(#AD) What to do with 24hrs in Co.Durham….the choice is endless!

My partnership with #Durham2025 has been going down a storm – seems like you Culture Vultures are all cheering Co. Durham as a finalist in the running for UK City of Culture, just as much as I am. I’m so excited about what this could mean for the county, but regardless of win or lose, it has shone a light on the lush spaces, places, faces and happenings across Co. Durham. I have officially fallen back in love with Durham – it has so much to offer and if you haven’t visited for a while, well the Summer months are a perfect time to do just that.

The Culture Vulture at Bowes Museum // photo credit: Marion Botella

So, if you’re planning a day out or a staycation in Durham – I thought I’d pull together a little blog post to give you some inspiration and Culture Vulture suggestions of how I’d spend 24hrs in Durham.

The Culture Vulture at Gala Theatre enjoying the BFG exhibition // photo credit: Marion Botella

Durham has real energy about it at the moment and during my visits across the county, the best thing was the people (lush) and strong sense of community but it was also interesting to see whilst the infamous attractions, architecture, history and uniqueness remains, there have been some redevelopments, new buildings have popped up, creative communities thriving, art murals and areas of the County have had a bit of a glow up, whilst maintaining the character and integrity. Certainly feels like a new chapter for Co.Durham.

Durham City Centre // photo credit: Marion Botella

So where should you go on your visit to Co.Durham, I hear you ask, well I’d first suggest you check out my listicle posts – that might give you some inspiration as a starter for ten whilst you’re planning  your trip.

For Top Indies Durham City Centre click HERE

For Top Picks of Attractions to Visit click HERE

For My Review of Bowes Museum click HERE

For Top Picks of Places to East click HERE

For Top Picks of Summer 2022 events click HERE

For My Review of Ushaw Historic House, Chapels & Gardens click HERE

There are LOADS in those listicles – you could spend a week in Co.Durham exploring and enjoying using those.

The Culture Vulture in Durham City // photo credit: Marion Botella

My other suggestions and some of my go-to things to do when I visit Durham are:

#1 Take in a Riverside walk

I go to Durham to walk along the River Wear often in all the seasons – it’s beautiful, it’s pretty flat, I feel so relaxed and it’s like an oasis escape mentally during the hustle and bustle of the daily grind. I used to visit when I was younger and go walking with my Dad, lots of very happy memories.

The Culture Vulture walking along the riverside // photo credit: Marion Botella

#2 Hire a boat

Whilst you’re walking along the river, you may take inspiration from the rowers training and decide that you want to hire a boat yourself. I’ve certainly done that. This is a really fun way to spend some time with pals and partners – it’s only great as long as you share the rowing, as it gets tiring! I laughed so much last time I did this; my pal and I were gloriously TERRIBLE.

Durham Riverside // photo credit: Marion Botella

#3 Visit Durham Cathedral

I virtually think it’s a physical impossibility to visit the city centre and not go to Durham Cathedral. It just has to be done – I must have visited close to 100+ times and it never gets old. It’s beautiful and I thoroughly recommend booking a slot to climb the 325 steps up the central tower, I did that a few years back and loved it!

The Culture Vulture at Durham Cathedral // photo credit: Marion Botella

#4 Visit Durham Castle

Love a castle! The thing I love most about Durham Castle, is that students who live in the castle (yes you read that right), actually have to give public castle tours to tourists, as part of the agreement of living there. The tours are actually really good, tour guides hugely knowledgeable and it still makes me giggle thinking that those students have the biggest flex for life – “I lived in a castle once”.

Durham Castle // photo credit: Marion Botella

And if you’re thinking of staying overnight, there are two magnificent suites available to book and you can take breakfast in a medieval hall ahead of getting back to exploring the city.

Durham Castle // photo credit: Marion Botella

#5 Potter Around

Sounds like a cop out – but actually, it’s my favourite thing to do in Durham. Take in the streets, their character, enjoy the cobbles, seek out indie cafes and shops, look out onto the river from the bridges. There are 12 castles and historic houses in and around Durham, alongside many churches – so it’s just lovely and it’s such a special place.

