As we move closer to the end of 2020 and the start of 2021, I thought i’d round out the year, with an artist interview with a creative that has brought me a lot of joy and colour across 2020, an artist that has been responsible for spreading a lot of joy into folx lives across a year like no other and worked on some joy filled creative projects.
Josie Brookes’ work is just pure joy! I first met Josie Brookes in my role at Gateshead Council on the Culture Team. Josie’s illustrations are the sort that just make you smile – full of colour, personality and something rather comforting with a hint of nostalgia. She makes the type of work, that you brings light into a room and if you hung it on your wall, you couldn’t ever imagine feeling sad in that room ever again.
She’s is a freelance Illustrator, animator and art facilitator based in Newcastle upon Tyne, North East England. Her illustration work showcases illustration in its broadest context – illustration can be so much more than drawing, especially when you throw collage and bold patterns into the mix.
I’ve wanted to interview Josie for Vulture, for years – but seeing her resilience across 2020, the wonderful creative and community projects she’s been involved in and contributed to – well it spurred me on to make it happen!
So over to you Josie….
Well hello, can you introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures?
Hello! I’m Josie, a North East Creative, an Illustrator/visual maker and creative facilitator living in my home city of Newcastle upon Tyne.
Tell me a bit about your journey into the creative industries – where did it all begin?
When I returned home from doing my BA in Graphic Design at Brighton University, I worked part-time at The Newcastle Arts Centre and then a-n – The Artists Information Company, whilst building up my work as a freelance Illustrator and facilitator, working on commissions and projects, largely with a community focus, around the region. In the earlier days, I also ran a business called ‘Prod’ with my husband Tom Madge selling patterned screen-printed belts and jewellery, but eventually my illustration and project work sort of took over and I was lucky enough to be able to invest in my freelance practice full time.
Thinking back, my first paid job as an illustrator was doing the horoscope Illustrations for The Crack magazine (after a stint of work experience whilst at Uni). I’ve always found the North East to be a very supportive place to work in, with a great sense of camaraderie in the creative community here.
You are the true definition of a multi-disciplinary artist – illustrator, animator, collage, maker – but most well-known (IMO) for your illustration, how did you develop your illustration style?
I think my illustration style has evolved with me. At the core, my work focuses on character and colour. Most of the time I represent things from my own perspective rather than in a realistic way. I like to experiment with processes. The way it’s made – be it using pen, collage, print or digital techniques – can vary, and overlap, but always has those common themes.
We were reunited on Art Crush (without ever meeting or talking – very 2020 of us!) working on the project! I was thrilled to see your name and the illustrations are of the “art personalities” are just perfect! Can you tell me in your words what Art Crush is?
Art Crush is a fun app designed to explore the Arts Council Collection (the UK’s most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art, with more than 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists), in a less conventional way, and to learn a little bit about your artistic persuasions! Developed using a similar interface to apps such as Tinder, Art Crush enables folks to quickly and easily swipe through artworks to discover what art they like, create their own collection and discover their ‘art personality’.
What was your involvement in Art Crush and how did you come up with the concept of the visuals?
Sunderland Culture approached me to come up with the visuals for the Art Crush Art personalities, because they were looking for someone who they thought could have fun experimenting with these slightly abstract concepts and I had recently done an online talk about my work and showed some Horoscope illustrations I had made, which they likened the challenge to.
I got a description of each of the art personalities and started working up ideas and draft characters to feedback on. It was a lovely working process with them and luckily, there wasn’t much tweaking to do. My concept was that each character was ‘encased’ by their personality, around their head, with patterns, colour choices and little details providing an extra nod to their traits.
Why should people download Art Crush and have a go?
It’s such a fun app and a great concept. It’s like Tinder but for Art. So, if you’ve been married as long as I have, you might never have used something like this (Tinder – the dating app) before! You swipe right and get to see lots of art from the Arts Council Collection, then once you have 15 matches you get to discover your Art Personality.
Now time for the big question – what was your Arts Personality?
Mine was Truth Seeker. I was secretly hoping for Boundary Breaker, but there you go! Although, you can do it as many times as you like, and it may change depending on your mood. I’ve done it a few times now and keep getting Truth Seeker, so feel like that’s my destiny!
I saw the project call out on the Tyne and Wear Cultural Freelancers facebook feed and immediately loved the concept of the idea. After such a prolonged period of turmoil for everyone in the creative industry (and everyone in general) a project which focused on bringing a little bit of good in world was headily appealing. I went through the interview process and thankfully was asked to be involved. The project is about exploring ‘how lots of small creative bits of good can be connected to facilitate something bigger’. Monkfish have been working with Projects4Change so it has included workshops with their young people and I have gotten to work with fellow artist Melanie Kyles, who has been making a beautiful embroidery piece for the project too.
Can you share a project highlight so far? How can folx get involved with the remainder of the project?
There’s so many! Getting to do some ‘in real life’ workshops with the Projects4Change youth group, my first and only ones, since March. Also the online ‘Drink and Draw’ evening we had on Zoom, and getting to produce some self-initiated artwork… so basically the whole lot!
