been really great for institutions to see what others are getting up to and supporting each other.  Wider audiences have been really interested too which has been so nice to see – that students are being noticed as a result of what we’re doing to promote their hard work!

I’ve discovered loads of artists via your website that I just wouldn’t have discovered otherwise and their Insta as a digital canvas representing their portfolio of work – I think this could be the dawn of lessening the importance and focus on physical galleries and increasing the importance of creative digital spaces….what do you think?

Julia – What’s happened as a result of Covid has really given everyone some wake up calls as to the way the world has worked, bringing up a lot of questions about accessibility in particular. It makes you wonder about access to the arts for people who have to live permanently “socially distant” lives; whether that’s due to disability or any other factors. I think digital galleries are a great way to open up creative industries to a much wider audience.

Being able to view so much amazing work from your living room is so amazing whether that’s through Instagram, digital exhibitions or virtual tours. In thinking about the North/South divide that often sees “big names” of the art world exhibited primarily in London too, the five of us living in the North often can’t afford the travel for every exhibition we’d like to attend. And that travel has you debate the environmental impact that traveling to exhibition.

That being said, I really don’t think you can belittle being able to occupy the same space and the effect it has on your experience of it.  Maybe for some forms digital galleries would be a great accompaniment to physical exhibitions to provide an alternative for those that cannot visit.

Absolutely a digital strand to go along the physical! Various forms of research are showing that audiences are more likely to take a risk with art/art form in a digital space than in a venue…. I’ve been engaging more with things like sculpture (for example) that I just wouldn’t normally seek out. Digital space seems to remove the fear factor of being in a creative space and realising the work isn’t to your taste or you “don’t get it”. What are your thoughts?

Julia – I think digital spaces definitely offer the opportunity to spend more time with a piece of work. Especially with more conceptual art, or performance etc being able to view it in your own time in your own space means you have no fear of looking ‘silly’ as you figure out what it is you’re viewing. Perhaps you give certain pieces more of an opportunity in a digital space as it’s less intrusive.

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Julia

Going forward do you think having a digital form or platform for graduating artists like this – will/should it continue? I personally love the fact, I’ve discovered works and about educational programmes in other cities, that I wasn’t aware of.

Julia – Definitely! I really think platforms like ours should continue in future years as accompaniments to physical degree shows. We’ve been able to build space for a community of graduating artists from institutions across the UK to promote their work and discuss their practice. The inspiration you can find from other creatives is invaluable and being able to promote your work digitally to such a wide audience of your peers is super helpful for the next steps of our creative careers.

Have you missed the “in person” being creative?

Julia – 100%. One of the big things, is missing the energy that we feed from each other in our studios. The resilience you gain from tutorials and critiques with your tutors and peers is so beneficial to us as art students as it allows you to constantly think about your work from different perspectives and so work and concepts develop at a much faster rate. On top of that, the physical limitations that 2020 graduates have experienced have been at times impossible to navigate. Vacating studios at such short notice has left many of us without equipment or even adequate space to create.

Do you think graduate artists have missed the real time ability to showcase in their degree shows in person and feed off that energy? (Digital can’t replace that!).

Julia – We keep reiterating that platforms like ours have only arisen due to the absence of any adequate alternative. This digital space we’ve created, and many of the virtual degree shows that are now being launched, have nothing on the real experience of a degree show. I think most students have now experienced the anti-climatic virtual end to our studies and share this sense of loss.

Are there any artists or creatives that have submitted to your site – that are personal faves? Or doing work that has caught your eye? (All of the names mentioned below you can search out in the Directory of the SDAP website)

Nat – There are so many amazing creatives submitting work to us that it’s super hard to choose! Some of my favourites have Annie Graham’s sculptural practice whom I wrote about in my own blog, Reuben Brown’s exploration of growing up queer in Northern Ireland and Olivia Taylor’s amazing black & white photography of urban landscapes.

Alex – Ameerah Dawood’s work stood out to me, her use of textiles and screen printing has a simplicity and preciseness that I really enjoy.

Jasmine – My personal favourites are Holly Sarll and The Overload Project.

Julia – A personal fave whose work resonated with me was Alice Miller from Loughborough University and her oil paintings. The awkward yet familiar angles of everyday social situations, surrounded by figures, makes us feel like we’re there and her painting techniques make these moments feel fleeting. Ideas that I’ve been exploring with my own paintings.

Emma – Tiggy Beaman’s nude paintings really stood out to me and got an amazing reaction from our community. Also, Adonia Hirst’s work with textiles and soft sculpture, she is from my university so I may be slightly biased, but I’ve always thought her work is amazing.

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Jasmine

Any black artists or creatives that you’d like to suggest folks check out/champion?

JuliaAD DADA was one of our earliest submissions and his work is amazing! He engages with black culture and identity in contemporary society through a whole range of mediums. His portfolio is super interesting to look at and reflects on the point of view of a black artist questioning British Institutions of art.

How long are you going to keep the project up? How can people get involved at this stage?

Julia – There’s no deadline for the project! It’s been so successful and exciting that we just want to keep going. We’re still taking submissions and soon we’ll be moving towards also posting the work of students who are not in their final year who’ve also been affected by studio closures.

We just want to keep everyone’s timelines creative and supportive at these tough times. We’re looking to begin to support emerging early career artists who aren’t necessarily just recent graduates. The possibilities are endless and this is just the beginning.

What’s next for the Social Distance Art Project?

Julia – Our next steps are to evolve the project into representing recent art graduates and emerging artists and become an active contribution to help early career artists venture into the artworld. We hope to provide opportunities online through open calls, various exhibitions ideas and explore what art promotion will be in the future, alongside social distancing. We hope we’ll be able to execute these opportunities in real life at some point. Currently, we have teamed up with SHIM (@shimartnetwork ) who are a fantastic online artist network who present exhibition opportunities through Artsy and we are directing TSDAP artists to them. We have more plans on the way with them coming up later in the year.

As graduating students, do you have any advice to creatives and artists about to go to University?

Julia – Take advantage of every moment you’re given. Utilise the creative people you’re surrounded by on a daily basis, it’s a situation you may never find yourself in again and the advice and support you can receive is invaluable.

Then what about you folks as a team – what’s next on a collective basis and individually?

All– Our work with SHIM and one day hold our first physical exhibition and achieve funding.

Nat– I’m working on my art criticism via my own website before I start an MA in Critical and Cultural studies in Leeds next year.

Alex– I am hoping to study Fine Art MA at Leeds Arts University whilst also working part-time. Working in the community arts sector is something I really enjoy and hope to continue.

Julia– I’ve decided to see how my artistic career will change without being in education anymore and act on the skills I’ve learnt on BA. I hope to find a studio space in Leeds to keep developing my practice and continue putting in my own group shows alongside applying for open calls.

Emma– I’m hoping to find a job as a creative arts coordinator, ideally working with inmates or former inmates, so I can gain the experience needed to study an Art Therapy masters.

Anything else you want to share?

All – We would just like to thank everyone for their wonderful support. We have been overwhelmed by the response from 2020 art graduates getting involved with us and we can only wish them the very best with life after university and what the future has in store.

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Thank you SDAP team – what a wonderful interview and how exciting to hear about your future plots and plans! Check out TSAP via their website and Insta and give them some love – they deserve it for creating this wonderful platform. Very excited for the next chapter and I’ve got a feeling, this is the beginning of something MEGA for this team – both collectively and individually!

All my love, The Culture Vulture xx

Interview with Laura Sheldon -graphic designer, illustrator & tattooist. Tattoos, mental health, freelance adventures & The Cluny!

I want a new tattoo – I want several.

I’ve been spending lock down ages looking at tattoos and tattoo artists online on Instagram – feeling thoroughly inspired in the process – the differing styles are so wonderful and I love the idea of a body as a walking, talking, living canvas. In my Instagram hole and research, I’ve discovered, it’s becoming progressively common that artists and creatives may start in the visual artist lane and edge into tattoo-ing or vice versa, a tattoo-ist edges into visual arts with their work. I think it’s wonderful thing.

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Laura Sheldon tattoo – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

One tattoo artist that sits across both the tattoo and artist lane is Laura Sheldon – she’s been on my list for AGES for a Culture Vulture interview and I’d love her to tattoo me up, when the time comes. It’s interesting and exciting for me, as someone who loves tattoos, to chat to an artist that has tattooing within their range of practice. I find that artists create the best tattoos…. much better than traditional tattoo shop tattoos, i.e. the type that currently adorn my body. I regret all my tattoos – but if I had to do my life over, I’d still get them again! That’s what we need to teach folks at a young age…not “don’t get tattoos – you’ll regret it”- instead “don’t get SHIT tattoos” and then use me as a case study.

