Are you in the Crafthood?

We all know I love small businesses….that’s a given right? Well what I love even more than that, is a small business that are absolutely owning and disrupting an established sector……And of course, what else could top trumps this? – well of course; an all-female run creative business….

Well hello there; The Crafthood….

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The Crafthood are a business that I heard about through other people (always a good sign) so I can’t claim they are my discovery, but I certainly am one of their biggest champions…. First of all what’s in a name? Well The Crafthood have a really good one, just by going to something I feel a part of their ‘hood! I love their name and branding…..Secondly, they are making crafting amazing, exciting, essential for the modern day lass and socially responsible….

Right up my street!

If you don’t know who the Crafthood are…. Well you’re going to over the next 12 months! They are one of the most exciting creative businesses; growing and thriving in the North East currently. Their offering is three fold; they run their own workshops within North East’s up and coming independents – as fantastically talented craftswomen, you’ll get a lush crafting experience like no other. Secondly, they sell a fantastic bespoke range of products; from cards, to notebooks to clothing, to bespoke lettering and signage – all with their lush Crafthood edge! Thirdly, they organise their own events or add value to a pre-established event (keep an eye out for their pop-ups).

The Crafthood invited me along to one of their Brush Lettering workshops as a punter in May 2017 and I absolutely loved it……so where to begin…..

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First and foremost, I’d like to say that The Crafthood workshops are for both artsy and crafty folk and others (like me!) – so for those that love crafting and trying new things in a new environment and taking time out just for you, to create; well their workshops are for you. However, if you’re like me and are massively creative but not at all “crafty”, well I can promise these workshops are for you too and you’ll love them.

 

I rocked up to their Brush Lettering workshop, I sat down with the other fellow participants and The Crafthood talked through our beautiful Brush Lettering pack, equipment, exercises and information. The first thing that hit me was the care to detail; everything I had was take away, beautifully presented and made me feel super excited to get started.

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We had 20mins of expert tuition and information (and lush cake and refreshments from Flat Cap Joes) and then we were ready to get started. What was stand out through-out the session was how inclusive the session felt, whilst being able to experiment, chill and get creative. In all honesty, I felt like I was taking time out for me, creating and absolutely loving it! I also was able to chat to other participants through-out the session – was lovely to hear more about them and their creative interests.

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Sharon and Kay (The master creatives behind Crafthood) chatted about their workshop portfolio, which currently consists of Brush Lettering, Soy Wax Candle-making and Modern Calligraphy. They also run their Crafty socials and attend events with add on mini taster workshops. For every workshop or organisation workshop booked, they book another workshop for a community group or charity– buy one gift one. It was lush to hear the “Wearside Women in Need” were benefitting from our brush lettering workshop…..

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When we got hands on with the brush lettering, we worked through lots of different exercises and Kay and Sharon (The Crafthood) were always on hand to guide and offer feedback.

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A lot of exercises were repetitive practicing of shapes and letters; the process of experimenting with technique and shape was really cathartic. As someone who struggles with detail and perfection, I actually found the process really freeing – being able to let go, make marks and just have a go without worrying about what things looked like…..However, I could not and still can’t master a “d”…… I will one day *shakes fist at the sky*…….

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We were working towards a sentence or word – of course, because I’m the Culture Vulture, I wanted to write my name and also CV in brush lettering; luckily no “d”s involved. I was massively surprised how easy it was to become engrossed with the letter shape and completely forget how to spell things…..so there were a few moments when I would look proudly at my work and see letters missing….. boo!

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As I got to the end of the workshop, I thought several things – firstly, I’d really enjoyed myself; I felt like I’d taken time out of the busy to do something lush just for me; this is something I so rarely do. Secondly, I’d learnt something new; I’m all about personal development and challenging myself – I felt walking away from this session that I’d actually developed a brand new skill and that was mint.

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Thirdly, that I’d defs continue this; the lushness of brush lettering is that you can do it anywhere and The Crafthood workshop sets you up nicely with everything you need so you can practice and do it often. I am now a brush lettering aholic (minus the letter “d”)!

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The Crafthood have a whole host of lush workshops, events and activities coming up – they are adding a new workshop to their workshop portfolio every season, so watch out for a developing programming……as always I will be championing them and attending – so check them out Culture Vultures and make sure you become a part of the C ‘Hood.

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Creative Start-up Shepherd Illustration…

The heart and soul of Culture Vulture is my passion for culture and arts in the North East……I’m on a cultural adventure to seek out and discover as many things and creative people as possible. I’ve built a business based around seeking the unfound and going out and about in the region…..literally my dream.

My starting point with artists and creatives is them as individuals; teasing out their story and perspective. I don’t just want to see an arts piece or performance; I want to experience it, understand it, question it and learn from in. I am fantastically lucky that in my day job and as The Culture Vulture, I get to meet an array of creatives and artists. I really get to know them and they become a part of the Culture Vulture network and family. I look out for them and champion everything they do……..what is so brilliant about meeting so many people and hearing their stories, is the different journey people have often taken to become an artist, a creative, a creative business, practitioner, a performer, designer….however, an individual sees themselves. And this is why I do blog interviews….to learn more , explore but also for you lovely lot………

So pleased to meet you Lauren Shepherd, lush creative business and recent start up – you will be able to meet her at the after-party at Newcastle Start-up Week……….

