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

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

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

Culture Vulture backs #Durham2025 bid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What inspires your work?

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

Nocciola The Drawer artwork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nocciola The Drawer at work

Tell us about a recent favourite project?

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

Nocciola The Drawer artwork

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

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

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

Nocciola The Drawer artwork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything else you want to tell my fellow Culture Vultures?

Embrace your creativity and dream big.

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

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

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

Durham. No Ordinary County.

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

Interview with Linzi, pompom maker extraordinaire over at The Pompomporium

I am loving the trend for Maximalist Interiors and fashion – it’s always been my personality and vibe. I like clashy, bright, bold and creatively chaotic. It makes me feel like me, in the sense of self expression, it satisfies my need for sensory stimulation and gives me a good old shot of dopamine. I purchased a neon pom pom star a good few years ago, originally for Christmas, but I’ve had it hanging up now everyday since then and it just is one of my favourite singles in the whole world. I bliddy love a pompom.

I tried to make one at The Crafthood’s social, a few years back and let me tell you, it is hard than it looks but is also an addictive craft. My pompom got an A for effort, but a D for neatness. But at least it made myself and everyone laugh at the workshop and Sebastian (my cat) gained a new cat toy he loved (for a short period – fickle gent!).

My love of colour, maximalist vibes and pompoms led me to find The Pompomporium on Instagram – anyone who is as in love with pompoms as I will already know Linzi and her gorgeous business, but for those who don’t – she’s a pompom maker extraordinaire!

Image of a Pompom bouquet made by The Pompomporium

Linzi is smashing it out of the park growing a creative business that works for her and her family; I wanted to celebrate and showcase that. Building a business and being self-employed, has the benefit of being built around the individual, set your own boundaries, your own work pattern, your own working style, which can enable a creative thrive, flourish and simply exist.

I had the pleasure of meeting her at Make & Mend Festival 2021 and I thought I’d follow up with a little Culture Vulture interview, to satisfy and shout about my pompom love and so you can all get to know Linzi a little better.

So first Culture Vulture interview of 2022…. Over to you Linzi!

Image of colourful Pom pom earrings made by The Pompomporium.

First up, who are you?

Hiya! I’m Linzi, I’m 32, have two kiddos and run my business from my home in NE England.

Lush, so what’s your business?

It’s called The Pompomporium (which just gets more fun to say after a couple of drinks) and I make bright, bold homewares and jewellery, almost always involving pom poms.

Image of Linzi – The Pompomporium.

How did it all start?

I think I’ve always classed myself as a crafty person, but I didn’t become a maker until after I was medically retired back in Spring 2018. Prior to that I was a secondary school English teacher, and whether it was lesson plans, wall displays or cunning schemes to make the kids actually care about what some dead white guys had to say – I was definitely creative! I loved my job, it was definitely a vocation, and to lose it overnight could have broken me. I knew I needed something new to keep me busy, but that would fit in around my variable health needs and left me energy for being a parent.

Image of colourful Pom pom stuffed into a letter R made by The Pompomporium.

And the big question….why pompoms?

That’s where pom poms came into it. I had made my first ever wreath a few years before 2018; a Wonder Woman themed wall hanging for my daughter’s fourth birthday. Poms are this excellent juxtaposition of being really mindful in the making but full of excitement and joy once they’re made; I love that. I know they’re a bit silly, but honestly the world is dead hard sometimes and I think we all deserve something silly!

Image of colourful Pom pom in letter T shape made by The Pompomporium.

I made an infamous pompom that is now my cat’s favourite little toy – it was not neat AT ALL like yours, how do you get yours so beautifully and juicily round?

I have two top tips for pom pom making so grab your pens!

Firstly, wrap tight. I use DK acrylic yarns (my favourite are Paintbox and Stylecraft) and know that your pom maker can take plenty of wrapping. The tighter you wrap, the denser your pom pom will be.

Secondly, you need decent scissors. An embroidery pair is always a great shout but if you’re making to sell, I’d also recommend a pair of fiskars. These fluffy little spheres take more trimming than you would think; it will save your hands if you have sharp tools.

Image of Pom pom bouquet being made by The Pompomporium.

How long do your pompoms take to make?

This is tough to answer because a teeny one that I’ll use in jewellery might only take ten minutes, but a very large, patterned pom – such as leopard print or floral – takes much more time, closer to 45 minutes.

Image of colourful Pom pom flower earrings made by The Pompomporium.

I’m a huge fan of your homewares – especially your wreaths – I like quirky, colourful, patterned and bold pieces around me. Do you plan those types of pieces?

Thank you so much! I do plan, I make terrible sketches that rarely see the light of day but they help me keep my messy ADHD brain in check. I’m a big fan of maximalism and more is more, I definitely think that comes across in my work, and I get lots of inspiration from things I love and the things my kids love! The rainbow wreath, for example, was first made for my bright loving son.

Image of colourful Pom pom wreath made by The Pompomporium – next to a fox stuffed animal.

Maximalism all the way! Can you share three other makers or creative Instagrammers that inspire you?

I love @imakestagram, @shittycraftclub & @fatpompoms ✨

So, what products do you sell and where can people purchase?

I will put a pom pom on just about anything to be honest. I make wreaths, banners, bouquets, fairy lights, garlands, hair clips, headbands, earrings, necklaces… I’m certainly missing things out! I sell via Etsy, And So To Shop, Not on the High Street and my own website – www.thepompomporium.com

Image of a bouquet of pompoms made by The Pompomporium.

I know 2021 was a challenge for most creatives, but do you have a highlight that you’d like to share?

People have really responded to the things I make and that feels like proper magic. My Christmas collection in particular was so well received; I love that I get to be part of a family’s traditions in some small way.

Image of colourful Pom pom flower earrings made by The Pompomporium.

And for realness, a low point?

My low points are almost always health related. I really love this little business I’ve created and I hate to feel like I’m letting someone down because I’m having a flare up or a hospital stay. I do genuinely have the most understanding and kind customers though; I very rarely have anyone upset because of it.

Image of Linzi working in her creative space.

You’re a disabled maker – Can you tell us a bit about that?

I’m just going to preface this by saying the disabled community is a beautiful thing. You’ll find many, many chronically ill and disabled makers in small biz land because we don’t fit into a mainstream working environment, in the same way that queer creators, parents working around their kids, Black and brown makers who aren’t appreciated in their fields and many other marginalised groups find a home amongst other creatives. So, yes, it can be tough to work from bed with tremors in my hands and having to stop for a nap after every couple of poms, but it’s very worth it for the myriad of ways I’ve been able to learn from those people.

Image of colourful Pom pom hairclips made by The Pompomporium.

If there was one thing, that if you could, you’d change in the creative sector immediately to make it more accessible and inclusive, what would it be?

No more craft fairs in inaccessible buildings please.

Where the magic happens…..Image of Linzi’s making space & office.

Any advice to share with aspiring disabled makers and artists?

You don’t have to hustle constantly, resting is productive, lean on your people and always write down your suppliers.

Image of colourful Spring wreath made by The Pompomporium.

Do you have an upcoming project or collection that you can tell me about?

I have many a plan for this year! I’m mid-design on some pom pommed bunny ears for Easter. I also have a small homeware collection, including cushions with pom pom corners and tassel mirrors, coming later this year.

Image of colourful Pom pom headband made by The Pompomporium.

Do you have a creative or business aspiration for 2022?

Does survival count? Honestly though, this pandemic has been brutal on all of us, and it’s made me realise that my business needs to make me happy – I’ll be making and designing things that I genuinely love and if they sell then that’s excellent, too.

Image of “you are my sunshine” wreath made by The Pompomporium.

Thank you Linzi!

You’re such a gem and readers, please check out The Pompomporium via: www.thepompomporium.com // @thepompomporium – you won’t regret it – perfect accessories, gifts and homey loveliness. I am now thoroughly convinced that I need a full-blown pompom coat – sounds like an essential item for this gal! Or a shift dress? OR BOTH! I want to be adorned in these furry little colourful beauties!

Until next time, Culture Vultures!

Interview with sand, ice, pumpkin sculptors and large scale artists Sand in your Eye

I’m busily supporting Enjoy Redcar & Cleveland // Redcar & Cleveland Council’s Christmas events programme – this is the second year in a row, I’ve supported this festival programme! Really loving working with them and most importantly, they are investing money into culture, which I LOVE.

The next headline event is this Saturday (11th December) in Redcar town centre – Redcar Ice trail; a winter walkabout wonderland a day of frosty fun, festive pop-up performances await, amazing ice sculptures by Sand In Your Eye along Redcar High Street and Esplanade and live ice carving.

I absolutely adore Sand In Your Eye – I first became aware of them when I worked on Pages of the Sea in 2018 and they created large scale sand illustrations of North East World War One veterans on Roker Beach and Redcar Beach. Pages of the Sea was a unique event to mark 100 years since Armistice and the end of the first world war. Across the UK and Ireland communities gathered on 32 beaches to say a collective thank you and goodbye to the millions who left their shores, many never to return. I was in awe at their creations and then went on to discover they created large scale land art, sand sculptures, ice sculptures and many things in between.

Credit: Sand in your Eye & Pages by the Sea – Photographer: Kevin Scott

Reconnecting on this Redcar Christmas event, I thought I’d take the opportunity to get to know Sand In Your Eye better and do a little Culture Vulture interview…..and I have MANY questions, like how does someone become a ice sculptor!?

So let’s go and do it…..

Hi there Sand In Your Eye….can you introduce yourself?

We are an arts company based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. We make ice sculptures, but we also make sand sculptures, land art, sand drawings and in October you can find us carving pumpkins.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Tell my fellow Culture Vultures about Sand in Your Eye – what is it and how did it start?

Sand In Your Eye started nearly 20 years ago, when our Director and lead artist Jamie Wardley was on holiday in Norway; he met a sand sculptor and was asked if he wanted to have a go! The answer was yes, and this began a career as a freelance sculptor working with sand and ice. Eventually Jamie started his own company and developed more ways of making art with lots of artists joining Sand In Your Eye, including Jamie’s wife Claire. We now work across the UK on events throughout the year. 

Credit: Sand in your Eye

What are you bringing to Redcar on 11th December? What can families expect to see by dropping in 10am-6pm on the day?

We are bringing a Christmas themed ice trail; people can explore Redcar town centre to look for them along Redcar High Street and Esplanade. Families can also write a letter to Santa and post it in our ice post box, watch live ice carving of Santa’s sleigh being made on Redcar High Street and also lots of walk about theatre and pop-up performance.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Tell us about your ice sculptures and sculpting ice?

