Interview with Co.Durham artist Nocciola The Drawer – we chat #Durham2025, colour, importance of communities and inspiring others….

Well Culture Vultures, I’m back with another corking artist interview. If you’ve been following my socials, you’ll know I’ve been partnering with #Durham2025, exploring the County and having the total privilege of getting to know and discover some amazing artists.

It’s a very exciting time for Co. Durham, as they are just one of four locations shortlisted to be UK City of Culture 2025. The final decision is set to be announced late May (very soon!) and if you watch BBC The One Show (Wednesday, 18 May, 7pm) you can fall in love with Durham like I have, find out what’s been happening across the County lately and what winning would mean to folks. Becoming UK City of Culture 2025 would be such an enabling wonderful thing for artists and creatives in Co.Durham. and the wider North-East – I am SO in their corner and cheering #Durham2025 on to the finish line.

Culture Vulture backs #Durham2025 bid

A new artist discovery for me is Hazel Oakes – aka Nocciola The Drawer. I didn’t know of Hazel before my partnership with #Durham2025 – not sure how I missed her, as she’s fantastic, a beaut feminist and a very talented street artist! But here we are, and I love discovering and celebrating new artists – so swings and roundabouts! I went back to basics with my culture vulturing across Co.Durham; I spoke to communities and creatives and asked them which Durham artists they were excited about and Hazel was a firm favourite! And then once I knew who she was and her work, suddenly I started seeing her all over my socials, in the press and stumbled onto a mural or two – it was fate and I just had to interview her.

So here it is, I got to sit down and chat to Hazel about her work, her involvement in and excitement about #Durham2025 and painting a Metro train!

Well hello, for my culture vulture folks and faves – can you please introduce yourself?

My name is Hazel Oakes and I work under the artist name Nocciola The Drawer; I am a mural artist and illustrator. I specialise in bright, bold colourful artwork that combines female characters with lively patterns, all with the aim to uplift, inspire, empower and celebrate.

And bright, bold and colourful they certainly are! Right, how did your adventure into creative industries kick off?

I love of learning and while I enjoyed lots of subjects at school, the art room was my favourite; you could experiment with so many different things. I decided I wanted to study Fashion Design and went to Northumbria University. I had a year in industry while at Northumbria where I worked in a variety of different brands and high-end fashion houses in London and in France. I thought a fashion designer was the path for me, all of my artwork was inspired by women and the body, so it made sense, but…. I still didn’t see the right role, so I continued to follow my curiosity.

I moved to London and studied a Masters in Fashion part time at Kingston University, whilst working as a bridal consultant in London. While studying I discovered an enterprise programme at the University and learnt entrepreneurial skills and how to create your own job or business. My journey from there to where I am now is a long one that includes starting my own lingerie brand, living in different countries, working in different industries and being creative in different fields. When I look back, I can see how they all connect, the things that I value as an artist and the way that I work now; it was definitely what I would call a squiggly career, but I was always listening to my gut and following my curiosity to see where it led.

My journey into creative industries was equally as squiggly and I LOVE that about artists – it’s never “simple” and a total adventure! Something I’ve been curious about, where did your artist name ‘Nocciola’ come from?

My artist name was picked up while living in Italy; my name “Hazel” is difficult to pronounce in Italian and is quite unusual. I ended up introducing myself as “Nocciola” which means Hazelnut in Italian and it was a great way to connect with locals. Hazelnut flavour is everywhere in Italy, and I recommend having some “Nocciola” gelato next time you go and visit.

Noted, I have an incredibly sweet tooth, so all over that and I love Italy! You have a really uplifting, dopamine injecting colourful illustration style; how did it develop?  

I have always loved colour; when I was studying art at school, I loved Matisse and David Hockney and they influenced my work with colour and shape. I can see hints of my style now in my early work, but it took a lot of experimenting. When I started working under the name “Nocciola The Drawer”, I had a clear vision of my style and the feel that I wanted from the work. I think my interest in facepaint and bodypainting influenced my style, but also my view on the world.

I am a very positive person and I have a bright outlook; that is reflected in my colourful illustration style. Colours have an influence on how we feel, and I like to play with the use of colour to evoke feelings. I create using flat colours with no outline, so the balance is very important to make sure the colours next to each other, “pop” and have contrast.

What inspires your work?