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Hi L, Tell me about Shepherd Illustration?

Shepherd illustration was born out of my accidental habit of drawing. Each art course, I have ever taken, be it fine art, spatial design or animation, I have always found myself focusing on drawing. Many art forms need so much equipment, where as to draw you just need a scrap of paper and a pen.

I like being quiet (this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows me as I talk…. Too much) but when I am on my own, I just love to be quiet; drawing offers me that sanctuary. I ended up with a bunch of drawings and wanted to do something with them; at first I found it really hard to focus on creating a product and still now, I realise I have gaps in my product range and I don’t focus on creating a card for every occasion. I like to give the customer chance to think for themselves and to become a part of the creative process. I’m still learning and I enjoy meeting people on this journey of turning my passion into a business.

Tell me about your journey setting up a creative business?

At first it was very exciting and still is; but it’s hard receiving knockbacks especially when I still work full time and come home after a long week to receive emails saying “no”.

It’s long hours and hard; sometimes you can’t see friends or fit in going to the gym. It’s really hard when you feel like no one sees your work and you spend more on products than you make. But then all of a sudden someone says “yes” and I get to do something extraordinary. For example I love to ski and approached Chalet Rosiere as I had heard they offer places to artists; they emailed back and were actually interested in commissioning me to do some work for them! I was totally overwhelmed but I grabbed the chance and spent the next 2 weeks creating 8 new pieces of work for the chalet which I honestly think are my best to date. 1 month later I was skiing in the Alps hosted by the wonderful owners of Chalet Rosiere.

Also if you’re creative you just can’t help it, you have to make!

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I really love your branding – what was the inspiration behind that?

My branding comes directly from my illustration. I wanted to create a brand rather than just a collection of drawings; I try and keep everything as stylized as I can. When I first started drawing everything was very macabre. But at that point, I was a young singleton drinking too much gin; I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the happier and more secure I have become in my life, the more romantic and positive my illustrations have become.

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Do you have an inspiration behind your style of work?

I am hugely inspired by botanical illustrations and Thomas Bewicks’ engraving. I feel my drawings are a modern interpretation of his engravings and share the same love of the countryside. This could be why I unintentionally draw solely in black ink. But I also feel again that it is the simplicity of only needing one sheet of paper and a pen to be able to start work. I often look at painters and feel a pang of jealousy when they are sat amidst huge boxes of paints and turps, paintbrushes, easels and canvases but then I remember that’s not where I currently am artistically.

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What about your love of dogs?

I love dogs! I am a dog person. My miniature dachshund isn’t my baby; but O truly think she’s a part of me. I got her when she was 10 weeks old and I was only 19. She has travelled the length of the country with me and looked after me much more than I have her. This year we have been together for 10 years and I can’t thank her enough for getting me through some very hard times. I’m very lucky to have a great team at YourFilm and my boss’s even let me sneak her into work so she can snooze beneath my desk.

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What was your journey into animation? You work for Your Film?

I came to study animation at Northumbria University and completed my degree in Motion graphics & animation BA. I was not necessarily the best person on my course and often felt I wouldn’t be able to find a job in the field, especially in Newcastle; a city I fell in love with and didn’t want to leave.  Through hard work I found some really great projects to work on even before graduating; this gave me enough experience and confidence to apply for my job at Yourfilm.

A few people applied from my course and I honestly didn’t know how the interview had gone, but only a few hours later Matthew rang me to ask me when I could start. I couldn’t believe it and screamed down the phone…. In hindsight I wish I had played this cooler. Fast forward nearly 4 years and I am still with the company. It is a fantastic place to work and being part of a small team means I have full control over the projects I work on and am constantly learning.

What’s next for you? Next project?

I currently only sell through a few independent retailers but would love to move into more shops and get my products noticed by a larger audience. Fingers crossed I will have some exciting news on the horizon soon. I have also been asked to be part of a new exhibition in York and am working hard on a new product range for the Thought Foundation.

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Creative, artist, animator, all round absolutely lush megababe gin lover Lauren Shepherd………..you can see more of her at Newcastle Start-Up Week………

Invest into and start learning from NE culture & arts, oh and start paying them too!

No one actually makes a living as an artist, right? The cultural sector pays pennies? Go get a “proper” job? Actually the reverse is true, the creative sector and industries in the region are BOOMING…… people want bespoke, creative, individual…..there is the biggest movement to shop and support local and to reject the everyday for something more unknown, exciting, opportunistic and emergingly edgy.

I champion the entrepreneurial agenda, it’s in my blood (literally) and I love it but I really struggle with two issues…………. Firstly that creatives are often not viewed as legitimate business people and yet to see so many creatives launching themselves as a business and behaving more and more like a start-up is fantastic to see. Some of these businesses, it’s been that blend between day job and passion project testing, until opportunity……..without realising and a business is launched and they are trading; they’ve been through years and years of testing without realising. For artists, they have often been drawing or making for YEARS, putting their stuff on Instagram or selling at craft fairs, developing their product and skill set, until they launch…..often accidentally. Someone commissions something, asks to buy or like me, offers you a lump sum of money for a freelance project that gives you traction and a real starting point to launch and oh hello, I think there might be some kind of business here……….

