Well hello there Digital Makings…nice to meet you!

Have you heard of Digital Makings yet? No….well you’re certainly going to. Digital is EVERYWHERE now; it is simply infusing and permeating into every possible area of Arts and Culture. There is no escape.

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For those, like myself, who feel a little bit uncomfortable as soon as someone says “digital”, Digital Makings is going to be a learning curve and hugely exciting and for those who embrace digital and we first adopters well, you’re going to love it!

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Digital Makings is a collaborative Arts Council funded project between Gateshead Council Culture Team and Gateshead Libraries. It’s an on-going year-long programme of participatory digital arts activities, full of opportunities for workshop attendees, school groups, library users/borrowers, community groups, artists and even the digital industry to experiment, explore and learn.

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Gateshead Central Library (above, with Storm Troopers…)

There is lots coming up for all ages and abilities – including talks, residencies and lots of events to enthuse about all things digital. There are two key strands running through the project; the first strand sets to expose and explore creative digital mediums so expect everything from animation, to film making, to stop motion, to Quinn Draw, to photography, to music, to image manipulation.

Examples of Quinn Draw by some Young People

The second strand focuses on engaging with participants, library users, communities, artists etc through quite traditional arts, library and cultural activity and focus on digital opportunities and how digital means can be brought in to enhance not only the activity but also trigger learning.

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That’s what I mean when I say Digital Makings makes me feel a bit uncomfortable; the activity involved is going to be different and exciting, not necessarily using artist mediums or equipment that I regularly use and I’m going to feel outside of my comfort zone – which of course, I love!

The Digital Makings project has just announced its two main residencies; we are delighted to have local artists Ben Freeth and Karen Underhill on board. We also have a mini residency by Sheryl Jenkins. With all three artists, a Digital Makings programme of activity is continuously evolving (I promise you, it’s mint!). Such activity will be taking place across Gateshead and Gateshead Libraries, so keep an eye out for that.

Similar to Sculpture 30, I will be writing a feature on each artist – but I’m going to let them get a little settled into their new Digital Makings roles before interrogating them. However, I can reveal that their work and engagement will culminate in a final exhibition towards the end of the project. And after reading their proposals and plans, I’m really looking forward to it. We’re in for a treat!

For this current season, we’ve been working with digital artists and We EngAGE to run workshops, we had a Digital Arts Zone at eDay5 and we’ve got Shipley Lates: Digital Makings coming up on 26th November.

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If you fancy a night out with a difference, then Shipley Lates is for you – there will be a bar, digital arts, crafting in the beautiful surroundings of The Shipley, lovely company (Gateshead Culture Team will be there and we are a cracking bunch) and, did I mention there is a bar? So why not come join us with a troop, have a G&T and get all digital. That’s my plan for the evening anyway!

So, as I mentioned Digital Makings is a collaboration between Gateshead Culture Team and Gateshead Libraries. We’ve been working closely with Jacqui Thompson, who is the Community Learning Officer for the Libraries and creates and develops a wide range of ICT courses, code club and has an enviable digital network. If you want to get in touch with someone in the Digital sector, Jacqui is the one in the know!

I caught up with Jacqui to find out about her involvement in Digital Makings and beyond!

Hi Jacqui, can you tell me a bit about your role at Gateshead Libraries and within the Digital community across the North East?

I am most proud of being the originator of eDay; this year was our 5th event! eDay is a celebration of exciting new media and digital technology. Local makers and companies come together for the event to encourage members of the public to fully engage with changes in tech and art.

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Developing eDay from the idea stage to reality has allowed me to form a wide range of successful working relationships with local and regional businesses as well as third sector organisations. Further extending this aspect of my work I champion Coder DojoNE here in Gateshead Libraries and this has given me the opportunity to work and connect with the fantastic expert volunteers who give up their time to support young coders and makers.

Can you tell me a bit about your involvement with Digital Makings?

I was involved in part of the bid writing suggesting possible partnerships and events. Once I found out the Arts Council bid had been successful, I was then able to add new activity and workshops to the likes of eDay and Coder Dojo as well as launching a new weekly code club.

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In addition, I’ve also had input to the programming of activity, whilst supporting upcoming events such as Shipley Lates: Digital Makings and Culture Camps.

Who is the Digital Makings project and activity for?

Looking at the fantastic programme that has been pulled together so far, there really is something for all ages and abilities to get involved with. It is for people who have not really engaged with Digital before, to people who are already really engaged and proficient. Moreover, there is a family aspect, so more and more, we see children with higher tech capabilities than their parents – so creative activities within Digital Makings, will enable families to collaborate, create and learn together.

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We are really lucky to have the project and programme of activity in the region and at the same times as SnowDogs!