The Culture Vulture Pottering in Durham // photo credit: Marion Botella

#6 Indoor Market

I really hate that we’ve knowledge down and got rid of so many markets across UK cities – it’s not only a fun way to shop and usually a treasure trove, but it’s also one of the most affordable way for small businesses to get their start. If you want to support small business or shop local, indoor markets are a great way to do it. And Durham Market Hall has such an eclectic mix of stalls and stands, I was in love with it.

The Culture Vulture in Durham Market Hall // photo credit: Marion Botella

#7 Palace Green Library

This is a brilliant gallery space, you folks know I’m a big art gallery lover, but I also love museums and this space seems a perfect combination of both. Every time I visit Palace Green Library, I learn so much (my most recent visit about the Romans!) and their exhibitions are always really well put together.

The Culture Vulture at Palace Green Library // photo credit: Marion Botella

#8 Head to Barnard Castle

It’s a lush market town in the Durham Dales –the type of town that makes you love living in the UK, like out of a film! It has a great selection of B&Bs, you’ve got Bowes Museum walking distance away from the market square, lots of indie shops and cafes and whilst you’re there, why not get a famous eye test!? Apparently people drive far and wide to Barnard Castle for them! Oh, and make sure you visit Ruby & D, it’s a lovely shop selling unique vintage items, interiors, art and more and Raby Castle isn’t too far away by car….

Bowes Museum // photo credit: Marion Botella

#9 Head to Bishop Auckland

Bishop is having a total revival – across my partnership with #Durham2025, I’ve met so many artist folks from Bishop, heard about creative projects in Bishop, folks recommending Bishop as an exciting bubbling hub of happenings. So of course, I’m all over it. The Auckland Project brings together several venues and attractions; history, grand house, galleries, gardens, museums, visitor’s centre and a tower, meaning that Bishop Auckland is a full-on day out.

Mining Art Gallery (part of Auckland Project) in Bishop Auckland

#10 Head to Seaham

I always forget that Co.Durham has a gorgeous world renowned coastline. Stretching 14km, the coastline is home to incredible views and the cliff-top harbour town of Seaham. This coastal town is has picturesque views, a lovely habour to walk along, seaside indies galore and tasty ice cream! People travel from all over to visit this beach and hunt for sea glass – there’s an abundance available with each tide thanks to Seaham being home to the UK’s largest bottle works between 1850-1921. And that’s not all, Seaham also has its very own food festival which this year is happening on 6th & 7th August; perfect excuse to visit for some lush scran by the sea!

Seaham beach and coast

#11 Old Cinema Launderette

It’s an iconic must visit culture vultures; by day it is a retro-chic, professional, family-run launderette, offering washing, ironing and dry-cleaning services to customers in and around the Durham area with a canny café! And by night, it’s one of the most unique and intimate music venues with a programme of live music and a bar. It’s just a beaut and has to be visited to be believed – so go visit The Old Cinema Launderette.

Old Cinema Laundrette gig

#12 Durham by Night

I’m often visiting Durham at night for events or to eat, and Durham at night is so magical. Everything you see in the day, just hits different at night – especially in the warmer nights, when you can enjoy a stroll through the city and stop at riverside bars with outdoor seating. If I’m staying over in Durham, I tend to stay at The Town House as a treat, it’s a beautiful boutique hotel, outdoor hot tub, yummy breakfast and I love the décor – very Instagrammable. And if you like Durham at night and lights, well keep an eye out for one of my favourite North-East events, Durham Lumiere – a light festival across Durham city centre with light art installations and projection. It happens every couple of years, so next one will be 2023 or 2024.

Durham Cathedral at night // photo credit: Marion Botella

Well then, that’s it – that’s your lot from me and all my suggestions! If you’re planning a visit to Co.Durham – This Is Durham is their tourism website and has lots of information on there so you can dig even deeper beyond my recommendations.

The Culture Vulture at Durham Cathedral // photo credit: Marion Botella

Durham. No Ordinary County.

Part of Culture Vulture x Durham 2025 campaign partnership.

Durham is now one of just four locations shortlisted to be UK City of Culture 2025; title announced late May.

Find out more & back the bid at Durham2025.co.uk

#Durham2025 #lovedurham

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