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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.

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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

Interview with The Biscuit Factory’s 2020 Contemporary Young Artist Award winner – artist Millie Suu-Kyi

It absolutely seems like a lifetime ago, but one of my last nights out culture vulturing pre-lockdown, was to The Biscuit Factory’s Spring season show opening – Contemporary Young Artist Award headline show; it is always a total treat and a really broad diverse mix of art.

The Biscuit Factory is the UK’s largest independent contemporary art, craft & design gallery set in the heart of Newcastle’s cultural quarter. It is also one of my favourite galleries to visit in the region. This year’s Contemporary Young Artist Award exhibition featured 36 artists shortlisted from over 1200 submissions by The Biscuit Factory Curators (I recently interviewed them HERE). This exhibition and the award, now in its fourth year, provides a platform for new and emerging talent and invites the public to vote for their favourite piece to win People’s Choice. The exhibition unfortunately, (and obviously) shut down pretty sharpish after opening to the public due to lock down measures – it was a wonderful exhibition and you can view the exhibition online HERE.

On the Spring show opening night, I had the pleasure of meeting the 2020 Contemporary Young Artist Award winner, Millie Suu-Kyi and viewing her series of sculptures ‘If the shoe fits’ including Selfish Sean, Immature Isaac and Obsessive Olivia. Millie is a multi-discipline artist whose work incorporates ceramics, illustration and textiles and she was a delight to meet and chat to. She reminded me exactly how an artist should be, when they’ve just won a brilliant award – bliddy giddy, a tiny bit overwhelmed and very excited! It was just lush – I love with genuinely brilliant humans are recognised for their talent.

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‘If the shoe fits’ – Millie Suu-Kyi on exhibition opening night

Millie’s winning piece, ‘If the shoe fits’,  is a commentary on materialism, over-indulgence and the influence of brands on society – it’s quite playful whilst provoking serious questions on where on what we place value on in our society (and individually). These questions were huge pre-pandemic, but in the midst of COVID-19, they’ve taken on a new life and hinting as superficial societal foolishness. I know, I certainly feel that way.

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‘If the shoe fits’ – Millie Suu-Kyi

I recently caught up with Millie via Insta – we’d chatted about a Culture Vulture interview in March, but with everything hitting the way it did, now felt like a more appropriate time to do it and I’m so eager that people know about and discover Millie’s work and her winning piece – irrespective of not being able to view it right now.

So here we go, an interview with The Biscuit Factory’s 2020 Contemporary Young Artist Award winner, artist Millie Suu-Kyi….

Hiyer, lush to chat again…. Can you introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures….? 

My name is Millie, my artist name is Millie Suu-Kyi and I’m a North London-based artist.

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 Millie Suu-Kyi

I love your artist name…where did it come from?

My middle name is Suu-Kyi; I’m named after Aung San Suu-Kyi the Burmese/Myanmar leader, which these days is more controversial (!), but either way it’s a good conversation starter and definitely a more interesting name than Millie Holland!

Can you tell me about your journey into the creative industries? Did you step out into the world thinking I want to be an artist? 

Well, I’ve always been creative and knew I wanted to be in the industry, but for many years I wanted to be a dancer and I even did the auditions to go to dance school instead of art school. I’m pleased I chose art and I particularly love being a multidisciplinary artist because it means you can use all the different things you’ve learnt over the years; even my dance practice comes in handy!

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Millie Suu-Kyi

You graduated in 2019, so are relatively at the beginning of your artistic journey which is so exciting! Do you feel on the cusp of something wonderful? It sure feels that way as someone looking in! 

Ah that’s so lovely to say. In truth, it feels a little unknown and a lot like guess work, but I’m loving developing new projects and trying things out – I feel like a newbie and am aware I have so much more to learn, but for now I’m enjoying the ride and seeing what I can make next.

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Millie Suu-Kyi

You work across many mediums sculpture, ceramics, illustration and textiles! A quadruple creative threat! Can you tell you me a bit about those mediumshow do they interact or play out together? Is there a medium that you think youll specialise in?

I am first and foremost someone that draws and that is where all my projects begin, but from there I love being able to see which material lends itself to a project. However, I end up spending the largest chunk of my time on ceramics because it requires so much time.

I don’t think I want to specialise in just one material as I think the different media, I use complement one another so well and each add so much.

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Millie Suu-Kyi

You bliddy won Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020 (well done) can you tell me about your submission piece? 

The piece, ‘If The Shoe Fits’, was my graduate work, which I also took to New Designers. The piece looked at visual stereotypes and the reasons people mass migrate towards certain trends and brands. I formed my three characters on less desirable traits and the way we use brands and consumerism to conceal our imperfections. This in turn conceals our vulnerability.

As Brits are collectively known for their discomfort around nudity, I wanted to play with humour by making them naked. While amusing, the focus on nudity here also symbolises the guilt linked between being our true selves, as people literally use familiar brands to cover themselves, and concealing the unwanted aspects of their identity.

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‘If the shoe fits’ – Millie Suu-Kyi

Can you tell us a little bit about the process making the piece?

The figures are made from stoneware clay and each took a day or 2 to make. I created limbs and body parts first and then constructed them all. They were then bisque fired at 1000° degrees, then glazed using a spray gun and transparent glaze and then re-fired at 1200°.

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‘If the shoe fits’ – Millie Suu-Kyi

What made you submit in general to the award? 

In truth, a few people had wanted to buy the pieces and I’d decided against it, so I wanted to make sure I did something with them so that I wouldn’t regret not selling them! I also felt it was a project that could start conversation and gain some interest, as the figures definitely turned heads at the degree show. Now I can definitely say I’m pleased I didn’t sell them.

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‘If the shoe fits’ – Millie Suu-Kyi

How did you find out youd won and what did that moment feel like? 

I was working at Thrown Contemporary (Ceramics Gallery) preparing the gallery for a private view, when I received an email saying I’d won. I’m not always the best at reading so I read it out loud to my boss to make sure I was reading it right! I then went to the toilet to quickly message the family WhatsApp to let them know and then went back to work, pretending I was as cool as a cucumber (which I definitely wasn’t!)

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Millie Suu-Kyi

Such a lush story – What are you going to spend the prize money on? 

Before the lockdown, the plan was to buy a ceramics kiln which would’ve used nearly all of the money, so that’s still the plan for post lockdown. But if not, I’d love to go on a puppetry making course.

As a young artist, why are awards and opportunities like Contemporary Young Artist Award important to you and your peers? Are they important? 

When you graduate it’s hard to know where to begin and applying for things like this award are a great way to cast your net and see what you catch. They are potentially a platform to publicise oneself, but if not, they’re at the very least a confidence boost and a good experience.

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Millie Suu-Kyi

You came up to Newcastle for the preview event it was a blast to hang out with you! What did it feel like having people look at your work and attending as the winner?

Ah thank you, it was a lovely evening! Well, if I’m honest, I’m not sure many people knew I was the winner! – But that was fine with me, it was just a delight to get to know the gallery staff and be at an event where my work was displayed and I wasn’t there to support a friend or hand out the drinks!

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Millie Suu-Kyi

Lurking at your own event – is the perfect way to enjoy an event! You mentioned that you had a friend in Newcastle did you manage to explore Newcastle?

I have one close friend in Newcastle doing a Masters but I actually only managed to visit her when I came for the Private View, so I haven’t seen much of Newcastle. However, what I’ve seen I’ve liked very much. – It has elements of London and Edinburgh which are my favourite places, so that’s high praise.

When its just you and you want to make/createfor fun, what do you tend to do? 

My absolute favourite things to create are characters. I draw them with their clothes, accessories and usually gangly limbs with big hands, and like to include details like their age, name and hobbies – almost like my own Top Trumps.

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Marcus – Millie Suu-Kyi

I was a big fan of Marcus on your Insta! Where do you seek artistic inspiration? Are there any artists that inspire you whether by their work or by their boldness etc? 

There are so many artists that I completely adore but I’ll choose:

Paula Rego for her surrealist paintings, which have incredible character and story development, understanding of colour and a beautiful use of perspective and foreground/background.

Peter Lubach with his limitless ability to recreate the human/animal forms in clay, using pleasing and deceptively simple shapes, as well as an undertone of humour.

Pierre Le-Tan is my latest discovery. His delicate use of ink and water colour create immaculate, quiet interior scenes. They are a joy to behold!

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Peter Lubach

I get a sense of you being a bit protesty (LOVE) and a risk taker (LOVE) both in your creative practice and as a person can you talk a little bit about that? 

I am pretty outspoken and very interested in current affairs, often drawing on political stances, stereotypes, class divides and social structures for my work. But, I’m also aware that there’s always so much more to learn and I certainly don’t claim to know it all. I can only make art that shows what my slice of the world is like, so I intend to keep on educating myself to ensure I stay involved and keep being that little bit protesty.

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Millie Suu-Kyi

You have an AMAZING sense fashion and bold style where do you seek fashion inspo from? What inspires your looks? Where do you shop/fave indie outlets? 

As someone who’s environmentally conscious and loves buying on a budget, I now only buy secondhand clothing, almost entirely from charity shops. I absolutely love having to hunt and rummage through strange rails and racks. In terms of inspiration, I adore 60s prints and silhouettes and I’m a great believer in more is more, so I always like to dress up and wear as much colour as possible.

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Millie Suu-Kyi

So of course, your Young Contemporary Artist Award win came a few weeks before lock down what have you been up to/working on? (Beside surviving a Pandemic if you havent done anything creative at all, join the club!) How has lockdown effected your practice? 

Well, as I never managed to get a kiln in time, I am currently making new ceramics work and leaving it unfired for a very long time, which isn’t ideal! But for now, I am drawing new characters and scenes and making clay samples for a new project which I hope will be my solo exhibition at the Biscuit Factory next year. Also, I’m not making a huge amount because I’ve been working in a local care home. So, in my free time, I’m pleased I’m managing to keep the creative wheels turning.

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Millie Suu-Kyi

Youre submersed in the creative world further South how are the creative community responding to the Pandemic? In the North, there is a real sense of wanting to change the creative gameand power structure I really hope self-employed artists come out the other side, more self-determining but I am hugely fearful for the creative industries.  

I am absolutely surrounded by creative talent where I live, with musicians, designers, artists and generally amazing people everywhere I look, which can be a little intimidating! I haven’t allowed myself to process the damage that the industry will take – people say the arts and artists are resilient but this is going to be so tough for so many people. I think we’ll just have to wait and see, but for now the arts is being as charitable as ever with free online lessons, discounted work and all the rest of it – so as usual people are just making do and being highly impressive.

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Millie Suu-Kyi

Any advice to artists just starting out? 

Sadly, I’d feel too much like a phony to answer that! I’m really just starting out myself so, I suppose, all I could say to my peers in the same boat is, try and find your USP and revolve your practice around that.

What is next for Millie? Anything in the pipeline?

I recently choreographed and filmed a dance project using a music piece written by a friend. I really enjoyed the process and it reminded me that I want to try some more performance-based work, tying my sculptural work with movement. I’ve also been drawing some new ideas to work towards potentially writing and illustrating a short book, but none of the logistics have even been researched yet, so for now it’s just a dream.

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Millie Suu-Kyi

So you’ve been busy being brilliant! Where can we find more about you and your work?

My website can be visited HERE and my instagram handle is @milliesuukyi

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Millie Suu-Kyi

Well then thanky Millie – I’m super excited for your solo exhibition at The Biscuit Factory – I need more things in my life to look forward to and that is certainly a cultural cherry! Check out Millie’s insta and her work – she’s bliddy talented and a gem! And remember, you can check out you can view the Contemporary Young Artist Award exhibition online HERE

 

Interview with North East actor Andrew Finnigan – newly appointed Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2020

I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Andrew Finnigan – North East based professional actor AND the newly appointed Customs House’s Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2020. This news is hot off the press so I was buzzed to be one of the first interviewing him!

I’m working with the folks over at The Customs House for Takeover 2020 to champion the festival – you can read my blog post all about the Takeover HERE and find out more about it; but just to remind my fellow Culture Vultures, The Takeover is an annual week-long arts festival at The Customs House that is produced by, with and for young people. 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. I chatted to two of this year’s team Harrison and James HERE.

 Takeover 2020 was set to happen May half term but for obvious reasons it has been postponed – so instead it’s (hopefully) something for North East young people later in the year to look forward to and enjoy; new dates are yet to be announced.

The Takeover Young Writer residency is an opportunity for an emerging theatre writer, under 25yrs old, to write a piece of theatre with young people’s voices and a North East narrative rooted at its heart. This piece will be staged at The Customs House as the finale piece of Takeover Festival 2020! The residency comes with support from the Takeover team and mentoring from a professional writer; this year’s mentor is the eminent playwright Tom Wells.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2019 – Elijah Young; you can catch up on that interview HERE. But now it’s time for Andrew Finnigan – I caught up with Andrew by phone and had a really good natter; I was super impressed that this is his first writing experience and got such a sense of bubbling energy, enthusiasm and talent. And his piece for this year’s Takeover Festival, sounds brilliant and I’m excited for him to share with you a glimpse.

So step right up Andrew, here we go go! An interview with Andrew Finnigan, this year’s appointed Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2020. BOOM!

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Andrew Finnigan (Photo credit – Andrew Reed)

Hiyer Andrew – lush to digitally meet you! So can you tell my fellow Culture Vultures, who you are….

I’m Andrew Finnigan; I’m 23 and work primarily as an actor. I’m based in South Shields but kind of up sticks to wherever work takes me.

Textbook question – can you tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

Oddly it wasn’t a route; I didn’t even realise I was starting at the time. Me and my best were kind of forced into doing the school musical when we were about 13, but it turned out I quite enjoyed it so I started taking looking for ways I could get more into that kind of thing outside of school.

I joined the Customs House Youth Theatre when I was 16 and from there, started to appreciate theatre and storytelling even more. In 2016, I was cast in a play called Broken Biscuits, from an open audition where you didn’t need to have any formal training or an agent to go along; I had neither at the time. And that was the start!

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Andrew Finnigan in Broken Biscuits (Photo credit unknown)

Youre primarily an actor – can you tell me about the most recent production you acted in?

The last production I worked on was a Sam Steiner play, You Stupid Darkness!. It tells the story of 4 volunteers who answer the phones at Brightline during the a time when society is on the brink of collapse – the volunteers listen patiently, once a week, to outpourings of  stranger’s woe, offering the hope of connection – a hope they come to rely on just as much. You Stupid Darkness! had a five week run down at the Southwark Playhouse in London and actually finished up not long before the lockdown was put in place so timing wise we were quite lucky!

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Andrew Finnigan in You Stupid Darkness! (Photo credit Matt Austin)

So on to the main subject of this interview – Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2020 – HUGE congrats on being appointed! So lush to hear some happy news like this, during this challenging period – what prompted you to apply for the residency?

I’ve known about the Takeover Young Writer in Residence scheme since it started in 2018 but hadn’t considered applying as a writer!  For the application stage, you had to submit 10/15 pages of a script and a friend of mine said I should try and think of an idea and produce something. It was quite a nice low pressure way of working and felt like a well “why not?” situation.

Can tell me about the moment you found out and how it felt to find out you’d been successful?

