GIFT 2017: The low down- what it is, why you need to go and get tickets immediately…..

I’m a big fan of theatre and performance – as someone who spent their childhood and teens doing drama related activity and in plays – I fell in love with it and it’s fair to say I have a leaning towards the dramatics in my everyday life; I’m certainly an animated personality and my face is the most expressive you’ve seen.

I absolutely love going to the theatre whether smaller productions or things at Northern Stage or Theatre Royal – it’s always a dream. Theatre is all about total immersion, escapism and storytelling. I love disconnecting from my life and my reality and being absorbed into watching someone else’s. Getting lost in a visual story…….

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And it’s not just about the acting and make believe – it’s one of those art forms into which everyone can engage and get involved. Whether it’s the writing, the costume designing, the lighting, the sound, the set design – a feast of visual, performance and digital arts.

Those who read this blog and follow The Culture Vulture, will know by now that I LOVE the undiscovered and the unfound – stepping outside of my comfort zone, seeing different things and new things. Something which embraces my love for performance and need for the new and unfound, is matched perfectly within GIFT Festival which is returning again (yahoo) for 2017 across Friday 28th – Sunday 30th April….. how exciting!?

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GIFT is an annual festival of theatre celebrating the new, unfound and experimental performance and theatre right here in Gateshead……last year, I attended and got to experience a performance as part of a wild hen party; disco, dancing, shots and crisps. And also, a version of Stand By Me with a soundtrack by the Eurythmics.

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This year the programme is jam packed with lots to see performance wise (for adults and children alike), workshops and discussion across Baltic , Caedmon Hall at Gateshead Libraries, St Mary’s Heritage Centre, The Central Bar and Prohibition Bar. And I’m even more excited that FINALLY this year, after a couple of years of no funding, GIFT was awarded their Arts Council funding, on top of running a successful crowd funding campaign….

I caught up with GIFT’s Programme Director and Queen of all things GIFT; Kate Craddock to find out about this year’s programme and what to expect. Kate is someone who I’ve known for many years now and who champions the up and comers in performance and empowers her students, at Northumbria University to reach their full potential……so by my standard, not just a mega talent and asset to the region but also an all-round cultural megababe.

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Hi Kate – last time we caught up was in Prohibition Bar over a G&T – this time, I want to hear all about GIFT 2017….so for those who haven’t been to GIFT before – what’s the low down?

GIFT is back for 3 days at the end of April – Friday 28th – Sunday 30th Aptil. GIFT is an international theatre festival based in Gateshead that aims to present new performances and the kind of that nowhere else in the region is able to put on. We are able to take a chance and do something new.

You are unlikely to see a traditional ‘play’ at GIFT; instead the work is more contemporary, visual, physical, conceptual, devised… .GIFT festival allows for a more experimental programme with less risk for the venue programming the same artists/work alone.

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GIFT offers a platform to showcase opportunity for NE based artists and theatre makers to show their own work in a lively festival context. It also brings International work to Gateshead and the region that we otherwise wouldn’t see. And of course, it brings performances and artists from across the UK who have never performed been here before to introduce North East audiences to new artists and ways of working.

Essentially GIFT is 3 days of artists and audiences coming together, forming a festival community whilst seeing lots of shows together; talking about the work they are seeing, networking and partying. A big feature of GIFT that makes it distinctive from some other festivals is that it is really personal, small scale and grass roots. It really tries to open up possibilities and opportunity for everyone participating.

What inspired you to start GIFT?

There were a number of factors that all came together at once.

I was one of the artists who was in the original SHED Artist studios on Gateshead High St, and I was living in Bensham-spending a lot of time in Gateshead at a time when there was lots of focus on regeneration and redevelopment…

I really wanted to do something that was about connecting the culturally regenerated quayside with Gateshead town centre and beyond – and knew that a festival had the potential to do this – acting as a catalyst. I realised that there wasn’t a theatre venue in Gateshead as such, but instead there were loads of really unique spaces and lots of very wiling supportive people who were happy to let me do things -like put performances in empty shops, or in church halls, or in the interchange.

I was also making some quite experimental performance work myself, but was finding that there was quite a limited number of platforms to show this  kind of work – and I realised I wasn’t alone in that.  – However, there was a community of artists really wanting to make something happen. I was also in a really lucky position where I was travelling and working at other European International festivals; these were hugely inspirational for me -and made me realise that we needed GIFT.

Why Gateshead? What venues have you selected this year?

When I founded GIFT in 2011, I was living and working in Gateshead and I got frustrated with the fact that for lots of people (in Newcastle) Gateshead meant a trip over the bridge to the Sage or Baltic and that was as far as they would venture. I wanted to do something that opened up other areas (some neglected, some beautiful) and connect performance to these areas.

Gateshead Council and Culture Team (formally the Arts team) have always been so supportive of the arts (Angel, Sage, Baltic, all the arts team work etc) and they were so supportive when I first approached them about it. For the first 3 years GIFT took place mainly in Gateshead old town hall, the Central, St Mary’s as well as other venues dotted around. In 2014 we relocated our main hub to Caedmon Hall, which is where we will be again this year for lots of our events. We will also be presenting performances at Baltic  this year for the first time – as well as Prohibition Bar, Central, St Mary’s , Caedmon Hall and our closing part will be at The Old Police House.

Tell me about the programme this year?