Depending on how big the sculptures are, they can take between a day to nearly a week to make and we make them in a freezer in our studio. The big sculptures can last for a few days, but the smaller ones usually melt after a day. Ice is really fun to work with, but you have to use very sharp tools including chain saws so you have to be extremely careful!

Credit: Sand in your Eye

How does someone become an ice sculptor? What tends to be the career path?

There are lots of different ways of getting into ice sculpting; the Sand In Your Eye team include people who started off as artists, woodworkers, gardeners, designers and all sorts. The thing that unites them all is that when they were asked if they wanted to have a go – they said yes.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Your sand sculptures and sand drawings are amazing – can you tell me about a recent favourite?

We do a lot of work that is to do with the environment. In the last couple of years, we have made a sand drawing portrait of a girl from Ethiopia for WaterAid, a land art portrait of the activist Greta Thunberg, a climate emergency themed pumpkin trail, a sand sculpture of a turtle, and a personal project appealing to world leaders ahead of the COP26 climate conference to halt climate change which saw children and families helping to make a giant sand drawing and ice sculptures of children on a beach.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Can you tell me about your Pages of the Sea involvement and project?

We were contacted by 14-18NOW, the Imperial War Museum and the director Danny Boyle to coordinate and design Pages of the Sea, which commemorated the centenary of the end of the First World War and saw over 30 faces of servicemen and women who did not return to our shores appear on beaches around the UK (including one on the beach at Redcar) on the 11th of November 2018. It was a very moving, exciting and an important project to be a part of. We were thrilled that it won several awards, including the Sky Arts South Bank Visual Award.

Credit: Sand in your Eye & Pages of the Sea – Photographer – Mark Richards

Thoroughly deserved! Your pumpkin carvings are amazing – how long do they take to do?

Pumpkin carving can take anything from a few hours to a couple of days to make; we do a wide range of styles including 3D spooky and silly faces and more complex pumpkin etching. We do them for pumpkin festivals and trails as well as for companies for their Halloween social media. They can last for up to five days after they are carved.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

They are very Instagrammable….as is all your work! Your work and installations bring people together in public spaces, folx and families who may not engage with art in galleries– how does that feel? Is that an important element of Sand In Your Eye?

Yes, very much so. We love doing our workshops and showing people of all ages how to sand sculpt or carve pumpkins but our largescale artworks such as sand drawings and land art can also engage with communities and bring people together.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Do you have artists/sculptors that specialise with specific materials? Or do members of your teamwork with all of them?

Everybody has a go at making all the art – it’s a real team effort.

Tell us about the workshops you offer – they look really fun and such a unique offer?

We do workshops in most of our art forms; sand sculpture, pumpkin carving, ice sculpture and sand drawing. Most often children and families take part, but our workshops can be for all ages. We started off doing sand sculpture workshops on the beach, but we now have sand tables – this means we can bring the beach with us, wherever we go, and people can learn how to sand sculpt wherever we go. We’ve done sand sculpture workshops in towns and cities, shopping centres and even inside castles.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

What’s been your Sand In Your Eye 2021 highlight so far?

The COP26 sand drawing and ice sculpture project was a very personal one for us and it was great to involve so many children and families.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

What’s in store for 2022 – anything you can tell us about? 

It’s all top secret so far but there will be lots more sand art, land art, sculptures and pumpkins. People can follow us on social media to find out what we get up to. We are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. (All handles are @sandinyoureye).

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Well thank you Sand In Your Eye……..the images in the blog post kind of speak for themselves really – their work is just show stoppingly amazing! You can check out Sand In Your Eye – Ice Sculpture Trail this coming Saturday in Redcar Town Centre; perfect for families in Tees Valley! For full event Redcar Ice Trail listing visit HERE

Mulled wine, mistletoe and memory-making – speaking of memory making, there is a lot to look forward to across the towns of Redcar and Cleveland this year! For the full calendar of events visit HERE

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Artist Interview with Darlington’s Meg McWilliam – the council estate princess creating art that is both “inspiring and infuriating!”

The world feels like a black mirror episode across multiple fronts and yet, it all feels so normal now. I see and read things in the press and on social media, and for me, sometimes it doesn’t even cause outrage; it just feels completely normal. And I’ve never felt more disenfranchised and disempowered from our world politically, socially, emotionally and in my values.

@megmcart work

One of the biggest things that I personally struggle with, is the concept of individualism and appreciating what that actually means. For many, individualism seems to mean, valuing their personal and perceived rights above all else; their voice must be heard, alongside the advocating for the fallacy of their lived experience being the same everyone else and that we all matter equally. But for me, individualism is about respecting, valuing, advocating and wanting to understand others as individuals and treating them as….you guessed it, individuals!  It means really digging deep into individual needs, expressions of self and lived experiences that are entirely different from mine! The former is selfish and is at the expense of other people’s individualism, and the latter, is just about actually valuing individuals, as individuals. To me, that just makes sense – if you value individuals, then you value all individuals as individuals and respect differences. I get locked in an infuriating loop!

I also really question convenient collectivism; we group people together because we are humans and social creatures – I get that! But for me personally, sometimes grouping people together, removes the emotion and understanding that in grouping people together, we start to forget we are talking about real people…..individuals. And sometimes, grouping people together is based on how we perceive them and stereotyping, as opposed to how they would describe themselves and their own lived experience.

This is something, that time and time again, I just don’t get. And I completely see the irony of advocating for folx to look at the world in a different way whilst also, being firmly grounded in my own view. And sometimes, especially outside of the arts and culture sector, I step into spaces or go on the Daily Mail app, and realise, that there are SO many people that dismiss people, think their “rights” top trump everyone else’s, are so full of hate and don’t even come from a place of togetherness as humans and “what about us?”, and especially not from a place of understanding privilege and “what about them?” and instead, from an unrelenting place of “what about me?”.  It is so fucking depressing.

So, one of my ways of combating this black mirror episode, we’re all living in, is of course through art! And where, I might sometimes look out into the world and not always feel my view, is a shared one, within my Culture Vulture bubble it is and my love of socially engaged art on Instagram, means it’s a joyful escape and home. One such artist is @megmcart on Instagram; activist, artist and all -round good human, using her work to inspire social change and instigate discussion. Not that age is a big deal, especially in the artwork, where it is entirely meaningless, but I am so inspired by the confident of her artistic and political voice at 20 years old. It took me until approaching 30, to be as sure of where I stood and to not shy away from political topics.

@megmcart work

Meg’s work from my perspective is all about protest, social commentary, feminism, colour and collage……. it’s like my utopia in this dystopian nightmare that we are all currently living in. If you want work that is about challenging the Tories, advocating for working class artists, celebrating feminism, sticking two fingers up to the patriarchy, shouting that gender is a social construct, campaigning for the safety of women and against sexual violence….. well, this lasses work is for you and is done in a perfectly satirical way. Her work makes me smile, I am counting down until she secures a large-scale exhibition because this work needs to be seen by the masses and OF COURSE, I did a little Culture Vulture interview with her………

So here we go, listen up folx and met @megmcart

@megmcart work

Hiyer, so for my Culture Vulture faves, let’s start with a little intro?

Hiya I’m Meg; I’m a 20 year old artist from Darlington, in the North East creating my art which is most commonly known as Megmcart and I’m also currently a fashion student at Northumbria university.

Can you describe your practice?

I specialise mostly in Dada collages which are either satirical or camp…or both! I like to express my anger through collage about socio-political issues. I find it very overwhelming sometimes when the news is all doom and gloom, so art really helps me let all of my frustrations out as well as spreading information. I think politics can be very confusing to understand especially if you’re a visual learner like me; understanding it shouldn’t just be an academic, middle-class privilege so I try and make it accessible through my work.

@megmcart work

Oh I hear you! Tell us about your journey into the arts?

I’ve always been very creative; I think that’s down to my mam. She’s always encouraged me to be creative even when I was in secondary school and told by a careers advisor that I needed to reconsider what I wanted to do in the long run as it was “hard” to get a job in the creative industries. I almost nearly re-evaluated my life and did criminology but my mam near on forced me to do fashion as she knew I’d enjoy it better.

You have such a powerful style and an aesthetic – how did that develop? 

I had a lesson at sixth form on Dada (Art movement formed during the First World War in Zurich in negative reaction to war) and I just fell in love with it. I think from that point forward, I just developed it as I grew as a person because I was very young when I started this. I was 18 when I started posting my art onto social media and now, I’m 20 so it’s grown with me.

@megmcart work

Do you plan your pieces? 

Rarely. If I have an idea for typography or a snappy slogan, then I write it in my notes and my notes app is full of various ideas that I’ve either done or are there to inspire me. Most of the time I start with a blank canvas and go a-bit mental. Dada is about being random, so I don’t like to overthink it too much or I’ll just doubt myself.

Tell me about your piece Council Estate Princess? 

One day I had said a passing comment around the lines of “I’m such a council estate princess” on an Instagram story and apparently people hadn’t heard of that before?! My mams always called us council estate princesses for as long as I could remember, and it’s always been part of my vocabulary.

To me now, it kind of reclaims that working class label of “council estate” because some just think of negative connotations when thinking of council estates; such as “chav” or high crime rates when, in fact, I wouldn’t change where I’m from for the world. It’s taught me to be street smart but also a sense of community and empathy. On that piece I drew a lot of inspiration from my childhood but also made it colourful and positive because I only have positive memories of where I’m from, even if it was hiding from the provvy woman. AND half of the piece is actually a photo I took on 35mm film of the estate I grew up on.

@megmcart work

Where do you get inspiration for your work?

Usually the news, my upbringing and the drag scene. The drag scene especially helps me as I’ve met so many inspirational queens since studying at Northumbria. The artistry is just so interesting and beautiful. I love that nothing is taken seriously because I don’t take myself too seriously.

You’re an activist and an inspiration to me….where do you get your energy?

Usually from anger and frustration, I get so annoyed at the Tories; I can’t really process or deal with it unless I make some artwork. My mind simply can’t comprehend why anyone would support a party that’s so against people’s human rights.

@megmcart work

That was like nectar and I’m the same…..I also think folx are almost in a weird state of Stockholm Syndrome! Your work is pretty political – what do you say to folx who say art shouldn’t be political?

