Interview with Co.Durham artist Nocciola The Drawer – we chat #Durham2025, colour, importance of communities and inspiring others….

Well Culture Vultures, I’m back with another corking artist interview. If you’ve been following my socials, you’ll know I’ve been partnering with #Durham2025, exploring the County and having the total privilege of getting to know and discover some amazing artists.

It’s a very exciting time for Co. Durham, as they are just one of four locations shortlisted to be UK City of Culture 2025. The final decision is set to be announced late May (very soon!) and if you watch BBC The One Show (Wednesday, 18 May, 7pm) you can fall in love with Durham like I have, find out what’s been happening across the County lately and what winning would mean to folks. Becoming UK City of Culture 2025 would be such an enabling wonderful thing for artists and creatives in Co.Durham. and the wider North-East – I am SO in their corner and cheering #Durham2025 on to the finish line.

Culture Vulture backs #Durham2025 bid

A new artist discovery for me is Hazel Oakes – aka Nocciola The Drawer. I didn’t know of Hazel before my partnership with #Durham2025 – not sure how I missed her, as she’s fantastic, a beaut feminist and a very talented street artist! But here we are, and I love discovering and celebrating new artists – so swings and roundabouts! I went back to basics with my culture vulturing across Co.Durham; I spoke to communities and creatives and asked them which Durham artists they were excited about and Hazel was a firm favourite! And then once I knew who she was and her work, suddenly I started seeing her all over my socials, in the press and stumbled onto a mural or two – it was fate and I just had to interview her.

So here it is, I got to sit down and chat to Hazel about her work, her involvement in and excitement about #Durham2025 and painting a Metro train!

Well hello, for my culture vulture folks and faves – can you please introduce yourself?

My name is Hazel Oakes and I work under the artist name Nocciola The Drawer; I am a mural artist and illustrator. I specialise in bright, bold colourful artwork that combines female characters with lively patterns, all with the aim to uplift, inspire, empower and celebrate.

And bright, bold and colourful they certainly are! Right, how did your adventure into creative industries kick off?

I love of learning and while I enjoyed lots of subjects at school, the art room was my favourite; you could experiment with so many different things. I decided I wanted to study Fashion Design and went to Northumbria University. I had a year in industry while at Northumbria where I worked in a variety of different brands and high-end fashion houses in London and in France. I thought a fashion designer was the path for me, all of my artwork was inspired by women and the body, so it made sense, but…. I still didn’t see the right role, so I continued to follow my curiosity.

I moved to London and studied a Masters in Fashion part time at Kingston University, whilst working as a bridal consultant in London. While studying I discovered an enterprise programme at the University and learnt entrepreneurial skills and how to create your own job or business. My journey from there to where I am now is a long one that includes starting my own lingerie brand, living in different countries, working in different industries and being creative in different fields. When I look back, I can see how they all connect, the things that I value as an artist and the way that I work now; it was definitely what I would call a squiggly career, but I was always listening to my gut and following my curiosity to see where it led.

My journey into creative industries was equally as squiggly and I LOVE that about artists – it’s never “simple” and a total adventure! Something I’ve been curious about, where did your artist name ‘Nocciola’ come from?

My artist name was picked up while living in Italy; my name “Hazel” is difficult to pronounce in Italian and is quite unusual. I ended up introducing myself as “Nocciola” which means Hazelnut in Italian and it was a great way to connect with locals. Hazelnut flavour is everywhere in Italy, and I recommend having some “Nocciola” gelato next time you go and visit.

Noted, I have an incredibly sweet tooth, so all over that and I love Italy! You have a really uplifting, dopamine injecting colourful illustration style; how did it develop?  

I have always loved colour; when I was studying art at school, I loved Matisse and David Hockney and they influenced my work with colour and shape. I can see hints of my style now in my early work, but it took a lot of experimenting. When I started working under the name “Nocciola The Drawer”, I had a clear vision of my style and the feel that I wanted from the work. I think my interest in facepaint and bodypainting influenced my style, but also my view on the world.

I am a very positive person and I have a bright outlook; that is reflected in my colourful illustration style. Colours have an influence on how we feel, and I like to play with the use of colour to evoke feelings. I create using flat colours with no outline, so the balance is very important to make sure the colours next to each other, “pop” and have contrast.

What inspires your work?

I am inspired by the seasons, women, childlike imagination, travel, making the most of the moment, street art, communities and connection. I am trying to spread my joy for life one splash of colour at a time; I am inspired my many things that bring me joy, or I can see bring others joy. I am inspired by women, those who create their own path, who share their passions with others, who are fighting for equality and who go on adventures. I am inspired by places and how people come together in those places. The list of inspiration is long but living life inspires me and sharing the beauty of it with others.

Nocciola The Drawer artwork

That is just beautiful! I feel so full of hope! You’re a street artist and your murals bright up the urban environment; do you think folks opinions of street art has changed a little? I think the pandemic has brought a new appreciation to art on the streets and civic spaces…..

I think the pandemic helped people to realise how coming across artwork in your local area while out on a walk can pick up your day; it helped people see that artwork outside and in local areas can make a difference. I think it made people realise that there are other ways to consume culture and art without having to go to a gallery and it made people realise the value of creativity.

I know when I was painting on the streets in Southsea during 2020, the message of hope, the joy I was creating and the image of community, lifted people’s spirits and was a place for people to add to their walks; it was a beacon for joy and I loved seeing the photos of people with my “Rise Up” mural. Street art has the potential to be accessed by anyone, be interpreted by anyone, and can surprise people that weren’t expecting to see art in that space. I think maybe folks are more open to it now, but it’s a scene that has been working hard for years and some people are just stuck in their ways at embrace street art are completely transformed for the better and draw in such a variety of audience which is so exciting.

That’s the ‘value of street art manifesto’ right there! So, if people do stumble onto a mural of yours, what do you hope people take away from your work?

I hope it brightens their day, that it lifts their spirit, that they feel the power of the inspiring or empowering message and that it brings joy and makes them smile. Passion is contagious and everything I create is with passion; I hope that people can feel that.

Do you plan your pieces? What’s the process?

I am a planner, always have been, I think coming from a design background also adds to this. I love to research and get a feel of the place, or the people I am trying to represent. Everything is designed for specific places -whether it’s an indoor mural, outdoor mural or on a book cover. I like to get to know the story, the energy of the community and gather imagery together. Then once I have that information gathered, I can start drawing.

This part isn’t planned, it comes from gut reaction or reaction to the space I am creating for. I might have done a very, very rough sketch of a possible layout or possible ideas but nothing exact, then I digitally draw in illustrator. I will have the image and sizing of what I am creating for and the mood board, and then I draw until I am happy with the final result. If it is a mural then I will hand draw this on the wall when I get to the space, scaling it up from the drawing to the large-scale piece.

Nocciola The Drawer at work

Tell us about a recent favourite project?

I loved working on a huge mural for Labre’s Hope in Rotherham. They are a new non-profit, that are trying to change the perception of homelessness through business. They create handmade cosmetics; I created a mural for their manufacturing room and it has a huge impact on you when you enter the room and lifts up the space. The mural was designed around their core values which I picked up as growth, community and onward.

Nocciola The Drawer artwork

You recently created murals in Bishop Auckland, Co.Durham. – how did that come about?  

I have recently created two murals in Bishop; one in Bishop Auckland Town Hall and one on the streets of Bishop on Railway Street. The first one in Bishop Auckland Town Hall is in the new library in the basement; this came about as last year I created a temporary mini mural for the exhibition “Through Soldiers Eyes”. My dad was in the military, so I created a piece from my perspective of a child in the military community, then when the library was opening again, they wanted something to celebrate reading and the community of different people that come to enjoy books.

The 2nd was with the Bish Vegas collective of street painters; they’ve created a legal area in Bishop Auckland for graffiti and street artists to create, experiment and share their style. They are a brilliant collective bringing creativity to the streets and I would love to help bring more girls and women to the street art scene they have created. Hopefully we will be working on some more street art together in the future.

Nocciola The Drawer artwork

That’s great – you’re a real feminist and women appear often in your work, your work is not only empowering but also tools of advocacy…..

I am inspired by women, and I hope that my artwork inspires women. They are who I am trying to communicate with, I feel my sense of community with women anywhere in the world and I love to share perspectives from a female voice. They appear in my work as I want to inspire women and girls to dream big and explore their creativity, I want them to see the different possibilities in the world and know they have a community of women that will encourage and cheer them on. I also want to create imagery of women in areas they aren’t as represented; in adventure, in sport, in tech, industries where the main imagery is men – if you can’t see yourself in those roles how do you know you can be it?

I could talk about this all day, you are firmly in my gang. You’ve recently been commissioned by Nexus to paint a train….. what have you got in store?

The Nexus train commission is very exciting; I love public transport and to have a permanent piece of artwork to be installed on the new Metro fleet is something I didn’t imagine back when I was studying at Northumbria. This piece is also so exciting because it encompasses all the things I love as an artist and human; I am an adventurer as well as an artist and love to celebrate people that come together for social sport.

So, my piece is inspired by the communities of women who come together to wild swim along the North-East Coast. I have been connecting with communities of women who cold water swim, at different beaches that the Metro serves. I have plunged myself into the communities and the sea to get to know how they feel, how the swims make a difference to their day and how they come together to support each other. It’s been fantastic to meet so many amazing women, from women that have done it for years to those that picked it up during the pandemic and have swum every week since. I am excited to share with you the final piece when it revealed this summer.

I’ve spied that you’ve been involved in Durham 2025 and their campaign…..

I became involved in Durham 2025 at the beginning of 2022 when I took part in their Creative Labs, sharing my big ideas for the County bid and how they would impact the people and make a difference to our culture. From there I was involved in many ideas and brainstorming session with difference creatives coming together in places across the County. It has been so great to meet so many people from across the County in different disciplines and hear their ideas too.

Before the judges visit, I worked with ‘Local’ in Dawdon who set up a Place Lab which is a prototype of something that will roll out across the whole County. It was great to connect with the local community and get to hear their stories and the impact that creativity has on them. Finally, I was at the judge’s lunch when they came to visit. It was great to have so many different people in one room, in the working Men’s club and the atmosphere of the entertainers and the community coming together to show off our County.

Why in your opinion would being awarded City of Culture 25, be good for the creative and cultural scene of Co.Durham?

I think it would be brilliant because it will shine a light on what we have here. We have so many great creatives and interesting places but not everyone knows about it. It will give a chance for us to create things on a bigger scale and to highlight some of the events that we already have that deserve larger recognition. We are no ordinary County, and this will give us the opportunity for us to show it and with bells on. It would mean so much to win the title and it would also unlock the resources to spread creativity further in the areas of the County that need it most.

Completely agree – the scene is bubbling away. Durham is known for its world class heritage and iconic visitor attractions, but the Co. Durham creative scene needs more recognition and is such a strong creative community……

I think that the City of Culture bid has helped us all to reconnect across the County. As creatives are spread out throughout it, this has given us a chance to connect and build new networks too. We have a huge sense of community in the County, and I think the pandemic made us realise the importance of that and renewed energy.

What would it mean to win the City of Culture 25 title, to you as an artist? How do you think it would impact you?

This County has so much important history to celebrate; this would be the chance to be a part to the new history. To me as an artist it would give the opportunity to connect with other creatives on a larger scale, to build projects across the County that are permanent and give me the opportunity to spread more inspiration and joy. You always want to make an impact where you live, where you have family and showcase the difference you can make with imagination and to inspire others to do the same.

Any advice to upcoming creatives in the County? Which events and organisations should they link up to?

