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 Wild Lamb – Paige Livingstone – let the lass eat cake!

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

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone

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

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

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

Let Us Eat Cake exhibition poster

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

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

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone

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

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

How would you describe your practice and what you do?

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

Were you creative as a mini?

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

Tell us about your journey into the creative industries?

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

How would you describe your art style?  

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

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

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

Let Us Eat Cake Exhibition

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

@mrbabies does amazing surreal collages

@vonnart does beautiful fantasy illustrations

@dariahlazatova does amazing folks surrealist illustrations and portraits

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

What other projects or things have you got going on?

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

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

Let Us Eat Cake Exhibition

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

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

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 Laura Sheldon -graphic designer, illustrator & tattooist. Tattoos, mental health, freelance adventures & The Cluny!

I want a new tattoo – I want several.

I’ve been spending lock down ages looking at tattoos and tattoo artists online on Instagram – feeling thoroughly inspired in the process – the differing styles are so wonderful and I love the idea of a body as a walking, talking, living canvas. In my Instagram hole and research, I’ve discovered, it’s becoming progressively common that artists and creatives may start in the visual artist lane and edge into tattoo-ing or vice versa, a tattoo-ist edges into visual arts with their work. I think it’s wonderful thing.

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Laura Sheldon tattoo – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

One tattoo artist that sits across both the tattoo and artist lane is Laura Sheldon – she’s been on my list for AGES for a Culture Vulture interview and I’d love her to tattoo me up, when the time comes. It’s interesting and exciting for me, as someone who loves tattoos, to chat to an artist that has tattooing within their range of practice. I find that artists create the best tattoos…. much better than traditional tattoo shop tattoos, i.e. the type that currently adorn my body. I regret all my tattoos – but if I had to do my life over, I’d still get them again! That’s what we need to teach folks at a young age…not “don’t get tattoos – you’ll regret it”- instead “don’t get SHIT tattoos” and then use me as a case study.

Anyhoo… over to Laura Sheldon aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration!

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

So hiyer, who are you and how would you describe your creative practice?

Hello there!  My name is Laura Sheldon aka SHELDO. I’m a freelance Designer, Illustrator and hand poke tattoo artist from Newcastle.

Tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

In 2009, I graduated Graphic Design at Northumbria University into a crippling recession. Luckily, I found an internship at Reluctant Hero/Electric Sheep for 8 months working on several live briefs. After the internship ended, I spent a summer in Berlin to figure out what to do.  Unsuccessfully able to a cement a placement or work, I decided to return to Newcastle and started freelancing (taking any opportunity I could) whilst holding down a part time job. I freelanced and juggled part time work for the next 3 years then decided to move to London in 2013 to try expand my network and business opportunities. I continued to work 2 part time jobs but was determined not to give up my freelance work. I had very little commercial work at this time but a lot of time to development my own illustration style. After 3 years I returned to Newcastle. I contacted Roots and Wings (multi-media design company) when I got back and have primely been working with them alongside other projects since. I opened an Etsy shop in 2016 with help from Everything Funky and Spiffing prints providing a fulfilment service. Since moving back to Newcastle (4 years in July) I’ve been able to live off my design, illustration & now tattooing. It’s be quite a journey to where I am today!!

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

Quite the adventure/quest – well done! Your design work and illustrations are so diverse – you don’t seem to have a set style (which I bliddy love!) – where do you seek inspiration?

Thanks very much, greatly appreciated! I get bored quite easily, so I generally dot around to different things to keep it interesting. They say variety is the spice of life.  My inspiration comes from many different places, such as vivid dreams but I also like to merge Art Deco, surrealism, space and psychedelia as well as a strong female themes.

I also have a passion for music which feeds into my work, the weird and the wonderful. One of my favourite designers is Stefan Sagmeister. He definitely went against the grain and made me think that it was ok to be experimental and to follow your own path. I was lucky enough to meet him when I was on placement in America with University in 2008.

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

You went full blown freelance in 2009…. What made you take that leap and how has the adventure been so far?

I had no choice; I couldn’t find a job and felt very annoyed that I had come all the way through the educational system to work in a job that I hated. That wasn’t going to happen. I started freelancing pretty much taking any job I could get whilst working part time at the weekend and living intermittently at my parents or staying on kind friends’ couches. It’s definitely been an adventure! It’s been very difficult at times to keep motivated and determined when you are earning very little money and still living at your parents but there was no other option for me.

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

Thank you for your honesty! Let’s chat about your design work – what is your design process? What materials and programmes do you use?

I usually do most correspondence with clients over email as I find it easier to have everything written down unless the client requests to meet. But if possible, I like to have a clear idea of what the client wants. I usually work with clients who like to be involved in the process. I don’t really like to dictate what I think they should have unless it’s a really terrible idea haha! I go away and do a few initial ideas and send them for feedback then develop the idea into a final piece. The initial email/chat is usually the most important, so I don’t feel like I’m trying to read the clients mind. Depending on the project I might send a super rough sketch or I might go straight on to the computer it depends on how much input I have from the beginning. I have quite recently invested in an iPad as well as my Mac so the programmes I use are illustrator, procreate and photoshop.