This year we have teamed up with 2 other UK festivals to present a programme of work from across Europe. On Friday night we will present the UK premiere of Possibilities that disappear before a landscape’ by El Conde de Torrefiel from Barcelona. This is being presented in collaboration with Transform Festival in Leeds where they are performing the partner piece Guerrilla a week before GIFT. Possibilities is stunning piece that works like a visual essay -so you are both reading and listening to spoken text while seeing multiple images played out on stage in front of you.

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The company are one of the most exciting to emerge from Spain in recent years and are in huge demand. I first saw this company in 2012 and have been trying to get them to GIFT since then – so I am totally thrilled they will be here! I also think they will really appeal to people who love visual art but might not be so sure normally about going to the theatre. We have also teamed up with BE Festival Birmingham to host Best of BE Festival – 3 amazing shows from across Europe. I have seen the work and can’t recommend it enough. Best of BE (or BE @ GIFT) is always a great fun night, and the work always rich and varied.

Also we have Julia Taduevin from Glasgow with ‘Blow Off’ described as one of the most memorable shows of the year by the Scotsman – and it is, completely unforgettable and completely stunning. All female punk band – music, spoken word, feminism – very loud! Would definitely appeal to people interested in live music but don’t think theatre is for them!

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One of the shows coming from Leeds is ‘Something Terrible Might Happen on Saturday’ by Uncanny Theatre at The Central – it will be hilarious and it looks at how obsessed we are with things going wrong. Enjoy the show while having a pint!

Other fab things are we have teamed up with Chalk to host Noise Lab -lots of young children working with a sound artist to turn their tantrums and crying into art, at Baltic.

Who are you most excited about seeing? I know it’s difficult to choose……

Literally all of it; one of the best things for me too is seeing the artists actually meeting each other, talking to each other and their audiences about their work – that is always so brilliant and rewarding; when this happens and works well, I know I am doing a good job.

Is there anything for families?

Yes –Noise Lab by Chalk on Friday morning – this is the strand of GIFT called Little GIFT and is for early years and their parents. On Sunday there is also a rolling programme of live performance and dance work at Baltic that is all free to attend.

Zoe Murtagh will also be at St Mary’s on Friday all day peeling potatoes and inviting audience members to help her discover her Irish heritage -there will be some dancing and laughs involved. Altgif7hough these events are not strictly for families as such, they will definitely appeal to a curious adventurous audience member of any age!

What should someone who has never been to GIFT before expect?

Expect to be surprised by each performance you encounter – and to take risks with what you go see. Expect to be welcomed by the GIFT crowd, to get involved and to throw yourself into opportunities – to chat and to meet new people.

You’ve had challenges this year with funding (again!) and you’ve set up a crowdfunding page – can you tell me a bit more about this and why people NEED to donate? 

Yes, we have really struggled to secure enough funding to make the festival happen this year – but Arts Council Funding has come through at the last minute after a lot of hard work resubmitting applications We also have a crowdfunding page on the go at the moment to help raise money towards supporting a lot of the infrastructure around the festival enabling the festival to happen – like paying technicians at the venues, to support the artists and also to be able to offer artists some support with their shows – towards their production budgets and costs involved in performing at GIFT like travel -and feeding them while they are here!

What would advice would you give to an aspiring performer, or script writer, set designer etc?

See as many performances and different types of performances as you can – and take every opportunity that is offered to you to network and meet people. But of course, the best advice I can give you at the moment is to get yourself along to GIFT between 28 – 30 April!

Thank you Kate…..

And that’s what I love about the Cultural sector at the moment- it’s all about feeling empowered and being the change you want to see; she wanted an experimental theatre and performance festival in the region and made it happen!

Well you can expect to see The Culture Vulture at every single event and performance for GIFT – I’m obviously most excited for ‘Blow Off’, Pug Party anddddd GIFTed: Late Night Lip Sync CabaretBonnie and the Bonnettes and GIFTed guests

Check out the full GIFT 2017 programme in all its glory.

If you see me, feel free to say hello

 

Easter Easter Easter holidayzzzzzz

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

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

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

Digital Makings: Family Music Workshop

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

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

Suitable for ages 8+

Free – Book in advance

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Design Your Own Easter Egg

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

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

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

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

Suitable for all ages.

Free – just drop in.

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Digital Makings: Wearable Tech

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

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

Suitable for ages 8+

£5

To Book

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Culture Camp: Soundscapes

Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Central Library

Wednesday 12 April, 9.30am – 4.30pm

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

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

Suitable for ages 10-18yrs.

£20

To book

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Accidentally Minecrafted

Blaydon Library, Wednesday 12 April, 10am

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

Suitable for ages 8+

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

More information

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Culture Camp: Make a Play in a Day

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

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

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

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

Suitable for ages 8-14yrs.

£20

To book

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Design your own T-shirt

Birtley Library, Thursday 13 April, 11am

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

Suitable for ages 6+

£3

To book

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St Mary’s Storytime

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

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

£1 – Pay on the door.

For more information and dates of other sessions

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Culture Camp: Film Director Workshop

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

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

Suitable for ages 8-14yrs.

£20

To book

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Culture Camp: Animation on location

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

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

Suitable for ages 8-14 yrs.

£20

To book

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LEGO Drag Race

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

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

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

Suitable for families with children ages 6yrs+

Free – spaces limited so pre-booking is essential.

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Get planning Culture Vultures…….

The Culture Vulture xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charlton Walk – Gateshead; Public Art hidden gem!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s all for now Culture Vultures.