Anyhoo… over to Laura Sheldon aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration!

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

So hiyer, who are you and how would you describe your creative practice?

Hello there!  My name is Laura Sheldon aka SHELDO. I’m a freelance Designer, Illustrator and hand poke tattoo artist from Newcastle.

Tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

In 2009, I graduated Graphic Design at Northumbria University into a crippling recession. Luckily, I found an internship at Reluctant Hero/Electric Sheep for 8 months working on several live briefs. After the internship ended, I spent a summer in Berlin to figure out what to do.  Unsuccessfully able to a cement a placement or work, I decided to return to Newcastle and started freelancing (taking any opportunity I could) whilst holding down a part time job. I freelanced and juggled part time work for the next 3 years then decided to move to London in 2013 to try expand my network and business opportunities. I continued to work 2 part time jobs but was determined not to give up my freelance work. I had very little commercial work at this time but a lot of time to development my own illustration style. After 3 years I returned to Newcastle. I contacted Roots and Wings (multi-media design company) when I got back and have primely been working with them alongside other projects since. I opened an Etsy shop in 2016 with help from Everything Funky and Spiffing prints providing a fulfilment service. Since moving back to Newcastle (4 years in July) I’ve been able to live off my design, illustration & now tattooing. It’s be quite a journey to where I am today!!

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

Quite the adventure/quest – well done! Your design work and illustrations are so diverse – you don’t seem to have a set style (which I bliddy love!) – where do you seek inspiration?

Thanks very much, greatly appreciated! I get bored quite easily, so I generally dot around to different things to keep it interesting. They say variety is the spice of life.  My inspiration comes from many different places, such as vivid dreams but I also like to merge Art Deco, surrealism, space and psychedelia as well as a strong female themes.

I also have a passion for music which feeds into my work, the weird and the wonderful. One of my favourite designers is Stefan Sagmeister. He definitely went against the grain and made me think that it was ok to be experimental and to follow your own path. I was lucky enough to meet him when I was on placement in America with University in 2008.

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

You went full blown freelance in 2009…. What made you take that leap and how has the adventure been so far?

I had no choice; I couldn’t find a job and felt very annoyed that I had come all the way through the educational system to work in a job that I hated. That wasn’t going to happen. I started freelancing pretty much taking any job I could get whilst working part time at the weekend and living intermittently at my parents or staying on kind friends’ couches. It’s definitely been an adventure! It’s been very difficult at times to keep motivated and determined when you are earning very little money and still living at your parents but there was no other option for me.

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

Thank you for your honesty! Let’s chat about your design work – what is your design process? What materials and programmes do you use?

I usually do most correspondence with clients over email as I find it easier to have everything written down unless the client requests to meet. But if possible, I like to have a clear idea of what the client wants. I usually work with clients who like to be involved in the process. I don’t really like to dictate what I think they should have unless it’s a really terrible idea haha! I go away and do a few initial ideas and send them for feedback then develop the idea into a final piece. The initial email/chat is usually the most important, so I don’t feel like I’m trying to read the clients mind. Depending on the project I might send a super rough sketch or I might go straight on to the computer it depends on how much input I have from the beginning. I have quite recently invested in an iPad as well as my Mac so the programmes I use are illustrator, procreate and photoshop.

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

You have a really broad range of clients in your design portfolio from Brewdog, to Great Exhibition of the North, to musician album covers….how do you get your clients?

I like to socialise maybe a little less these days but work has always come from just meeting people through gigs, events, exhibitions or part time jobs and sharing that I’m a designer. It’s like a little snowball that gets bigger when you roll it. Also, Facebook was starting to kick off when I graduated so I utilised sharing my work and reminding people I was there. I’m really proud of my work and like to share what I am doing.

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

Well I love seeing your work – so keep sharing it! You design for lots of different media – for social, apparel, sculptures, displays, vinyl graphics, branding……. Do you approach all these types of design projects with the same approach?

Yes everything is approached the same, everything starts with a conversation/brief and follows a similar design process of initial design, development and finalising the idea.

You have done some wonderful positive mental health illustrations for The Recovery College…. Can you tell me a bit about that project? How has your own mental health been during lock down?

I was commissioned by Roots and Wings to produce illustrations for The Recovery College that might help people navigate through this pandemic. I love The Recovery College’s ethos so anything that may help people was very important to me. I suffer from Hypermobility which I was diagnosed with around the same time I started freelancing so my mental health day to day is quite a struggle. Hypermobility causes joint pain, lower back pain, Chronic fatigue to name a few things but I find staying creative, going for walks and listening to music helps manage my pain as well as acupuncture and CBD oil.

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

I know you worked with Novak Collective creating part of the illustrations for ‘Imminence’ – a 50 metre long audio visual projection portraying the impact of climate change at Bloomberg Arcade, London in collaboration with textile designer Hazel Dunn and sound artist Ed Carter. – How did it come about? I’ve worked with them before – love them!

I had one of my first studios in the Biscuit Tin back in 2010 so would bump into Novak Collective in the corridor and always loved the work they do. They are a lovely bunch of people and always championed what I did. I think work had gone a little quiet last year, so I set up a meeting and it was just good timing that they needed some help on a big project.

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Imminence

You designed something super special for Nowt Special – can you tell us a bit about that project?

I’ve known Kurt Eaton & Anthony Downie for a very long time and have been exhibiting at Nowt Special from the beginning. It’s very hard work putting on successful events, so I really appreciate being part of this great event. I was lucky enough to be asked to design the event poster and a DJ booth was created from the artwork. It was such an amazing night and felt blown away by it all really. Newcastle is such a supportive network and I know many talented creative people!

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

Can you tell me about the Tattoos and Evergreen tattoo studio? You design your tattoos – but do you also tattoo them too? What does hand poked mean? Do you have any tattoos yourself?

Evergreen Tattoo Studio was set up by Faye Oliver. She does amazing hand poked bespoke botanical tattoos. I have been really great friends with Faye for over 15 years and she has always been very supportive of my illustration and at the end of 2018 asked me to be her tattoo apprentice.

Yes, I illustrate and tattoo my designs on people for life. I’m still getting my head round this haha! Hand poked tattoos are created without machine. I attach the needle to a chop stick and gently poke the needle into the skin whilst dipping the needle in ink. They take a bit longer to do than machine tattoos as I am doing it all by hand. Yes I have quite a few tattoos mainly machine tattoos but I’m looking to get more in the future.

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

Me too! How has COVID-19 effected your creativity? And practice?

Fortunately, my creativity hasn’t been greatly affected as being freelance I usually work from home but tattooing has completely stopped which I’m really missing.  I have definitely had more time on my hands to try new things like engraving, sowing, and clay modelling. It’s been great to get back to my fine art roots.

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

You been creating/making outfits in lock down with tie dye and stitching – what’s it been like to play and learn something new?

I have! It’s be really fun and I think it’s the pinnacle of my lockdown creativity/madness. I hand dyed a pair of old curtains with turmeric then made it into a dress. I hope to wear it when I can finally go to the pub.

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

How can we purchase from you right now and what type of products, prints etc are available?

I have an Etsy shop where you can buy tees, totes & prints. You can visit it HERE!

Any upcoming projects you want to tell me about?

I’m part of an exciting T-shirt collaboration with The Cluny helping them through this uncertain time and illustrating a map of Walker Park to encourage more people to visit. Projects that Couldn’t be any more different! Just the way I like it!

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

Love Walker Park and Love the Cluny! Thank you Laura! Such a wonderfully talented human and you can order your Cluny Tee HERE. Each purchase is supporting a brilliant independent music venue and pub.

That’s all for now Culture Vultures. Xx

Interview with The Biscuit Factory’s 2020 Contemporary Young Artist Award winner – artist Millie Suu-Kyi

It absolutely seems like a lifetime ago, but one of my last nights out culture vulturing pre-lockdown, was to The Biscuit Factory’s Spring season show opening – Contemporary Young Artist Award headline show; it is always a total treat and a really broad diverse mix of art.

The Biscuit Factory is the UK’s largest independent contemporary art, craft & design gallery set in the heart of Newcastle’s cultural quarter. It is also one of my favourite galleries to visit in the region. This year’s Contemporary Young Artist Award exhibition featured 36 artists shortlisted from over 1200 submissions by The Biscuit Factory Curators (I recently interviewed them HERE). This exhibition and the award, now in its fourth year, provides a platform for new and emerging talent and invites the public to vote for their favourite piece to win People’s Choice. The exhibition unfortunately, (and obviously) shut down pretty sharpish after opening to the public due to lock down measures – it was a wonderful exhibition and you can view the exhibition online HERE.