I think connecting to as many as possible is important, as it always takes a lot of connections to find ones that work for you. Get in touch with Northern Heartlands based in Barnard Castle, No.42 in Bishop Auckland and East Durham Creates. They are all brilliant at connecting creatives and communities. Go to as many Create North events as possible because you will learn new skills and meet other amazing creatives. If you are into street art connect with Bish Vegas in Bishop Auckland. Always be on the lookout for new collectives and get involved, everyone is very welcoming wherever you are looking in the County.  

I know you’re so busy, is there an upcoming project or something exciting that you’d like to share?

There is an exciting project I have been working on with M&S and Costa Coffee to bring joy to the streets of Newcastle. From the 22nd May you will find something colourful on Grey Street for the week for you to sit back on, enjoy some snacks and connected with others!

I have also been working with the community in Peterlee and East Durham Creates to collect their vision of the past, present and future of where they live; I will be installing a huge bright bold mural with this message very soon.

Anything else you want to tell my fellow Culture Vultures?

Embrace your creativity and dream big.

Such a positive note to end our interview on Hazel thank you so much!

You can connect with Hazel across her socials via Nicciola The Drawer and her YouTube is a hot bed of delicious digital content and project behind the scenes. You check out her website for a feast of colour, purchase prints and accessories and have a slice of her work at home. She’s also open to indoor and outdoor commissions and can create for any surface, space and different communities – so if you’re a commissioner reading this, connect with her.

And as for #Durham2025 – keep all your fingers and toes crossed. Find out more & back the bid at Durham2025.co.uk #Durham2025 #lovedurham

Durham. No Ordinary County.

Interview is part of Culture Vulture x Durham 2025 campaign partnership.

Interview with Linzi, pompom maker extraordinaire over at The Pompomporium

I am loving the trend for Maximalist Interiors and fashion – it’s always been my personality and vibe. I like clashy, bright, bold and creatively chaotic. It makes me feel like me, in the sense of self expression, it satisfies my need for sensory stimulation and gives me a good old shot of dopamine. I purchased a neon pom pom star a good few years ago, originally for Christmas, but I’ve had it hanging up now everyday since then and it just is one of my favourite singles in the whole world. I bliddy love a pompom.

I tried to make one at The Crafthood’s social, a few years back and let me tell you, it is hard than it looks but is also an addictive craft. My pompom got an A for effort, but a D for neatness. But at least it made myself and everyone laugh at the workshop and Sebastian (my cat) gained a new cat toy he loved (for a short period – fickle gent!).

My love of colour, maximalist vibes and pompoms led me to find The Pompomporium on Instagram – anyone who is as in love with pompoms as I will already know Linzi and her gorgeous business, but for those who don’t – she’s a pompom maker extraordinaire!

Image of a Pompom bouquet made by The Pompomporium

Linzi is smashing it out of the park growing a creative business that works for her and her family; I wanted to celebrate and showcase that. Building a business and being self-employed, has the benefit of being built around the individual, set your own boundaries, your own work pattern, your own working style, which can enable a creative thrive, flourish and simply exist.

I had the pleasure of meeting her at Make & Mend Festival 2021 and I thought I’d follow up with a little Culture Vulture interview, to satisfy and shout about my pompom love and so you can all get to know Linzi a little better.

So first Culture Vulture interview of 2022…. Over to you Linzi!

Image of colourful Pom pom earrings made by The Pompomporium.

First up, who are you?

Hiya! I’m Linzi, I’m 32, have two kiddos and run my business from my home in NE England.

Lush, so what’s your business?

It’s called The Pompomporium (which just gets more fun to say after a couple of drinks) and I make bright, bold homewares and jewellery, almost always involving pom poms.

Image of Linzi – The Pompomporium.

How did it all start?

I think I’ve always classed myself as a crafty person, but I didn’t become a maker until after I was medically retired back in Spring 2018. Prior to that I was a secondary school English teacher, and whether it was lesson plans, wall displays or cunning schemes to make the kids actually care about what some dead white guys had to say – I was definitely creative! I loved my job, it was definitely a vocation, and to lose it overnight could have broken me. I knew I needed something new to keep me busy, but that would fit in around my variable health needs and left me energy for being a parent.

Image of colourful Pom pom stuffed into a letter R made by The Pompomporium.

And the big question….why pompoms?

That’s where pom poms came into it. I had made my first ever wreath a few years before 2018; a Wonder Woman themed wall hanging for my daughter’s fourth birthday. Poms are this excellent juxtaposition of being really mindful in the making but full of excitement and joy once they’re made; I love that. I know they’re a bit silly, but honestly the world is dead hard sometimes and I think we all deserve something silly!

Image of colourful Pom pom in letter T shape made by The Pompomporium.

I made an infamous pompom that is now my cat’s favourite little toy – it was not neat AT ALL like yours, how do you get yours so beautifully and juicily round?

I have two top tips for pom pom making so grab your pens!

Firstly, wrap tight. I use DK acrylic yarns (my favourite are Paintbox and Stylecraft) and know that your pom maker can take plenty of wrapping. The tighter you wrap, the denser your pom pom will be.

Secondly, you need decent scissors. An embroidery pair is always a great shout but if you’re making to sell, I’d also recommend a pair of fiskars. These fluffy little spheres take more trimming than you would think; it will save your hands if you have sharp tools.

Image of Pom pom bouquet being made by The Pompomporium.

How long do your pompoms take to make?

This is tough to answer because a teeny one that I’ll use in jewellery might only take ten minutes, but a very large, patterned pom – such as leopard print or floral – takes much more time, closer to 45 minutes.

Image of colourful Pom pom flower earrings made by The Pompomporium.

I’m a huge fan of your homewares – especially your wreaths – I like quirky, colourful, patterned and bold pieces around me. Do you plan those types of pieces?

Thank you so much! I do plan, I make terrible sketches that rarely see the light of day but they help me keep my messy ADHD brain in check. I’m a big fan of maximalism and more is more, I definitely think that comes across in my work, and I get lots of inspiration from things I love and the things my kids love! The rainbow wreath, for example, was first made for my bright loving son.

Image of colourful Pom pom wreath made by The Pompomporium – next to a fox stuffed animal.

Maximalism all the way! Can you share three other makers or creative Instagrammers that inspire you?

I love @imakestagram, @shittycraftclub & @fatpompoms ✨

So, what products do you sell and where can people purchase?

I will put a pom pom on just about anything to be honest. I make wreaths, banners, bouquets, fairy lights, garlands, hair clips, headbands, earrings, necklaces… I’m certainly missing things out! I sell via Etsy, And So To Shop, Not on the High Street and my own website – www.thepompomporium.com

Image of a bouquet of pompoms made by The Pompomporium.

I know 2021 was a challenge for most creatives, but do you have a highlight that you’d like to share?

People have really responded to the things I make and that feels like proper magic. My Christmas collection in particular was so well received; I love that I get to be part of a family’s traditions in some small way.

Image of colourful Pom pom flower earrings made by The Pompomporium.

And for realness, a low point?

My low points are almost always health related. I really love this little business I’ve created and I hate to feel like I’m letting someone down because I’m having a flare up or a hospital stay. I do genuinely have the most understanding and kind customers though; I very rarely have anyone upset because of it.

Image of Linzi working in her creative space.

You’re a disabled maker – Can you tell us a bit about that?

I’m just going to preface this by saying the disabled community is a beautiful thing. You’ll find many, many chronically ill and disabled makers in small biz land because we don’t fit into a mainstream working environment, in the same way that queer creators, parents working around their kids, Black and brown makers who aren’t appreciated in their fields and many other marginalised groups find a home amongst other creatives. So, yes, it can be tough to work from bed with tremors in my hands and having to stop for a nap after every couple of poms, but it’s very worth it for the myriad of ways I’ve been able to learn from those people.

Image of colourful Pom pom hairclips made by The Pompomporium.

If there was one thing, that if you could, you’d change in the creative sector immediately to make it more accessible and inclusive, what would it be?

No more craft fairs in inaccessible buildings please.

Where the magic happens…..Image of Linzi’s making space & office.

Any advice to share with aspiring disabled makers and artists?

You don’t have to hustle constantly, resting is productive, lean on your people and always write down your suppliers.

Image of colourful Spring wreath made by The Pompomporium.

Do you have an upcoming project or collection that you can tell me about?

I have many a plan for this year! I’m mid-design on some pom pommed bunny ears for Easter. I also have a small homeware collection, including cushions with pom pom corners and tassel mirrors, coming later this year.

Image of colourful Pom pom headband made by The Pompomporium.

Do you have a creative or business aspiration for 2022?

Does survival count? Honestly though, this pandemic has been brutal on all of us, and it’s made me realise that my business needs to make me happy – I’ll be making and designing things that I genuinely love and if they sell then that’s excellent, too.

Image of “you are my sunshine” wreath made by The Pompomporium.

Thank you Linzi!

You’re such a gem and readers, please check out The Pompomporium via: www.thepompomporium.com // @thepompomporium – you won’t regret it – perfect accessories, gifts and homey loveliness. I am now thoroughly convinced that I need a full-blown pompom coat – sounds like an essential item for this gal! Or a shift dress? OR BOTH! I want to be adorned in these furry little colourful beauties!

Until next time, Culture Vultures!

Interview with sand, ice, pumpkin sculptors and large scale artists Sand in your Eye

I’m busily supporting Enjoy Redcar & Cleveland // Redcar & Cleveland Council’s Christmas events programme – this is the second year in a row, I’ve supported this festival programme! Really loving working with them and most importantly, they are investing money into culture, which I LOVE.

The next headline event is this Saturday (11th December) in Redcar town centre – Redcar Ice trail; a winter walkabout wonderland a day of frosty fun, festive pop-up performances await, amazing ice sculptures by Sand In Your Eye along Redcar High Street and Esplanade and live ice carving.

I absolutely adore Sand In Your Eye – I first became aware of them when I worked on Pages of the Sea in 2018 and they created large scale sand illustrations of North East World War One veterans on Roker Beach and Redcar Beach. Pages of the Sea was a unique event to mark 100 years since Armistice and the end of the first world war. Across the UK and Ireland communities gathered on 32 beaches to say a collective thank you and goodbye to the millions who left their shores, many never to return. I was in awe at their creations and then went on to discover they created large scale land art, sand sculptures, ice sculptures and many things in between.

Credit: Sand in your Eye & Pages by the Sea – Photographer: Kevin Scott

Reconnecting on this Redcar Christmas event, I thought I’d take the opportunity to get to know Sand In Your Eye better and do a little Culture Vulture interview…..and I have MANY questions, like how does someone become a ice sculptor!?

So let’s go and do it…..

Hi there Sand In Your Eye….can you introduce yourself?

We are an arts company based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. We make ice sculptures, but we also make sand sculptures, land art, sand drawings and in October you can find us carving pumpkins.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Tell my fellow Culture Vultures about Sand in Your Eye – what is it and how did it start?

Sand In Your Eye started nearly 20 years ago, when our Director and lead artist Jamie Wardley was on holiday in Norway; he met a sand sculptor and was asked if he wanted to have a go! The answer was yes, and this began a career as a freelance sculptor working with sand and ice. Eventually Jamie started his own company and developed more ways of making art with lots of artists joining Sand In Your Eye, including Jamie’s wife Claire. We now work across the UK on events throughout the year. 

Credit: Sand in your Eye

What are you bringing to Redcar on 11th December? What can families expect to see by dropping in 10am-6pm on the day?

We are bringing a Christmas themed ice trail; people can explore Redcar town centre to look for them along Redcar High Street and Esplanade. Families can also write a letter to Santa and post it in our ice post box, watch live ice carving of Santa’s sleigh being made on Redcar High Street and also lots of walk about theatre and pop-up performance.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Tell us about your ice sculptures and sculpting ice?

Depending on how big the sculptures are, they can take between a day to nearly a week to make and we make them in a freezer in our studio. The big sculptures can last for a few days, but the smaller ones usually melt after a day. Ice is really fun to work with, but you have to use very sharp tools including chain saws so you have to be extremely careful!

