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 artist Josie Brookes – bringing a lot of joy and colour into the world one glorious illustration at a time.

As we move closer to the end of 2020 and the start of 2021, I thought i’d round out the year, with an artist interview with a creative that has brought me a lot of joy and colour across 2020, an artist that has been responsible for spreading a lot of joy into folx lives across a year like no other and worked on some joy filled creative projects.

Josie Brookes’ work is just pure joy! I first met Josie Brookes in my role at Gateshead Council on the Culture Team. Josie’s illustrations are the sort that just make you smile – full of colour, personality and something rather comforting with a hint of nostalgia. She makes the type of work, that you brings light into a room and if you hung it on your wall, you couldn’t ever imagine feeling sad in that room ever again.

Artist Josie Brookes

She’s is a freelance Illustrator, animator and art facilitator based in Newcastle upon Tyne, North East England. Her illustration work showcases illustration in its broadest context – illustration can be so much more than drawing, especially when you throw collage and bold patterns into the mix.

I’ve wanted to interview Josie for Vulture, for years – but seeing her resilience across 2020, the wonderful creative and community projects she’s been involved in and contributed to – well it spurred me on to make it happen!

You can check out Josie’s work to purchase HERE and read about her projects HERE.

Josie Brookes

So over to you Josie….

Well hello, can you introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures?

Hello! I’m Josie, a North East Creative, an Illustrator/visual maker and creative facilitator living in my home city of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Tell me a bit about your journey into the creative industries – where did it all begin?

When I returned home from doing my BA in Graphic Design at Brighton University, I worked part-time at The Newcastle Arts Centre and then a-n – The Artists Information Company, whilst building up my work as a freelance Illustrator and facilitator, working on commissions and projects, largely with a community focus, around the region. In the earlier days, I also ran a business called ‘Prod’ with my husband Tom Madge selling patterned screen-printed belts and jewellery, but eventually my illustration and project work sort of took over and I was lucky enough to be able to invest in my freelance practice full time.

Thinking back, my first paid job as an illustrator was doing the horoscope Illustrations for The Crack magazine (after a stint of work experience whilst at Uni). I’ve always found the North East to be a very supportive place to work in, with a great sense of camaraderie in the creative community here.

Josie Brookes – Moonface

You are the true definition of a multi-disciplinary artist – illustrator, animator, collage, maker – but most well-known (IMO) for your illustration, how did you develop your illustration style?

I think my illustration style has evolved with me. At the core, my work focuses on character and colour. Most of the time I represent things from my own perspective rather than in a realistic way. I like to experiment with processes. The way it’s made – be it using pen, collage, print or digital techniques – can vary, and overlap, but always has those common themes.

Josie Brookes – Kindness

We were reunited on Art Crush (without ever meeting or talking – very 2020 of us!) working on the project! I was thrilled to see your name and the illustrations are of the “art personalities” are just perfect! Can you tell me in your words what Art Crush is?

Art Crush is a fun app designed to explore the Arts Council Collection (the UK’s most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art, with more than 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists), in a less conventional way, and to learn a little bit about your artistic persuasions! Developed using a similar interface to apps such as Tinder, Art Crush enables folks to quickly and easily swipe through artworks to discover what art they like, create their own collection and discover their ‘art personality’.

Josie Brookes – Art Crush illustrations (App created by BLOOM)

What was your involvement in Art Crush and how did you come up with the concept of the visuals?

Sunderland Culture approached me to come up with the visuals for the Art Crush Art personalities, because they were looking for someone who they thought could have fun experimenting with these slightly abstract concepts and I had recently done an online talk about my work and showed some Horoscope illustrations I had made, which they likened the challenge to.

I got a description of each of the art personalities and started working up ideas and draft characters to feedback on. It was a lovely working process with them and luckily, there wasn’t much tweaking to do. My concept was that each character was ‘encased’ by their personality, around their head, with patterns, colour choices and little details providing an extra nod to their traits.

Josie Brookes – The Dreamer – Art Crush

Why should people download Art Crush and have a go?

It’s such a fun app and a great concept. It’s like Tinder but for Art. So, if you’ve been married as long as I have, you might never have used something like this (Tinder – the dating app) before! You swipe right and get to see lots of art from the Arts Council Collection, then once you have 15 matches you get to discover your Art Personality.

Now time for the big question – what was your Arts Personality?

Mine was Truth Seeker. I was secretly hoping for Boundary Breaker, but there you go! Although, you can do it as many times as you like, and it may change depending on your mood. I’ve done it a few times now and keep getting Truth Seeker, so feel like that’s my destiny!

Now onto a project I’ve watched from a far and loved……can you tell us about Monkfish Productions’ A Little Bit of Good in the World project? What is it? How’d you get involved?

I saw the project call out on the Tyne and Wear Cultural Freelancers facebook feed and immediately loved the concept of the idea. After such a prolonged period of turmoil for everyone in the creative industry (and everyone in general) a project which focused on bringing a little bit of good in world was headily appealing. I went through the interview process and thankfully was asked to be involved. The project is about exploring ‘how lots of small creative bits of good can be connected to facilitate something bigger’. Monkfish have been working with Projects4Change so it has included workshops with their young people and I have gotten to work with fellow artist Melanie Kyles, who has been making a beautiful embroidery piece for the project too.

Josie Brookes – A Little Bit of Good in The World

Can you share a project highlight so far? How can folx get involved with the remainder of the project?

There’s so many! Getting to do some ‘in real life’ workshops with the Projects4Change youth group, my first and only ones, since March. Also the online ‘Drink and Draw’ evening we had on Zoom, and getting to produce some self-initiated artwork… so basically the whole lot!

There are a series of online creative activities on the Monkfish Productions’ blog that I helped to create with Amy Lord; it would be great for people to get involved with those.

You sell lots of cards, prints and are available for commissions..where do you seek inspiration for that work? Do you create work with the intention of selling it, or do you have fun making/illustrating something and then think.oh I might add a print of that to my shop? How can folx purchase from you?

I’m more in the having fun then thinking oh that would make a nice print camp. At the start of Lockdown, in a moment of organisation (panic) I got a lot of prints made up and set up my online shop properly. There’s nothing like a pandemic to get you to do those things you’re always meaning to but normally never get round to. People can shop for my prints/originals and greetings cards on my online shop.

Josie Brookes

You did the illustration for Culture Vulture favourite, stand-up comedian Kate Fox and their tour Where There’s Muck, There’s Bras”, a show celebrating Northern women and their contributions, commissioned for Great Exhibition of the North 2018. I just loved the show branding can you tell me about your involvement in the project and what you thought of the show? What was it like being a lush creative woman, working on a project about celebrating and championing women!?

Thank you. I love Kate and it is always a pleasure to create work for her. We worked on a project together around 6 years ago with Helix Arts and YHNE and have stayed in touch since. The branding for her ‘WTMTB’ show, and then tour, was a dream. I learned so much from drawing up all the Strong Northern women that feature in the show. It was really emotional watching the show and realising just how much these women and their achievements have been written out of or glossed over in history. I feel privileged to have been a tiny part of the process of highlighting their Awesomeness. It was also empowering to work on a on an all-Northern all-woman led project. I am very proud of where I come from, so always appreciate opportunities to champion people from the North.

Josie Brookes – Where There’s Muck There’s Bras

Can you tell me a bit about your involvement with the band Warm Digits?

Myself and my husband Tom, were asked to make the lead single video ‘View from Nowhere’ for Warm Digits new album (released in February this year) and we decided to make it using stop motion animation. We visited Emma pollock the guest vocalist on the track up in Glasgow to record her performance. It was an intense and massively fun project to do together, and we are really happy with the result. Unfortunately, Lockdown 1 put the launch gig at The Cluny, Newcastle on hold, but it’s something to look forward to in 2021.

Josie Brookes – Warm Digits

And your link with Newcastle based Chalk; an organization that creates cultural, immersive experiences for the whole family?

I’m honoured to be an associate artist for Chalk. I really appreciate, all the hard work they do to provide fun and interesting family-focused events in the region (which I have enjoyed as a parent with my kids), so I was thrilled when they first asked me if I would be involved with their events. I have live animated through two of their gigs, for bands Archipelago and Stealing Sheep, and also run children’s animation workshop. I also recently did an online Chalk workshop as part of the Summer Streets Festival exploring ‘What does Music look like?’ and I really look forward to being involved in more exciting events in the near future. Chalk are always coming up with something different.

Josie Brookes – Live animating Stealing Sheep

You were the artist and residence at Northern Festival of Illustrationwhat was that like? Tell me about your residency?

This was such a great experience for me as an Illustrator; there aren’t that many Illustration specific residency opportunities out there and The Pop Up studio residency was a fantastic way to break from my usual routine of projects and invest some time in pure self-initiated experimenting. I had the chance to connect with the creative scene in Teesside through the Northern School of Art and Empty Shop. I met new people and had the chance to share the space with fellow resident artist Laura Fitton. I ran group workshops, put on a fun Drink and Draw and enjoyed the chance to explore the Teesside area more.

Josie Brookes – The Pop Up Studio Residency

Whats your 2020 highlight been?

I’d have to say my creative highlight this year would be releasing the Warm Digits music video. It was such a nice way to combine these different facets of my practice in one – using print, collage, mark making and animation, all together. It was also a happy time getting to collaborate with my husband Tom.

Josie Brookes – Warm Digits

Can you share something new youre working on/coming up?

I am currently working on a collection of new print and collage-based work inspired by the Warm Digit’s project, that was going to be exhibited at Northern Print in September this year; it has had to be postponed until next year. I’m also working with Monkfish on one of their other great projects ‘Going the Social Distance’ which is based online and working with young people around creativity and well-being.