I actually got the email telling me on the first day of lock down so I was really pleased I’d have something to work on. I was also hit with a sudden realisation that I had to actually finish writing it and that 10 pages was just the start, but the thought of finally seeing it on stage during Takeover 2020 really keeps me motivated.

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Andrew Finnigan in Drip (Photo credit Sam Taylor)

This is the first piece of theatre youve ever written (exciting!)  – where are you seeking inspiration for your writing?

I’ve been using my time to watch any TV or movies that I feel sit in the same world as what I’m writing. I often think there’s nothing worse than reading or watching how an adult thinks teenagers act or talk, but shows like Sex Education on Netflix really seem to capture the awkwardness and goofiness of what being that age is like, so I’ve definitely been coming back to that for reference points.

Agree with the adult perception of young people depicted in media– it can be SO cringe! Can you tell us about your piece? A flavour of what it is about, the storyline and the vibe?

So, the play is called Cherryade Supernova. It follows Josie, whose mam has convinced her to throw a house party while she’s away in the hope that she can make some new friends. She throws the party and an array of different personalities show-up! The piece is really about Josie kind of navigating her way through the night as best she can. Vibe wise, it’ll hopefully be reflective of how awkward house parties actually were (or are!) when you’re a teenager and just the messiness of it all.

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Andrew Finnigan (Photo credit Rich Kenworthy)

I was the Queen of social awkwardness as a teenage so I can relate – sounds brilliant and absolutely love the name! How far have you got with writing and can you tell us a bit about your writing process?  

Currently I’m about half-way through my first draft. I’m going at a steady pace at the minute but I’m happy with the progress it’s making. Since I’ve haven’t written theatre before I’m kind of figuring out what kind of writer I am during this process; whether I work best writing chronologically or if I start with the scenes I see a bit more clearly first. It has just been trial and error really seeing which way fits me best. I have so far drawn a lot from my own life when writing too; injecting some of my own experiences at pretty tame house parties.

I know this is your first writing experience – but how do you think lock down has impacted your writing? Many creative folks are struggling with being creative and concentrating (I hear ya!), how are you finding it?

It has been a challenge but I’m starting to get used to it now. For me personally, it has been about finding my rhythm of when I get the best work done. I’ve found that I actually focus more later on in the day so I make sure that most nights I sit down and try and get some stuff written then. Not putting pressure on myself to get lots written each day helps too; if I’ve had a bad day and not gotten much down, I tell myself it’s okay – right now even half a page’s work is a small victory in itself.

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Andrew Finnigan in You Stupid Darkness (Photo  credit Ali Wright)

What are you excited about within the residency? What do you hope to get out of it?

Since I only really have experience being on stage, I’m really looking forward to being on the other side and seeing how it feels watching my work performed by others. I’m also so pleased that my piece is being directed by Abigail Lawson too. We worked together on Wormtown and I think she makes great choices as an actor so have total faith she’ll do an ace job when it comes to the play.

You just mentioned Wormtown by Reece Connolly – Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2018’s piece. I didn’t get to see it – as one of the actors who starred in it – can you tell me about the production and your experience?

Wormtown was Reece’s take on the old piece of North East folklore, The Lambton Worm. It followed a group of teenagers from stopping a giant monster wreaking havoc on their town. I’m a massive fan of sci-fi in movies and tv, so for Reece to make a piece of sci-fi theatre, it was something I hadn’t really read or seen before and he’s such a unique and talented writer so I feel very lucky to have been a part of one of his early productions.

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Andrew Finnigan in Wormtown (far left – photo credit unknown)

Sounds amazing! As part of the Takeover residency experience – you have access to a range of support and a mentorship – can you tell me a bit about that and how that is working so far?

Each year the writer in residency is paired with a professional writer as a mentor and this year’s mentor is Tom Wells. Tom and I have actually worked together a few times over the past few years and I’ve acted in two of his past productions, Broken Biscuits and Drip. We usually schedule FaceTime catch ups every couple of weeks where I’ll send him any progress I’ve made and we’ll discuss them over a cuppa.

When I feel I’ve hit a bit of a wall, it is nice knowing that Tom is there to give me advice on how to work through that. I feel like I couldn’t have been paired with a better writer, as Tom’s work is always so warm and playful, and that is definitely something I hope to mirror in my own writing.

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Tom is just brilliant – you’re going to learn so much! Like last year’s Takeover Writer in Residence Elijah Young, you’re an actor! Do you think your actor experience could make you a better theatre writer and maker?

I think it helps in the sense I’m seeing what I’m writing from the perspective of an actor too. Since the play has to accommodate eight actors, I’m always aware of having to juggle so many characters on stage at one time and not wanting a character just sat there without bringing something to the scene. I also don’t want it to feel like it’s overcrowded without purpose in the story.

It is hoped that your production, Cherryade Supernova will be shown later in the year (everything crossed!)- you’ve certainly whetted my appetite – can you tell me a bit about what you hope the audience experience to be?

I think the main thing I want is that the audience has fun when watching. I want people to have an experience where they maybe see a bit of themselves in some of the characters and have a few laughs in there too.

You used to be a part of Customs House Youth Theatre, you’ve performed as part of previous year’s Takeover performance and now you’re 2020 Young Writer in Residence! What do creative opportunities like The Takeover at Customs House mean to you?

Over the past 8 years the Customs House has become a second home so I’m dead pleased my play will be given a life there. There is real history in that building so to be able to add to that is really special.

I think the most important aspect of the Takeover is being able to give chances to young people who might not have had creative opportunities otherwise. It is rare you’ll find opportunities like this where you don’t have to have any previous experience or relevant professional training. The Takeover is all so inclusive and accessible so I think it makes it a lot less daunting to get involved.

Youre from South Shields – what does having a venue like Customs House mean to you? Why is it important to young people?

The most valuable thing the Customs House have given me is guidance and support; especially in a world where being an actor is considered “a pipe dream”. I think that is really important for young people, especially with creative subjects being dropped or overlooked in schools; the Customs House is somewhere for us to go and be encouraged to engage and develop without a sense that working in the arts is unachievable. I’m doing it!

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Andrew Finnigan in Drip (photo credit Sam Taylor)

Are you a theatre goer” yourself? If so – have you got a production that you recently enjoyed that youd like to tell me about?

The last piece I watched actually was a video recording of Sea Wall, a monologue by Simon Stephens. It was a piece that was originally performed at the Bush Theatre in London in 2008 and then later recorded a few years later. It was put on YouTube free to watch for a short period during lock down; which I think is a great idea making it more accessible. It is performed by Andrew Scott (Moriarty in BBC 1’s Sherlock) who I just think is brilliant. He just melts into the part and makes it so quiet and truthful; it’s really moving. It’s definitely worth a watch if it’s still online. (It is currently available to watch here!)

Any advice youd like to share, to anyone like yourself this time last year, who haven’t written theatre before but curious about it?

I think my advice would be that if you have an idea, just start writing to get it down. Don’t worry if it won’t be read straight away by anyone else, just write for yourself and see how it feels.

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Andrew Finnigan in Drip (photo credit Sam Taylor)

Well thank you Andrew – really excited to see Cherryade Supernova and for Takeover 2020 – make sure you keep your eyes out for Takeover 2020 dates and come and see it! I will be there with bells on! It’s always such a pleasure to meet someone towards the beginning of their creative career on the edge of something brilliant and if you’re reading this and feeling creatively curious, please take Andrew’s advice about just getting started! If a global pandemic has taught us anything – it’s that life is too short to sit on something and wait; just get out there and have a go!

For all things Takeover 2020 – follow @CustomsHouseLP on social! For all things Customs House follow @theCustomsHouse on social too! I will be championing happenings and more features on Vulture so keep an eye out too!

That’s all for now Culture Vultures!

 

 

Interview with sound designer & artist Matthew Tuckey; unexplored possibilities & bringing stories to life through sound.

“You can’t be, what you can’t see”

This was my starting point for a creative discussion the other day – we were talking about creative industries and lack of diversity, lack of representation in some areas, empowered freelancers and I broadened the conversation on to creative skill set and roles. There are SO many roles and extremely talented folks that go relatively unnoticed and unseen. It’s not to do with their lack of importance or skill set – it’s because what they do happens behind closed doors or “backstage”. Ironically, some of these roles (especially the digital and tech ones) in the current climate – have never been more important. These are the folks that will drive and help shape the innovation and reinvention of creative projects because they have the skill and ability to do so! Therefore, we should be shouting about them and celebrating them!

As The Culture Vulture, my mission has always been to empower artists and showcase the creative and cultural sector in its entirety. So, in my blog over the next few months, I’m going to be featuring talented creative people who have interesting roles in creative projects but often, don’t get mentioned or celebrated in the way they should do! I want to remove the “mysterious” element of what they do and hopefully, make them feel seen with the hope that others may follow in their footsteps. I want to illuminate the creative industries in their entirety.

There are so many roles that could sit within the “unseen” and “mysterious” category – but the one I’m going to explore today is a sound designer! If you don’t know what one is – well don’t flap – I didn’t know until a couple of years ago! I’ve personally worked with them on films, animations, theatre productions and public art commissions exhibited as part of an event. They do weird and wonderful things to sound usually as part of a wider whole (e.g. a theatre production). Their skills lay in making people feel, think, experience things via sounds. In an immersive performance context, if we think about humans having 5 senses – the perfect blending of the performance including sight and sound, can trigger the audience to feel, smell, and even taste things. What you hear can be equally as important as what you see!

A sound designer that I’ve had the total pleasure of meeting and working with recently, as part of Mortal Fools – is Matthew Tuckey, he’s very talented but also really canny human (I’ve enjoyed surrounding myself with canny folks of late). So I thought, I’d jump at the chance to interview him to showcase what a sound design is, what they do and to celebrate Matthew’s work, to make it more “seen”. So here we go and over to Matthew!

Hiyer Matthew – right, let’s start at the beginning – please introduce yourself to my fellow Culture Vultures?

Matthew – I am a Sound Designer and Sound Artist. I work mainly in theatre but have more recently been taking private and public art commissions. I’m based in North East England but take my work further afield when I get the opportunity. I am currently craving a long escape to the Highlands (when it is safe to do so) and I really like cooking. So, if you want to talk at length about interesting sounds or how to make an excellent stir-fry – hit me up!

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Matthew Tuckey

As a forever hungry human, yes please! Can you tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

Matthew – It’s a convoluted one… I started off with a very committed drama teacher who encouraged me to pursue directing. I was involved in music, art and drama at school but unfortunately we were limited to only one option at GCSE level, so I ended up going for Drama and took this all the way to A Level. I tried studying a four year MA in Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow but after the first two months decided this was a waste of time and somehow landed an internship in a recording studio back in Newcastle. I was still writing and directing theatre here and there, but the studio offered me an exciting new creative outlet. Without planning it, these two worlds merged quite naturally in sound design.

Fast forward to now and I’m exploring the exciting and diverse world of sound design for theatre, and more lately, sound art. This was quite a natural progression from my creative work in recording studios and theatre sound technician work, alongside participation in directing and writing workshops. The surprising thing I found was when I was doing the more technical work, some people were asking me questions like “have you given up on creating theatre then?” which really fuelled my desire to demonstrate how technical and creative meet harmoniously in the designer’s role.

The Culture Vulture – As a non-planner – I find the magic happens in the freedom and I’m delighted to hear you talk about the connection between technical and creative, as absolutely and actually, I think where they meet is exactly where the innovation is, that will  take us into the next sector creative phase for reinvent post (or during) pandemic!

So tell me, what do you do as a sound designer? What is a sound designer?

Matthew – I get asked this a lot, and often at the start of a project with a new collaborator funnily enough! Also, a lot of people keep asking me how I differentiate between my sound design and sound art practice, and to be fair most aren’t aware that a “sound artist” is a thing. So to clarify, briefly, I am a sound designer when I am serving a client or collaborators creative vision – they present a problem and I plan and execute a design solution. Sound Art is what I do when I am realising my own creative vision – but the line can be quite blurry.

So, a sound designer means a lot of things across film, music, theatre, UI, AR, etc. Even in the theatre industry, where I do most of my work, it can mean many things to many people depending on the show, the genre, the theatre, etc. Broadly speaking though, the sound designer for a theatre production is responsible for all audible aspects of a performance.

It’s a broad role that can involve any combination of the following: sound effects recording, sound effects design, Foley (live or pre-recorded), sound system design, live sound reinforcement, recording and playback of music, programming the show control software, and room acoustics. So if you get the right one, they can be very good value for money!

I describe this approach as a wholistic sound design and this is what I aim to achieve in my work. Depending on the show and the company, this can either be all on me or with a team of maybe one other sound designer or composer and the technicians in the sound department.

The Culture Vulture – I think it’s an important question for folks to keep asking as, the more they ask and get comfortable with what a sound designer can do – the more ambitious they will get with their use of sound during a performance or project. Lack of technical knowledge and understanding of specialist roles like yours, can be so self-limiting! Through increased awareness, the seemingly impossible transforms into possible.

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Matthew Tuckey – photo credit Von Fox

What types of folks require your services?

Matthew – Anyone wanting to tell a story with sound! Whether that’s theatre companies, film makers, podcasters, visual artists, museum curators, or marketing teams. For example, I’ve never worked with an organisation on creating a sonic brand (think Windows or Mac start up. Or Netflix “da-dum”!) but would love to hear from anyone interested in developing that side of their marketing strategy. My clientele is only limited by imagination – it’s fairly niche at the moment but more and more organisations are offering immersive audio experiences (see Land Rover marketing or Formula 1 teams or Bastille album launches).

The Culture Vulture – holy moly, the Bastille album launch was truly amazing (google it folks)! So innovative. And as someone, who had kind of forgotten about them and their music, it worked in getting me to notice them and reconnect.  

Matthew – There’s a range of technical proficiency out there already when it comes to things like recording a podcast or sound for video, not forgetting musicians with home studios. But my skills really lie in marrying specialist technical knowledge and creative expression. When I was working in recording studios, one of the most important lessons I learnt was how to create a workflow that allowed natural movement between ‘left brain’ activities (setting levels, patching signal chains, organising your space) and ‘right brain’ activities (creative ideation, abstraction thinking, meditative listening) – I think that’s one of the biggest offerings on a project.

I also offer consultancy and training for organisations looking to improve their sound infrastructure and skills. Whether that’s theatre and cinema workshops exploring sonic creativity or venues looking to improve their sound system. I’m yet to work with a restaurant that want to improve the sonic side of the dining experience (I’ve been lucky enough to go to some nice restaurants and notice how uncomfortable they are sonically!) – maybe one day!

The Culture Vulture – I really love what you’re talking about there. 1. The brand sound – as someone who works in marcomms, this would interest me greatly. We often talk about how colours and visuals feed into branding- but sound isn’t something explored in the mainstream and I think, it has such potential. 2. Enhancing audience experience through sound – I would love to visit a restaurant or bar that has invested into this area.

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Matthew Tuckey

Tell me about some recent project highlights?

Matthew – Just before lockdown I was nearing the end of an exciting new show with Mortal Fools called ‘Relentless’. This was the first time they had worked with a sound designer and we had/have a really ambitious vision for using sound in this production (Relentless was cancelled just before touring and is set to tour in 2021). I couldn’t help feel a touch of nostalgia with this project as it reminded me of similar devising processes I was part of as a teenager. We’re all determined that this show WILL have a life beyond lockdown!