On the Spring show opening night, I had the pleasure of meeting the 2020 Contemporary Young Artist Award winner, Millie Suu-Kyi and viewing her series of sculptures ‘If the shoe fits’ including Selfish Sean, Immature Isaac and Obsessive Olivia. Millie is a multi-discipline artist whose work incorporates ceramics, illustration and textiles and she was a delight to meet and chat to. She reminded me exactly how an artist should be, when they’ve just won a brilliant award – bliddy giddy, a tiny bit overwhelmed and very excited! It was just lush – I love with genuinely brilliant humans are recognised for their talent.

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‘If the shoe fits’ – Millie Suu-Kyi on exhibition opening night

Millie’s winning piece, ‘If the shoe fits’,  is a commentary on materialism, over-indulgence and the influence of brands on society – it’s quite playful whilst provoking serious questions on where on what we place value on in our society (and individually). These questions were huge pre-pandemic, but in the midst of COVID-19, they’ve taken on a new life and hinting as superficial societal foolishness. I know, I certainly feel that way.

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‘If the shoe fits’ – Millie Suu-Kyi

I recently caught up with Millie via Insta – we’d chatted about a Culture Vulture interview in March, but with everything hitting the way it did, now felt like a more appropriate time to do it and I’m so eager that people know about and discover Millie’s work and her winning piece – irrespective of not being able to view it right now.

So here we go, an interview with The Biscuit Factory’s 2020 Contemporary Young Artist Award winner, artist Millie Suu-Kyi….

Hiyer, lush to chat again…. Can you introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures….? 

My name is Millie, my artist name is Millie Suu-Kyi and I’m a North London-based artist.

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 Millie Suu-Kyi

I love your artist name…where did it come from?

My middle name is Suu-Kyi; I’m named after Aung San Suu-Kyi the Burmese/Myanmar leader, which these days is more controversial (!), but either way it’s a good conversation starter and definitely a more interesting name than Millie Holland!

Can you tell me about your journey into the creative industries? Did you step out into the world thinking I want to be an artist? 

Well, I’ve always been creative and knew I wanted to be in the industry, but for many years I wanted to be a dancer and I even did the auditions to go to dance school instead of art school. I’m pleased I chose art and I particularly love being a multidisciplinary artist because it means you can use all the different things you’ve learnt over the years; even my dance practice comes in handy!

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Millie Suu-Kyi

You graduated in 2019, so are relatively at the beginning of your artistic journey which is so exciting! Do you feel on the cusp of something wonderful? It sure feels that way as someone looking in! 

Ah that’s so lovely to say. In truth, it feels a little unknown and a lot like guess work, but I’m loving developing new projects and trying things out – I feel like a newbie and am aware I have so much more to learn, but for now I’m enjoying the ride and seeing what I can make next.

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Millie Suu-Kyi

You work across many mediums sculpture, ceramics, illustration and textiles! A quadruple creative threat! Can you tell you me a bit about those mediumshow do they interact or play out together? Is there a medium that you think youll specialise in?

I am first and foremost someone that draws and that is where all my projects begin, but from there I love being able to see which material lends itself to a project. However, I end up spending the largest chunk of my time on ceramics because it requires so much time.

I don’t think I want to specialise in just one material as I think the different media, I use complement one another so well and each add so much.

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Millie Suu-Kyi

You bliddy won Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020 (well done) can you tell me about your submission piece? 

The piece, ‘If The Shoe Fits’, was my graduate work, which I also took to New Designers. The piece looked at visual stereotypes and the reasons people mass migrate towards certain trends and brands. I formed my three characters on less desirable traits and the way we use brands and consumerism to conceal our imperfections. This in turn conceals our vulnerability.

As Brits are collectively known for their discomfort around nudity, I wanted to play with humour by making them naked. While amusing, the focus on nudity here also symbolises the guilt linked between being our true selves, as people literally use familiar brands to cover themselves, and concealing the unwanted aspects of their identity.

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‘If the shoe fits’ – Millie Suu-Kyi

Can you tell us a little bit about the process making the piece?

The figures are made from stoneware clay and each took a day or 2 to make. I created limbs and body parts first and then constructed them all. They were then bisque fired at 1000° degrees, then glazed using a spray gun and transparent glaze and then re-fired at 1200°.

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‘If the shoe fits’ – Millie Suu-Kyi

What made you submit in general to the award? 

In truth, a few people had wanted to buy the pieces and I’d decided against it, so I wanted to make sure I did something with them so that I wouldn’t regret not selling them! I also felt it was a project that could start conversation and gain some interest, as the figures definitely turned heads at the degree show. Now I can definitely say I’m pleased I didn’t sell them.

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‘If the shoe fits’ – Millie Suu-Kyi

How did you find out youd won and what did that moment feel like? 

I was working at Thrown Contemporary (Ceramics Gallery) preparing the gallery for a private view, when I received an email saying I’d won. I’m not always the best at reading so I read it out loud to my boss to make sure I was reading it right! I then went to the toilet to quickly message the family WhatsApp to let them know and then went back to work, pretending I was as cool as a cucumber (which I definitely wasn’t!)

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Millie Suu-Kyi

Such a lush story – What are you going to spend the prize money on? 

Before the lockdown, the plan was to buy a ceramics kiln which would’ve used nearly all of the money, so that’s still the plan for post lockdown. But if not, I’d love to go on a puppetry making course.

As a young artist, why are awards and opportunities like Contemporary Young Artist Award important to you and your peers? Are they important? 

When you graduate it’s hard to know where to begin and applying for things like this award are a great way to cast your net and see what you catch. They are potentially a platform to publicise oneself, but if not, they’re at the very least a confidence boost and a good experience.

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Millie Suu-Kyi

You came up to Newcastle for the preview event it was a blast to hang out with you! What did it feel like having people look at your work and attending as the winner?

Ah thank you, it was a lovely evening! Well, if I’m honest, I’m not sure many people knew I was the winner! – But that was fine with me, it was just a delight to get to know the gallery staff and be at an event where my work was displayed and I wasn’t there to support a friend or hand out the drinks!

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Millie Suu-Kyi

Lurking at your own event – is the perfect way to enjoy an event! You mentioned that you had a friend in Newcastle did you manage to explore Newcastle?

I have one close friend in Newcastle doing a Masters but I actually only managed to visit her when I came for the Private View, so I haven’t seen much of Newcastle. However, what I’ve seen I’ve liked very much. – It has elements of London and Edinburgh which are my favourite places, so that’s high praise.

When its just you and you want to make/createfor fun, what do you tend to do? 

My absolute favourite things to create are characters. I draw them with their clothes, accessories and usually gangly limbs with big hands, and like to include details like their age, name and hobbies – almost like my own Top Trumps.

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Marcus – Millie Suu-Kyi

I was a big fan of Marcus on your Insta! Where do you seek artistic inspiration? Are there any artists that inspire you whether by their work or by their boldness etc? 

There are so many artists that I completely adore but I’ll choose:

Paula Rego for her surrealist paintings, which have incredible character and story development, understanding of colour and a beautiful use of perspective and foreground/background.

Peter Lubach with his limitless ability to recreate the human/animal forms in clay, using pleasing and deceptively simple shapes, as well as an undertone of humour.

Pierre Le-Tan is my latest discovery. His delicate use of ink and water colour create immaculate, quiet interior scenes. They are a joy to behold!

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Peter Lubach

I get a sense of you being a bit protesty (LOVE) and a risk taker (LOVE) both in your creative practice and as a person can you talk a little bit about that? 

I am pretty outspoken and very interested in current affairs, often drawing on political stances, stereotypes, class divides and social structures for my work. But, I’m also aware that there’s always so much more to learn and I certainly don’t claim to know it all. I can only make art that shows what my slice of the world is like, so I intend to keep on educating myself to ensure I stay involved and keep being that little bit protesty.

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Millie Suu-Kyi

You have an AMAZING sense fashion and bold style where do you seek fashion inspo from? What inspires your looks? Where do you shop/fave indie outlets? 

As someone who’s environmentally conscious and loves buying on a budget, I now only buy secondhand clothing, almost entirely from charity shops. I absolutely love having to hunt and rummage through strange rails and racks. In terms of inspiration, I adore 60s prints and silhouettes and I’m a great believer in more is more, so I always like to dress up and wear as much colour as possible.

