An interview with Jock Mooney – a ray of light on Insta, immortalising contemporary icons & The Golden Girls.

During the midst of this weird pants Black Mirror episode, I’ve been taking solace in two things…..

  1. Artists on Instagram – I’ve taken a leaf out of graphic designer Emily Coxhead’s ethos and want my social media no longer full of toxic, negative stuff and to let go of the things I’ve got no control over (I am feeling a sense of acceptance for my HUGE income loss) and wanting a newsfeed full of happy things. Instead, I want to look on the bright side, look at lush artist’s work, my feed to be full of lush creative talent and BOLD colour.
  2. Nostalgia – I’m filling my “me” time with books, films, series, icons and things from decades ago. I want things like Paris & Nicole, Britney Spears, Beetlejuice, Something About Mary, Chicken Soup for the Soul…… I’m such a 90s/00s kid so filling my mind and heart with things I know and love!

An artist that brings both these things together is Jock Mooney. His Insta feed is just mega and brings such light into my life – it’s full of colour, puns, characters and celebrities we know and it makes me smile. We all need a little more of that right now! I’ve wanted to interview Jock for a few years now – but I stumbled across his Brexit cat piece at Vane recently and it prompted me to get in touch.

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From Spiceworld to Brexit – image credit: Colin Davison

Jock is such a talented artist and covers a broad range of mediums. Jock Mooney was born in Edinburgh but is currently represented by Vane, a lush indie gallery in Newcastle. His graphics, prints and sculpture have been exhibited internationally solo and in group exhibitions. He designs for his apparel company VONK – it’s basically Jock’s work printed onto T-shirts and garments. I’m so here for it and need all of it.

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He ALSO (yep us creative types are rarely locked into on thing) 50% of highly acclaimed animation duo, Alasdair & Jock. The two have directed projects for The Beatles, Coldplay and David Gilmour amongst many others. They’ve also had work projected onto Buckingham Palace. Ah-mazing!

Well enough from me – over to Jock!

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Jock Mooney

Hi Jock, right – the existential crisis question….. Who are you?

I am Jock Mooney, and I would say I am an artist / animation director / illustrator / designer. Not very catchy, but I do various projects across various disciplines. I prefer to not pigeonhole myself, that’s boring!

No-one likes a beige buffet – so the less boring the better! Tell my fellow Culture Vultures about your journey into the creative industries?

I did sculpture at Edinburgh College of Art between 2000 – 2004.  After Edinburgh, I was based in Newcastle for a while, which is a city I still love very much. I’m represented, for fine art, by Vane, who have a gallery on Pilgrim Street.

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Who Are You & What Do You Want – image credit: Colin Davison

In 2008 I moved down to London and continued to be an artist, but that was literally when the financial crash happened; just when I was starting to sell work!  It was also, thankfully, around the time that an old flatmate of mine (one of my first flatmates actually from Edinburgh), got in touch about collaborating. That was Alasdair Brotherston and it was for a music video, for a band called the Tom Fun Orchestra. The video ended up doing really well and won ‘Best Video’ at the Canadian version of The Brits.  So we basically continued to work together, and we still do, in tandem with whatever other things either of us has going on.

I also have a t-shirt company with some old school pals of mine from the Scottish Borders. The company is called VONK and we started out in 2019, getting a feature on Lorraine Kelly just months after being in business!

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Ohh – a shout out from Lorraine – that’s MEGA! Tell us about some recent projects you’ve been working on?

With Alasdair, I’ve been very lucky to recently do three projects for The Beatles. Two music videos and a lyric video. ‘Here Comes the Sun’ was the most recent one, which was produced by Maria Manton who is a bit of a legend in the animation industry!  The video was released in September 2019 and it has had over 21 million views on YouTube which is pretty good!

You can watch the video here.

Tell us about the Inspiration for your work?

For my artwork, my inspiration falls somewhere in between historical references, kitsch, adolescent humour and pop. I like to combine highbrow and lowbrow references. My most recent solo show was more of a reflection of our current state being called ‘From Spiceworld to Brexit’.

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From Spiceworld to Brexit – image credit: Colin Davison

When it comes to VONK and the t-shirt design side of things, that’s a bit more direct in terms of subject matter. They are designed to be popular, ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s subverted references, preferably with punning titles.  So, things like ‘Mermaid, She Wrote’, ‘My Little Ciccone’, ‘Cat Lady Gaga’, etc.  A large amount of people who appreciate my work are young, so I am aware of that, not everyone can afford an original artwork or print, but they might be able to afford a t-shirt.

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How can I buy your work? What can I buy?

I like this question!  For artworks, from drawings and sculptures to screen prints then Vane is the place! They have an online shop and they also offer Own Art when it comes to making a purchase if that helps.

For t-shirts, vest, tote bags VONK is the place. We can be found at http://www.hellovonk.com. For the moment we are also offering free shipping worldwide!

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How do decide which contemporary subjects, you’re going to immortalise in a piece?  

I have to feel some sort of personal connection or interest. I can’t really do something ‘popular’ just for the sake of it. There has to be something there.

Think carefully – this question will define our future potential friendship Britney or Christina?

I’m more on the Britney spectrum. Blackout is one of the best pop albums ever.

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Right answer – it’s always #britneybitch time. Can you reveal your next design subject?

Well… there’s stuff I can’t legally talk about that may happen; I hope. In this current climate I think just managing to get through the next few months will be such a focus. We all need to look out for each other and hope we all get out on the other side.

VONK are about to release an AMAZING Golden Girls (with a twist) design!

I LOVE your Golden Girls new graphic – who is your favourite golden girl and why?

That is pretty difficult. I think The Golden Girls, a bit like the Spice Girls, are so popular because of their different, defined characters, and how well they complement each other.  I’d love to say ROSE though, but Betty White is fucking impressive.

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You’ve got such a great Insta following and you bring to life icons that people know and love – have you had any celebrities reach out in support……

For animation work, Alasdair and I recently won an award at the British Animation Awards. There were a few big names there who were very complimentary, which is certainly validating.