Another recent highlight is ‘Wolf’ a winter story by Kitchen Zoo in association with Northern Stage which was performed in Stage 3 over Christmas 2019. Kitchen Zoo are a fantastic team making brilliant shows for little people and their grown-ups. It was my first time collaborating with the talented Katie Doherty who was the composer, we both found this collaborative effort very rewarding.

WOLF by Kitchen Zoo – photo credit Von Fox

What makes a “good” sound designer? What skills do they need?

Matthew – I think the main thing that is relevant for all types of sound designers, and sounds a bit obvious but I really do mean it, is you need to LOVE sound and really experience the world through a strong awareness of sound. Whether it’s noticing an interesting acoustic effect, experiencing new music (live and recorded), or being drawn into a film through the sound design and score. I’m pretty evangelical about people watching/listening to collaborations between Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan (current personal favourites – Dunkirk and The Dark Knight Trilogy – both making awesome use of Shepard tones which is one to ‘Google’!) And also, Joe Wright’s Atonement and Darkest Hour are great examples of sonic repetition and punctuation. But I’ll stop short of some of the more obscure ones…

The Culture Vulture – As a real film fan, I love sound in film and really appreciate its usage; 1917 had a fantastic use of sound and Ryan Murphy productions use sound (and populist music) fantastically; American Horror Story, Pose, Versace!

Matthew – Another important skill is developing a language alongside your awareness of sound. Being able to describe sound in a way that communicates clearly with a range of clients/collaborators – whether that’s a producer, a director, a performer, or videographer or painter. Having a common language is really important and is the first challenge in every new collaboration.

There are other skills that are really more specific to individual practice. Such as live sound reinforcement, microphone techniques for live and recorded sound, field recording, effects design, music composition, QLab programming etc. The depth that you go into these more practical skills really depends on what type of work you are designing.

The Culture Vulture – It’s interesting that you brought up commonality of language. I think it’s a real barrier to lots of collaboration where technology and more technical roles could come together. It’s the same with technological solutions and innovation that could make creative businesses function better – we (I class myself in that) often don’t have the words to describe effectively what we want or to do the research to understand what we need and the ones with the technological solution aren’t able to communicate to people who don’t understand tech speak! It can be overwhelming and disempowering!

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Matthew Tuckey

What kit do you use? What kit would you recommend to folks wanting to invest in sound for their work?

Matthew – So I use a combination of field recording, studio equipment, and electronic instruments.

For field recording I have a multitrack recorder with a vast range of microphones, from ambisonics (useful for VR and surround work) to contact microphones (useful for acousmatic compositions). I also have a handy mini field recorder with built-in and external mic’s which I use to grab interesting sounds that I come across day-to-day (this pretty much goes everywhere with me, and it’s not uncommon to spend the first 30mins in a new Airbnb recording another extractor fan or boiler!).

I have yet more microphones for studio recording (such as voiceovers and acoustic instruments) as well as a few acoustic instruments and Foley props that make great source material for designing effects. I recently got hold of a mini Roland synthesiser based on the classic Juno 60 and 106 which is very fun and versatile – I like being able to get hands on with this, as a lot of my work happens in audio editing software, and if all else fails you can just entertain yourself trying to make things sound a bit more Stranger Things!

It’s important to say though that you can buy the best equipment in the world but use it terribly! So the best resource straight away is either investing time and money into learning the skills to optimise what equipment you can lay your hands on, or bringing in a collaborator like me who already has not just those skills and equipment resources, but thinks and creates in a heavily sound orientated way.

The Culture Vulture – When learning something new or feeling out of your depth, there is an impulse that can lead to buying ALL the kit possible as a solution or assuming the best kid will compensate for the lack of skills. I’ve been guilty of that for visual stuff and learnt the hard way!

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Matthew Tuckey

You worked on an Enchanted Parks’ piece – I didn’t know you back then,  but I worked on EP that year and remember your name, it was a wonderful piece– can you tell me about the piece?

Matthew – That was a lot of fun collaborating with Molly Barrett on her sculpture piece ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ in 2018. I got to play around with some new ways of manipulating the voiceover that was part of the wider Enchanted Parks story and working with some theme music from the wonderful Roma Yagnik.

I’m really hoping that Enchanted Parks makes a come-back after their hiatus. It’s a fantastic event and my involvement in 2018 left me with big ideas for a parkwide sound installation.

The Culture Vulture – Me too – both as someone who visited every year as a punter and lived along the top of Saltwell Park, it’s a proper visitor gem! AND as someone who worked on the event for a couple of years – it’s a big miss to my yearly calendar.

Can you tell me a career project highlight so far?

Matthew – That’s a tough one!

I really enjoyed working with Selma Dimitrijevic on ‘joey’. It was a preview tour and Selma’s first point in the brief was ‘very lo-fi’ – we were literally touring to venues that had the most basic of sound systems. The piece was performed as a monologue by two performers simultaneously, one in English the other in BSL (the very talented Scott Turnbull and Faye Alvi respectively), and so we decided to make the soundscape quite low-frequency heavy in order to maximise the effect for our D/deaf audience members. These very strict parameters helped me to focus my attention on the source material inspired by the script and manipulate these in a really creative way that supported and scored the performances on stage.

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Joey – Photo credit – Bish

I also have to mention working as Associate Sound Designer for Northern Stage’s production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and working alongside sound designer Nick John Williams. That show was a lot of fun, not least because of the sheer scale of the production. Nick brought me onto that project to help with some particular tasks, which included recording various sound effects such as church bells – a first for me! I was also responsible for creating vocal effects chains for the different types of ghosts and narrators in the show. Both of these challenges were a lot of fun and we were very happy with the outcome.

The Culture Vulture – Great answer and it gives a real overview of how broad and diverse your work can be!

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A Christmas Carol – Northern Stage – photo credit Pamel

Can you tell me how COVID-19 has affected your work/practice?

Matthew – As soon as the PM suggested people stay away from theatres (prior to ordering them to close) the theatre industry pretty much shut down over night. My diary for the foreseeable cleared overnight simultaneously. Which was a shock to the system to say the least!

I had already been developing my practice in the digital art scene and making commission applications and funding bids in this area. Now with social distancing in place, a lot more people are contributing to digital art galleries which is great but also means the competition for funding and commissioning has jumped up!

The Culture Vulture – I hear ya! But from knowing you and chatting briefly to you about what you’ve got in store, I’m extremely excited to see your ideas and work unfold!

What challenges have you faced and how have you responded to them?

Matthew – The most immediate issues for me were the worries of financial loss and losing momentum in my practice. As a freelancer, I struggle with this mentality that if I stop for too long and lose momentum then it’s game over – I’ll lose clients, I’ll miss opportunities and I’ll forget how to do what I do.

I dealt with the financial worries by taking a few days just to gather my thoughts and assess the situation – fortunately I wasn’t in any immediate trouble and since then I’ve been successful in securing an individual ACE emergency support grant. I’ve also got some online workshop facilitation work for the lovely Mortal Fools and some online tutoring for Newcastle College’s FdA Stage Management and Technical Theatre students, which is also a lot of fun.

In terms of my practice – I started off by setting myself small, short term goals. I created a mini series of daily-ish ‘Mystery Sounds’ giving people 24 hours to guess the sound from a short recording clip. This helped me feel productive while I adjusted to the new circumstances. I’m still finding it difficult not being able to go very far with my recording equipment and to see people, but the cacophony of birds in our garden are more than obliging recording subjects for the time being. Listen here!

The Culture Vulture   – I loved your mystery sounds and I think it is a testament to your creativity with sound. In a busy digital space where everyone was suddenly pushing out content – I genuinely found yours fun and interesting! It also drove me insane trying to guess!

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Matthew Tuckey

You’ve been successful in receiving ACE emergency support funding – so firstly, BLIDDY WELL DONE PAL! Can you tell me what was the application process like? How did it feel to find out you were successful?

Matthew– It was a fairly simple process and I had some great advice from people who have a good track record with securing ACE funding. I’ve also been through a few bids over the past year, that were all unsuccessful in this ever increasingly competitive sphere of funding, so it was a real relief to find out I was successful. I was having a bad day when I got the email so just dismissed it without reading it in a moment of negativity and pessimism – thankfully I went back and read the email properly!

It was also very encouraging – I’ve basically spent lockdown juggling what little work is done remotely, applying to commissions for digital art, and trying to maintain some sort of routine! Now this help from ACE can give me some structure and purpose for a brief period of time.

YAS!  Proud of you pal! What will the funding enable you to do? What can we hook into?

Matthew – It’s buying me time really. The Arts Council asked how I would use this time to plan and stabilise for the future. And my answer was two things: take some sections of my original sound library and create collections to be bought online, and also to host webinars and discussions for collaborators who want to find out more about the sound design process and how they can collaborate with a sound designer in their work.

The webinars and discussions are largely going to be promoted through my existing networks with the help of regional theatre companies, but if anyone would like to get in touch to hear more about these events then they can find my contact details on my website.

Count me in for the webinars and discussions! So, I know it’s hard to plan during the uncertainty right now – but what’s next for Matthew on the horizon? What projects/happenings/things should my fellow Culture Vultures look out for?

Matthew – I am currently working on a mini album of sound art made during lockdown. It’s largely inspired by sounds I’ve noticed more since social distancing measures and sounds I am missing too. This will be available on my Soundcloud page (and other platforms that I will announce via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@MGTuckey, @thesoundportrait)

As soon as I can safely do so, I will be recording more pieces or ‘episodes’ for my Sound Portrait ‘Podcast’. This is a long-term project that I am running through a Patreon page that is all about hearing someone unfold their thoughts in a type of one-sided conversation. For me, it’s the sound artists portrait photograph of an individual. I’m steadily growing a following and patronage for this project, and I’ve recently created a new lower tier (just £1 per month) on my Patreon in order to try and encourage new followers to support the life of the project. It’s a slow burner, but my hope is that we can create a series of portraits that collectively amount to a sonic time-capsule of people, a kind of living oral history if you like.

Other than that, things are fairly uncertain during lock down unfortunately, particular with regards to theatre work – who knows when this will pick up again.

The Culture Vulture – a sound portrait of an individual…..I really love that. Just reading that has got me excited and I would love to be involved in some way!

Matthew – The other project I have continually running in the background is called The Rime and is my personal response to the epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and combines influences of field recording, acousmatic composition, and sound poetry. I am constantly applying to commissioning opportunities to take this work further and hope I’ll be able to share more about this in the coming months!

The Culture Vulture – Thank you Matthew; you can find out more about Matthew on his website or via his socials; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@MGTuckey, @thesoundportrait)

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Matthew Tuckey

One of the things I love about working in the cultural sector, is the rich tapestry of people, vocations and skill sets that exist within it; it truly is unrivalled. I am unsure if people outside of the sector, truly understand its richness or skill diversity. I often sit back during a project team meeting and look around thinking…..”bliddy heck – what a talented bunch of people we have here!?” Matthew is one of those people!

And I am truly excited to see the opportunities as I predict tech and digital will creatively collide due to the pandemic, connect and from that, exciting collaborations will unfold.

Until next time Culture Vulture.

Interview with Ashleigh Brown Studio; from illustrating cats in jumpers to launching a creative business.

One of the nicer things about lock down is that I’ve actually had a bit of time to follow my own mantra around engaging with folks on my social media platforms. Instead of admiring folks from a far and being a queen lurker merely “liking” their content and posts – I’ve actually taken the time to reach out to artists and creatives to tell them how brilliant I think they are! In a world, where so many of us are working on our own with limited human interaction right now – I think we should all commit to reaching out to those who we think are smashing it to actually tell them! It can be lonely working alone on a “normal” day – never mind on a “new normal” day.

Ashleigh Brown is one of those folks – she caught my attention with a cat watercolour (yep crazy cat lady alert) and then her colourful feed of products and creative lushness made me really dig her work and style – it really “pops”. I love big bold colours and clashing patterns and her work it just that and very Culture Vulture – I was eager to reach out to her to tell her firstly, how amazing she was! But also, I was aware that her creative business was pretty new and without getting doom and gloom – the current situation and financial support available is not very receptive or helpful to new creative businesses; so I wanted to champion her! I love her work and I think my fellow Culture Vultures will too!

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Hiyer, Ashleigh – lush to digitally meet you. Can you introduce yourself to fellow Culture Vultures and tell us what do you do?

My name is Ashleigh and I am a designer from Gateshead. I have a background in textiles design and love creating surface patterns for products. I started my own business in November (great timing, I know!) I have one shop, Ashleigh Brown Studio where I sell my makes, cards, prints and illustrations and my second business, Quaintrelles Co, which sells stickers, stationery and other supplies. Links to both can be found HERE.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Ah from the HEED – I’m born and bred Gateshead lass! Tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

Well I have always been creative; I grew up with great creative influences and was taught to knit, sew and crochet as a kid. Every weekend at my nanna’s house would be another creative adventure and she really nurtured my imagination and taught me that anything is possible. At 27 I decided to go back and study a textiles design degree after working in retail for a while. This really opened my eyes to the possibilities of being creative. During this degree we were expected to create our own marketing materials and keep a blog; this just expanded really into me wanting to work for myself.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

I think you have quite a distinctive style….how did you develop your design style?

I feel like I am still very much developing it. I love to mix materials and experiment. Getting to grips with digital design has really been the best though! It means I don’t need any special equipment or large workspace to explore my ideas in multiple ways. My brilliant tutor Laura showed me the wonders of adobe illustrator and I have never looked back.

Adobe is magic! When did you decide to set up your own creative business?

I have dabbled in many little businesses over the years, usually alongside my “real” job. I painted shoes and sold them on eBay, I made clay jewellery for a while too; But it wasn’t until I did my degree that I started to believe in my illustration work and really wanted to explore that. So, this time round I started November 2019, working with a business mentor in the months leading up to actually starting to trade.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Many artists don’t see themselves as business-people which I find fascinating as that is what they are! Do you see yourself as an artist or a business-person or both?

I suppose I am both, but I definitely wing it a lot of the time, haha. It took me a long time to take myself seriously as a creative (I still struggle to call myself an artist) because I saw these things as ‘hobbies’ and not as a serious business. I am just learning as I go but reading Lisa Congden books has definitely helped my creative confidence.

Winging it is a creative skill set – it’s all about evolving, being resilient, adaptable, entrepreneurial – professional at winging it right here! So tell me about your creative space – Do you have a studio? Where do you design?

I have a second bedroom in my flat which is my little creative haven. It’s a good job, its small because I would fill whichever size room I had with supplies. Hoarder over here!

I go through periods of hoarding before chucking too many things in the bin and regretting it. Tell me about your products – what do you sell and make?

I sell cards, prints and digital printables that people can print at home as well as stationery and stickers. I have a huge list of things I want to make and sell and I am gradually adding new products to the shop. You can visit HERE to view and purchase!

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

I know you take commissions – what type of work do you normally get?

I am currently working on an exciting project illustrating a page for a positive baby book! I get a lot of quote print requests and some custom cards too. I also did an illustration for a dog charity book. I’d love to work on more book related projects as this is something of a passion of mine.

