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

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

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

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

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

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

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

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

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

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

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

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

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

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

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

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

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

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

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

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

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

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

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

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

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

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

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

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

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

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

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

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

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

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

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

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

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

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

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

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

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

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

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

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

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

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

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

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

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

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

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

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

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

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

Thank you Ashleigh!

Until next time Culture Vultures xx

Gateshead Open Studios 2018 – 27th October; a day to celebrate creativity in Gateshead.

I had the absolute pleasure about 8 months ago of being invited to Brighton Road Studios in Bensham, Gateshead. I was excited because it’s an artist studios inside a converted Church and somewhere I’ve been wanting to visit for ages– behind the front door I found an independent creative studio space, lush facilities and full of local artists, creatives and SME creative businesses all doing great things – certainly somewhere I could see The Culture Vulture thriving and setting up camp. My meeting was with several of the artists to hear about what they are doing, their plans as a creative collective and fabulously, their plan to do Gateshead Open Studios.

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Gateshead Open Studios is a proudly Gateshead centric project and has been something that many artists, creatives and venues based in Gateshead have discussed and flirted with (including myself) so it was great to hear Brighton Road Studios wanting to lead on it. Fast forward to the present day and Gateshead Open Studios is an exciting impending reality – it’s happening in Gateshead!

On Saturday 27th October, the lush people of Gateshead will be able to discover what’s hidden away in 5 different but all very brilliant creative and historic hubs….

I caught up with James Oliver (artist name: William Fawkes) who is arguably the lead on this year’s Gateshead Open Studios organisation (however – there is a whole host of brilliant artists and creatives also making this happen). I wanted to catch up with James so my fellow Culture Vultures could hear what is in store for them on 27th October across Gateshead.

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Hi James Oliver/William Fawkes – I am over the moon to see how far you’ve taken Gateshead Open Studios – enabling it to be a reality in spite of many challenges. So let’s start with you and your work – tell me a bit about you and your practice?

I’ve always been an artist from a young age inspired & encouraged by my mum, and have painted my whole life. But it’s only been in the last couple of years, that I took the plunge to rent a studio, and start practicing more seriously. I previously worked professionally as a graphic designer, designing record sleeve artwork for clients including Blur, Sigur Rós, Trojan Records, EMI, and Universal music. I’ve also been a web designer and user experience researcher in recent times. All these skills have helped prep me for the world of marketing, events and experience design.

As a professional artist I chose to adopt the alter-ego William Fawkes, an ancestor from my family tree. My recent artwork is based on surreal storytelling, with a collection of dying British institutions with skeleton characters being an emerging body of work. I tend to create a master painting or drawing, and then have high quality framed prints available for sale.

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William Fawkes

What is the inspiration behind Gateshead Open Studios? Why now?

Since I moved up north 3-4 years ago, I was immediately drawn to what was happening over in Ouseburn with their Open Studios’ events. As soon as I’d found a studio in my local neighbourhood Gateshead, I looked around and thought “why isn’t Gateshead doing Open Studios?”. My mother passed away in January this year, and because of this, I decided ‘Gateshead Open Studios needs to happen this year!’ I’ve been driven ever since to make it happen, and had some great encouragement & support from fellow peers, friends and family.

So when is it?

Saturday 27th October 2018, from 10am to 5pm across multiple Gateshead venues.

Which Gateshead venues are involved?

There are 5 venues across Gateshead opening their doors:

  1. NewBridge Project: Gateshead High Street.
  2. Saint Cuthbert’s Church, Bensham
  3. Bensham Grove Community Centre
  4. Brighton Road Studios, Bensham
  5. Saint Chad’s Church, Bensham.

We also have partner cafes nearby who have been really supportive and can provide refreshments including The Staiths Café (who have an exhibition available to view) and The Nest Café in Low Fell. There will also be friendly volunteers on the day to help direct people, give you tours and generally make you feel welcome.

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So what is in store for visitors – what can they expect to be able to see/do?

You will be able to explore unique creative environments and historic venues, some of which have never had a public open day like this. You will be able to meet practicing creative people, see their studio spaces and be inspired, and even take part in creative workshops and try making new things to take home. There will be art, music, conversation, refreshments and a friendly excitable community buzz on the day.