Credit: Sand in your Eye

How does someone become an ice sculptor? What tends to be the career path?

There are lots of different ways of getting into ice sculpting; the Sand In Your Eye team include people who started off as artists, woodworkers, gardeners, designers and all sorts. The thing that unites them all is that when they were asked if they wanted to have a go – they said yes.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Your sand sculptures and sand drawings are amazing – can you tell me about a recent favourite?

We do a lot of work that is to do with the environment. In the last couple of years, we have made a sand drawing portrait of a girl from Ethiopia for WaterAid, a land art portrait of the activist Greta Thunberg, a climate emergency themed pumpkin trail, a sand sculpture of a turtle, and a personal project appealing to world leaders ahead of the COP26 climate conference to halt climate change which saw children and families helping to make a giant sand drawing and ice sculptures of children on a beach.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Can you tell me about your Pages of the Sea involvement and project?

We were contacted by 14-18NOW, the Imperial War Museum and the director Danny Boyle to coordinate and design Pages of the Sea, which commemorated the centenary of the end of the First World War and saw over 30 faces of servicemen and women who did not return to our shores appear on beaches around the UK (including one on the beach at Redcar) on the 11th of November 2018. It was a very moving, exciting and an important project to be a part of. We were thrilled that it won several awards, including the Sky Arts South Bank Visual Award.

Credit: Sand in your Eye & Pages of the Sea – Photographer – Mark Richards

Thoroughly deserved! Your pumpkin carvings are amazing – how long do they take to do?

Pumpkin carving can take anything from a few hours to a couple of days to make; we do a wide range of styles including 3D spooky and silly faces and more complex pumpkin etching. We do them for pumpkin festivals and trails as well as for companies for their Halloween social media. They can last for up to five days after they are carved.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

They are very Instagrammable….as is all your work! Your work and installations bring people together in public spaces, folx and families who may not engage with art in galleries– how does that feel? Is that an important element of Sand In Your Eye?

Yes, very much so. We love doing our workshops and showing people of all ages how to sand sculpt or carve pumpkins but our largescale artworks such as sand drawings and land art can also engage with communities and bring people together.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Do you have artists/sculptors that specialise with specific materials? Or do members of your teamwork with all of them?

Everybody has a go at making all the art – it’s a real team effort.

Tell us about the workshops you offer – they look really fun and such a unique offer?

We do workshops in most of our art forms; sand sculpture, pumpkin carving, ice sculpture and sand drawing. Most often children and families take part, but our workshops can be for all ages. We started off doing sand sculpture workshops on the beach, but we now have sand tables – this means we can bring the beach with us, wherever we go, and people can learn how to sand sculpt wherever we go. We’ve done sand sculpture workshops in towns and cities, shopping centres and even inside castles.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

What’s been your Sand In Your Eye 2021 highlight so far?

The COP26 sand drawing and ice sculpture project was a very personal one for us and it was great to involve so many children and families.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

What’s in store for 2022 – anything you can tell us about? 

It’s all top secret so far but there will be lots more sand art, land art, sculptures and pumpkins. People can follow us on social media to find out what we get up to. We are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. (All handles are @sandinyoureye).

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Well thank you Sand In Your Eye……..the images in the blog post kind of speak for themselves really – their work is just show stoppingly amazing! You can check out Sand In Your Eye – Ice Sculpture Trail this coming Saturday in Redcar Town Centre; perfect for families in Tees Valley! For full event Redcar Ice Trail listing visit HERE

Mulled wine, mistletoe and memory-making – speaking of memory making, there is a lot to look forward to across the towns of Redcar and Cleveland this year! For the full calendar of events visit HERE

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Artist Interview with Darlington’s Meg McWilliam – the council estate princess creating art that is both “inspiring and infuriating!”

The world feels like a black mirror episode across multiple fronts and yet, it all feels so normal now. I see and read things in the press and on social media, and for me, sometimes it doesn’t even cause outrage; it just feels completely normal. And I’ve never felt more disenfranchised and disempowered from our world politically, socially, emotionally and in my values.

@megmcart work

One of the biggest things that I personally struggle with, is the concept of individualism and appreciating what that actually means. For many, individualism seems to mean, valuing their personal and perceived rights above all else; their voice must be heard, alongside the advocating for the fallacy of their lived experience being the same everyone else and that we all matter equally. But for me, individualism is about respecting, valuing, advocating and wanting to understand others as individuals and treating them as….you guessed it, individuals!  It means really digging deep into individual needs, expressions of self and lived experiences that are entirely different from mine! The former is selfish and is at the expense of other people’s individualism, and the latter, is just about actually valuing individuals, as individuals. To me, that just makes sense – if you value individuals, then you value all individuals as individuals and respect differences. I get locked in an infuriating loop!

I also really question convenient collectivism; we group people together because we are humans and social creatures – I get that! But for me personally, sometimes grouping people together, removes the emotion and understanding that in grouping people together, we start to forget we are talking about real people…..individuals. And sometimes, grouping people together is based on how we perceive them and stereotyping, as opposed to how they would describe themselves and their own lived experience.

This is something, that time and time again, I just don’t get. And I completely see the irony of advocating for folx to look at the world in a different way whilst also, being firmly grounded in my own view. And sometimes, especially outside of the arts and culture sector, I step into spaces or go on the Daily Mail app, and realise, that there are SO many people that dismiss people, think their “rights” top trump everyone else’s, are so full of hate and don’t even come from a place of togetherness as humans and “what about us?”, and especially not from a place of understanding privilege and “what about them?” and instead, from an unrelenting place of “what about me?”.  It is so fucking depressing.

So, one of my ways of combating this black mirror episode, we’re all living in, is of course through art! And where, I might sometimes look out into the world and not always feel my view, is a shared one, within my Culture Vulture bubble it is and my love of socially engaged art on Instagram, means it’s a joyful escape and home. One such artist is @megmcart on Instagram; activist, artist and all -round good human, using her work to inspire social change and instigate discussion. Not that age is a big deal, especially in the artwork, where it is entirely meaningless, but I am so inspired by the confident of her artistic and political voice at 20 years old. It took me until approaching 30, to be as sure of where I stood and to not shy away from political topics.

@megmcart work

Meg’s work from my perspective is all about protest, social commentary, feminism, colour and collage……. it’s like my utopia in this dystopian nightmare that we are all currently living in. If you want work that is about challenging the Tories, advocating for working class artists, celebrating feminism, sticking two fingers up to the patriarchy, shouting that gender is a social construct, campaigning for the safety of women and against sexual violence….. well, this lasses work is for you and is done in a perfectly satirical way. Her work makes me smile, I am counting down until she secures a large-scale exhibition because this work needs to be seen by the masses and OF COURSE, I did a little Culture Vulture interview with her………

So here we go, listen up folx and met @megmcart

@megmcart work

Hiyer, so for my Culture Vulture faves, let’s start with a little intro?

Hiya I’m Meg; I’m a 20 year old artist from Darlington, in the North East creating my art which is most commonly known as Megmcart and I’m also currently a fashion student at Northumbria university.

Can you describe your practice?

I specialise mostly in Dada collages which are either satirical or camp…or both! I like to express my anger through collage about socio-political issues. I find it very overwhelming sometimes when the news is all doom and gloom, so art really helps me let all of my frustrations out as well as spreading information. I think politics can be very confusing to understand especially if you’re a visual learner like me; understanding it shouldn’t just be an academic, middle-class privilege so I try and make it accessible through my work.

@megmcart work

Oh I hear you! Tell us about your journey into the arts?

I’ve always been very creative; I think that’s down to my mam. She’s always encouraged me to be creative even when I was in secondary school and told by a careers advisor that I needed to reconsider what I wanted to do in the long run as it was “hard” to get a job in the creative industries. I almost nearly re-evaluated my life and did criminology but my mam near on forced me to do fashion as she knew I’d enjoy it better.

You have such a powerful style and an aesthetic – how did that develop? 

I had a lesson at sixth form on Dada (Art movement formed during the First World War in Zurich in negative reaction to war) and I just fell in love with it. I think from that point forward, I just developed it as I grew as a person because I was very young when I started this. I was 18 when I started posting my art onto social media and now, I’m 20 so it’s grown with me.

@megmcart work

Do you plan your pieces? 

Rarely. If I have an idea for typography or a snappy slogan, then I write it in my notes and my notes app is full of various ideas that I’ve either done or are there to inspire me. Most of the time I start with a blank canvas and go a-bit mental. Dada is about being random, so I don’t like to overthink it too much or I’ll just doubt myself.

Tell me about your piece Council Estate Princess? 

One day I had said a passing comment around the lines of “I’m such a council estate princess” on an Instagram story and apparently people hadn’t heard of that before?! My mams always called us council estate princesses for as long as I could remember, and it’s always been part of my vocabulary.

To me now, it kind of reclaims that working class label of “council estate” because some just think of negative connotations when thinking of council estates; such as “chav” or high crime rates when, in fact, I wouldn’t change where I’m from for the world. It’s taught me to be street smart but also a sense of community and empathy. On that piece I drew a lot of inspiration from my childhood but also made it colourful and positive because I only have positive memories of where I’m from, even if it was hiding from the provvy woman. AND half of the piece is actually a photo I took on 35mm film of the estate I grew up on.

@megmcart work

Where do you get inspiration for your work?

Usually the news, my upbringing and the drag scene. The drag scene especially helps me as I’ve met so many inspirational queens since studying at Northumbria. The artistry is just so interesting and beautiful. I love that nothing is taken seriously because I don’t take myself too seriously.

You’re an activist and an inspiration to me….where do you get your energy?

Usually from anger and frustration, I get so annoyed at the Tories; I can’t really process or deal with it unless I make some artwork. My mind simply can’t comprehend why anyone would support a party that’s so against people’s human rights.

@megmcart work

That was like nectar and I’m the same…..I also think folx are almost in a weird state of Stockholm Syndrome! Your work is pretty political – what do you say to folx who say art shouldn’t be political?

Grow up. Art is supposed to provoke emotion whether it be sadness, anger, joy etc. I’m very much aware of the fact my art isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but my art is here to inspire and infuriate. It’s not a successful art piece; if it’s not provoking a range of emotions.

Completely agree! What’s your relationship with Tits Upon Tyne and why are movements like this important? (I’m a hugely passionate supporter of them!) 

I first met Tits Upon Tyne in February last year and we very much clicked. We both want similar things and hold a lot of the same beliefs. The founder is very passionate about Tits Upon Tyne and their cause which really is inspiring. I think it’s so important for women creatives to really have a platform that is safe and won’t exploit them as they focus on getting to the destination they want to be; Tits Upon Tyne is doing just that in the music sector. Also, I really enjoy the creative aspect of the work I do for TUT, I’m doing something I love for a good cause.

@megmcart work

Tell us about what happened in Darlington town centre and your work being uncredited?

Basically, in my art foundation year I was told by the market management we would be all making a piece for the new market and 3 winners would be chosen, credited and posted on social media. Looking back on it now, it was free artwork for them in disguise of “exposure”. I didn’t hear back about it apart from one email from my teacher in June saying I’d won, and the market would be in contact.

At around the end of August still no one had contacted me so I just forgot basically. Later I was walking through the market and was very shocked to see my work on display without any credit, despite what I’d been promised as a winner. I emailed quite a few times and didn’t hear back but due to my social media campaign and an article by the Northern Echo, the management finally credited me 5 weeks later.

@megmcart work – the uncredited Darlington piece

Not crediting artists is something painfully common; how did that feel as an artist – to have your work uncredited?

It was very disheartening; as an artist I do rely a lot on commission work so getting my name and work out there is kind of a portfolio for me. Some of the comments on the article were also disgusting and mostly by the older generation which I’m not too surprised at, as in the past similar age groups have disregarded my work as vulgar (which is the point).