I’ve just started a Silent Book Club – ohh book lovers! I first fell in love with your watercolour work (crazy cat lady right here!) – can you tell me a bit about that?

Thank you so much! I started doing some pet portraits during my degree and this was during the new craze of internet cats; this gradually turned into me just doing random illustrations of cats in jumpers. I love combining simple watercolour with ink and then adding detail like with the jumpers.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Cats in jumpers…. We are friends for life! Do you ever make art just for you? If so, what types of art do you make?

I do and it’s very therapeutic! But it’s tough once you get into the business mindset, everything becomes a potential product and even things I just did for me have ended up in the shop sometimes. I did the Frida Kahlo portrait just for me and I ended up loving it so added to the shop. I am loving exploring with portraits right now as it’s something I’ve never had the confidence to do before. I also did a Marilyn Monroe one which I need to play with digitally.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Do you find it hard to balance making to sell and keeping the creative love and flair going?

Honestly, no. I love what I do so much. Every day feels like I’m a kid in a toy shop; noting down ideas and playing round with concepts. The hardest part is working towards a goal and feeling that sense of accomplishment as I can tend to go off on tangents and not every idea works or is suitable for the shop. Some days I have little to no motivation (especially right now) but I have learned to accept that; I realise that not every day has to end with new products to list.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Where do you seek inspiration from for your design work and typography choices?

Pinterest is a huge source of inspiration for me but also Instagram. I have curated my Instagram feed so that it is filled constantly with positive messages and beautiful art and interiors. This means even when I scroll mindlessly that inspiration is leaking into my brain and leaves little room for negative voices.

I love to take inspiration from different genres of art and design; right now I am obsessed with soap makers. There are CRAZY beautiful bars of soap on Instagram haha! I also love seeing the slabs of clay people design to make into jewellery. As well as beautiful weave and embroidery. I like to be influenced by many creative paths.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

A lot of your products/prints embody the “positivity movement” on social; it has been a mindset life line during COVID-19 for me – do you follow any other creative accounts by artists/creatives/makers that you’d suggest we check out?

I love positivity. Like you say it’s super important; especially in this time, where we are either alone and probably lonely or trapped with family under our feet at all times. Everybody is working through stuff right now. I love Stacie Swift, @blessthemessy, the sad ghost club, @lettershoppe, @thecosmicfeminist… I could go on forever haha

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

You are smashing it on Instagram with your product photography set up – how did you come up with your on-brand scenes, props, visual merchandising etc?

Haha! Thank you. It was actually a total accident; I love pastels so normally work with some sort of pastel palette in my work. I bought some polka dot tissue to wrap orders and discovered it went really well with my colours. Then when I decided to buy some back drops, I picked those colours and patterns to keep it all tied together. The props I use have just accumulated over the years really, I did buy the peace hand from Tiger, especially for photos but aside from that I just grab yellow and pink things to tie my colours in. Told you I am WINGING it 😀

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

You’re across multiple platforms selling your products – can you tell me which ones you use and which ones you’d recommend?

My big plan was to be a multi-platform business goddess. HA! But I honestly haven’t had time to dedicate to most of the platforms yet. I want to have multiple income streams eventually. Right now Etsy is my main one and the main focus. But as many people know, Etsy is adding more rules and regs and more fee’s all the time so I do want to have a stand-alone website too. I am working on this. I love society 6 and definitely need to work on my shop there too. I’d love to find a washi tape printing place so I can do my own line of washi too. So many ideas.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Said like a true creative – sometimes when I shut my eyes – the eyes are like screaming white noise and colours in my brain! So many of them! You’ve recently just launched – any hints and tips for creative product businesses/individuals starting out?

Honestly, just show up every day, even if it’s just a little progress each day. It gets you closer to your dreams and goals. Make lists, tick stuff off, even the tiny stuff.

A bit of REAL question – but I have to ask it! How has COVID-19 effected your business (and you!) and how have you responded?

It has been up and down. The first few weeks were hard and very quiet; this was actually good because I could barely function. I had a weird time coming to terms with this whole thing. Now it’s sort of got back to normal, I have off days personally but I just allow myself that. I have a chronic illness so I am used to pacing myself with these things.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

I’ve really struggled to engage my creative brain during lock down – I require space to walk and get creative in person, societal consumption and absorbing things from inspiration around me, triggers my creativity  – have you felt more or less creative in lock down? What’s your process like getting into the creative zone?

At first, I had a total mental block. I was seeing all these creatives using this new found time to create amazing things and I felt completely broken. But as time went on, I just treated myself as kindly as possible. I listened to music, read some books, watched my favourite films, baked some treats… This past week has been another hard one. I have had the block again but this time I am planting new plant babies and catching up with friends on zoom. My coping mechanisms have been plentiful and there definitely isn’t just one thing I keep doing.

Instead I keep mixing up my routines and tasks. Also, my monthly Gousto box has been a god send. It has kept me busy in the kitchen and been a nice reminder to nourish my body with good food when all I want is to eat ice cream and chocolate.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

I know it’s really hard to think of right now – but what are your aspirations for your business/practice longer term?

Growth and expansion! I have a little list of huge goals that I want to accomplish on my wall as a reminder of where I am heading. I want to expand my range of paper goods, I want to get work published in some books, I want to sell in lovely local arty shops and galleries. And in the meantime I just keep working through my to do list!

That list never does end though! Anything else you want to tell me about?

I’m currently working on new cards which will be slightly different to the ones I offer now. Also working on some party goods, banners, cake toppers etc. My shop is just evolving constantly!

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

You can check out Ashleigh’s shop and social by following the link HERE! I am so excited to see Ashleigh’s business adventure unfold and creativity develop! There is something magical about speaking to a creative at the beginning of their current chapter – opportunities and lushness a plenty!

Thank you Ashleigh!

Until next time Culture Vultures xx

What is a curator? What do they do? I interviewed The Biscuit Factory’s curators to find out!

Curators are defined by The Oxford Dictionary as “the keepers or custodians of a museum or other collection”…. But what does that actually mean? Who are they, what do they do, why are they important to important to museums, galleries, heritage centres and the creative and cultural sector…..? I honestly believe the majority of folks out there have no idea what curators do and as a profession, as it’s not front facing to the public and a lot of what they do is behind closed doors – even in the cultural sector, their role can be perceived quite mysterious, there is a lot of misunderstanding and (in my opinion) there is often a bit of a disconnect between artists and curators.

Over recent years, the words “curate”, “curation” and “curator” have all be absorbed into popular culture and are so overused to the point of diluting their meaning. Folks now “curate” displays, a sandwich, a playlist…. The overuse of the word is a weeee bit of a trigger for me to go on a rant (understatement of the century – but we all have our burdens to bear)……you did not “curate” a sandwich, you simply made.a.decision.

So as part of my mission to shine a light on curators in general and what they do, I thought I’d reach out to The Biscuit Factory curators and see if they would be up for a Culture Vulture interview. The Biscuit Factory is the UK’s largest independent commercial art, craft & design gallery set in the heart of Newcastle’s cultural quarter of Ouseburn and one of my favourite galleries – I love the variety of work displayed – it’s full of colour and very different types of art and interiors. If you haven’t visited yet or haven’t for a while, it’s a must visit – it’s obviously closed right now due to COVID-19 but will be open once more in the future. You can check out The Biscuit Factor online gallery here to see the artists and art works they have on their books.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

I was delighted that the curators accepted, it can be quite scary Mary to have a stranger come in and question your work and processes – so I was prepared for the “no”.  But I got a big fat yes and I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with them (they were so lovely and lush!) asking all my questions…..and believe me, I had a lot thanks to my question call out on my social channels from my fellow Culture Vultures. Consequently, it was less of an interview and more of a creatively curious interrogation (my Line Of Duty obsession, has made me an EXCELLENT interrogator….”Mother of God..!”). But we did have a lush chat and strayed away from curator talk into debating creative careers and opportunities…..

So here we go, an interview The Biscuit Factory curators; Sam Waters, the 3D curator, Sam Knowles – 2D curator and Mika Browning – jewellery curator; this is a long LUSH interview, so buckle up and it’s perfect for your lock down reading.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – Right, let’s start with some intros for my readers and followers…  

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: My name is Sam Waters; I’m the 3D curator at The Biscuit Factory and I have responsibility for sourcing, managing and displaying the items which fall within the 3D product group here. Things like sculpture, ceramic, glass and furniture; basically stuff which is not wall based, although occasionally wall based too. I also look after the cards for the gallery and a few other sort of ancillary things. I’ve been here since 2010 so coming up to ten years.

Before this I was very briefly at another local gallery which doesn’t exist anymore called the Artworks Galleries where I did a mixture of things and event space things predominantly. Before that I was a self-employed copywriter and photographer. And that’s about it.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: My name’s Sam Knowles, I’m the 2D curator which means I’m in charge of paintings, prints and photography; the bigger part of that by far is the paintings and prints. I spend my time sourcing and inviting people to the gallery, managing their artwork, suggesting what comes here and what might sell the best, cataloguing it when it arrives, displaying it, looking after work in the store rooms that’s not currently on show, making sure all the stock is as it needs to be, putting on displays, making sure the gallery is constantly sort of replenished, should anything sell or be moved or sent back to artists and being the person to get that work ready should anyone want to collect stuff either having been sold or being returned to them for other exhibitions elsewhere.

I’ve been here since 2007; I originally started as a gallery assistant, then took on photography which used to be a bigger part here with a lot of graduate exhibitions. Now I spend most of my time in charge of paintings and prints and beyond that I’ve got some responsibility for how the gallery physically looks in terms of wall colouring and floor layout.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I’m Mika Browning, the jewellery curator and I’m quite new; I’ve been here for a year now. I look after all the jewellery that comes in and the display; it’s quite interesting for me because before this I’d been self employed as a jeweller myself for quite a long time, so I’ve kind of stepped to the other side.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: With you looking after three different departments within one gallery space, how do you all work together and collaborate as curators?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: It can be ad hoc coming together and collaborating. Often we won’t be totally aware of what each other’s booked in but when we’re putting a show together, we’ll make sure that things complement each other.

When we have an open call out like the recent Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020; we will go through the submissions together to pick out submissions to be a part of the exhibition – we had about 1200 submissions from all over the world and we worked together to display the work and shared the load.

But a lot of the time, we’re just in our own departments, getting in our own work; but once the work is here, we realise there’s common ground and if it will work together. There can be any number of reasons why one piece of art can go with another; its subject or colour or style or just the sort of person we think it might appeal to, even if the work itself is nothing like each other. That process tends to be something that happens once we are all actually out on the gallery floor, putting work together, working with what we have and often feeling our way through things.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: You mentioned the Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020 open call out, how do you decide which pieces of art are included in an exhibition shortlist or “make the cut”?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: Well, ultimately it comes down do our knowledge, experience and what we like, which I appreciate is very hard to unpick and very subjective. We display work because we think it is interesting and to attract people to visit the gallery.

But a key decider is if we think it’s got artistic merit in how it was made and as we are a commercial gallery, we have to think whether or not it might appeal to someone to purchase or be of interest to someone commercially.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We use the same principles in choosing successful submissions from this Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020 open call out, as we do for the main exhibitions. But we probably have a little bit more leeway with this, to take a few more chances and to add a few things which are on the margins of what the main, day-to-day gallery exhibitions are. That’s kind the idea of doing this type of exhibition; we try to stretch the Biscuit Factory’s comfort zone a little bit and bring in newer and more progressive work.

We get submissions to the gallery from people wanting to exhibit on a daily basis. The basic cornerstones of the criteria we use to select pieces for all exhibitions, includes 1. the quality of the craft, regardless of what the subject is or what the medium is, 2. the standard of professionalism AND 3. the quality of presentation and the artistic vision. The Biscuit Factory is a very diverse space in terms of artwork displayed but everything that we have here, regardless of its aesthetic or its taste or its style, is of a high quality. The pursuit of quality helps us make choices when selecting work that might not be our own personal taste but we able to appreciate the quality and recognise that someone else might love it.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: As a commercial gallery, how do you tread the fine line, between selecting exciting, new, experimental and groundbreaking pieces and knowing your audience and knowing what they actually want to buy?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We are aware of what sells and we have a sales system, allowing us to see various different product groups and how they are performing – e.g. How many pieces of sculpture have sold in any given period or how many paintings have sold by a particular artist.

So we’re aware of that and we have to be guided by that to some extent. But there’s always a balancing act between being sales driven and the ethos of trying to show a range of works, some of which you accept may not be so commercially viable and we can’t just keep selling and displaying the same things; our visitors wouldn’t want that.  In a way, progression and sales have to go hand in hand because we can’t just keep selling the same type of work or the same artist’s work because eventually the sales would dry up.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I think the scale of The Biscuit Factory is so big, that actually there’s room for a very wide range of work here and we can afford to take some chances and have some really different things. I think a lot of people who haven’t visited us before would be surprised how big the range of work is here – there’s some very contemporary things, some very quirky things and some very traditional things; they all sit side by side quite well, quite comfortably because they are of a certain standard.

We sometimes think we know what is going to appeal to a particular type of Biscuit Factory visitor, but we are often wrong; you know someone who you’d assume would buy a traditional landscape actually goes for the really quirky portrait, or really minimalist etching.  Or they might be interested in all three!

We take pride in the fact that there’s something here for potentially everyone; behind our doors is a whole range of work waiting to be discovered all tucked in here.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think in terms of the jewellery, it’s a different sort of position because most of the jewellers that I work with are more commercial and used to that side of galleries. The jewellery is made to wear and own, rather than being looked at in a gallery, so that makes it a little bit easier for me when choosing between more ‘out there’ stuff.

Jewellers can send in more of their work as it doesn’t take up as much space; they might send a piece that’s kind of really high price and out there in design but then it can be paired with quite a lot of other pieces from a range which are really wearable, so that’s quite a fortunate position to be in as a curator that I can kind of manage to get in both.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: How would you describe the role of a contemporary curator and how do you feel about the overuse of the word “curate?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: Personally, I’m not precious about the word curator and I’ve always been aware that it’s a word that has many different applications or nuances and, people think of it in different ways.

I think it depends where you are as well because there are different kinds of curator and curation so it’s hard to be precious over; if you’re in a municipal gallery or the BALTIC or whatever it might be, even within one city there’s varying different sorts of curators, that aren’t really very comparable.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I guess “curate” is a word that a few years ago was quite niche and not used in the mainstream with connotations as quite highbrow. Now it’s become quite an everyday word and quite trendy, which is perhaps a bit odd.

I’ve been here a long time and what I understand of the word “curate”… or how I understand my job is not necessarily through the prism of being a curator; my job is what it is and when I read about other curators, they’re not necessarily particularly relatable positions to this one.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: For me, I think it’s more… I speak to early stage career artists and creatives in the industry that would like to get into curation and I feel that misuse of the word is removing the respect of the profession and understanding of it as a legitimate career path….  

