Adventures, Ampersand and Accessories: an interview with artist Melanie Kyles.

I go through phases of loving people, things, events, art, experiences, foods – when I love it, I really love it! An artist I met recently Melanie Kyles is one of those people currently on my girl crush radar – I’m in love with her work at Ampersand Inventions, in love with her studio, in love with her accessory business, in love with her embroidery, in love with her stories of visiting New York, in love with her co-creation Fashion Lab and the last time we met, I was also in love with her shows.

With it coming up to International Women’s Day, it seems only right to give some shout outs and love to some creative women that I am really admiring at the moment.

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A week or so ago, I spent the afternoon with Mel talking shop, creative stuff and getting to know her practice, big ambitions and how being made redundant recently, has really triggered a new chapter of entrepreneurial creativity.

Hi Melanie, so let’s start at the beginning; tell me about your practice?

I specialise in hand embellished and embroidered fashion and artwork. I’m very passionate about what I do; I’ve been interested in both fashion and fine art for as long as I can remember, and I’ve practiced hand embroidery and embellishment for almost a decade.

For my self-titled accessories business, I design, make and sell bespoke and limited edition fashion accessories designed with timelessness in mind, mostly occasion pieces with elements of luxury such as a silk lining, an ostrich feathered trim or Swarovski embellishment. There’s a lot of attention to detail, from the accessories to the matte black luxury packaging, and I always picture a sensual bold woman who is confident in her own style and enjoys a little indulgence.

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Depending on the piece, a lot of hours can go into it from start to finish, from the initial inspiration through to design ideas, sampling, creating a surface pattern template and creating the final piece. I create everything by hand, and have gone to great lengths to get things perfect, whether it includes tracking down pure silk ribbon in the correct width from a place in California for a bow I want, or sat till 5am with a hairdryer on the lowest heat setting between my knees (a bit extreme, I know!) carefully fluffing a feather trim I’ve dyed to match a lingerie set for Newcastle Fashion Week.

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I apply a similar aesthetic to my art work, I previously used existing vintage objects as my canvas and used my skills to turn them into pieces of art. This started a couple of years ago with art books (Botticelli and Da Vinci) from the 20’s that had been abandoned at a school, and I embroidered traditional and often religious imagery using white and silver metallic threads with Swarovski, silver leaf and pearl enamel. I built up a collection and had my debut show, titled ‘Holier Than Thou’, to launch Praxis gallery, which is in my studios Ampersand Inventions. From there I went on to embellish vintage tools, taking away their functional value and replacing it with an aesthetic one, and a wire mold of a ‘Venus De Milo’ figure.

Tell me about some recent projects?

Over the past six months, my main projects have been exhibiting in Manchester and New York, an incredible experience and my first international show, and also being asked to create a fashion accessory to honor La Di Da magazine’s 3rd anniversary issue.

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My trip to Manchester was to take part in Manchester Contemporary, where I had my gold embellished sculptures on display; the vintage tools I mentioned earlier. They were titled ‘Division of Labour’ as my Dad who is a welder fused some pieces of the sculpture together, and it’s the idea of more than one skillset being used for a singular final outcome, though it’s more than that as it also has heritage. We both create things with our hands, manual work if you will, and his Dad, my Grandfather was also a welder, so it was quite a personal project.

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At the same time as this was happening, I was also commissioned to make a bespoke neckpiece for a shoot for La Di Da magazine. I’ve been friends with the editor for over a year now, and I was honored she asked me, and a few of my friends in the fashion industry, if we would create a shoot for their third year anniversary issue. Of course we jumped at the chance. I made a hand-cut embellished neckpiece made from metallic pewter leather, leather being the third year anniversary gift tradition, and we had a four-page spread in the last Autumn issue.

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Last but certainly not least, and the highlight of my career so far, was having my work exhibited in Art Helix in Brooklyn, New York, as part of the ‘Exchange Rates’ exhibition with Ampersand Inventions and Vane gallery. I collaborated with my friend who I share a studio with, and who is also co-owner of The Fashion Lab, Helen McClafferty, on a set of twin metal sculptures.