@megmcart work

Tell us about three artists that my fellow Culture Vultures should check out? 

  • @Haydnb_photograpy is an amazing photographer in the Newcastle drag scene; I’m absolutely obsessed with his work.
  • @Sally_tomato_x is one of my biggest inspos and has been since I started my account nearly 2 years ago.
  • @ghead_tra who also inspired my political work.

Oh – I love all three. Hoping to interview all three in the feature. What’s your dream artist collab?

I really want to do work for more zines; then I can collab with a multitude of artists, as I couldn’t just narrow it down to one and I always love finding new talent.

@megmcart work

I could see you and Sally playing with each other’s styles – which would be fun! Do you have any advice to future creatives? 

If you hate it don’t do it! I think if you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing, then you won’t be successful or happy. I’m lucky to enjoy what I do but if I’m not enjoying it or I’m tired then my work really does suffer.

Learning to say no, is on my 2022 personal development list! I know the year isn’t over yet, but tell us a highlight of 2021 so far? 

I think stocking my work in Treasure, (a shopping centre in Darlington). Before this year, I sold most of my work online and didn’t have a lot of support from people in Darlington or they didn’t really know about me or my work, so it’s been nice showing my hometown what I’m up to.

@megmcart work

Darlington has a special place in my heart (one of my best pals lives there) so I love that! Thinking of the future then, what’s coming up for you? 

I’m currently producing spiking mats with Tits Upon Tyne, which bars/entertainment venues have to qualify as a safe space to purchase. I think a lot of venues are using spiking mats as a temporary plaster to a situation and really aren’t thinking about what they can do in the long run and what measures can be put in place to protect people.

@megmcart work

That’s a big topic there and yes, many businesses love a bit of performative action and virtue signalling as opposed to actually putting in the work to hold REAL safe spaces. Anything else you want to tell us about?

Just keep an eye out because I have a lot of confidential projects in the works at the moment.

@megmcart work

Well thank you Meg – you are an absolute inspiration and I love your work. I’ve got some ideas for a commission – so can’t wait to chat more with you! Please check out Meg’s work and give her Insta a follow! Her grid is beaut and basically has the message of “don’t be a dickhead” which is a life rule, that I can firmly support!

You can check out Meg’s work on her website HERE.

You can also purchase your own anti spiking mat from HERE for your own personal use and safety.

Tits Upon Tyne Spiking Mat

(#AD) Middlesbrough Art Weekender; an eclectic mix of creative, festival lushness happening across Middlesbrough until evening of 3rd October // Interview with MAW co-founder Liam Slevin.

I’ve got a pure culture vulturing weekend ahead – it’s time for Middlesbrough Art Weekender, 30th September – evening 3rd October. MAW is the North East’s biggest contemporary art festival and it’s taking over Middlesbrough for the next few days to serve a whole lot of art from homegrown Teesside talent and beyond. Attending a festival like this is a great way to support artists (supporting artists can be as simple as checking out their work!) and galleries and indie venues; alongside enjoying a real eclectic mix of creative lushness.

I’m heading to MAW on Saturday (2nd October) and a feast of more than 50 artists showcasing their work via exhibitions, installations, immersive experiences, performances, workshops and activities inspired by Middlesbrough’s industrial heritage across Middlesbrough awaits.  I will be sharing my experience across the day on my Instagram stories – so feel free to check them out via @theculturevulturene

After Warsama by Dominic from Luton
Image credit – Dawn McNamara

Middlesbrough Art Weekender is free to attend, family-friendly and accessible. The full programme is available at www.middlesbroughartweekender.com so you can get planning your visit – so if you’re in the North East of England, why not join me in some culture vulturing and visit too!? Top tip though, based on my previous year’s visit, I recommend plotting your route pre-visit so you can make the most of your time at MAW.

Ahead of my visit, I’ve had the pleasure of catching up with MAW festival co-founder, Liam Slevin, to get the full low down about it all and for some vulturing suggestions. I wanted to do this interview with Liam in 2019, so I’m thrilled it’s finally happened; so let’s get to it and hear from Liam.

TRANSMIT, TRANSFORM, TRANSLATE by Stephen Hurrel
Image credit – Stephen Hurrel

Hi Liam, can you introduce yourself for my fellow culture vultures, peers and pals?

Hi, my name is Liam Slevin; I am an artist-curator originally from Ireland and living on Teesside for just over 5 years now. In that time, I co-founded the Middlesbrough Art Weekender and am now its Creative Director. I programme and run the festival alongside my partner Anna Byrne and Kypros Kyprianou

Liam Slevin

Tell us about your journey into creative industries/arts?

I studied Sculpture and Combined Media at Limerick School of art & design back in Ireland. I finished my BA just as the recession was kicking off and Ireland was devastated by it. Recession can be opportunistic for artists, and I was lucky enough to be part of a collective that opened up a gallery. That was the start of my journey……

For those, that don’t know or haven’t visited before – what is Middlesbrough Art Weekender (MAW)?

The tag line is a multi-site contemporary arts festival happening across the town of Middlesbrough but it’s a lot more. The creative energy that’s happening in Middlesbrough right now, is amazing and it’s great to see it all explode over one weekend of the year.

We Walked Out of the Wilderness by John Ayscough

Why did you start MAW? What was the inspiration behind it?

I think everything should be a festival! MAW is an opportunity to platform and profile a festival full of artists, creative work and venues.

Quite right too! Tell us about this year’s weekender? What can folx expect?

We have a jam-packed programme of exhibitions, workshops (for all ages) projects that include Virtual reality works and a live lava pour.  This will happen across the following venues, The Auxiliary Project Space, Pineapple Black, The Masham, MIMA, Platform A, Gilkes Street Studios, Basecamp and a number of pop-up spaces along Albert Rd. Make sure to check out our programme page for what’s happening, venues and timings.

Keep Your Distance by Peter Hanmer

Can you tell me your #5 MAW programme highlights?

#1 Working with the estate of Gordon Matta Clark has been an absolute highlight. Jessamyn Fiore (estate co-director) has been so generous with her time and knowledge.

#2 The restaging of artist Russ Walker 1986 Degree show. The process of the re-creating and restaging of the work, alongside all his original documentation has been a really beautiful piece of work to be involved in.

#3 The Navigator North produced public works are all amazing, for the weekender they are putting on Stuart Langley’s Beating Heart and Dominic From Luton’s massive wall Mural. Two pieces that are impossible to miss!

Beating Heart Middlesbrough by Stuart Langley
Image credit – Ashley Foster

#4 Jo Lathwood’s performance and ladder drawings. Jo did a performance a few weeks back out in Darlington and she was amazing. Speaking passionately and engaging about rocks is quite the skill.

#5 Anna Ridler; a lovely contemplative take on Tulip mania mirrored with current crypto currency obsessions. 

Anna Ridler ‘Myriad (Tulips)’ (2018) Photo credit: Emily Grundon

How did you go about programming /curating the weekend?

The festival is curated by myself and Kypros Kypraniou. We start with a basic word or sentence as a jumping off point.  We then tap into what’s happening nationally and internationally. This year’s theme is Infrastructure. We’ve all been through a wild 18months and the different infrastructures or lack thereof, have been very evident; MAW programme this year is a way for us to make sense of what’s just happened and how we can move forward. 

This Trust Idea by Andrew Wilson

Tell me about the art trail? Can folx do that any time across the weekend?

Of course! The art trail is there is give people the best overview of the festival and what’s on offer. The art trail kicks off at The Auxiliary, from there folks are invited to meander over to Albert Rd, taking in a number of public art commissions along the way. On Albert Rd, we have 5 pop exhibition spaces, and this is where the main festival exhibition is housed.

DYAD

Advice to folx who haven’t attended MAW before? Where should they start?

Head into town, to a participating venue, grab a programme and jump in. Staff and volunteers will be on hand to answer any questions and point you in the right direction.

Tell me about The Dorman Long Tower Reimagined – A Virtual Reality Experience? That’s going to be so surreal as it was recently demolished……

We’ve been planning a project at the Dorman for a while now, so when we got word it was earmarked for demolition we had a lot of groundwork done for this VR project. For MAW, we’ve reimagined the Dorman as a contemporary art gallery and commissioned three very different exhibitions to take place in a virtual reality experience of the Dorman Long Towers interior and invites you to come and explore. The tower has been transformed into a VR contemporary art gallery, created by artist Iain Nicholls with assistance from Ste Bruce and Connor Clements.

Bobby Benjamin

I invited local artists Bobby Benjamin and David Watson to recreate a show that they have done through Dovetail Joints. They present traditional painting with a post-industrial town narrative. US artist Birch Cooper also exhibits hyper-realistic sculptures that can only be experienced in VR worlds, while new arts space WetDoveTail showcase their studio holders through digitally created 2D & 3D works.

Birch Cooper

For folx who want to stay out a little bit later across MAW and have some bevs – where would you recommend going? What’s on?

On Friday and a bit more arty, we’re working with local legends Bobby Benjamin and John James Perangie for a Picasso Baby x MAW collab. That’s on at Disgraceland and Gordon Dalton’s road move, filmed across the A66 is happening at Pineapple Black. On Saturday night, it is to Basecamp where Mouses will be making a racket. Mouses are one of the first bands I saw when I moved to Teesside; I think it was Stockton Calling 2016 and I’ve loved them since.

ESTATE at Platform Arts Centre Easterhouse Glasgow – Image credit Coulson & Tennant

How would you describe Teesside art scene right now?

Something that is coalescing into something beautiful

Boro Through Time by Sofia Barton
Image credit – Dawn McNamara

Any Teesside artists that are up and coming, that you want to tell me about and profile?

Loucey Bain, she’s great and is doing some amazing work.

What’s next for you after MAW?

Back to Auxiliary work; we’re changing how the space runs and are opening it up to other curators etc to run the programme. It is also grant writing time for us so there’s always that excitement!

Oh I hear you…..how can folx keep up to date with you and the festival?

@middlesbroughartweekender

Build Bridges by Teresa Poulton

Thank you Liam – you’ve really whet my appetite and I’m really looking forward to the weekend ahead. Check out my Instagram Stories (@theculturevulturene) across the day to follow my MAW Saturday visit or better still, why not join me and VISIT!? Get plotting and planning your route via: www.middlesbroughartweekender.com/programme and you can download the programme via: https://buff.ly/39ciuaq

Interview with Olga Prinku artist, maker and creator of the craft of flowers-on-tulle embroidery

I’m always curiously envious of people and artists with attention to detail and patience as attributes within their work. My process brain with some concentration can be like that (to a point), but my creative brain loves the whirlwind of mess, freedom and all things abstract. I’ve never been able to make and create pretty things which when I was more of a perfectionist, used to drive me crackers but now, I have too much fun in the process of creating and bless the mess!

But I still envy the ability to create pretty and precise pieces of art work. And if I was thinking of an artists, that embodies pretty and precise, then Olga Prinku is just that. Olga is an incredible artist, that has become famous for her flowers-on-tulle embroidery; she uses natural materials and flowers to create gorgeous 3D embroidery pieces stitching flowers into the work. Olga’s pieces are magical, thoughtful, makes you smile, and the time, effort and care put into her work is obvious.

Olga Prinku’s work

I saw one of Olga’s collars in a magazine a few months ago. Yes, she does flowers-on-tulle embroidery on clothes too – they look amazing – but more on that later! And from there it was devouring Olga’s Instagram which is a little piece of digital heaven. So, I was delighted when I found out that the folx at Make & Mend Festival 2021, were working with her and exhibiting her work, so I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her a little and they say, never meet your heroes, well, Olga is just the nicest human. I love it when good people, do well!

Olga Prinku’s work

So of course, you know what’s coming next – I HAD to interview her, and this is a lush interview – so get ready to fall in love with Olga and her work.