I’m also really excited to start working on Claire Newton’s (Creatively Conscious) new project ‘Creativity Island’ with her and writer Danielle Slade. It is all about connection, creativity and well-being in motherhood, which are subjects that I am very passionate about!

Josie Brookes – Squidgy Heart

Any artists/creative folx that are inspiring you right now, that you suggest I should check out?

I have been really enjoying Instagram. It feels like a great platform for spotting people that you I love the work of. I’d recommend checking out the feeds of Lisa Congdon, Jayde Perkin, Elisoa Henderson-Figueroa, Peopleiveloved, thejoyeclectic, Sarah Bagshaw designs, moragmyerscough, local illustrator pal Laura Sheldon and my friends at Flea Circus who always give me shopping urges and helping me to ‘shop small’ as much as possible.

How can folx keep in touch with you?

Instagram, Facebook or send me a message on my website www.josiebrookes.com

Josie Brookes – Chalk – Stealing Sheep

Well thank you Josie – wonderful to catch up with an artist that has smashed 2020 out the park whilst bringing joy to so many folx too. Please check out Josie’s online shop, keep an eye out for her future projects into 2021 and check out those Instagram suggestions – they are goodies!

All my love Culture Vultures – more interviews on the way!

Interview with artist Raphael Dada – we chat talent, doodles, the importance of language & entering into the creative industry as a black artist….

I’ve been super excited about this Culture Vulture artist interview for ages – another Instagram find through The Social Distance Art Project – artist Raphael Dada- @artbyadrafa on Instagram. I discovered Raphael’s work before George Floyd’s murder and the social justice and civil rights movement that followed and continues to the present (keep it going!). Raphael’s work explores the ‘black experience’, racial identity and his experience as a Nigerian-British diaspora artist growing up in the UK……

I loved Raphael’s work before, but now…well it’s like looking at it with a whole new lense and important reflective provocations exist in each piece of work. So please go and check it out.

This is a beaut interview – one of my faves for a while.

BLACK DADA 1

Raphael Dada

Hiyer, Raphael – for my fellow Culture Vultures and readers – can you tell me who you are and how would you describe your varied practice?

My name is Raphael Dada and I am a 20-year-old Nigerian- British, multidisciplinary artist. Over the years my practice has taken many forms, ranging from videography, screen print, spoken word, installations and many more. But the one consistent motif about my practice is that through my various means of expression, what I try to do is tell stories about the black cultural experience that mainstream media or the education system will not tell you.

Most of my work is based around my own personal experiences growing up as a young black British artist in the UK. Even though a lot of my work is very personal, there are numerous entrance points, so the viewer can relate and empathise, as I do appropriate and reference aspects of black popular culture frequently in my work.

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Artist Raphael Dada

I really love you work – beautiful, interesting and very important. Tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

My journey into the creative industry was a weird one because when I was growing up, I never expected to enter the creative industry or make money off my art and collaborations with other artists. When I was young, I just knew I liked drawing and I liked colours, and when GCSEs came I was like: “Yeah, why not? It will be funny and it is one of the only subjects I actually like,” and I basically had the same reasoning when it came to A-Levels.

Then it came to applying to university and I almost didn’t choose art because there were so many different variations of the course, depending on where you wanted to go. I eventually decided on Fine Art at Leeds Arts, and even at Uni I wanted to get into the fashion industry, so I started my own clothing line in first year. As I started creating art work on subjects that I felt more passionate about, as well as working and networking with more artists, I decided the creative industry is where I belong. My clothing line is still active, and we have some new clothes dropping soon, but the creative industry will always have my heART.

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Raphael Dada

You’ve just finished Leeds University  – How was your experience studying at Leeds?

I can’t even lie and say my experience in Leeds was amazing, because if I’m being honest, it was tough most of the time. Having to adjust from living in such a diverse and multicultural town, then becoming the only black boy on the largest course at the university; it was very difficult. I experienced microaggressions on the daily and was racially abused a few times. Even got stopped by the receptionists a couple times because they didn’t believe I attended the Uni. It was tough.

But I didn’t let any of that get me down, I was able to channel all that anger and put it into my art, making art that was charged with emotion and passion. It worked for me almost like a coping mechanism, and it is because of this that my art is so important and personal to me. However, it wasn’t all bad; the Uni has really good facilities, allowing me to push my practice and continually experiment with new mediums. In my time at Leeds, I was able to meet some amazing people and like-minded creatives, and form relationships I can see myself having for life.

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Raphael Dada

Thinking about the positives, do you have a favourite moment during your study you’d like to share?

My favourite moment in Leeds without a doubt would have to be our ACS ‘2020’ Exhibition in February of this year. As president of our university’s African Caribbean Society, I was given the opportunity to oversee the running of an exhibition which included the work over 30 different artists- all from various different cultural backgrounds. This was a big deal, as our Uni is a white dominated institution, so to be able to see the work of so many different ethnic artists on display was a beautiful occasion. We also got the chance to collaborate with the Student Union, and the event was even sponsored by a local brewery. While the show was on we had over 1000 members of the general public come view it, and it was just such a great experience that gave so many artists the coverage they deserve, something that they wouldn’t normally get in the conventional gallery setting.

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Raphael Dada

That is truly brilliant – well done. How did it feel passing your course during lock down and not having a final year exhibition?

It was weird completing my degree during lockdown, because just like the rest of the world I never expected it. It took me and most third years nationwide by shock because our final module was a curation module, and you can’t really curate a show when the whole country is on lockdown.

The final degree show is what we were working towards for three years, and to have it all scrapped and turned into a digital submission was really strange and hard to get my head around. In protest I almost wasn’t going to submit, because I thought the whole idea was stupid, but looking back I am glad I did, and that the degree is over. Ideally, I would have wanted a degree show, but there are just some things you just do not have any control over, and hopefully we will have the opportunity to exhibit again soon.

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Raphael Dada

Absolutely and I hope I get to see it! (Invite me!) You work across a lot of mediums – do you think you’ll hone in and settle into one or two – or (like me) do you refuse to be pinned down?

I don’t actually know because sometimes I go through phases when I will only use pen, or only use pencil, or only screen print. I think the medium that I use always depends on my mood, or which the one I believe will best get the job done and convey my message the most effectively. I like having options.

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Raphael Dada

I’m a huge fan of your Dada Doodles –how do you select your subjects?

Ahh thank you! Dada Doodles is just a little thing I have had going for a while, they are just quick sketches I do in between major projects, or when I have taken a break from art for a bit, something light to get me back into drawing. They’re called Dada Doodles because when I was at Uni my friends used to say I was paying “9 grand to go doodle,” so I actually started doodling. But more times my subjects are kind of random and just things I like, ranging from music, TV shows and cartoons, or sometimes I can just see something and be like, “that looks like it would be fun to draw”, so I just draw it.

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Raphael Dada

Africa and African culture features in some of your work – can you talk about the personal link and why it’s important to you?

African culture, more specifically Nigerian culture is something that will always feature in my work. I was born in Nigeria and moved here when I was 5, so to me I always have to pay homage to my roots; it’s the country that made me, and it plays such a big role in my identity. And I feel like this is something that every black person should do, they should make a conscious effort to get in touch with their cultural heritage and roots. In the words of Burna Boy’s mum “Every black person should please remember that you were Africans before you were anything else”.

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Raphael Dada

Your practice and work is hooked into black cultural experience and identity…..what has your experience as a black artist been so far?

As mentioned earlier, entering into the creative industry as a black artist at first, was not easy at all. I was faced with numerous obstacles, and it was just hard getting started, because as a black artist, as much as we try and deny it, due to institutional bias, we will always be two steps behind our white counterparts, so we have to continuously prove ourselves by working twice as hard just to get noticed.

And I think I got to understand this quite early as my sixth form was quite white dominated in comparison to my secondary school, so once I understood how the game worked, I was able to use that to my advantage. In a way I kind of like the challenge as well; it is what keeps me going, because I know if I do eventually make it big, it would be a well-earned W for the culture.

Raphael Dada

In your about me section on your website you say “I also explore how language has been used both historically and in contemporary society in relation to the black experience and culturally the impact this has not just on me as a black British artist, but on my generation as a whole.” – can you talk me a little bit through that and what you mean?

As well as art, English Literature has always been one of my passions growing up, and till this day. I have always been fascinated by words and the use of language, and the power we give words when used in certain context. On their own words hold no weight nor power, but it is how we use them that determine their effect. For example when we see the word “blacks” it is not a racist word, the New Zealand rugby team are referred to as the All Blacks, simply due to the fact their kit is all black, but if we are to flip it and change the situation, let say a white lady says something like “all blacks are murderers”, then the word becomes racist, because it has been charged with animosity towards a racial group and its being used derogatorily to generalise and stereotype black people .

And this is something I find so interesting, especially when exploring racial matters, and how language has evolved over the year due to factors such as education, colloquialism and migration. No word is inherently offensive, it all depends on context. Even the word nigger (or nigga, however you want to spell it), it comes from the Amharic word Negus, which refers to Ethiopian royalty or emperor. But when colonialists come to Africa they didn’t like the idea of black royalty and excellence, so they took a word which was used to glorify black people to dehumanise a whole race, and due to centuries of subjugation and racism, the true meaning of the word has been lost. And I just find it crazy how a word that was twisted to subjugate a whole race, still holds so much weight and power over us today.

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Raphael Dada

Can you tell me about one of your recent projects?

Since I finished Uni I have not really taken on any large projects, I have just been chilling to be honest- it just been a lot of small commissions here and there, nothing big. But as mentioned earlier, I have been working on some new items for my clothing line, which are set to drop middle of July, fingers crossed.