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

You have a really broad range of clients in your design portfolio from Brewdog, to Great Exhibition of the North, to musician album covers….how do you get your clients?

I like to socialise maybe a little less these days but work has always come from just meeting people through gigs, events, exhibitions or part time jobs and sharing that I’m a designer. It’s like a little snowball that gets bigger when you roll it. Also, Facebook was starting to kick off when I graduated so I utilised sharing my work and reminding people I was there. I’m really proud of my work and like to share what I am doing.

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

Well I love seeing your work – so keep sharing it! You design for lots of different media – for social, apparel, sculptures, displays, vinyl graphics, branding……. Do you approach all these types of design projects with the same approach?

Yes everything is approached the same, everything starts with a conversation/brief and follows a similar design process of initial design, development and finalising the idea.

You have done some wonderful positive mental health illustrations for The Recovery College…. Can you tell me a bit about that project? How has your own mental health been during lock down?

I was commissioned by Roots and Wings to produce illustrations for The Recovery College that might help people navigate through this pandemic. I love The Recovery College’s ethos so anything that may help people was very important to me. I suffer from Hypermobility which I was diagnosed with around the same time I started freelancing so my mental health day to day is quite a struggle. Hypermobility causes joint pain, lower back pain, Chronic fatigue to name a few things but I find staying creative, going for walks and listening to music helps manage my pain as well as acupuncture and CBD oil.

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

I know you worked with Novak Collective creating part of the illustrations for ‘Imminence’ – a 50 metre long audio visual projection portraying the impact of climate change at Bloomberg Arcade, London in collaboration with textile designer Hazel Dunn and sound artist Ed Carter. – How did it come about? I’ve worked with them before – love them!

I had one of my first studios in the Biscuit Tin back in 2010 so would bump into Novak Collective in the corridor and always loved the work they do. They are a lovely bunch of people and always championed what I did. I think work had gone a little quiet last year, so I set up a meeting and it was just good timing that they needed some help on a big project.

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Imminence

You designed something super special for Nowt Special – can you tell us a bit about that project?

I’ve known Kurt Eaton & Anthony Downie for a very long time and have been exhibiting at Nowt Special from the beginning. It’s very hard work putting on successful events, so I really appreciate being part of this great event. I was lucky enough to be asked to design the event poster and a DJ booth was created from the artwork. It was such an amazing night and felt blown away by it all really. Newcastle is such a supportive network and I know many talented creative people!

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

Can you tell me about the Tattoos and Evergreen tattoo studio? You design your tattoos – but do you also tattoo them too? What does hand poked mean? Do you have any tattoos yourself?

Evergreen Tattoo Studio was set up by Faye Oliver. She does amazing hand poked bespoke botanical tattoos. I have been really great friends with Faye for over 15 years and she has always been very supportive of my illustration and at the end of 2018 asked me to be her tattoo apprentice.

Yes, I illustrate and tattoo my designs on people for life. I’m still getting my head round this haha! Hand poked tattoos are created without machine. I attach the needle to a chop stick and gently poke the needle into the skin whilst dipping the needle in ink. They take a bit longer to do than machine tattoos as I am doing it all by hand. Yes I have quite a few tattoos mainly machine tattoos but I’m looking to get more in the future.

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

Me too! How has COVID-19 effected your creativity? And practice?

Fortunately, my creativity hasn’t been greatly affected as being freelance I usually work from home but tattooing has completely stopped which I’m really missing.  I have definitely had more time on my hands to try new things like engraving, sowing, and clay modelling. It’s been great to get back to my fine art roots.

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

You been creating/making outfits in lock down with tie dye and stitching – what’s it been like to play and learn something new?

I have! It’s be really fun and I think it’s the pinnacle of my lockdown creativity/madness. I hand dyed a pair of old curtains with turmeric then made it into a dress. I hope to wear it when I can finally go to the pub.

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

How can we purchase from you right now and what type of products, prints etc are available?

I have an Etsy shop where you can buy tees, totes & prints. You can visit it HERE!

Any upcoming projects you want to tell me about?

I’m part of an exciting T-shirt collaboration with The Cluny helping them through this uncertain time and illustrating a map of Walker Park to encourage more people to visit. Projects that Couldn’t be any more different! Just the way I like it!

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Laura Sheldon – aka SHELDO – Design and Illustration

Love Walker Park and Love the Cluny! Thank you Laura! Such a wonderfully talented human and you can order your Cluny Tee HERE. Each purchase is supporting a brilliant independent music venue and pub.

That’s all for now Culture Vultures. Xx