Hi Olga, so for my fellow Culture Vultures, let’s start with an intro!

Hi, I’m Olga Prinku – I’m an artist, maker and creator of the craft of flowers-on-tulle embroidery. I’m originally from the Republic of Moldova and I now live in North Yorkshire.

Olga Prinku

Tell us about your journey into creative industries and the arts?

I did a degree in graphic design as a mature student, then I worked on branding for a small design agency and layouts for an interior’s magazine. I’ve always been interested in making, and during my degree I took classes in everything I could find, from screen printing to upholstery.

When I took a career break to start a family, I learned how to knit and I started to sell chunky woollen Christmas stockings on Etsy. I set up an Instagram account originally to promote those stockings, which I would style with Christmas decorations such as home-made wreaths. The craft of flowers-on-tulle embroidery grew out of that hobby of wreath-making.

Olga Prinku’s work

Why is creativity important to you?

I find it incredibly satisfying to come up with an idea that I don’t know if I’ll be able to realise, and then to experiment and tinker until either I have to give up on the idea or I achieve it in a way I’m happy with. It’s great to produce something that’s pleasing to look at, but it’s the creative process of trial and error that really attracts me.

Olga Prinku’s work

For those that don’t know or just indulge me, what is “flowers-on-tulle embroidery”?

It’s embroidery using nature as my thread. I use stretched tulle fabric just like traditional embroidery, but instead of conventional thread I embroider with dried and preserved natural materials such as flowers, grasses, berries, leaves and seed heads.

Olga Prinku’s work

How did you get into it – what was the beginning or the spark?

One day I was using a garden sieve – the kind you use to get stones out of soil – as a frame to make a wreath, tucking some branches into the metal grid to hold them in place. It occurred to me that I could do the same with flowers and tulle fabric. I started posting pictures of my experiments on my Instagram account, and to my surprise and delight they really became popular.

Olga Prinku’s work

For folx new to this craft or curious, what would your advice be?

It’s a great craft to get into if you’re looking for a way to slow down and centre yourself. Dried flowers are delicate and it’s easy to break them if you’re trying to rush or you’re not entirely in the moment. That’s frustrating initially but it’s also an invitation to take some deep breaths and be patient, and then I find I can enter a state of flow when hours go by without me noticing.

Olga Prinku’s work

It looks like a mindful craft and even to look at – your pieces are calming. Now onto something not so calming, social media – you have a HUGE Instagram audience – how does that feel?

It’s not something I ever imagined happening to me, and I’m very grateful to the Instagram community for guiding me on my creative journey. I find it hard to imagine that my flowers-on-tulle embroidery could have taken off like it did if it hadn’t been for Instagram, because the positive feedback on my early experimental posts gave me encouragement and seeing which posts did better than others helped to guide me on where I should focus my next experiments.

There’s always a danger that you get too sucked into Instagram and it starts to take over too much of your time. But it has definitely opened a lot of doors for me, for example, collaborations with fashion brands and having my work displayed in galleries.

Olga Prinku’s work

I like that Instagram has the power of democratising opportunity! So let’s chat Make & Mend Festival, what was your contribution to Make & Mend Festival 2021?

I brought some of my favourite works to display – I started out doing freestyle designs in embroidery hoops, and since then I’ve also done more formal compositions in canvas stretcher frames, so a combination of different pieces displayed.

Olga Prinku’s work at Make & Mend Festival 2021 – photo credit Clare Bowes.

What’s it like people see your work at events and in exhibitions?

I’m always very nervous about meeting people in person! But it’s great to be able to talk to people who are encountering the craft of flowers-on-tulle for the first time, because then it’s Iike I can get to see what I do through fresh eyes.

Olga Prinku’s work at Make & Mend Festival 2021 – photo credit Clare Bowes.

What do you hope people take from your work when they view it or see it?

I hope people see it as a way to combine creativity with reconnecting with nature. Developing the craft of embroidering with natural materials has really opened my eyes to aspects of the natural world that I had previously overlooked. For example, appreciating the beauty of some flowers that would usually be considered as weeds, or seed heads that I previously wouldn’t even have seen as I would have deadheaded the flowers before they could develop.

I forage for some of the materials I use in my work, and on my country walks I’ve become much more attuned to the changing of the seasons, noticing what grows where and when.

Olga Prinku’s work at Make & Mend Festival 2021 – photo credit Clare Bowes.

Can you tell me about your fashion collabs? I want one of your collars!?

Ever since I came up with the idea of embroidering using dried flowers, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of making wearable items. One of the step-by-step projects in my book is creating a Peter Pan collar with preserved flowers. Of course, the challenge is that the flowers are delicate and not resistant to water, which means you have to be very careful when wearing it and check out the weather conditions J.

I also enjoy collaborating with fashion companies to translate the design ideas into traditional embroidery using thread. I’ve designed a range of shirts with my friend Ruth Eaton, and there’s a new collection just coming out with the Canadian menswear brand 3PARADIS – I was taken aback to log into Instagram not long ago to see Justin Bieber wearing a jacket with my design!

Olga Prinku’s work at Make & Mend Festival 2021 – photo credit Clare Bowes.

Your work was featured by Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas – can you tell me a little about that?

One of the ways you can use a dried flower embroidery hoop is as a creative topper for a gift. A couple of years ago Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas came to my home to film me making a hoop, which they then took back to the studio. It was my first experience of being on TV and it was fascinating to learn how it all works.

I understand that the episode I was in will be repeated this year. There’s also a Christmas-themed project in my book, using flowers-on-tulle techniques to create a tree decoration.

Olga Prinku’s work at Make & Mend Festival 2021 – photo credit Clare Bowes.

You mentioned your book – tell us about it? Where and when can folx purchase it?

It’s called Dried Flower Embroidery: An introduction to the art of flowers on tulle, and it’s published by Quadrille. Due to shipping delays the publication date has been pushed back to September 30. But it’s available for pre-order right now in all good bookshops!

Olga Prinku’s work at Make & Mend Festival 2021 – photo credit Clare Bowes.

And what’s next for you?

I’ve just finished filming an online tutorial with the craft platform Domestika, which should be available soon. And I’m finalising a limited initial edition of kits, which contain all the materials you need to make a floral embroidery design in a hoop, together with step-by-step instructions. So I’m excited to be launching that.

I’m hoping to get back into in-person workshops, too, if the pandemic recedes. I’d been planning a week-long workshop retreat in Tuscany which I was almost ready to announce just as the first lockdown hit. I hope that gets to happen at some stage!

Olga Prinku’s work

Oh that sounds so lovely! How can people keep in touch with you?

I’m @olgaprinku on Instagram, and my website is prinku.com. The best way to keep in touch with me is through my email newsletter, which you can sign up to on my website.

Olga Prinku’s work

I really recommend checking out Olga’s work and take some time to appreciate the sheer beauty and skill that goes into each piece. It was just breath taking to Hey, may be one day – I will own an original Olga wearable piece – if I ever went to the Met Gala, I’d absolutely ask Olga to design my outfit.

Interview with Matt Jamie – we chat theatre, current production Pod, podcasts, music videos & Bedlington Terriers.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with director, actor, videographer, photographer and creative Matt Jamie….well for a good few years now on various projects! As is with the weirdness of the world – we’ve never actually met in person. I met him digitally as a videographer, but like many freelancers, has a never ending bag of skills and tricks like Felix The Cat.

I was delighted to be invited to support Matt’s current production – Pod; Matt is the Director. Pod is a brilliant theatre production that tells a brilliant contemporary story. This play has been in the making for some time – the initial run was cancelled due to the pandemic and I’m thrilled it is getting the space it deserves to connect with audiences. And I’m so excited to see it – it is the first production of the Alphabetti Theatre new season and it is my first time back in a theatre, actually watching a play for pleasure!

Pod is about a family gathered together, sharing more than just a cramped camping pod and a bottle of gin.  Secrets are revealed and they find answers to questions nobody was expecting to be asked.  Audiences will feel uplifted, moved, amused and ready to visit the bar! Pod runs from 31st August – 18th September at Alphabetti Theatre; Pay What You Feel tickets available now via: www.alphabettitheatre.co.uk/pod

It has been a privilege to champion Pod and get to know some of the Pod creative team – some old friends and some new creative peers! It has also been brilliant to get to know Matt better professionally too and as my jam is all about championing and celebrating creatives – I thought it was the perfect time for a little Culture Vulture blog post.

So without delay – an interview with Matt Jamie!

Matt Jamie

Hi Matt, let’s start with an introduction!

I’m Matt Jamie – I trained as an actor (actually I trained in Biomedical sciences first and ditched a PhD to go to drama school…sensible move?) – but now I work mainly as a theatre director, photographer and film maker, and producer of audio work.

Very sensible decision! Tell us more about your journey into creative industries?

When I was studying sciences, I joined the theatre group at university (Bradford University Theatre Group at Theatre In The Mill which is now an excellent fringe venue) and got the taste for it there. I’d always enjoyed theatre but never imagined working in it.  I then got a job and PhD placement doing research into diabetes but alongside that was pursuing places at drama school – figured if I didn’t get a place I’d carry on and now I’d be Doctor Jamie.  Instead, I’m now working in the arts in the North East!  I spent 13 years in London working mostly as an actor (some terrible commercials and music videos exist online) and an actor’s headshot photographer, with occasional dips into directing, before moving to the North East and taking on more production / direction work.

You’re a theatre maker, director, actor, film maker and a podcast/audio drama maker – that’s quite a rare mix….can you tell me a little bit about that? Are you like me and just refuse to be pinned down into one thing?

Working in the arts its useful to diversify.  I’ve been lucky enough to find other jobs which are connected to the arts but also possible to earn money from! (For a while in London I did work in a call centre selling theatre tickets…).  At one point I was an actor / photographer / film maker / composer / graphic designer / director.  I figured it was time to streamline a bit into the things I was more skilled in or enjoyed more.  I usually go with some kind of hyphenated description, depending who’s asking.

Tell me about your theatre company Coracle? How and why did it start as a company?

Coracle began in London; I came on board as a film maker for their first piece of development work at Battersea Arts Centre – a sort of abstract physical dance piece created by my friend Lucinda Lloyd.  Then Sarita Plowman joined Lucinda on a course at the City Lit and they wrote a short piece of text which eventually we developed into Coracle’s first full production “Bird Of Pray”.  It was a mix of theatre, movement and film and really one of the darkest things I’ve ever worked on as far as content went – some people walked out of the show, as it was so much…! But it was well received and went on to the “Branching Out” Festival in London.  We then all took some time out pursuing solo careers until I formed Coracle North East with writer and actor Arabella Arnott in 2017 – with more of a focus on new writing (though I might come back to more abstract / physical / multimedia work in the future).  You can see some clips of Coracle’s early work on our website.

Matt Jamie

Coracle highlight project so far?

We started in the North East with a double bill of plays, called “Trajectory” including Arabella’s first full length play “Life After” and a short by Steve Byron called “Bricks and Mortar”.  This was our first collaboration with Alphabetti Theatre as Coracle (though I’d been involved in various things before).  It was also the last play to perform in Alphabetti’s old venue on New Bridge Street before it was demolished!  We then had the pleasure of bringing the first play to Alphabetti’s new venue on St James Boulevard with “Overdue” by Arabella – which won Best At Fringe (North East Theatre Guide) and was nominated Best North East Play (British Theatre Guide) as well as five star reviews.

Tell us about your personal career highlight so far?

I was very proud of the work on “Overdue”, but probably appearing in the music video for the 2004 remix of “The Key The Secret” – which reached I think number 187 in the charts, probably no thanks to the video – was my finest hour / 3 minutes as an actor.

That music video is just BRILLIANT. Music videos used to be so good…..Anyhoo – how did your relationship with Alphabetti start?