Same for me…I keep reminding myself that it’s ok to not start a new project right now as….well…there’s a global pandemic and all! I know you take commissions – what type of commissions do you tend to take? How do people engage you for a commission?

All my commissions are all different if I am being honest, I have never received any two similar commissions; they are all personal and catered to the individual. And the thing is about being disciplined in most mediums, I don’t limit myself in the type of commissions I take in, if you can describe it, more times I will be able to draw it. I take most of my commissions through Instagram, if someone wants anything they can just drop me a DM (@artbyadrafa on Instagram), or through my phone number, which is on my website.

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Raphael Dada

You often collaborate with other creatives and artists – how do you choose who you collaborate with or how do you connect with collaborators? Can you tell me about some of your recent collaborations?

I can’t give you a straight-forward answer to that because all my collaborations have all come around so differently; sometimes people approach me, or I could be scrolling through Instagram and see someone’s work I like and be like “Yeahhhh I wanna work with you, your work is dope.” Or I could have an idea or project in mind that I want to execute, but the work load is just too much, or  physically don’t have the ability to do it, so I create a meticulous plan for the project, and what I want to do, then message people who I believe could be best fitted in helping me actualise this idea.

For example, before lockdown, a project I was working on was a photography series called ‘Black Baroque’, where I was recreating Baroque paintings but replacing the white aristocrats in the paintings with black models. But even before I started I knew this was going to be a big task at hand, because I would need help with photography, set design, costume and much more, all which are alien to me, so I pitched the idea with a couple of my friends who studied fashion photography and they were all aboard and agreed to work with me.

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Raphael Dada

Can you share with me three black artists that I MUST check out immediately and why?

If we are talking black artists, I am going to have to plug the work of some of my friends because these guys talented for real. They are all black creatives I met in Leeds and have had the honour of working with at some point.

Instagram: @artizham

Zhama Jumbo is all round talented guy- name it he can do it. Animation, illustration, graphics; anything, that’s my guy. He has such a distinct art style that no matter what he does or what medium he takes on, you will always be able to tell it was him, and I have had the pleasure of working with him a couple times. We have a collab we are working on soon, so make sure you follow his page so you don’t miss the drop.

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Instagram: @artizham

Instagram: @KapturedbyBennyK

Benny is a freelance photographer and stylist based in Leeds and Derby. She has worked and collaborated with clothing brands, make-up artists and social media influencers, she has a lot of experience under her belt with a rapidly growing following on Instagram. She has also just started a styling page as well @Stylehauss, so please follow that as well.

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Instagram: @KapturedbyBennyK

Instagram: @Gullygolden

A Leeds and Bristol based documentarian. Out of everyone I would say I have worked with Gully the most- she has such a distinct way of capturing life and moments, nothing like I have ever seen before, and what makes her so different in comparison to other documentarians I know, I have only ever seen her shoot in 35mm, and she has an aesthetic I don’t think anyone else could imitate if they tried.

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Instagram: @Gullygolden

Three amazing creatives right there to follow and each very different. Back to your work…can you tell about something you’ve got planned for 2020? A future project?

I had a few events and exhibitions that I was meant to be debuting some prints at, but because of corona, I don’t know when these will be happening. For the mean time, I am just chilling with no major projects on its way, mainly focusing on my clothing for a bit (make sure you give us a follow, Instagram @rddesigns99

Anything else you’d like to tell me about?

I think I have gone on for ages, so I don’t really have anything left to say but I will leave on this note: Black Lives STILL Matter. This is a movement not a moment, and we will keep going until we put an end to centuries of institutional bias and racism, not just in the UK but globally.

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Absolutely agreed and thank you Raphael Dada and for being so honest!

You can catch Raphael over on his website, his art/personal Insta and his clothing Insta.

Please check out his work. He’s going to be massive – I just know it!

And as Raphael reminds us – we (and I say that in relation to white people as a whole – myself included) need to keep doing the anti-racist work needed, challenging and questioning everything especially as the world begins to reopen and spin again – it must not go back to “normal”.

All my love The Culture Vulture. xxx

 

Who could be the next Leonardo Da Vinci? #bemoreMary

We are getting towards the end of the run of Sunderland Museum & Winter Garden’s Leonardo da Vinci: A Life In Drawing exhibition. It closes on 6th May so it really is your last chance to view right here in the North East. I’ve been so immersed in the project and eagerly seeing audiences’ responses – that it’s dawned on me; Leonardo da Vinci was just a man…. a super talented one, but just a human none the less. His legacy and the impact of his work, has given him this almost super human status across so many sectors.

Then I got thinking that I wonder in 500 years from now, who are the artists that we might be celebrating (in a similar way to 2019’s Leonardo 500 campaign) for their works and legacy? Which artists are walking amongst us as fellow humans, who might someday hold this super human Leonardo-esque status?

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And if that’s the case, I wish we could find them and champion them now, when they are living. So a month or so ago, I caught up Sunderland lass, artist and curator Michaela Wetherell and I posed her the question….”who do you think could be classed as the NEXT Leonardo da Vinci?”.

Da Vinci was an innovator, designer, maker, artist, activist, entrepreneur, inventor….he saw the world a little differently and created work that enabled us to begin to see the world and its potential through his eyes. It was an interesting concept exploring who exists today, who is doing things a little differently like Leonardo da Vinci in society when he was alive.

So I set Michaela a challenge…. I asked her to guest write a blog post using her own opinion and an Instagram call out in the wider artist community for suggestions, to answer the question –  “Who could be seen today as the next Da Vinci”?.

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Michaela Wetherell: a guest blog post edited by The Culture Vulture.

I’m a born and bred Mackem; totally and unashamedly proud of where I come from. I was raised in a little pit village called Shiney Row where I totally and utterly fell in love with the arts. In Shiney Row, culture wasn’t exactly at the main point of conversation and you couldn’t imagine having a career in the arts – it just seemed impossible. Even when growing up in the 90s where “girl power” was seen as the feminist battle cry – you could be just like Barbie and grow up to be whoever you want to be!  It seemed impossible coming from a place where culture seemed dead.

But luckily for me, I was blessed with parents who took me to museums and galleries when I was young and the art bug bit me HARD!! After years of making, learning, creating, researching, educating, volunteering to freelance I finally made a career out of it and became a curator based in the North East.

I share this because I was lucky; today education in the arts is becoming harder and harder to reach. University funds are immensely expensive, arts education in schools is being cut so museums and galleries are hugely important to educate and inspire not only young minds but everyone who believe art is not for them, just like it did to me.

So I was thrilled to hear that Sunderland was selected as a place to display selected drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci. You can’t get any bigger than Da Vinci and the thought of schools and locals coming to see this exhibition made my little art heart sing! If you haven’t seen the exhibition yet…. you should!

Da Vinci was a pioneer of everything! Maths, Invention, Art, sculpture, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography just to name a few!! You name it he did it!

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Many people will argue that no one could come close to Da Vinci’s genius…..but I beg to differ.

There are so many incredible artists out there who are pushing the boundaries of art, technology, science and socialism just like Da Vinci did, so here I am in this blog post sharing with you some of the local, National and International artists who could very well be The Next Da Vinci.

Local Artists

IDA4 – The Rebel.

There has always been a lot of speculation surrounding Da Vinci’s sexuality and his role as rule breaker and activist. Like many artists, he used his voice to push forward his version of the world, challenged the rules and norms and look beyond. But do we view his art as political? Is it considered in today’s terms activist art?

Many artists use their work in a similar way that Da Vinci did – to put forward a proposition, have their voices heard, use their arts to break the rules and to create a social commentary about the society at the time.

Chris Fleming or IDA4 is a graffiti artist who focuses his work on the LQBTQ+ communities and social commentary. He has created work about Trans Identity, celebrates drag queens and has created amazing mural street art around the North East and beyond.

In 2014, on the day the Sochi Winter Olympics Ceremony was showing across all media platforms, Chris created a street art graffiti piece in the centre of Newcastle of a man being arrested by the police with the Olympic rings as cuffs. This was a protest against newly reformed laws on gay propaganda. Chris’s work is meticulous; he creates his stencils before he even finds a canvas and creates layers upon layers of spray paint to get the depth and texture info his forms. Like Da Vinci, Chris uses anything he can get his hand on to spray on. Street walls (permitted of course), Studio doors, canvas, cardboard! And just like Da Vinci his work makes me smile and is often instantly recognisable.

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Future Da Vinci – Members of Thought Foundation Art Club

I currently work as a curator for Thought Foundation in Birtley. A huge part of our vision in the arts is not just learning new skills but reinforcing that you do not have to be an incredible painter or drawer to love and learn where your creativity flows.

We have an amazing Educational Officer (I am sure she hates it when I call her that) Amanda McMahon, who is an incredible woman who runs art classes every Saturday morning. These little ones come in with such enthusiasm and passion to learn and explore through art. Creating new work, taking creative chances and seeing how their work with progress week to week; I see these young humans as little Da Vinci’s in the making.

Leanne Pearce Billinghurst – Traditional portraits with a contemporary twist

You would think breastfeeding in 2019 would not lead to controversy. But still in modern day society, you hear stories of women being shunned to bathrooms, made to feel uncomfortable and of course, the fact a female nipple is still censored online. Yet artists have been painting women and child breastfeeding for centuries, celebrating the female form and representing the bond between Mother and Child! In 1490, Leonardo da Vinci painted Madonna Litta’ a painting of the Virgin Mary, breastfeeding Christ – a painting that I’m sure was controversial at the time but is considered a “high power work”.