For artwork, I’ve had a few compliments here and there!  For t-shirts, Keith Lemon has said some very nice things, I know that Bianca Del Rio owns a couple of shirts!  The designs have been on TV a few times, sometimes on a celebrity, so that is obviously really great to see. I know MNEK has a Virgin Mariah shirt, he is utterly amazing!  Jodie Harsh also recently commissioned me to do a couple of portraits for her, which was really fun; she’s a LEGEND.

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Who Are You & What Do You Want – image credit: Colin Davison

LOVE Bianca Del Rio! Any other artists you recommend that fellow Culture Vultures should check out?

I always really, really, really, enjoy Jessica Harrison’s work. She’s amazingly talented and went to Edinburgh College of Art too.  From an animation perspective, there’s a studio called Moth who always make very lovely work, as does a studio called Wednesday Studio who do really beautiful stuff.

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From Spiceworld to Brexit – image credit: Colin Davison

What’s next for you?

I think I am making a REALLY HOT chickpea curry for dinner.

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From Spiceworld to Brexit – image credit: Colin Davison

Good answer – fax me some. Check out Jock’s work and follow him on Insta – I can guarantee you’ll love it. Check out VONK too – I thought I had enough tote bags in my life – but turns out, that I was wrong…..

Until next time Culture Vultures!

 

 

Interview with Newcastle Artist Pointer – MIND FULL MESS

If you’d asked me the question last week – “where’s your head at!?” – well I’d have said – a bit worried, but excited for lots of things to come and happenings. Now you’re asking me a week on – well… not as much in a pit of doom as I was a day or so ago but I’m circling it. The world as we once knew – individually and collectively – will never be the same again. It’s all A LOT to take in!

In the wake of what’s happening, social media has exploded into a well-meaning (sometimes!) explosion of noise, information, guidance – it’s suffocating. It’s bringing out the best and worst in people – a lot of projection IMO. Some of the elements of social media that we all know is bad for us and creates anxiety, disillusionment, chaos and everything in between, is unfolding in this period of uncertainty in which 24 hour news is being consumed like Crack. I feel like I’m trapped in a Black Mirror episode.

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Artist credit – Pointer – image from Insta

MIND FULL MESS by Newcastle artist Pointer, explores both those things – it provokes you to reflect on the question of “where’s your head at?” in the wider context of the social media world. Of course, this exhibition and it’s work was created before Covid-19 was a thing but viewing it and reflecting on it, in this new light has been interesting and for me, added a whole new layer to the work and actually, provided comfort.

Little did I know when the invitation to the opening of it at B&D Studios (the exhibition was set to run until end of March but is currently closed); that it would actually have such a profound effect, long after viewing. As someone who struggles with the concept of mindfulness (my brain just isn’t wired that way) and also navigating the relentlessness nature of 24/7 social media life (even more relentless in the context of now) – I thought the concept behind the exhibition sounded amazing.

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The MIND FULL MESS exhibition was filled with bold and thought provoking, mixed media skull pieces revolving around the theme of social media, the digital age and its effect on our potentially brilliant minds and mental health. Each skull summed up exactly how my brain feels at some point every single week or how it has felt times a million this week. Each skull was a provocation to reflect and check in with myself whilst considering that folks could be feeling any number of those thoughts or emotions…..

Before I get into the interview with Pointer – which was planned before Covid-19 ramped up to this level – I have a few take aways for my readers….

  1. Ask yourself the question “where’s your head at” at least once a day – check in with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself space. Give your mind chance to process and breathe.
  2. Take some time away from social media and put your phone down for a few hours a day – I’ve had freelance friends and art friends turning off their phones and muting notifications for their sanity – being overloaded by information and advice through various “groups” as other desperately try and figure things out, might not be helpful to you right now.
  3. Pointer is a fantastic artist and this was a selling exhibition – like many the current state of play will have hit his wallet hard. If you like the skull pieces and would like to purchase or interested in a commission – (hey we are all going to be spending time in doors for a while, so may as well colour up those walls) – contact him via his website: http://www.bypointer.com or via his insta: @bypointer

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*Get ready for the question that triggers existential crisis….Who are you?*

I am a Newcastle based Artist by the name of Pointer.

*Tell me about your journey into the creative industries?*

After studying Graphics I drifted into a career as a commercial artist; making artwork for other people, companies and even other artists. For a long time I was quite comfortable being the guy that worked behind the scenes – without an outlet for my own personal work.

*Where did the name Pointer come from?*

That just happens to be my surname.  After a childhood of kids pointing fingers at me, I grew tired of it but I kind of like it again now.

*Tell me about your exhibition MIND FULL MESS?*

The exhibition is a collection of 16 artworks I have been working on since September. The tagline for the show is ‘In a 24/7 always ON culture, where’s your head at?” It’s a snapshot of peoples’ state of mind, a look at modern anxieties caused by living in the social media age.

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*How did the relationship with B&D studio come about?*

Someone kindly put my name forward for a show and I thought why not.

They have a free hosting space and take a generously small cut of sales.  I met James the manager on a tour of the gallery and later when a studio became available I felt it would be a good opportunity to progress my work.

*The show is called MIND FULL MESS – as someone whose mind is always a bit of a mess and has tried mindfulness and just doesn’t get it – I relate! Have you tried mindfulness?*

I think playing my music loud, stepping outside to take a walk once in a while and not taking my phone to bed are measures that are enough for me most of the time – I have never felt the need to do yoga on a beach at sunset listening to Enya.

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 Pointer – MIND FULL MESS

*What do you want people to take away from the exhibition?*

Just to make people think or connect somehow with the work or look at things from a different perspective. That’s the most you can expect from art I guess.

*Tell me about inspiration for the pieces and exhibition?*

The initial impetus of the idea was wanting to show visually what’s going on in your brain whilst you are doing something mindless. I was thinking of some kind of internal conflict where one part of your brain is busy staring at the flashy lights whilst the other side of your brain is screaming for you to think.

*I feel like I live that conflicted reality …. So as a commercial artist – where is your head at with social media?*

I feel one format of social media is enough for me (Pointer is on Instagram – @bypointer). I chose the more visual platform of Instagram but there are long periods where I ignore it. I would happily pay a subscription for Instagram to ditch the ads and the restrictive algorithms. I realise I spend too much time reporting each ad I see as spam.