Grow up. Art is supposed to provoke emotion whether it be sadness, anger, joy etc. I’m very much aware of the fact my art isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but my art is here to inspire and infuriate. It’s not a successful art piece; if it’s not provoking a range of emotions.

Completely agree! What’s your relationship with Tits Upon Tyne and why are movements like this important? (I’m a hugely passionate supporter of them!) 

I first met Tits Upon Tyne in February last year and we very much clicked. We both want similar things and hold a lot of the same beliefs. The founder is very passionate about Tits Upon Tyne and their cause which really is inspiring. I think it’s so important for women creatives to really have a platform that is safe and won’t exploit them as they focus on getting to the destination they want to be; Tits Upon Tyne is doing just that in the music sector. Also, I really enjoy the creative aspect of the work I do for TUT, I’m doing something I love for a good cause.

@megmcart work

Tell us about what happened in Darlington town centre and your work being uncredited?

Basically, in my art foundation year I was told by the market management we would be all making a piece for the new market and 3 winners would be chosen, credited and posted on social media. Looking back on it now, it was free artwork for them in disguise of “exposure”. I didn’t hear back about it apart from one email from my teacher in June saying I’d won, and the market would be in contact.

At around the end of August still no one had contacted me so I just forgot basically. Later I was walking through the market and was very shocked to see my work on display without any credit, despite what I’d been promised as a winner. I emailed quite a few times and didn’t hear back but due to my social media campaign and an article by the Northern Echo, the management finally credited me 5 weeks later.

@megmcart work – the uncredited Darlington piece

Not crediting artists is something painfully common; how did that feel as an artist – to have your work uncredited?

It was very disheartening; as an artist I do rely a lot on commission work so getting my name and work out there is kind of a portfolio for me. Some of the comments on the article were also disgusting and mostly by the older generation which I’m not too surprised at, as in the past similar age groups have disregarded my work as vulgar (which is the point).

@megmcart work

Tell us about three artists that my fellow Culture Vultures should check out? 

  • @Haydnb_photograpy is an amazing photographer in the Newcastle drag scene; I’m absolutely obsessed with his work.
  • @Sally_tomato_x is one of my biggest inspos and has been since I started my account nearly 2 years ago.
  • @ghead_tra who also inspired my political work.

Oh – I love all three. Hoping to interview all three in the feature. What’s your dream artist collab?

I really want to do work for more zines; then I can collab with a multitude of artists, as I couldn’t just narrow it down to one and I always love finding new talent.

@megmcart work

I could see you and Sally playing with each other’s styles – which would be fun! Do you have any advice to future creatives? 

If you hate it don’t do it! I think if you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing, then you won’t be successful or happy. I’m lucky to enjoy what I do but if I’m not enjoying it or I’m tired then my work really does suffer.

Learning to say no, is on my 2022 personal development list! I know the year isn’t over yet, but tell us a highlight of 2021 so far? 

I think stocking my work in Treasure, (a shopping centre in Darlington). Before this year, I sold most of my work online and didn’t have a lot of support from people in Darlington or they didn’t really know about me or my work, so it’s been nice showing my hometown what I’m up to.

@megmcart work

Darlington has a special place in my heart (one of my best pals lives there) so I love that! Thinking of the future then, what’s coming up for you? 

I’m currently producing spiking mats with Tits Upon Tyne, which bars/entertainment venues have to qualify as a safe space to purchase. I think a lot of venues are using spiking mats as a temporary plaster to a situation and really aren’t thinking about what they can do in the long run and what measures can be put in place to protect people.

@megmcart work

That’s a big topic there and yes, many businesses love a bit of performative action and virtue signalling as opposed to actually putting in the work to hold REAL safe spaces. Anything else you want to tell us about?

Just keep an eye out because I have a lot of confidential projects in the works at the moment.

@megmcart work

Well thank you Meg – you are an absolute inspiration and I love your work. I’ve got some ideas for a commission – so can’t wait to chat more with you! Please check out Meg’s work and give her Insta a follow! Her grid is beaut and basically has the message of “don’t be a dickhead” which is a life rule, that I can firmly support!

You can check out Meg’s work on her website HERE.

You can also purchase your own anti spiking mat from HERE for your own personal use and safety.

Tits Upon Tyne Spiking Mat

(#AD) Middlesbrough Art Weekender; an eclectic mix of creative, festival lushness happening across Middlesbrough until evening of 3rd October // Interview with MAW co-founder Liam Slevin.

I’ve got a pure culture vulturing weekend ahead – it’s time for Middlesbrough Art Weekender, 30th September – evening 3rd October. MAW is the North East’s biggest contemporary art festival and it’s taking over Middlesbrough for the next few days to serve a whole lot of art from homegrown Teesside talent and beyond. Attending a festival like this is a great way to support artists (supporting artists can be as simple as checking out their work!) and galleries and indie venues; alongside enjoying a real eclectic mix of creative lushness.

I’m heading to MAW on Saturday (2nd October) and a feast of more than 50 artists showcasing their work via exhibitions, installations, immersive experiences, performances, workshops and activities inspired by Middlesbrough’s industrial heritage across Middlesbrough awaits.  I will be sharing my experience across the day on my Instagram stories – so feel free to check them out via @theculturevulturene

After Warsama by Dominic from Luton
Image credit – Dawn McNamara

Middlesbrough Art Weekender is free to attend, family-friendly and accessible. The full programme is available at www.middlesbroughartweekender.com so you can get planning your visit – so if you’re in the North East of England, why not join me in some culture vulturing and visit too!? Top tip though, based on my previous year’s visit, I recommend plotting your route pre-visit so you can make the most of your time at MAW.

Ahead of my visit, I’ve had the pleasure of catching up with MAW festival co-founder, Liam Slevin, to get the full low down about it all and for some vulturing suggestions. I wanted to do this interview with Liam in 2019, so I’m thrilled it’s finally happened; so let’s get to it and hear from Liam.

TRANSMIT, TRANSFORM, TRANSLATE by Stephen Hurrel
Image credit – Stephen Hurrel

Hi Liam, can you introduce yourself for my fellow culture vultures, peers and pals?

Hi, my name is Liam Slevin; I am an artist-curator originally from Ireland and living on Teesside for just over 5 years now. In that time, I co-founded the Middlesbrough Art Weekender and am now its Creative Director. I programme and run the festival alongside my partner Anna Byrne and Kypros Kyprianou

Liam Slevin

Tell us about your journey into creative industries/arts?

I studied Sculpture and Combined Media at Limerick School of art & design back in Ireland. I finished my BA just as the recession was kicking off and Ireland was devastated by it. Recession can be opportunistic for artists, and I was lucky enough to be part of a collective that opened up a gallery. That was the start of my journey……

For those, that don’t know or haven’t visited before – what is Middlesbrough Art Weekender (MAW)?

The tag line is a multi-site contemporary arts festival happening across the town of Middlesbrough but it’s a lot more. The creative energy that’s happening in Middlesbrough right now, is amazing and it’s great to see it all explode over one weekend of the year.

We Walked Out of the Wilderness by John Ayscough

Why did you start MAW? What was the inspiration behind it?

I think everything should be a festival! MAW is an opportunity to platform and profile a festival full of artists, creative work and venues.

Quite right too! Tell us about this year’s weekender? What can folx expect?

We have a jam-packed programme of exhibitions, workshops (for all ages) projects that include Virtual reality works and a live lava pour.  This will happen across the following venues, The Auxiliary Project Space, Pineapple Black, The Masham, MIMA, Platform A, Gilkes Street Studios, Basecamp and a number of pop-up spaces along Albert Rd. Make sure to check out our programme page for what’s happening, venues and timings.

Keep Your Distance by Peter Hanmer

Can you tell me your #5 MAW programme highlights?

#1 Working with the estate of Gordon Matta Clark has been an absolute highlight. Jessamyn Fiore (estate co-director) has been so generous with her time and knowledge.

#2 The restaging of artist Russ Walker 1986 Degree show. The process of the re-creating and restaging of the work, alongside all his original documentation has been a really beautiful piece of work to be involved in.

#3 The Navigator North produced public works are all amazing, for the weekender they are putting on Stuart Langley’s Beating Heart and Dominic From Luton’s massive wall Mural. Two pieces that are impossible to miss!

Beating Heart Middlesbrough by Stuart Langley
Image credit – Ashley Foster

#4 Jo Lathwood’s performance and ladder drawings. Jo did a performance a few weeks back out in Darlington and she was amazing. Speaking passionately and engaging about rocks is quite the skill.

#5 Anna Ridler; a lovely contemplative take on Tulip mania mirrored with current crypto currency obsessions. 

Anna Ridler ‘Myriad (Tulips)’ (2018) Photo credit: Emily Grundon

How did you go about programming /curating the weekend?

The festival is curated by myself and Kypros Kypraniou. We start with a basic word or sentence as a jumping off point.  We then tap into what’s happening nationally and internationally. This year’s theme is Infrastructure. We’ve all been through a wild 18months and the different infrastructures or lack thereof, have been very evident; MAW programme this year is a way for us to make sense of what’s just happened and how we can move forward. 

This Trust Idea by Andrew Wilson

Tell me about the art trail? Can folx do that any time across the weekend?

Of course! The art trail is there is give people the best overview of the festival and what’s on offer. The art trail kicks off at The Auxiliary, from there folks are invited to meander over to Albert Rd, taking in a number of public art commissions along the way. On Albert Rd, we have 5 pop exhibition spaces, and this is where the main festival exhibition is housed.

DYAD

Advice to folx who haven’t attended MAW before? Where should they start?

Head into town, to a participating venue, grab a programme and jump in. Staff and volunteers will be on hand to answer any questions and point you in the right direction.

Tell me about The Dorman Long Tower Reimagined – A Virtual Reality Experience? That’s going to be so surreal as it was recently demolished……

We’ve been planning a project at the Dorman for a while now, so when we got word it was earmarked for demolition we had a lot of groundwork done for this VR project. For MAW, we’ve reimagined the Dorman as a contemporary art gallery and commissioned three very different exhibitions to take place in a virtual reality experience of the Dorman Long Towers interior and invites you to come and explore. The tower has been transformed into a VR contemporary art gallery, created by artist Iain Nicholls with assistance from Ste Bruce and Connor Clements.

Bobby Benjamin

I invited local artists Bobby Benjamin and David Watson to recreate a show that they have done through Dovetail Joints. They present traditional painting with a post-industrial town narrative. US artist Birch Cooper also exhibits hyper-realistic sculptures that can only be experienced in VR worlds, while new arts space WetDoveTail showcase their studio holders through digitally created 2D & 3D works.