I am inspired by the seasons, women, childlike imagination, travel, making the most of the moment, street art, communities and connection. I am trying to spread my joy for life one splash of colour at a time; I am inspired my many things that bring me joy, or I can see bring others joy. I am inspired by women, those who create their own path, who share their passions with others, who are fighting for equality and who go on adventures. I am inspired by places and how people come together in those places. The list of inspiration is long but living life inspires me and sharing the beauty of it with others.

Nocciola The Drawer artwork

That is just beautiful! I feel so full of hope! You’re a street artist and your murals bright up the urban environment; do you think folks opinions of street art has changed a little? I think the pandemic has brought a new appreciation to art on the streets and civic spaces…..

I think the pandemic helped people to realise how coming across artwork in your local area while out on a walk can pick up your day; it helped people see that artwork outside and in local areas can make a difference. I think it made people realise that there are other ways to consume culture and art without having to go to a gallery and it made people realise the value of creativity.

I know when I was painting on the streets in Southsea during 2020, the message of hope, the joy I was creating and the image of community, lifted people’s spirits and was a place for people to add to their walks; it was a beacon for joy and I loved seeing the photos of people with my “Rise Up” mural. Street art has the potential to be accessed by anyone, be interpreted by anyone, and can surprise people that weren’t expecting to see art in that space. I think maybe folks are more open to it now, but it’s a scene that has been working hard for years and some people are just stuck in their ways at embrace street art are completely transformed for the better and draw in such a variety of audience which is so exciting.

That’s the ‘value of street art manifesto’ right there! So, if people do stumble onto a mural of yours, what do you hope people take away from your work?

I hope it brightens their day, that it lifts their spirit, that they feel the power of the inspiring or empowering message and that it brings joy and makes them smile. Passion is contagious and everything I create is with passion; I hope that people can feel that.

Do you plan your pieces? What’s the process?

I am a planner, always have been, I think coming from a design background also adds to this. I love to research and get a feel of the place, or the people I am trying to represent. Everything is designed for specific places -whether it’s an indoor mural, outdoor mural or on a book cover. I like to get to know the story, the energy of the community and gather imagery together. Then once I have that information gathered, I can start drawing.

This part isn’t planned, it comes from gut reaction or reaction to the space I am creating for. I might have done a very, very rough sketch of a possible layout or possible ideas but nothing exact, then I digitally draw in illustrator. I will have the image and sizing of what I am creating for and the mood board, and then I draw until I am happy with the final result. If it is a mural then I will hand draw this on the wall when I get to the space, scaling it up from the drawing to the large-scale piece.

Nocciola The Drawer at work

Tell us about a recent favourite project?

I loved working on a huge mural for Labre’s Hope in Rotherham. They are a new non-profit, that are trying to change the perception of homelessness through business. They create handmade cosmetics; I created a mural for their manufacturing room and it has a huge impact on you when you enter the room and lifts up the space. The mural was designed around their core values which I picked up as growth, community and onward.

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You recently created murals in Bishop Auckland, Co.Durham. – how did that come about?  

I have recently created two murals in Bishop; one in Bishop Auckland Town Hall and one on the streets of Bishop on Railway Street. The first one in Bishop Auckland Town Hall is in the new library in the basement; this came about as last year I created a temporary mini mural for the exhibition “Through Soldiers Eyes”. My dad was in the military, so I created a piece from my perspective of a child in the military community, then when the library was opening again, they wanted something to celebrate reading and the community of different people that come to enjoy books.

The 2nd was with the Bish Vegas collective of street painters; they’ve created a legal area in Bishop Auckland for graffiti and street artists to create, experiment and share their style. They are a brilliant collective bringing creativity to the streets and I would love to help bring more girls and women to the street art scene they have created. Hopefully we will be working on some more street art together in the future.

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That’s great – you’re a real feminist and women appear often in your work, your work is not only empowering but also tools of advocacy…..

I am inspired by women, and I hope that my artwork inspires women. They are who I am trying to communicate with, I feel my sense of community with women anywhere in the world and I love to share perspectives from a female voice. They appear in my work as I want to inspire women and girls to dream big and explore their creativity, I want them to see the different possibilities in the world and know they have a community of women that will encourage and cheer them on. I also want to create imagery of women in areas they aren’t as represented; in adventure, in sport, in tech, industries where the main imagery is men – if you can’t see yourself in those roles how do you know you can be it?

I could talk about this all day, you are firmly in my gang. You’ve recently been commissioned by Nexus to paint a train….. what have you got in store?