That’s a big negative for me, advertising really disengages me with what potentially is a great tool for artists. It’s a love / hate relationship!

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 Pointer – MIND FULL MESS – taken from Insta

*I think most people feel like that with social media….can you tell me a bit about the process of making each piece?*

Each piece features numerous laser cut wooden elements, these are all hand painted with sealer, primer and acrylic.  I have also used cut Perspex and steel which is then screen printed on. The pieces are then assembled and put together to make the final artworks.

*What’s next for you?*

I had planned on showing work at the recently postponed Nowt Special event and also the Late Shows in May (both postponed due to Covid-19). So, I guess I will get back to the sketchbook, it would be nice to book in another big exhibition project but will see what happens.

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 Pointer – MIND FULL MESS – taken from Insta

Thank you Pointer! Total talented gem!

Just to reiterate on my close of this blog interview – the current state of play will have hit his wallet hard. If you like the skull pieces and would like to purchase or interested in a commission –– contact him via his website: http://www.bypointer.com or via his insta: @bypointer – artists need our support right now.

(#AD) a review of Ladybones – a theatre show about OCD & an interview with the brilliant theatre maker Sorcha McCaffrey

The potential power of theatre on audiences can’t be overstated enough; it can educate, encourage questioning, raise awareness, expose folks to new things, tells untold stories of real people, challenge perceptions alongside being a lush cultural experience… I feel like I’ve learnt more from the safe space of watching theatre, than from anything else in recent years.

Every so often I go and see something at the theatre and it really reminds me of that positive power and I walk away with so many thoughts, ideas, an altered state of mind alongside it knocking my socks off. Ladybones, a one woman show about archaeology and OCD by theatre maker Sorcha McCaffrey, has been one of my highlights of 2020 so far. What.a.show.  Ladybones is a theatre show that packs a punch, so well put together and really has such power.

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Ladybones tells the story of a young woman called Nuala is working on an archaeological dig and discovers the bones of a girl buried hundreds of years ago and, using her own experiences, starts to put life into the girl’s remains. The play is honest, brave, real, sharp, SO FUNNY (the sex scene!) and charts the journey of Nuala growing up facing super relatable things like dating, sex, work pressure whilst showing the descent into the grips of OCD “madness”.

Nuala draws comparisons between herself and the bones of the girl found on the dig – the skull she takes home; it both signifies the madness she is feeling alongside providing comfort and eventually symbolically leading to her release from the grips of OCD. The play is SO well written, moving and I fell in love with the character Nuala; her infectious personality, her engagement, the way she spoke to the audience and I was captivated – the way Sorcha has written the character and how she plays her, is just beaut – my eyes did not leave her through-out the performance.

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Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

There are two things that I really took away from Ladybones:

1. It really does communicate to audiences the reality of OCD and is a real depiction of mental health challenges. Through-out watching it, I thought of my own history with eating disorders and depression and how brilliantly, Sorcha depicted the human experience, intrusive thoughts and that snowball descent of feeling so disempowered, out of control and for lack of a better word  “crazy”. And yet – the show is so up-lifting and I walked away with a renewed motivation and passion to continue my own work with young people and mental health.

2. The power of good audience involvement and engagement. Through-out the show, the character Nuala engages with the audience, speaks to them and involves them in the story. Now as an introvert, audience participation makes me want to curl up and hide – but on entry to Alphabetti Theatre – you were asked if you’d be up for participating and if you were, then you could wear a pink sticker. I loved that idea and think it should be rolled out across other theatre shows. I did offer to participate, was pink stickered up, had to read out a passage as part of the story and it felt lush!

Ladybones is creating ripples across the theatre community and has been receiving ace, thoroughly deserved reviews. The show has paused touring – but will be back in the coming months and when it does, go.see.it. Keep an eye out for it touring. I had the lush opportunity of chatting to Ladybones theatre maker Sorcha McCaffrey after the show at Alphabetti – we had some lush chat about the show, it’s positive impact and I left determined to tell more people about how fantastic the show was and what TALENT Sorcha is; I was delighted when she agreed to a Culture Vulture interview.

So here it is – an interview with theatre maker, writer, performer: Sorcha McCaffrey

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Sorcha McCaffrey

For my Culture Vulture followers and readers – tell me who you are and how you’d describe what you do?

I’m an actor, writer and theatre maker from a Yorkshire village on the moors. I’m now based in Manchester, and I make theatre and tell stories. Ladybones is my first play.

Did you always want to be a theatre maker/actor?

Not at all – I didn’t realise acting or making theatre was something you could do as a job. When I was younger, I mostly wanted to be an archaeologist (hence the main character Nuala’s profession in the play) or a pirate (hard to get into in West Yorkshire, also not very practical/moral).

Be more pirate! Tell me about your journey into the creative sector and theatre making?

I trained as an actor at drama school and was temping as a receptionist between acting jobs to pay the rent. I would come home wanting to keep my creativity alive and write before bed – these late-night scribbles ended up becoming Ladybones. I’ve learned so much about making theatre with this project, and it’s been a brilliant chance to realise that you can create your own work, rather than needing permission from other people to be creative.

What projects/things were you involved in before Ladybones?

I have worked as an actor with the John Godber company, at Contact Theatre, and at Co:Lab Festival at the Royal Exchange Theatre. I’ve also been part of Young Identity spoken word collective, run by a brilliant poet called Shirley May. I took part in the Royal Court writers’ group in London, and these groups gave me the chance to see that my voice is valid as a writer.

So tell me about Ladybones – what’s the show about?

Ladybones is an interactive one-woman show about OCD, dungarees and being weird but not a weirdo. It follows archaeologist Nuala as she unearths the skeleton of an unknown girl. As she is sucked into the mystery of who the girl was, her ordered life starts unravelling. It’s about what it’s like living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but it’s also funny and moving.

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Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

I was surprised how funny it was – lots of laugh out loud moments – the inspiration behind Ladybones is your own story and experience with OCD – can you tell me a bit about your OCD experience?