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Our brief as a collective was titled ‘Off The Map’, so given we are both from a fashion background, we applied the theory of borders and territory to female figures, Helen’s focusing on a borderless landscape with exaggerated terrain and myself using bejeweled barbed wire and chicken wire to define continent borders and territory. It was incredible not just to exhibit, but to meet all of the artists there, visit the open studios that weren’t too dissimilar to our own, and generally absorbing all of that influence and inspiration, both in the galleries and on the streets…it’s definitely changed my outlook and has forced me out of a box I didn’t realise I was in!

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What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently going through a transitional period, as I only went full time with my business a month ago and I’m adjusting to suddenly having an extra 20+ hours in my week. Really I’m just finding my feet and making sure I have a solid foundation, I’m working freelance on a bridal commission and delivering workshops, but I’m also giving my website a facelift and working on a new range of accessories, so definitely still keeping myself busy!

You’re getting involved in participatory work….. how is that going?

It’s very early stages at the moment but from what I’ve experienced so far it’s going really well. I’ve always loved working with people, and it feels rewarding to be at the stage where I can give something back and inspire and help others.

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Often under ‘normal’ circumstances, being self-employed can be isolating, but thankfully the environment I’m in buzzes with social and creative energy, and I’m lucky that those I’ve worked with in the local fashion industry are supportive too. Being able to help others in a way I haven’t been able to previously feels like a natural progression, and is something I’d like to do a lot more of this year.

Tell me about Ampersand Inventions? What goes on there? Who is there? Can people visit?

It’s an amazing place! It’s where my studio and The Fashion Lab are based, and it’s a creative melting pot of studios, lectures, events and its process gallery ‘Praxis’. It’s not open to the public, other than events, classes and exhibitions, it’s invitation only if you already know someone in here, but if anyone is interested in visiting the space I would highly recommend contacting the directors Jonpaul and Peter; both are brilliantly supportive.

Tell me about The Fashion Lab?

The Fashion Lab is a workspace that leads on from mine and Helen’s studio, and it used to be an old workshop room. With the help of Jonpaul and Peter, we’ve transformed it from an old banger into a Ferrari, where was once dark carpets, brick wallpaper and a wooden bench is now a bright clean space with slick blinds and space for us to spread our work, and the biggest mood board known to man!

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Up until very recently, things have been put on hold for reasons beyond our control, but we have had a couple of meetings this last week and I’m very excited for what we have planned…I wish I could share but I’ve promised to keep things under wraps!

Do you know what you’re doing for the Late Shows this year yet?

Yes but that would be telling!

What’s on your creative bucket list this year?

Ooh that’s a tough one, but given everything that happened last year I have high hopes! I have a lot of plans workwise, some of which include mastering gold-work and launching The Fashion Lab, but truthfully the most important thing for me is keeping a good balance. I want to take my business and my art career to the next level, and I want a sense of adventure, one that involves both travelling to make connections and showcase my work but also, something very important to me, is travelling to see some of my closest friends that have recently moved away to Glasgow and London. I’m also going on my first holiday in years (it’s only three days in Blackpool, but that still counts right?), and a couple of my good friends are getting married at the end of the year, so there’s a lot to look forward to all around!

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Well Melanie Kyles – my new favourite person and artist of the moment; what an inspiration! I get the sense of someone on the ‘edge of glory’ if you will – full of the exciting unknown, uncertainty and a brand new creative adventure awaiting.

Here at Culture Vulture HQ, I am super excited to see Melanie’s next moves and the launch of The Fashion Lab. I’m also buzzlight years excited to see her next pieces of work and to support her on this journey in a variety of forms. I will be championing you pet!

And that office – proper office envy!

That’s all for now Culture Vultures – but I will be writing a separate post on my tour of Ampersand Inventions so watch out for that over the coming weeks.

February Half term – a Gateshead round up and roll up, roll up!

Well after the success of the last half term post I pulled together, I thought I’d give you a little run down of some of the brilliant things going on this February half term for kids and teens across my stomping ground of Gateshead…….