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It’s diluted it a little bit but you can see that happening anyway through the democratisation of things through the internet and DIY elements across all creative activities. You don’t have to go to a web developer anymore to set up a website for example, you can do it yourself. I guess, the old gatekeepers who defined what a curator is and controlled the role, are dispersed a little.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Everyone’s artistic taste is subjective…. How do you feel if someone doesn’t like an exhibition you’ve curated or a piece of work you’ve put pride of place in the exhibition? Do you take it to heart?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: We’re slightly sheltered from people’s comments about an exhibition on a day to day basis because we’re tucked away in our office getting on with the next exhibition. We do feel it more when you’ve spent 18 months talking to an artist and they’ve then made the work and it doesn’t sell as well as hoped when it gets here.

You can look back and think “maybe I didn’t quite get it right” or “maybe it was a bit too far out for here” but the fact is that sometimes, you can get someone in who you think is perfect for the people who, largely come here and it still won’t sell; that can be very frustrating and disappointing for you and for the artist.

There may be a reason you can identify but sometimes there’s no reasoning for it, it can just be a matter of bad luck or bad timing; you’ve got to get a lot of things right to sell a piece of artwork –  the right person has got to walk through the door, it’s got to be at the right time for them in their lives and head and it might be that there were hundreds of people that loved the work  but they just didn’t or couldn’t buy it. Sometimes when you send work back that hasn’t sold, days later someone will come in saying “have you still got it because I’d like to buy it?”….. A lot’s got to come together all at the right time, and sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think you can still take heart in that, even if you get something in that you love and then it doesn’t sell, it still kind of feels good that you put it out there; people might not be buying it but at least they’ve seen it. Maybe they love it but they can’t buy it for whatever reason, but it still feels nice to be able to be putting stuff like that out there.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: And you never know what it might do for an artist’s career longer term, the fact they’ve been seen. It’s another exhibition on the artist’s CV, another opportunity to display their work and that feels rewarding.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Sometimes there’s a bit of tension between artists/creatives and curators in regards to how work is displayed and some curatorial decisions of exhibitions…..

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I don’t feel I’ve had that very often; I guess you can’t please everyone 100% all the time. I think largely the artists, certainly in my department, are very happy to be here and we all work hard to make sure their work looks good, is well presented, nicely lit, hung straight and hung in an interesting way; I think more often than not the experience is pretty positive.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I’ve occasionally had artists sort of grumble about where their work is, that it’s not their first choice location in the gallery or how it’s displayed; but in most cases that is because they have not quite appreciated the scale of the place, how things are laid out and that it’s necessary to display work alongside other artists’ work – you can’t always get the degree of separation that some artists would like because we have so much work to display.  Our role is to make the best decisions overall and to bring together cohesive exhibitions on a bigger scale. Occasionally that might mean that a particular artist’s work is not 100% how they’d want it to be displayed or they might personally not like another artist’s work that is visible somewhere beyond their work in the sight line.

But, most people are appreciative that you’ve made such an effort to display their work in a sympathetic and considerate way, and are aware there’s a lot of work to juggle and that you’ve made decisions for the best presentation of the gallery as a whole.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: As a curator do you go to other exhibitions and reflect on the curation?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I recently went to the new gallery at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, it was really inspiring!  Also, their shop space was really inspiring to me because that was where their jewellery and some ceramics were; I thought that it was beautifully curated and displayed.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I get out far, far less than I should; I go to the degree shows, just out of curiosity but I feel further and further away from that now with age. I’ve got young children which means my free time is at soft play and not galleries. But I do love going to art fairs, I quite like going to places where there’s a big mix of stuff rather than just going to see one person’s exhibition, but yes I’d like to go out more.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I don’t get out as much as I’d like for all sorts of reasons. I’m always very aware of retail art things and maybe that’s what I’m kind of more influenced by, more aware of and absorb. I’m interested in the psychology of retail and people’s subconscious decision making, so in art retail situations I am aware of trying to read how things are set up, colour temperature, sightlines, positioning of things and the way they arrange the spaces.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: When you work here it is hard to kind of turn off working here and to just enjoy an exhibition or art fair; you’re always thinking, that person could be good in the Biscuit Factory, taking a card or photographing the work or name of artist – so it’s hard to full immerse.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What is the process of seeking out artists to exhibit at The Biscuit Factory and how far in advance do you go planning?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We do get submissions, some aren’t appropriate or quite right for us. The process is mostly us finding things, going out into the world and seeing it in person or online. Using Instagram as a platform is becoming increasingly prominent as a way of finding things for us.

For the big shows, we often book over a year in advance. Sometimes, if we have space available, we might find things and come across things that if the artist has stuff available, we might get work from them in very quickly. As our space is so big and we have such a variety of different ways of displaying things with a flexible display space, we can often shuffle things round and create some space.

The exhibition timeline can be anything from working with someone that we’ve worked with for ten years and booking them in two years in advance for a big show or coming across someone new and having their work here two weeks after you first saw it and everything in between. We have a big quarterly changeover but within that we have an ongoing evolution of displays and bring in new work in quite often; it always keeps the job fresh for us and hopefully fresh for our regular visitors.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What would your advice be to artists and folks who want to get their work into The Biscuit Factory? How should they approach the gallery?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: A lot of people want to show you the complete range of what they’re doing, so you might get a charcoal drawing of an animal, followed by a portrait, followed by a landscape and unfortunately that’s not much help to us. What we really need to see is a coherent collection from somebody, whether or not that’s the animals or landscapes. We’d prefer them to limit themselves to presenting one collection at a time. Some artists try and show you everything they’ve ever done and can do which is too much, instead of honing with focus. And we only take submissions by email.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: It just has to be really good; what I’m looking for are pieces that are really impeccably made and that is something that takes a long time to learn and produce.  The submissions that come through, that are a goer, you know straight away; they come in with confidence, they know what they’re doing, even if they haven’t worked with galleries yet and they’re new graduates, they still have total confidence and a passion about their work. They send in good images because they know that it is worth taking a good image because it’s a good piece.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Often with paintings we’ll get terrible images of the piece – it will be pixelated or they’ll be photographed next to a heavily patterned carpet in someone’s living room….

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It seems an old-fashioned thing to say but when there are typos and spelling mistakes, it sets you on the back foot. When you’re approaching someone for the first time in a gallery, I think it’s very important to be very precise, deliberate and hit the mark in the quality of your photographs and presentation of the work. We don’t have the time when receiving hundreds of submissions to de-pixelate photos or read through paragraphs of art speak. For the best chance, it’s about focusing on editing your work down to the best stuff, investing into quality images, reflecting on the way you’re presenting yourself and your tone of voice.  Top tip: you’re much better sending 3 really strong images than those three being hidden in amongst 15 things – edit, edit, edit, be tight, be professional and get good photographs.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: If someone comes in or sends a good email and is really nice to work with straight away, we think, “yeah I can see us working with you for 6 months and that’ll be pleasurable, easy and we know that we can rely on you”.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: When you depend on people to fill a gallery, you’ve got to be able to communicate with artists and them communicate effectively with you, build a rapport, have confidence in them that they can deliver, be reliable and you can get along with them. That’s what we are trying to gauge from their submission.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Some pieces and collections seem to stay displayed for a while at The Biscuit Factory – how do you decide which pieces stay and form part of the next exhibition and which ones come down?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It’s intuition. Curator’s intuition. As much as we have stats and are led by those things, a lot of it is also instinct. We also talk to artists and get a feel for how their work has been received elsewhere and how they feel it’s performing here. For some pieces and types of work like sculpture and furniture, it really responds to having longer in the gallery and it can take customers quite a while, to finally commit to buying.

This contrasts quite vividly with paintings which generally sell best at the start and then gradually the sales will reduce. For sculptures and bigger 3D things, it’s quite a long lead-in time and there can be a period where you don’t make any sales at all. So, you just commit to it and have faith that more exposure will ultimately lead to the sale.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: There’s different reasons why paintings or prints might stay up; sometimes it’s because they’ve done well and you think there’s no point taking it down because hopefully it will continue to do well. Other times, like Sam says, sales might not have happened but you think “I just know there’s sales to be had from these” and it’s just a matter of time or the right person coming through the door so they deserve to be up.

It can also depend on where the work has come from, especially if they’ve delivered them from a long way away or the deal with the particular artist. Also, I feel if a particular artists work is on display too long, people become a bit blind to it so we might take down so when it goes back up again it’s fresh and people are pleased to see it back up.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What’s the weirdest or the most unusual submission to the gallery you’ve had?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: A sculpted portrait in a jam-jar full of their collected toenail clippings; certainly a curious way of doing self-portrait with their own DNA.

The Culture Vulture: With the state of play of the world, have you seen a move towards protesty or political artist submissions?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Not so much, our submissions tend to be very much about self and people.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Yeah, subjects like identity, gender, feminism; I see more work addressing those issues. There’s always been a lot of that with younger people, but I think there is a little more of that now.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – Thinking about another contemporary issue – the environment! Have you changed any of your practices in terms of wrapping up work and things to do with environmental concerns; has that changed how you work?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: We’ve all been a bit more aware of it recently, in fact we tried just recently getting some cardboard bubble wrap, like a sort of textured, cardboard wrapping.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: Not in terms of the way the gallery works but I’m really focusing hard on trying to get ethical jewellers in, because the jewellery industry is a total nightmare; precious metals aren’t always produced ethically. We’ve had an ethical showcase, shining a light on jewellers working with recycled or Fairtrade metal and it’s my big target to get as many jewellers as possible working with that. I’ve been contacting jewellers who don’t currently work with ethical metals and telling them about suppliers, trying to get that moving here as a wider movement.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: When you’re working on an exhibition install – what’s it like? What tasks are involved?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Well a lot happens on email before the work is here, it can be quite involved, suggesting and selecting what work, covering a range of price points and sizes. Then the work arrives; we have to check it off and catalogue it.

Using experience and intuition, I decide which prints and paintings work well next to each other without competing too much with each other – I spread out colours. styles and sizes so that there’s some balance to what is displayed. You want to be able to see the work as opposed to some heavily laboured curating; an exhibition is about the work, so you don’t want an arrangement that looks very heavily arranged. But you do want people to see particular pieces first, especially if there’s a large piece which you think is going to be a show grabber….The exhibition install is the really fun part of our jobs, we come out of our offices and get hands on.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: The install is a surprisingly small portion of the job though; from the outside, people might imagine that it is predominantly the job. Probably about 20% of our time is spent on actual installation of work, doing displays, thinking about the layout of the gallery, the lighting and the juxtaposition of various things. That’s the fun stuff, that’s what people see and that’s what people might imagine constitutes the job of a curator –  but the job is a lot broader than that and it’s about building relationships, a lot of administration, paperwork, analysis, managing stock, working out VAT codes…..

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think that’s why we work hard to get good gallery submissions because you do so much work in the background and then it’s such a pleasure when you get really beautiful work in and you can take loads of pleasure in putting it on display.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: It can sometimes feel exciting when something’s arrived, you can forget for a while that it’s not just for you personally. For a short while, it’s like Christmas, unwrapping the “presents” and that is a nice feeling.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: And when putting the work up, you start to get a sense of the possibilities and the gallery that you’re putting the work into is kind of ever changing. A lot of the displays aren’t really planned per se in advance so it’s about thinking on your feet; that’s quite energising sort of thrilling.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – I imagine it being like…..remember the 90s programme Itsa Bitsa, where they had loads of art materials and then they’d go as a collective, pick all the stuff out and then it would all be like chaotic and then they’d create something collectively mint out of the chaos…

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: We have two weeks of full-time install for each quarterly show and we’re just on the gallery floor. There can be trollies of paintings going up and down, things propped against walls, boxes of jewellery, boxes of ceramic, whatever it might be and we try to keep it all clean because we don’t close; we’re open to the public. There is a moment where everything is in some state of flux and change and then somehow, normally with five minutes to go before everyone turns up for the preview, it suddenly all looks rather nice and it’s weird.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It is weird how often really interesting displays come out of thin air and I would love to say that it was all very planned; may be at some level it is!  But also, twenty new painting deliveries might arrive at once, I might get twenty to thirty ceramic and sculptures and that’s all got to be arranged into the gallery in a coherent way that does the best for all those artists, you don’t necessarily have the fine details of that worked out but you’ve got a few days to curate it and out of that “something” happens! It just comes together in a way which is beautifully surprising and quite satisfying,

We are always too exhausted to really appreciate the exhibition at the end of the install.  The hour before the quarterly preview, we’re always generally still running around, polishing things and doing labels but there is always suddenly a moment of calm when I go “oh that’s come together and it looks pretty… pretty good and I really like how that sits with that.”

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Pre-lock down – were there any current art trends or futures trends that are impacting and influencing how you select work?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I guess, social media is changing how you select work because you don’t necessarily need to go… I can get a jeweller in from the other side of the country but I don’t need to go see it. Some people are getting really good at promoting their work online I think that’s something that’ll happen more.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Trends can be very subtle; like the colours of frames people choose or the fact that people change from making rectangular work to square work and all those things are subtly moving around all the time.

The Culture Vulture: I’m all about championing that there are so many routes into creative industries. Can you tell me what you studied and any advice you have for future creatives who would like to embark on a creative career path?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I studied jewellery and silversmithing in Edinburgh, so I do have a relevant degree. Then I was self-employed as a jeweller for a long time and then I had a small gallery space on the west coast of Scotland, where I got into the curating side of things!

I did really love doing my degree but if you’re interested in jewellery making, I would totally recommend going and doing an apprenticeship. Art college is great for concept and community but going to work with a traditional jeweller and getting that basis of skills will just set you up.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I have a degree in contemporary photographic practice from Northumbria and then I have an MA in Fine Arts Practice from Northumbria.

Advice for breaking into professional creative industries…… go out and make as many connections as possible, be open to things, attend things and broaden your horizons in any way possible. Advice from an art practice side, I’d say the same really and I think, just get good, in terms of making art!  I think a lot of people aren’t resolute or rigorous enough in getting good and people want… I guess people want to be famous, they want to be in galleries, they want to make money and obviously there’s pressures to be all of those things socially and economically but that can get in the way of building your own voice, which ultimately could be the foundation to your success. Some people want to shortcut that.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: I did a degree at Kent Institute in Canterbury for a year and then I did by BA at Newcastle University. Then I was a bit clueless really, I kind of floundered around for a very long time, reading the Evening Chronicle once a week hoping to find a very high paid arts job with my name on it and not knowing where else to look!

I don’t think my degree particularly did anything much to train me up to know where to find opportunities or to successfully apply for them when I found them; I did apply for various sculpture commissions and things without really knowing how on earth to put together a professional application. I spent some time working various retail jobs and then worked for about 18 months as an art technician in a sixth form college. I moved back here and became a postman, then I got a job here as a gallery assistant. I worked hard and tried to prove myself and when other opportunities came up, I applied and progressed.

In terms of advice, I suppose advice for artists would be slightly different to advice for future curators.  As much as I like my job I didn’t really set out to be a curator so it’s very hard to give advice to set yourself up to be one; I’m sure there are more tailored qualifications that would give you more chance of becoming a curator now.

Advice in terms of being a fine artist; that it’s important to hone in on one aspect of your work, even if you do lots of other kind of work for your own enjoyment. You’ve got to have something which is identifiably you, your signature, something that can be repeated to some degree to apply to galleries and connect to a specific customer base.