Birch Cooper

For folx who want to stay out a little bit later across MAW and have some bevs – where would you recommend going? What’s on?

On Friday and a bit more arty, we’re working with local legends Bobby Benjamin and John James Perangie for a Picasso Baby x MAW collab. That’s on at Disgraceland and Gordon Dalton’s road move, filmed across the A66 is happening at Pineapple Black. On Saturday night, it is to Basecamp where Mouses will be making a racket. Mouses are one of the first bands I saw when I moved to Teesside; I think it was Stockton Calling 2016 and I’ve loved them since.

ESTATE at Platform Arts Centre Easterhouse Glasgow – Image credit Coulson & Tennant

How would you describe Teesside art scene right now?

Something that is coalescing into something beautiful

Boro Through Time by Sofia Barton
Image credit – Dawn McNamara

Any Teesside artists that are up and coming, that you want to tell me about and profile?

Loucey Bain, she’s great and is doing some amazing work.

What’s next for you after MAW?

Back to Auxiliary work; we’re changing how the space runs and are opening it up to other curators etc to run the programme. It is also grant writing time for us so there’s always that excitement!

Oh I hear you…..how can folx keep up to date with you and the festival?

@middlesbroughartweekender

Build Bridges by Teresa Poulton

Thank you Liam – you’ve really whet my appetite and I’m really looking forward to the weekend ahead. Check out my Instagram Stories (@theculturevulturene) across the day to follow my MAW Saturday visit or better still, why not join me and VISIT!? Get plotting and planning your route via: www.middlesbroughartweekender.com/programme and you can download the programme via: https://buff.ly/39ciuaq

Interview with Olga Prinku artist, maker and creator of the craft of flowers-on-tulle embroidery

I’m always curiously envious of people and artists with attention to detail and patience as attributes within their work. My process brain with some concentration can be like that (to a point), but my creative brain loves the whirlwind of mess, freedom and all things abstract. I’ve never been able to make and create pretty things which when I was more of a perfectionist, used to drive me crackers but now, I have too much fun in the process of creating and bless the mess!

But I still envy the ability to create pretty and precise pieces of art work. And if I was thinking of an artists, that embodies pretty and precise, then Olga Prinku is just that. Olga is an incredible artist, that has become famous for her flowers-on-tulle embroidery; she uses natural materials and flowers to create gorgeous 3D embroidery pieces stitching flowers into the work. Olga’s pieces are magical, thoughtful, makes you smile, and the time, effort and care put into her work is obvious.

Olga Prinku’s work

I saw one of Olga’s collars in a magazine a few months ago. Yes, she does flowers-on-tulle embroidery on clothes too – they look amazing – but more on that later! And from there it was devouring Olga’s Instagram which is a little piece of digital heaven. So, I was delighted when I found out that the folx at Make & Mend Festival 2021, were working with her and exhibiting her work, so I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her a little and they say, never meet your heroes, well, Olga is just the nicest human. I love it when good people, do well!

Olga Prinku’s work

So of course, you know what’s coming next – I HAD to interview her, and this is a lush interview – so get ready to fall in love with Olga and her work.

Hi Olga, so for my fellow Culture Vultures, let’s start with an intro!

Hi, I’m Olga Prinku – I’m an artist, maker and creator of the craft of flowers-on-tulle embroidery. I’m originally from the Republic of Moldova and I now live in North Yorkshire.

Olga Prinku

Tell us about your journey into creative industries and the arts?

I did a degree in graphic design as a mature student, then I worked on branding for a small design agency and layouts for an interior’s magazine. I’ve always been interested in making, and during my degree I took classes in everything I could find, from screen printing to upholstery.

When I took a career break to start a family, I learned how to knit and I started to sell chunky woollen Christmas stockings on Etsy. I set up an Instagram account originally to promote those stockings, which I would style with Christmas decorations such as home-made wreaths. The craft of flowers-on-tulle embroidery grew out of that hobby of wreath-making.

Olga Prinku’s work

Why is creativity important to you?

I find it incredibly satisfying to come up with an idea that I don’t know if I’ll be able to realise, and then to experiment and tinker until either I have to give up on the idea or I achieve it in a way I’m happy with. It’s great to produce something that’s pleasing to look at, but it’s the creative process of trial and error that really attracts me.

Olga Prinku’s work

For those that don’t know or just indulge me, what is “flowers-on-tulle embroidery”?

It’s embroidery using nature as my thread. I use stretched tulle fabric just like traditional embroidery, but instead of conventional thread I embroider with dried and preserved natural materials such as flowers, grasses, berries, leaves and seed heads.

Olga Prinku’s work

How did you get into it – what was the beginning or the spark?

One day I was using a garden sieve – the kind you use to get stones out of soil – as a frame to make a wreath, tucking some branches into the metal grid to hold them in place. It occurred to me that I could do the same with flowers and tulle fabric. I started posting pictures of my experiments on my Instagram account, and to my surprise and delight they really became popular.

Olga Prinku’s work

For folx new to this craft or curious, what would your advice be?

It’s a great craft to get into if you’re looking for a way to slow down and centre yourself. Dried flowers are delicate and it’s easy to break them if you’re trying to rush or you’re not entirely in the moment. That’s frustrating initially but it’s also an invitation to take some deep breaths and be patient, and then I find I can enter a state of flow when hours go by without me noticing.

Olga Prinku’s work

It looks like a mindful craft and even to look at – your pieces are calming. Now onto something not so calming, social media – you have a HUGE Instagram audience – how does that feel?

It’s not something I ever imagined happening to me, and I’m very grateful to the Instagram community for guiding me on my creative journey. I find it hard to imagine that my flowers-on-tulle embroidery could have taken off like it did if it hadn’t been for Instagram, because the positive feedback on my early experimental posts gave me encouragement and seeing which posts did better than others helped to guide me on where I should focus my next experiments.

There’s always a danger that you get too sucked into Instagram and it starts to take over too much of your time. But it has definitely opened a lot of doors for me, for example, collaborations with fashion brands and having my work displayed in galleries.

Olga Prinku’s work

I like that Instagram has the power of democratising opportunity! So let’s chat Make & Mend Festival, what was your contribution to Make & Mend Festival 2021?

I brought some of my favourite works to display – I started out doing freestyle designs in embroidery hoops, and since then I’ve also done more formal compositions in canvas stretcher frames, so a combination of different pieces displayed.

Olga Prinku’s work at Make & Mend Festival 2021 – photo credit Clare Bowes.

What’s it like people see your work at events and in exhibitions?

I’m always very nervous about meeting people in person! But it’s great to be able to talk to people who are encountering the craft of flowers-on-tulle for the first time, because then it’s Iike I can get to see what I do through fresh eyes.

Olga Prinku’s work at Make & Mend Festival 2021 – photo credit Clare Bowes.

What do you hope people take from your work when they view it or see it?

I hope people see it as a way to combine creativity with reconnecting with nature. Developing the craft of embroidering with natural materials has really opened my eyes to aspects of the natural world that I had previously overlooked. For example, appreciating the beauty of some flowers that would usually be considered as weeds, or seed heads that I previously wouldn’t even have seen as I would have deadheaded the flowers before they could develop.

I forage for some of the materials I use in my work, and on my country walks I’ve become much more attuned to the changing of the seasons, noticing what grows where and when.

Olga Prinku’s work at Make & Mend Festival 2021 – photo credit Clare Bowes.

Can you tell me about your fashion collabs? I want one of your collars!?

Ever since I came up with the idea of embroidering using dried flowers, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of making wearable items. One of the step-by-step projects in my book is creating a Peter Pan collar with preserved flowers. Of course, the challenge is that the flowers are delicate and not resistant to water, which means you have to be very careful when wearing it and check out the weather conditions J.

I also enjoy collaborating with fashion companies to translate the design ideas into traditional embroidery using thread. I’ve designed a range of shirts with my friend Ruth Eaton, and there’s a new collection just coming out with the Canadian menswear brand 3PARADIS – I was taken aback to log into Instagram not long ago to see Justin Bieber wearing a jacket with my design!

Olga Prinku’s work at Make & Mend Festival 2021 – photo credit Clare Bowes.

Your work was featured by Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas – can you tell me a little about that?

One of the ways you can use a dried flower embroidery hoop is as a creative topper for a gift. A couple of years ago Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas came to my home to film me making a hoop, which they then took back to the studio. It was my first experience of being on TV and it was fascinating to learn how it all works.

I understand that the episode I was in will be repeated this year. There’s also a Christmas-themed project in my book, using flowers-on-tulle techniques to create a tree decoration.

Olga Prinku’s work at Make & Mend Festival 2021 – photo credit Clare Bowes.

You mentioned your book – tell us about it? Where and when can folx purchase it?

It’s called Dried Flower Embroidery: An introduction to the art of flowers on tulle, and it’s published by Quadrille. Due to shipping delays the publication date has been pushed back to September 30. But it’s available for pre-order right now in all good bookshops!

Olga Prinku’s work at Make & Mend Festival 2021 – photo credit Clare Bowes.

And what’s next for you?

I’ve just finished filming an online tutorial with the craft platform Domestika, which should be available soon. And I’m finalising a limited initial edition of kits, which contain all the materials you need to make a floral embroidery design in a hoop, together with step-by-step instructions. So I’m excited to be launching that.

I’m hoping to get back into in-person workshops, too, if the pandemic recedes. I’d been planning a week-long workshop retreat in Tuscany which I was almost ready to announce just as the first lockdown hit. I hope that gets to happen at some stage!

Olga Prinku’s work

Oh that sounds so lovely! How can people keep in touch with you?

I’m @olgaprinku on Instagram, and my website is prinku.com. The best way to keep in touch with me is through my email newsletter, which you can sign up to on my website.

Olga Prinku’s work

I really recommend checking out Olga’s work and take some time to appreciate the sheer beauty and skill that goes into each piece. It was just breath taking to Hey, may be one day – I will own an original Olga wearable piece – if I ever went to the Met Gala, I’d absolutely ask Olga to design my outfit.

Interview with artist Wild Lamb – Paige Livingstone – let the lass eat cake!

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

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone

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

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

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

Let Us Eat Cake exhibition poster

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

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

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone

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

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

How would you describe your practice and what you do?

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

Were you creative as a mini?

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

Tell us about your journey into the creative industries?

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

How would you describe your art style?  