Secondly, this intrinsic opportunity ethos for creatives to work for free; don’t pay them – just let them perform, suggest future opportunities that might lead onto paid work, as if engaging with them is a favour. From a business perspective; outlay of materials, time and then freebies offering, is crippling and removes the legitimacy. Should they be grateful for the opportunity…..as if you offering them a space or time is enough!?As a business think about the implications on the cash flow…….moreover, many creative start-ups are already under-pricing themselves, not factoring in their time, don’t value their service or practice in a similar way to a “product” or factor in materials so before you even think about “may be possibly” paying them what they are owed……they are already doing it for you for a brilliant deal.

This is so short sighted as I find the creative and cultural sector in the North East, as exciting as the Digital Sector at the moment, something to invest into and be a part of……however, there are key differences. There isn’t the investment available, there isn’t the capital and people don’t necessarily take creatives as seriously, as a business they can really understand. So what you have instead is individuals, independents and artists launching on a shoe string; they are resilient, constantly willing to learn, eager for feedback, out there networking, seeking opportunities, developing business models that are lean, mean and sustainable – they are the blueprint learning wise for a start-up business and entrepreneurs……instead of operating with big sales forecasts and massively unrealistic ambitions, they instead operate seeking collaboration, they show patience, evidence a longer term strategy to grow, can afford to keep going without sales or bookings, experiment and take mitigated risks……it’s not all or nothing, or go hard or go home; instead it’s about building something they love, care about and growing at their own pace incrementally on their own terms, making their own rules.

And you may say, well these creative businesses are not going to be the next “big” thing, they aren’t going to feature in Forbes and world isn’t going to change………I’d argue the other way….instead there is no entrepreneurial ego, they are real; a massive big business that had mega investment that people view as “proper” may never get off the ground and no one might ever hear of it, whereas a creative business located in the North East hundreds and often thousands know their name, the people behind it, buy from them, champion and support them….there is less “talking” about doing business and more of the making, creating and trying to get out there from day one……..  they have priced their product, sold it, met their customers, marketed it, submitted accounts and got their hands entrepreneurially dirty……… however, we could help them grow….just by paying them fairly for what they do and the service they offer.

To reflect that into my business; is the Culture Vulture going to make me millions?….probably not. Do I want it to? NO – there I’ve said it. I don’t want a massive business, I don’t want investment – I want my own entrepreneurial and creative sphere……….and I want to do what I love. That is my driver in entrepreneurship and I want to enable others to do the same.

So please don’t apologise or shy away from having a creative business, be massively proud – it isn’t any less “proper”…..Creative businesses usually have real values and passion at the heart………people, talented and excited brilliant people behind it. You have more real life business experience than most, so own that!

Creative businesses and people are the next big thing; there is a movement on going in the North East; I’m so excited to be a part of it………..will Creative businesses, artists and creatives change the world? YES they will…….because they re-imagine it, they challenge it, redesign it, express it, embracing all those aspirational entrepreneurial attributes – ability to handle uncertainty, resilience (anyone who has sold all day at a craft fair and sold nothing), ability to absorb learning and feedback and to build something that is not income dependent……. Their projects and activity happens irrespective of funding because they make it happen………….for most creatives, lack of funding is not a barrier to launch a business…….they assume there is no funding and they launch anyway, because their passion makes it almost like a compulsion………..

Moreover, their creative products bring smiles to people’s faces and they mean something to both the person who purchased it and (if appropriate) the intended recipient. That’s an emotional buyer connection that many businesses can only dream about.

More traditional entrepreneurs and start-ups have a lot to learn from creatives and artists………..so creative businesses and artists, respect them, learn from them, seek them and of course, pay them……

Easter Easter Easter holidayzzzzzz

It’s nearly Easter 2017 – can you actually believe it? I surely can’t…..

Well as always, I’ve rounded up some of the lushest activity for your minis for holiday season – so here it is Easter holidays in a nutshell………jam packed with activity in Gateshead for kids, families and young people; Gateshead has it covered with a diverse and interesting programme of fun cultural activity……

So get yer skates on and get planning for some fun things to do over the holidays for your mini Culture Vultures before these seasons are booked up….

Digital Makings: Family Music Workshop

Leam Lane Library, Saturday 8 April, 10am – 12pm

Start off your Easter holiday making some noise with us and spend a morning as a music producer; you’ll be using your favourite songs to help inspire you to create your own compositions using apps on iPads. Work with We engAGE on a variety of instruments and learn the art of designing a piece of music from scratch.

Suitable for ages 8+

Free – Book in advance

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Design Your Own Easter Egg

The Gallery, Gateshead Central Library, Monday 10 April, 10am – 12.30pm

Drop in across the morning and join The Culture Vulture to design your own Easter Eggs and enter the competition. Go 3D and use a hard-boiled egg and create a sculpture, a character, or something eggcellently Easter related.