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Millie Suu-Kyi

So of course, your Young Contemporary Artist Award win came a few weeks before lock down what have you been up to/working on? (Beside surviving a Pandemic if you havent done anything creative at all, join the club!) How has lockdown effected your practice? 

Well, as I never managed to get a kiln in time, I am currently making new ceramics work and leaving it unfired for a very long time, which isn’t ideal! But for now, I am drawing new characters and scenes and making clay samples for a new project which I hope will be my solo exhibition at the Biscuit Factory next year. Also, I’m not making a huge amount because I’ve been working in a local care home. So, in my free time, I’m pleased I’m managing to keep the creative wheels turning.

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Millie Suu-Kyi

Youre submersed in the creative world further South how are the creative community responding to the Pandemic? In the North, there is a real sense of wanting to change the creative gameand power structure I really hope self-employed artists come out the other side, more self-determining but I am hugely fearful for the creative industries.  

I am absolutely surrounded by creative talent where I live, with musicians, designers, artists and generally amazing people everywhere I look, which can be a little intimidating! I haven’t allowed myself to process the damage that the industry will take – people say the arts and artists are resilient but this is going to be so tough for so many people. I think we’ll just have to wait and see, but for now the arts is being as charitable as ever with free online lessons, discounted work and all the rest of it – so as usual people are just making do and being highly impressive.

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Millie Suu-Kyi

Any advice to artists just starting out? 

Sadly, I’d feel too much like a phony to answer that! I’m really just starting out myself so, I suppose, all I could say to my peers in the same boat is, try and find your USP and revolve your practice around that.

What is next for Millie? Anything in the pipeline?

I recently choreographed and filmed a dance project using a music piece written by a friend. I really enjoyed the process and it reminded me that I want to try some more performance-based work, tying my sculptural work with movement. I’ve also been drawing some new ideas to work towards potentially writing and illustrating a short book, but none of the logistics have even been researched yet, so for now it’s just a dream.

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Millie Suu-Kyi

So you’ve been busy being brilliant! Where can we find more about you and your work?

My website can be visited HERE and my instagram handle is @milliesuukyi

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Millie Suu-Kyi

Well then thanky Millie – I’m super excited for your solo exhibition at The Biscuit Factory – I need more things in my life to look forward to and that is certainly a cultural cherry! Check out Millie’s insta and her work – she’s bliddy talented and a gem! And remember, you can check out you can view the Contemporary Young Artist Award exhibition online HERE

 

Interview with North East actor Andrew Finnigan – newly appointed Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2020

I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Andrew Finnigan – North East based professional actor AND the newly appointed Customs House’s Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2020. This news is hot off the press so I was buzzed to be one of the first interviewing him!

I’m working with the folks over at The Customs House for Takeover 2020 to champion the festival – you can read my blog post all about the Takeover HERE and find out more about it; but just to remind my fellow Culture Vultures, The Takeover is an annual week-long arts festival at The Customs House that is produced by, with and for young people. The festival is led, planned, marketed, delivered and evaluated by the Takeover Team, a group of 12-18 year olds, who are recruited from diverse backgrounds and have varying leadership and arts experiences. I chatted to two of this year’s team Harrison and James HERE.

 Takeover 2020 was set to happen May half term but for obvious reasons it has been postponed – so instead it’s (hopefully) something for North East young people later in the year to look forward to and enjoy; new dates are yet to be announced.

The Takeover Young Writer residency is an opportunity for an emerging theatre writer, under 25yrs old, to write a piece of theatre with young people’s voices and a North East narrative rooted at its heart. This piece will be staged at The Customs House as the finale piece of Takeover Festival 2020! The residency comes with support from the Takeover team and mentoring from a professional writer; this year’s mentor is the eminent playwright Tom Wells.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2019 – Elijah Young; you can catch up on that interview HERE. But now it’s time for Andrew Finnigan – I caught up with Andrew by phone and had a really good natter; I was super impressed that this is his first writing experience and got such a sense of bubbling energy, enthusiasm and talent. And his piece for this year’s Takeover Festival, sounds brilliant and I’m excited for him to share with you a glimpse.

So step right up Andrew, here we go go! An interview with Andrew Finnigan, this year’s appointed Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2020. BOOM!

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Andrew Finnigan (Photo credit – Andrew Reed)

Hiyer Andrew – lush to digitally meet you! So can you tell my fellow Culture Vultures, who you are….

I’m Andrew Finnigan; I’m 23 and work primarily as an actor. I’m based in South Shields but kind of up sticks to wherever work takes me.

Textbook question – can you tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

Oddly it wasn’t a route; I didn’t even realise I was starting at the time. Me and my best were kind of forced into doing the school musical when we were about 13, but it turned out I quite enjoyed it so I started taking looking for ways I could get more into that kind of thing outside of school.

I joined the Customs House Youth Theatre when I was 16 and from there, started to appreciate theatre and storytelling even more. In 2016, I was cast in a play called Broken Biscuits, from an open audition where you didn’t need to have any formal training or an agent to go along; I had neither at the time. And that was the start!

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Andrew Finnigan in Broken Biscuits (Photo credit unknown)

Youre primarily an actor – can you tell me about the most recent production you acted in?

The last production I worked on was a Sam Steiner play, You Stupid Darkness!. It tells the story of 4 volunteers who answer the phones at Brightline during the a time when society is on the brink of collapse – the volunteers listen patiently, once a week, to outpourings of  stranger’s woe, offering the hope of connection – a hope they come to rely on just as much. You Stupid Darkness! had a five week run down at the Southwark Playhouse in London and actually finished up not long before the lockdown was put in place so timing wise we were quite lucky!

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Andrew Finnigan in You Stupid Darkness! (Photo credit Matt Austin)

So on to the main subject of this interview – Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2020 – HUGE congrats on being appointed! So lush to hear some happy news like this, during this challenging period – what prompted you to apply for the residency?

I’ve known about the Takeover Young Writer in Residence scheme since it started in 2018 but hadn’t considered applying as a writer!  For the application stage, you had to submit 10/15 pages of a script and a friend of mine said I should try and think of an idea and produce something. It was quite a nice low pressure way of working and felt like a well “why not?” situation.

Can tell me about the moment you found out and how it felt to find out you’d been successful?

I actually got the email telling me on the first day of lock down so I was really pleased I’d have something to work on. I was also hit with a sudden realisation that I had to actually finish writing it and that 10 pages was just the start, but the thought of finally seeing it on stage during Takeover 2020 really keeps me motivated.

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Andrew Finnigan in Drip (Photo credit Sam Taylor)

This is the first piece of theatre youve ever written (exciting!)  – where are you seeking inspiration for your writing?

I’ve been using my time to watch any TV or movies that I feel sit in the same world as what I’m writing. I often think there’s nothing worse than reading or watching how an adult thinks teenagers act or talk, but shows like Sex Education on Netflix really seem to capture the awkwardness and goofiness of what being that age is like, so I’ve definitely been coming back to that for reference points.

Agree with the adult perception of young people depicted in media– it can be SO cringe! Can you tell us about your piece? A flavour of what it is about, the storyline and the vibe?

So, the play is called Cherryade Supernova. It follows Josie, whose mam has convinced her to throw a house party while she’s away in the hope that she can make some new friends. She throws the party and an array of different personalities show-up! The piece is really about Josie kind of navigating her way through the night as best she can. Vibe wise, it’ll hopefully be reflective of how awkward house parties actually were (or are!) when you’re a teenager and just the messiness of it all.

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Andrew Finnigan (Photo credit Rich Kenworthy)

I was the Queen of social awkwardness as a teenage so I can relate – sounds brilliant and absolutely love the name! How far have you got with writing and can you tell us a bit about your writing process?  

Currently I’m about half-way through my first draft. I’m going at a steady pace at the minute but I’m happy with the progress it’s making. Since I’ve haven’t written theatre before I’m kind of figuring out what kind of writer I am during this process; whether I work best writing chronologically or if I start with the scenes I see a bit more clearly first. It has just been trial and error really seeing which way fits me best. I have so far drawn a lot from my own life when writing too; injecting some of my own experiences at pretty tame house parties.

I know this is your first writing experience – but how do you think lock down has impacted your writing? Many creative folks are struggling with being creative and concentrating (I hear ya!), how are you finding it?

It has been a challenge but I’m starting to get used to it now. For me personally, it has been about finding my rhythm of when I get the best work done. I’ve found that I actually focus more later on in the day so I make sure that most nights I sit down and try and get some stuff written then. Not putting pressure on myself to get lots written each day helps too; if I’ve had a bad day and not gotten much down, I tell myself it’s okay – right now even half a page’s work is a small victory in itself.