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

Karen Underhill; Artist of the Month January 2017

For those who work in Arts and Culture, like myself, this is prime programming time – in fact I’ve programmed some of the Gateshead Live up until July 2017 – which is crazy. But also fantastically exciting, to see the projects and events that lie ahead. So what lies ahead in 2017!? – well of course alongside a vibrant cultural programme across the North East with far too many things to list here and the official launch of the Culture Vulture– we have Digital Makings!

One of the artists in residence Karen Underhill is also my January artist of the Month. I was involved in the short listing process for Digital Makings and had the absolute pleasure of being the first to receive the applications and read them. I read Karen’s and loved it – she is a local artist, who I’ve had some engagement with in the past, but only in passing and I haven’t had the opportunity to really get to know her and her practice. And what a perfect time to do it!?

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Karen Underhill

I loved her Digital Makings application; infusing traditional arts practice with digital elements in a very clever way that is not only accessible, but exciting. She also proposed Painting with Light session, which if anyone has been to Glasto or Bestival, you will know this well and it’s mint! Dancing around with lights and lasers, UV and capturing pictures of it in motion, which can create beautiful patterns.

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Karen Underhill – Painting with Light

However, what really speaks to me about Karen and her work is her passion to use creative mediums to ignite positive change in communities which is then driven by the community themselves, uniting and finding an collective identity. Karen takes time to get to know people, the communities in which her project engages, she listens, embraces the diversity and empowers people to find their creative voice. This is not creating Art for arts sake; this is art and a creative practice that has a positive impact on the individual, macro and micro communities and the North East region…….. now how many of us can say, what we do on a day to day basis has that wide of a positive reach!? It’s inspiring…….

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Karen Underhill – Street Party 2015

So who is Karen Underhill…….Karen is a visual and performing artist, originally from the Scottish Borders, working across disciplines that include Fine Art, street theatre, digital art and performance. Karen is also trained in media studies and multi-media and has lectured.

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Karen has worked in the creative industries since 1997 delivering multi-disciplinary workshops within communities. That is what is so brilliant about Karen and her work – it never really feels about “her” – it’s about the people she works with, the communities, the engagement, the opportunities and empowering others to have a sense of ownership of an art work, the project, the place they live etc.

I first heard about Karen when she worked on and facilitated the project that concluded with a giant new artwork for Gateshead Interchange; the peacock! Lisa Johnson’s peacock design was chosen following an appeal by Nexus for a piece of art to liven up the entrance to the interchange, out of 30 Gateshead College student submissions. The peacock image is cleverly made up of the word “hello” in different languages. This project was made possible by Gateshead College’s Digital Academy, which Karen was a part of and evidences her interests in creating a sense of place through her fascination with narrative to tell community stories. But at the heart of the project was empowering the next generation of student artists……. an agenda that I’m really passionate about myself.

Lisa Johnson – Peacock at Gateshead Interchange

I have since gotten to know Karen working on events such as eDay, Anime Attacks as part Juice Festival, Gateshead College careers days and as a regular library user. She is absolutely lush, full of energy and ideas – she is an absolute pleasure to talk to. She also runs her own business, which as a fellow businessy gal, I love. It’s called Blue Meanies, a mobile Arts and Events service. She offers arts and craft workshops, entertainment, performance, stilt walking, face-painting, VJing and creative workshops for private parties, birthday celebrations, corporate events, weddings, large and small scale events. She can also provide bespoke educational packages for schools and community centres and aim to make art and creativity accessible to all with an ethos on creative exploration.

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Karen Underhill during performance

So of course, I was thrilled when she was short listed and then selected as one of three artists in residence for the Digital Makings project. I sat in on a recent planning meeting for DMs and had the opportunity to hear about Karen’s work and historical projects alongside her plans for 2017 in regards to our programme. The benefit of having artists in residence within Arts projects is that, it brings in new ideas, new energy, different diverse perspectives and expertise – a collaborative project really comes into its own. Part of that process is engaging with the artist in residence, seeking out the synergy, learning from their experience and their creative CV.

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Karen Underhill – #wingsofthecommunity

This meeting was for that; her passion for her work was clearly evident and I loved listening to her showcase her work. She told us about a recent 2015 project she worked on an ‘Environmental Artist in Residence’ with photographer Jonathan Bradley called Creative Endeavours. The artists worked with residents and communities across the East and West end of Newcastle empowering people to demonstrate their environmental pride.

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Karen Underhill – Reclaim the lanes

The community-owned projects saw participants of all ages, demographics and culture come up with fun and imaginative ways of illustrating and exploring what they can do to address local priorities like keeping back lanes tidy and litter-free whilst coming together to talk about the places in which they live and work reclaiming them as potential community spaces for vibrant cultural and community activities.

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Karen Underhill – #wingsofthecommunity

This project focused on giving individuals and community a creative voice, a means of expression whilst uniting them to tackle collaborative challenges and communicate environmental messages that affect them in the present and in the future.

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What really stood out to me is the rich diversity of the communities involved, led to a real diverse mix of arts engagement – cultural diversity is a beautiful thing and can lead to really beautiful results. Everything from community murals, to street parties, to music in the streets and even a music video called ‘Respect the Streets’ which also features Karen herself, created by the young people at The CHAT Trust Newcastle’s West End.