Or go 2D and design your egg from scratch like a pro. We’ll have LOTS of different materials for you to get your hands on.

Your finished designs can be entered into a competition which will be judged by three professional artists!

Suitable for all ages.

Free – just drop in.

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Digital Makings: Wearable Tech

Gateshead Central Library, Tuesday 11 April, 2pm-3pm

Art and Science come together with our electronics maker activities – make your own piece of wearable tech. Become a digital fashionista!

Suitable for ages 8+

£5

To Book

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Culture Camp: Soundscapes

Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Central Library

Wednesday 12 April, 9.30am – 4.30pm

A full day workshop with artist Ben Freeth exploring and creating soundscapes using digital techniques and coding. Unsure of what a soundscape is….well artists used them this year at Enchanted Parks and they are a regular thing on immersive theme park rides…..

Sounds pretty cool right? You’ll be learning how to use open source software to explore the Sound Library and Archives in Gateshead Library and take existing digital media and manipulate it to create your own unique locational compositions.

Suitable for ages 10-18yrs.

£20

To book

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Accidentally Minecrafted

Blaydon Library, Wednesday 12 April, 10am

Addicted to Minecraft? Well Blaydon Library have it covered with a whole host of Minecraft activities so drop in and get Minecrafted…..

Suitable for ages 8+

Free – just drop in (small charge may apply to come activities on the day)

More information

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Culture Camp: Make a Play in a Day

Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Central Library, Thursday 13 April, 9.30am – 4.30pm

Back after last Summers’ smash hit success of a day…..join drama teacher David Raynor and The Culture Vulture to create an entire play in a day! You will experiment and explore a variety of acting and movement techniques, take part in confidence building workshops and character development, script writing, costume and staging activities.

This is a must for all budding Ryan Gosling and Maddie Ziegler ….

At the end of the day, you will perform the finished play to an audience of parents and Gateshead Culture Team.

Suitable for ages 8-14yrs.

£20

To book

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Design your own T-shirt

Birtley Library, Thursday 13 April, 11am

Well this session is for mini fashion designers in the making…..you’ll be making your own designs using stencils, paints, fabric pens or if you’re feeling super creative and brave, try free hand!

Suitable for ages 6+

£3

To book

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St Mary’s Storytime

St Mary’s Heritage Centre, Friday 14 April, 10.30am

Pop down to the beautiful St Mary’s for a lively storytime for under 5s in a beautiful venue! Your baby or toddler will experience lovely immersive storytelling and a mini rhymetime. After the session refreshments are available too!

£1 – Pay on the door.

For more information and dates of other sessions

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Culture Camp: Film Director Workshop

Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Central Library , Wednesday 19 April, 9.30am – 4.30pm

Join artist Karen Underhill to experience what it’s like being a Film Director; you’ll have the opportunity to create your own movie exciting and magic film trailer during this fun collaborative day. Learn how to work together to storyboard, act, record and edit a short fiction movie trailer.

Suitable for ages 8-14yrs.

£20

To book

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Culture Camp: Animation on location

Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Central Library, Thursday 20 April, 9.30am – 4.30pm

Join animator Sheryl Jenkins to learn about the animation process and work with a mobile animation studio using animation apps, alongside digital photography, drawings and natural materials to create an animated film inspired by what we find in the library. You will then create an animation on a green screen to bring the library to life with using your favourite book characters. Mint!

Suitable for ages 8-14 yrs.

£20

To book

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LEGO Drag Race

Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Central Library, Saturday 22 April, 11.30am & 1pm

Working with Richard Carter “Bricks Mcgee” build the fastest, meanest drag cars from our selection of LEGO elements, and race your creation against others as part of Maker Month – Maker Faire UK . Take your vehicle back to the pits and change the design to make your car faster, then compete in the grand final! Who will be victorious!?!?

There are 2 sessions to choose from please select your ticket for 11.30am -12.30pm or 1pm – 2.00pm

Suitable for families with children ages 6yrs+

Free – spaces limited so pre-booking is essential.

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Get planning Culture Vultures…….

The Culture Vulture xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charlton Walk – Gateshead; Public Art hidden gem!

The urban jungle is full of hidden gems….I’ve told you before, I’m a big fan of street art and I was lucky enough, to be shown to a gem a couple of weeks ago.

Park Life is a lush art work funded by Big Local Gateshead, created by local children from Gateshead Schools – Corpus Christi, Kelvin Grove and St Aidan’s who worked with artist and Culture Vulture favourite Tommy Anderson and writer Paul Summers.

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The large scale art work sited at Charlton Walk Park in Teams, Gateshead. The pieces explore the people, places, stories, history of the area (Teams and Bensham) alongside exploring the regional identity and aspirations of the school children themselves. The pieces pull together a rich tapestry into the rich heritage of Gateshead and insights into the new generation.

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The project is infused with Tommy Anderson’s style and practice which really brings it to life. Tommy is an experienced arts facilitator and graphic designer who manages small and large scale community arts projects (like this one) and progressive participatory and educational arts programmes inspired by his practice.