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Andrew Finnigan in You Stupid Darkness (Photo  credit Ali Wright)

What are you excited about within the residency? What do you hope to get out of it?

Since I only really have experience being on stage, I’m really looking forward to being on the other side and seeing how it feels watching my work performed by others. I’m also so pleased that my piece is being directed by Abigail Lawson too. We worked together on Wormtown and I think she makes great choices as an actor so have total faith she’ll do an ace job when it comes to the play.

You just mentioned Wormtown by Reece Connolly – Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2018’s piece. I didn’t get to see it – as one of the actors who starred in it – can you tell me about the production and your experience?

Wormtown was Reece’s take on the old piece of North East folklore, The Lambton Worm. It followed a group of teenagers from stopping a giant monster wreaking havoc on their town. I’m a massive fan of sci-fi in movies and tv, so for Reece to make a piece of sci-fi theatre, it was something I hadn’t really read or seen before and he’s such a unique and talented writer so I feel very lucky to have been a part of one of his early productions.

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Andrew Finnigan in Wormtown (far left – photo credit unknown)

Sounds amazing! As part of the Takeover residency experience – you have access to a range of support and a mentorship – can you tell me a bit about that and how that is working so far?

Each year the writer in residency is paired with a professional writer as a mentor and this year’s mentor is Tom Wells. Tom and I have actually worked together a few times over the past few years and I’ve acted in two of his past productions, Broken Biscuits and Drip. We usually schedule FaceTime catch ups every couple of weeks where I’ll send him any progress I’ve made and we’ll discuss them over a cuppa.

When I feel I’ve hit a bit of a wall, it is nice knowing that Tom is there to give me advice on how to work through that. I feel like I couldn’t have been paired with a better writer, as Tom’s work is always so warm and playful, and that is definitely something I hope to mirror in my own writing.

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Tom is just brilliant – you’re going to learn so much! Like last year’s Takeover Writer in Residence Elijah Young, you’re an actor! Do you think your actor experience could make you a better theatre writer and maker?

I think it helps in the sense I’m seeing what I’m writing from the perspective of an actor too. Since the play has to accommodate eight actors, I’m always aware of having to juggle so many characters on stage at one time and not wanting a character just sat there without bringing something to the scene. I also don’t want it to feel like it’s overcrowded without purpose in the story.

It is hoped that your production, Cherryade Supernova will be shown later in the year (everything crossed!)- you’ve certainly whetted my appetite – can you tell me a bit about what you hope the audience experience to be?

I think the main thing I want is that the audience has fun when watching. I want people to have an experience where they maybe see a bit of themselves in some of the characters and have a few laughs in there too.

You used to be a part of Customs House Youth Theatre, you’ve performed as part of previous year’s Takeover performance and now you’re 2020 Young Writer in Residence! What do creative opportunities like The Takeover at Customs House mean to you?

Over the past 8 years the Customs House has become a second home so I’m dead pleased my play will be given a life there. There is real history in that building so to be able to add to that is really special.

I think the most important aspect of the Takeover is being able to give chances to young people who might not have had creative opportunities otherwise. It is rare you’ll find opportunities like this where you don’t have to have any previous experience or relevant professional training. The Takeover is all so inclusive and accessible so I think it makes it a lot less daunting to get involved.

Youre from South Shields – what does having a venue like Customs House mean to you? Why is it important to young people?

The most valuable thing the Customs House have given me is guidance and support; especially in a world where being an actor is considered “a pipe dream”. I think that is really important for young people, especially with creative subjects being dropped or overlooked in schools; the Customs House is somewhere for us to go and be encouraged to engage and develop without a sense that working in the arts is unachievable. I’m doing it!

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Andrew Finnigan in Drip (photo credit Sam Taylor)

Are you a theatre goer” yourself? If so – have you got a production that you recently enjoyed that youd like to tell me about?

The last piece I watched actually was a video recording of Sea Wall, a monologue by Simon Stephens. It was a piece that was originally performed at the Bush Theatre in London in 2008 and then later recorded a few years later. It was put on YouTube free to watch for a short period during lock down; which I think is a great idea making it more accessible. It is performed by Andrew Scott (Moriarty in BBC 1’s Sherlock) who I just think is brilliant. He just melts into the part and makes it so quiet and truthful; it’s really moving. It’s definitely worth a watch if it’s still online. (It is currently available to watch here!)

Any advice youd like to share, to anyone like yourself this time last year, who haven’t written theatre before but curious about it?

I think my advice would be that if you have an idea, just start writing to get it down. Don’t worry if it won’t be read straight away by anyone else, just write for yourself and see how it feels.

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Andrew Finnigan in Drip (photo credit Sam Taylor)

Well thank you Andrew – really excited to see Cherryade Supernova and for Takeover 2020 – make sure you keep your eyes out for Takeover 2020 dates and come and see it! I will be there with bells on! It’s always such a pleasure to meet someone towards the beginning of their creative career on the edge of something brilliant and if you’re reading this and feeling creatively curious, please take Andrew’s advice about just getting started! If a global pandemic has taught us anything – it’s that life is too short to sit on something and wait; just get out there and have a go!

For all things Takeover 2020 – follow @CustomsHouseLP on social! For all things Customs House follow @theCustomsHouse on social too! I will be championing happenings and more features on Vulture so keep an eye out too!

That’s all for now Culture Vultures!

 

 

Interview with sound designer & artist Matthew Tuckey; unexplored possibilities & bringing stories to life through sound.

“You can’t be, what you can’t see”

This was my starting point for a creative discussion the other day – we were talking about creative industries and lack of diversity, lack of representation in some areas, empowered freelancers and I broadened the conversation on to creative skill set and roles. There are SO many roles and extremely talented folks that go relatively unnoticed and unseen. It’s not to do with their lack of importance or skill set – it’s because what they do happens behind closed doors or “backstage”. Ironically, some of these roles (especially the digital and tech ones) in the current climate – have never been more important. These are the folks that will drive and help shape the innovation and reinvention of creative projects because they have the skill and ability to do so! Therefore, we should be shouting about them and celebrating them!

As The Culture Vulture, my mission has always been to empower artists and showcase the creative and cultural sector in its entirety. So, in my blog over the next few months, I’m going to be featuring talented creative people who have interesting roles in creative projects but often, don’t get mentioned or celebrated in the way they should do! I want to remove the “mysterious” element of what they do and hopefully, make them feel seen with the hope that others may follow in their footsteps. I want to illuminate the creative industries in their entirety.

There are so many roles that could sit within the “unseen” and “mysterious” category – but the one I’m going to explore today is a sound designer! If you don’t know what one is – well don’t flap – I didn’t know until a couple of years ago! I’ve personally worked with them on films, animations, theatre productions and public art commissions exhibited as part of an event. They do weird and wonderful things to sound usually as part of a wider whole (e.g. a theatre production). Their skills lay in making people feel, think, experience things via sounds. In an immersive performance context, if we think about humans having 5 senses – the perfect blending of the performance including sight and sound, can trigger the audience to feel, smell, and even taste things. What you hear can be equally as important as what you see!

A sound designer that I’ve had the total pleasure of meeting and working with recently, as part of Mortal Fools – is Matthew Tuckey, he’s very talented but also really canny human (I’ve enjoyed surrounding myself with canny folks of late). So I thought, I’d jump at the chance to interview him to showcase what a sound design is, what they do and to celebrate Matthew’s work, to make it more “seen”. So here we go and over to Matthew!

Hiyer Matthew – right, let’s start at the beginning – please introduce yourself to my fellow Culture Vultures?

Matthew – I am a Sound Designer and Sound Artist. I work mainly in theatre but have more recently been taking private and public art commissions. I’m based in North East England but take my work further afield when I get the opportunity. I am currently craving a long escape to the Highlands (when it is safe to do so) and I really like cooking. So, if you want to talk at length about interesting sounds or how to make an excellent stir-fry – hit me up!

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Matthew Tuckey

As a forever hungry human, yes please! Can you tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

Matthew – It’s a convoluted one… I started off with a very committed drama teacher who encouraged me to pursue directing. I was involved in music, art and drama at school but unfortunately we were limited to only one option at GCSE level, so I ended up going for Drama and took this all the way to A Level. I tried studying a four year MA in Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow but after the first two months decided this was a waste of time and somehow landed an internship in a recording studio back in Newcastle. I was still writing and directing theatre here and there, but the studio offered me an exciting new creative outlet. Without planning it, these two worlds merged quite naturally in sound design.