The Nexus train commission is very exciting; I love public transport and to have a permanent piece of artwork to be installed on the new Metro fleet is something I didn’t imagine back when I was studying at Northumbria. This piece is also so exciting because it encompasses all the things I love as an artist and human; I am an adventurer as well as an artist and love to celebrate people that come together for social sport.

So, my piece is inspired by the communities of women who come together to wild swim along the North-East Coast. I have been connecting with communities of women who cold water swim, at different beaches that the Metro serves. I have plunged myself into the communities and the sea to get to know how they feel, how the swims make a difference to their day and how they come together to support each other. It’s been fantastic to meet so many amazing women, from women that have done it for years to those that picked it up during the pandemic and have swum every week since. I am excited to share with you the final piece when it revealed this summer.

I’ve spied that you’ve been involved in Durham 2025 and their campaign…..

I became involved in Durham 2025 at the beginning of 2022 when I took part in their Creative Labs, sharing my big ideas for the County bid and how they would impact the people and make a difference to our culture. From there I was involved in many ideas and brainstorming session with difference creatives coming together in places across the County. It has been so great to meet so many people from across the County in different disciplines and hear their ideas too.

Before the judges visit, I worked with ‘Local’ in Dawdon who set up a Place Lab which is a prototype of something that will roll out across the whole County. It was great to connect with the local community and get to hear their stories and the impact that creativity has on them. Finally, I was at the judge’s lunch when they came to visit. It was great to have so many different people in one room, in the working Men’s club and the atmosphere of the entertainers and the community coming together to show off our County.

Why in your opinion would being awarded City of Culture 25, be good for the creative and cultural scene of Co.Durham?

I think it would be brilliant because it will shine a light on what we have here. We have so many great creatives and interesting places but not everyone knows about it. It will give a chance for us to create things on a bigger scale and to highlight some of the events that we already have that deserve larger recognition. We are no ordinary County, and this will give us the opportunity for us to show it and with bells on. It would mean so much to win the title and it would also unlock the resources to spread creativity further in the areas of the County that need it most.

Completely agree – the scene is bubbling away. Durham is known for its world class heritage and iconic visitor attractions, but the Co. Durham creative scene needs more recognition and is such a strong creative community……

I think that the City of Culture bid has helped us all to reconnect across the County. As creatives are spread out throughout it, this has given us a chance to connect and build new networks too. We have a huge sense of community in the County, and I think the pandemic made us realise the importance of that and renewed energy.

What would it mean to win the City of Culture 25 title, to you as an artist? How do you think it would impact you?

This County has so much important history to celebrate; this would be the chance to be a part to the new history. To me as an artist it would give the opportunity to connect with other creatives on a larger scale, to build projects across the County that are permanent and give me the opportunity to spread more inspiration and joy. You always want to make an impact where you live, where you have family and showcase the difference you can make with imagination and to inspire others to do the same.

Any advice to upcoming creatives in the County? Which events and organisations should they link up to?

I think connecting to as many as possible is important, as it always takes a lot of connections to find ones that work for you. Get in touch with Northern Heartlands based in Barnard Castle, No.42 in Bishop Auckland and East Durham Creates. They are all brilliant at connecting creatives and communities. Go to as many Create North events as possible because you will learn new skills and meet other amazing creatives. If you are into street art connect with Bish Vegas in Bishop Auckland. Always be on the lookout for new collectives and get involved, everyone is very welcoming wherever you are looking in the County.  

I know you’re so busy, is there an upcoming project or something exciting that you’d like to share?

There is an exciting project I have been working on with M&S and Costa Coffee to bring joy to the streets of Newcastle. From the 22nd May you will find something colourful on Grey Street for the week for you to sit back on, enjoy some snacks and connected with others!

I have also been working with the community in Peterlee and East Durham Creates to collect their vision of the past, present and future of where they live; I will be installing a huge bright bold mural with this message very soon.

Anything else you want to tell my fellow Culture Vultures?

Embrace your creativity and dream big.

Such a positive note to end our interview on Hazel thank you so much!

You can connect with Hazel across her socials via Nicciola The Drawer and her YouTube is a hot bed of delicious digital content and project behind the scenes. You check out her website for a feast of colour, purchase prints and accessories and have a slice of her work at home. She’s also open to indoor and outdoor commissions and can create for any surface, space and different communities – so if you’re a commissioner reading this, connect with her.

And as for #Durham2025 – keep all your fingers and toes crossed. Find out more & back the bid at Durham2025.co.uk #Durham2025 #lovedurham

Durham. No Ordinary County.