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He is passionate about creative opportunities for all and that really came forward, when he recently spoke at my Culture Vulture networking evening in February. Art and engagement with it, is a means of creating dialogue, a forum for self-expression, community sense making, identity ownership, exploratory learning, understanding enhancement and so much more.

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Projects like Charlton Walk, give communities a voice and sense of ownership of their space. Tommy, as a professional artist, plays a critical role in enabling these opportunities and voices to be heard and them empowering such groups to actively make something.

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Community collectivism alongside individualist artistic effort can be a really beautiful thing and it’s absolutely wonderful that artists like Tommy can put their time, resources, skill set and talent into facilitation of the production of these pieces. It takes the old, we are stronger together than alone, to another level.

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“Having lived and worked in Bensham for several years, the Park Life project has been a wonderful opportunity to create a major artwork for the area that has brought people together to celebrate their community.

The duration of the project allowed me to explore a range of art forms with the children, resulting in a rich and detailed interpretation of the area and its people.

Hopefully the project will spark a continued interest in the arts for the children, and a sense of pride in their community.”Tommy Anderson

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In terms of the impact of the project and having the opportunity, to engage with Tommy Anderson and Paul Summers, you only have to read a few quotes from some of the children to realise how important not only projects like this area, but creative learning opportunities for children.

“I am so proud of my art – I didn’t think I could be creative.”

“This is the best thing I’ve done in my entire life – I just love it!”

“It’s so exciting – I want to be an artist”

“Art club is amazing – I look forward to is every week”

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So – now the weather is getting brighter and Spring is coming, you must pencil in somewhere to go and view the Charlton Walk and see the pieces. I absolutely loved it – I love the word choices, the colours, the imagery….. it’s a great piece of community Public Art in Gateshead and deserves wayyyyy more recognition. But I guess if everyone knew about it, it wouldn’t be a hidden gem……

So here are a couple of my favourite pieces from the walk…..

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That’s all for now Culture Vultures.

Sheryl Jenkins: Digital Makings’ Artist of the Month for March 17

It’s March, practically Spring and the month of International Women’s Day. Due to how many events and parties on going through-out March, it feels the whole month is now full of possibilities, empowerment and championing lush ladies and all who fist pump equality and female success.

Seems apt I am able to use this blog to pretty much channel and showcase all the wonderful people that I admire – and as it’s March and all about #lasses – this month I’m championing Digital artist Sheryl Jenkins as Digital Makings Artist of the Month for March.

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I’ve had the pleasure of working with Sheryl during her delivery of participatory arts workshop for kids with animation. She’s dreamy to work with; fast paced, full of energy, great at facilitating creative experimentation, brilliant with young people and fun to work alongside. You can watch the result of her recent ‘Crafty Animations’ session at Gateshead Central Library HERE.

Sheryl describes herself as a freelance animator, an anarchic creative and filmmaker who often works on collaborative projects with artists, schools, community groups, and education and arts organisations. She is also involved in independent film productions and residencies, producing film content for online education resources and random bits of animation.

What comes across from Sheryl’s showreel (give it a watch – it’s brilliant) – is that she really loves her work and has great fun producing it. That vibe is infectious to be around…… I’m all about positivity and people loving their work.

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I caught up with Sheryl recently and wanted to find out more about her practice, her love of things Digital, her involvement in Thinking Digital and her favourite films……

Hi Sheryl, tell me about your journey into digital arts?

At the moment I’m interested in using tablets as animation and filmmaking tools. The apps available make it possible to include a variety of styles including drawn, model, photographic sequences, rotoscoping, green screen and cut out.  It’s kind of the perfect point for me to reach because I’ve always been interested in being able to create animated work where ever I like.  The iPad is like an animation sketchbook and means I can create animated work in response to anything on location.  So that’s where I’m at now.

Going back in time, I was always interested in drawing and making things, I used to pretend I was presenting Blue Peter, when I was younger we had a BBC computer and I used to write games for it. Most members of my family had a camera of one sort or another whether it was 35mm, Super8 film or a video camera.  I enjoyed taking photographs – I’d’ve been obsessed with Instagram if it’d been around when I was growing up.  My brother and I used to make animated films with my Dad’s video camera.  We used our toys and made models – I still have some of those films.

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I studied Graphic Design before studying Animation at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design. It was great to meet and work alongside so many other people interested in animation who had such a broad range of styles.  At that time we were using a combination of rostrum camera and reel to reel mixed with newer audio technology and editing software.  I always like the idea of mixing old and new.  I like to feel a creative connection (for want of a less naff description) to what I’m making.  I don’t want tech to come between me and the process of making.  I like that creative closeness.  It probably sounds like I’m contradicting my practice that I talked about at the start but it’s all about a balance and taking advantage of what a piece of technology can offer.

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I’ve been freelance for about 17 years. During that time, through working with different groups and other artists my practice changed and I went back to university to explore my more abstract style that had emerged.  I think that change in style had come about through working with schools, community groups and so on.  It was the influence from those groups and the need to create animated work quickly that had changed how I worked with animation.  During projects I had to take a process that you would normally think of as slow and steady and speed it up and make it accessible.  Those groups have had an impact; I like it when someone questions the process or suggests a different approach.