You sell lots of cards, prints and are available for commissions…..where do you seek inspiration for that work? Do you create work with the intention of selling it, or do you have fun making/illustrating something and then think….oh I might add a print of that to my shop? How can folx purchase from you?
I’m more in the having fun then thinking oh that would make a nice print camp. At the start of Lockdown, in a moment of organisation (panic) I got a lot of prints made up and set up my online shop properly. There’s nothing like a pandemic to get you to do those things you’re always meaning to but normally never get round to. People can shop for my prints/originals and greetings cards on my online shop.
You did the illustration for Culture Vulture favourite, stand-up comedian Kate Fox and their tour “Where There’s Muck, There’s Bras”, a show celebrating Northern women and their contributions, commissioned for Great Exhibition of the North 2018. I just loved the show branding – can you tell me about your involvement in the project and what you thought of the show? What was it like being a lush creative woman, working on a project about celebrating and championing women!?
Thank you. I love Kate and it is always a pleasure to create work for her. We worked on a project together around 6 years ago with Helix Arts and YHNE and have stayed in touch since. The branding for her ‘WTMTB’ show, and then tour, was a dream. I learned so much from drawing up all the Strong Northern women that feature in the show. It was really emotional watching the show and realising just how much these women and their achievements have been written out of or glossed over in history. I feel privileged to have been a tiny part of the process of highlighting their Awesomeness. It was also empowering to work on a on an all-Northern all-woman led project. I am very proud of where I come from, so always appreciate opportunities to champion people from the North.
Can you tell me a bit about your involvement with the band Warm Digits?
Myself and my husband Tom, were asked to make the lead single video ‘View from Nowhere’ for Warm Digits new album (released in February this year) and we decided to make it using stop motion animation. We visited Emma pollock the guest vocalist on the track up in Glasgow to record her performance. It was an intense and massively fun project to do together, and we are really happy with the result. Unfortunately, Lockdown 1 put the launch gig at The Cluny, Newcastle on hold, but it’s something to look forward to in 2021.
And your link with Newcastle based Chalk; an organization that creates cultural, immersive experiences for the whole family?
I’m honoured to be an associate artist for Chalk. I really appreciate, all the hard work they do to provide fun and interesting family-focused events in the region (which I have enjoyed as a parent with my kids), so I was thrilled when they first asked me if I would be involved with their events. I have live animated through two of their gigs, for bands Archipelago and Stealing Sheep, and also run children’s animation workshop. I also recently did an online Chalk workshop as part of the Summer Streets Festival exploring ‘What does Music look like?’ and I really look forward to being involved in more exciting events in the near future. Chalk are always coming up with something different.
You were the artist and residence at Northern Festival of Illustration– what was that like? Tell me about your residency?
This was such a great experience for me as an Illustrator; there aren’t that many Illustration specific residency opportunities out there and The Pop Up studio residency was a fantastic way to break from my usual routine of projects and invest some time in pure self-initiated experimenting. I had the chance to connect with the creative scene in Teesside through the Northern School of Art and Empty Shop. I met new people and had the chance to share the space with fellow resident artist Laura Fitton. I ran group workshops, put on a fun Drink and Draw and enjoyed the chance to explore the Teesside area more.
What’s your 2020 highlight been?
I’d have to say my creative highlight this year would be releasing the Warm Digits music video. It was such a nice way to combine these different facets of my practice in one – using print, collage, mark making and animation, all together. It was also a happy time getting to collaborate with my husband Tom.
Can you share something new you’re working on/coming up?
I am currently working on a collection of new print and collage-based work inspired by the Warm Digit’s project, that was going to be exhibited at Northern Print in September this year; it has had to be postponed until next year. I’m also working with Monkfish on one of their other great projects ‘Going the Social Distance’ which is based online and working with young people around creativity and well-being.
I’m also really excited to start working on Claire Newton’s (Creatively Conscious) new project ‘Creativity Island’ with her and writer Danielle Slade. It is all about connection, creativity and well-being in motherhood, which are subjects that I am very passionate about!
Any artists/creative folx that are inspiring you right now, that you suggest I should check out?
I have been really enjoying Instagram. It feels like a great platform for spotting people that you I love the work of. I’d recommend checking out the feeds of Lisa Congdon, Jayde Perkin, Elisoa Henderson-Figueroa, Peopleiveloved, thejoyeclectic, Sarah Bagshaw designs, moragmyerscough, local illustrator pal Laura Sheldon and my friends at Flea Circus who always give me shopping urges and helping me to ‘shop small’ as much as possible.
How can folx keep in touch with you?
Well thank you Josie – wonderful to catch up with an artist that has smashed 2020 out the park whilst bringing joy to so many folx too. Please check out Josie’s online shop, keep an eye out for her future projects into 2021 and check out those Instagram suggestions – they are goodies!
All my love Culture Vultures – more interviews on the way!