I think I first directed a reading of a play at The Central which Ben Dickenson was organising.  He then introduced me to Alphabetti Theatre, and I can’t actually remember what the first thing I worked on there was.  They used to run an event called “Soup” which was a mix of short form pieces and I directed several short plays for them there, and some reaction plays which I really enjoyed.  Artistic Director Ali Pritchard also cast me in “Continuum” – which was a terrifying experience (I was playing a man who had a head injury and basically talked non-stop for 60 minutes in rambling nonsense, and we only had 6 days rehearsal.  The scene changes were only marked by the lights shifting between the bed and the two chairs but the lighting desk was faulty so it would regularly skip cues and we’d have to guess what scene we were in.  One night I skipped an entire scene with some fairly crucial plot information in it.  Spent the rest of the play wondering if any of it would make sense…

Pod at Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle

There is something so magical about lo-fi theatre though – I bliddy love ‘Betti! What is the context of your relationship now?

Coracle is an associate company of Alphabetti and has been involved in some of their new writing programmes.  I also do freelance work for them producing trailers, audio description work and producing audio plays.

Why are theatres like Alphabetti important in the region? To audiences and to our sector?

Alphabetti is the only “Fringe” venue in Newcastle and has a unique place in the arts scene making art/theatre as accessible as possible – keeping tickets almost entirely ‘Pay What You Feel’.  Also the nature of the space and the way it’s staffed means people who love theatre and people who might never go to the theatre will all feel at home there.  And the unique talent and personality of the Artistic Director, Ali Pritchard are a big draw.

You’ve mentioned your audio play work….tell us about Playstream? Why should folx check them out?

Playstream is Coracle’s podcast which is home to our audio drama work.  A lot of our work is accompanied by ‘reaction pieces’ – responding to the themes of the production we are working on – and these have often taken the form of audio work or been recorded for audio after they’ve had a live production.  Our new production “Pod” is accompanied by some audio drama pieces, including plays written by Alison Carr (well known in the region for her writing) and Claire-Marie Perry.  Also worth a listen is Wendy Erringtons “Saluting Magpies” which is a longer – form drama which was originally due to be produced at Alphabetti but became an audio drama because of the pandemic.  Degna Stone’s “Probably” – is “a sharply written monologue on age, race and fear” (The Stage) and is another strong piece we recorded after she performed it alongside our 2019 production of “Down to Zero” by Lizi Patch.

Podcasts and audio plays had a huge upswell across the pandemic – what podcasts // audio plays were you listening to?

I’d been listening to “RadioLab” for a long while and it’s always excellent – a mixture of current affairs, science and tech but not in any way dry and as dull as I just made it sound!  I really enjoyed the drama serial “Homecoming”, and for pure stupidness, Bob Mortimers “Althletico Mince” should be listened to whenever normality takes over.

Now I’ve brought up the pandemic topic – I may as well ask, how has freelance life been for you across the pandemic?

Like everyone else most work took a nose-dive when the pandemic hit.  Arabella and I had just done the dress rehearsal for a play directed by Alex Elliott and then theatres were closed the next day – and we were about to start rehearsing for “Pod” (originally due in May 2020).  I managed to keep some work as a voice artist (audiobooks and other bits and pieces going) since audio recording was one of the few things still possible remotely.  I’m happy to be getting back into actual buildings with actual people.

Happy you’re still with us as a creative freelancer! Right, so tell me about Pod? What is it? What is it about?

“Pod” is a play about a family coming together for a weekend away in a camping Pod.  The mother, Iris, and two grown up daughters Rose and Daisy are there to celebrate the birthday of husband / dad Geoff, who is sadly no longer with them.  Along for the trip is Dan, married to Rose and he’d rather be training for his marathon than being in the middle of the sometimes tense family dynamics.  It’s about dealing with grief, about family secrets, about identity and forgiveness… but it’s also very funny! Daisy thinks she knows something about the family she hasn’t been told… she’s also got something to tell them.  But it turns out there are more secrets under the surface which come out over a few gins and some cake.

I love the character Daisy – from the snippets. She feels very familiar. You created and cast pod before the pandemic? What is the process like bringing something back after all this time?

It was difficult to have to put the production away, not knowing when or if it would ever see the light of day.  Happily we’ve now got a three week run coming up.  We’ve had some time with it to get back into the swing and polish it – it’s been great!

Kylie Ann Ford as Daisy at Alphabetti Theatre

And as we speak – it is open for a run at Alphabetti Theatre until 18th September!?

Amazingly we’re actually now programmed for longer than the original run would have been if the pandemic hadn’t hit – so we’ve got the luxury of three weeks.  There should also be online screenings available too at some point.

You directed the piece – for folx not familiar with theatre, what is the role of the director? What did you do as director on Pod?

Theatre is a very collaborative process between the actors and director (and designer and writer).  My role as the director is to give some kind of shape to the piece – in some ways literally: finding ways to make the play work on the stage, where people should be, how the scene works best and makes most sense.  Alphabetti is actually quite a challenging space to direct for with the audience on both sides so it’s important often to keep the action moving on stage so everyone can see.  As well as those more physical elements the director also is the outside eye on the piece in terms of pace, tone, where the highs and lows of a scene might work best… the ‘journey through the play’ and so on.  A lot of the ideas will come from the actors and the text, and I’m really there to fine tune things – I suppose a little like a conductor if you’ve ever watched an orchestra: just lifting bits here, changing the pace there and so on.  In many ways with a piece like this ideally the audience shouldn’t really notice the directing.  If the play flows well, and the story is told and people have a good time that’s my job done!

David Raynor as Dan and Pod writer Arabella Arnott as Rose in Pod at Alphabetti Theatre

Interestingly a lot of the themes of the play – really resonate with the pandemic so lots of folx will be able to relate – being stuck together with family, unexpected conversations, tested relationships, heightened emotions?

Yes, we wondered coming back to it if we’d need to add anything in or take anything out to make it work “post-pandemic” but everything seemed to fit surprisingly well.  Even the whole set up of a camping trip made sense in the scheme of things. We’ll be interested to hear how people relate to it.

What do you hope audiences take away from the show?

We hope people will find the play funny and moving – it’s about coming together through difficult times and finding common ground with wildly differing views… something people might be familiar with! 

Why should folx go and see it?

It’s a great night out, a fun and relevant play with a great cast of North East actors, at an excellent venue and it’s Pay What You Feel so what’s to lose!?

Kylie Ann Ford as Daisy and Judi Earl as Iris in Pod at Alphabetti Theatre

After all this time and working on it – how do you feel sharing it with audiences?

Very excited to share this with audiences after all this time.  The set looks amazing (we’ve built an actual camping pod!) and the performances will be top notch.

And what’s next for you? Next project?

What’s next is a complete unknown.  There are a few projects we’d started to look at back in 2020 which I’ll dust off and see if we want to produce them in 2022.  Meanwhile I’ll be carrying on the many-hyphenated jobs I do for other people’s plays and productions!

Where can audiences keep up to date with you? And your work?

More about coracle on www.coracleproductions.com.  Our podcast is on all podcast platforms and our website – search PlayStream wherever you normally listen.  And if you’re looking for a director, photographer, film maker or audio creator, head to www.mattjamie.co.uk

Anything else you want to tell me about?

Bedlington Terriers are excellent dogs. I recommend them.

Strong dog choice – good to know. As someone who has worked with Matt – absolutely thoroughly recommend him for everything he listed above.

I am really excited to see Pod and will be sharing what I thought on my Facebook page – so keep an eye out! Pod runs from 31st August – 18th September at Alphabetti Theatre; Pay What You Feel tickets available now via: www.alphabettitheatre.co.uk/pod

Interview with Badmind – we chat music, live streaming, Kanye West and keeping creative collaborators close…..

I’m working on a gorgeous project at the moment with Polestar Music Studios in Newcastle, spreading the word about their fantastic studio, facilities for musicians and bands to practice, develop, record and perform (in person and digitally) their music… it’s an amazing privilege to work on and I have the pleasure of chatting to and discovering new music from the hottest, upcoming talent in the region.

It’s lush because I tend to get in a total music rut – listen to the same stuff and genres, and I just don’t have the time to seek out new music. So it’s a joy to step into a project, that gets me listening to new music! One such musician is Badmind….I discovered them through Polestar Studio’s Polestar Live Sessions – a programme of live music gigs, streamed directly from their studios to Polestar Facebook page.

Upcoming Polestar Live Sessions.

Badmind is an urban duo from Newcastle, made up of singer / songwriter Dayna Leadbitter and producer / drummer Jaimie Johnson; they’ve been setting the regional music scene alight with their soulful pop sounds over the last 18months.

Last year, they released their first single out into the pandemic, making waves with their polished pop; fast forward to now and everyone wants a piece of them and the whole North East music scene is buzzing about them. And it’s not hard to see why – they’ve racked up more than 230,000+ streams, been added to Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist, named in BBC introducing’s top tips for 2021 and representing the North East at Radio 1’s Big Weekend. Their new song, Flaws & Phases marks a new chapter for Badmind and I am so along for the ride! 

Badmind are performing tonight (12th August) at 7.30pm, so feel free to check in and watch with me, but, if you miss it – the live stream gig will be pinned to the top of the Facebook page for a week, so if you’re reading this just after the 12th, you’re in luck! But before, I rush off to watch their live streamed gig, which is going to be a corker, I thought I’d share this little Culture Vulture interview I did with them so you can get a flavour of what they are all about, why you need to check them out and so much more.

So over to you Dayna…..

Right, hiyer! Let’s go…. introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures?

Hi, I’m Dayna and I go by the name ‘Badmind’. I write songs and sing them live when the world isn’t locked down haha!

Tell me about your adventure into music and how did you meet your producer and drummer Jaimie?

My Dad has been singing and playing guitar to me since I was young, so I knew from an early age that I wanted to sing and do music. I started off wanting to do musical theatre but as I got older, I realised I wanted to be an artist and write my own songs. I met Jaimie when I was 18 and we’ve been writing together since then.

Dayna and Jaimie

How would you describe your music?

I describe my music as somewhere between Lo-fi, R&B and Pop but tend not to be too worried about genres; I just make music I’d like to listen to.

That’s a good way to think about it! You say you take a DIY approach to your music, but what does that actually mean?

Basically, everything is made in house; I work with a small team (myself, Jaimie, Stu & Jimmy) and together we do everything from writing, production, videos, imagery, branding and live performances. I like to keep a small circle of people I trust.

Dayna in studio

I really love that and that way you keep ownership and autonomy too! Can you tell me about the 7 releases across 2020? That must have been an epic under-taking!

I had all of the singles pretty much finished before I launched Badmind. I knew 2020 was going to be a development year and a way to introduce people to what Badmind is and to carry that on into 2021. BBC Introducing (Nick Roberts & Lee Hawthorn) have been a very important part of building the project and have helped with so many important opportunities for me.

It’s a great achievement to be recognised by Nick & Lee, so quickly – you clearly have proper talent and it’s a joy to watch you perform, so I can totally see why they fell in love with Badmind. What was it like to feature as part of BBC Introducing?

It was such a surprise, Nick Roberts called me over zoom and gave me the news. It was crazy especially with it being so early into my career.

Dayna – BBC Music Introducing

Aww that’s lush! Your music is such a blend of different genres and sounds – where do you get your inspo from?

There are far too many artists to list but I think my favourite would be Kehlani, it would make my life to do a track with her.

I love Kehlani – I’m an avid unashamed Halsey fan and that’s how I got into Kehlani.  Have you done much live streaming?

I’ve done a few bits here and there during lockdown, it is great fun and looking forward to the Polestar Live Session #4. I also looking forward to playing to audiences live again.

Dayna – Badmind

What can people expect from your Polestar Live Session?