At the moment I drift between traditional narrative, abstract ideas and anarchic creativity – Anything could be a possible beginning of something and if something catches my eye I start thinking about the possibilities.

Why animation and film making?

The process of animation is fascinating. After all this time I’m still amazed when I finish at bit of work, whether it’s an independent piece or part of a collaboration, and it appears to move itself – just magic. I often use optical toys in workshops and things like the zoetrope are amazing – everyone loves those.  I don’t know if it’s because you’re watching live animation, there’s no camera and you’re not watching a TV; it’s happening in front of your eyes.  It’s just mad.  When I was a kid I had an annual about an egg-shaped, gem stone called Ludwig and on the bottom corner of several pages was a series of drawings that you could flick and they’d move – it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen.

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I had ideas about being an archaeologist or an astronomer – maybe I was working my way through the alphabet but didn’t get very far – but it dawned on me that if I did animation then I can become all of the other jobs I’d like to do, in a Mr. Benn fashion. So through animation I get to explore, learn about, work with other professionals from other areas and make films in response to my experience.

Favourite animator/animation?

In his animator guise I love Terry Gilliam.  I used to watch a lot of Monty Pythons Flying Circus and I loved the cut out animation sequences.  I liked the style – it didn’t use drawings like Scooby Doo and it wasn’t smooth like a Disney film.  I liked the use of images from photographs and paintings.  It was charming, quirky and just bizarre.

Another favourite animator is Norman McLaren – I like how he experimented with technology and the animation process.  I often show his films in my workshops.

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Norman McLaren

Another favourite is Barry Purves.  He has made some amazing model animations.  I’ve heard him speak at festivals a few times and I love to hear how passionate he is about animation.

I like to know about other people’s filmmaking process – that’s what interesting to me – I think that the process ultimately adds an energy and presence to the work. I heard Caroline Leaf, who has used sand in her animations, talking about her work and someone asked her what happened if she made a mistake and she said that there were no mistakes because they all become part of the film.  I like that – it’s like growing a piece of animation.

Favourite film maker/film?

I like filmmakers who get immersed in the process or are determined to make their idea and take creative risks. I’ve got to say Terry Gilliam again.  One of my favourite films is Time Bandits.

There are a lot of artists from other backgrounds that I like – It’s often people working with shapes, the idea or suggestion of movement, and shadows.

Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on so far?

Sometimes projects are memorable because of the people you work with – everyone enjoys themselves and works well together.

One of my favourite film outcomes from a project was an animation – Invasion of the Chocolate Monster – made with Year 3 children in Carlisle over three days.  I really like the narration, voices and sound effects in that one.

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As part of my degree I worked alongside English Heritage who were recording prehistoric markings in Northumberland and County Durham. That was interesting.  I was working outdoors with my cameras and pastels, inks and paint – tricky in the wind and rain.  I could’ve done with the iPad then.  The film I made was a mix of all sorts – drawn sequences, Super8, 35mm photographs, mixed media, digital clips.

I worked on a project a while ago with Darlington Arts and people on Firthmoor Estate. During the project we made life-sized, MDF cut-out versions of people and animated them around the estate.  I don’t think I’d worked on that scale before.

I like to collaborate with other artists and professionals. I like to observe how they work and consider how their process could be adapted or applied to my animation practice.  I’m always looking for new ways of working that keep things fresh and challenging.

Tell me about a current/recent project?

I recently completed a residency with Newbiggin Hall Estate and Newcastle Arts Team. I worked with community groups on the estate over about a year and a half.  I felt very welcome and people were interested in being involved.  We made animated film, live action, there was a bit of photography, some painting and crafts, and a bit of textiles.  It depended on what the groups’ interests were.  We had a great celebratory event at the end where everyone came together for a creative fun day and we premiered one of the films.

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When a project comes to an end I hope that people continue to use what they’ve learnt because I always think that there’s so much more potential and scope for animated work and I would like to see where they go next with their ideas.

At the moment I’m working with The Cultural Spring and St. Clare’s Hospice in Jarrow.  I’m working with Day Care visitors.  The sessions are relaxing and fun.  We have a laugh and come up with some absolutely bizarre ideas – they often become a random stream of ideas – “then this happens, then there’s a dog appears, then a shark eats a duck …” and so on.  It’s all very Monty Python.

Do you have a favourite age group to work with?

I don’t have a favourite age group that I like working with. I like working with anyone if they’re interested and want to be involved.  I like to see what ideas and skills people can bring to a project.  Some people, often older groups, worry about the technology, but the technology is only a small part of things.  I’m interested in the creative side of the process.  And there’s always a role to suit everyone whether they’re interested in making things, designing, filming or animating, or telling everyone else what to do.

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Do you do commissions/independent stuff? Tell me a bit more!

I make my own films. It’s tricky, partly because if I have start a project then that takes priority, and also because if I’m working by myself there’s no-one to chat to about how it’s going or keep me motivated or focused, so that’s all down to myself.  I have several independent projects that sit on a shelf and every so often I revisit whichever one I’m in the mood for.  Taking a break from them probably helps me to come back with a fresh view.