I guess, as Mika says, go and get some actual, specific experience, especially if you’ve done a fine art degree as it’s just so broad ranging, wide and potentially a bit wooly. I advise you to go down one route where you can start learning the skills that make you really good at something, rather than just having some ideas and tinkering. It took me a long time to do it; I was doing various part time jobs to free up studio time to make – I’d paint a portrait one week, then get frustrated and think that the new future of me was going to be landscapes and then decide it was printing and then something else… I spent years floundering around like that with nothing much to show for it. It’s only in the last four or five years, especially through working here, that I’ve narrowed everything to one or two things and tried becoming more professional on those. My advice would be to get to that stage, quicker than I did!

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I’d tell them to expect to have to flounder around for a bit. Perhaps now in the age of the internet. 15 years ago, when we graduated, it was a different world or it looked like a different world; it looked less easy to penetrate. Whereas now, I think people have social media and they have their own websites much more quickly;  I think that can lead to people wanting to shortcut it; but the floundering bit is character making, humbling, exposing you to failure and doubt, working out how to fit yourself into the world rather than just steadfastly standing there saying “I’ve graduated, I’ve got a website, world come at me/world fit around me”.

You’ve got to find your way into the world a little and I think it’s that, that is the source of a lot of discontent as some graduates are unprepared for the reality and competitiveness of the world.  You’ve got to expect it and understand that the world is indifferent to you at first, even if you’ve got a website and a first-class degree in Fine Art. The reality is you’re still going to have to work at it really hard; if you’re not prepared and hungry for it, it’s going to be even harder. I’m sure that we’ve all experienced difficulties in trying to find a route into the arts, with our own personal practice or professionally; but I think more than ever people are unprepared for the difficulty and it’s more competitive than ever! So you’ve got to go into an artist career with your eyes open or it can be quite damaging – the world can be quite hostile.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – I do a lot of work with young people and I’m starting to see less young people choosing to go into creative industries because they are viewed as a whole mass together and that there aren’t the opportunities….if you’re looking to go into a visual arts career, then yes it’s very competitive. But if you want to go into graphic design, app development, animation, outdoor event producing, tech  – well there are LOADS of opportunities….

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I feel like it’s irresponsible to send so many kids off to vague creative degrees and fine art degrees; many are left at the end high and dry when they finish. I had this experience in my final year of my BA, literally a couple of weeks before the end of it, we had a seminar about the outside world and how to write a letter to a gallery and it was like a one hour thing…..

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: After a four year degree, I did not know how to apply for a commission or how to write an Arts Council grant. It’s unforgivable that you can get through that amount of degree and not know those things.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Some artists have no awareness of the landscape in which they’re meant to be a professional in or they are meant to be qualified and don’t know materials, don’t know the processes, don’t know what opportunities there might be or how you apply for them. It happens all the time.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: It’s the same with outdoor light installation work – many aspiring outdoor sculptors/light installation makers out of University have brilliant conceptual ideas but no knowledge of the technical aspects of what it takes to make a sculpture durable outdoors and the technical aspects to deliver on a light installation….

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  It happens. Soon after graduating, I had this bronze commission for a school in Jarrow, a big bronze snail, I had no idea how to secure it to the ground and in about half an hour, having welded a couple of bowls, I just filled it with as much cement as I could and tried to wedge some holes into the ground. If that hadn’t worked and it actually needed to be on a stone base or welded, then I’d have been stuck. I had just had no idea at all!

The Culture Vulture: And just a final thing, I am really interesting in this “positivity” ethos at the moment on social, manifesting success and an extreme push towards “only do what makes you happy” across our whole lives – on one hand that’s brilliant but I think we’re gradually conditioning some people to forget that life is hard, that to get to where you want to be it is tough and sometimes you have to wade through a whole lot of difficult and challenging stuff…..and that’s normal and ok.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: It’s really unrealistic.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Yeah, and also you might not even get there, no matter how hard you work; there’s this idea, this myth, that if you work really hard, you’ll get what you deserve.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  Well we’ve all said this but our generation feels like we were told by our parents’ generation that you can naturally – unlike them, who just got a job and had to work hard at it for fifty years, that you can be anything you want to be as long as you set your mind to it but actually to become a very successful commercial artist is not attainable for most people and even if you’re trying, you’re not necessarily geared up for how much work there is involved. I’m sure there’s a lot of people of our generation, that are very frustrated that the false promise didn’t come off.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I think people take it on as a personal failing; whereas it is really a structural failing in a broader societal sense and also there aren’t enough opportunities for all the graduates coming out of Art School. And you know, like Sam said about his experience, you don’t really know what path it is that you’re taking and then you look back and you’ve arrived somewhere.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  You just find yourself in unusual places in your life, take what comes your way and carve out your own opportunity.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: In retrospect, it looks like there was a plan because it led you somewhere that turns out to be decent but actually it’s just a series of coincidences, circumstances, situations and chances; you find your way through it and I think people are perhaps less aware that is the reality of how it is, now more than ever. More people have bigger expectations and are fed this idea of the clear route to something; it’s pretty dubious to set people up like that.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

Wow – what interesting curator chat! You can check out The Biscuit Factor online gallery here to see the artists and art works they have on their books. The Biscuit Factory underpins the livelihood of over 50 staff, supports the careers of thousands of artists and attracts over 100k visitors a year into the local economy. They do not receive public funding, arts council financial support or rely on any grants to carry out work, so for the first time in their 17 year history, they are asking for support and donations. You make a donation or purchase something like a card, or lunch from their café HERE.

That’s all for now Culture Vultures. xx

Interview with queer feminist artist Louise Brown a.k.a. goodstrangevibes; smashing the patriarchy, learning to love your body & running a lush creative business.

I’ve always had a love hate/relationship with my mind, body and soul. I’ve loved being different and seeing the world from my own perspective – but I never really liked myself, not deep down. I grew up during an era of glossy mags that distinctly lacked any diversity, lack of representation in the media, a push towards conforming and the era of the waif (you might argue it’s like that now – but honestly, it was even worse!). I didn’t value myself, I am and always will be my worst critic, I didn’t look after my body….in fact I’ve lived at 10000miles an hour distinctly doing the reverse to self-care. I’ve proudly burnt the candle at both ends, I’ve fought world war three in my head for decades and my mental health rollercoaster is a consistent part of my life.

As a teen, there was no social media – my social sphere was who I engaged with in the immediacy. No online movements, no creative projects focusing on body positivity, mental health issues were not discussed (I didn’t even know what the word anorexia meant – despite having it for years), artists creating social work could not reach me – it was a different landscape to now. My only sense of understanding about mental health and body positivity was through poetry and reading – reading about mental illness, feeling like your body belonged to someone else and wanting the world to stop for a moment and feeling a sense of “gosh – I hear ya!”

In my 30s – I gradually sought out nourishment for my mind, body and soul; I even started to like myself (a bit). I’ve spoken about this before – but a place, I most often seek out content nourishment is via Instagram – a wonderful platform that has democratised (to an extent) art and enabled artists to reach audiences without institutional gatekeepers that often create more barriers than they enable (that’s another conversation entirely!). I spend hours stumbling upon artists and online communities that are creating not just amazing work, running amazing projects, leading positivity movements for thousands or millions of people, people living their purpose, proud of their differences, being the different they want to see in the world and championing diversity.

Body Appreciation

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

It makes me smile. And this is why creatives really matter – all the time – especially NOW. These creatives instigating these online movements are creating meaningful work to enrich lives, empower others, add colour, connect, increase representation, create community, reduce isolation (real and perceived) and to reach out with open arms – to the likes of a teenage me who would have massively benefitted. Social media audiences respond in their millions – with their interest and engagement. This is why these movements have such a great following – they are SO needed and tapping into something; they are also often the first defence during a mental health dip. I know they are with me – Instagram is my quickie version of picking up a self-help book.

So if the movements are needed, the movements are hugely popular due to their positive enabling, the creative visualisations and representations the creatives make are connecting and speaking with people in a way that other things aren’t able to do, then the creatives behind the movements and making the creative visuals must therefore be super important too. You can see where I’m going with this….

I’m spending time on this intro to reiterate how important art can be in relation to well-being and how important artists are in these movements. We are walking blindly into a mental health crisis. We have less mental health resources available than ever before. Our system is not pre-emptively set up. The impact of artists creating an online safe space community, increasing representation, positivity movements and feed into improved well-being is repeatedly understated…… I believe art and artists could play a much bigger role if they were supported and funded appropriately. I believe this is just one of many reasons that we need to reconsider investment in the arts and its wider impact. I’m always blown away with the thought- if THIS is the impact of arts and artists without anywhere near the levels of appropriate funding, imagine if we actually funded and invested into them…..

Giving No Fucks

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

An Instagram account that nourishes me and many others, I discovered a year or so ago was Louise Brown’s @goodstrangevibes – Louise was one of the first local NE accounts that I saw pop up during the beginning of the I Weigh movement. Her work focuses on body positivity, increasing diverse representation and is always a rainbow of colour – she is doing a lot of the above, with authenticity putting her own personal experience at the core; Louise’s account consequently is one that I often revisit on my doom days.

Louise a proud feminist, instrumental (imo) to the local movement claiming back the word “feminist” positively and in her early 20s. She gives me such a bubble of hope in my tummy – if I have folks like Louise coming up behind me pushing forward the next generation of creatives, then it makes me sleep better at night. The world is not shot to shit with wonderful younger folks like Louise in it. And she’s an account that I refer many young people, I work with to look at, especially if they are struggling in some way with themselves.

Louise’s work was censored by Newcastle University Library (not the University as a whole) for depicting naked women/bodies and the fear of it being sexual and offensive. That caught my attention and immediately made me shout BORE OFF when I read it in the Chronicle and how far we still need to go with womxn’s bodies. As Vulture, I proudly got behind the campaign to make the point that a boob or naked body illustration in day light is not a threat to society. (“A boob is not a threat to society” – could be my new 2020 tag line!)

No matter what you ate yesterday, you deserve to eat today

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

She recently attended my recent event (Pre-COVID and the project is unfortunately on hold at the moment) – Newcastle Herstory – Womxn’s Rights as an unfinished fight! Nearly 100 people attended the event to discuss Newcastle feminist histories and womxn’s rights past, present and to plot/reflect on the next chapter. Louise was such a lush addition to the event and I decided there and then, I wanted to interview her so you could find out about her, understand the positive impact her work is having and I’m dead excited to see her creative journey unfold – I’m here for it and along for the ride to support as Vulture.

So here you go – here is Louise Brown.

So hello, for my Culture Vultures – please introduce yourself!

Hello! I’m Lou; a queer feminist artist and final year student at Newcastle uni studying Politics, Psychology and Sociology. I set up and run goodstrangevibes; a small arts business which aims to promote body positivity and mental health awareness through my illustrations.

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goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

Tell me about your journey into the creative industries so far…..how long have you been an artist? When did you start drawing/illustrating/writing?

Hmmm, there’s a big difference from when I started producing art to when I felt entitled to call myself an artist. I think only since introducing goodstrangevibes have I started to say I am an artist, I’m not sure why – thinking back I could have said it earlier… my grandpa wrote this about me when I was just five years old ‘she is the most unusual creature who wants to be ‘Somethink’ rather than ‘Nothink’ but as she keeps disappearing under the table to draw pictures we can’t really say …’. So I guess I’ve always been an arty human but only self-identified as an artist as of the last couple of years.

That’s is the best answer to that question, I’ve ever had…. I used to spend a lot of time under a table as a mini in a creative haze – only I was writing. So tell us about your work– it covers a wider breadth of themes – what inspires it?

I do illustrations of nude humans with the aim of promoting body positivity and mental health awareness. I often use captions and text in my artwork to help convey the messages further. I aim to draw all sorts of bodies so that people can see my work and find an illustration that looks a bit like them in some shape or form.

My experience of low body image led me to create these illustrations. I had been in recovery (from an Eating Disorder) for a while and was being supported by professionals but I still was in the habit of staring at my body in the mirror each night and picking out parts I wanted to change. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to break this habit completely, so instead I decided to draw my reflection in the mirror as a sort of distraction from the negative thoughts as I was now focusing on drawing.

I drew my body every evening during the time I would have spent critiquing it. In appreciating the artwork I produced, I began to see my body as art and worthy of appreciation. From that, I started drawing a diversity of different bodies and posting them on my art Instagram (@goodstrangevibes). I received positive feedback from people who said I helped them feel better about their bodies and this really inspired me to keep creating and posting my work. Goodstrangevibes has really helped with my own mental health and provided me with a lot more self-confidence and happiness.

Other artists have also definitely inspired my practice such as Polly Nor, Alice Skinner, Frances Cannon, Pink_Bits… the list goes on!

Thinking about life

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

Well you’ve helped mine too ❤ – not just in appreciating my own body but the diversity of the human body in general. Your drawing style is pretty distinctive,  I can recognise a “Louise Brown” anywhere – how did that develop over time?

I think once I let go and stopped trying to create a ‘good’ proportional drawing, I began to see myself drawing my playful long-limbed flexible humans. I love drawing without the pressure of things being ‘perfect’, very much in the same way I began to embrace my body and stopped striving to affirm society’s conception of a ‘perfect’ body. It’s very freeing to just draw and accept what appears on the page. I very rarely use pencils or rubbers.

I have to ask this question…..how is/has COVID-19 effecting your work, life and practice?

Emotionally it’s been tough, but I am coming to terms with it all as best I can. For one I moved back in with my parents in London and had to leave Newcastle. I am incredibly sad about leaving, but I am very excited to come back up as soon as I can, I feel very at home in Newcastle. At first, I struggled with motivation which has been hard, but I’m taking my time and being kind to myself which definitely helps things!

It’s hard feeling unhelpful sitting at home when so many people are really suffering. I’ve been trying to use my art to hopefully comfort people who are struggling with their mental health and recently contributed to a free downloadable self-care colouring book which will be released soon.

We Will Get Through This Together

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

Ohh keep me in the loop about the colouring book as will be all over that! So you’re a feminist artist; what does being a feminist mean to you in the present day? Why is being a feminist important to you?

Being a feminist to me means believing in gender equality and actively calling out injustices, trying to change the status quo and fight the patriarchy! I feel very strongly about it because of all the inequalities that are still prevalent worldwide that need to be acknowledged, confronted and overthrown.

A feminist concern that I feel equipped to influence the fight against is body image issues. Having experienced an eating disorder when I was younger, I feel strongly about the importance of promoting positive body image in girls and young womxn. Body image is a feminist issue since body image concerns affect womxn disproportionately to men. This is not surprising considering the pervasiveness of the patriarchal idea that womxn should be judged by their bodies, and men by their minds. It angers me so much all the time and energy that is taken from womxn due to the pressures to conform to a single conception of beauty which is unattainable for the majority of womxn to attain anyway! It’s a capitalist patriarchal trap!

Jump

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

You depict REAL bodies in such a positive way – I personally find it, even as a 34yrs old woman, extremely inspiring. What do you want people who view your work who are struggling with their bodies, to take away from it?

Thank you, that’s super lovely to hear! To those struggling with their bodies who view my work, the aim would be to help them spark a shift in their mind, perhaps that it doesn’t have to be that you need to change your body to be worthy or that it is possible to accept how you look and not let that hold you back. Or I’d want them to see a body like theirs being presented in a positive light in my work, and I would hope that could comfort someone going through a tough time with their relationship to their body.