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Karen very recently finished a collaborative project called ‘Memory Petals’ with artist Kate Eccles; on December 6th a new permanent artwork went on display at Newburn Library, which was the culmination of three-months work by a collection of local groups from Throckley and Newburn.

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Karen and Kate worked with twenty-four people from the Grange Welfare Centre, Throckley Community Hall and ‘Flowers of Newburn’ community group exploring the themes of memory and discovery, mining the rich historical links of Newburn and Throckley to the River Tyne.

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The words and imagery inspired by these local stories were developed into crafting a circular motif, growing from imagery of a rose engraved military button, the watermill and other beautiful flowers. A variety of different techniques were used in the workshops to help create the heritage imagery, ideas and stories.  The techniques included mark making, painting, digital photography, apps, text, collage and sound recordings and explored the senses of sight, touch, smell and sound; and covered singing, textiles, printing and digital media.

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The project infused quite traditional arts mediums with digital whilst working with older people from local community groups, to try and record their personal memories, reflections and to celebrate the heritage of the area. The groups with encourage to explore their memories and self-expression, using creative means. The final piece was a final large flower artwork is 5ft x 5ft in size and contains 36 kaleidoscope discs, each showing the different mediums used. Each petal representing a person, a medium which is united into a visually impressive collaborative whole. A booklet has also been produced to document the three-month creative journey.

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Karen Underhill and Kate Eccles – Memory Petals

Karen has also recently completed workshop sessions with community groups from Kenton Bar, Northbourne Street Youth Initiative and Chain Reaction. They had a go at playing with scrap materials to form a Fire & Ice themed collars and a bustle, tinkered with UV paint and light, snowflake shapes and twinkly bits and mask making. Some of the results of these sessions appear at New Year’s Eve Carnival in Newcastle City Centre.

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So what about Karen and Digital Makings – well she “hopes to ignite a passion for learning and creativity by using thrifty ways of working, combining low and hi- fi technology and resources”. Karen will be running very diverse activities widely across Gateshead targeting digital inclusion, digital engagement and digital empowerment through creative activities– Voice and singing workshop at St Mary’s Heritage Centre, An alphabet photography workshop at Whickham library, Painting with light workshop, a VJ-ing workshop and Film Director Culture Camp at Gateshead Central Library.

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She will also be working with a wide variety of Gateshead based community groups – on community led creative projects with a digital thread. This will culminate in an exhibition, showcasing the work within The Gallery, at Gateshead Central Library. Knowing how well Karen works with community groups and the innovativeness of her facilitation, I’m extremely excited to see not only the end “thing” but the progression and evolution from initial idea to implementation.

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I’m really excited to work with Karen on Digital Makings and seeing some of these community projects take shape. Obviously, being the little raver I am – I can’t wait for some Painting with Light; I’ve got some great moves to bust out…..

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Well hello there Digital Makings…nice to meet you!

Have you heard of Digital Makings yet? No….well you’re certainly going to. Digital is EVERYWHERE now; it is simply infusing and permeating into every possible area of Arts and Culture. There is no escape.

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For those, like myself, who feel a little bit uncomfortable as soon as someone says “digital”, Digital Makings is going to be a learning curve and hugely exciting and for those who embrace digital and we first adopters well, you’re going to love it!

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Digital Makings is a collaborative Arts Council funded project between Gateshead Council Culture Team and Gateshead Libraries. It’s an on-going year-long programme of participatory digital arts activities, full of opportunities for workshop attendees, school groups, library users/borrowers, community groups, artists and even the digital industry to experiment, explore and learn.

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Gateshead Central Library (above, with Storm Troopers…)

There is lots coming up for all ages and abilities – including talks, residencies and lots of events to enthuse about all things digital. There are two key strands running through the project; the first strand sets to expose and explore creative digital mediums so expect everything from animation, to film making, to stop motion, to Quinn Draw, to photography, to music, to image manipulation.

Examples of Quinn Draw by some Young People

The second strand focuses on engaging with participants, library users, communities, artists etc through quite traditional arts, library and cultural activity and focus on digital opportunities and how digital means can be brought in to enhance not only the activity but also trigger learning.

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That’s what I mean when I say Digital Makings makes me feel a bit uncomfortable; the activity involved is going to be different and exciting, not necessarily using artist mediums or equipment that I regularly use and I’m going to feel outside of my comfort zone – which of course, I love!

The Digital Makings project has just announced its two main residencies; we are delighted to have local artists Ben Freeth and Karen Underhill on board. We also have a mini residency by Sheryl Jenkins. With all three artists, a Digital Makings programme of activity is continuously evolving (I promise you, it’s mint!). Such activity will be taking place across Gateshead and Gateshead Libraries, so keep an eye out for that.

Similar to Sculpture 30, I will be writing a feature on each artist – but I’m going to let them get a little settled into their new Digital Makings roles before interrogating them. However, I can reveal that their work and engagement will culminate in a final exhibition towards the end of the project. And after reading their proposals and plans, I’m really looking forward to it. We’re in for a treat!

For this current season, we’ve been working with digital artists and We EngAGE to run workshops, we had a Digital Arts Zone at eDay5 and we’ve got Shipley Lates: Digital Makings coming up on 26th November.

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If you fancy a night out with a difference, then Shipley Lates is for you – there will be a bar, digital arts, crafting in the beautiful surroundings of The Shipley, lovely company (Gateshead Culture Team will be there and we are a cracking bunch) and, did I mention there is a bar? So why not come join us with a troop, have a G&T and get all digital. That’s my plan for the evening anyway!