February is a bit of a funny half term – we’ve just got over Christmas and back to work and oh “HIIII HALF TERM – where on earth did you come from” ….. most people haven’t thought about it yet either…….

Also the weather is likely to be a little bit rubbish and grey, so we need indoor activities…….

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Whilst having a small breakdown is completely acceptable – as a parent, you have a right to have them on a daily basis, but I want to try and help you guys out a bit.

Right so my top Gateshead based activity selection……..go go……

Saturday 18th Feb….

Why not have a little lie in, (it is half term after all) and then join Gateshead’s Children’s Knitting group at 11am at Gateshead Central Library? This group is newly established and doing really well. You may think “knitting!?!”…..knitting is all the rage at the moment and kids love hands on practical stuff and better yet, the skills they learn in this group, they can continue at home on a rainy afternoon!

To book for free, visit HERE!

Sunday 19th Feb…..

Sunday is obviously the day of rest and for overdosing on roast potatoes butttt if you do fancy feeling adventurous, why not pop along to The Centre for Life and visit the new Lego exhibitions. It looks mint – I’m yet to go but it’s on my “to visit” list. This blog post from Here Come The Hoopers gives you a good idea of what it’s like!

And p.s. the ice skating rink is still there until 26th Feb….so hurry up and get yerr skates on.

Monday 20th Feb…..

Hiyerrrr Monday….. without the usual blues I hope, as it’s half term!

So first up, we’ve got Stop Motion Monday at Blaydon Library. This session is for ages 7yrs+ and you’ll have the opportunity to use our tablets to make your very own stop motion movie. This process is highly addictive (speaking from an addict here!) and super enjoyable.

To book for free, visit HERE!

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In the afternoon, Creatures up Close returns to Gateshead Central Library. Laura is back with her amazing animal and insect friends….. this is your chance to get hands on and learn all about some crazy creatures.

These sessions are for 3yrs + and priced £3 for non-library members and £2.50 for members.

To book on the 2pm session visit HERE!

To book on the 2.45pm session visit HERE!

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For slightly older kids, aged 7yrs + there is Digital Makings: Crafty Animations with artist Sheryl Jenkins. In this workshop, Sheryl will introduce attendees to a crafty approach to the animation process and provide the opportunity to experiment with a wide variety of arts materials. Participants will use textiles, collage, rubbings, digital media, charcoal, pastels and inks to make an animated film.

To book for £5, visit HERE!

Tuesday 21st Feb…….

There are only two places left for the super popular Culture Camp: Make a Movie in a Day at Gateshead Central Library starting at 9.30am. This all day session is for 8-14yr old budding film makers who will work with digital artist John Quinn to create a movie using iPads and apps.

Culture camps are the perfect opportunity to engage with a variety of arts and creative activities, whilst working with a peer group. Children are left at Gateshead Library for the day, whilst you are free to get on with your terrific Tuesday in the knowledge they are having a mint time and learning!

To book for £20, visit HERE!

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Do your mini mes love Pokemon Go? Yes!? Well bring them along to your local Pokestop at Pelaw Library at 10am. There will be lots of Pokemon activities for you to have a go at and of course, you’re welcome to play Pokemon Go with fellow Pokemon hunters.

This session is for children of all ages and is £1 to attend – just turn up!

If you can’t make the session on the 21st Feb, come along to Whickham Library at 2pm on 22nd for another session!

Wednesday 22nd Feb….

The amazing Pop-Up Studio Low Fell is running a workshop at Gateshead Central Library at 10am. They will be facilitating a space themed accessories family workshop – attendees will make a space themed key chain, bracelet or necklace by following an out of this world design or by getting super creative and designing their own.

This session is for 8yrs+.

To book for £10 per adult and £7 per child, visit HERE!

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Or why not visit Crawcrook Library at 10am for their Maker Morning. Let your imagination go in their maker modelling morning; will you make a monster, an alien, something from Minecraft!? We’ll provide the materials and you bring the ideas!

This session is for children of all ages and is free to attend – just turn up!