I’m so much happier now I have stopped battling with my relationship with food and I hope people can maybe take hope in the fact that it is possible to rekindle your relationship with yourself. Although I am also very conscious that this is much easier for a naturally slim white woman like myself to do this, as I do not experience fatphobia or other kinds of discrimination from society because of the way I look.

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goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

You identify as queer – how much does your queer experience influence your work?

I think being queer, and openly so, makes me feel more capable of covering whatever I want in my art – like a sort of byproduct of being open with who I am means I feel more comfortable also then being open with my art. If that makes sense!

I personally don’t think there are enough lesbian icons/visibility in mainstream society – what do you think?

I completely agree with this. I feel I grew up and am still growing up with a lack of representation of LGBTQ+ people in general. There’s still so much I feel like I’m slowly discovering bit by bit. Much of the lesbian visibility in mainstream society seems so fetishised and aimed at a male audience.

Any advice for folks struggling with their identity or sexuality during this period?

I’m not sure I qualify for giving advice, but I guess to be kind to yourself, take your time to listen to what feels right in your head and body. It’s okay if you’re not sure instantly or if you are discovering or coming out later on in your life. I can imagine for folks quarantined with people who are unaccepting of LGBTQ+ it must be really hard. Maybe try to find online LGBTQ+ groups so you can still express your identity somewhere and feel free to directly message me on Instagram if I can offer a listening ear (though I can’t promise I’ll say the right thing, but I’ll listen!).

Surfer Babe Colours

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

How can folks buy or engage with your work?

You can follow my page on Facebook and Instagram @goodstrangevibes where I post my art, or have a cheeky browse at my website www.goodstrangevibes.com where I have an about the artist page, some of my writing, example commissions (email me if you’re interested goodstrangevibes@gmail.com) etc. I also have my online shop on my website which is currently in ‘pre-orders’ as I can’t access a post office – but people can order anything and it will be reserved for them until I can post! I’m planning on releasing vouchers too that can be given as presents to be spent on the online shop or saved until I’m at markets again.

Solidarity

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

What would be success for Louise this year?

Ooh tricky question. It’s very hard to say in this confusing climate what’s going to be possible! I’d like to give my all to goodstrangevibes once my degree is done post June and see what happens. I’m applying for a foundership programme at Newcastle uni next year which would be amazing business-wise as it provides loads of support, but it’s highly competitive, so unlikely. But in general, success would be to get my art in more places and hopefully make viewer’s feel comforted or better about their bodies or minds because of it. I’d like to paint large scale on walls in people’s homes as a new part of commissions I could offer. An exhibition would be super exciting …

In non-business terms, success would be to feel more free, to skinny dip lots, surf, pole dance, do the things that make me happy with people I love. Travelling could bag me some happiness with meeting strangers from around the world and sharing experiences and discovering, but perhaps that will have to wait for a while now!

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goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

I’ve reflected a lot about the question I just asked you – my wants for this year are more personal than professional. I certainly want to travel and adventure. Do you have any projects that you’d like to share and talk about?

I’ve just launched a new project ‘revolutionising sex education’ where I am illustrating people’s sexual experiences and including three words they felt during and three words they felt after in an attempt to portray the diversity of sexual experiences possible and the different emotions that comes with that. How sex can be fun, romantic, boring, scary, exciting, awkward, embarrassing, confusing, upsetting, silly and many many more things!

I want to represent a diversity of sexual experiences, especially LGBTQ+ and others that aren’t explored in mainstream media and sex education at schools. I define ‘sex’ as  e.g. masturbation/foreplay/intercourse – basically anything that one considers part of their sex life. If

anyone is interested in submitting a story entry – email goodstrangevibes@gmail.com or direct message me to show your interest and I will tell you what the next steps are! I’m hoping to display all the illustrations in a book, zine or online resource – I’m not sure exactly what yet. It would be super cool to get a publisher in the future and make it into a proper book!!

I’ve also been investing in environmental business practices and have now launched my upcycled screen printed eco top range on my website if anyone wants to grab one! They are one-off tops that I bought from charity shops in an attempt to combat fast fashion. My designs were screen printed on with the help of Newcastle based Nick Christie at Incubate Printmaking.

Free From Confines

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

I want to be involved in all Louise’s projects and ideas, especially the sexual experiences one; society’s view and treatments toward a womxn who enjoys sex needs a lot of work. such an exciting human to watch creatively flourish! Check out Louise’s website and @goodstrangevibes insta for a dose of creative LUSHNESS.

 

That’s all for now Culture Vultures. xx

Interview with graphic designer Velcrobelly; we chat Tuxedo Princess, having a studio in The Biscuit Factory, loving films & typography!

Before the lock down – I had the delight of interviewing Newcastle based artist and graphic designer Velcrobelly. I’ve admired David McClure for years and his studio, which is based within The Biscuit Factory’s studios was always a must visit for me during Open Studios. David’s studio is always bright, colourful and full of his lush prints – The Cuckoo series and the re-imagined Jaws poster cemented my love for David’s work.

You might also recognise his graphic design work too – he designed the Northern Stage’s Hound of the Baskerville theatre show graphics, a few New Writing North project designs and The Town Mouse Ale House in Newcastle logo! You can view his other projects here – super talented!

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Velcrobelly

Velcrobelly’s online shop is currently closed in terms of posting prints and things out for obvious reasons – but you can still commission David for graphic design projects. Here over to his website for more info!

Now onto our Culture Vulture interview with the man himself – Velcrobelly!

Young Writers City – Cityscape

New Writing North Project – Young Writers – Velcrobelly

Hiyer, please introduce yourself to my readers and fellow Culture Vultures!

Hello! I’m David McClure. I run a solo graphic design studio called Velcrobelly. That’s my fanciful way of saying that I’m a freelance creative designer who sticks together ideas, images, and text to engage with people.

When I’m not designing for clients, I make illustrations and sell them. My artwork is inspired by movies, pop-culture, skulls, birds; or some hellish-colourful amalgamation of all those things.

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Velcrobelly

Well I’m in love with your work– Need Comic Soup skull in my house immediately post lock down! Tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

Art has always been a driving force in my life, even though as a teenager I had no comprehension of what an art career looked like. I grew up in rural Northern Ireland, where art wasn’t something people did as a job. It wasn’t frowned upon or discouraged but I didn’t have a basis for comparison.

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Velcrobelly – Comic Soup

There weren’t many opportunities to visit galleries, museums or creative spaces to see what an artist did. I had the notion that all artists worked in dingy spaces and were like characters from Withnail & I or The Young Ones.

What I did understand was that all the cool things I cherished were illustrated and designed somewhere: movie posters, comics, game boxes, albums, book covers – people were creating these things and getting paid to do it. I wanted in on that.

Graphic design was a way to combine my love of making images with an actual job.

In 1997, The Troubles were still part of life in Northern Ireland. My family was fortunate to be unaffected by the ongoing conflict, but my Dad suggested I consider studying in England rather than Belfast.

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Velcrobelly

I’ve never been great with geography. England’s green and pleasant land might as well have been the surface of Mars. I have a vague memory of flipping through the UCAS prospectus and picking universities at random…

One of those places turned out to be Newcastle. I applied to study on the Graphic Design degree course at Northumbria University – then known by the less catchy moniker of The University of Northumbria at Newcastle.

My degree course provided a choice between graphic design and illustration modules; and I found myself specialising in the latter. I’ve always loved making images – whether they’re drawn, painted or assemblages – while purely typographic ‘Swiss’ graphic design eluded me.

After graduation, with student loans to repay, I was lucky to get a part-time job as junior designer at a small agency in Newcastle – where I would create flyers for bars and nightclubs like Tuxedo Princess and Planet Earth (ask your parents, kids).

As an illustrator working that job, I had such imposter syndrome… waiting for someone to call me out on my sh*tty typography. Personal hang-ups aside, it was a great place to cut my teeth. I had to learn how to create interesting visuals from the most meagre of design briefs – to conceptualise an idea and execute on it quickly. The pace of work was pretty frantic but there was opportunity to experiment and develop as a creative.

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Velcrobelly – Northern Stage

With practice, even typography became less of a mystery. I grew to understand the importance of information hierarchy (‘make the £1 Vodka Redbull headline BIGGER!!!’). With time and experience, my imposter syndrome diminished – although I’m still sheepish around designers who specialise in more ‘graphic’ fields like branding, editorial and typography.

Alongside my day job at the agency, I was working on my illustration portfolio and getting small commissions in magazines. One of my illustrations in The Crack caught the eye of a consultant who was starting an audience development project for Tyneside Cinema. The goal of that project was to engage a young, contemporary audience through their shared love of art, culture, movies and events.

That project led to working with Tyneside Cinema on their print design – a relationship that spanned 15 years – and allowed me to become a sole trader full time. I set up a home studio and started trading as Velcrobelly.

The TL;DR version of my career is referrals, referrals, referrals. The North East has a close-knit creative community. If you produce quality work reliably and are a decent – if occasionally moody – human; clients are happy to recommend you to their peers.

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Velcrobelly

Now THAT is a great journey into the creative industries story – and I remember the Tuxedo Princess – being 14/15 on the revolving dance floor! Can you tell us about any recent projects you’ve worked on?

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Northern Stage on key art for a few of their recent and forthcoming productions, like The Hound of The Baskervilles, The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff, Red Ellen, and The Invisible Man.

I love to work on projects where the client is creatively invested and open to collaboration. They’re fun because I can explore different image-making techniques.  Johnny Longstaff was a digital collage using archive materials. Red Ellen was an illustration inspired by socialist propaganda posters. The Invisible Man leaned heavily into photomontage and movie poster design techniques to create a foreboding atmosphere.

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Velcrobelly – Northern Stage

Last year, I had the opportunity to venture out of my solo comfort zone and work with Flo-Culture as part of a small creative team on Alston Explorer – a mobile app which supports growth of the tourism economy in the Alston area of North Pennines Area of Natural Beauty. The app is designed for active families; encouraging participants to stay longer, explore further and discover more about Alston during their visit.

I was responsible for the app’s art direction: designing screen layouts, characters and icons, while chipping in my tuppence worth on user experience, gamification and story. It was fun to explore the nooks and crannies of Alston. To create an aesthetic and narrative inspired by the area – and then to apply that design to a product people can use to discover the town for themselves.

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Alston Explorer – Velcrobelly

I love Vulture projects that take me out of my comfort zone too and the ones where people allow me to really flex my creative muscles – so I hear you there! So you’re based in The Biscuit Factory, in their studios spaces – when did you move in there?

My first studio at The Biscuit Factory was a shared space with Sean Elliott Photography. Sean’s a terrific photographer –  he shot my wedding – and a long-term Biscuit Factory resident.

In late 2012, he had his eye on a large studio space and wanted to co-habit with someone to reduce overhead costs. He’d remembered that I worked from home and asked if I’d be interested in sharing space at The Biscuit Factory.

After a few years I was fortunate enough to transition to my own studio space – one with windows!

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Velcrobelly

I do love your studio – visitor during Open Studios and lurker looking in the windows when heading to Ernest! Tell me about your studio experience?

A workspace away from home was a possibility I’d debated the merits of for years. I’m not the sort of person to down tools at 5pm when there’s work to do, so I was always ‘at work’. An external studio was an opportunity to separate Church and State – to establish some boundaries between life and work.

That separation didn’t quite work as intended. I still spend far too much time in my studio. I’ve realised that I’m happy being ‘at work’; on my own, pottering away at projects, talking to myself…

On the plus side, I don’t take work home with me. When I close my studio door for the night, I’m done. No checking emails… No chipping away at projects. So, it wasn’t a total failure.

Having a studio space has affected my creative practice. When I first moved into The Biscuit Factory, I was working exclusively on graphic design projects for clients. Personal projects were something I toyed with but never finished.

Events like Ouseburn Open Studios and The Late Shows – where the public can visit artist spaces – encouraged me to work on self-initiated illustrative projects. That work is a great way to explore illustration techniques, and making images brings me a lot of pleasure. My studio acts as a gallery space and make-shift shop.

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Velcrobelly studio

It is a lovely space – before this COVID-19 craziness, I was in the process of signing on to space to try to and gain some work life balance. Any advice to others thinking about taking a studio/creative office space?

I enjoy working from a studio. It focuses my attention in a way that I never truly achieved working from home. I find that I’m more regimented. There’s less time wasted disappearing down internet rabbit holes; and if my concentration starts to slip, I go for a walk into town to clear my head.

With hindsight, while I did work hard from my home office, there were always easy distractions. Dishes don’t clean themselves, and don’t get me started on the temptation of a Playstation when things are quiet…

Cost is a big factor. Renting a studio space adds extra pressure to earn, but I’ve received feedback from some clients that they felt confident engaging my services based on my studio address and their personal awareness of The Biscuit Factory.

I appear more professional by virtue of location. Personally, I think that’s flawed logic but it’s understandable. Having a presentable, private space to meet with clients doesn’t hurt either.

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Velcrobelly – Northern Stage

I always look at graphics from the audience perspective when working on a project – I feel like I have a good sense of the following question from that perspective and why it justifies the investment. In your opinion, what is “good graphic design” and why is it important?

Wow! That’s a broad question… How a design achieves success depends on context and intent.

For me, ‘good’ graphic design connects your audience with visual information contextualised for them to acknowledge, to understand, to engage with, and to act upon.

The visual form those elements might take depends on the project. ‘Good’ design is important because it enables us to decode information appropriately – as intended.

Traffic signs are designed to be clear, consistent, and highly legible at distance and speed. They’re functional and informative. You don’t need to feel emotionally engaged by signage at Junction 48 on the M1.

A ‘good’ book cover design grabs your attention from its place on the book shop shelf. It’s attractive, intriguing and emotionally resonant. The design intent is to catch your eye (to acknowledge), to encourage you to pick it up (to engage), and finally to buy (to act). The book’s title and author credit – whether beautifully integrated into the design or as overlaid text – are there for the reader to easily recognise (to understand).

On the inner pages of that same book, ‘good’ graphic design should go unnoticed by the reader. The design intent is facilitating a fluid reading experience, where the reader progresses seamlessly from word to word, page to page. If you find yourself confused by a book because of the design rather than the author’s own words, then something’s gone horribly wrong.

Good design is all contextual, and all design is subjective.

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Velcrobelly

You’ve hit the nail on the head with that answer and really explains why it is so bliddy important – to me “good” design facilitates audience and relational development, but also at the core is a communication tool – it’s got to say something meaningful, connect and of course, enable the audience to understand what you’re trying to say – so many graphic designers get lots in the conceptual and forget that the importance of call to actions and for a theatre show (for example) how to book….So moving on to your own work – Tell me about your film themed stuff?

Oh, man… I suck at self-promotion and explaining my own work. Information you may have found useful prior to this interview…

I love the language of film (and pop culture more broadly). It’s embedded in our cultural conscious. I make stuff that’s inspired by that visual language and remix it.

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Velcrobelly

Tell me what your fave top three films are? (I’m a huge film nerd!)

Choosing my favourite three films is really tough… I have so many great memories and associations. Not to mention movies that are superb comfort food – endlessly re-watchable with as much attention as you care to invest.