I’m going to be playing pretty much all of the songs we released in 2020 including my new single ‘Flaws & Phases’ and I’m going to give a couple of unreleased songs a test run, so it’s a bit like a world premiere for that and first chance to listen to them.

What’s the live stream vibe going to be like?

Positive and fun vibes always; I love playing with the band it’s always a vibe!

Why should folx tune in?

What can be better on a Thursday evening?? Haha.

Dayna – Badmind

Oh absolutely – Thursdays are the new Fridays! Tell us what you are listening to right now?

I’ve been going back over old Kanye West albums recently they’re soooo good. Also been enjoying Jacob Collier’s work too.

Oh Kanye – I agree, I didn’t really appreciate them like I do now, when they first came out – they kind of passed me by a little. But love them! Can you tell us about any North East musicians you recommend checking out?

To be honest I’m so out of what’s going on locally I’m not too sure what’s been going on locally. Looking to change that over the next few months with gigs starting to come back.

Dayna in studio

Thanks for your honesty! Before working with Polestar Studios, I’d fallen out the loop so I hear you! Let’s chat the future….what’s next for you folx? what you working on?

I’ve got a new single coming very soon which will be followed by a run of singles till the end of the year. I’m hoping to get 4-5 singles out by the year’s end.

Wow – woman on a music mission – love it! Do you have a vision of a moment that you’d sit and think- “wow we’ve made it!”?

When I can pay the rent / mortgage with money earned from my music.

Dayna – Badmind

Very pragmatic answer! I’ve got my eye on a Dan Cimmermann painting that is £10K + – when I can afford that, then I will know I’ve made it! (haha!) So, highlight of 2021 so far?

I’d say getting the Radio 1 Big Weekend slot; that was crazy and hope I get to play more festivals.

Miss festivals and I hope you play more too – would love to see you play a festival….Anything else you want to tell us about?

Head over to Spotify to listen to my music and give me a follow on my socials to keep up to date with what’s coming up!

BOOM – thanks Dayna! All social links below and remember, Badmind are performing tonight (12th August) at 7.30pm, so feel free to check in and watch with me, but, if you miss it – the live stream gig will be pinned to the top of their Facebook page for a week, so if you’re reading this just after the 12th, you’re in luck and you can still experience their live performance!

Connect with Badmind:

Insta: @badmindmusic

Facebook: @badmindmusicuk

Twitter: @badmindmusic

Tik Tok: @badmindmusic

SoundCloud

Spotify

Interview with North East upcoming musician Lizzie Esau; live streaming, song writing as therapy & indie pop.

I’m buzzing to currently be working with much -loved corner stone of the regional music industry, Polestar Studios on their run of live streamed Polestar Live Sessions; celebrating and showcasing North East musicians and bands and their pandemic resilience.

Polestar Studios has been supporting the North East music scene to make great music since the early 90s. Nestled on the edge of the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle, this rehearsal and recording studio in Byker, was established in 1990 by Pauline Murray; singer of iconic punk band Penetration. Thousands of bands and musicians have used the facility in its long history.

I’m supporting Polestar Studios on their run of Polestar Live sessions, high production quality live streamed gig featuring the hottest grassroots’ North East music. I have the benefit of getting to know and interview all the brilliant musical talent, who are making waves regionally, Nationally and many Internationally in their niche too.

Tonight’s live stream gig is the turn of North East singer-song writer Lizzie Esau and her band, who are set to serve an alt-pop set with beautifully honest lyrics. Lizzie’s music has demanded the attention of not just regional music lovers, but also record labels, producers, DJs, festivals and BBC Introducing. Her latest single ‘What If I Just Kept Driving’ got me through the most Monday of Mondays this week and came to Lizzie in a matter of minutes. With its’ Lo-Fi Bedroom pop vibe and major chords, the song juxtaposes the highs of the music with the lows of the lyrics.

Polestar Live Session – Lizzie Esau

Lizzie’s live stream will be centre “stage” at 7.30pm tonight (Thursday 15 July) on Polestar Studios Facebook page and I can’t wait. It’s free to tune in but you do have the option to donate – all donations go directly to the artist, who is of course being appropriately paid, but a donation to a musician after the year they’ve had, really means the world and supports them get back out there.

So, in my quest to champion Northern talent and brilliance, I thought I’d nab Lizzie for a little Culture Vulture interview and find out more about her career so far, ambition and her music writing inspo! Let’s get to it, here is Lizzie Esau!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Hi Lizzie, right let’s get to it – can you introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures? Who are you?

I’m Lizzie Esau, a singer songwriter from the North East.

Can you tell us about your journey so far into the music industry?

I’ve always written little tunes and melodies ever since I can remember, probably from the age of around five or six. It’s something I have always had as a part of my life which for many years fell into the background but across the last three years something changed, and I decided to prioritise what I love and take music seriously.

Through connecting with my manager a few years ago I have now been able to make some great contacts in the industry and had the chance to work with other artists as well as releasing my own music in the last year, which has been so fulfilling.

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t listened to it before?

My music is a fusion of everything I love and that interests me. If I had to describe the sound, I’d say it’s a hip-hop alternative/ indie pop with honest lyrics and real instrumentation.

Where do you seek inspiration? What’s your music writing process like?

I’m mostly inspired by everyday life and the stresses and joy that it can bring. My writing is very reflective and as cheesy as it sounds, I often use it as a way of therapy which I’m sure is something other creatives can relate to.

The writing process normally consists of a random idea floating around in my head for a while which comes together as a song after sitting at my piano and on logic for a while working out new melodies and parts to the track. After my demo is created the song will then be sent off to the producer I’m working with right now, Steve Grainger, who elevates the track, and then after a bit of backwards and forwards discussion, the track is ready to go out!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Who is in your band? How did you pull them together/meet them?

The drummer Alex and I got in touch via social media quite a few years ago and he became part of a band that unfortunately faded out. After connecting with my manager and doing some solo gigs to throw myself into performing, I then reached out again just before the pandemic to create a new band around the music. As soon as we were able to, we started rehearsals again around the new tracks and Alex brought along the bass player Joe who fitted into the band so well being a great friend of his. We have had a few people stand in as guitarist during the time we have been playing together, who have all been such great musicians, and hopefully one day a permanent position will be filled. I feel so lucky to be able to have such professional and dedicated musicians as part of this project and we just can’t wait to get out and play live now!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

I love your new single, ‘What If I Just Kept Driving’ ; tell us a bit about it? (It’s available to listen to now on all streaming platforms)

The new single is an indie pop track about escaping from the stresses of life through the act of performing mindless activities. The idea for the track came about when I was driving (hahaha!) and all came together very quickly; form the writing process to the production.

The music is lively and upbeat which I think is a nice contrast to the honest and more downbeat lyrics describing how I was feeling at the time. The choruses are a little more positive and talk about getting help for these life stresses, putting more of an optimistic spin on things.

I love the video – where did the concept come from?

The video concept came from the director, Sel Mclean, who took into consideration so well who I was as an artist and the style of things that would work best for the track. I loved his idea to have skateboarders there and to have it by the beach at sunrise, I think the whole thing came together so well and everything for the releases seemed to really work together. The whole team were so amazing and made my first ever professional video shoot experience so enjoyable and memorable.

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

The song really speaks to me about the noise of modern life and using driving as a means to escape, self-care and freedom; this is such an important thing in the current context of the pandemic. How have you found the pandemic as a creative?

Just before the pandemic is when I really started to be proactive and get myself out playing solo shows and writing more, so when the pandemic hit it was very disheartening, as I’m sure it was for all creatives especially ones just starting off. But through this time I have connected with my wonderful band and started collaborating with many artists as well as writing more than I ever have before, so in many ways it allowed me the time to put everything into music which I really loved.

However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that this pandemic has been so hard on everyone and that no one is alone in feeling like they have had low points, but I’m glad to see us coming out of it all now! (fingers crossed Haha!).

How did tonight’s live stream gig with Polestar Studios come about?

This gig came about due to the bass player, Joe, being in contact with them and therefore when an opportunity came about to play there, we were all really keen to get involved and get the songs out there for more people to hear!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

What can people expect from your Polestar Live Session tonight at 7.30pm via Polestar Facebook page and why should people tune in?

You can expect to hear lots of new unreleased music, perhaps even a sneak peek at upcoming singles as well as a cover, which I never tend to do but I couldn’t resist with this one! I will be with a full band on the night so expect big sounding tracks and lots of energy! We can’t wait for it!

Why are organisations like Polestar Studios important to the North East music scene?

I think they’re so important! They give up and coming artists a platform to share their music to a wider audience, especially since they stream the gigs via social media which enables anyone to be able to discover new music. It’s great to have such supportive organisations that enjoy promoting artists and love to watch them succeed; without this so many people would go undiscovered!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

How do you feel about live streaming gigs? Why are they important?

I think it’s so important to adapt and carry on regardless in any way that we can, so to see so many live stream events and socially distanced performances is so reassuring that music can still be shared no matter what. I think especially in the times we have had, music is so vital to keep everyone’s spirits high and keep optimistic.

How does it feel to be getting featured by BBC Introducing? (It has been ace to hear you on the radio waves!)

It feels so amazing! The support I’ve had from BBC introducing ever since putting out my first demo onto Soundcloud in 2018 has been so wonderful and everything I’ve uploaded has been shown so much love by them! I really loved doing a session for BBC introducing in the North East around my debut official release ‘Young Mind Run Blind’, this was something I have always wanted to do and to do it around my first proper release was really amazing! From then on, every single was so amazingly promoted by them with my third and most recent release being played on radio 1 introducing as Gemma Bradley’s tip of the week meaning all the local radios around the country played it also which was so crazy to hear!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

What do you think of the North East music scene?

I think the North East music scene is such a supportive space and everyone loves to see one another do well and get to where they want to be. There is so much amazing talent around right now and so many people getting National radio plays which is so amazing to see! Just looking forward to getting out and seeing all of these band and artists I have discovered in lockdown live now!

Who on the scene do you admire/should I check out?

I’m really loving so many artists form the North East right now I think everyone is really thriving! Off the top of my head I’m loving Nadedja, Jodie Nicholson, Martha Hill, Georgia May, Luke Royalty, Future Humans and so many more!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Good selection of people there! Can you share any advice for aspiring folx wanting to get into the music industry?

I think my biggest piece of advice is to connect with as many people as you can and to be good at networking, or like I did find a wonderful manager who is great at it, hahaha! I think as soon as I started reaching out to people to collaborate and venues to play at is when things started happening, so just remember to always be proactive and keep writing as much as you can!

Highlight of 2021 so far?

My 2021 highlight so far has to be hearing my new single ‘What If I Just Kept Driving’ on radio 1! It was so surreal as I always have I on in my car so to hear my own music getting played on my favourite radio station was just the best feeling and has already led to some exciting conversations and interest from new listeners!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Do you have a moment in mind/visual moment, when you think – “I’ve made it!”?

I’ve always dreamed of headlining Glastonbury or playing on the main stage, I’d definitely know I’ve made it then! But to be honest just playing anywhere at Glastonbury would be such a great feeling for me, and I think the day I see a load of people I don’t know in a crowd singing my lyrics back to me will be so surreal and I’ll know I’ve made an impact on them for sure!

So, what’s next for you?

I have so many new tracks, ideas and possible collaborations happening which makes me so excited for what’s coming in my career! I think the next thing you’ll hear from me will be a bit of a surprise so keep an eye out! I’m also playing live lots and I really hope to continue that and grow the amount of people listening to my music as we move out of the pandemic!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Anything else you want to tell my readers about?