So, as I mentioned Digital Makings is a collaboration between Gateshead Culture Team and Gateshead Libraries. We’ve been working closely with Jacqui Thompson, who is the Community Learning Officer for the Libraries and creates and develops a wide range of ICT courses, code club and has an enviable digital network. If you want to get in touch with someone in the Digital sector, Jacqui is the one in the know!

I caught up with Jacqui to find out about her involvement in Digital Makings and beyond!

Hi Jacqui, can you tell me a bit about your role at Gateshead Libraries and within the Digital community across the North East?

I am most proud of being the originator of eDay; this year was our 5th event! eDay is a celebration of exciting new media and digital technology. Local makers and companies come together for the event to encourage members of the public to fully engage with changes in tech and art.

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Developing eDay from the idea stage to reality has allowed me to form a wide range of successful working relationships with local and regional businesses as well as third sector organisations. Further extending this aspect of my work I champion Coder DojoNE here in Gateshead Libraries and this has given me the opportunity to work and connect with the fantastic expert volunteers who give up their time to support young coders and makers.

Can you tell me a bit about your involvement with Digital Makings?

I was involved in part of the bid writing suggesting possible partnerships and events. Once I found out the Arts Council bid had been successful, I was then able to add new activity and workshops to the likes of eDay and Coder Dojo as well as launching a new weekly code club.

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In addition, I’ve also had input to the programming of activity, whilst supporting upcoming events such as Shipley Lates: Digital Makings and Culture Camps.

Who is the Digital Makings project and activity for?

Looking at the fantastic programme that has been pulled together so far, there really is something for all ages and abilities to get involved with. It is for people who have not really engaged with Digital before, to people who are already really engaged and proficient. Moreover, there is a family aspect, so more and more, we see children with higher tech capabilities than their parents – so creative activities within Digital Makings, will enable families to collaborate, create and learn together.

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We are really lucky to have the project and programme of activity in the region and at the same times as SnowDogs!

Why has “Digital” become increasingly important?

Well there’s no getting away from the growth of digital in our everyday life and so digital has been added to the creative and cultural mix as a way to further engage people and to help them get hands on with new tech and understand its wide range of uses as well as to make better use out of the devices they already may own.

One of the highlights of Digital Makings so far has been eDay5…can you tell me a little bit about the day?

WOW eDay5 was a great day! 350 people plus attended and got hands on with tech and digital – everything from VR, to Makerspace, to Minecraft, to 3D printing.  From participants comments on social media and our evaluation forms, a great time was had by everyone and fingers crossed for eDay6.

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We also had a Digital Arts stand this year; we had digital artist John Quinn running animation sessions and green screen movie sessions alongside Hannah from the Shipley Art Gallery introducing Quinn Art using iPads. Both of these activities proved to be highlights of the day as did the Amateur radio group.

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Well thank you Jacqui! With Digital Makings now firmly underway and set to continue until September 2017, I hope I’ve wet your appetite for it. Over the coming months, you’ll get to know the Digital Makings artists in residence and I will be shortly sharing some of activity programmed.

Current book-able Digital Makings activity can be found HERE!

Frank Styles in the Spotlight

You may have noticed Snowdogs popping up across the region!? From 19 September to 29 November, parks, streets and open spaces across the North East region are playing host to Great North Snowdogs; 60 large and 97 little sculptures  inspired by ‘The Snowman and The Snowdog’.

Leading businesses, cultural organisations and talented artists have united to bring you this major free, public art trail, devised by creative producers, Wild In Art in partnership with St Oswald’s Children’s Hospice to raise funds for this Newcastle-based charity.

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There are Dogs across Gateshead; two in Saltwell Park, One at the Angel site, One at Gateshead Central Library, One at Trinity Square, One in the Gateshead Interchange and two at the Sage, Gateshead.

My office and base is at Gateshead Central Library and it’s not that I’m biased (ok may be a little!) but of course, my favourite is Graffiti, which is standing proudly to right of the old library entrance. He’s an absolute knock out beaut and the design is just fantastic!

Have you seen our Snowdog Graffiti yet? If so, let me know what you think!? If not – then get yourself along to Gateshead Central Library to visit him and of course pop in and say hello to our lovely Little Dogs – tweet us @GatesheadLibs and let us know about your visit.

Frank Styles in the Spotlight

Graffiti Dog was designed and created by one of the best known street artists in the North East; Frank Styles.

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Frank is a talented freehand spray painter with over 18 years’ experience painting under his belt. He specialises in photo-realistic murals, freehand graffiti art and stencil graffiti. Throughout his practice he designs and paints North East graffiti commissions, street art, murals alongside facilitating graffiti workshops and community projects.

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Frank is equally passionate about making art accessible for all and storytelling through his work.

Now, I personally love love LOVE graffiti work – I love the David Bowie near the Sage, I love the changing nature of the industrial walls between Sandyford, Shieldfield and Heaton in Newcastle. It’s real art form – one that I’ve always been completely in awe of and captivated by. When done professionally and of course, legally, it adds a colour and vibrancy to urban areas.

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My experience with “street art” and interest began with those sharp “s”’s in the back of my maths class when I was probably about 11 – practicing them over and over and if you went to school in the 90s, you’ll know exactly what I mean!