Why has “Digital” become increasingly important?

Well there’s no getting away from the growth of digital in our everyday life and so digital has been added to the creative and cultural mix as a way to further engage people and to help them get hands on with new tech and understand its wide range of uses as well as to make better use out of the devices they already may own.

One of the highlights of Digital Makings so far has been eDay5…can you tell me a little bit about the day?

WOW eDay5 was a great day! 350 people plus attended and got hands on with tech and digital – everything from VR, to Makerspace, to Minecraft, to 3D printing.  From participants comments on social media and our evaluation forms, a great time was had by everyone and fingers crossed for eDay6.

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We also had a Digital Arts stand this year; we had digital artist John Quinn running animation sessions and green screen movie sessions alongside Hannah from the Shipley Art Gallery introducing Quinn Art using iPads. Both of these activities proved to be highlights of the day as did the Amateur radio group.

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Well thank you Jacqui! With Digital Makings now firmly underway and set to continue until September 2017, I hope I’ve wet your appetite for it. Over the coming months, you’ll get to know the Digital Makings artists in residence and I will be shortly sharing some of activity programmed.

Current book-able Digital Makings activity can be found HERE!

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Sculpture 30 September Artist of the Month; Neil Canavan

It is with a heavy HEAVY heart we bid a big goodbye farewell to our year long Sculpture 30 project in Gateshead. What a fantastic run we’ve had celebrating 30 years of Gateshead’s Family Sculpture Day and Public Art Programme.

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The programme has included public events, sculpture tours, art walks, exhibitions, commissions, participatory workshops, school projects, community engagement and range of very talented artists each with a very sculptural practice.

Each month, I’ve featured an “Artist of the Month” showcasing them, their practice and sculpture in a variety of contexts.

October 2015 – Helen Pailing

November 2015 – Yvette Hawkins

December 2015 – Stephen Newby

January 2016 – Jo Coupe

February 2016 – Tanya Axford

March 2016 – Ed Carter

April 2016 – Joseph Hillier

May 2016 – Russ Coleman

June2016 – Colin Rose

July 2016 – Gilbert Ward

August 2016 – Jane Gower

And finally that brings us on to September 2016 and the subject of this blog post; Neil Canavan, our Sculpture 30 Artist of the Month for September.

I first met Neil, probably about five years ago, when I was working my very first Gateshead Family Sculpture Day in Saltwell Park. Neil is something of a Sculpture Day veteran – having been involved with it since very near the beginning.

You only have to work with him a short while to see; firstly the man knows how to handle a band saw…… something I’ve grown to love and learn, but was initially terrified. Secondly, he really loves what he does and working with wood – it oozes out of him. Where others (like me) see a pile of wood, he see’s opportunity and creativity. It amazes me every year, what he builds with the school children on School Sculpture Day.

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Neil has a studio in North Shields and alongside the making of his own sculpture, he works on commissions, residencies and school projects. He uses particular themes to produce a series of works – a key theme is that of the coastline; an area in constant flux.

Neil is our September Artist of the Month, not just for his involvement this year in School Sculpture Days and Gateshead Family Sculpture Day on 25th September; which by the way, was absolutely smashing! But he also led a Sculpture Making Workshop in the Gallery, at Gateshead Central Library where participants of all ages created mini sculptures which then became part of a large-scale sculpture called ‘Juggernaut’ inspired by the large mobile structures that were pulled along by devotees in Hindu religious processions.  Juggernaut became the ‘showstopper’ if you will, on Gateshead Family Sculpture Day, featured amongst the sculptures Gateshead schools had made on their days.

As always with our Artists of the Month, I caught up with Neil so I could dig a little deeper beyond the man I’ve only met on Sculpture Days and find out what other sculptures float his boat!

Hi Neil, so tell me about your practice?

Mostly, I tend to work on commissions either public or private. I work with the housing group ISOS quite a bit with their community development team producing work that is installed in developments. This usually means working on ideas with either community groups or local schools near to the new development.

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Cherry Tree Fence

Most of my work involves construction or carving mainly in wood but I love mixing materials and trying out new techniques, e.g. bin bags with Juggernaut. My work also involves interaction with the general public covering all ages; this is an essential part of my working practice.

Where do you seek inspiration for your work and sculptures?

There are many and varied sources of my inspirations; I do tend to plunder what I see as watershed moments in my past such as my childhood, growing up in the countryside, my time working in India and Cyprus.

Also I’m greatly influenced by the land and seascapes both in the North East but also my trips abroad. Shorelines in particular fascinate me; the fluid nature of their interaction keeps me enthralled.

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Going with the Flow

What is your favourite type of material to work with?

Wood but particularly driftwood! I love the shape, texture and feel of this material; although I’ve used many differing materials in my work from bones to bin bags. I tend to use either natural or recycled materials and love being able to mix them in my work.