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

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

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

Let Us Eat Cake Exhibition

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

@mrbabies does amazing surreal collages

@vonnart does beautiful fantasy illustrations

@dariahlazatova does amazing folks surrealist illustrations and portraits

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

What other projects or things have you got going on?

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

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

Let Us Eat Cake Exhibition

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

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

Interview with Liv Hunt – artist, activist, proud freelancer & puppet master!

Liv Hunt – Culture Vulture Artist Interview

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

One of the biggest blessings of 2020, is that whilst the year hasn’t played out as anticipated (understatement alert!), I’ve had the privilege of working on lots of brilliant and unexpected projects. One such project was #Gateshead10x10 – as someone born and bred in Gateshead, it’s always exciting to work on something in my own community, on home turf and especially a project like this, that really has such brilliant aspirations.

Creative community project 10 x 10 Creative Gateshead launched in August to connect and inspire Gateshead people during the pandemic, through activities devised by Gateshead artists. 10 x 10 Creative Gateshead involved the creation of two booklets, one for adults and one for young people and families; each with 10 creative activities created for the people of Gateshead. The activities include a wide range of art forms from mindful writing, to puppet making, to origami, to Gateshead celebrating creative prompts and can be used indoors or outdoors, alone or as a group.

Gateshead based community organisation Dingy Butterflies has been heading up the project and across August, hundreds of activity booklets were distributed across the Gateshead community. Each booklet features 10 activities created by Gateshead artists, developed in collaboration with 10 Gateshead community and creative organisations. These physical packs are targeted at people who have limited or no access to the internet; Gateshead has a high proportion of residents without internet access and low levels of digital literacy.

In addition to the hundreds of physical packs being distributed across the community, there are digital versions of both 10 x 10 Creative Gateshead booklets available for ANYONE download now from www.dingybutterflies.org/10×10-creative-gateshead/ – follow the link to check out the booklets and have a go at something creative. All materials for the activities are inexpensive and easy to find in shops or you will find them around the home.

10 x 10 Creative Gateshead has also provided paid work for 15 Gateshead artists/freelancers during a challenging time for the cultural sector, in which paid freelance work has been decimated (how lush is that!?) It has been such a beaut project to work on and meeting so many artists (some I knew and others I didn’t) was ace! So al a Culture Vulture – I thought I’d reach out to one of the #Gateshead10x10 artists for a Culture Vulture interview to find out more. So for this interview, I went after a goodie and an artist, I’ve wanted to interview for a LONG TIME!

So step right up – Liv Hunt – artist, theatre maker, puppeteer, lovely human and freelance champion……let’s GO!

Liv Hunt – photo credit : Michelle Bayley

Well helloooooooooo – for my Culture Vultures, can you tell me who you are, what you doyou’re your practice?

Hello, I’m Liv Hunt.

I’m a theatre-maker, facilitator and activist working in participatory arts. My practice is centred around telling, sharing and imagining stories and to do that I use different mediums such as music, puppetry and sensory theatre. I began my career delivering theatre projects in care homes, schools and community centres working with people from varied backgrounds and abilities in partnership with Equal Arts charity for older people. I then began developing my practice with arts organisations, delivering on freelance contracts to produce theatre. 

I am also the community engagement coordinator for Alphabetti Theatre where I designed and coordinated participatory projects Walter (2018) in collaboration with The Discovery Museum and Write Something Junior (2019) in collaboration with 6 primary schools across the North East. My role is to ensure that everyone has access to the theatre and to develop Alphabetti’s networks within the community. My approach is quite hands-on. I get out and talk to people and, in the process, have formed strong relationships with organisations, groups & individuals.

In 2019, I formed Woven Nest Theatre with Poppy Crawshaw. Our aim is to create theatrical experiences with, for and by older and neuro-diverse audiences. Our first company project was to create a piece of multi-sensory theatre for people with advanced dementia who are bed-bound. I am driven by arts for social change and champion for inclusivity and accessibility in theatre.

Tell us about your journey into creative industries?

I wasn’t initially going to be in the creative industries. I liked drama at school but I wasn’t really sure what I would do with it. When you’re at school you’re not taught all the jobs that are in the arts. So, I thought studying drama would make me an actor, a director or a teacher. I had no idea about participatory arts or how the arts work with communities and the possible jobs tied in with that. A friend told me about a drama course at Northumbria University called Applied Theatre – I had no idea what applied theatre was but when I started looking into it, it grabbed my attention. I knew I wanted to learn more about it, so, I enrolled. Towards the end of the course I became interested in working with older people with dementia, which framed the first 3 years of my career in the creative industries.

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

Tell me more about your experience in theatre and puppetry?

My experience with theatre and puppetry is through a participatory arts perspective, the work is centred around the communities and people I work with. In my early career I was developing theatre in care homes, community centres and schools. In 2017, I was commissioned to work on a project with St Marks Care Home and Battle Hill Primary to develop a piece of theatre, celebrating the Gateshead born Dodd Sisters who founded The Little Theatre, Gateshead. The project was to produce a retelling of The Pitman’s Pay written by Ruth Dodds, to be performed at The Little Theatre.

I have been a drama worker for Live Youth Theatre for the past 4 years where I have directed youth theatre shows with young people aged 13 – 25. In 2019, I started working with Unfolding Theatre to develop a Christmas show with Edberts House over 12-weeks. The Edberts Express was then performed at St Mary’s Church. I am an associate drama worker with Open Clasp Theatre Company where I have delivered drama workshops exploring issues related to women.

I’m currently developing a theatrical film with my company, Woven Nest Theatre. The film is called Mariana’s Song and is about a woman who is in love with the sea. We are just in the pilot phase of this project. It has been created for older people with advanced dementia who are bed-bound and incorporates sensory stimulation, lighting and sound.

Prior to lockdown we were developing a touring puppetry show specific for care homes. We were developing a tea trolley theatre complete with tea-pot puppets, original music and sensory surprises. We were commissioned by Sunderland Culture to develop the piece with a Sunderland care home but sadly due to COVID it was postponed. When we get the chance and it’s safe to do so, we’ll be dusting off our teapots again!

Wow….what an accomplished portfolio! Puppetry is something that absolutely fascinates me….can you tell me a little more about your puppetry experience?

I’ve always really loved watching puppets and puppetry shows. I became interested in using puppetry within my own practice after I did a course at Northern Stage with Tom Walton. He taught us how to make really simple puppets using materials found at home. I loved the way you could make a puppet out of an old newspaper and some masking tape. I was doing a lot of work in care homes with older people at that time and decided to try it out in there. We built a simple newspaper puppet as a group which they really enjoyed (it involves a lot of repetitive actions such as crunching and rolling the newspaper.) I then brought the puppet to life and moved it around in the space.

I was amazed at the reaction that this had. The older people were calling for the puppet to come towards them and when I came over with it they would smile, laugh, stoke and talk to the puppet as if it was a living breathing thing. I don’t think they really saw the puppet as though it was real, but they were able to take it for what it was in that moment and connect with the emotion that the puppet was portraying. So, if I was portraying sadness, they would comfort it and if I was portraying happiness they would laugh and smile with the puppet. That’s what I love about puppetry –they can portray emotions in a really pure form.

What is the puppet scene like in the North East?

The puppetry scene is good and growing in the North East. We are really lucky to have a growing number of puppetry companies in the region and of course Moving Parts – Newcastle Puppetry Festival which was held at Alphabetti Theatre last year. The festival showcases fantastic puppetry from companies all over the world so what you see there is really diverse. I love going and just soaking up all the different kinds of puppets. Moving Parts have also brought lots of training opportunities to the region which has meant that more artists, such as myself, are starting to use puppetry as part of their practice. So, what we’re starting to see is a ripple effect of more freelancers starting to use puppetry in performance and also participatory arts which stems from these training opportunities.

Tell me about a recent project you’ve worked on?

Last year, I co-founded my company, Woven Nest Theatre with Poppy Crawshaw. We are a company that produces theatrical experiences for neuro-diverse audiences, specifically older people with advanced dementia. We were just about to start our first company project, with a care home in Sunderland when Covid-19 started so everything had to be cancelled and put on pause. The project was to develop a theatre show in collaboration with the elderly residents there at their bedsides using elements of puppetry, lighting and sound.

In June, we were funded by Northumbria University to do a research project, looking at ways in which we can provide a theatrical sensory experience, digitally. It has been great – we have had space to collect our thoughts, plan and start filming snippets of our story. The entire experience has been really eye opening. I would never have dreamed of doing a digital project but now I genuinely believe using digital media is better suited to the project than the original idea on pause.

I think this time is really interesting for artists, we’re having to adapt our work in a really interesting way. We are not able to work like we used to, but by having this new barrier, it’s starting to unleash new artistic possibilities which is producing some really exciting work.

Can you tell me about a recent theatre production you’ve contributed to?

I was commissioned by Alphabetti Theatre and Fulfilling Lives charity for people who experience homelessness, substance misuse, ill mental health and offending. I worked with a group of experts by experience and their support workers over a 2-month period to develop a piece which would later be performed at the Fulfilling Lives Annual Forum. The piece was centred around commemorating the lives of the experts by experience who had passed away in the previous year, which had been particularly high and so the group was experiencing a high level of trauma. We developed a series of short pieces, taking inspiration from creative writing, spoken work and contemporary performance, which we then crafted into a script. The piece was performed to a backdrop of an outline of a human which was gradually filled in as the piece unfolded. The aim was to show that people who had died weren’t just numbers on a page but people with complex and rich lives that deserved to be celebrated. The group performed the piece themselves and then we took part in a Q&A with the forum.

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

Can you tell me about your experience as a freelancer so far?

Generally, I love being a freelancer. I love how versatile and surprising the work is and all the lush people you work with along the way. I like the thrill of starting new projects and don’t get me wrong writing funding applications is a nightmare but when you finally get funding it’s like you’ve won the lottery. That being said, I definitely find it stressful sometimes. It’s a lot, constantly. And the idea of job security sounds dreamy.

What has your lockdown experience been like?

During the lockdown I found it really hard at first. All the jobs I was working on/about to work on got cancelled and you watch everything you’ve built topple down in front of you. As freelancers we’re so use dto keeping the cogs turning, day in day out, so to have everything come to a really sharp stop with no sight of starting again was really jarring. After I got over the initial shock, I decided to use the time to take a well-earned break to recharge, plan, reflect and read. I used the first half of lockdown to basically check back in with myself after years of going full steam ahead. I started doing art just for the sake of it, which I hadn’t actually done in a really long time. Then for the second half of lockdown I started to turn the cogs again, but I definitely felt the benefit of giving myself time to breath. It’s made me think that every freelancer needs a 1 month paid recharge holiday (if only!) I started picking up more freelance work and volunteer positions. One of those was being on the Freelance Task Force.