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Will people be able to buy things on the day?

Yes, the artists and makers will have unique items you can purchase, or you can even discuss a private commission. There will also be creative workshops & demos happening for free, and other courses in the near future people could book on to learn a new process.

There is something so brilliant about being invited into an artist studio – a behind the creative scenes if you will! Are you excited to have people come into your studio?

Yes I think it’s great, and I can’t wait for people to come have a rummage, ask me questions and hopefully be inspired! I’ll try to make sure it’s tidy before they arrive!

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Here is the mini sales pitch – tell my fellow Culture Vultures why is this an unmissable weekend for Gateshead?

It’s a chance to explore hidden historic venues right on your doorstep, meet the quirky creative inhabitants and see their personalities spilling out through their work!

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Why are events like this so important for artists and creatives?

Creative people are not always the best at promoting themselves, but this is a unique chance to get a glimpse into their world and see something you never imagined you’d see! I can promise you’ll come away inspired and with a greater respect for Gateshead local talent.

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Tell me about your studios in Gateshead and who is in there with you?

I’m based at Brighton Road Studios. We are housed inside a beautiful 3-storey converted church, which was designed by Christoph of Kiosk Architecture & Design, who is also still a tenant. Other tenants include Skunkwork Props who specialise in replicating Star Wars helmets such as Darth Vader. Kourosh Edalat is another painter & illustrator who is always busy with commissions. We have Serious Stamp Company run by Clare who makes personalised rubber ink stamps and seals for your personalised stationary needs. Little Silver Ring Co. is run by another Claire who practices as a silversmith but also dabbles in other things. Chris is another talented silversmith, who is also a teacher at Bensham Grove. Raw Leather Company is run by Phillippa and she makes beautiful leather bags, purses and other bespoke items. IG Media won’t be present on the day but operate as an animation & web design company. Bobzilla is a busy guy – he dabbles in painting, outdoor street art mural designs, concrete pot-making, and also a resident DJ. Finally Gaelle of Tamiah Designs imports Ivorian African textiles to make cloth-bound books, bags and many other unique items.

There’s 14 studios spaces all together, and currently a couple vacancies as I understand.

What will be going on in your studios specifically?

In my studio I’ll be showing people my work, talking though different pieces and explaining how I get inspiration. I’ll also have a large blank canvas set up on an easel and I’ll be encouraging anyone who wanders in to have a go painting a little of whatever they wish, and over the day hope to have a unique piece of work created which will be a great memento of the event! I’ll share the final outcome on social media.

I’ve also produced a limited set of framed art prints of my most popular work which will be on sale for those wishing to take home a unique piece of signed art / it could be the perfect time to grab an early Christmas gift for someone special.

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Other creatives in Brighton Road will be talking though their work, giving demos or running fun activites and also some will have a unique items to sell.

We also have special guests The Nest Cafe offering a pop-up Refreshments stall, and gentle background music provided by DJ friends of ours.

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I will be culture vulturing and doing some live social media on the day – do you have a suggested route for me?

There’s no particular order you have to do things, but if you’re travelling into Gateshead Metro station on the day, a logical route is to start with venue no.1 – NewBridge Project which is right outside. From there it’s 15mins walk or short bus ride into Bensham to reach venue no.2 – Saint Cuthbert’s Church. After that you’ve got venue no.3 minutes away – Bensham Grove Community Centre. From there venue no.4 – Brighton Road Studios is again only several minutes walk away, and finally venue no.5 – Saint Chad’s Church is just across on a parallel street.

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What is next for Gateshead Open Studios in 2019?

This year is a 1-day experiment to see what the appetite is like in Gateshead for discovering what’s inside a few quirky creative venues! If all goes well, we plan to seek funding next year to expand the event to potentially include further venues and cover a whole weekend. It may even split into a twice-yearly event if the appetite is there.

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I can’t wait for 27th October – it’s going to be a great day for Gateshead.  Really looking forward to some true Culture Vulturing at some Gateshead venues. You can follow my journey across Gateshead via The Culture Vulture and of course, keep an eye on the main event page for updates before the main event!

Until next time Culture Vultures and see you on the 27th October!