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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take it away TSDAP team!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A piece by Team TSDAP Natasha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Emma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Alex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Julia

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

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

Have you missed the “in person” being creative?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jasmine - Photo from Julia Pomeroy

A piece by Team TSDAP’s Jasmine

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next for the Social Distance Art Project?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything else you want to share?

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

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

All my love, The Culture Vulture xx

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

I want a new tattoo – I want several.

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

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Laura Sheldon tattoo – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

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

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

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

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

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

Tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

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

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

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

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

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

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

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

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

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

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

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

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

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

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

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

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

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

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

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

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

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

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

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Imminence

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

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

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

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

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

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

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

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

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

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

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

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

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

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

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

Any upcoming projects you want to tell me about?

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

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

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

That’s all for now Culture Vultures. Xx