That retro activity, which fills me with nostalgia is what got me interested and today one of my favourite things to do, in any city in the world, in places from Barcelona to Southend, is whilst exploring a new place; I take photos and photos of all the street art I come across. New York was an absolute haven for it and street sculpture too……a true culture vulture’s paradise. In fact, I think I spent more time looking at that than I did the touristy things.

I was speaking recently to a gent who commissioned a local graffiti group to decorate and a design a piece for his car park on Brandling Street, Gateshead (just off the Tyne Bridge) and I asked him why he’d commissioned a graffiti style of piece in a client carpark. He said, he wanted a talking point for his visiting clients, something colourful with a North East theme and he had the idea of young people feeling ownership of the car park, re-visiting it and thinking “I did that!”. It’s a fantastic piece that is hidden away and certainly always stops me in my tracks!

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So when I found out our Snowdog was by a graffiti artist, obviously I was excited and couldn’t wait to see it. I imagined colourful, exciting and impactful and that is exactly what we got. Frank’s design is brilliant and certainly one of my favourite Snowdogs!

I also love the idea of finally jumping over the hurdle of “graffiti isn’t really art” – well, of course it is and it’s one of my favourites. It’s a glorious form of Art and the skill behind it is unbelievable. I love anything where people are self-taught, self-crafted; that takes passionate and real hard work. We now have businesses and Councils embracing it and commissioning such work inside and outside as part of environmental enrichment and to impress clients.

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So whilst you could say graffiti isn’t to your taste; I could also say that a watercolour painting of a landscape really isn’t my taste but I can still look at appreciate the skill of the artist. You only have to watch our Snowdog Graffiti for five minutes and see how many people stop, look at the Dog and take photos.

And that’s exactly what Snowdogs is all about – getting out and about engaging with sculpture and new art forms and styles, learning about new artists and of course, raising some funds for St Oswalds.

I caught up with Frank to find out a little bit more about the man behind graffiti…..

Tell me a bit about yourself?

Hi I am Frank, Frank I am.

Tell me about your practice?

I paint pictures using spray paint, a skill I learned from doing graffiti. I’m a full time mural artist; I like to paint large walls in places where people can see them, for me it’s a job that I am passionate about and really enjoy, in that respect I am really lucky but then you make your own luck, don’t you?

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In between painting big walls I paint a lot of smaller commissions like restaurants, pubs, offices etc.  I love this, meeting new people each week and having a new challenge to paint all the time, it gives me ideas and techniques that filter into the bigger walls.

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What is “street art”?

I don’t see myself as a street artist, I used to do graffiti, I did Fine art degree and then I started painting commissions and eventually landed some big walls.

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I’m a spray painter, I paint pretty pictures, more of a mural artist, I had a choice to make – I could keep doing illegal graffiti and risk ending up in prison or use my skills to support my family and try to make the world a more colourful place at the same time.

Do you have a favourite piece of work?

Yes; it’s normally the last thing I’ve painted! However one that stands out for me is the ‘Two Whites’ piece on High Street East in Sunderland City Centre (see picture below). It’s a painting of two butterflies 12 meters high. It’s a simple painting but the scale of the thing still blows me away every time I see it.

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Why did you want to get involved with Snowdogs?

I wasn’t going to do a Snowdog but my friend Steph convinced me, she said you need to paint one it’ll be awesome! So I said, “ok I’ll give it a shot” and I was really happy with the outcome. It’s the first sculpture I’ve painted and it presented new challenges, trying to make it look good from every angle for example.

What was your inspiration for Graffiti dog?

Ok, so I paint a lot of photo realistic images and I love painting things from nature.  But when faced with a dog, it didn’t seem right to go down this route.  I thought “they look very cute so how can I toughen this guy up a bit”?  How can I contrast this cuteness?! So I looked back through some of my old graffiti letters for inspiration and came up with this abstracted letterform design.  I love the colours and the flow; I’ve had great fun painting this dog. I don’t think I’ve managed to completely kill the cuteness but at least I’ve given it a shot!

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A part from your Dog, do you have another favourite Snowdog?

I’ve been impressed by the standard of all the dogs I’ve seen. It’s so worth seeing them in person you just can’t take it all in through a photo. Mike Clay’s ‘Guide Dog’ sings to me for the sheer detail that’s gone into the maps on it and likewise the ‘Hounds Tooth’ by Damien Jeffrey must have taken some doing, so bright and colourful; it’s class.

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Advice for people wanting to get into street art?

It takes a great deal of time, patience and paint to learn spray painting. So you have to keep going and keep drawing and painting; even it doesn’t look great just keep going.  It took me years to learn, I mean 6 or 7 years before I was even happy with anything I painted, buy I kept going, you have to.

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Well thank you Frank – if you want to watch Frank in action – watch this amazing video!

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(The 90s kid inside LOVES Frank’s Power Ranger indoor design!!)

We are now 3 weeks into Snowdogs – keep finding them, enjoying the work and of course #protectthepack…….

Sculpture Day 2016: Game ON!

It is very nearly Sculpture Day…..it is THIS Sunday, starting at 11am in Saltwell Park, Gateshead.

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So how are going to approach this year’s theme Games? Even if you’ve been before but especially if you haven’t, I want to make sure that you get the most out of the day and build something fantastic!