How did you get into sculpture?

This is a somewhat long and convoluted journey. I started my working life as an electrician and through my twenties did lots of different jobs and became somewhat bored. By chance I signed up to a stained glass course to learn how to cut glass; the tutor must have spotted something because he said I had a talent for it. I started to get small commissions but quickly realised I needed to learn how to draw; at school I’d been told I wasn’t very good at art so I didn’t try to learn the technique of drawing.

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Seaton Burn Gabbions

So I went to do A level art and once there it was like a light bulb moment; I knew this is what I wanted to do! Since I’ve always been good with my hands I gravitated quickly to sculpture and working in three dimensions.

Any advice for a budding sculptor?

The main thing is perseverance! Say yes to any initial work after you leave college as you never know what it might lead to.

Tell me a bit about Juggernaut – the Sculpture 30, Sculpture Day showstopper?

The idea for Juggernaut goes back to my time working in India; I loved the way they celebrate events particularly big religious festivals and I thought what better idea then to make something big and colourful that could be pulled into the park to celebrate what is already an amazing popular event.

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Juggernaut

Also I liked the play on words from its original meaning in Hindu of the large mobile temples pulled along in outdoor religious festivals to its present meaning of something large and unwieldy; a bit like Sculpture Day itself.

Do you have a favourite sculpture of yours?

Not sure I have a favourite piece! I suppose I still have a soft spot for Ship of Fools, in fact my more temporary pieces tend to be the ones I have more fun making.

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Ship of Fools

Do you have a favourite piece of sculpture in general?

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Taratantara –  Kapour

This is difficult, as I’ve been inspired by so many different sculptors over the years. The Field by Gormley and Taratantara by Kapour are two that stick in the mind.

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The Field – Gormley

Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to share?

I’m just in the process of working out the next ISOS commission for a social housing development in South Shields and I’m working with a local primary school.

So Culture Vultures, from me and the other Sculpture 30 Team; thank you for supporting the project. To all the artists including this month’s artist Neil, you’re all amazing and I hope we’ve created something of a legacy here; lots of memories.

With Sculpture 30 now over, you may be thinking….now what?

Well – there is LOADS coming up….first stop…..Digital Makings.

Watch.this.space.

 

Frank Styles in the Spotlight

You may have noticed Snowdogs popping up across the region!? From 19 September to 29 November, parks, streets and open spaces across the North East region are playing host to Great North Snowdogs; 60 large and 97 little sculptures  inspired by ‘The Snowman and The Snowdog’.

Leading businesses, cultural organisations and talented artists have united to bring you this major free, public art trail, devised by creative producers, Wild In Art in partnership with St Oswald’s Children’s Hospice to raise funds for this Newcastle-based charity.

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There are Dogs across Gateshead; two in Saltwell Park, One at the Angel site, One at Gateshead Central Library, One at Trinity Square, One in the Gateshead Interchange and two at the Sage, Gateshead.

My office and base is at Gateshead Central Library and it’s not that I’m biased (ok may be a little!) but of course, my favourite is Graffiti, which is standing proudly to right of the old library entrance. He’s an absolute knock out beaut and the design is just fantastic!

Have you seen our Snowdog Graffiti yet? If so, let me know what you think!? If not – then get yourself along to Gateshead Central Library to visit him and of course pop in and say hello to our lovely Little Dogs – tweet us @GatesheadLibs and let us know about your visit.

Frank Styles in the Spotlight

Graffiti Dog was designed and created by one of the best known street artists in the North East; Frank Styles.

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Frank is a talented freehand spray painter with over 18 years’ experience painting under his belt. He specialises in photo-realistic murals, freehand graffiti art and stencil graffiti. Throughout his practice he designs and paints North East graffiti commissions, street art, murals alongside facilitating graffiti workshops and community projects.

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Frank is equally passionate about making art accessible for all and storytelling through his work.

Now, I personally love love LOVE graffiti work – I love the David Bowie near the Sage, I love the changing nature of the industrial walls between Sandyford, Shieldfield and Heaton in Newcastle. It’s real art form – one that I’ve always been completely in awe of and captivated by. When done professionally and of course, legally, it adds a colour and vibrancy to urban areas.

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My experience with “street art” and interest began with those sharp “s”’s in the back of my maths class when I was probably about 11 – practicing them over and over and if you went to school in the 90s, you’ll know exactly what I mean!

That retro activity, which fills me with nostalgia is what got me interested and today one of my favourite things to do, in any city in the world, in places from Barcelona to Southend, is whilst exploring a new place; I take photos and photos of all the street art I come across. New York was an absolute haven for it and street sculpture too……a true culture vulture’s paradise. In fact, I think I spent more time looking at that than I did the touristy things.