Thursday 23rd Feb……

Drop by Chopwell Library at 9.30am for their Dinosaur Romp for under 5s and families. Your little tinkers will stomp their way around the library in this dino themed rhymetime. Fancy dress is encouraged!

This session is for Under 5s and families and is free to attend but visit HERE to reserve your place!

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Or visit Felling Library for some Minecraft Mayhem at 10.30am. Attendees will create some scenes from a favourite book or join special worlds with friends using tablets. Just remember absolutely no TNT!

This session is for children of all ages and is free to attend – but visit HERE to reserve your place!

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In the afternoon, get your Digital fix at Microbit Coding activity at Gateshead Central Library at 2pm.

Spend a lovely afternoon challenging yourself with a fun coding activity to make the game of Frustration.

This session is for 8yrs+ and pre-booking is essential!

To book for £3, visit HERE!

Friday 24th Feb……

Start your half term Fri-yey right with the lush Chalk and get making and building at The Mythical Beast Building Construction Club at Shipley Art Gallery starting at 10.30am. What creatures do you imagine live in Saltwell Park? Does the creature have three heads, one hundred eyes and a tongue longer than a lorry? Let your imagination run wild as you create your very own mythical beast; delve into the Chalk invention box, choose your materials, and get creating!

This workshop is designed with both little ones and big ones in mind; you can make and build on your own, or work together as a whole family. To spur on the crafting, the workshop will be set to a soundtrack of beastly music! Grrrrrrr!

This session is for children of all ages and is £2.50 to attend per child, to book visit HERE!

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And then on to GemArts Mini Mela for an exciting multicultural afternoon at Gateshead Central Library, from 11am-3pm. This event is packed full of family fun, with free workshops, performances, henna artists, face painting and lots of other exciting arts and crafts to take part in. Join in Indian, Chinese and other visual arts from around the world, Indian dance and African drumming activities, learn something new and take home your very own creations.

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How amazing does that sound? The entire day is on a drop in basis – so come along and get involved!

This session is for children of all ages and is free to attend, but visit HERE to keep up to date at the programme of the day is announced.

Saturday 25th Feb…….

Spend a culture vulture full day pottering around The Baltic, walk up to Sage Gateshead and then…. go and visit the beautiful St Mary’s Heritage Centre for their ‘History Mysteries Children’s Trail’!

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Ooooooh sounds exciting, adventurous and a little bit spooky.

You and your mini me’s will be challenged to unravel the truth from the fiction about this building’s fascinating past. They will also have their ever popular Victorian toys on display for the whole family to play with.

This is for children of all ages and is free to attend – just turn up 10am -4pm Tuesday – Saturday across the half term week. For more details visit HERE!

Sunday 26th Feb…..

Sounds like a lazy Sunday on the sofa watching films together as a fam and getting ready for the week ahead back at school……

Let me know what you get up to and get planning your half term and booking your places.

The Culture Vulture xx

1934-2017 – a legacy

I’ve been in a reflective mood of late – reflecting on the edges and the realm of my own creativity. I’m incredibly reflective anyway, but when something happens or someone leaves your life, it provides a critical moment to reflect on their impact. And it makes you realise that whilst they may no longer be there, they remain a part of it deep down, because you are part of them and they are part of you. They had in hand in shaping who I was to grow into.

People are fascinatingly complicated creatures.

I remember from a very early age, struggling to fit in – to fit into the mould I was supposed to. I didn’t seem to operate quite like everyone else and for a time, I was blissfully ignorant of this fact. My mum talks of a period in primary school where I didn’t really play with others, I was happy on my own in my own little make believe world, climbing trees and getting into practical troubles. I have always at heart been an introvert; I like my own company, my own head space…..I need it for my own sanity.

I have stark memories playing with woodlice, covered in mud, talking away to myself and whoever else, I’d make up in my head that day. Forever summers and I’d get excited when it was just me for an afternoon – I posed myself questions, put myself in situations, adventures, I framed and then reframed what could happen, what things might look like, what someone might say and what that might feel like……

I wondered what I might be like if I had a different family, lived in a different country, if I was famous, what I wanted to be when I grew up, different jobs, different everything…..imaging different scenarios and situations, replaying them, re-framing them and making them into brilliant stories.