Interview is part of Culture Vulture x Durham 2025 campaign partnership.

Artist interview with Naomi Edmondson – life survival techniques, mental health and positive vibes through guerilla street art!

Those of you who follow me on social media on my Culture Vulture Facebook will know I’m on a bit of a mental health mission (check out my Mental Health event in September!). It’s something that I’m extremely passionate about and as someone who has had significant mental health issues through-out their life, I’m determined to be an advocate, champion that there is life during and post mental health issues, celebrate creative expression as an outlet AND just taking some time out to look after number one (YOU!) every so often.

Mental Health is a topic that has been explored and tackled in many of my recent projects…. And is something that I am (alongside lots of artists) are using as a stimulus within current and future creative projects. I want to be part of the positive change and also to smash the perception of exactly WHAT mental health is and WHO “suffers” from it.

I recently worked on a brilliant festival called Make & Mend Festival; this festival focuses on and celebrates the power of craft, colour and creativity. It doesn’t just imply that being creative and engaging in creative happenings might be good for mind, body and soul – it all out, uses this as its core value to attendees. And being there on the day, doing their live social media, meant that I was able to enjoy the atmosphere and absorb the festival vibe and it just filled my soul with joy. You could literally feel people’s passion, happiness and creativity over flowing through-out the festival site. Perfect and more events like this please!

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

As part of Make & Mend Festival, I had the opportunity to engage with lots of artists, makers, artisans, creatives, motivational speakers, wellbeing practitioners and everything in between. Lots of them I knew already, some only through my constant social media stalking and fan girling so it was a pleasure to meet and chat in “real life” and there were lots of new folks to meet….. it blows my mind how much talent and lushness there is in the North East and that with the greatest will in the world, you just can’t know about them all. But events like that festival are all about creative discovery and I get a real buzz from that.

An artist/creative that I’ve fan girled for some time is Naomi Edmondson. Those who know me, know I’m in love with street art – I love bold, creative designs in urban areas. I’m of the mind-set that it’s an art form that I’d like to see more of and it’s an expression of “reclaiming” space and communicating with the rest of the world. Good street art stops you in your tracks and often makes you smile. Naomi’s work makes me smile and champions positive affirmations (not in the cheesy way – I can’t DEAL with a cheesy motivational quote), but actual real shit….. stuff that sometimes our brains just need to see as a pick me up, a metaphorical and colourful high five and a reminder that when things are crap, you’ve still absolutely got this.

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Naomi Edmondson in front of one of her murals.

So of course, I was delighted when I found out, that Naomi had been commissioned to produce some pieces of work to display across Make & Mend Festival grounds to be enjoyed. In fact, I think I did a little scream and said “THE Naomi Edmondson!?” …. I love it when fate just brings things together. So of course, when the opportunity arose to interview a Make & Mend artist as Culture Vulture, I was ALLLLL over Naomi like the creepy fangirl I can be…. “hi hi hi, I love you, I follow you on Instagram and I think you’re brilliant!”.

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Before I launch into my interview with Naomi, I suggest checking out her work to get a sense of it all. It’s mint. Naomi has turned the Instagram and advertising negativity on its head… instead of a social media feed with things that will make you feel inadequate or an advert in the street, that will remind you of all the things you should be doing to be a good adult….her work, is the antithesis of this – it’s like shit hot, positivity street art that shares some basic survival techniques in life.

So you get the sense that I LOVE her work, love the positive mental health theme running through out it and I want to shout loud and proud about Naomi to you all……. We need more of it in our lives and when I have an office, I want Naomi’s work within in.

So over to Naomi…

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Hi Naomi, absolute pleasure to talk to you and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat….so tell my readers who you are?

I’m Naomi Edmondson and I’m an artist with a street art project called Survival Techniques; it aims to promote hope and optimism and bring a little light to people having a dark day.

4 years ago, after a period of feeling very low, I wrote a list to remind me what to do when I was feeling bad: things that always made me feel a bit better. They were always super simple things like ‘Talk to someone, anyone, about anything’ which came from me chatting to the guy in my local shop for a few minutes. I realised that I would leave the shop feeling much more a part of the world again.

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After finding that friends found similar ‘Survival Techniques’ worked for them, I began to think about ways of sharing the list, and after seeing a local street artist at work in East London, decided that the street would be the best, most democratic place to share them.