But, for the sake of an actual answer…

Aliens (1986)

I’d wager most people would choose Ridley Scott’s ‘haunted house in space’ as the best instalment in the long-running Alien franchise – if I’m honest, I probably would too – BUT I saw Aliens first, at much too young an age.

Aliens literally had me hiding behind the sofa the first time I saw it – implanting an embryo of strange fascination and obsession with these creatures. I convinced my mum to let me buy the video tape when I was about 12 and I’ve seen that film at least 50 times. Game over, man. Game over.

As a young art kid, the creature design by H.R. Giger was entrancing. His airbrush art was so strange, so beautifully rendered, so adult… Perfectly suited for a teenage boy…

Blade Runner (The Director’s Cut, 1992)

Blade Runner is a film that I was aware of long before I ever saw it. As a geeky kid in the early- to-mid 1990s, I was hugely into computers. I had a Commodore Amiga that I used to play games and make art on.

I was an avid reader of computer magazines. That was where I first encountered Blade Runner. Writers with better access to media and culture than I had were regularly writing about the film; about sci-fi, William Gibson and cyberpunk…

When I finally saw Blade Runner, I was baffled by it. It was beautiful but… slow. I’d created an expectation of the ultimate pew-pew science fiction masterpiece and my teenage-self discovered a detective noir with occasional flying cars?!

Like Aliens, I became a bit obsessed by it. The burden of expectation from years of cultural association diminishes with each re-watch and what’s left is a beautifully realised, iconic world to lose yourself in.

Akira (1998)

It’s 1994. I’m 15 and living on a dairy farm in rural Northern Ireland. I don’t know sh*t about the world. There are four TV channels. On one of them, a camera pans above a beautifully detailed city. Light blossoms as an animated nuclear explosion engulfs the screen.

Slow drumbeats penetrate the silence as the camera pans slowly up from a blackened crater. My mind is blown by the quality of the background artwork. ‘AKIRA’ fills the screen in massive, bold condensed letters… A biker gang rampage around Neo-Tokyo on motorcycles, streaming coloured light in their wake…

I’d never seen anything like Akira. Before it, animation was Looney Tunes and He-Man. Funny, cartoonish characters in leafy pants. Anime is everywhere now, but back then it was the stuff of playground legend. A chance late night TV encounter that sparked a lifelong interest in Japanese culture. That and the soundtrack is absolutely killer…

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Velcrobelly

I’d struggle with that question even with a gun to my head…. Good answers! Tell me about your work with cultural venues?

I do what I can to help them sell tickets and put bums on seats – or whatever the equivalent transaction is… I help to communicate with their audience. In practical terms that means working with marketing teams to design key art, advertising and promotional materials.

Any other folks you have designed for?

In recent years I’ve worked with The Town Mouse Ale House, Sorella Sorella, and The Owl & Otter – all independent North East businesses that I hope to see flourish once we emerge from our Corona virus caves.

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Velcrobelly

I work with lots of venues and small businesses too – that’s my biggest concern and ambition for the region! What are you doing to future proof your business during this weird time and any advice to others?

Not enough! And that was before a global pandemic locked us all in our homes and kicked seven bells out of the arts industry. (At the time of writing we’re in week one of UK Corona virus lockdown).

I’ve never been particularly strong when it comes business strategy. I tend to focus my energy on delivering a great service at the expense of all else – and that doesn’t leave much in the tank for planning and promotion.

My advice is always to do as I say not as I do!

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Velcrobelly

Anything you want to tell me about Velcrobelly across 2020?

It’s crazy that in the space of a few weeks 2020 has become an unknown quantity.

I want to tell you that we leave our homes as better people who help to build a kinder society. That the art we make and stories we tell in 2020 will be quite unlike any other year.

Hopefully I’ll have some of that art on show at a Nowt Special exhibition later this year, and on sale in my Art shop.

Until then, in the wise words of Bill & Ted; be excellent to each other.

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Velcrobelly

Thank you Dave – hopefully 2020 will end on a bodacious note for us all. You can check out Velcrobelly over on his website.

Big Culture Vulture love – until next time! More interviews are incoming!

(#AD) Does Culture Matter? – a mass participation research project from Crystallised.

I’ve found myself really missing cultural experiences whilst on lock down. Even as The Culture Vulture, I didn’t realise how much “culture” mattered to me on a day to day personal level and how intrinsically linked going to the theatre, cinema, wandering around a gallery, is to my sense of self and well-being. I miss it and I miss feeling a part of a creative community in person. Attending things and supporting cultural venues gives me a real sense of positive purpose and now their doors are closed, I’ve spent a little while feeling lost. I am going to go on the BIGGEST cultural binge when this is all over – I want to attend, see, visit, experience e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. all the time.

I’ve been trying to replace this sense of loss in my life with cultural streaming – watching theatre, live performance poetry, launching a Silent Book Club (and about to launch a Culture Vulture film club) alongside heading down a rabbit hole on Insta discovering new artists and creative lushness. It’s helping ease that loss….but it’s not the same!

A project that is helping me tackle some of the above and making me feel useful to the cultural sector – is Crystallised’s project Does Culture Matter?  You might have seen me plugging it on my social…. Does Culture matter? explores that question thematically by collating the opinions and insights of the Nation, during COVID-19 and beyond. Through a series of weekly questions sent direct to your inbox on a Sunday, you get to explore and reflect on what culturally matters to you, what you’re missing and what you’d normally be out and about doing.

Lead DCM

Crystallised are collecting all this data, to make it available to arts and cultural venues and sector when locked down measures are lifted. Your insights and data will directly help organisations recover, pivot, be more resilient, stronger through the power of knowledge and shape their activities by enabling them to identify what is actually important culturally to you!

So do I think my fellow Culture Vultures should get involved…..

  • It’s something a little lush to do, to get you thinking and reflecting. The questions asked are interesting and in the moment – I mean there was a question about Tiger King last week!
  • It’s something to look forward to each week; I really look forward to the questions dropping in my inbox, grabbing a cup of tea/Sunday gin and sitting answering them. Only takes a few minutes but it’s a little lush brain exercise.
  • You are a part of a cultural community who are united in sharing their insights – it’s lush to feel useful and to be a part of something happening across the UK. #peoplepower
  • It’s helping the creative and cultural sector at a time of need – the organisations that will have free access to this data need a helping hand to recover post-COVID – this is that helping hand. Knowledge is power. At a time when you can’t attend these venues, support their cancelled projects or donate to every single cultural organisation and venue – this is something you can do to help that they will all have access to.
  • The data produced could form part of regional and National government lobbying – fingers crossed – it could form the foundation to justify increased spending in culture and creative projects by evidencing what is important to the Nation; what they want, need, love.

To get involved and to sign up – follow this link to take part – takes seconds and you can do it HERE

I had the pleasure of catching up with Laura Rothwell, Managing Director of Crystallised to find out more about why they launched this ‘Does Culture Matter’ project, why it is important and what they hope to achieve through it!

Hiyer you – right first things first, tell my fellow Culture Vultures about Crystallised?  

Crystallised is a marketing, PR and events agency for ethically, socially or culturally motivated organisations.

That’s the spiel.

What that means is we work with a range of organisations. All of them with a cause or purpose at their heart. We help them promote themselves, or their initiatives, we help them reach new audiences, market their work or make some kind of change. Invariably that means we work with a lot of arts and culture organisations, but we also work with charities, NGOs, ethically minded brands and foundations.

We’ve been doing this for seven years; we’ve helped organisations reach audiences of over 30 million people from all over the world.

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Team Crystallised

Impressive stuff – has has your organisation been personally impacted by COVID-19?

Yes, big time. A lot of our work is about getting people to a place. Arts, culture or destination marketing. So, jobs have been cancelled, or indefinitely postponed. We’re seeing many of our clients putting their plans on hold until at least October.

In January, I started looking at pitching for work which was less event-focussed, because of COVID-19. I have anxiety, and actually that has come in handy here, because I was worrying about this very early on.

Snap and snap! It’s been full of devastation and an opportunity to re-imagine in equal measure. What was is about the cultural and creative sector that drew you in?

It took a while to be honest. As a kid, things like ‘culture’ (museums, galleries) weren’t ‘for us’. Sometimes we went to castles which I loved, other times we went to National Trust properties which I hated, my main motivator for tolerating those was the Kendal Mint Cake at the gift shops.

It’s marketing that got me here, it’s where I started at 17, as a Marketing Administrator. And it’s what I’ve done for the past 19 years. The first eight years or so was retail and destination marketing, very commercial environments which are incredible places to learn and to train as a marketer.

I eventually took a role which connected me to ‘art’ for the first time, albeit in a commercial art organisation. There I ended up working on projects in the museum sector, at Great North Museum; Hancock, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Magna Science Centre (Sheffield).

That’s what drew me in. I saw – for the first time really – what art meant, what culture could do for people when/if it wasn’t about commercial gain, how essential it was. I very quickly felt as though I had to use my marketing experience to allow more people (everyone, ideally) to a) know what was out there b) feel like it was ‘for them’ and c) contribute to it, own it, be part of it and d) benefit from it.

I started Crystallised, and seven years on I still feel those things acutely.

We are crazily similar #kendalmintcake Let’s move on to Does Culture Matter? What was the inspiration behind Does Culture Matter? – why did you start the project?

The idea came from an Instagram group convo with a collection of excellent women I know who work in the creative sectors. We were talking about what this all (COVID-19) meant for us, for our jobs, for the sector.

I was in the middle of what I suspect was coronavirus, I felt truly awful in the mind and the body. We’d had a recent, sudden family bereavement, and my brain was just not up for anything at all.

Anyway, as is the way, during this chit-chat back and forth, inspiration struck. I just thought, now is the perfect time to listen to audiences, to learn, without an agenda. No-one is paying us to do this, we aren’t trying to meet a brief, we are simply listening.

You almost never get an opportunity like this.

Can you describe what it is and how people can get involved?

Does Culture Matter? is a mass participation research project. We want to understand how our relationship with culture is changing because of COVID-19, what it was like before, perhaps if our own definitions of what culture means are changing and what we might want it to look like after COVID-19.

We want EVERYONE to give their opinions, even if – no, especially if, like me back in the day, you don’t think ‘culture’ is for you.

All you need to do is follow and input your email address.

You’ll receive an intro questionnaire via email and then one every Sunday for the rest of the year.

Why is it important that people share their insights with you?

It’s important because culture belongs to us all. There should not be someone ‘in charge’ of culture, there should not be someone gatekeeping, or deciding what is or isn’t culture. It belongs to us all. We own it.

I believe every single human being should be able to be involved with and relate to the cultural offer of their cities or communities.

The sector talks about ‘hard to reach’ audiences, that is infuriating bullshit. Audiences aren’t hard to reach, it’s the organisation that is hard to reach, because for whatever reason, intentional or not, they have made themselves inaccessible.

So, it’s important for you all to join up and share, because when your voice gets heard, change can be made.

We have an opportunity to come out of this and shape the next chapter. I felt as though the best way Crystallised could contribute to that change, was to use our skills and expertise.

Listen to people, advise organisations. It’s what we do every day.

Have there been any interesting insights you wish to share?

Our North East participants told us their favourite places to visit in the city, at the moment, the list looks like this – the data changes the more people who join, so that’s another reason why everyone should get involved.

Tyneside Cinema

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art

Sage Gateshead

Northern Stage

Laing Art Gallery

But, if you look at our North East respondents under the age of 25, the list changes:

Cineworld, Newcastle

Tyneside Cinema

Riverside Newcastle

O2 Newcastle

Utilita Arena

Three music venues, two cinemas. I find this fascinating, there’s much that can be explored from this data alone.

2 April Stat North East

What do you hope to get out of it after the research period?

I’d like the data to have organisations start asking their own questions. I’d like this to be the starting point for organisations to look at how they can better serve their communities.

I’d love to work with the braver organisations who want to do something bold and radical as a result of seeing the data, perhaps homing in on something specific, collaborating with audiences, flipping the narrative and to some extent taking a back seat, so that others can shine.

In your opinion, do you think Culture Matters more during this period?

Yes.

This is a horrible, terrifying time, we’re all going to lose someone or something. There are many many people, organisations, institutions that desperately need support. I’m not suggesting that an “art gallery is more important than the NHS” – which I’ve been accused of on social media of late.

No argument is that black and white.

I think culture has the power to uplift, to teach, to heal, to connect, nourish and to be fun. I think it’s essential for us to support and protect the sector if we don’t want to see a desolate, cultural wasteland post COVID-19. Our lives and societies will be much poorer if we don’t act.

Has the lock down changed your cultural consumption personally? Have you been watching any streams/online happenings?

Yes, I’ve been watching National Theatre, stand-up comedy, a film discussion and some DJ sets all online.

A theatre performance feels special even when it’s on the small screen, you can still sense the atmosphere between the audience and the cast.

How do you feel about the movement to digital culture and events through streaming platforms and social media?

I think it’s amazing and fantastic that so much has suddenly become available, the speed at which organisations have been able to adapt to the changing circumstances I think is impressive.

However, I can’t help but find it problematic that it’s taken a global pandemic for organisations to make their content accessible. It has long been the case that parts of the arts sector are inaccessible to disabled people. To now see all this readily available content filling our timelines because their able-bodied audience members are no longer allowed to attend a venue, is shameful.

The future must be radically different. We cannot live through this, witness all the change that has been enacted and then revert. That would be a tragedy.

What’s the first thing you’re going to do post lockdown?

Oh Christ! I’d like to go to Riley’s Fish Shack, sit on the beach and listen to my pals chatter, feel the sunshine on my face and be able to lie down on the sand, let my dog make friends with a Bichon Frisse, and just take my sweet sweet time outside.

What would be success for you as Crystallised for 2020?

Crystallised still existing would be success. I’m fearful of how much harder the year is going to get for business. This is going to be a slog. If we still have our full team and are on the way to some semblance of stability at the end of this year, I’ll be thrilled and relieved.

Anything other projects or happenings you think my fellow Culture Vultures should know about?

Right now, we’re working with one of our long-term clients Family Arts Campaign, who exist to make the arts accessible for families. Our focus is supporting their ambition to be the go-to national database of all arts and culture events happening online for families to join. We’ll be working on PR and influencer campaigns to get as many families as possible trying something new. Find that here: fantasticforfamilies.com

We’re also deep into New Creatives, a two-year project with BBC Arts and Arts Council England which looks to find undiscovered talent to make work for the BBC – could be a film, or something for radio. No prior experience is necessary, we’re trying to find northern creative folk under-30 who have something to say. Find that here: newcreatives.com

Other than that, we’ll be staying at home.

DCM. Share your thoughts.

Thank you Laura….so does culture matter? Well it does to me, it does to Crystallised and I think it matters to my fellow culture vultures, followers and readers. I’d love you to support Crystallised on their mission by signing up to participate in ‘Does Culture Matter?”

Remember – signing up is LUSH and is contributing to a project that could support your favourite arts and culture organisations to learn, pivot, recover, restart and fingers crossed – GROW.

Signing up takes seconds and participating in the project takes approx. 5mins a week.

You can sign up by HERE and feel free to share the project with your friends and networks – spread the word! #ganon