Leanne Pearce Billinghurst is a modern day artist that combines traditional portraiture like Da Vinci but with a contemporary twist often using the subject of breastfeeding. Leanne takes the traditional overused, overseen images of the male gaze over the female body and creates beautiful large scale paintings of breastfeeding mothers. Her paintings are not of saints and noble figures, like Da Vinci’s female portraits often were, but women in their day to day lives breastfeeding children. Leanne’s work celebrates breastfeeding mothers, just like Da Vinci did in the Madonna Litta’ and challenges those in society, who believe an important, natural function should be hidden away.

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Cack Handed Kid – The Skull King of Newcastle

Da Vinci was fascinated with anatomical studies; he would study and draw from Doctors’ studies and morgues. His detailed studies are something of wonder and show unintentionally the macabre of the time where anatomy wouldn’t normally be shown to the public. Anatomical studies in art have evolved throughout art history and today the obsession is still strong; with skulls featuring heavily in tattoo art, fashion design, symbols etc.

Cack Handed Kid is partly responsible for flying the flag across the North East, keeping the anatomical obsession alive – his artist skull designs and illustrations are printed around Newcastle and he’s a talented tattoo apprentice. Out of all the artists who use the human anatomy in their work I LOVE Mr Kids work.

I love the macabre anatomy details of his skulls with the precision of his pen and the detail he can draw. The reason why I love his work is so much is that it has a pop culture funny twist connected to them. Of course, I want to see the inside of Mickey Mouse head and Felix the cat, who wouldn’t!?

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Jonpaul Kirvan – The Mad Scientist at Ampersand Inventions

I can imagine Da Vinci’s mind being abit like a hamster on a wheel full of never ending thoughts and ideas, just going faster and faster, whilst always on the go. That Da Vinci style of mind, is exactly how I think artist, director, building manager and all around creative, JohnPaul Kirvan’s mind works too. If you know JP you wouldn’t think he creates his own work as he’s normally running around Commercial Union House, keeping the building on its feet and supporting other creatives. But when you see his work you can see his personality all over them; he takes found objects and repurposes them to create works that explore literary escapism. In his practice, he creates large installations where he collects objects and images and creates chaotic, cluttered and wonderful spaces.

JP believes that the most important aspect of the creative process is the process itself of designing, devising and making – just like Leonardo da Vinci. When beginning to create an installation he starts with the idea and concept and allows himself to be led connecting multiple ideas, binding them together into something larger and more meaningful than the individual elements.
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Ampersand Inventions

Zara Worth – The Next Generation.

I have been a fan of Zara Worth for many years now and I have had the pleasure of working with her in the past. Last year she had an exhibition at Vane gallery in Newcastle called FEED’. FEED’ brought together a body of work created since 2016. Concerned with our relationships with hand-held technology and social media, Worth’s practice has been described by curator Tyler Robarge as ‘swipe-specific’: using online culture and technology as subject and medium for artworks with on- and offline lives. Throughout the exhibition materials and methods of creative production point to themes of value, presence and self-image in the social media age.

Like Da Vinci you cannot put her practice in a box. In her work, she has used video, photography, painting, technology, found objects, collage and textiles to name a few! And just like Da Vinci, she is an academic at heart and uses this within her own drawing practice.

My favourite work in her recent FEED exhibition was “The artist’s presence.”; two chairs face each other and when you download the app you point the phone to a certain point on the chair and Zara appears. The work explicitly references Marina Abramović’s performance ‘The Artist is Present’ (2010) in order to question notions of real ‘presence’ in the digital age. I love this piece because in the hologram she looks like an oil painting that has been digitally been removed from a painting, bringing together old and new ways of seeing art.

Much like Da Vinci, Zara uses technology and innovation in her work to ask questions of the present and the possible. Da Vinci not only used technology in his practice- but he was a master innovator, creator and designer.

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National Artists

Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark

Da Vinci is not overly known for being a sculptor but he certainly did dabble, as he did with everything! He was captivated by objects and people’s “form”. When I was researching for this blog post, I knew I wanted to look at sculptors and this amazing artist popped up straight away; Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark!  Her work explores the playful theatricality of sculpture, examining the space between objects modelling the real and its ability to usurp the ‘original’ as self-sustaining fictions. It also raises important social comments around whitewashing not only in sculpture but in all art history – by presenting and celebrating the diversity of humans and differing races which has always existed.

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Pippa Young

Another artist I discovered when considering the ‘next Da Vinci’ was Pippa Young; she’s an artist, like Leanne, who uses traditional drawing and painting with a lovely contemporary twist! Pippa’s works are hyper realistic portraits with a missing imprint on each piece of work. A missing hat, an “unfinished” collar, the portraits are reminiscent of some of Da Vinci’s portraits, full of realism, character, representations of people and an often haunting vacant stare out communicating directly to the audience.

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International Artists

Rafael Lozano Hemmer

I learnt about Rafael Lozano Hemmer’s work when studying for my MA in Curating at Sunderland University.  We were learning about New Media artists and honestly, I was not connecting with the movement at all… until I learnt the name Rafael Lozano Hemmer and I was hooked!  Rafael is a Mexican Canadian electronic artist whose works branches to architecture, technological theatre and performance. My favourite piece of work he created is Pulse Room.

Pulse Room is an interactive installation featuring one to three hundred clear incandescent light bulbs. The bulbs fill the space with an interface placed on a side of the room has a sensor that detects the heart rate of participants. When someone holds the interface, a computer detects a pulse and immediately sets off the closest bulb to flash at the exact rhythm of the heart. When the participate let’s go of the interface all the lights turn off and then starts flashing then the other heartbeats move down the room until it disappears. I love this piece because it blends technology, shared experiences and human connection brilliantly just like Da Vinci did.

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Bathsheba Grossman

Da Vinci used mathematical calculations and design techniques to create work and inventions that are equally considered pieces of art work and mathematical genius. I tried to look for a modern day artist, that could be considered in the same way and my research led me to Bathsheba Grossman and her work blew me away. Bathsheba creates sculptures using computer-aided design and three-dimensional modelling. They use mathematics in creating these extremely beautiful but precise works just like Rafael Lozano Hemmer, uses new and growing technology within their practice creating pieces that are experimental and innovative. Some of the pieces are actually quite functional – like interesting bottle openers.

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So that’s the “Future Da Vinci list” and ones to watch out for! I hope that this blog has inspired you to learn more about these artists and beyond!

All my love Michaela xx

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Well what a list and I’ve certainly discovered and fan girled over several new artists in the process of editing it. So much talent there – and some of the above are quite ordinary people, a human just like Da Vinci, who have achieved some extraordinary things.

I’ve got so many take away messages –

  • Da Vinci’s legacy lives on inspiring and permeating past, present and future artists, people and projects.
  • The world is just filled with fantastically talented humans – the above list is not exhaustive and is just a hint of some of the talent that exists out there and some of the people who are real trail blazers in their own right.
  • That artists can be more than one thing….”oh so you’re just an artist” – why yes, I’m a designer, innovator, maker, creator, visionary, artist, inventor, rule breaker, academic, researcher, opportunity seeking business person….Leonardo da Vinci evidences how cross sector artists are, how they don’t feel the same fear trying something new, experimenting and that artists have the power to reimagine and look beyond normative restrictions of possibility.
  • Art is a fearless social commentary – it does not shy away from newness, truth seeking and challenging narratives. It enables audiences to see the world through different eyes and at the very least, question their own reality and perceptions.
  • Da Vinci experimented and was fearless in the face of failure – he did many versions of his work and in some cases, these “sketches” that we visit and love at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens today, are the very same, as that sleepless night when you’re consumed with a new idea and at 2am and write, scribble or draw in your note book. He continuously learnt, bettered himself, was hungry for knowledge, disproved his own theories until he got to the truth and remained in a constant state of personal development until he died. Growing and learning never stops.
  • He absorbed influence from society, innovation and new learning of the time – but at the end of the day, Leonardo da Vinci put out the work, into the world, that he wanted to and meant something to him…..now I’m not commenting on status of privilege here (and his means of doing so), I’m commenting on the core value and self-belief of being able to do that. Being able to fall in love with your own ideas and art and make them real.

But the main take away, I have from above – comes from a friend who has established the mantra and hashtag #bemoremary – in relation to her little girl who is absolutely as fearless, full of character, creative and just all round lush. Whether you’re an artist, creative, art lover or a fellow (or future) Culture Vulture, I want you to embrace some of that Da Vinci mindset and BE MORE MARY!

Who knows…may be little Mary from Sunderland is the next Da Vinci?!

You can still catch the end of the exhibition run at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens – tickets available from here!

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Mary ^^

Until next time Culture Vultures. xx

Artist Jim Edwards & Craig David Pub cat…..

Two weeks ago I attended Ouseburn Open Studios and was a true Culture Vulture– I took myself around all the galleries and called in to lots artist pals and of course chatted to lots of new creative folk and other attendees. I had a blissful conversation with an artist about the 90s and owning a type writer when I eventually own my own house (I want everyone to be able to type a message when they enter/visit).

Ouseburn Open Studios is such a fantastic vibed weekend – I also like to make sure I buy lots from artists and creatives whilst grabbing a drink in many of the lush bars and independents along the way. Hence my purchasing gets more and more along the way…….

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And I always finish (it’s traditional for me now!) in Jim Edwards studio on the Sunday afternoon and promise myself that when I’m grown up, I’m going to buy myself a Gateshead themed Jim Edwards painting. I love Jim Edwards work – it’s colourful, enthused talent and I always view it with a huge smile on my face – as every single piece to me, looks and feels like home. He depicts many lush scenes from the North East – some iconic, some comfortingly familiar and some perfectly stylised.