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

Ohh tell us more about The Freelance Taskforce?

The Freelance Taskforce was an initiative started by Fuel Theatre. There are over 150 freelancers from across the UK on the taskforce. And I was really lucky to have Karen Traynor and Sian Armstrong on there repping the North East with me. We formed the NE Freelance Taskforce – we have a twitter page where we post regular information out and we going to be announcing some exciting updates soon so check us out!

If you could change one thing about being freelance, what would it be?

I’m a big fan of the initiatives that pay freelancers just to be freelancers. This isn’t centred on a product or a particular project you have to work on. You can use this money however way you want obviously within reason. I think that’s a brilliant idea and would solve a lot of problems. We spend so much time looking and searching and frantically running from job to job we don’t allow ourselves time to stop and think, reflect and check in with ourselves. I think if there were more initiatives that paid freelancers to do that, more people would.

PREACH – love the sound of that! So, tell me about your role/work on #Gateshead10x10?

I was commissioned by Dingy Butterflies to create two activity packs, one for families and one for adults. The idea was that the activity packs were for people who are having to spend time indoors due to self-isolating but were unable to access online activities. The pandemic has really shown the digital divide. For some, the arts have become more accessible. Suddenly, you can watch brilliant theatre for an affordable price and in the comfort of your own home. Fab! But, for those who do not have access to a computer or internet it has been tricky to find stuff to keep the kids and themselves entertained. This project aimed to provide the community in Bensham, Gateshead with activity packs complete with instructions and materials. I was one of 11 brilliant artists who worked on the project. The artists were diverse in art form; creative writers, visual artists, illustrators, bee conservationists and theatre-makers. It was my first time making an activity pack or a booklet and I absolutely loved it!

Each #Gateshead10x10 artist was partnered up with a Best of Bensham Collaborative member organisation – which organisation were you partnered with and how did you work together?

I was partnered up with The Comfrey Project in Gateshead, a charity delivering a programme of activities in gardening, languages and arts for refugees and asylum seekers. As you come in you get a glimpse of the beautiful gardens they have there where they grow their own fruit, vegetables and flowers for the bees. I always feel 100% calmer after a visit to The Comfrey Project.

I started volunteering there around June time, and straight away I felt really at home. Over the summer I have been delivering some socially distanced activities with families visiting the centre. When we met to discuss the Dingy Butterflies project we talked through the needs of the group and ideas around activities. One of the main things that I needed to think about was how to make this accessible for people who have English as a second language. I went away and began developing the ideas and playing around with puppetry techniques that relied on easy-access materials and simple but effective steps. The packs have gone out now and I’ll be keeping up to date with how they get on. Hopefully at the end when they have created some puppetry magic we are going to have a sharing of what everyone has made.

Can you tell us about the #Gateshead10x10 two activities you developed?

For the family pack, I have done a how-to-guide on making a shadow puppet theatre out of an old cardboard box. This is really easy to make, uses materials found round the house and is good entertainment for the entire family! Once you have made and decorated your shadow puppet theatre you can then start developing your story. When I trialled this activity out on my niece we used her favourite story-book for inspiration but you can use your imagination to come up with a story as well. Once you have your story and the characters in your story you can start making your shadow puppets using black card and kebab sticks. Finally, all you need to do is put a lamp in the right position, turn the lights off and begin your theatre show.

The pack designed for adults shows them how to make tin foil puppets. This is a little bit trickier but the result is a defined puppet which looks great and has good movement. Tin foil is a brilliant material to use as you can get really good definition on the faces. One you have sculpted the tin foil into the right shape you then layer on baking paper with glue. The result makes the puppets almost look like there made out of wood. I then encourage them to start exploring with their puppets and record a short story using their puppets as the main character.

Creativity is a huge part of #Gateshead10x10 – Why is creativity important to you? How do you think it can help others?

Creativity is one of the brilliant things that makes us human. I think it plays a huge role in how we process ourselves and the world around us. I rely heavily on creativity to get me through and I think without creativity life would be really really really boring. I see it as something that we all have inside us, some people may use it more than others, but it’s still there.

When I work in communities a lot of people tell me that they are not creative, and that the arts isn’t for them. But with a little unpicking we realise that they lead very creative lives, so somewhere along the line there has been a disconnect between the creativity in people’s everyday lives and creativity as a concept. I think we have got confused in thinking creativity is only for some people and not for others. Labelling some as creative and others academic and so on. I think that’s a huge mistake as it’s robbing people of the opportunity to express their inner creativity.

What are you working on right now?

I have just been commissioned by Helix Arts & Gateshead Arts Team to run a pilot project with unpaid carers. This project has been a long time in the making, so I am absolutely buzzing to finally get it off the ground! I’m going to be working with them over 8 – 10 weeks to develop a piece of forum theatre which will then be showcased to a closed audience. That’s all I can give away at the minute but I’ll be sharing out more info soon.

Do you have any advice for future freelancers AND/OR folks wanting to enter into creative industries?

Ahh there’s tonnes…. Here are just 5

1.            Find your tribe, the people who have your back and are going to support you. We are really lucky in the North East there seems to be a really good ‘ladder-down’ mentality.

2.            Being a freelancer is hard graft, make sure you give yourself time to rest so you don’t burn out.

3.            If you can, continue to find training opportunities. I believe we should never stop learning. Whilst working as a freelancer I have continued to train in performance, puppetry, movement, voice, playwrighting. Some have directly benefited my career and others have been good for me creatively.

4.            It’s ok to ask about pay, please please do, and make sure you know your own value. I did a lot of work for free at the beginning which is fine to some extent. Sometimes I still do bits for free. My general rule is that if I feel like I’m getting experience out of it that I ever wise wouldn’t have then it’s ok. But know what your limits are – these are just mine.

5.            Shy bairns get nowt. This saying has helped me in so many ways. If you want to work with someone, send them an email. People are generally nice and want to help you. 

Great advice….you’re a gem! Anything else you want to tell us about?

I’m setting up a network for participatory artists – #ParticipatoryArtsSocial. It’s a space to come together and share, reflect, listen, learn, rant and support one another. We meet fortnightly and if you want to join the mailing list please email me on oliviahunt11@outlook.com. I put regular updates via my twitter @LivHunt_11

Well thanks Liv! See – I told you it was a goodie of an interview! Very excited about Liv’s upcoming projects and happenings!

If you get a chance – please check out #Gateshead10x10 activity booklets and why not have a go at the activities! I’ve love to see how you get on and see your creativity!

What is a curator? What do they do? I interviewed The Biscuit Factory’s curators to find out!

Curators are defined by The Oxford Dictionary as “the keepers or custodians of a museum or other collection”…. But what does that actually mean? Who are they, what do they do, why are they important to important to museums, galleries, heritage centres and the creative and cultural sector…..? I honestly believe the majority of folks out there have no idea what curators do and as a profession, as it’s not front facing to the public and a lot of what they do is behind closed doors – even in the cultural sector, their role can be perceived quite mysterious, there is a lot of misunderstanding and (in my opinion) there is often a bit of a disconnect between artists and curators.

Over recent years, the words “curate”, “curation” and “curator” have all be absorbed into popular culture and are so overused to the point of diluting their meaning. Folks now “curate” displays, a sandwich, a playlist…. The overuse of the word is a weeee bit of a trigger for me to go on a rant (understatement of the century – but we all have our burdens to bear)……you did not “curate” a sandwich, you simply made.a.decision.

So as part of my mission to shine a light on curators in general and what they do, I thought I’d reach out to The Biscuit Factory curators and see if they would be up for a Culture Vulture interview. The Biscuit Factory is the UK’s largest independent commercial art, craft & design gallery set in the heart of Newcastle’s cultural quarter of Ouseburn and one of my favourite galleries – I love the variety of work displayed – it’s full of colour and very different types of art and interiors. If you haven’t visited yet or haven’t for a while, it’s a must visit – it’s obviously closed right now due to COVID-19 but will be open once more in the future. You can check out The Biscuit Factor online gallery here to see the artists and art works they have on their books.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

I was delighted that the curators accepted, it can be quite scary Mary to have a stranger come in and question your work and processes – so I was prepared for the “no”.  But I got a big fat yes and I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with them (they were so lovely and lush!) asking all my questions…..and believe me, I had a lot thanks to my question call out on my social channels from my fellow Culture Vultures. Consequently, it was less of an interview and more of a creatively curious interrogation (my Line Of Duty obsession, has made me an EXCELLENT interrogator….”Mother of God..!”). But we did have a lush chat and strayed away from curator talk into debating creative careers and opportunities…..

So here we go, an interview The Biscuit Factory curators; Sam Waters, the 3D curator, Sam Knowles – 2D curator and Mika Browning – jewellery curator; this is a long LUSH interview, so buckle up and it’s perfect for your lock down reading.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – Right, let’s start with some intros for my readers and followers…  

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: My name is Sam Waters; I’m the 3D curator at The Biscuit Factory and I have responsibility for sourcing, managing and displaying the items which fall within the 3D product group here. Things like sculpture, ceramic, glass and furniture; basically stuff which is not wall based, although occasionally wall based too. I also look after the cards for the gallery and a few other sort of ancillary things. I’ve been here since 2010 so coming up to ten years.

Before this I was very briefly at another local gallery which doesn’t exist anymore called the Artworks Galleries where I did a mixture of things and event space things predominantly. Before that I was a self-employed copywriter and photographer. And that’s about it.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: My name’s Sam Knowles, I’m the 2D curator which means I’m in charge of paintings, prints and photography; the bigger part of that by far is the paintings and prints. I spend my time sourcing and inviting people to the gallery, managing their artwork, suggesting what comes here and what might sell the best, cataloguing it when it arrives, displaying it, looking after work in the store rooms that’s not currently on show, making sure all the stock is as it needs to be, putting on displays, making sure the gallery is constantly sort of replenished, should anything sell or be moved or sent back to artists and being the person to get that work ready should anyone want to collect stuff either having been sold or being returned to them for other exhibitions elsewhere.