Fast forward to now and I’m exploring the exciting and diverse world of sound design for theatre, and more lately, sound art. This was quite a natural progression from my creative work in recording studios and theatre sound technician work, alongside participation in directing and writing workshops. The surprising thing I found was when I was doing the more technical work, some people were asking me questions like “have you given up on creating theatre then?” which really fuelled my desire to demonstrate how technical and creative meet harmoniously in the designer’s role.

The Culture Vulture – As a non-planner – I find the magic happens in the freedom and I’m delighted to hear you talk about the connection between technical and creative, as absolutely and actually, I think where they meet is exactly where the innovation is, that will  take us into the next sector creative phase for reinvent post (or during) pandemic!

So tell me, what do you do as a sound designer? What is a sound designer?

Matthew – I get asked this a lot, and often at the start of a project with a new collaborator funnily enough! Also, a lot of people keep asking me how I differentiate between my sound design and sound art practice, and to be fair most aren’t aware that a “sound artist” is a thing. So to clarify, briefly, I am a sound designer when I am serving a client or collaborators creative vision – they present a problem and I plan and execute a design solution. Sound Art is what I do when I am realising my own creative vision – but the line can be quite blurry.

So, a sound designer means a lot of things across film, music, theatre, UI, AR, etc. Even in the theatre industry, where I do most of my work, it can mean many things to many people depending on the show, the genre, the theatre, etc. Broadly speaking though, the sound designer for a theatre production is responsible for all audible aspects of a performance.

It’s a broad role that can involve any combination of the following: sound effects recording, sound effects design, Foley (live or pre-recorded), sound system design, live sound reinforcement, recording and playback of music, programming the show control software, and room acoustics. So if you get the right one, they can be very good value for money!

I describe this approach as a wholistic sound design and this is what I aim to achieve in my work. Depending on the show and the company, this can either be all on me or with a team of maybe one other sound designer or composer and the technicians in the sound department.

The Culture Vulture – I think it’s an important question for folks to keep asking as, the more they ask and get comfortable with what a sound designer can do – the more ambitious they will get with their use of sound during a performance or project. Lack of technical knowledge and understanding of specialist roles like yours, can be so self-limiting! Through increased awareness, the seemingly impossible transforms into possible.

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Matthew Tuckey – photo credit Von Fox

What types of folks require your services?

Matthew – Anyone wanting to tell a story with sound! Whether that’s theatre companies, film makers, podcasters, visual artists, museum curators, or marketing teams. For example, I’ve never worked with an organisation on creating a sonic brand (think Windows or Mac start up. Or Netflix “da-dum”!) but would love to hear from anyone interested in developing that side of their marketing strategy. My clientele is only limited by imagination – it’s fairly niche at the moment but more and more organisations are offering immersive audio experiences (see Land Rover marketing or Formula 1 teams or Bastille album launches).

The Culture Vulture – holy moly, the Bastille album launch was truly amazing (google it folks)! So innovative. And as someone, who had kind of forgotten about them and their music, it worked in getting me to notice them and reconnect.  

Matthew – There’s a range of technical proficiency out there already when it comes to things like recording a podcast or sound for video, not forgetting musicians with home studios. But my skills really lie in marrying specialist technical knowledge and creative expression. When I was working in recording studios, one of the most important lessons I learnt was how to create a workflow that allowed natural movement between ‘left brain’ activities (setting levels, patching signal chains, organising your space) and ‘right brain’ activities (creative ideation, abstraction thinking, meditative listening) – I think that’s one of the biggest offerings on a project.

I also offer consultancy and training for organisations looking to improve their sound infrastructure and skills. Whether that’s theatre and cinema workshops exploring sonic creativity or venues looking to improve their sound system. I’m yet to work with a restaurant that want to improve the sonic side of the dining experience (I’ve been lucky enough to go to some nice restaurants and notice how uncomfortable they are sonically!) – maybe one day!

The Culture Vulture – I really love what you’re talking about there. 1. The brand sound – as someone who works in marcomms, this would interest me greatly. We often talk about how colours and visuals feed into branding- but sound isn’t something explored in the mainstream and I think, it has such potential. 2. Enhancing audience experience through sound – I would love to visit a restaurant or bar that has invested into this area.

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Matthew Tuckey

Tell me about some recent project highlights?

Matthew – Just before lockdown I was nearing the end of an exciting new show with Mortal Fools called ‘Relentless’. This was the first time they had worked with a sound designer and we had/have a really ambitious vision for using sound in this production (Relentless was cancelled just before touring and is set to tour in 2021). I couldn’t help feel a touch of nostalgia with this project as it reminded me of similar devising processes I was part of as a teenager. We’re all determined that this show WILL have a life beyond lockdown!

Another recent highlight is ‘Wolf’ a winter story by Kitchen Zoo in association with Northern Stage which was performed in Stage 3 over Christmas 2019. Kitchen Zoo are a fantastic team making brilliant shows for little people and their grown-ups. It was my first time collaborating with the talented Katie Doherty who was the composer, we both found this collaborative effort very rewarding.

WOLF by Kitchen Zoo – photo credit Von Fox

What makes a “good” sound designer? What skills do they need?

Matthew – I think the main thing that is relevant for all types of sound designers, and sounds a bit obvious but I really do mean it, is you need to LOVE sound and really experience the world through a strong awareness of sound. Whether it’s noticing an interesting acoustic effect, experiencing new music (live and recorded), or being drawn into a film through the sound design and score. I’m pretty evangelical about people watching/listening to collaborations between Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan (current personal favourites – Dunkirk and The Dark Knight Trilogy – both making awesome use of Shepard tones which is one to ‘Google’!) And also, Joe Wright’s Atonement and Darkest Hour are great examples of sonic repetition and punctuation. But I’ll stop short of some of the more obscure ones…

The Culture Vulture – As a real film fan, I love sound in film and really appreciate its usage; 1917 had a fantastic use of sound and Ryan Murphy productions use sound (and populist music) fantastically; American Horror Story, Pose, Versace!

Matthew – Another important skill is developing a language alongside your awareness of sound. Being able to describe sound in a way that communicates clearly with a range of clients/collaborators – whether that’s a producer, a director, a performer, or videographer or painter. Having a common language is really important and is the first challenge in every new collaboration.

There are other skills that are really more specific to individual practice. Such as live sound reinforcement, microphone techniques for live and recorded sound, field recording, effects design, music composition, QLab programming etc. The depth that you go into these more practical skills really depends on what type of work you are designing.

The Culture Vulture – It’s interesting that you brought up commonality of language. I think it’s a real barrier to lots of collaboration where technology and more technical roles could come together. It’s the same with technological solutions and innovation that could make creative businesses function better – we (I class myself in that) often don’t have the words to describe effectively what we want or to do the research to understand what we need and the ones with the technological solution aren’t able to communicate to people who don’t understand tech speak! It can be overwhelming and disempowering!

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Matthew Tuckey

What kit do you use? What kit would you recommend to folks wanting to invest in sound for their work?

Matthew – So I use a combination of field recording, studio equipment, and electronic instruments.

For field recording I have a multitrack recorder with a vast range of microphones, from ambisonics (useful for VR and surround work) to contact microphones (useful for acousmatic compositions). I also have a handy mini field recorder with built-in and external mic’s which I use to grab interesting sounds that I come across day-to-day (this pretty much goes everywhere with me, and it’s not uncommon to spend the first 30mins in a new Airbnb recording another extractor fan or boiler!).

I have yet more microphones for studio recording (such as voiceovers and acoustic instruments) as well as a few acoustic instruments and Foley props that make great source material for designing effects. I recently got hold of a mini Roland synthesiser based on the classic Juno 60 and 106 which is very fun and versatile – I like being able to get hands on with this, as a lot of my work happens in audio editing software, and if all else fails you can just entertain yourself trying to make things sound a bit more Stranger Things!

It’s important to say though that you can buy the best equipment in the world but use it terribly! So the best resource straight away is either investing time and money into learning the skills to optimise what equipment you can lay your hands on, or bringing in a collaborator like me who already has not just those skills and equipment resources, but thinks and creates in a heavily sound orientated way.

The Culture Vulture – When learning something new or feeling out of your depth, there is an impulse that can lead to buying ALL the kit possible as a solution or assuming the best kid will compensate for the lack of skills. I’ve been guilty of that for visual stuff and learnt the hard way!

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Matthew Tuckey

You worked on an Enchanted Parks’ piece – I didn’t know you back then,  but I worked on EP that year and remember your name, it was a wonderful piece– can you tell me about the piece?