The first wall I painted was “Hide Less Chat More” – words from the friend I’d first shared my list of Survival Techniques with. There are now many paintings spread across the UK and Japan.

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How did it all start….tell me about your journey into the creative world?

In my early twenties I was a professional freestyle skier, but after a string of season ending injuries, I decided to move back to the UK. I had a quarter-life crisis and eventually decided to study a 1 year Art & Design foundation course in London. I’d always enjoyed Art at school, but hadn’t really considered it for work. I completely loved my first course and went on to study BA Graphic & Media Design. I started working as a graphic designer for a book publisher and have been working on a freelance, part-time basis for that same publisher up until very recently, as I simultaneously worked on building the Survival Techniques project.

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You have a signature style….I love the bold typography choices…can you tell me the inspiration of your style?

I’ve always loved typography, and the reason I studied for my degree at London College of Communication was because they had a huge letterpress studio, full of drawers and drawers of letters. In particular I like dynamic, bold typography. It took me a while to get to the Survival Techniques style as I wanted to find that balance between colourful and eye-catching, whilst also putting the message first and foremost.

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How do you come up with the phrases for your Survival Techniques work?

When I first started the project I asked my friends and family to send me their Survival Techniques in any form. I then created phrases from what they told me, or edited down their words into the size and tone that I wanted. I am always collecting phrases; whenever I hold an exhibition there is a submissions box that people can post their Survival Techniques into, and I have always had a form on my website for the same thing.

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So for those who follow you on Insta, like this creepy fan girl right here, know you’ve been in Japan super recently with your work – so me about it?

This past year I’ve been out to Japan several times and have had 2 solo exhibitions in Tokyo. The first exhibition was in summer 2018 at UltraSuperNew Gallery during an intense heatwave. I gave a talk about my work and in partnership with the gallery we hosted a charity auction of 3 pieces of work in aid of the West Japan disaster that happened whilst I was there. The exhibition led onto a commission for the gallery to paint the shutter at the entrance to the building, and it also led onto my work moving across Tokyo in autumn for another solo exhibition to Park Gallery. I also collaborated with Park Gallery to run workshops for a group of adults and children, and I painted the front of the gallery in Spring 2019; I painted Open Your Doors, which are words that a 14-year old boy posted into the submissions box at my first exhibition at UltraSuperNew.

It feels incredible to be able to make work there, and be involved in the culture in a way I would never have expected and I feel so grateful for the experience and opportunities.

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People can buy your work….we all need more of your Survival Techniques in our life. Where do you tend to sell your work – where can people get them from?

Initially for print sales it was purely through my own online shop, which I still have and sell through, but I also now sell via galleries and dedicated print shops, in particular Atom Gallery and PrintClubLondon.

Paintings tend to sell via exhibitions and occasionally Instagram.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

How do you get approached for commissions?

Often commissions will come after I talk about Survival Techniques at an event; I think it’s the best way for people to understand the journey and reasoning of the project. Otherwise, having my work out on the street means that lots of people see it and then recognise other paintings. I think there is something immediately engaging about seeing work physically. To see work online or in print is always interesting and inspiring, but if people see my work in real life, out on the street somewhere, I think it is even easier to engage with.

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I find your work bold and yet quietly reflective – the colours enable the message to permeate whilst it triggers reflective thoughts about why i don’t necessarily feel that way in that moment and ignites a self determination to strive to feel that way. Was that intention?

Thank you and yes. I always try to find a balance between the colours being bright and hopeful, whilst also not shouting or being too commanding. I don’t have a scientific approach other than I always use a limited colour palette. I just work on it until it feels right, and like the colours together have the same feeling as what I want to say.

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What do you want people to feel and think when they see your work?

I hope that the messages will be gentle reminders of things you can do, or ways to look at a situation when you’re feeling low. It could be something you can do that same day or moment, or something that perhaps sticks on your mind and that you can call upon at a later date. I also hope that the messages will make people realise that everyone is struggling at different times and that they aren’t alone.

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Again through my stalking, I’ve discovered you were part of the World Book Day Teen campaign….how that that happen and how did you get involved?

I gave a talk about my work at an event in South-East London, where I have a lot of paintings. The ladies that run the studio that head up all of the design for World Book Day were there, started following my work, and a year later they got in touch to see if I’d be interested in collaborating. Reading has always been very important to me and I think World Book Day is such a brilliant event and charity, so it was a very easy decision to say yes.

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Some of your pieces have a distinctively positive feminist vibe – what does being a feminist mean to? Would you class yourself as a feminist?