I could spend hours lost in my head, having adventures in silence and make believe. I didn’t need toys or things and I was never bored – my head was a wonderful place to be. Whilst my parents worried, my school at points worried too, my G never did – he positively encouraged it. He indulged me in those fantasies and moments – he asked questions, got me to talk about the people in my head, the visual images I thought about, the world I had made up that felt both so far away and so close. He believed that being able to escape into the make believe was not only a good thing – but an essential tool of the mind.

He would interview me often and record it on to tape – sometimes asking about my adventures and other times, just asking me about me. It was a fun and self-indulgent process – but he made me think about things, make sense of what was going on around me in my own way, to challenge it, question it and how to construct an opinion. I love listening back to those tapes – a young primary school me, who was so naïve, so uncertain, so aware that she was little bit different and so happy in her own company. My favourite word was always “why?” and I would ask it endlessly as I really wanted to understand everything, everything around me, had to somehow make sense….

My G, he wrote a long diary every day and in that desire to please, I began to write as he did – I began writing down. At first it was just writing about what I’d done and things that had happened but gradually some of the writing was about the stories and adventures in my head, sometimes I drew pictures, stuck in images and things I liked…..my hopes, wishes, ideas and dreams. Those notebooks became my version of the world and an insight into how I thought and was developing…..

He told me that all the best people, the cleverest people, wrote every single day…..it was an exercise of the mind and if you continued to think deeply and to write, then your learning, knowledge seeking, appetite for the world and creative without bounds became endless – the only limit was yourself.

This writing habit continues – I have written every day for as long as I can remember and those who know me know I carry endless notebooks – full of lists, scribbles, developing ideas, thoughts and things that are important to me. I revisit them often – and they form an essential part of my creative mind set. I’m a very visual thinker- I have to draw things out, in order to work them up.

The questioning continues – like G, I am that annoying person who sticks their hand up to ask “that” question, the challenger, the questioner – questioning is another means of constructive creativity, challenging how something is and proposing a new way…..I never sit back and accept, I always ask “why?”.

So G, your impact on my life of course has been endless and it’s hard to sum it up. But the past few days of reflection have reminded me of three things…..

You enabled my creative mind.

You triggered my appetite for knowledge seeking and questioning.

You facilitated my love of writing.

Peace and love. x

February 17 Artist of the Month; Chris Folwell

New month, new projects and new artists to showcase…….so February’s artist of the Month is an artist, I’ve only quite recently had the pleasure of getting to know but in a variety of forms. I met him as an aspiring artist at The Late Shows so many moons ago….the exact year is hazy, as are so many of the Late Shows weekends when you meet so many wonderful people and do many lovely things. I saw his work as part of The Book Art project in 2012 and then our paths crossed again at last year’s Anime Attacks where he ran a flip book animation drop in workshop and again as one of the brilliant artists selected to join the 2016 Gateshead cohort of Make Art Happen.

Who is this artist you ask – well it’s Chris Folwell of course! Chris has been one of those artists that I’ve only ever met at events, or through their participatory work and collaborative larger scale projects. I’ve have quite been able to place him – he has just sprang up to me doing something fantastically creative.

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Chris Folwell

Through his involvement on MAH, I got to know more about him, his practice, his background and his ambitions. I remember reading his application for MAH and I just loved it – full of creative project ideas, lots of passion and most importantly, real legs and capacity to get it off the ground.

So when I found out he was one of the Digital Makings Fore-edge artists and running some activity as part of the Gateshead Live programme – I was thrilled. So here he is in all his glory as The Culture Vulture’s February Artist of the Month…….

How did you get into “the Arts”?

I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of people just fall into the arts and it was the same for me: I studied graphic design and hated how cold and removed it was, then animation and loved the hands on side but didn’t want to work at a computer doing CG.