Matthew – That was a lot of fun collaborating with Molly Barrett on her sculpture piece ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ in 2018. I got to play around with some new ways of manipulating the voiceover that was part of the wider Enchanted Parks story and working with some theme music from the wonderful Roma Yagnik.

I’m really hoping that Enchanted Parks makes a come-back after their hiatus. It’s a fantastic event and my involvement in 2018 left me with big ideas for a parkwide sound installation.

The Culture Vulture – Me too – both as someone who visited every year as a punter and lived along the top of Saltwell Park, it’s a proper visitor gem! AND as someone who worked on the event for a couple of years – it’s a big miss to my yearly calendar.

Can you tell me a career project highlight so far?

Matthew – That’s a tough one!

I really enjoyed working with Selma Dimitrijevic on ‘joey’. It was a preview tour and Selma’s first point in the brief was ‘very lo-fi’ – we were literally touring to venues that had the most basic of sound systems. The piece was performed as a monologue by two performers simultaneously, one in English the other in BSL (the very talented Scott Turnbull and Faye Alvi respectively), and so we decided to make the soundscape quite low-frequency heavy in order to maximise the effect for our D/deaf audience members. These very strict parameters helped me to focus my attention on the source material inspired by the script and manipulate these in a really creative way that supported and scored the performances on stage.

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Joey – Photo credit – Bish

I also have to mention working as Associate Sound Designer for Northern Stage’s production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and working alongside sound designer Nick John Williams. That show was a lot of fun, not least because of the sheer scale of the production. Nick brought me onto that project to help with some particular tasks, which included recording various sound effects such as church bells – a first for me! I was also responsible for creating vocal effects chains for the different types of ghosts and narrators in the show. Both of these challenges were a lot of fun and we were very happy with the outcome.

The Culture Vulture – Great answer and it gives a real overview of how broad and diverse your work can be!

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A Christmas Carol – Northern Stage – photo credit Pamel

Can you tell me how COVID-19 has affected your work/practice?

Matthew – As soon as the PM suggested people stay away from theatres (prior to ordering them to close) the theatre industry pretty much shut down over night. My diary for the foreseeable cleared overnight simultaneously. Which was a shock to the system to say the least!

I had already been developing my practice in the digital art scene and making commission applications and funding bids in this area. Now with social distancing in place, a lot more people are contributing to digital art galleries which is great but also means the competition for funding and commissioning has jumped up!

The Culture Vulture – I hear ya! But from knowing you and chatting briefly to you about what you’ve got in store, I’m extremely excited to see your ideas and work unfold!

What challenges have you faced and how have you responded to them?

Matthew – The most immediate issues for me were the worries of financial loss and losing momentum in my practice. As a freelancer, I struggle with this mentality that if I stop for too long and lose momentum then it’s game over – I’ll lose clients, I’ll miss opportunities and I’ll forget how to do what I do.

I dealt with the financial worries by taking a few days just to gather my thoughts and assess the situation – fortunately I wasn’t in any immediate trouble and since then I’ve been successful in securing an individual ACE emergency support grant. I’ve also got some online workshop facilitation work for the lovely Mortal Fools and some online tutoring for Newcastle College’s FdA Stage Management and Technical Theatre students, which is also a lot of fun.

In terms of my practice – I started off by setting myself small, short term goals. I created a mini series of daily-ish ‘Mystery Sounds’ giving people 24 hours to guess the sound from a short recording clip. This helped me feel productive while I adjusted to the new circumstances. I’m still finding it difficult not being able to go very far with my recording equipment and to see people, but the cacophony of birds in our garden are more than obliging recording subjects for the time being. Listen here!

The Culture Vulture   – I loved your mystery sounds and I think it is a testament to your creativity with sound. In a busy digital space where everyone was suddenly pushing out content – I genuinely found yours fun and interesting! It also drove me insane trying to guess!

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Matthew Tuckey

You’ve been successful in receiving ACE emergency support funding – so firstly, BLIDDY WELL DONE PAL! Can you tell me what was the application process like? How did it feel to find out you were successful?

Matthew– It was a fairly simple process and I had some great advice from people who have a good track record with securing ACE funding. I’ve also been through a few bids over the past year, that were all unsuccessful in this ever increasingly competitive sphere of funding, so it was a real relief to find out I was successful. I was having a bad day when I got the email so just dismissed it without reading it in a moment of negativity and pessimism – thankfully I went back and read the email properly!

It was also very encouraging – I’ve basically spent lockdown juggling what little work is done remotely, applying to commissions for digital art, and trying to maintain some sort of routine! Now this help from ACE can give me some structure and purpose for a brief period of time.

YAS!  Proud of you pal! What will the funding enable you to do? What can we hook into?

Matthew – It’s buying me time really. The Arts Council asked how I would use this time to plan and stabilise for the future. And my answer was two things: take some sections of my original sound library and create collections to be bought online, and also to host webinars and discussions for collaborators who want to find out more about the sound design process and how they can collaborate with a sound designer in their work.

The webinars and discussions are largely going to be promoted through my existing networks with the help of regional theatre companies, but if anyone would like to get in touch to hear more about these events then they can find my contact details on my website.

Count me in for the webinars and discussions! So, I know it’s hard to plan during the uncertainty right now – but what’s next for Matthew on the horizon? What projects/happenings/things should my fellow Culture Vultures look out for?

Matthew – I am currently working on a mini album of sound art made during lockdown. It’s largely inspired by sounds I’ve noticed more since social distancing measures and sounds I am missing too. This will be available on my Soundcloud page (and other platforms that I will announce via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@MGTuckey, @thesoundportrait)

As soon as I can safely do so, I will be recording more pieces or ‘episodes’ for my Sound Portrait ‘Podcast’. This is a long-term project that I am running through a Patreon page that is all about hearing someone unfold their thoughts in a type of one-sided conversation. For me, it’s the sound artists portrait photograph of an individual. I’m steadily growing a following and patronage for this project, and I’ve recently created a new lower tier (just £1 per month) on my Patreon in order to try and encourage new followers to support the life of the project. It’s a slow burner, but my hope is that we can create a series of portraits that collectively amount to a sonic time-capsule of people, a kind of living oral history if you like.

Other than that, things are fairly uncertain during lock down unfortunately, particular with regards to theatre work – who knows when this will pick up again.

The Culture Vulture – a sound portrait of an individual…..I really love that. Just reading that has got me excited and I would love to be involved in some way!

Matthew – The other project I have continually running in the background is called The Rime and is my personal response to the epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and combines influences of field recording, acousmatic composition, and sound poetry. I am constantly applying to commissioning opportunities to take this work further and hope I’ll be able to share more about this in the coming months!

The Culture Vulture – Thank you Matthew; you can find out more about Matthew on his website or via his socials; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@MGTuckey, @thesoundportrait)

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Matthew Tuckey

One of the things I love about working in the cultural sector, is the rich tapestry of people, vocations and skill sets that exist within it; it truly is unrivalled. I am unsure if people outside of the sector, truly understand its richness or skill diversity. I often sit back during a project team meeting and look around thinking…..”bliddy heck – what a talented bunch of people we have here!?” Matthew is one of those people!

And I am truly excited to see the opportunities as I predict tech and digital will creatively collide due to the pandemic, connect and from that, exciting collaborations will unfold.

Until next time Culture Vulture.

Interview with Ashleigh Brown Studio; from illustrating cats in jumpers to launching a creative business.

One of the nicer things about lock down is that I’ve actually had a bit of time to follow my own mantra around engaging with folks on my social media platforms. Instead of admiring folks from a far and being a queen lurker merely “liking” their content and posts – I’ve actually taken the time to reach out to artists and creatives to tell them how brilliant I think they are! In a world, where so many of us are working on our own with limited human interaction right now – I think we should all commit to reaching out to those who we think are smashing it to actually tell them! It can be lonely working alone on a “normal” day – never mind on a “new normal” day.

Ashleigh Brown is one of those folks – she caught my attention with a cat watercolour (yep crazy cat lady alert) and then her colourful feed of products and creative lushness made me really dig her work and style – it really “pops”. I love big bold colours and clashing patterns and her work it just that and very Culture Vulture – I was eager to reach out to her to tell her firstly, how amazing she was! But also, I was aware that her creative business was pretty new and without getting doom and gloom – the current situation and financial support available is not very receptive or helpful to new creative businesses; so I wanted to champion her! I love her work and I think my fellow Culture Vultures will too!

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Hiyer, Ashleigh – lush to digitally meet you. Can you introduce yourself to fellow Culture Vultures and tell us what do you do?

