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…….

Great North Snowdogs…..5 weeks to go!

It’s not long until The Great North Snow Dogs launches across the North East (19th September – so just over a month away!) and lots of Big and Small Snowdogs pop up across the region in cultural venues, landmarks and local hidden gems.

Each Big Snowdog has been design by a professional artist; the North East and of course, Gateshead on the Gateshead Trail are set to come alive with colour from the fantastic designs!

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Last week we caught up with Corinne Lewis-Ward; a brilliant Gateshead based artist and the business brains behind Powder Butterfly.

Corinne has been a long-time champion of Arts in Gateshead (and of course – Arts regionally, Nationally and Internationally). She has also been selected as an artist as part of The Great North Snow Dogs project working on two Big Snow Dogs.

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We wanted to catch up with her and find out more about her work, her practice and of course, more about Snowdogs!

Hi Corinne, can you tell me a bit about your practice?

Just like many creatives, I work in a variety of ways! I have my own creative practice as an artist but I also have my own design company which is called Powder Butterfly.

With my design company I am interested in representing well-loved landmarks from different locations in the UK. I currently have a Newcastle/Gateshead collection, a York collection and a London collection.

One Snow Dog design was inspired by my Newcastle/Gateshead collection. I have lived in the North east for 18 years and all of the landmarks hold a special place in my heart.

How did you hear about The Great North Snowdogs project?

I heard about The Great North Snowdogs at the North Design Centre in Gateshead. It was a really exciting event where we got to meet people from Wild In Art, St Oswalds and some of the sponsors and other creatives. There was a buzz about The Great North Snowdog project and I could tell that it would be wonderful to play a small part in it.

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Why did you decide/want to get involved?

I wanted to get involved because St Oswalds is an amazing organisation that carries out wonderful work throughout the North East, and being part of the raising money and awareness for their cause and activity was something that I really wanted to be part of.

I also love The Snowman and the Snow Dog animation, I enjoyed watching it with my kids and I could see how much fun this project was going to be with The Snowdog as the sculpture.

This project also took me out of my comfort zone to a certain degree as painting is not something that I do every day. Increasingly I work with digital media, but I was really keen to have the chance to use my art school experience to create something completely unique.

What was the process behind submitting your designs for your Dog and getting the green light?

The process was pretty simple really; I had to come up with a design in a two dimensional format and submit it as part of my application. I knew that I wanted to use the basis of my design from my Newcastle/Gateshead collection so I had a fair idea of how the artwork should look.

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I had to wait a few weeks before finding out if I had been successful. I knew that there would be selection process where sponsors would get to see the designs and then choose their favourite.

How did you feel when you found out, you’d been selected not once, but TWICE!?

I was really thrilled to find out that my Newcastle/Gateshead design had been selected from my original application. When I was working on it I was asked to carry out a VIP Snowdog commission which was amazing. Having two Snow Dogs on the sculpture trail is really wonderful and it is such an honour to be selected to carry out a VIP commission.

What were the inspirations behind your Snowdog designs? (only say as much as you can!)

Newcastle/Gateshead landmarks were the inspiration for my first design. All I can say about the VIP commission is that the design is based upon a well-loved British children’s author and illustrator.

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As you can imagine we all want to keep the sculpture trail a surprise for people so I wouldn’t want to reveal any spoilers.

Can you reveal any secrets regarding your Dogs, locations, names, sponsors?

The name of the Newcastle/Gateshead design is Tyne Tail Jack you can follow him on twitter @TyneTailJack . The lovely Sponsors are called The North Group and they have been operating in the North East for 150 years. The location of the dog will be on the Newcastle side of the Quayside.

As far as my VIP commission is concerned I am not able to reveal much at all about this lovely pup. But as soon as I do I will let you know what I can.

How does it feel as a Gateshead based Artist, to be featured within such a high profile North East campaign?

I am so proud to be part of this project. Although I am originally from London, I have lived in the North East for 18 years and I love it up here.

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I am so passionate about Gateshead and the amazing creative community that we have here. To be part of such a high profile campaign is wonderful and I am really excited to see how the local community and visitors to the region respond to the amazing work that artists from the local area and all over the country have created.

Each dog has its own very unique character and there are so many brilliant designs that have also been created by local schools and community groups as well.

Have you seen any other Snowdogs yet?

Yes I have seen some fabulous Snowdogs. I have been working in the studio in Newcastle that is provided for artists to work on the dogs and I am so excited that I have been lucky enough to meet some amazingly talented artists in the process.

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The studio is also the place where all completed dogs come to before the sculpture trail. So all of the school and community art dogs and the sculpture trail dogs end up there, so I am looking forward to seeing many more over the coming weeks.

Why are projects like this so important to the North East cultural agenda?

Events like this raise awareness of what is going on up here creatively and raise awareness of the great work St Oswalds does for people in the region.

It will also bring people from outside of the region to the area which will help introduce new audiences to the North East and help stimulate the local economy. With my design I have tried to help foster links between industry, the corporate world and the arts. I think the project model that Wild In Art have created really demonstrates how seemingly disparate bodies can work together to achieve great things creatively.

Do you intend to complete the wider Great North Snowdogs Public Art Trail and (of course!) the Gateshead Trail?

I can’t wait to attend the sculpture trail with my friends and family. It is going to be amazing to see how many pictures of the Snowdogs we can collect before they go to auction at the end of the year. It will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to document the event and see how many we can take pictures of. I am also excited to see where they all end up being located.

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After Gateshead Sculpture 30 Festival, Playground at Baltic and now Snowdogs, there seems to have been a bit of a shift towards more accessible, interactive sculpture and outdoor Art! We really love this as it gets people outdoors, exploring alongside engaging with Art and Sculpture! What do you think about this?

Any kind of project or campaign that makes art more accessible to a wider audience is something that I love to be part of. With my creative practice as an artist, I attempt to bring art and science together which could be seen as two entirely unrelated subjects. But I have found that audiences are really interested and engaged in this sort of work especially if you make the work engaging and accessible.

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The Great North Snow Dogs project is one of those special events that will get people exploring, engaging and sharing their experience through social media. I think I have also heard rumours of an app being created for the event so I am keen to see what that will be like. It’s going to be a wonderful and exciting event and I am so thrilled to be a small part of it.

How brilliant and thank you Corinne! So Culture Vultures – as of the 19th September, you have ten weeks, so find, discover and snap a selfie (or a snowfie, as we are calling them) with the Snowdogs across the region and of course Gateshead.

In the meantime; Tweet a “hello” to Corinne’s Snowdog @TyneTailJack, visit Snowdogs webpage to keep yourself up to date on all things Snowdog related including any app information. You can also catch them on @GreatNorthSnowdogs on Facebook and @great_snowdogs on Twitter.

We can’t waitttttt for Snowdogs!