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My tutor there introduced me to printmaking and I got hooked – I did a top up year in fine art pretty much purely to play in the print room, then I bought a second hand press and barely went in to university afterwards! I had grand visions of graduating and becoming a full time illustrator and printer making work that sells out in an hour like some of the big names in the US. That never happened, but for a time I did make decent money selling my work at craft markets and I think that visibility served me well, though it eventually left me a little jaded with the arts and craft market scene.

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A lot of the early ‘proper’ art work I did was through people who’d approached me at a market, then been surprised to discover that I had fingers in lots of pies outside of printmaking; I make a lot of objects out of cardboard just for fun: automata, zoetropes, small sculptures, and that’s lead to some interesting commissions (a 1:25th scale rocket and a life size polar bear). My animation degree has helped too, that led to artist Anton Hecht hiring me for one of his projects and he’s been a real patron of mine ever since, he taught me a lot about working in the arts professionally and spurred me on to pursue participatory art independently, something which has become the core of my practice.

Mostly I think it’s just interest in how things are made and what makes them work though that led me to being a full time artist; the first thing I do when I walk into a gallery is try and figure out how the artist made it and if it doesn’t impress me technically as well as visually then I feel cheated somehow. So that’s something I always tried to put into my work, seeing that look of wonder on people’s faces at the audacity of building a 30 foot tall rocket purely from cardboard is worth every second, especially when it’s a kid or a teenager: it takes more than you’d think to impress children!

How would you describe your practice?

Most of my practice now revolves around participatory art, though I still do make and sell prints, working with the public has become my focus. It starts with an idea for something I would really like to make or an issue I’m interested in, then I spend time figuring out how to involve people that would make the work more worthwhile.

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For instance I’m currently collaborating with ceramics artist Judith Davies on the Out of the Box project, we’re exploring housing and community: how people would like to live given the freedom to choose. It’s my first real collaboration, and it’s the biggest project I’ve ever worked on but at it’s roots it just sprang out of our mutual interest in homes. At this stage it’s a pilot working with a handful of Gateshead youth groups to design homes and communities and build ceramic maquettes we’ll be exhibiting in Gateshead town centre, but we’re hoping to grow the project and commission other artists, I suppose the dream would be to use our findings to influence local housing development for the better.

Outside of big projects l do plenty of workshops, I started off doing simple arts and crafts workshops but that’s gradually evolved until now they’re usually as much about engineering as art.

What inspires you?

Science and science fiction has been a big influencer, in both my printmaking and participatory practice, I guess that’s the inquisitive part of me wanting to know how the world goes together. I read a lot, and listen to podcasts on a myriad of subjects but sociology is a particular favourite: it fits in beautifully with participatory art.

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Otherwise I’m drawn to all sorts of things, I collect hobbies then discard them after a few months, I obsess over constructing imaginary homes, I’ve been building a boat on and off for 3 years. I suppose I find objects more interesting than people most of the time, and I love planning new projects, especially when I can go on a good walk and think them through.

Tell me a bit about your experience on Make Art Happen?

I think it was honestly the single most transformative period of my arts career. If you’re not familiar with Make Art Happen it’s a project designed by Helix Arts supported by Gateshead Culture Team to teach people how to deliver participatory arts programmes; it’s changed my whole outlook. My first involvement was through a commission; Bensham & Teams art, the group who hired me, came about through the MAH scheme then following that I was invited to apply for the next reiteration of the programme that would this time be aimed specifically at artists in Gateshead who wanted to expand their practice to include participatory art. It was hugely informative, they walked us through every aspect you could imagine and the support they gave us has been amazing. I met Judith Davies on the course and the Out of the Box project was a direct result of MAH, but more importantly it pushed me to examine the work I’d done so far and decide what a really wanted to do.

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Until that point the route my career had taken was determined almost entirely by hunting paid work, which is fine but then you realise one day that you’ve had very little creative control over what you’ve been doing. That little push from Helix and the support allowed me to start a project entirely from scratch, and since then I’ve been planning projects until the cows come home – I’m sure some of them will never see the light of day, but if only a fraction of the things I want to do come to pass then I will feel like I’ve really achieved something!