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I collect a lot of archive material. I have a stash of old photograph albums and loads of slides.  I’ve used them in projects but there’s potential for other projects with those.  For a while, I’ve been working on a series of images that are made from animation sequences.  I take each frame and build them up on top of one another into a single, still image.  I look at it as a record of each stage in one picture.  It came out of some work mixing animated, morphing sequences which had been inspired by Spirograph patterns.  I sometimes set myself creative tasks, some might take a day to complete and some last a whole year.  They challenge me to think and solve technical and creative problems.

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I’ve been commissioned to create artwork and animation for theatre, television, galleries and festivals. I like seeing my work projected, shown or displayed.  I see it on a screen while I’m making it and it’s good to see how it looks somewhere else.

I see you’re involved in Thinking Digital this year – how did that come about and what are you doing? And most importantly, can you get me a ticket for mates rates?

I was asked if I had any workshop ideas that would be good for Thinking Digital.  I thought it would be a great opportunity to deliver a mobile workshop along the Quayside with participants using their own tablets and apps.  There are plenty of interesting landmarks and some lovely architecture to take inspiration from.

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My plan is for the group to use tablets to collect and create visuals, add sound and edit. There’ll also be scope to create artwork using art materials and then add that work to graphics, sketching and animation apps as part of the post-production process.  The workshop is an opportunity for participants to develop creative use of their tablets at their own pace, share knowledge, and gain inspiration and ideas for future animation work of their own.

I haven’t had any word about mates rates!

Can you tell me any sneaky peakies about any future projects?

I am working with The Hepworth in Wakefield, the Rheged Centre, and young people from Whizz-Kidz over the next few months.  I have my fingers crossed for a successful funding application result in the near future!  And I’m always interested in collaborations.  Plus I have my shelf of on-going personal projects and I quite fancy doing something about chaos theory and motor racing circuits (but not at the same time).

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Well how insightful and exciting – like Sheryl, I love hearing about how other creatives work and I adore the concept of mobile animation – so accessible. Watching her show reel is a testament to that – both old and young, engaged and enjoying animation.

I have the pleasure of working with Sheryl over the coming months as part of Arts Council funded Digital Makings project…….and if you know any budding young animators looking for something lush and exciting to do over the Easter holidays, well we’ve got it covered. Sheryl is running an all-day Culture Camp on Thursday 20th April at Gateshead Central Library – so get booked up!

That’s all for now Culture Vultures.

 

 

 

Adventures, Ampersand and Accessories: an interview with artist Melanie Kyles.

I go through phases of loving people, things, events, art, experiences, foods – when I love it, I really love it! An artist I met recently Melanie Kyles is one of those people currently on my girl crush radar – I’m in love with her work at Ampersand Inventions, in love with her studio, in love with her accessory business, in love with her embroidery, in love with her stories of visiting New York, in love with her co-creation Fashion Lab and the last time we met, I was also in love with her shows.

With it coming up to International Women’s Day, it seems only right to give some shout outs and love to some creative women that I am really admiring at the moment.

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A week or so ago, I spent the afternoon with Mel talking shop, creative stuff and getting to know her practice, big ambitions and how being made redundant recently, has really triggered a new chapter of entrepreneurial creativity.

Hi Melanie, so let’s start at the beginning; tell me about your practice?

I specialise in hand embellished and embroidered fashion and artwork. I’m very passionate about what I do; I’ve been interested in both fashion and fine art for as long as I can remember, and I’ve practiced hand embroidery and embellishment for almost a decade.

For my self-titled accessories business, I design, make and sell bespoke and limited edition fashion accessories designed with timelessness in mind, mostly occasion pieces with elements of luxury such as a silk lining, an ostrich feathered trim or Swarovski embellishment. There’s a lot of attention to detail, from the accessories to the matte black luxury packaging, and I always picture a sensual bold woman who is confident in her own style and enjoys a little indulgence.

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Depending on the piece, a lot of hours can go into it from start to finish, from the initial inspiration through to design ideas, sampling, creating a surface pattern template and creating the final piece. I create everything by hand, and have gone to great lengths to get things perfect, whether it includes tracking down pure silk ribbon in the correct width from a place in California for a bow I want, or sat till 5am with a hairdryer on the lowest heat setting between my knees (a bit extreme, I know!) carefully fluffing a feather trim I’ve dyed to match a lingerie set for Newcastle Fashion Week.

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I apply a similar aesthetic to my art work, I previously used existing vintage objects as my canvas and used my skills to turn them into pieces of art. This started a couple of years ago with art books (Botticelli and Da Vinci) from the 20’s that had been abandoned at a school, and I embroidered traditional and often religious imagery using white and silver metallic threads with Swarovski, silver leaf and pearl enamel. I built up a collection and had my debut show, titled ‘Holier Than Thou’, to launch Praxis gallery, which is in my studios Ampersand Inventions. From there I went on to embellish vintage tools, taking away their functional value and replacing it with an aesthetic one, and a wire mold of a ‘Venus De Milo’ figure.

Tell me about some recent projects?

Over the past six months, my main projects have been exhibiting in Manchester and New York, an incredible experience and my first international show, and also being asked to create a fashion accessory to honor La Di Da magazine’s 3rd anniversary issue.