I’ve had OCD since I was tiny, maybe four or five, but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 20. Growing up, my head was full of worries and patterns and scary intrusive thoughts – I used to wake my mum up in the night to check she hadn’t died. When I found out fifteen years later that the frightening spiral of thoughts and compulsions I was stuck in was actually Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it was a relief.

For years I had believed there was something deeply wrong with who I was, so to discover that it was an anxiety disorder I was suffering with gave me hope that I could have a better quality of life with the right help. I googled OCD and came across the charity OCD-UK, who really supported me. I found CBT therapy really worked for me, and my life is so much better now I’m not trapped by OCD.

Of course, all mental health experiences are individual – did you research any other folks OCD experience to develop the show?

I wanted to write from the truth of my own experiences, and I didn’t want to speak on behalf of other people, as individual experiences can be different and nuanced. However, it was really important to me that I represented OCD in an honest way so we  partnered with the charity OCD-UK to make sure we were coming from an informed place and also able to offer info and support to people who watched the show.

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Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

How does it feel putting yourself and your story on stage? How much of the personality of the character is you on stage?

Now it feels very liberating, but at first it was terrifying, the idea of vomiting up this tangled experience on stage without knowing what people will make of it. It’s been so heartening that people have connected with the character and her story. I’d say she’s a version of me with an added dollop of imagination. But the core of her is me.

The show is very funny (alongside poignant, captivating etc) – did you intend the comedy? Does writing comedy into theatre coming naturally to you?

Thank you, so kind! I definitely wanted there to be moments of real lightness and humour, as I wanted to bring the audience into the story and make them feel like they belonged in it. I think life is funny a lot of the time, even the difficult/upsetting bits, and I also wanted it to be a joyful experience for the audience. I wanted people to feel like they understand OCD more after watching, but without it being just a dark or preachy experience.

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Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

And I think you certainly managed that! I LOVED the movement element of the show and how you used the space (the “sex scene” was genius) – who did you work with to develop that?

My director Lucia and I worked on the movement – we wanted the story to feel like it was drawing you in and constantly on the move. The sex bit (lots of ridiculous jumping about and silliness) was a fun way to imaginatively play with the scene. The character’s thoughts are quick and jump around a lot and we wanted the movement journey of the play to reflect this.

I have a rebellious nature and activist soul – I felt like I saw that in you! Would you describe yourself as an activist?

You know what, I think I am beginning to, yeah. I underestimated how much of an impact theatre can have, and people have been so open in sharing how this show has changed things for them, whether it’s feeling less alone as someone with OCD, or finding hope for a loved one.

I think there is power in connecting with other people on a genuine level, and I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the response to the show we’ve made. I think if you are able to give an audience member something valuable, however small-scale that might be, it makes the project worth making.

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Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

Can you talk a bit about the queer element / themes in the show?

As a queer woman I haven’t always seen my experiences on stage or on screen, and I wanted to be genuine with the story I’m telling. Nuala’s sexuality is an important part of her but not necessarily the focus of the narrative. I think representation is important, and the more intersectional experiences that are put out there, the more open and empathetic we can become.

What do you want people to take away from the show?

I’d love people to come and see the show, have a laugh, be moved, and leave feeling less lonely than when they arrived. I want this show to give people a little chunk of hope.

(c) Alex Brenner

Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

Do you have  any advice to people currently in the midst of their own OCD struggles?

OCD is so trivialised, and I think it’s really important to acknowledge that it can be horrendous and terrifying and exhausting to live with. I think if you can reach out to somebody supportive that’s a proper start, and OCD-UK are a brilliant charity that helps people and they really understand what OCD is like to deal with.

I’d also say although it can feel impossible, there is hope for recovery. Six years ago, when I was really ill I could never have imagined having a wonderful quality of life, let alone making a show about my experiences, but here we are. A delightful plot twist.

Where can people see the show next? Why should they see the show?

We are at Oldham Coliseum on 14th May, Square Chapel Theatre in Halifax on 15th May, and we finish our tour at Slung Low in Leeds on 7th June. Whether you have OCD yourself, support a loved one, or don’t know anything about it, come along for a funny and moving immersive hour that will change how you see mental illness.

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What’s next for Ladybones post tour?

This tour is as far as we’ve got in terms of plans for the show, so catch the last few dates while you can! It’s been amazing to take Ladybones to London, Edinburgh and all over the North of England and meet so many different wonderful audiences. We’ve also recorded Ladybones as an audiobook on Audible as part of a collection of new writing from the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe if you fancy a listen!

What’s next for you post tour? What else do you have planned for 2020?

A nap and a lot of toast. Then this year I’m working on a new play (a sort of postapocalyptic queer love story), some writing commissions, and I’m a supported artist at the Oldham Coliseum theatre. I’m excited for what comes next!

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Well thank you – Sorcha – I certainly feel like this lass is one to watch for the future. I can’t express how amazing the show Ladybones is and that you should go and see it. You can check out more about Sorcha on her website and visit HERE for the Ladybones trailer.

If you are reading this and identify with any of the issues discussed OCD-UK is a great organisation to connect with and reach out to.

Disclosure – I have not been paid for this post but I did receive a complimentary ticket to see the show.

Interview with Elijah Young – script writer, theatre maker, actor, Takeover’s Young Writer in Residence 2019.

Those who read my blog and/or follow my social will know that I’m working on Takeover Festival this year. You can read my previous post about Takeover festival, opportunities and call-outs for young people open now AND hear from Takeover Festival 2020 team members Harrison & James.

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The Takeover is an annual week-long arts festival at The Customs House that is produced by, with and for young people to develop and showcase their leadership skills. 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.

The current call outs are an opportunity for young people to contribute their creative work and/or to get involved and shape the festival. This year’s Takeover dates are 25th-29th May (get them in your diary!) & a five-day festival awaits for young people. Each year The Customs House is taken over by young emerging artists and arts professionals (25yrs and under) for a week of theatre, cinema, music, dance, poetry, hip hop and visual art.

But there is one call out in particular that is the feature of this blog post today – Young Writer in Residence 2020 . This call out is a fantastic opportunity for a current or aspiring theatre maker/writer to get their work from script to stage and seen! The successfully appointed Young Writer in Residence will benefit from mentoring from a professional writer alongside working on their piece and developing it for the stage within Takeover festival team and Customs House. The Young Writer in Residence’s play will be staged at Customs House as the finale piece of our Takeover Festival on 29 May (another date for your diary!).