One of my favourite pieces of his – depicts Craig David. I imagine – 50% of you reading this, know exactly what I’m talking about and the others, probably think I’m talking about actual Craig David (even typing that makes me call out “can I get rewindddd!”). Craig David was a lovely pub cat – he was a regular lurker at the Free Trade Bar and his spot was on top of the Jukebox. He’d often swagger in and make himself at home or you’d go in for a bev and he’d be in his spot snoozing or watching the world go by……

(732) The Free Trade

Craig David died this year and of course, there was an outpouring on social media. And when he died, I suddenly thought of Jim’s painting – which depicts a quiet Free Trade afternoon with Craig David absolutely in pride of place checking out the view of the Tyne. He’s forever immortalised in that picture. It reminded me why I love Jim’s work so much – real scenes, with real goings on filled with real detail. I love that painting!

So I thought I’d take Ouseburn Weekender as the perfect opportunity to catch up with Jim Edwards – find out more about him, his work and his style.

Hi Jim – right tell me about your journey into the arts?

I’ve always been interested in creating artwork. As a child, it was always the enjoyment of getting lost in a creative practice, and also for the praise that came from making a strong image, and being regarded as good at art.  I had two older brothers who were also good at art, and so the competitive nature between siblings challenged me to become better.

I concentrated on art throughout school, art foundation and a degree in illustration. After I graduated, I wasn’t sure how to continue a career in the arts.  I attempted illustration for a while, but it wasn’t for me.  Whilst working as a picture framer, I started to sell small paintings and drawings at a market on Armstrong Bridge (Jesmond Dene, Newcastle) on Sundays.  I tried out all sorts of work, abstract, surreal, figurative, but the thing that really took off were paintings of Newcastle.  I gave up becoming a picture framer, to give more time painting cityscapes, and I’m still a professional artist 18 years later.

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Tell me about your practice and your strong recognisable style?

I mostly paint contemporary cityscapes and landscapes, centred on the North East.

The style has slowly evolved over time. When I started, it was quite naïve in style.  I worked a lot with biro, with washes of acrylic paint.  I then used hairspray to bleed the biro colour through the paint.  It was an interesting affect I stumbled across by accident, but I stopped this method because it wasn’t good for my health.

For a while my style even went a little bit abstract, but the cityscapes started to become too unrecognisable; I like to play with colour and over exaggerate the light in my nightscapes, I have to build up several  layers of paint to get the desired tonal effect, making the city glow.  A slow process, but rewarding.

My work is strongly rooted in memory, how we remember a place, rather than a straightforward representation. I like to reimagine the cityscape, even if certain elements are forgotten or altered.

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What’s it like being on the Ouseburn creative scene at the moment? Your studio is beautiful!

I’ve been working in the Ouseburn for most of my career, hopping from one studio to the next. One of the earliest was at the Biscuit factory, followed by the Mushroom Works.  Then after a brief 8 month stint in Northumberland, I came back to 36 Lime Street, before taking on my own place at 59 Lime Street.

I couldn’t imagine having a studio outside of the Ouseburn, it feels like my creative home. It’s quietly paced, and feels like an escape from the city, even though it’s quite industrial.  Renowned as the cultural hub of Newcastle, it’s crucial to be here for the numerous open studios events that take place throughout the year.  This is where all the creative venues join forces and open their studio doors to the public.  Whether it’s the Ouseburn Open Studios or The Late Shows, both are valuable to my work.

It’s quite a lonely profession being an artist, which I don’t mind, because I love my own space. But it is beneficial to mix with other like-minded people, to work together of bounce ideas off each other.  So I’m often over at 36 Lime Street having a cup of tea with friends.

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How did you go about securing that studio space?

I spotted it was coming up for rent, so jumped at the opportunity to get it. It’s a huge jump in rent, to what I was used to at 36 Lime Street.  But the increase in visitors to my studio, with having on street access, has more than made up for it.  It’s a small, intimate space to work in.  And sometimes I don’t know if the space is a studio or a gallery, so sometimes it struggles to function as both; as long as visitors don’t mind the creative clutter when they pop in.

Any new work or projects you’re working on?

I’m currently working on a few paintings, trying to get them finished before Christmas; including a large canvas of the Ouseburn. I have a huge to do list of paintings, mainly because the ideas come far quicker than I can actually paint them.  And so I’m looking forward to making a start on some paintings of Cullercoats and the Lake District in the New Year, before getting round to everything else on the list.

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And what does it feel like – people coming into your studio and looking at your work?

It’s quite a strange one. It’s always amazing selling paintings, really spurs you on to paint more. Especially being able to meet the buyer and talk about your work, which you don’t normally get in a gallery situation.  The rhythm of creating a painting gets thrown, whenever someone comes in.  It’s surprisingly disruptive, and I probably produce a lot less work these days.  But I can’t complain, it’s important for my work, and I want people to pop in.  And if they buy something, even better!

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Next year – it’s the Angel’s 20th Birthday and also Great Exhibition of The North – obviously, your pieces champion the North East and landmarks – do you see an opportunity for yourself next year?

I’ve got an Angel of the North painting on my studio wall, right now. Hopefully the birthday celebration will encourage it to sell.  Who knows what will happen during the Great Exhibition of the North.  I’ll see if I can tie in my paintings somehow.  There may be an Ouseburn Open Studios event during the event.  I look forward to it, and hope it benefits the creative industries in the Ouseburn.

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One of my favourite pieces of yours is The Free Trade depiction with Craig David in it….. as a Free Trade lover and prolific cat cuddler – it always made me smile and I’m super happy his legacy lives on forever in that piece.

I do like The Free Trade painting too, reminds me of the lazy days spent in there, before children, enjoying a pint. And yes, Craig David pubcat lives on in the painting.  I also like the window view, almost giving a painting within a painting.

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You manage to have successfully develop what I’d class as a commercially sustainable practice – do you have any advice for other artists currently trying to?

I think it’s crucial to know how to position yourself, to know if there’s a gap in the market, and can you create something to fill it. When I was a picture framer, I gauged the sort of paintings people were buying, and I thought there was a lack of cityscapes and landscapes in my style of painting.

You’ve also got to be stubbornly determined in your pursuit; have a fire in your belly to see it through, and not be too distracted by what others think or do.

What’s next for Jim in 2018?

Lots more art and getting through that to do list of paintings. Exploring more, and painting places in the North East I haven’t got to yet.  I really want to get round to painting more of Durham and Hadrian’s Wall, when I have a free moment.  Ouseburn Open Studios returns in March, and the Late Shows in May, plus other events through the year.

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Well thank you Jim – lush to catch up with you! Jim’s Studio is located at: 59 Lime Street, Ouseburn, NE1 2PQ and open Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 4.30pm and Saturday, by appointment – it’s certainly a must see for Culture Vultures and check out his work online too via his website – I just love it so much. And if like me you can’t quite afford a big picture painting – there are lots of prints and greetings cards you will be able to afford!

And of course, big love to Craig David pub cat – the cultural scene misses you!

Till next time Culture Vultures!

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.

February Half term – a Gateshead round up and roll up, roll up!

Well after the success of the last half term post I pulled together, I thought I’d give you a little run down of some of the brilliant things going on this February half term for kids and teens across my stomping ground of Gateshead…….

February is a bit of a funny half term – we’ve just got over Christmas and back to work and oh “HIIII HALF TERM – where on earth did you come from” ….. most people haven’t thought about it yet either…….

Also the weather is likely to be a little bit rubbish and grey, so we need indoor activities…….

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Whilst having a small breakdown is completely acceptable – as a parent, you have a right to have them on a daily basis, but I want to try and help you guys out a bit.

Right so my top Gateshead based activity selection……..go go……

Saturday 18th Feb….

Why not have a little lie in, (it is half term after all) and then join Gateshead’s Children’s Knitting group at 11am at Gateshead Central Library? This group is newly established and doing really well. You may think “knitting!?!”…..knitting is all the rage at the moment and kids love hands on practical stuff and better yet, the skills they learn in this group, they can continue at home on a rainy afternoon!

To book for free, visit HERE!

Sunday 19th Feb…..

Sunday is obviously the day of rest and for overdosing on roast potatoes butttt if you do fancy feeling adventurous, why not pop along to The Centre for Life and visit the new Lego exhibitions. It looks mint – I’m yet to go but it’s on my “to visit” list. This blog post from Here Come The Hoopers gives you a good idea of what it’s like!

And p.s. the ice skating rink is still there until 26th Feb….so hurry up and get yerr skates on.

Monday 20th Feb…..

Hiyerrrr Monday….. without the usual blues I hope, as it’s half term!

So first up, we’ve got Stop Motion Monday at Blaydon Library. This session is for ages 7yrs+ and you’ll have the opportunity to use our tablets to make your very own stop motion movie. This process is highly addictive (speaking from an addict here!) and super enjoyable.

To book for free, visit HERE!

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In the afternoon, Creatures up Close returns to Gateshead Central Library. Laura is back with her amazing animal and insect friends….. this is your chance to get hands on and learn all about some crazy creatures.

These sessions are for 3yrs + and priced £3 for non-library members and £2.50 for members.

To book on the 2pm session visit HERE!

To book on the 2.45pm session visit HERE!

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For slightly older kids, aged 7yrs + there is Digital Makings: Crafty Animations with artist Sheryl Jenkins. In this workshop, Sheryl will introduce attendees to a crafty approach to the animation process and provide the opportunity to experiment with a wide variety of arts materials. Participants will use textiles, collage, rubbings, digital media, charcoal, pastels and inks to make an animated film.

To book for £5, visit HERE!

Tuesday 21st Feb…….

There are only two places left for the super popular Culture Camp: Make a Movie in a Day at Gateshead Central Library starting at 9.30am. This all day session is for 8-14yr old budding film makers who will work with digital artist John Quinn to create a movie using iPads and apps.