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If I could recommend one thing to anyone who thinks participatory art is something they want to add to their practice, even in a small way, it would be to email Helix Arts and tell them you would be interested in a Make Art Happen programme in your area.

Tell me about the Fore-edge exhibition? What is it?

Fore-edge paintings are a painting or drawing on the page edge of a book that’s hidden beneath gold leaf, if you twist the spine and fan the pages then it reveals this secret image underneath. It’s a medieval technique really, but the disappearing illustrations we’ve been working on started popping up around the 1600s and there have been a few small revivals but as far as I know there’s only one other person in the world still producing them. This was a chance to get a collection of artists together and produce a fresh take on an ancient technique, and the restrictions of the medium make for some really interesting results. Alongside the more traditional fore edge illustrations there’ll be a more modern twist on the hidden image, this time using augmented reality to display a secret visual in the books.

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How did the project idea come about?

The fore-edge exhibition is one of Anton Hecht’s projects, he produces a lot of interactive art and pursues that in the projects he manages too, we’d previously done a project together illustrating books to turn them into flip books so when he stumbled across this technique it seemed like a natural development.

Tell me about your Fore-edge book Necronomicon? Did you select it?

I did yes, Lovecraft is just one of those writers that jumps out at you, he produced such a huge volume of work and was such a founding father of the horror genre it’s impossible to ignore him. It seemed a perfect fit for a work revolving around hidden imagery and mystery, I’m sure Lovecraft would have been interested in the technique. There is a little joke in there at his expense though, the man had a terrible habit of never actually describing the monsters in his stories.. since so many of his creatures are “indescribable” there’s only a hint of lurking beasties in my own illustration.

Tell me about the process you went through making your piece?

It’s quite a complicated process to prepare the books for a fore edge illustration, and an even more long winded process to gold leaf them, but that was the aspect that most appealed to me when Anton approached me. I think I went through 12 books testing different approaches and fine tuning techniques to get it just right!

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If you reduce it to simple terms then you need to prepare the edge you’re going to decorate by sanding it smooth, then we twist the spine so the pages are fanned at least 45degrees and clamp it in a specially made press, similar to book binding press. Once it’s in there you can get painting or drawing but you need to be sure you don’t leave a residue on the surface, so acrylics are out but watercolour and markers work well. After that we pop the book back to normal and clamp it again then stain the edge with a red pigment called Armenian bole, which we can buff to a shiny finish with stiff brush. Lastly we apply a thinned down PVA glue and the gold leaf then you’re done! As part of the exhibition I’ll be running a workshop running through the full technique so please do come along and try it.

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Have you seen any of the other works? Any favourites?

Yes, I ended up applying the gold finish to the majority of them so I’ve had a sneak peak. I think Mandeep Chohan’s book was my personal favourite, she was someone I was really keen to get involved in the project from the get-go; she makes fabulous collages so it was quite a challenge translating that technique to a fore edge illustration. We ended up using acetone to transfer images from photocopies, but that has formed the basis of the approach I’ll be teaching in the workshops.

What would you like people to take away from the exhibition?

Mostly just a little bit of wonder, this is something people have been doing for hundreds of years on some of the most beautiful books in history, so this is your chance to see some modern examples made by some of the North East’s finest artists!

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What’s next for you in 2017 onwards?

More of the same if I’m lucky; 2016 was a great year for my practice so I’m looking forward to all of the planning I started back then finally paying off. I’m working on a community arts festival for Bensham, Teams and Racecourse estates, I’ve got a fibreglass knight on horseback to paint celebrating the Battle of Lincoln, a wedding to plan, and you never know I might even finish that boat!

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So fellow Culture Vultures have until 1st April to come and see the Fore-edge Book Trail at Gateshead Central Library…..make sure you do! Looking at the books and the detail, it makes me wonder when exactly was the moment we stopped, as a society, decorating our books to the extreme. There is just something SO magical about a leather bound book; with gorgeous illustrations and touches…..absolute works of art in their own right.

Peace and love. x