Takeover Festival team are seeking submissions from a North East based young person, 25yrs and under and submissions should have young people’s voices at its heart, and a narrative that is firmly rooted in the North East. You can find full details about submission process HERE – and the deadline is Monday 16th March at 5pm.

Takeover Young Playwright in ResidenceNow I could wax lyrical about how amazing this opportunity is for a young writer – but I thought I’d interview last year’s Young Writer in Residence 2019 – who thanks in part to the residency has been making waves in the North East theatre scene, evidencing what an amazing platform this residency is. Elijah’s play Isolation (last year’s Takeover play) was shortlisted in the British Theatre Guide’s best of North East theatre in 2019 for Best New Play category. Elijah also won Most Promising Newcomer. BOOM! #ganon

I recently caught up with Elijah to find out more about his experience as Young Writer in Residence 2019, what he got out of it, what he’s gone on to do after the residency and why (in his opinion) other young people should apply for Young Writer In Residence 2020! Elijah and I have met a few times in passing but it wasn’t until last week at Live Theatre that I formally said “HIYER!” So without further ado – a Culture Vulture interview with Elijah Young!

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Elijah Young

Hi Elijah, please introduce yourself to my readers…..

My name is Elijah Young, I’m a playwright/actor from Teesside and I’m one of my parents seven loud and annoying children.

How would you describe the melting pot of all the creative lushness (writing, acting, day job?) you do?

What a lovely worded question! I’d describe it as a massive bag of pic ‘n’ mix, my day job being a mouthful of unwanted liquorice haha! I recently had a job in a panto as a skunk where I finished a show at one theatre, took off the makeup and raced across town in an Uber to see my play performed at a different theatre so yeah, a bit of a mixed bag.

Oh I hear you – Uber queen over here balancing MANY spinning plates! So tell me about what you were up to before being appointed as Takeover 2019 Young Writer in Residence?

I’d just graduated from the Project A acting course at Theatre Royal Newcastle and had a few jobs after finishing training. In the November of that year, I had my first finished piece of writing staged. That was my short play Fag Break and it was in ‘a 10mins to’… scratch evening at Live Theatre.

You do lots of acting on stage as well as write too – does one help the other?

Being an actor makes me a better writer, period. I like writing the sort of scripts that would excite me as an actor and that’s always something to refer back to when I’m reading a draft. I’m obsessed with writing dialogue. When I check if a scene works, I tend to record a character’s lines and leave the gaps in, for the other character and speak them out loud to hear how the rhythm of the dialogue sounds and see if it flows.

That is so interesting; how would you describe your writing process?

It’s chaotic and stressful but what keeps me calm and centred is that I always know how my play will start and how it’ll end. So, for me, it’s about getting from A to Z and figuring out what letters go I the middle.

Everything I do is pretty chaotic, I think it’s a sign of a true creative brain – How would you describe the types of subjects you write about?

I would probably describe them as personal because I put a lot of myself in my writing as I think all writers do. But before any of that, I want to make people laugh so I’ll always try and find humour no matter how depressing the subject matter is. You can imagine I was a very attention seeking but also entertaining child.

So let’s move on to Takeover Festival and your involvement in 2019. Had you heard about or been involved in Takeover before applying to be Young Writer in Residence 2019?

I hadn’t been involved but I heard about it as I remember literally everyone talking about WORMTOWN (Young Writer in Residence 2018 Reece Connolly wrote WORMTOWN). There was a major buzz about it and anyone involved were like the cool kids in school. It was, for sure, the hottest ticket in town at the time.

Why/what made you apply to be Takeover 2019 Young Writer in Residence and how did you feel when you were applying?

When I saw the opportunity I knew, despite how daunting it was, if I didn’t apply, I’d be utterly stupid. I think ultimately what scared me most was committing to writing a full-length play which I had never done before.

All brilliant, new things are daunting at first! The amount of call outs I’ve applied for that I’ve been excited and terrified in equal measure! Did you link up with Reece – Young Writer in Residence 2018 at all about WORMTOWN? Did you see it?

Yes! I got so much encouragement from him and I still remember our conversation after I’d seen WORMTOWN which is just mental because little did I know I’d be in his place a year later.

How did it feel pressing “send” your Young Writer in Residence 2019 submission?

Well I submitted quite late in the application process. I was really pushing it close to the time but that doesn’t surprise me as I’m such a perfectionist. Pressing “send” was actually a relief that I’d got it done.

How did you find out you were successful and what did that moment feel like?

It’s actually a really funny and lovely story because at the time I was with a guy, who’s now my boyfriend, but back then we’d barely been seeing each other for a couple of weeks. And I got this email and I’m in his living room suddenly shaking, screaming and jumping around and he’s stood in the kitchen baking and not knowing what to do with himself haha!

That is lush! So, tell us about your experience as Young Writer in Residence – what happened following being told you’d been appointed?

Things just sprang into action. I had a lovely meeting with Jake, the director and Fiona from the Customs House. I remember going to the toilet at one point and I did a five second dance party like a right dweeb.

I was then mentored by the talented and lovely Tamsin Daisy Rees who luckily was already a good friend of mine (and I was also a big fan). She made the process so easy, really took care of me and her advice was priceless as she has a brilliant eye for detail. We would have weekly updates whether that was a cuppa or a phone call and I felt proper looked after.

Being in the casting room was bizarre but lush as it was the first time I heard the script come to life. We took a really long time to cast it but our final decision on casting was the perfect fit.

I love that this residency not only provides a huge opportunity for a young writer like yourself but by having 8 characters, also provides a mega opportunity for aspiring and emerging young actors too. Did you feel daunted at any point with this being your first full length piece coming to life on stage with 8 parts?

Yes, a thousand times yes. It’s crazy to go from writing short plays for two to writing a full-length play for eight. But I also really enjoyed playing around with eight distinct characters. It would have taken me so long to dare to write more than three people in a play if it hadn’t been for the residency.