Culture camps are the perfect opportunity to engage with a variety of arts and creative activities, whilst working with a peer group. Children are left at Gateshead Library for the day, whilst you are free to get on with your terrific Tuesday in the knowledge they are having a mint time and learning!

To book for £20, visit HERE!

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Do your mini mes love Pokemon Go? Yes!? Well bring them along to your local Pokestop at Pelaw Library at 10am. There will be lots of Pokemon activities for you to have a go at and of course, you’re welcome to play Pokemon Go with fellow Pokemon hunters.

This session is for children of all ages and is £1 to attend – just turn up!

If you can’t make the session on the 21st Feb, come along to Whickham Library at 2pm on 22nd for another session!

Wednesday 22nd Feb….

The amazing Pop-Up Studio Low Fell is running a workshop at Gateshead Central Library at 10am. They will be facilitating a space themed accessories family workshop – attendees will make a space themed key chain, bracelet or necklace by following an out of this world design or by getting super creative and designing their own.

This session is for 8yrs+.

To book for £10 per adult and £7 per child, visit HERE!

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Or why not visit Crawcrook Library at 10am for their Maker Morning. Let your imagination go in their maker modelling morning; will you make a monster, an alien, something from Minecraft!? We’ll provide the materials and you bring the ideas!

This session is for children of all ages and is free to attend – just turn up!

Thursday 23rd Feb……

Drop by Chopwell Library at 9.30am for their Dinosaur Romp for under 5s and families. Your little tinkers will stomp their way around the library in this dino themed rhymetime. Fancy dress is encouraged!

This session is for Under 5s and families and is free to attend but visit HERE to reserve your place!

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Or visit Felling Library for some Minecraft Mayhem at 10.30am. Attendees will create some scenes from a favourite book or join special worlds with friends using tablets. Just remember absolutely no TNT!

This session is for children of all ages and is free to attend – but visit HERE to reserve your place!

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In the afternoon, get your Digital fix at Microbit Coding activity at Gateshead Central Library at 2pm.

Spend a lovely afternoon challenging yourself with a fun coding activity to make the game of Frustration.

This session is for 8yrs+ and pre-booking is essential!

To book for £3, visit HERE!

Friday 24th Feb……

Start your half term Fri-yey right with the lush Chalk and get making and building at The Mythical Beast Building Construction Club at Shipley Art Gallery starting at 10.30am. What creatures do you imagine live in Saltwell Park? Does the creature have three heads, one hundred eyes and a tongue longer than a lorry? Let your imagination run wild as you create your very own mythical beast; delve into the Chalk invention box, choose your materials, and get creating!

This workshop is designed with both little ones and big ones in mind; you can make and build on your own, or work together as a whole family. To spur on the crafting, the workshop will be set to a soundtrack of beastly music! Grrrrrrr!

This session is for children of all ages and is £2.50 to attend per child, to book visit HERE!

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And then on to GemArts Mini Mela for an exciting multicultural afternoon at Gateshead Central Library, from 11am-3pm. This event is packed full of family fun, with free workshops, performances, henna artists, face painting and lots of other exciting arts and crafts to take part in. Join in Indian, Chinese and other visual arts from around the world, Indian dance and African drumming activities, learn something new and take home your very own creations.

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How amazing does that sound? The entire day is on a drop in basis – so come along and get involved!

This session is for children of all ages and is free to attend, but visit HERE to keep up to date at the programme of the day is announced.

Saturday 25th Feb…….

Spend a culture vulture full day pottering around The Baltic, walk up to Sage Gateshead and then…. go and visit the beautiful St Mary’s Heritage Centre for their ‘History Mysteries Children’s Trail’!

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Ooooooh sounds exciting, adventurous and a little bit spooky.

You and your mini me’s will be challenged to unravel the truth from the fiction about this building’s fascinating past. They will also have their ever popular Victorian toys on display for the whole family to play with.

This is for children of all ages and is free to attend – just turn up 10am -4pm Tuesday – Saturday across the half term week. For more details visit HERE!

Sunday 26th Feb…..

Sounds like a lazy Sunday on the sofa watching films together as a fam and getting ready for the week ahead back at school……

Let me know what you get up to and get planning your half term and booking your places.

The Culture Vulture xx

February 17 Artist of the Month; Chris Folwell

New month, new projects and new artists to showcase…….so February’s artist of the Month is an artist, I’ve only quite recently had the pleasure of getting to know but in a variety of forms. I met him as an aspiring artist at The Late Shows so many moons ago….the exact year is hazy, as are so many of the Late Shows weekends when you meet so many wonderful people and do many lovely things. I saw his work as part of The Book Art project in 2012 and then our paths crossed again at last year’s Anime Attacks where he ran a flip book animation drop in workshop and again as one of the brilliant artists selected to join the 2016 Gateshead cohort of Make Art Happen.

Who is this artist you ask – well it’s Chris Folwell of course! Chris has been one of those artists that I’ve only ever met at events, or through their participatory work and collaborative larger scale projects. I’ve have quite been able to place him – he has just sprang up to me doing something fantastically creative.

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Chris Folwell

Through his involvement on MAH, I got to know more about him, his practice, his background and his ambitions. I remember reading his application for MAH and I just loved it – full of creative project ideas, lots of passion and most importantly, real legs and capacity to get it off the ground.

So when I found out he was one of the Digital Makings Fore-edge artists and running some activity as part of the Gateshead Live programme – I was thrilled. So here he is in all his glory as The Culture Vulture’s February Artist of the Month…….

How did you get into “the Arts”?

I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of people just fall into the arts and it was the same for me: I studied graphic design and hated how cold and removed it was, then animation and loved the hands on side but didn’t want to work at a computer doing CG.

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My tutor there introduced me to printmaking and I got hooked – I did a top up year in fine art pretty much purely to play in the print room, then I bought a second hand press and barely went in to university afterwards! I had grand visions of graduating and becoming a full time illustrator and printer making work that sells out in an hour like some of the big names in the US. That never happened, but for a time I did make decent money selling my work at craft markets and I think that visibility served me well, though it eventually left me a little jaded with the arts and craft market scene.

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A lot of the early ‘proper’ art work I did was through people who’d approached me at a market, then been surprised to discover that I had fingers in lots of pies outside of printmaking; I make a lot of objects out of cardboard just for fun: automata, zoetropes, small sculptures, and that’s lead to some interesting commissions (a 1:25th scale rocket and a life size polar bear). My animation degree has helped too, that led to artist Anton Hecht hiring me for one of his projects and he’s been a real patron of mine ever since, he taught me a lot about working in the arts professionally and spurred me on to pursue participatory art independently, something which has become the core of my practice.

Mostly I think it’s just interest in how things are made and what makes them work though that led me to being a full time artist; the first thing I do when I walk into a gallery is try and figure out how the artist made it and if it doesn’t impress me technically as well as visually then I feel cheated somehow. So that’s something I always tried to put into my work, seeing that look of wonder on people’s faces at the audacity of building a 30 foot tall rocket purely from cardboard is worth every second, especially when it’s a kid or a teenager: it takes more than you’d think to impress children!

How would you describe your practice?

Most of my practice now revolves around participatory art, though I still do make and sell prints, working with the public has become my focus. It starts with an idea for something I would really like to make or an issue I’m interested in, then I spend time figuring out how to involve people that would make the work more worthwhile.

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For instance I’m currently collaborating with ceramics artist Judith Davies on the Out of the Box project, we’re exploring housing and community: how people would like to live given the freedom to choose. It’s my first real collaboration, and it’s the biggest project I’ve ever worked on but at it’s roots it just sprang out of our mutual interest in homes. At this stage it’s a pilot working with a handful of Gateshead youth groups to design homes and communities and build ceramic maquettes we’ll be exhibiting in Gateshead town centre, but we’re hoping to grow the project and commission other artists, I suppose the dream would be to use our findings to influence local housing development for the better.

Outside of big projects l do plenty of workshops, I started off doing simple arts and crafts workshops but that’s gradually evolved until now they’re usually as much about engineering as art.

What inspires you?

Science and science fiction has been a big influencer, in both my printmaking and participatory practice, I guess that’s the inquisitive part of me wanting to know how the world goes together. I read a lot, and listen to podcasts on a myriad of subjects but sociology is a particular favourite: it fits in beautifully with participatory art.

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Otherwise I’m drawn to all sorts of things, I collect hobbies then discard them after a few months, I obsess over constructing imaginary homes, I’ve been building a boat on and off for 3 years. I suppose I find objects more interesting than people most of the time, and I love planning new projects, especially when I can go on a good walk and think them through.

Tell me a bit about your experience on Make Art Happen?

I think it was honestly the single most transformative period of my arts career. If you’re not familiar with Make Art Happen it’s a project designed by Helix Arts supported by Gateshead Culture Team to teach people how to deliver participatory arts programmes; it’s changed my whole outlook. My first involvement was through a commission; Bensham & Teams art, the group who hired me, came about through the MAH scheme then following that I was invited to apply for the next reiteration of the programme that would this time be aimed specifically at artists in Gateshead who wanted to expand their practice to include participatory art. It was hugely informative, they walked us through every aspect you could imagine and the support they gave us has been amazing. I met Judith Davies on the course and the Out of the Box project was a direct result of MAH, but more importantly it pushed me to examine the work I’d done so far and decide what a really wanted to do.

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Until that point the route my career had taken was determined almost entirely by hunting paid work, which is fine but then you realise one day that you’ve had very little creative control over what you’ve been doing. That little push from Helix and the support allowed me to start a project entirely from scratch, and since then I’ve been planning projects until the cows come home – I’m sure some of them will never see the light of day, but if only a fraction of the things I want to do come to pass then I will feel like I’ve really achieved something!