Yes! Lots of gigs happening soon! I am particularly excited for the Cluny on the 23rd of July which is an event with Urban Kingdom and Generation W where I’ll be playing alongside three other amazing female artists. I’ve also got lots of gigs lined up in September including my debut headline show on the 18th at Head of Steam in Newcastle with the band which we are so excited for! As well as this, I’ll be playing a few exciting support slots so make sure to check out my socials to find out about it all!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Well thank you Lizzie and if you can, make sure you check out her live stream tonight at 7.30pm from Polestar Studios Facebook page!

You can also connect with Lizzie via:

Instagram: @lizzieesau

Facebook: @lizzieesau.music

Tik Tok: @lizzieesau

SoundCloud

YouTube

Spotify

Interview with artist Wild Lamb – Paige Livingstone – let the lass eat cake!

There is nothing more exciting than finding out that two of my favourite artists are collaborating and doing something lush……Slutmouth and Wild Lamb Illustration have been collaborating in the most perfect way over the last few months.

Slutmouth – Bettie Hope; Love her beyond words and her work – I’m a total Instagram fan girl over this lass. Her mixed media work explores sex, sexuality, gender inequality, identity, queerness, feminism, rejection of societal taboos in a really playful, empowering, interesting way. I’ve interviewed Bettie before and you can read that HERE!

Slutmouth – Bettie Hope’s work at Let Us Eat Cake at Pineapple Art Gallery

Wild Lamb – Paige Livingstone; I discovered her work as always, via the good old ‘gram! Her work is a fierce visual treat, bold, colourful, collage, illustration, exploring portraiture in such an iconic way and her style evolves – her work like Bettie’s, has a touch of expect the unexpected. In Paige’s artworld, any and all folx identifying as women can be and are icons! At least, that’s what I feel looking at her work. Oh and she loves cats. So….. winner for this crazy cat lady.

Paige Livingstone

So Slutmouth and Wild Lamb have been collaborating together on a project called Let Us Eat Cake and is all about celebrating and exploring all aspects of what it means to be a “woman” and of course, all the wonderful female identifying creatives in our lovely North East.

The project was supported by Teesside’s lush creative gallery space Pineapple Black and took the form of an online exhibition, which was just fantastic. I sat down to take it in thinking about 30mins would do it, and 3hours later, I was still sat looking at each piece and looking up the artist. The digital exhibition featured work from local, National and International female identifying artists and visually explored contemporary issues important to and effecting women today. The digital exhibition was Pineapple Blacks most popular online exhibition with over 1000 virtual visitors – that’s an amazing figure! You can view the digital exhibition HERE.

They’ve now launched the physical Let Us Eat Cake exhibition at Pineapple Black and it’s available to view from now (started on 25th June) until 23rd July (last day). And I couldn’t recommend it more! This new physical exhibition, featuring some different work to the online exhibition, includes local, national and international female-identifying artists of a working-class background, is underpinned with the passion and purpose to create an empowering platform and to inspire a new, forward-thinking generation of artists.

Let Us Eat Cake exhibition poster

The exhibition and wider project title is, of course, a play on the phrase commonly attributed to Marie Antoinette; Let Them Eat Cake, which signified how disconnected she was with the realities of the everyday people in her power. What I took from this exhibition connected with that symbolic moment; that many, when they think of feminism or women, are so unaware and disconnected from the gender inequality that exists across the full intersection and the contemporary issues that impact women.

I had the pleasure of reading some research recently, in which male business leaders, expressed views that gender inequality was not an issue and that women were treated “the same” as them. Such sweeping statements, very much, reminded me of that Marie Antionette “Let Them Eat Cake” moment…..

What Let Us Eat Cake does so brilliantly in this exhibition, is invite you to step inside the world of women, celebrate it, connect with it, engage with intersectional issues and see the world through the individual artist’s lense. It’s also an empowered cry/demand to be seen and this exhibition, provides a platform for that and for each artist to be celebrated.

As you can tell, I bliddy love the exhibition and LOVE Bettie and Paige for pulling it altogether (go see it!). I thought it was a lush opportunity to interview Paige and find out all about the exhibition, her work and to finally get to the bottom of why women are pants are bigging themselves up?! Read on…. you won’t be disappointed.

So here we go, an interview with artist, lush creative and one half of Let Us Eat Cake – Paige Livingstone // Wild Lamb Illustration.

Paige Livingstone

Hi Paige, please introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures?

I’m Paige Livingstone; I work under the name ‘Wild Lamb’ and I’m a collage artist /illustrator and co-curator of ‘Let Us Eat Cake’. I graduated from Northern School of Art in 2019. You can check out my work on my Instagram page.

How would you describe your practice and what you do?

I am a multi-media visual artist; my work and style tend to change slightly depending on whatever project I am currently working on. I don’t ever want to be limited by styles but I’m currently enjoying painting and starting to move a little bit away from collages. They aren’t something I will ever completely stop but I have just fell in love with getting messy and back to basics which I haven’t done in years. Lockdown has definitely been, a good time for me to pick up the paints again.

Paige Livingstone’s work

Were you creative as a mini?

I’ve always been creative; as a kid I would draw every day and scrapbooked a lot. I think is where my love of collage has come from.

Tell us about your journey into the creative industries?

I still feel like I am still just starting that journey! I’m showing my work in exhibitions and curating my own. I’m also working on commissions from both individuals and businesses and my “bread and butter” is selling prints. To be honest it has been such a weird couple of years, I’ve decided to set myself more personal projects and try and carve my own way, it can be a bit disheartening applying for the few and far between creative jobs here in the North East; so at the moment I’m focusing on my own personal development and working for myself.

Paige Livingstone’s work

Yasss – love the focusing on your professionally! So, tell me about your work? What inspires you?

My collage work tends to be inspired by a lot of the old renaissance style paintings; religious iconography, mythology and astrology. I like to use a lot of symbolism in my collages and in a way there’s a lot more depth to them than my illustration work. When it comes to my illustration work, I’m all about just getting the pictures out of my head and on to the paper. And really, there’s no deeper meaning other than “yeah that looks cute” or that was what I was thinking about at the time.

How would you describe your art style?  

I think my collage work is thoughtful; it can sometimes be more tongue in cheek and fun but with a lot of feminist undertones. My illustrations I would describe as some kind of kawaii and creepy cute cartoon chaos.

Paige Livingstone’s work

More chaos the better; your work tends to come in collections – different themes and styles. Tell us a bit more about that….

Yes, I really love doing usually about 12 pieces to a collection. I don’t know why, but when I look at one piece of work it never feels finished until its surrounded by others. I’m also a bit of a hoarding maximalist so the more the merrier but I think 12 or 6 depending on the work and then I feel the collection is complete; I get a buzz out of seeing the whole collection together.

Paige Livingstone’s work

I really love your collage work – do you plan them or do just happen organically in the moment?

I do sit and think about them, whilst I’m doing them, but I don’t plan per se. If I’m doing am analogue one, I might cut out lots of interesting parts and arrange them after. If there’s a theme, as there is with my icons or horoscope collection, I’ll think about it and I’m going to spend time searching for images based on that theme.

Paige Livingstone’s work

I love the contemporary characters, the cats, the retro vibes…….and even the clowns! Can you tell me about those…why do they feature quite prominently in your work?

I absolutely love clowns, dolls and puppets! I’m starting to realise how many people are actually terrified by them (haha!), so I might have a job selling my clowns. I’ve always loved the aesthetic of the circus; anything gaudy and tacky. The retro vibes are probably just my own nostalgia seeping into the work, I think nostalgia is a very powerful tool in reaching your audience.

And cats…….. well everyone loves cats or at least they should!

Paige Livingstone’s work

So let’s more onto your work with Bettie! How did you partnership and collab with Slutmouth come to be? How did you meet?

I think we met at Disgraceland in Middlesbrough for Picasso baby (an interactive arty party) and I’ve always loved her work. Also, just for being ballsy enough to have the name Slutmouth, I was a fan from the start! We just got chatting and we were wanting to do something last year, but because of COVID Beth didn’t get in touch till Jan and we were just like “yeah let’s go for it!”.

Paige Livingstone’s work

From your perspective what is Let Us Eat Cake? How did it come about?

Let Us Eat Cake started out as an exhibition but as it has gone on it has become more of a community; or dare I say it…. a movement?? Well, at least locally for us and the artists who have contributed.

We wanted to focus on women in art and get rid of the Fine Art elitist white man bullshit and showcase female artists with a focus on working class women. Let Us Eat Cake is a spin on the famous Marie Antoinette quote because yeah, let us fucking eat cake we deserve it!

Paige Livingstone’s work

What does working class mean to you? What does being a working class artist mean?

Working class to me means salt of the earth and hard working people; I think as working class people we sometimes tend to undersell or pigeon hole ourselves. We don’t always do the job, we want to because it’s not seen as realistic, which is why giving this platform to emerging artists who don’t necessarily have the links in the industry is so important to me; helping them get out there and sell their works.

Why is it important to amplify female identifying artists right now?

Again, I think women are notoriously bad at bigging themselves up, but we have no problem when it’s another woman’s work! So, it’s nice to create a community where everyone encourages and supports one another. Giving people the confidence, they need in their work to truly succeed as an artist is one of the main goals of Let Us Eat Cake and it’s a great feeling to be able to do that.

Paige Livingstone’s work

Tell me about the initial digital exhibition? What was the response like?

We actually became Pineapple Black’s most viewed exhibition, think we smashed the previous one within an hour and a half of going live, so yeah that was another great feeling ! We couldn’t have done it without all the amazing contributing artists’ work; the quality of work submitted was unbelievable.

And we can see the actual exhibition in real life when and where? What can folx expect?

From 25th June – 23rd July at Pineapple Black Middlesbrough. You can expect a lot of big paintings and a good range of styles.  Oh and of course; CAKE.

Let Us Eat Cake Exhibition

Are you originally from Teesside? What’s the Teesside art scene like?

I am originally from Teesside, yes! As for the arts scene, I would say it is still getting to where it needs to be. We have a great talent pool here but limited by funding. I’ve been to some good exhibitions, but I honestly think Let Us Eat Cake is one of the best exhibitions Teesside has ever seen. And that is me being polite by saying ‘one of’, because actually I think it is THE best, hahaha! (What was that about women being bad at bigging themselves up?)

Paige Livingstone’s work

For someone new to or visiting Teesside, which galleries and bars would you suggest they visit?

Pineapple Black, The Auxiliary and MIMA. We also have an amazing Christopher Dresser collection in the Dorman’s Museum that everyone seems to forget about; it is the largest in the world! I’d recommend anyone interested in ceramics to visit there!

Cafe Etch is an amazing art cafe in the captain Cook Square in the Old engravers. I love taking my sketchpad and doing some work there whilst enjoying the cakes and coffee. And they serve booze now too so even better.

Disgraceland on Baker Street along with the other bars around there is always a good shout too and my fave place to drink at the mo, is Alchemy cocktail bar.

Paige Livingstone’s work

Tell me about three Instagram artists – you’re following, that we should follow too….

@mrbabies does amazing surreal collages

@vonnart does beautiful fantasy illustrations

@dariahlazatova does amazing folks surrealist illustrations and portraits

Followed and in love. Do you take commissions? Do you sell prints?

I do both – you can connect with me on my Instagram and contact me that way! Insta: @Wildlambillustrations

Paige Livingstone’s work

What other projects or things have you got going on?

I’ve currently been working on the branding for Pop Bear Essentials for Pop hairdressers in Middlesbrough; it’s really fun and cute! Go and check them out for vegan friendly affordable hair care range @popbearessentials

And we’re hopefully going to be doing more with Cake and I’m going to be focusing on my painting for a bit longer! So stay tuned!

Let Us Eat Cake Exhibition

Thank you Paige – such a beaut interview and excited to see your next collection and for more empowering, unapologetic cakey shenanigans!

You can follow Paige on her Insta and please do, if you can check out Let Us Eat Cake at Pineapple Black in Middlesbrough – it’s an amazing exhibition, my favourite so far this year!