But it just felt like an incredible opportunity and I was awarded the residency when I was 20 years old which is just mental. I really see it as a major turning point despite being so early on in my writing career. In a lot of ways, I’m still reaping the benefits of that commission.

So, onto the piece you wrote as part of your Takeover residency Isolation – tell us about the piece?

Isolation follows the story of six students and the day they all spend together stuck in an isolation block at school. The day also a year since another student had killed himself. With that layered on top of them being in a small room together for eight hours tension starts to rise and eventually hell breaks loose.

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Isolation – Takeover Festival 2019 at Customs House

Isolation tackles some really complex themes which are so pertinent to many young people – what was the inspiration for the show?

The play originally was just two characters which were two young lads struggling with their mental health. The Young Writer in Residence opportunity then allowed the piece to be on a much bigger scale but it still carried similar themes. All the characters in the play have all at one point felt isolated and that’s something I think resonates with many peoples school experience.

Isolation received rave reviews – how did it feel audiences seeing your work on stage as part of Takeover Festival 2019?

Absolutely terrifying. I remember a friend saying before the show that he’d never seen me so nervous. In the end, the audience we had were so lovely and people were so kind to me after the show. Although nothing will ever top my Grandma saying “I’m a fan of your work”.

Nothing better than a proud Fam! What did you want audiences to take away when watching Isolation – did you have a “mood” in mind?

The way theatre is, an audience will take away whatever they want really but I personally like a hopeful endings. In saying that, I always want to create a sense of reality, I’m not into playing “happy families”. Isolation ends with Dale staring at the electric tea light and I like that simple representation that there’s a flicker of hope.

So, what happened to you and Isolation after the residency?

I started work on my short play ‘NASA lie the Earth is flat no curve’ (Which is the longest title I’ll ever have for a play). That happened in September at Alphabetti Theatre as a part Three Shorts and it had a week’s run which was the first time I’ve ever had a run. Isolation then went to Alphabetti in October for a week which was absolutely chaotic but completely worth it.

What are your next plans for Isolation?

Bigger and better is the plan! There is a theatre that is interested in taking it before it potentially tours and I’m unaware if I’m at liberty to say where but that’s very exciting! I’m definitely wanting to extend it as it was only an hour before and with there being so many characters it’s hard to say everything you want to in under an hour!

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Isolation – Takeover Festival 2019 at Customs House

Can you sum up what you learnt, professionally AND personally, during the residency?

I believe the Young Writer Residency taught me about the kind of playwright I want to be. I learned so much about my process and what matters to me when it comes to writing. I really see it as a major turning point despite being so early on in my writing career. I mean I was 20 years old when my first play was produced, how insane!?

And I’m still reaping the benefits from the residency!  From the success of Isolation, I’ve had a performing arts school contact me about studying it, I’ve been made an Associate Artist at Live Theatre and I’ve been offered seed commission from a theatre to write my next full-length play. I wouldn’t be in the position I am in my career without it.

As last year’s writer – do you have any advice to any folks, thinking or curious about applying?

They should apply because it’s not only brilliant but it’s the kind of opportunity that is unheard of for young writers in the North East. My advice would be to go for it, full throttle and really show why your story needs to be heard.

Why are opportunities like Takeover’s Young Writer in Residence important?

These opportunities are important because they kickstart your career. Also, it’s a massive learning experience to be mentored by another playwright. You can learn so much from them and I really did!

This year’s Young Writer will have Tom Wells as a mentor, how incredible!

I bliddy love Tom Wells! Do you think there are potential writers who would be perfect for this residency but are gigging actors or creatives who don’t see themselves as a potential writer? Any advice to them to spark that writing process?

I know a lot of actors who write but don’t realise they do. I was in a similar position when I was first encouraged to write. The beauty and the curse of being a freelancer in this region is that it’s hard to make a living off just one discipline but I don’t think there’s any shame in that. Being a writer doesn’t make me any less of an actor and like I say it actually helps that I am both. My advice is to test the water!

I saw a scratch of your piece Golden Daffodils at Live Theatre as part of Queer & Now 2020…Tell us about Golden Daffodils?

Golden Daffodils is an extract of a play I’m working on that was staged for Queer and Now scratch night as a part of Live Theatres first ever queer festival. It’s about the relationship that blooms (pardon the pun) between a woman and her new care worker.

Do you think you’d be writing and working on a play like Golden Daffodils if you’d been Young Writer In Residence 2019?

Golden Daffodils is actually my fourth commission since Isolation so a lot has happened in that time. I definitely feel the residency got me into just constantly writing and I’ve had something to always be working on since then which is a massive blessing.

What are the plans for Golden Daffodils longer term?

I definitely want to extend it. What you got to see was only a 15 minute piece and that relationship

between the two needs so much more time to grow. I love the concept and the characters but I’m also wanting to share more on the research I did about gay elderly women in care and I’m very passionate about getting that story told.

And finally, what else you got going on in 2020!?

A play I was commissioned to work on by Blowin’ A Hooley theatre company at the back end of last year has just announced its tour! The project is called Yarns from ‘Yem and it’s four short plays by local writers which tour to venues around the North East. My piece is called Biscuit Tins and it’s directed by Tracy Gillman. We had our first read through recently and I think it’s going to be a lush evening of theatre!

Ohhh I need to go and see that! And wow – what a year it’s been for Elijah Young last year’s Young Writer in Residence 2019 – sounds like the residency really did kick start his career! Young Writer in Residence 2020 call out is open now- all info and details HERE – and in Elijah’s words “just go for it, full throttle and really show why your story needs to be heard.”

Takeover Young Playwright in Residence

An interview with artist Slutmouth – an Instagram discovery with meaning, heart and soul.

Instagram Is a great place to discover new artists and it’s one of my first places to start when looking for new creative lushness. It’s given a place for creatives – their feed is their digital gallery and portfolio to the world, alongside an insight to themselves and their practice. I think Instagram increases democracy in artistic opportunities and audiences – there is more potential for folks to see their work, enjoy it in their own time and there doesn’t seem to be the same barriers for folks as there is in an art gallery.