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If I could recommend one thing to anyone who thinks participatory art is something they want to add to their practice, even in a small way, it would be to email Helix Arts and tell them you would be interested in a Make Art Happen programme in your area.

Tell me about the Fore-edge exhibition? What is it?

Fore-edge paintings are a painting or drawing on the page edge of a book that’s hidden beneath gold leaf, if you twist the spine and fan the pages then it reveals this secret image underneath. It’s a medieval technique really, but the disappearing illustrations we’ve been working on started popping up around the 1600s and there have been a few small revivals but as far as I know there’s only one other person in the world still producing them. This was a chance to get a collection of artists together and produce a fresh take on an ancient technique, and the restrictions of the medium make for some really interesting results. Alongside the more traditional fore edge illustrations there’ll be a more modern twist on the hidden image, this time using augmented reality to display a secret visual in the books.

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How did the project idea come about?

The fore-edge exhibition is one of Anton Hecht’s projects, he produces a lot of interactive art and pursues that in the projects he manages too, we’d previously done a project together illustrating books to turn them into flip books so when he stumbled across this technique it seemed like a natural development.

Tell me about your Fore-edge book Necronomicon? Did you select it?

I did yes, Lovecraft is just one of those writers that jumps out at you, he produced such a huge volume of work and was such a founding father of the horror genre it’s impossible to ignore him. It seemed a perfect fit for a work revolving around hidden imagery and mystery, I’m sure Lovecraft would have been interested in the technique. There is a little joke in there at his expense though, the man had a terrible habit of never actually describing the monsters in his stories.. since so many of his creatures are “indescribable” there’s only a hint of lurking beasties in my own illustration.

Tell me about the process you went through making your piece?

It’s quite a complicated process to prepare the books for a fore edge illustration, and an even more long winded process to gold leaf them, but that was the aspect that most appealed to me when Anton approached me. I think I went through 12 books testing different approaches and fine tuning techniques to get it just right!

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If you reduce it to simple terms then you need to prepare the edge you’re going to decorate by sanding it smooth, then we twist the spine so the pages are fanned at least 45degrees and clamp it in a specially made press, similar to book binding press. Once it’s in there you can get painting or drawing but you need to be sure you don’t leave a residue on the surface, so acrylics are out but watercolour and markers work well. After that we pop the book back to normal and clamp it again then stain the edge with a red pigment called Armenian bole, which we can buff to a shiny finish with stiff brush. Lastly we apply a thinned down PVA glue and the gold leaf then you’re done! As part of the exhibition I’ll be running a workshop running through the full technique so please do come along and try it.

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Have you seen any of the other works? Any favourites?

Yes, I ended up applying the gold finish to the majority of them so I’ve had a sneak peak. I think Mandeep Chohan’s book was my personal favourite, she was someone I was really keen to get involved in the project from the get-go; she makes fabulous collages so it was quite a challenge translating that technique to a fore edge illustration. We ended up using acetone to transfer images from photocopies, but that has formed the basis of the approach I’ll be teaching in the workshops.

What would you like people to take away from the exhibition?

Mostly just a little bit of wonder, this is something people have been doing for hundreds of years on some of the most beautiful books in history, so this is your chance to see some modern examples made by some of the North East’s finest artists!

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What’s next for you in 2017 onwards?

More of the same if I’m lucky; 2016 was a great year for my practice so I’m looking forward to all of the planning I started back then finally paying off. I’m working on a community arts festival for Bensham, Teams and Racecourse estates, I’ve got a fibreglass knight on horseback to paint celebrating the Battle of Lincoln, a wedding to plan, and you never know I might even finish that boat!

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So fellow Culture Vultures have until 1st April to come and see the Fore-edge Book Trail at Gateshead Central Library…..make sure you do! Looking at the books and the detail, it makes me wonder when exactly was the moment we stopped, as a society, decorating our books to the extreme. There is just something SO magical about a leather bound book; with gorgeous illustrations and touches…..absolute works of art in their own right.

Peace and love. x

Outside of the Cultural Comfort Zone and into: The Thought Foundation

What is your New Year’s Resolution? I used to be all about less eating, more exercise, more this and less that – however, I gave up many moons ago as I just never kept them. I’m more about lifestyle changes ongoing than setting impossible unrealistic challenges – plus it’s highly unlikely, I’m ever going to be super model thin or run a marathon so pretending that “could” happen, is both hilarious and pointless.

Right, so my New Year’s Resolution is: “to go outside my comfort zone as much as possible”. I’m all for trying new things, doing things that terrify me, living by my gut instinct and striving for personal development and growth; I intend to do more of that this year but like most, I fall into routines! I go to the same restaurants, same galleries, check out the same cultural programmes, same same same! Now that’s wonderful in a way – I love those places, I’m fiercely loyal and they keep providing me with reasons to come back. But it also means, I’m in a cultural bubble of comfort……there is a whole world outside of that, venues, creative spaces, performances, pop up stuff, events etc, that I’m just missing out on.

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Leanne Pearce – Breastfeed

I’m also aware that so many culture vultures (including me!), focus too much on Central NewcastleGateshead……. In short, my cultural sphere is too small, I need to break out, adventure, seek pastures new, visit new venues, see new exhibitions and performances by companies I haven’t engaged with….. I’m excited to do so!

The first place on my *must* visit list is the new Thought Foundation!  It’s a new Community Interest Company (a CIC) in development in Birtley, Gateshead.

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It is the brainchild of three very proactive and entrepreneurial creatives Leanne Billinghurst, Gareth Billinghurst and Hayley Rodgets (and Leanne and Gareth’s two little girls Josephine and Boadicea). As a collective they are on a mission, a mission the Culture Vulture can really get on board with!

  • Firstly, to keep creative talent up in the North East – yes yes yessss! You don’t need to run off anywhere else, there are oodles of creative opportunities bubbling here!
  • Secondly, to make art accessible and to evidence that Arts and Culture really is for all! Anyone and everyone has it within them to be creative and to enjoy creative engagement.
  • Thirdly, creativity, innovation, business, arts, making, doing etc – they all have things in common and can be used to overcome today and tomorrow’s problems.

We love this agenda and we think we will love Thought Foundation – so what is it? Basically it’s is a new thoughtful arts space and cultural organisation with big creative ambitions; to inspire, promote and support creatives and the local community. They have self-funded and crowd funded the major renovation project, as previously the building was used to house a vehicle repair shop. Visually imagine a transformation from a vehicle inspection pit and petrol pumps into a big white space for creative possibilities.

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Thought Foundation will house MINDFIELD- a transformative gallery, THINK- thoughtful eclectic shop, BRAIN FOOD cafe and kitchen, IMAGINATION STATION – alternative kids play zone and BRAIN SPACE – a workshop room. The space aims to be open, dynamic and thought provoking. Clearly a space for culture vultures, little culture vultures in the making and artists……..I’m interested to see exactly what activity and creatives get involved in the space!

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I first heard about Thought Foundation through social media and finding Leanne Pearce’s (married name Billinghurst) art work. At the time alongside, first testing out the idea for The Thought Foundation she was also working on her current exhibition “Breastfeed” with large scale portraits depicting mothers feeding their offspring. This type of work not only visually interested me, as it is beautiful and evidences great talent in portraiture and painting, but thematically as I’m going through that stage where lots of my friends are having children and each having very individualistic experiences breastfeeding. Leanne’s work celebrates and displays focused and intimate moments as a breastfeeding mother – the bond, the natural beauty, the functionality of the process and showcases different versions of the maternal and female experience.

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An artist pushing forward this positive agenda should almost certainly be on your radar. Within Thought Foundation in 2017, a project called “New Born” will be on going. Leanne has defined this as “a creative response to parenting” and I’m excited to see elements of how “Breastfeed” intertwines into that, alongside new creative additions from other artists, Mums, Dads and carers and potentially her own personal evolving experience as a Mum. Oh gosh – I’m getting excited just typing about it – I love the beginning of project development when anything and everything could be possible!

So Culture Vultures, onto the most important question, how can WE get involved!? Well, they are aiming to open Feb/March of this year with a soft launch – keep an eye on their Facebook page for that and make sure you attend; I love being the first to check out a new cultural gem so I will certainly be there. From then on, people will be able to visit and they are planning on developing a cultural programme housed within – so expect events, projects, exhibitions, workshops etc.

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If you’re a creative and artist and want to get involved, well this is the best time to reach out to Thought Foundation and have your input from the beginning. If you have a particular project or their mission sparks an interest in you, drop them a line/pop in and visit and make it happen!

Their first exhibition is titled “Thoughtful Planet” and is a creative response to environmental issue we currently face. They are currently seeking artist submissions for this immersive, multi-disciplinary exhibition. So if you are an artist/creative that works with Film, Photography, Painting, Sculpture, Installation, Light/sound, Poetry/written word, Spoken word art or Performance then they want to hear from you.

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Submission process is open until 30th January 2017 – so you’ve still get plenty of time to pull together a brilliant brief!

If you’re a maker, artist or creative business, well then there could be a collaborative opportunity here! They are looking to develop a great range of stock in their shop THINK. Supplying to a creative stockist is a great way to get your products out there, a different means of selling and they are passionate about supporting local creatives, so if you have lush creative products, why not send them a message with some examples!

And if you’re like me, always looking for a new venue for an event, conference, to run workshops etc, well as I said before, there is a whole world outside of the NewcastleGateshead central zone of culture so why not, discover it alongside being a part of creating your little piece of it in partnership with Thought Foundation! As Leanne herself told me “the opportunities are endless!”.