I would definitely class myself as a feminist because I want to be treated equally to men. The inner levels of ourselves that the patriarchy reaches can be terrifying to discover sometimes. I think there can be no shortage of voices that give strength to women.

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Last year, you placed pieces “I am Here” – “I am a Woman” around London….. what did you want to achieve from that project?

I wanted to celebrate International Women’s Day in a way that felt relevant to my work and how I feel. I took those two paintings to locations around London that were or are key to women’s history and rights, for example meeting places for the suffragettes. I wrote the words I Am A Women and I Am Here as a way of unapologetically celebrating and claiming the place of those women, and of my own space in the city today.

You painted several commissions for Make & Mend Festival this year – I had the privilege of seeing them on site during the festival and they were just perfect additions. For those who didn’t attend, can you tell them a bit about your commissions.

I’ve created 5 paintings on wooden boards that were spread around the festival site. The words are Survival Techniques that relate directly to the ethos and vibe of Make & Mend.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

How did you come to get involved in this year’s festival?

Rachel, one of the organisers of the festival, got in touch about a collaboration and working together. I could immediately see so much common ground in what we were both doing and it was the perfect event for me to get involved with.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

Make & Mend Festival is all about giving yourself space to be creative and investing into your mental health through the power of craft and well-being focused activities – that seems to blend and connect well with your ethos at Survival Techniques. Why do you think creative opportunities and events are important for positive mental health?

I think we all need to be creative in one way or another. Finding that way is difficult nowadays as a lot of people don’t have that opportunity in their jobs. To be making things seems to be so important to what it means to be human. I run workshops where people can create their own Survival Techniques artwork and every time people are amazed at how relaxing it is to sit down and be creating something. One friend helping me to paint a mural and she said she nearly reached nirvana.

To go to an event that is focused on creativity is such a wonderful and important thing that you can do for yourself, and the benefits last way beyond the event itself.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

How does your practice and painting these positive affirmations influence your own mental health?

Painting each phrase onto a wall cements it into my mind and means it really stays with me. I still sometimes forget things, and when I think a little more in a situation and remember a certain painting I’ve done, for example ‘You Can Rest’; it helps me to stop dodging doing the good thing for myself, and just do it.

The actual physical act of painting is so calming and I feel lucky to be able to do it often.

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I’m an avid champion of the Northern Arts scene and I ask all artists from the South this question : Do you think there is a difference between the North & South Art scene?

I’m sorry to say I don’t know much about the North Art scene. I live in London, and up until recently all of my work has been based there, growing on the exposure and contacts I have in my local area until eventually I’m now creating work all across the city. I was so delighted to make work that was going to be outside of London as this is something I’ve always wanted to do.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

Do you come up North much?

Not as much as I’d like to. I really want to see the Keith Haring exhibition at Tate Liverpool, so hope to make a trip there soon. I spent New Year in the Lake District which was even more beautiful than I’d imagined. My brother and his family live in Scotland so I will visit them a couple of times a year, but I don’t currently have many other connections in the north at the moment.

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Well Naomi my dear, the North East is calling out for you to properly visit and if you need a tour guide….this gal is the one to ask!

Naomi’s work really is fantastic and I suggest that you follow her on Insta for some colour and positivity in your life!

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Kayleigh Marshall of Marshall Art Life? #completeditmate

So my Culture Vultures, this week is a Culture Vulture blast from the absolute past. Someone who I knew years ago whilst we studied law together. Little did we know, within that law degree theatre – that we actually had a lot more in common than the suffocating career path of a legal professional potentially ahead of us.

We were both secret creatives.

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I felt so shit walking away from a legal career – especially as I thrived in it academically but it just felt so wrong. Years later on Instagram I’d stumble on megababe and kindred creative Kayleigh Marshall – otherwise known as Marshall Art Life. I was astounded by the colourful creativity that Kayleigh possessed and I felt so proud, that another creative had embraced the calling and broken free.

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Kayleigh with gin (see what a kindred!)

Even though I only usually champion Northern artists – as Kayleigh lived in Newcastle for several years – I’ve decided she’s an honoury Toon megababe and she is the subject of this blog piece. Also, she produces the most amazing art pieces, street art and has one corker of a creative story to tell.

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So well hello Kayleigh, so lush to catch up; I’m always surprised when I met creatives and artists that were accountants, lawyers, corporate suits……we met on our Newcastle University law degree – do you find that a lot of creatives and artists end up in the corporate world until that moment, when they just can’t pretend anymore?