I spend HOURS on Instagram looking at artists and creatives’ feeds on social – an introvert haven. Discovering new artists on Insta is almost as much of an addiction as my diet coke habit. Bettie/Slut mouth (love.that.name) is an Instagram super star creative, I’ve followed for some time – not only love their work, but also their ethos, integrity, passion for being real and bold in their work and they are one of my favourite (probably arguably my favourite – but I struggle with making final choices about favourites so ….) feminist and gender equality promoting artists. Their work crosses different mediums and like me – it’s kind of hard to describe what they do!

I’ve had Bettie on my list for a Culture Vulture blog for over a year – so I’m buzzed it’s actually happening and I got to interview this brilliant creative human. We need more Betties in the world. Part of my Culture Vulture adventure so far – it’s taught me as much about what and who I want to be personally, as it has professionally. Artists like Bettie create art that means something, says something to world and is an extension of who they are in a meaningful unapologetic way. Artists like Bettie, remind me, to be bold, be honest and to use my platform (and privilege) to say something to the world. Over to you Bettie….

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Hiyer, who are you?

I’m Bettie aka Slutmouth a surface designer and proud cat mom based in the North East more specifically, Hartlepool.

Tell me about your journey into the creative sector?

I was always very creative as a child, my mum nurtured this being a community artist herself. At age 14, I started to attend the National Saturday Art Club at which, was then, CCAD at Green Lane. We had the opportunity to exhibit our work in the Somerset House four times which is extremely cool at that age!

Whilst attending the Saturday club, I had the chance to use specialist art facilities which inspired me study Design crafts at the college and pursue a career in the Arts. During my time at the college, I really developed my love for freehand embroidery and created a bizarre and whimsical installation piece created as a homage to George Méliès and the Smashing Pumpkins.

The following year I started the Textile and Surface design course at the Northern School of Art where I really dived into Screen printing in the first year. It was in second year when watching John Waters ‘Pink Flamingos’ and The Cockettes documentary that I really began to home in on the ‘Slutmouth’ aesthetic and vibe. For the project of ‘Off Beat’ I was hugely inspired by Leigh Bowery and the Club Kids of New York and I feel that’s where I really started to explore my own identity, and what it meant to me within my work. This is when the penny really dropped and I felt I had a solid direction.

How would you describe your arts’ practice?

I would describe it as an extremely personal process with it originally being me exploring my identity, the taboos and negativity I was holding against my body and sexuality and breaking through those barriers by using my art to do so. I’ve always been a very colourful person even when in my emo phase and so this reflects within the colour palettes of my work. It is amalgamated stylised chaos, thought process.

Taking influence from music, art, fashion, film and feeling. I feel that I use my work as my platform to voice how I feel, think or would like to say. It’s very important to break down the barriers and stand for what you believe in if you have the ability to do so.

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How did you come up with the name Slutmouth?

For years I went by my name Bettie Hope; that name on my artwork never really sat right with me – I loved the idea of having an alter ego where I can really express myself and not feel so attached to it, if I needed to walk away and start again I could.

It took days and days to figure out what I wanted to be called. Slutmouth was the first idea that popped into my head, I was really into listening to Girlpool at the time, but I kept talking myself out of it. In the end I felt so strongly about the name I said Fuck it and drew my logo up right then. The reason the name Slutmouth

resonated with me so much is because of the struggle I faced as a young woman in a world of people who are just rude, inappropriate and feel they can slut shame womxn, so in reality it was me taking ownership of that and hopefully turning it into something positive. It’s still a funny process when trading at events and people see my brand name; some people are often shocked shuffle away very quickly, others adore the name and I can only think that it’s because they also resonate with it.

Well I adore it – Your art really has playfulness, passion & purpose behind it – it’s art that means & says something to me – but the tongue & cheekness also makes me smile…..where do you get your inspiration from for your work?

My first real inspiration for the ‘Off Beat’ project was my late friend Gary Pearson. I met him when I was in second year of University and he was in first year, he bounced into our room wearing this wonderful leather gimp mask; I was so excited and we instantly became friends. We chatted about so much; sex, relationships, music and it made me realise I wanted to be as open and make my work more personal to myself.

I started this process back in secondary school when I made a giant ragdoll that was supposed to be me. I think it’s very important to constantly looks inwards and challenge yourself to as authentic as possible.  Gary was such a fabulous leather daddy creature who introduced me to Tom of Finland. I’m honoured to have known him during that period of time; he really helped me begin to understand myself.

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In your pieces, you explore feminism, identity, sexuality, queerness, empowerment, sex, bodies, being human…. Can you tell me about that?

I think the themes I explore are things that I have difficulty within the sense that I struggle to understand them within myself, and they then become things I can deal with. I also use my work as a platform for others and try to voice my thoughts through my work. Like I mentioned earlier I feel it’s very important to challenge the ‘norm’ and stand up for what you believe in, also to speak up for those who can’t find their own voice, you might become the thing that inspires them to do so.

I’m working on several feminist projects at the moment – and supporting several too. What do you think it means to be a feminist in 2020? What does it mean to you?

I think feminism is different for everyone; for me it’s about equality for all womxn and providing a safe space for us all to live and grow in whilst supporting each other to do the same. I love to explore feminist themes within my work to outline the struggles womxn still deal with today. The world can be a tough and nasty place and in recent years it seems as though we are taking huge steps backward in the western world, there are a lot of topics that can be covered within feminism, it can be quite overwhelming sometimes when thinking of social issues not just for womxn but for all sentient beings as I would like to help wherever I can, but sometimes you have to leave that fight for others; you can only do your best and so much but even then, that can make a huge difference.

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Tell me about your involvement with Sassify Zine Issue #7? What is Sassify for those who don’t know?

Sassify Zine is a platform to local and international LGBTQ+ artists and they aim to be advocates for meaningful change and education about the queer community. It is a not-for-profit Queer culture print magazine giving you all the best queer art and sassiness. In the Queer Heroes #7  issue the work I have featured is a digital illustration  named ‘Femme and Fierce’ and the ‘Luxury Period’ piece that was also exhibited at The Art of Being Queer exhibition, at the exhibition it was framed in ornate golden frame, but for the magazine its styled and photographed to look like a sanitary towel that is almost functional. If anyone is interested in seeing what I have featured then you can pre order the zine on http://www.sassifyzine.com

I was a lurker on your Insta for some time before I stumbled on to your work at The Art of Being Queer exhibition last year, which was absolutely the highlight of Middlesbrough Art Weekender – how did you get featured and what was the experience like of being featured?