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Keen an eye out for their launch Culture Vultures; I’m expecting great things and in Summer 2017, I hope to bring something Culture Vulturish to The Thought Foundation! Keep your eyes peeled!

If you’d like to find out more about The Thought Foundation drop Leanne an email: Leanne@thoughtfoundation.co.uk

October Artist of the Month: Pui Lee

Hands up who can draw? If yes, I’m furiously jealous. And if no, me either – most things I try to draw end up looking like something a primary school child would proudly display on their fridge. In fact my inability to draw, led an arts teacher at school to tell me that I wasn’t very “arty” and so I decided that clearly I wasn’t creative in the slightest and I didn’t really engage with any type of art until I was an adult. That’s the crazy thing about labelling and the narrowness of self-perception, it can be so damaging and limiting.

I am actually hugely creative and I now ironically work in the cultural and arts sector (so two fingers up to you Mr Arts teacher). However, I still can’t really draw but I love to draw! I’m an incredibly visual thinker, so when I’m planning and plotting, I draw things out; it looks like beautiful creative chaos! I find drawing and the visual process is part of my internal dialogue; I can’t work something out and evolve an idea without seeing it and exploring all aspects. Drawing is so intertwined with my creative process, ideation, problem solving and reflection.

But in an arts sense, I probably wouldn’t draw for pleasure which is something i really should, as I enjoy it…..that young girl who was told she wasn’t very “arty” is still in there. I’m sure many people can relate and there often seems like such a barrier to drawing; it’s something technical, something you have to be good at to do, it’s a real skill. We forget that when we were younger, little tinkers, we drew without barriers, scribbled; big abstract pictures of everything and anything. And then somewhere along the line….we stop.

A project and initiative I’ve had exposure to is The Big Draw! It’s a fantastic drawing festival that runs every October and champions the ideal that drawing can change lives.

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The Big Draw Festival invites people of all ages, levels and abilities to take part in drawing activities. Anyone can get involved and there is a yearly theme to inspire. Oh and it’s also endorsed Sir Quentin Blake…….

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Through activity organised by cultural organisations, artists and Big Draw themselves, there is an ethos that empowers everybody and anybody who engages to draw through facilitative and participatory arts activity.

If you’re still not persuaded, Andrew Marr makes a cracking case regarding the importance of drawing; you can watch it HERE.

My engagement with The Big Draw led me to meet a fantastic artist called Pui Lee, who has become a staple regular within Gateshead’s arts programme and has led Big Draw arts activity for Gateshead and many other cultural organisations.

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Pui Lee

Pui is brilliant at drawing (obviously) but her ability to engage with all ages and abilities through the most conceptually creative ideas is just fantastic. I always look forward to getting her emails full of ideas for future participatory workshops. She’s also absolutely dominating at the moment and her interdisciplinary creative practice is going from strength to strength. Her passion and energy for her work and empowering others to engage and give it a go is evident; she loves what she does and lives and breathes the experiential process of creativity, it’s just a joy to watch.

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Pui Lee

So it makes sense, that I decided that October’s artist of the Month, should be Pui. I caught up with Pui after her workshop at Anime Attacks to find out a little more about her practice and involvement with The Big Draw…

Hi Pui, tell me about your interdisciplinary Arts practice?

Hello! My name is Pui Lee and I work as a freelance artist and arts educator throughout the UK. As an interdisciplinary artist, I often work sculpturally with a strong emphasis on making in my practice. This is regardless of the media I am using which can be anything from 3D/installation, printmaking, drawing & painting, craft, textiles, moving image or photography.

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Pui Lee

I like to experiment and I definitely believe that creative problem-solving and reflection lies at the heart of it. My educational work is definitely informed by my practice and vice versa. This is always something that I have aspired to do! The briefs I work on are varied and diverse but I love a creative challenge and every opportunity is an exciting one for me!

Why did you want to become an artist?

I knew I had always enjoyed drawing and making things even as a child, so the thing of looking at the world, making sense of it and creating something has always been there. -I’m sure I was fascinated by nearly everything around me!!

Pui Lee

Really, I think it’s just what I like to do… Create things. And so, it made sense to me that art should be my career choice and therefore, I should do everything I can in order to make it work. I was always intrigued by and liked the idea that something can communicate something or express an emotion without having to use words necessarily.

Making the decision to become an artist wasn’t an easy one. Being someone who was strong in academic subjects as well, there was an expectation that this would be the route in life that I should follow in order for a good and successful life. However, during my A-Level exams, I decided to just go for it and submitted my application to art school! I then went on to study a Foundation art and design course, which is the step you take before moving onto Higher Education and then the rest as they say is just history! Now, looking back, that was the best decision I ever made because I’m here right now living the life I want to lead and hopefully, I’ve proved that hard work does pay off in the end!

You say you’re “A Black Belt on a mission to break down barriers in learning and aspiration through creativity and unwavering perseverance…”; how’s that mission going?

haha… I wrote that statement on my website a very long time ago! Since then, I have been promoted to my 2nd Degree Black Belt in North Korean Taekwon-Do, trained in other martial arts disciplines and now learning Kung Fu too! But yes, I would say that my “art mission” is going well! Although my martial arts practice and artist practice are entirely separate, I think they both require the focus, discipline, hard work and determination to succeed.

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I do feel like my career portfolio is still continuing to expand nicely and I have been lucky to have worked on so many different things. The amount of people I must have met over the years at my art workshops, events, classes and exhibitions makes me feel very lucky to be part of their story. Some of the individuals I work with have low self-esteem or have, for some reason or another, lesser access to the arts; and to be able to empower them in some way makes me feel very happy. That’s why my working ethos as an artist is to “empower through creativity”. Creativity not only improves overall wellbeing but empowers people to believe in themselves as valuable individuals who can make a positive contribution to the world.

Which other artists do you admire?

Probably too many to mention for your blog word count I expect! But let me tell you about my number one: Paul Taylor – my then-art-tutor during my Foundation year at art school. He is an artist/illustrator and has done fantastic things with The Big Draw and other community art projects! His creative energy is infectious, he says it how it is and he is still one of my biggest inspirations even to this day. I feel very thankful to have been one of his students. I learnt a lot from him and most notably, to follow your dreams and to make it happen!! Other favourite artists include Bill Viola, William Kentridge, Cornelia Parker, Quentin Blake, Sam Taylor-Wood, Ron Mueck, Gabriel Orozco to name but a few!

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So, you’re often involved with the Big Draw…….tell me a bit more about the Big Draw from the artist perspective?

Yes – I love The Big Draw and work on it each year! From an artist’s perspective, the medium of drawing is the foundation to all creative practice and to see members of the public engaging in it is fantastic! Often, I find people can be a little bit unsure or nervous about it and it can be hard for them to take that first step in picking a pen/pencil up and making that very first mark on the paper because they feel like they are being judged or whatever. I think that’s a real shame because drawing has many functions but most of all, it’s just a lot of fun!

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Pui Lee

There’s also something really nice with The Big Draw in that they tend to be drop-in events, which eases the pressure a bit and people can hang around for a minute or stay the whole day. Importantly though, it does bring people together and whenever you do anything as a group, it creates an opportunity for dialogue to happen between strangers and peer support to be given etc.

What did you think of this year’s theme?

I probably preferred the themes from other years to be honest although they always tend to be very broad and inclusive anyway. Having said this, I completely appreciate the relevance of this year’s theme: STEAM especially in the context of education and politics in the UK today.

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Pui Lee

I do think it is important to see how creativity can be applied in other parts of the curriculum and that drawing can manifest itself in many different and sometimes unexpected ways. Drawing is especially useful in the context of learning – whether at school, work or in everyday life.

What activity were you involved in this year?

This year, I designed and delivered only one official Big Draw event, which was, “Somme Little Big Draw” at Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life in Carlisle. At my event, participants were invited to explore the coinciding Somme exhibition and created portraits of soldiers using my special “drawing windows”. These were then transformed into giant hand-drawn medals, which could then be taken home as a keepsake so that the memory of the story lived on! Throughout the workshop, there was also opportunity for the participants to add to, edit and reconfigure a collaborative collage made up of line drawings of the soldiers, which was projected large-scale on a wall screen. It was great to see this evolve during the day.

I had a lot of different ideas for the Big Draw! this year and one called, “For Amusement Only”, took place under a different guise as part of another cultural art event in Gateshead.

For Your Amusement Only – Pui Lee

Unfortunately, with continued pressure on funds everywhere and higher registration costs for organisers, it has led to some organisations stepping away from the Big Draw altogether, which is completely understandable…

For Your Amusement Only – Pui Lee

Why are projects like The Big Draw important?

Big Draw projects are important because they create arts engagement opportunities and to have an annual presence on the calendar where the whole country gets drawing is just fantastic! The drawing festival is, of course, endorsed by Quentin Blake himself and this helps give the festival the publicity it needs to capture the imaginations of members of the public because his illustrations for Roald Dahl are so loved and well known.

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Pui Lee

What would you like next year’s theme to be?

I don’t mind really – I’m open to any creative challenge!!

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Pui Lee

What’s next for you? Any big plans for 2017?

Yes haha, -always! But for now …watch-this-space!

Thank you Pui; fantastically insightful to hear about the artist perspective of the Big Draw! I’m really glad that Pui followed her dreams into art and that is a real take away message; listen to your gut and pursue your passion.

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Pui Lee

I think it’s brilliant when people work out their purpose, their “why” and know what they want to do…….as a creative and entrepreneurial individual I made the horrific life choice of a law degree and going into a legal career because it kind of made sense and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. From law to culture and business…..almost laughable, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Peace out. Get drawing, check out Pui’s work and listen to your gut always.

The Culture Vulture. x