I was speaking recently to a gent who commissioned a local graffiti group to decorate and a design a piece for his car park on Brandling Street, Gateshead (just off the Tyne Bridge) and I asked him why he’d commissioned a graffiti style of piece in a client carpark. He said, he wanted a talking point for his visiting clients, something colourful with a North East theme and he had the idea of young people feeling ownership of the car park, re-visiting it and thinking “I did that!”. It’s a fantastic piece that is hidden away and certainly always stops me in my tracks!

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So when I found out our Snowdog was by a graffiti artist, obviously I was excited and couldn’t wait to see it. I imagined colourful, exciting and impactful and that is exactly what we got. Frank’s design is brilliant and certainly one of my favourite Snowdogs!

I also love the idea of finally jumping over the hurdle of “graffiti isn’t really art” – well, of course it is and it’s one of my favourites. It’s a glorious form of Art and the skill behind it is unbelievable. I love anything where people are self-taught, self-crafted; that takes passionate and real hard work. We now have businesses and Councils embracing it and commissioning such work inside and outside as part of environmental enrichment and to impress clients.

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So whilst you could say graffiti isn’t to your taste; I could also say that a watercolour painting of a landscape really isn’t my taste but I can still look at appreciate the skill of the artist. You only have to watch our Snowdog Graffiti for five minutes and see how many people stop, look at the Dog and take photos.

And that’s exactly what Snowdogs is all about – getting out and about engaging with sculpture and new art forms and styles, learning about new artists and of course, raising some funds for St Oswalds.

I caught up with Frank to find out a little bit more about the man behind graffiti…..

Tell me a bit about yourself?

Hi I am Frank, Frank I am.

Tell me about your practice?

I paint pictures using spray paint, a skill I learned from doing graffiti. I’m a full time mural artist; I like to paint large walls in places where people can see them, for me it’s a job that I am passionate about and really enjoy, in that respect I am really lucky but then you make your own luck, don’t you?

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In between painting big walls I paint a lot of smaller commissions like restaurants, pubs, offices etc.  I love this, meeting new people each week and having a new challenge to paint all the time, it gives me ideas and techniques that filter into the bigger walls.

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What is “street art”?

I don’t see myself as a street artist, I used to do graffiti, I did Fine art degree and then I started painting commissions and eventually landed some big walls.

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I’m a spray painter, I paint pretty pictures, more of a mural artist, I had a choice to make – I could keep doing illegal graffiti and risk ending up in prison or use my skills to support my family and try to make the world a more colourful place at the same time.

Do you have a favourite piece of work?

Yes; it’s normally the last thing I’ve painted! However one that stands out for me is the ‘Two Whites’ piece on High Street East in Sunderland City Centre (see picture below). It’s a painting of two butterflies 12 meters high. It’s a simple painting but the scale of the thing still blows me away every time I see it.

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Why did you want to get involved with Snowdogs?

I wasn’t going to do a Snowdog but my friend Steph convinced me, she said you need to paint one it’ll be awesome! So I said, “ok I’ll give it a shot” and I was really happy with the outcome. It’s the first sculpture I’ve painted and it presented new challenges, trying to make it look good from every angle for example.

What was your inspiration for Graffiti dog?

Ok, so I paint a lot of photo realistic images and I love painting things from nature.  But when faced with a dog, it didn’t seem right to go down this route.  I thought “they look very cute so how can I toughen this guy up a bit”?  How can I contrast this cuteness?! So I looked back through some of my old graffiti letters for inspiration and came up with this abstracted letterform design.  I love the colours and the flow; I’ve had great fun painting this dog. I don’t think I’ve managed to completely kill the cuteness but at least I’ve given it a shot!

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A part from your Dog, do you have another favourite Snowdog?

I’ve been impressed by the standard of all the dogs I’ve seen. It’s so worth seeing them in person you just can’t take it all in through a photo. Mike Clay’s ‘Guide Dog’ sings to me for the sheer detail that’s gone into the maps on it and likewise the ‘Hounds Tooth’ by Damien Jeffrey must have taken some doing, so bright and colourful; it’s class.

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Advice for people wanting to get into street art?

It takes a great deal of time, patience and paint to learn spray painting. So you have to keep going and keep drawing and painting; even it doesn’t look great just keep going.  It took me years to learn, I mean 6 or 7 years before I was even happy with anything I painted, buy I kept going, you have to.

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Well thank you Frank – if you want to watch Frank in action – watch this amazing video!

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(The 90s kid inside LOVES Frank’s Power Ranger indoor design!!)

We are now 3 weeks into Snowdogs – keep finding them, enjoying the work and of course #protectthepack…….