I’ve been here since 2007; I originally started as a gallery assistant, then took on photography which used to be a bigger part here with a lot of graduate exhibitions. Now I spend most of my time in charge of paintings and prints and beyond that I’ve got some responsibility for how the gallery physically looks in terms of wall colouring and floor layout.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I’m Mika Browning, the jewellery curator and I’m quite new; I’ve been here for a year now. I look after all the jewellery that comes in and the display; it’s quite interesting for me because before this I’d been self employed as a jeweller myself for quite a long time, so I’ve kind of stepped to the other side.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: With you looking after three different departments within one gallery space, how do you all work together and collaborate as curators?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: It can be ad hoc coming together and collaborating. Often we won’t be totally aware of what each other’s booked in but when we’re putting a show together, we’ll make sure that things complement each other.

When we have an open call out like the recent Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020; we will go through the submissions together to pick out submissions to be a part of the exhibition – we had about 1200 submissions from all over the world and we worked together to display the work and shared the load.

But a lot of the time, we’re just in our own departments, getting in our own work; but once the work is here, we realise there’s common ground and if it will work together. There can be any number of reasons why one piece of art can go with another; its subject or colour or style or just the sort of person we think it might appeal to, even if the work itself is nothing like each other. That process tends to be something that happens once we are all actually out on the gallery floor, putting work together, working with what we have and often feeling our way through things.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: You mentioned the Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020 open call out, how do you decide which pieces of art are included in an exhibition shortlist or “make the cut”?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: Well, ultimately it comes down do our knowledge, experience and what we like, which I appreciate is very hard to unpick and very subjective. We display work because we think it is interesting and to attract people to visit the gallery.

But a key decider is if we think it’s got artistic merit in how it was made and as we are a commercial gallery, we have to think whether or not it might appeal to someone to purchase or be of interest to someone commercially.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We use the same principles in choosing successful submissions from this Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020 open call out, as we do for the main exhibitions. But we probably have a little bit more leeway with this, to take a few more chances and to add a few things which are on the margins of what the main, day-to-day gallery exhibitions are. That’s kind the idea of doing this type of exhibition; we try to stretch the Biscuit Factory’s comfort zone a little bit and bring in newer and more progressive work.

We get submissions to the gallery from people wanting to exhibit on a daily basis. The basic cornerstones of the criteria we use to select pieces for all exhibitions, includes 1. the quality of the craft, regardless of what the subject is or what the medium is, 2. the standard of professionalism AND 3. the quality of presentation and the artistic vision. The Biscuit Factory is a very diverse space in terms of artwork displayed but everything that we have here, regardless of its aesthetic or its taste or its style, is of a high quality. The pursuit of quality helps us make choices when selecting work that might not be our own personal taste but we able to appreciate the quality and recognise that someone else might love it.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: As a commercial gallery, how do you tread the fine line, between selecting exciting, new, experimental and groundbreaking pieces and knowing your audience and knowing what they actually want to buy?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We are aware of what sells and we have a sales system, allowing us to see various different product groups and how they are performing – e.g. How many pieces of sculpture have sold in any given period or how many paintings have sold by a particular artist.

So we’re aware of that and we have to be guided by that to some extent. But there’s always a balancing act between being sales driven and the ethos of trying to show a range of works, some of which you accept may not be so commercially viable and we can’t just keep selling and displaying the same things; our visitors wouldn’t want that.  In a way, progression and sales have to go hand in hand because we can’t just keep selling the same type of work or the same artist’s work because eventually the sales would dry up.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I think the scale of The Biscuit Factory is so big, that actually there’s room for a very wide range of work here and we can afford to take some chances and have some really different things. I think a lot of people who haven’t visited us before would be surprised how big the range of work is here – there’s some very contemporary things, some very quirky things and some very traditional things; they all sit side by side quite well, quite comfortably because they are of a certain standard.

We sometimes think we know what is going to appeal to a particular type of Biscuit Factory visitor, but we are often wrong; you know someone who you’d assume would buy a traditional landscape actually goes for the really quirky portrait, or really minimalist etching.  Or they might be interested in all three!

We take pride in the fact that there’s something here for potentially everyone; behind our doors is a whole range of work waiting to be discovered all tucked in here.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think in terms of the jewellery, it’s a different sort of position because most of the jewellers that I work with are more commercial and used to that side of galleries. The jewellery is made to wear and own, rather than being looked at in a gallery, so that makes it a little bit easier for me when choosing between more ‘out there’ stuff.

Jewellers can send in more of their work as it doesn’t take up as much space; they might send a piece that’s kind of really high price and out there in design but then it can be paired with quite a lot of other pieces from a range which are really wearable, so that’s quite a fortunate position to be in as a curator that I can kind of manage to get in both.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: How would you describe the role of a contemporary curator and how do you feel about the overuse of the word “curate?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: Personally, I’m not precious about the word curator and I’ve always been aware that it’s a word that has many different applications or nuances and, people think of it in different ways.

I think it depends where you are as well because there are different kinds of curator and curation so it’s hard to be precious over; if you’re in a municipal gallery or the BALTIC or whatever it might be, even within one city there’s varying different sorts of curators, that aren’t really very comparable.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I guess “curate” is a word that a few years ago was quite niche and not used in the mainstream with connotations as quite highbrow. Now it’s become quite an everyday word and quite trendy, which is perhaps a bit odd.

I’ve been here a long time and what I understand of the word “curate”… or how I understand my job is not necessarily through the prism of being a curator; my job is what it is and when I read about other curators, they’re not necessarily particularly relatable positions to this one.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: For me, I think it’s more… I speak to early stage career artists and creatives in the industry that would like to get into curation and I feel that misuse of the word is removing the respect of the profession and understanding of it as a legitimate career path….  

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It’s diluted it a little bit but you can see that happening anyway through the democratisation of things through the internet and DIY elements across all creative activities. You don’t have to go to a web developer anymore to set up a website for example, you can do it yourself. I guess, the old gatekeepers who defined what a curator is and controlled the role, are dispersed a little.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Everyone’s artistic taste is subjective…. How do you feel if someone doesn’t like an exhibition you’ve curated or a piece of work you’ve put pride of place in the exhibition? Do you take it to heart?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: We’re slightly sheltered from people’s comments about an exhibition on a day to day basis because we’re tucked away in our office getting on with the next exhibition. We do feel it more when you’ve spent 18 months talking to an artist and they’ve then made the work and it doesn’t sell as well as hoped when it gets here.

You can look back and think “maybe I didn’t quite get it right” or “maybe it was a bit too far out for here” but the fact is that sometimes, you can get someone in who you think is perfect for the people who, largely come here and it still won’t sell; that can be very frustrating and disappointing for you and for the artist.

There may be a reason you can identify but sometimes there’s no reasoning for it, it can just be a matter of bad luck or bad timing; you’ve got to get a lot of things right to sell a piece of artwork –  the right person has got to walk through the door, it’s got to be at the right time for them in their lives and head and it might be that there were hundreds of people that loved the work  but they just didn’t or couldn’t buy it. Sometimes when you send work back that hasn’t sold, days later someone will come in saying “have you still got it because I’d like to buy it?”….. A lot’s got to come together all at the right time, and sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think you can still take heart in that, even if you get something in that you love and then it doesn’t sell, it still kind of feels good that you put it out there; people might not be buying it but at least they’ve seen it. Maybe they love it but they can’t buy it for whatever reason, but it still feels nice to be able to be putting stuff like that out there.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: And you never know what it might do for an artist’s career longer term, the fact they’ve been seen. It’s another exhibition on the artist’s CV, another opportunity to display their work and that feels rewarding.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Sometimes there’s a bit of tension between artists/creatives and curators in regards to how work is displayed and some curatorial decisions of exhibitions…..

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I don’t feel I’ve had that very often; I guess you can’t please everyone 100% all the time. I think largely the artists, certainly in my department, are very happy to be here and we all work hard to make sure their work looks good, is well presented, nicely lit, hung straight and hung in an interesting way; I think more often than not the experience is pretty positive.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I’ve occasionally had artists sort of grumble about where their work is, that it’s not their first choice location in the gallery or how it’s displayed; but in most cases that is because they have not quite appreciated the scale of the place, how things are laid out and that it’s necessary to display work alongside other artists’ work – you can’t always get the degree of separation that some artists would like because we have so much work to display.  Our role is to make the best decisions overall and to bring together cohesive exhibitions on a bigger scale. Occasionally that might mean that a particular artist’s work is not 100% how they’d want it to be displayed or they might personally not like another artist’s work that is visible somewhere beyond their work in the sight line.

But, most people are appreciative that you’ve made such an effort to display their work in a sympathetic and considerate way, and are aware there’s a lot of work to juggle and that you’ve made decisions for the best presentation of the gallery as a whole.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: As a curator do you go to other exhibitions and reflect on the curation?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I recently went to the new gallery at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, it was really inspiring!  Also, their shop space was really inspiring to me because that was where their jewellery and some ceramics were; I thought that it was beautifully curated and displayed.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I get out far, far less than I should; I go to the degree shows, just out of curiosity but I feel further and further away from that now with age. I’ve got young children which means my free time is at soft play and not galleries. But I do love going to art fairs, I quite like going to places where there’s a big mix of stuff rather than just going to see one person’s exhibition, but yes I’d like to go out more.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I don’t get out as much as I’d like for all sorts of reasons. I’m always very aware of retail art things and maybe that’s what I’m kind of more influenced by, more aware of and absorb. I’m interested in the psychology of retail and people’s subconscious decision making, so in art retail situations I am aware of trying to read how things are set up, colour temperature, sightlines, positioning of things and the way they arrange the spaces.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: When you work here it is hard to kind of turn off working here and to just enjoy an exhibition or art fair; you’re always thinking, that person could be good in the Biscuit Factory, taking a card or photographing the work or name of artist – so it’s hard to full immerse.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What is the process of seeking out artists to exhibit at The Biscuit Factory and how far in advance do you go planning?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We do get submissions, some aren’t appropriate or quite right for us. The process is mostly us finding things, going out into the world and seeing it in person or online. Using Instagram as a platform is becoming increasingly prominent as a way of finding things for us.

For the big shows, we often book over a year in advance. Sometimes, if we have space available, we might find things and come across things that if the artist has stuff available, we might get work from them in very quickly. As our space is so big and we have such a variety of different ways of displaying things with a flexible display space, we can often shuffle things round and create some space.