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I love this year’s theme Games; it is so open to interpretation! But I’m going to give you some ideas to get you started thinking – You could build;

  • Something from the Olympic games
  • A level from a retro game – eg: Sonic.
  • Your favourite Pokemon character.
  • Take an idea from a Computer game; e.g. Mario Cart, Grand Theft Auto or the Simms.
  • Something board game inspired e.g. Monopoly, Scrabble, Connect four, Hungry Hippos, Guess who or a 90s favourite of mine; Dream Phone!
  • App games – Candy Crush, Subway Surfer…
  • Card games – poker inspired or exploding kittens.
  • School games – e.g. something Sports day related, What’s the time Mr Wolf, Red Rover or Tag.
  • A 3D reimagining of your current favourite Virtual Reality game.
  • Fair games – e.g. Hook a Duck.
  • Other games such as bowling, bowls, Pool, Snooker…..

I could go on, the list is simply endless and I can’t wait to see what you guys get building this year!

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I thought I’d ask the experts for a bit of advice that may help you get building….. I spoke to Karen Rann- A Sculpture Day sculptor, Anna Pepperall – Gateshead Public Art Curator, Adam Taylor –Sculpture Day addict and event’s manager and Jen Douglas – Gateshead based artist and sculptor. I gathered their hints, tips and insights to give you a helping hand to get started…..

What are your top tips for Sculpture day 2016?

Adam: Make it a family/group activity, everyone chipping in ideas, agreeing on a plan, choosing wood, and then building.

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Anna: Wear Warm clothes, and thick shoes/boots; bring lots of food, and your own hammers!

Jen: Either ‘ go with the flow’ and wait till you arrive to think about the Sculpture Day theme or, have a think about the theme beforehand, brainstorm ideas that you can bring along to work on with your family or group of friends you come with so you have starting points for what to make.

Right – so we’ve got lots of wood, they’ve got their tools – what is the best way to get started?

Adam: It’s always good to have a good plan, and think about how the various bits of wood are going to be nailed together.

Anna: Talk to Staff on the Info desk, look at a storyboard for inspirational ideas , ask an artist, or join a group already working on something.

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Karen: Think about framework, creating a good ‘bone structure’ it’s fun to save adding all the little details till the end.

Jen: If you get stuck for ideas there are Sculptors on hand to give you inspiration and get you started. Think through which of these ideas will work in 3D using wood and nails…. Some things might work better than others.

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Is it best to plan your sculpture before you start or just “go with the flow”?

Anna:  Either- some people prefer to come with an idea but often it’s good to look around and get inspiration, or from the Artists/Storyboard.

Jen: It’s sometimes useful to think about making the sculpture from the base up – work as a team/family to decided who works on which section of the sculpture so everyone has a job! With lots of different types of wood different lengths/thicknesses etc. might suit different sections to your sculpture so a plan may be useful.

Karen: Depends how you like to work it could be you spot an enticing bit of timber at that gets the imagination going, don’t forget to look at the school’s work for inspiration.

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For the Sculpture Day veterans or newbies out there, who attend year on year what would your advice be on approaching this year’s theme “Games”?

Adam: Plan something original!

Jen:  When you’ve decided what you want to make gather together some pieces of wood and lay them out on the floor so that you can start to ‘map out’ your sculpture and see how each piece might join together to form your 3D masterpiece. You can always tweak and add more pieces of wood to make the work more elaborate.

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It’s as much fun to just tinker away with the wood and create something quite unique and un-related to the theme – that is fine too Sculpture Day is a fantastic experience to have and everyone who comes along has fun!

Karen:  Don’t always go with the first idea, it may be a tricky one to transform into 3d, there’s so many types of games and a little time spent playing with ideas might lead to something really novel and fun to make.

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Well it’s over to you Culture Vultures; I’ll see you in the Grove, in Saltwell Park on Sunday from 11am.

Game on!

Cultural kid’s activities in Central Gateshead this Summer

The summer holidays are nearly here…..and I know what you’re thinking if you’re a parent!? What am I going to do with my mini mes over the Summer Holiday period……

Well there is LOTS going on in Central Gateshead, a real diverse mix of activities both indoors and outside for a range of ages. We want to keep your kids entertained, discovering new things and having lots of fun. That is what the English Summertime should all be about…..

Summer holiday activities kick off with a bang with a Theatre Set Design Workshop with Tanya Axford

Wailes Room, Gateshead Central Library – Saturday 16 July, 10am – 12.30pm

Work with visual artist Tanya Axford, who masterminded the set for ‘In A NutShell’ to create your very own imaginative theatrical world and become a part of it! This is a unique experience for theatre loving creatives to work with a professional!

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In A NutShell set – Tanya Axford

For ages 7+ (all children must be accompanied by an adult).

£ 3 per child

Click to book

We then move onto the launch of Summer Holiday Culture Camp

Camp

Have you got a budding artist at home who wants some inspiration in the summer holidays? Culture Camp gives young people aged 8-14 an opportunity to work with a different professional artist each day to try lots of interesting arts activities and materials.

Monday 25 JulyKate Eccles will help you to create your own unique hoodies and bags using recycled fabrics.

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Bring along something you don’t mind cutting up and transforming by adding horns, flowers, skulls or animals.

£20

Click to book

Tuesday 26 July – Artist Paul Merrick will have you mastering your drawing and painting skills using lots of different materials.

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Move from 2d to 3d over the day and turn some of your ideas into your own sculptural mobile to take home for your bedroom.