My name is Ashleigh and I am a designer from Gateshead. I have a background in textiles design and love creating surface patterns for products. I started my own business in November (great timing, I know!) I have one shop, Ashleigh Brown Studio where I sell my makes, cards, prints and illustrations and my second business, Quaintrelles Co, which sells stickers, stationery and other supplies. Links to both can be found HERE.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Ah from the HEED – I’m born and bred Gateshead lass! Tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

Well I have always been creative; I grew up with great creative influences and was taught to knit, sew and crochet as a kid. Every weekend at my nanna’s house would be another creative adventure and she really nurtured my imagination and taught me that anything is possible. At 27 I decided to go back and study a textiles design degree after working in retail for a while. This really opened my eyes to the possibilities of being creative. During this degree we were expected to create our own marketing materials and keep a blog; this just expanded really into me wanting to work for myself.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

I think you have quite a distinctive style….how did you develop your design style?

I feel like I am still very much developing it. I love to mix materials and experiment. Getting to grips with digital design has really been the best though! It means I don’t need any special equipment or large workspace to explore my ideas in multiple ways. My brilliant tutor Laura showed me the wonders of adobe illustrator and I have never looked back.

Adobe is magic! When did you decide to set up your own creative business?

I have dabbled in many little businesses over the years, usually alongside my “real” job. I painted shoes and sold them on eBay, I made clay jewellery for a while too; But it wasn’t until I did my degree that I started to believe in my illustration work and really wanted to explore that. So, this time round I started November 2019, working with a business mentor in the months leading up to actually starting to trade.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Many artists don’t see themselves as business-people which I find fascinating as that is what they are! Do you see yourself as an artist or a business-person or both?

I suppose I am both, but I definitely wing it a lot of the time, haha. It took me a long time to take myself seriously as a creative (I still struggle to call myself an artist) because I saw these things as ‘hobbies’ and not as a serious business. I am just learning as I go but reading Lisa Congden books has definitely helped my creative confidence.

Winging it is a creative skill set – it’s all about evolving, being resilient, adaptable, entrepreneurial – professional at winging it right here! So tell me about your creative space – Do you have a studio? Where do you design?

I have a second bedroom in my flat which is my little creative haven. It’s a good job, its small because I would fill whichever size room I had with supplies. Hoarder over here!

I go through periods of hoarding before chucking too many things in the bin and regretting it. Tell me about your products – what do you sell and make?

I sell cards, prints and digital printables that people can print at home as well as stationery and stickers. I have a huge list of things I want to make and sell and I am gradually adding new products to the shop. You can visit HERE to view and purchase!

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

I know you take commissions – what type of work do you normally get?

I am currently working on an exciting project illustrating a page for a positive baby book! I get a lot of quote print requests and some custom cards too. I also did an illustration for a dog charity book. I’d love to work on more book related projects as this is something of a passion of mine.

I’ve just started a Silent Book Club – ohh book lovers! I first fell in love with your watercolour work (crazy cat lady right here!) – can you tell me a bit about that?

Thank you so much! I started doing some pet portraits during my degree and this was during the new craze of internet cats; this gradually turned into me just doing random illustrations of cats in jumpers. I love combining simple watercolour with ink and then adding detail like with the jumpers.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Cats in jumpers…. We are friends for life! Do you ever make art just for you? If so, what types of art do you make?

I do and it’s very therapeutic! But it’s tough once you get into the business mindset, everything becomes a potential product and even things I just did for me have ended up in the shop sometimes. I did the Frida Kahlo portrait just for me and I ended up loving it so added to the shop. I am loving exploring with portraits right now as it’s something I’ve never had the confidence to do before. I also did a Marilyn Monroe one which I need to play with digitally.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Do you find it hard to balance making to sell and keeping the creative love and flair going?

Honestly, no. I love what I do so much. Every day feels like I’m a kid in a toy shop; noting down ideas and playing round with concepts. The hardest part is working towards a goal and feeling that sense of accomplishment as I can tend to go off on tangents and not every idea works or is suitable for the shop. Some days I have little to no motivation (especially right now) but I have learned to accept that; I realise that not every day has to end with new products to list.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Where do you seek inspiration from for your design work and typography choices?

Pinterest is a huge source of inspiration for me but also Instagram. I have curated my Instagram feed so that it is filled constantly with positive messages and beautiful art and interiors. This means even when I scroll mindlessly that inspiration is leaking into my brain and leaves little room for negative voices.

I love to take inspiration from different genres of art and design; right now I am obsessed with soap makers. There are CRAZY beautiful bars of soap on Instagram haha! I also love seeing the slabs of clay people design to make into jewellery. As well as beautiful weave and embroidery. I like to be influenced by many creative paths.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

A lot of your products/prints embody the “positivity movement” on social; it has been a mindset life line during COVID-19 for me – do you follow any other creative accounts by artists/creatives/makers that you’d suggest we check out?

I love positivity. Like you say it’s super important; especially in this time, where we are either alone and probably lonely or trapped with family under our feet at all times. Everybody is working through stuff right now. I love Stacie Swift, @blessthemessy, the sad ghost club, @lettershoppe, @thecosmicfeminist… I could go on forever haha

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

You are smashing it on Instagram with your product photography set up – how did you come up with your on-brand scenes, props, visual merchandising etc?

Haha! Thank you. It was actually a total accident; I love pastels so normally work with some sort of pastel palette in my work. I bought some polka dot tissue to wrap orders and discovered it went really well with my colours. Then when I decided to buy some back drops, I picked those colours and patterns to keep it all tied together. The props I use have just accumulated over the years really, I did buy the peace hand from Tiger, especially for photos but aside from that I just grab yellow and pink things to tie my colours in. Told you I am WINGING it 😀

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

You’re across multiple platforms selling your products – can you tell me which ones you use and which ones you’d recommend?

My big plan was to be a multi-platform business goddess. HA! But I honestly haven’t had time to dedicate to most of the platforms yet. I want to have multiple income streams eventually. Right now Etsy is my main one and the main focus. But as many people know, Etsy is adding more rules and regs and more fee’s all the time so I do want to have a stand-alone website too. I am working on this. I love society 6 and definitely need to work on my shop there too. I’d love to find a washi tape printing place so I can do my own line of washi too. So many ideas.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Said like a true creative – sometimes when I shut my eyes – the eyes are like screaming white noise and colours in my brain! So many of them! You’ve recently just launched – any hints and tips for creative product businesses/individuals starting out?

Honestly, just show up every day, even if it’s just a little progress each day. It gets you closer to your dreams and goals. Make lists, tick stuff off, even the tiny stuff.

A bit of REAL question – but I have to ask it! How has COVID-19 effected your business (and you!) and how have you responded?

It has been up and down. The first few weeks were hard and very quiet; this was actually good because I could barely function. I had a weird time coming to terms with this whole thing. Now it’s sort of got back to normal, I have off days personally but I just allow myself that. I have a chronic illness so I am used to pacing myself with these things.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

I’ve really struggled to engage my creative brain during lock down – I require space to walk and get creative in person, societal consumption and absorbing things from inspiration around me, triggers my creativity  – have you felt more or less creative in lock down? What’s your process like getting into the creative zone?

At first, I had a total mental block. I was seeing all these creatives using this new found time to create amazing things and I felt completely broken. But as time went on, I just treated myself as kindly as possible. I listened to music, read some books, watched my favourite films, baked some treats… This past week has been another hard one. I have had the block again but this time I am planting new plant babies and catching up with friends on zoom. My coping mechanisms have been plentiful and there definitely isn’t just one thing I keep doing.

Instead I keep mixing up my routines and tasks. Also, my monthly Gousto box has been a god send. It has kept me busy in the kitchen and been a nice reminder to nourish my body with good food when all I want is to eat ice cream and chocolate.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

I know it’s really hard to think of right now – but what are your aspirations for your business/practice longer term?

Growth and expansion! I have a little list of huge goals that I want to accomplish on my wall as a reminder of where I am heading. I want to expand my range of paper goods, I want to get work published in some books, I want to sell in lovely local arty shops and galleries. And in the meantime I just keep working through my to do list!

That list never does end though! Anything else you want to tell me about?

I’m currently working on new cards which will be slightly different to the ones I offer now. Also working on some party goods, banners, cake toppers etc. My shop is just evolving constantly!

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

You can check out Ashleigh’s shop and social by following the link HERE! I am so excited to see Ashleigh’s business adventure unfold and creativity develop! There is something magical about speaking to a creative at the beginning of their current chapter – opportunities and lushness a plenty!

Thank you Ashleigh!

Until next time Culture Vultures xx