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My trip to Manchester was to take part in Manchester Contemporary, where I had my gold embellished sculptures on display; the vintage tools I mentioned earlier. They were titled ‘Division of Labour’ as my Dad who is a welder fused some pieces of the sculpture together, and it’s the idea of more than one skillset being used for a singular final outcome, though it’s more than that as it also has heritage. We both create things with our hands, manual work if you will, and his Dad, my Grandfather was also a welder, so it was quite a personal project.

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At the same time as this was happening, I was also commissioned to make a bespoke neckpiece for a shoot for La Di Da magazine. I’ve been friends with the editor for over a year now, and I was honored she asked me, and a few of my friends in the fashion industry, if we would create a shoot for their third year anniversary issue. Of course we jumped at the chance. I made a hand-cut embellished neckpiece made from metallic pewter leather, leather being the third year anniversary gift tradition, and we had a four-page spread in the last Autumn issue.

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Last but certainly not least, and the highlight of my career so far, was having my work exhibited in Art Helix in Brooklyn, New York, as part of the ‘Exchange Rates’ exhibition with Ampersand Inventions and Vane gallery. I collaborated with my friend who I share a studio with, and who is also co-owner of The Fashion Lab, Helen McClafferty, on a set of twin metal sculptures.

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Our brief as a collective was titled ‘Off The Map’, so given we are both from a fashion background, we applied the theory of borders and territory to female figures, Helen’s focusing on a borderless landscape with exaggerated terrain and myself using bejeweled barbed wire and chicken wire to define continent borders and territory. It was incredible not just to exhibit, but to meet all of the artists there, visit the open studios that weren’t too dissimilar to our own, and generally absorbing all of that influence and inspiration, both in the galleries and on the streets…it’s definitely changed my outlook and has forced me out of a box I didn’t realise I was in!

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What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently going through a transitional period, as I only went full time with my business a month ago and I’m adjusting to suddenly having an extra 20+ hours in my week. Really I’m just finding my feet and making sure I have a solid foundation, I’m working freelance on a bridal commission and delivering workshops, but I’m also giving my website a facelift and working on a new range of accessories, so definitely still keeping myself busy!

You’re getting involved in participatory work….. how is that going?

It’s very early stages at the moment but from what I’ve experienced so far it’s going really well. I’ve always loved working with people, and it feels rewarding to be at the stage where I can give something back and inspire and help others.

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Often under ‘normal’ circumstances, being self-employed can be isolating, but thankfully the environment I’m in buzzes with social and creative energy, and I’m lucky that those I’ve worked with in the local fashion industry are supportive too. Being able to help others in a way I haven’t been able to previously feels like a natural progression, and is something I’d like to do a lot more of this year.

Tell me about Ampersand Inventions? What goes on there? Who is there? Can people visit?

It’s an amazing place! It’s where my studio and The Fashion Lab are based, and it’s a creative melting pot of studios, lectures, events and its process gallery ‘Praxis’. It’s not open to the public, other than events, classes and exhibitions, it’s invitation only if you already know someone in here, but if anyone is interested in visiting the space I would highly recommend contacting the directors Jonpaul and Peter; both are brilliantly supportive.

Tell me about The Fashion Lab?

The Fashion Lab is a workspace that leads on from mine and Helen’s studio, and it used to be an old workshop room. With the help of Jonpaul and Peter, we’ve transformed it from an old banger into a Ferrari, where was once dark carpets, brick wallpaper and a wooden bench is now a bright clean space with slick blinds and space for us to spread our work, and the biggest mood board known to man!

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Up until very recently, things have been put on hold for reasons beyond our control, but we have had a couple of meetings this last week and I’m very excited for what we have planned…I wish I could share but I’ve promised to keep things under wraps!

Do you know what you’re doing for the Late Shows this year yet?

Yes but that would be telling!

What’s on your creative bucket list this year?

Ooh that’s a tough one, but given everything that happened last year I have high hopes! I have a lot of plans workwise, some of which include mastering gold-work and launching The Fashion Lab, but truthfully the most important thing for me is keeping a good balance. I want to take my business and my art career to the next level, and I want a sense of adventure, one that involves both travelling to make connections and showcase my work but also, something very important to me, is travelling to see some of my closest friends that have recently moved away to Glasgow and London. I’m also going on my first holiday in years (it’s only three days in Blackpool, but that still counts right?), and a couple of my good friends are getting married at the end of the year, so there’s a lot to look forward to all around!

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Well Melanie Kyles – my new favourite person and artist of the moment; what an inspiration! I get the sense of someone on the ‘edge of glory’ if you will – full of the exciting unknown, uncertainty and a brand new creative adventure awaiting.

Here at Culture Vulture HQ, I am super excited to see Melanie’s next moves and the launch of The Fashion Lab. I’m also buzzlight years excited to see her next pieces of work and to support her on this journey in a variety of forms. I will be championing you pet!

And that office – proper office envy!

That’s all for now Culture Vultures – but I will be writing a separate post on my tour of Ampersand Inventions so watch out for that over the coming weeks.