Pineapple black was and still is an absolute Hub of creativity; my friend Gav Paughan who is a fantastic textiler, creates gorgeous gold work masks and wearables, was working in the studio space that he won and he was working on a new project something along those lines, another very busy artist.. anyway he got talking to Josh the guy that runs The Art of Being Queer blog and got himself in the exhibition and name dropped me – Josh contacted me and I submitted imagery of my work to be exhibited.

It was an amazing experience, I had lots of fun and it was unreal to be surrounded by the sheer amount of amazing artists I couldn’t quite believe the level of quality I was witnessing. The opening night was fantastic and the exhibition really stepped up the mark for the Middlesbrough Art scene, I’m very much looking forward to keeping an eye on where The Art of being Queer travels to next. In the mean time you can head over to the blog and keep up to date with more established and emerging queer artists.

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Of course, I fell in love with your “Period Products Are A Necessity Not A Luxury” embellished sanitary pad exhibited….Can you tell me about the piece and the process of making it?

Wow thank you – this piece was created to highlight just one of many issues within period poverty. I started to create the piece just as embroidered typography, then during the process I had a brain wave whilst embroidering into the bleached calico to create a sanitary pad shape. I wasn’t sure if I was taking it too far at this point it was around 1am and I may have been delirious, but it was obviously the best kind of delirious.

I went on the search for a sanitary pad to get the shape accurate and began to incorporate the shape into my design, I then started to think how I could stuff it and make it 3D, from that point the typography read “Period Products Are A Necessity Not A Luxury” .

Another brain wave later; I decided to make it look like it had been used, which I would have preferred to have known at the start, but It was very organic the way this piece established itself in my brain. Once the watercolour had dried, I then began to embellish with a pearl trim and golden chain to make it seem unwearable and luxury. I had so much fun creating this piece I felt like I went back to my roots when doing so.

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You make some products like tea towels & pom poms – I’m surprised I’ve got this long into the questions before asking about the pom poms….LOVE pom poms (also a tea towel….very underrated in my experience) – tell me about your products?

My products are all handmade or hand finished; for example the T-shirts, I buy are organic cotton but I would then screen print the designs or hand embroider onto them. Any designs digitally printed are my own, but I source the digitally printing in the UK and then make up the product myself on the sewing machine. It’s just putting my artwork on different surfaces, I would eventually like to create garments alongside accessories, and play around with wallpaper again. I like to keep myself very busy if I’m not exhibiting my work, I’m trading sellable stock at fairs and on my website. I have just always loved to make sellable things since being around 16 years old and studying design crafts, at this age I also started to organise my own craft events.

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Tell me about fuzzy bosom? What is it? When the next “thing”?

Fuzzy Bosom is a side company I have set up with my lovely friend Adele Catchpole. We studied at Uni together and became very close; whilst at Uni I was the President of the SU and Adele was my VP – we started to put on events for other students there such as zine fairs and designer maker fairs.

We both have our own freelance businesses but we saw that Hartlepool was lacking in this field; we also wanted to offer bespoke artist workshops for the community along with a platform for local artists. It is also a lot of work to organise an event on your own, so we decided to join forces and share the load and thus the Fuzzy team was formed. We have lots of amazing ideas, and more events to plan, but we are both moving homes at the moment; so we have put it on the back burner for a few weeks before we get back to it. We have recently ran a weaving workshop and screen-printing workshop during the Stand Together event in Hartlepool.

What’s the art scene like over in Hartlepool? I want to make a day trip of going there – where should I be visiting? What should I be seeing?

The art scene is pretty strong; the place is heaving with creativity at the Bis Centre on Whitby street, in the Northern School of Art, Hartlepool Art club and The Art Gallery. The main art scenes are music events that have community arts projects involved I find, which is why we set Fuzzy Bosom up.

I am also admin to the NE: Creatives group on Facebook which was formed to give local artists access to specialist opportunities. You should certainly check out my students, they are superbly talented, I am the National Saturday Art Club tutor, based in the Centre of Excellence in Creative Arts, the students are aged 14-16, the group bridges the gap between school and college and really gives the students the opportunity to develop specialist art skills that can develop into a career.

We have recently been creating a GIANT pom pom which I am super excited about and I’m sure you will be too, so I will send you photos when our hard work is complete. We have also been working on self-portraits and hand embroideries. You need to check out our Instagram to see the raw talent these emerging artists have its @northernartsatclub.

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This week is International Women’s Week…. Any womxn artists that I should be checking out/aware of/inspire you?

I am surrounded by so many amazing femxle artists that are local so I will name drop a few! Just Harry Designs, Cat Call, Adele Catchpole, Jade Lenehan, Kirsty Jade Designs, Betty and the Lovecats, Mandas Cat, Make it Reign Studio, Hun North East, Molly Arnold, Lucy Alice Winter, Hairy Yetti, Laura Moon, Wild Lamb and Megabethpaints–  Just to name some off the top of my head, some serious talent!!

Well that was a total feast for me to discover….What awaits you in 2020? Any projects you can give me flavour of?

The first project that awaits me is finishing unpacking in my new studio. Then at some point this I will be creating some new pieces that will be exhibited at the ‘Wild Slut’ Wild Lamb and Slutmouth Collaboration exhibition date TBC.

I will also be trading my wares the following day at Base Camp which is host to GRL 2020 an event packed with live music, street food and a feminist market. Sunday the 15th of March I am going to be chatting with Chantal from Sister Shack on Pride Radio. I’m not really sure what the rest of the year entails, but I know it’s going to be an exciting one, I can feel it. Check out my Instagram @slutmouthdesign and website http://www.slutmouth.co.uk to stay up to date in the world of Slutmouth.

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Well thank you….if I wasn’t in love with Bettie before – I sure am after this interview. And what a perfect week to share this interview, than on International Women’s Day WEEK!

And that’s all for now Culture Vultures.