Oh for sure. I call this the ‘fuck it’ moment. That point in space and time where you realise you were put on this earth to do something outside of the prescriptive 9-5. In the words of Amy Winehouse “If you don’t throw yourself into something, you’ll never know what you could have had.” I just couldn’t pretend anymore and I needed to experiment with other options. From my experience with other creatives if we don’t have an outlet for our creativity we turn a sickly shade of grey and spontaneously combust; it KILLS us to not express our creativity and working in the corporate setting was doing nothing for my sanity. I managed 1 year in the real world before I went solo.

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Wow one whole year of “beige buffet” working – congrats. I’m a heart and soul kind of worker so I relate. What was the “fuck it” moment for you? It’s a big move to say, right I’m not going to be lawyer; I’m actually going to be an artist!

So my ‘fuck it’ moment didn’t just happen overnight, it took weeks of research and self-reflection. I’m an incessant list maker and so towards the end of 2016 when it came to working out what was making me unhappy I spent weeks writing down lists of EVERYTHING that make me tick and everything that didn’t. It wasn’t until I realised that the career path I was meant to be on couldn’t be found on LinkedIn or Glassdoor that it became crystal that I was destined to forge my own.

I didn’t have a clue where to start but that was my moment of clarity, my fuck it I’m going to be an artist. Hahaha sounds ridiculous writing it down, I guess it was a pretty bold move!

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Believe it or not, I went through a very similar list making process – I still make endless lists. Things aren’t real until they are on paper and I have too much going on in my head. So, tell me about your creative journey and how you came to be this fantastic artist?

Let’s break this down chronologically. Growing up I was that kid always drawing on stuff. Always arranging my crayons into the rainbow and making other kids cry at pre-school because I’d steal their pens when mine had run out. High school is where I had my only formal art training. In 6th form I studied Art and Design at A-level and honestly I was obsessed. Literally used to come into school at 7am to work on my art projects before registration. High school is also where I was told I was ‘too smart to study art’. Yes, those are real words that really came out of a teacher’s mouth to me and my parents at meeting about my career options.

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Fast forward a few years and I’m graduating from Newcastle University with a 2:1 Law degree having done barely anything remotely creative. In 2015 I moved down to London to start a job in Marketing, 6 months into that job I was loving life, I started creating again, people even started paying me for commissions. Then in October 2016, when I was sick of the corporate life came the ‘fuck it’ moment and since then I have launched Marshall Art Life, created over 20 mural and street art pieces, over 250 illustrations and worked with some wicked clients on their branding!

Now I’m here and I look back on all that, it was obvious I was always going to turn to art at some point, even if there was a slight detour via Law and Marketing…

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You have a signature style – how did that develop?

Looking back on last year (2017) it was the year Marshall Art Life figured out her style. From experimental abstracts, to daily art challenges, I focused on working out who I was, what I wanted my brand to say and what style of work I wanted to spend my days producing.

It’s not something that happens overnight, believe me I wish it was, and so you have to just let yourself get lost in different styles and keep experimenting. Having said that you don’t just arrive at a signature style; it’s something that I believe should always evolve to avoid creative stagnation.

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I know you sell your work, I know many artists who love it and others who find it kind of gut wrenching – how does that feel handing a piece over to someone else?

For me there is a HUGE difference between selling my prints, and handing over a commission.

  • Selling a print is a fairly easy transaction for me as an artist because my client has found my work, seen a piece they love and made the decision to purchase. Easy.
  • Handing over a commission however is a whole different ball game. My clients are placing a huge level of trust in me and my ability when they commission a piece of work because the artwork they want doesn’t exist at this point. It’s my job to translate their vision into a reality. Hours of thought, skill, design and creativity goes into a commission all of which is based on what I believe my client to want. So when it comes to handing over that piece I actually lose sleep until my clients and I agree it’s exactly spot on! I often wonder if this process will get any easier but I doubt it hahaha.

When you commission a Marshall Art Life piece of work you actually get a few hours of my lost sleep thrown in on the house, you’re welcome haha.

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A commission with some real life blood, sweat and tears – I hope you’re charging for those type of extras. So how much of what you do is commission and project based alongside just you having an idea or series concept and going with it?

It’s a cyclical process. When I produce new work or develop a series of pieces that triggers an influx of commissions in that style. Hitting the sweet spot is when I come up with new concepts WHILST producing commissions. It’s SO important as an artist to constantly develop creatively and with every new piece I produce, I am improving and exploring new concepts.