£20

Click to book

Wednesday 27 July – Try your hand at printmaking with experts from Northern Print Studio, with monoprinting in the morning and using letterpress in the afternoon to make cards, posters or bunting for your bedroom.

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£20

Click to book

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Minecraft Special is a free drop in session…

Gateshead Central Library – Wednesday 3 August, 11am

As part of the Summer Reading Challenge; bring books to life in Minecraft. Help us recreate a Minecraft Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory.

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Free, just drop in!

More info

Welcome to the Circus: Workshop for all the family

Ever fancied learning some circus tricks to show off to your friends…..well we’ve got a corker of a session for you….

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St Mary’s Heritage Centre – Friday 5 August, 1pm-3pm

Become a trainee circus performer for the afternoon and try out some of the skills it takes to join the circus, including Plate spinning, Poi, Gymnastic Ribbon, Juggling, Hula Hoop, Tight Rope Walking and Beginners Stilts in this action packed session. Both children and adults will equally enjoy showing off their favourite skills at the graduation to the Big Top showcase where everyone will receive a certificate welcoming them to the circus.

This exciting and energetic workshop is suitable for anyone over 7 years, all equipment will be available.

£10 per participant

Click to book

Over The Moon Glass Workshop

Wailes Room, Gateshead Central Library – Saturday 6 August, 10am-12.30pm

Join glass artist Effie Burns to make ‘space’ inspired glass pieces that are out of this world, in this family friendly workshop.

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This workshop is perfect for parent and child to work together on a lovely glass project…..

Suitable for ages 7+

£10 – Please book places for both children and adults taking part.

Click to book

Mad About Monkeys

Have you got a cheeky monkey at home? Well this free workshop is perfect just for them….

Gateshead Central Library – Thursday 11 August, 2pm

A monkey sculpture craft afternoon for all the family.

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Free, reserve your place!

To reserve a place click

Whimsical Windchimes

Have you checked out the community garden at Gateshead Central Library; it’s always a hive of activity…..

Gateshead Central Library – Saturday 13 August, 10.30am

Join us to make your very own windchimes to hang in the garden this summer. Test them out first in our community garden!

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£2/£3 per child

Click to book

Creatures Up Close @ Central

Oooooh back by popular demand our beasties, creepy crawlies and unusual small animals…..book quick as this always sells out!

Gateshead Central Library – Monday 15 August, 2pm and 2.45pm

Your chance to get hands on and up close with some very unusual insects, reptiles and amphibians.

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£2/£3 per child

Click to book

I Dreamed A Jar

Have you seen the BFG? What would you put in your Dream Jar…… let’s find out!

Gateshead Central Library, Monday 22 August, 2pm

Staff at Central will be making their own Dream Jars so why not help them out or make one of your very own!

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Free

To reserve a place

Family Nature Doodling Workshop

The English summertime should be about getting outside and exploring…..

Meet at Thornley Woodlands Centre, off the A694 – Wednesday 24 August, 1pm – 4pm

Discover new ways of exploring our natural landscape through making temporary land art.

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Treehug – Jane Gower

Join Artist Jane Gower for a leisurely walk and explore the process of making – find beautiful objects in nature; seek out enchanting spaces; collect colours; and create sculptures and 3-D collages. They may only last a day, but you can capture your art piece in a photograph before it disappears.

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Ladders – Jane Gower

Please wear suitable clothing and shoes for the weather and bring a camera or phone to take photos of what you make.

£3/£5 – suitable for families

Click to book

Mrs Twit’s Trick Menu

Another Summer reading challenge activity……

Gateshead Central Library – Thursday 25 August, 2pm

Mrs Twit invites you to come along and sample her special menu. Do you fancy tomato-blood soup, octopus eyeballs or spider lollipops?

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Test your tastebuds and see which is the most delicious and make your own revolting recipe!

£1 per child

To reserve a place

Manga Workshop with Paul Belcher

Back by popular demand after last summer’s session…..

St Mary’s Heritage Centre – Thursday 25 August, 1pm-3pm

Local Community Artist Paul Belcher is returning to St Mary’s for his popular manga art session.

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It’s a great opportunity to learn some manga art techniques in this workshop suitable for children and adults. With Paul’s guidance you will create manga style portraits on A4 canvas using acrylics.

£5 per participant

Click to book

Summer Holiday Culture Camp – Make a Play in a Day

Do you have the next aspiring Jennifer Lawrence or Leo Dicaprio in your family?

Gateshead Central Library – Thursday 1 September, 9.30am – 4.30pm

Drama Teacher, David Raynor will help you create a play in a day; you get to experiment with a variety of acting and movement techniques, script writing and set design!

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£20

Click to book

Sculpture Making Workshop with Neil Canavan

Join Sculpture 30’s September artist of the month to get creating and making….

The Gallery, Gateshead Central Library – Saturday 3 September, 10am-12.30pm

Create mini sculptures that will help artist Neil Canavan create a largescale sculpture called ‘Juggernaut’ inspired by the large mobile structures that were pulled along by devotees in Hindu religious processions.

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Ship of Fools – Neil Canavan

The finished sculpture will feature at the 31st Gateshead Family Sculpture Day in Saltwell Park on 25 September!

Suitable for all ages and all materials provided.

Free, just drop in.

Click for more info

So get booking and reserving your places quick! This is just a flavour of Central Gateshead activities….there are more activities listed at www.gateshead.gov.uk/whatson at other branch library locations across Gateshead that you may want to check out!