If I were to try and put this balance into a %, I’d say right now in my creative career it’s a straight 50/50 split, with plans in the future to spend a greater % of time on the conceptual side of things.

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Your Marshall brand is amazing, distinctive and just so perfect for you and what you’re doing – why did you decide to develop a brand for yourself as an artist?

When I set out on this creative journey I made a promise to myself; a promised that I would be honest and in order to be honest I have to be a real person. My brand really is nothing more than an extension of me, my style, my thoughts and my work. Marshall Art Life isn’t a facade, it really is just me, Kayleigh!

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Your social media game is strong – you do lots of live videos, stop-motion, live drawing etc – I think it works really well; (in the least creepy way possible) I enjoy watching you! Is it hard to really share that in the moment creating process?

It isn’t easy to capture on camera those magic moments of creativity because I never know when they are going to happen BUT I believe in sharing as much as I can about my process. Whether it’s my live tutorials or sharing snippets of me illustrating I think my followers enjoy the invitation I extend to them to better understand my creative world and subsequently how artists make a living.

Recently I interviewed Emma Cale, the founder of Gallery Piccolo who I have just partnered with to sell my work. We went Instagram live, chatted about the mysterious artist / gallery relationship and shared the whole conversation with our followers – I don’t know anyone else who is doing that!

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Tell me about your Cosmo experience – what an opportunity!

Well first and foremost I’d like to hold my hands up and say that this project with Cosmopolitan Magazine was a lucky break for me. A very lucky break indeed!

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After quitting my job I knew that I would have to leave London and move back home with my parents to give myself the best chance of getting Marshall Art Life up and running financially. The first thing I did on day one of funemployment was apply for this #CosmoHomeMade scheme. To raise awareness about the crippling rental market in London Cosmopolitan wanted to house some of its readers as property guardians in a London ‘Cosmo House’.

Long story short I got the call to say I was a successful applicant and that was that! After just 5 months back at home I moved back to London and into the Cosmopolitan House with 6 other entrepreneurial girls! We were all featured in the magazine and still live with each other now!

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You were a Northerner for a while and now, you’ve gone back down south. (wahhh!) How do you think the cultural and creative scene is different in the North in comparison to the South?

Every city has its own creative identity, and I think the difference between each one manifests itself through the people who live there. London is a melting pot of culture with a very dense population meaning the variety of subject matter of artwork down here is probably greater than up North. Let me just reiterate I don’t mean that it’s better, just more varied.

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You seem to love street art like I do – Shoreditch, Manchester & Liverpool has amazing street art scene! Do you have a favourite street artist?

Falko! 100%. This street artist tours the world painting elephants into obscure urban spaces. He is a magician with spray paints and his colour combinations are electric! You can imagine how stoked I was to find a piece of his down the road from where I live in Brixton! Properly geeked out.

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Tell me about your favourite project last year?

In July 2017 I got my first legal street art permission. I was painting alongside 20 other street artists from across the world in Croydon as a part of Rise Galleries ‘Street Art Jam’.

This was a phenomenal experience not only creatively because in those few hours I learnt so much about handling spray, but also because of the people I met. Let me tell you Street Artists are some of THE nicest people you’ll ever meet. The network I built up during that one painting session in Croydon has been responsible for a huge amount of work I have subsequently had.

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What have you got planned for 2018?

2017 was the year of developing my style. 2018 is the year I take that and absolutely run with it!

I feel like now I have my product there is literally no stopping me. On the agenda for Marshall Art Life this year is taking my brand to festivals in the UK, more gallery partnerships across London, moving into a bigger studio, creating portraits for the music industry and running my first solo exhibition. Gonna be a busy one, come and join me for the ride!

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Well I absolutely hope to get an invite to your first solo exhibition! Do you have a favourite piece?

Nope. I haven’t created it yet.

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Good answer! Where is Marshall Art going to be in the next 5years – what’s the megababe ambition?

WORLD DOMINATION. Or just a richer version of my happy self?

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You and me both creative soul sister! I’m so excited to see how you progress and grow – it’s a privilege to watch your creative journey unfold. And when I buy my house (need to get round to that) I hope to have a Marshall Art commission pride of place.

Oh and please come back to the toon for a visit.

Make sure you check out Marshall Art and oh, she has a cracker of an Insta.

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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…….