The exhibition timeline can be anything from working with someone that we’ve worked with for ten years and booking them in two years in advance for a big show or coming across someone new and having their work here two weeks after you first saw it and everything in between. We have a big quarterly changeover but within that we have an ongoing evolution of displays and bring in new work in quite often; it always keeps the job fresh for us and hopefully fresh for our regular visitors.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What would your advice be to artists and folks who want to get their work into The Biscuit Factory? How should they approach the gallery?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: A lot of people want to show you the complete range of what they’re doing, so you might get a charcoal drawing of an animal, followed by a portrait, followed by a landscape and unfortunately that’s not much help to us. What we really need to see is a coherent collection from somebody, whether or not that’s the animals or landscapes. We’d prefer them to limit themselves to presenting one collection at a time. Some artists try and show you everything they’ve ever done and can do which is too much, instead of honing with focus. And we only take submissions by email.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: It just has to be really good; what I’m looking for are pieces that are really impeccably made and that is something that takes a long time to learn and produce.  The submissions that come through, that are a goer, you know straight away; they come in with confidence, they know what they’re doing, even if they haven’t worked with galleries yet and they’re new graduates, they still have total confidence and a passion about their work. They send in good images because they know that it is worth taking a good image because it’s a good piece.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Often with paintings we’ll get terrible images of the piece – it will be pixelated or they’ll be photographed next to a heavily patterned carpet in someone’s living room….

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It seems an old-fashioned thing to say but when there are typos and spelling mistakes, it sets you on the back foot. When you’re approaching someone for the first time in a gallery, I think it’s very important to be very precise, deliberate and hit the mark in the quality of your photographs and presentation of the work. We don’t have the time when receiving hundreds of submissions to de-pixelate photos or read through paragraphs of art speak. For the best chance, it’s about focusing on editing your work down to the best stuff, investing into quality images, reflecting on the way you’re presenting yourself and your tone of voice.  Top tip: you’re much better sending 3 really strong images than those three being hidden in amongst 15 things – edit, edit, edit, be tight, be professional and get good photographs.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: If someone comes in or sends a good email and is really nice to work with straight away, we think, “yeah I can see us working with you for 6 months and that’ll be pleasurable, easy and we know that we can rely on you”.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: When you depend on people to fill a gallery, you’ve got to be able to communicate with artists and them communicate effectively with you, build a rapport, have confidence in them that they can deliver, be reliable and you can get along with them. That’s what we are trying to gauge from their submission.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Some pieces and collections seem to stay displayed for a while at The Biscuit Factory – how do you decide which pieces stay and form part of the next exhibition and which ones come down?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It’s intuition. Curator’s intuition. As much as we have stats and are led by those things, a lot of it is also instinct. We also talk to artists and get a feel for how their work has been received elsewhere and how they feel it’s performing here. For some pieces and types of work like sculpture and furniture, it really responds to having longer in the gallery and it can take customers quite a while, to finally commit to buying.

This contrasts quite vividly with paintings which generally sell best at the start and then gradually the sales will reduce. For sculptures and bigger 3D things, it’s quite a long lead-in time and there can be a period where you don’t make any sales at all. So, you just commit to it and have faith that more exposure will ultimately lead to the sale.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: There’s different reasons why paintings or prints might stay up; sometimes it’s because they’ve done well and you think there’s no point taking it down because hopefully it will continue to do well. Other times, like Sam says, sales might not have happened but you think “I just know there’s sales to be had from these” and it’s just a matter of time or the right person coming through the door so they deserve to be up.

It can also depend on where the work has come from, especially if they’ve delivered them from a long way away or the deal with the particular artist. Also, I feel if a particular artists work is on display too long, people become a bit blind to it so we might take down so when it goes back up again it’s fresh and people are pleased to see it back up.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What’s the weirdest or the most unusual submission to the gallery you’ve had?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: A sculpted portrait in a jam-jar full of their collected toenail clippings; certainly a curious way of doing self-portrait with their own DNA.

The Culture Vulture: With the state of play of the world, have you seen a move towards protesty or political artist submissions?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Not so much, our submissions tend to be very much about self and people.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Yeah, subjects like identity, gender, feminism; I see more work addressing those issues. There’s always been a lot of that with younger people, but I think there is a little more of that now.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – Thinking about another contemporary issue – the environment! Have you changed any of your practices in terms of wrapping up work and things to do with environmental concerns; has that changed how you work?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: We’ve all been a bit more aware of it recently, in fact we tried just recently getting some cardboard bubble wrap, like a sort of textured, cardboard wrapping.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: Not in terms of the way the gallery works but I’m really focusing hard on trying to get ethical jewellers in, because the jewellery industry is a total nightmare; precious metals aren’t always produced ethically. We’ve had an ethical showcase, shining a light on jewellers working with recycled or Fairtrade metal and it’s my big target to get as many jewellers as possible working with that. I’ve been contacting jewellers who don’t currently work with ethical metals and telling them about suppliers, trying to get that moving here as a wider movement.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: When you’re working on an exhibition install – what’s it like? What tasks are involved?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Well a lot happens on email before the work is here, it can be quite involved, suggesting and selecting what work, covering a range of price points and sizes. Then the work arrives; we have to check it off and catalogue it.

Using experience and intuition, I decide which prints and paintings work well next to each other without competing too much with each other – I spread out colours. styles and sizes so that there’s some balance to what is displayed. You want to be able to see the work as opposed to some heavily laboured curating; an exhibition is about the work, so you don’t want an arrangement that looks very heavily arranged. But you do want people to see particular pieces first, especially if there’s a large piece which you think is going to be a show grabber….The exhibition install is the really fun part of our jobs, we come out of our offices and get hands on.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: The install is a surprisingly small portion of the job though; from the outside, people might imagine that it is predominantly the job. Probably about 20% of our time is spent on actual installation of work, doing displays, thinking about the layout of the gallery, the lighting and the juxtaposition of various things. That’s the fun stuff, that’s what people see and that’s what people might imagine constitutes the job of a curator –  but the job is a lot broader than that and it’s about building relationships, a lot of administration, paperwork, analysis, managing stock, working out VAT codes…..

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think that’s why we work hard to get good gallery submissions because you do so much work in the background and then it’s such a pleasure when you get really beautiful work in and you can take loads of pleasure in putting it on display.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: It can sometimes feel exciting when something’s arrived, you can forget for a while that it’s not just for you personally. For a short while, it’s like Christmas, unwrapping the “presents” and that is a nice feeling.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: And when putting the work up, you start to get a sense of the possibilities and the gallery that you’re putting the work into is kind of ever changing. A lot of the displays aren’t really planned per se in advance so it’s about thinking on your feet; that’s quite energising sort of thrilling.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – I imagine it being like…..remember the 90s programme Itsa Bitsa, where they had loads of art materials and then they’d go as a collective, pick all the stuff out and then it would all be like chaotic and then they’d create something collectively mint out of the chaos…

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: We have two weeks of full-time install for each quarterly show and we’re just on the gallery floor. There can be trollies of paintings going up and down, things propped against walls, boxes of jewellery, boxes of ceramic, whatever it might be and we try to keep it all clean because we don’t close; we’re open to the public. There is a moment where everything is in some state of flux and change and then somehow, normally with five minutes to go before everyone turns up for the preview, it suddenly all looks rather nice and it’s weird.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It is weird how often really interesting displays come out of thin air and I would love to say that it was all very planned; may be at some level it is!  But also, twenty new painting deliveries might arrive at once, I might get twenty to thirty ceramic and sculptures and that’s all got to be arranged into the gallery in a coherent way that does the best for all those artists, you don’t necessarily have the fine details of that worked out but you’ve got a few days to curate it and out of that “something” happens! It just comes together in a way which is beautifully surprising and quite satisfying,

We are always too exhausted to really appreciate the exhibition at the end of the install.  The hour before the quarterly preview, we’re always generally still running around, polishing things and doing labels but there is always suddenly a moment of calm when I go “oh that’s come together and it looks pretty… pretty good and I really like how that sits with that.”

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Pre-lock down – were there any current art trends or futures trends that are impacting and influencing how you select work?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I guess, social media is changing how you select work because you don’t necessarily need to go… I can get a jeweller in from the other side of the country but I don’t need to go see it. Some people are getting really good at promoting their work online I think that’s something that’ll happen more.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Trends can be very subtle; like the colours of frames people choose or the fact that people change from making rectangular work to square work and all those things are subtly moving around all the time.

The Culture Vulture: I’m all about championing that there are so many routes into creative industries. Can you tell me what you studied and any advice you have for future creatives who would like to embark on a creative career path?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I studied jewellery and silversmithing in Edinburgh, so I do have a relevant degree. Then I was self-employed as a jeweller for a long time and then I had a small gallery space on the west coast of Scotland, where I got into the curating side of things!

I did really love doing my degree but if you’re interested in jewellery making, I would totally recommend going and doing an apprenticeship. Art college is great for concept and community but going to work with a traditional jeweller and getting that basis of skills will just set you up.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I have a degree in contemporary photographic practice from Northumbria and then I have an MA in Fine Arts Practice from Northumbria.

Advice for breaking into professional creative industries…… go out and make as many connections as possible, be open to things, attend things and broaden your horizons in any way possible. Advice from an art practice side, I’d say the same really and I think, just get good, in terms of making art!  I think a lot of people aren’t resolute or rigorous enough in getting good and people want… I guess people want to be famous, they want to be in galleries, they want to make money and obviously there’s pressures to be all of those things socially and economically but that can get in the way of building your own voice, which ultimately could be the foundation to your success. Some people want to shortcut that.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: I did a degree at Kent Institute in Canterbury for a year and then I did by BA at Newcastle University. Then I was a bit clueless really, I kind of floundered around for a very long time, reading the Evening Chronicle once a week hoping to find a very high paid arts job with my name on it and not knowing where else to look!

I don’t think my degree particularly did anything much to train me up to know where to find opportunities or to successfully apply for them when I found them; I did apply for various sculpture commissions and things without really knowing how on earth to put together a professional application. I spent some time working various retail jobs and then worked for about 18 months as an art technician in a sixth form college. I moved back here and became a postman, then I got a job here as a gallery assistant. I worked hard and tried to prove myself and when other opportunities came up, I applied and progressed.

In terms of advice, I suppose advice for artists would be slightly different to advice for future curators.  As much as I like my job I didn’t really set out to be a curator so it’s very hard to give advice to set yourself up to be one; I’m sure there are more tailored qualifications that would give you more chance of becoming a curator now.

Advice in terms of being a fine artist; that it’s important to hone in on one aspect of your work, even if you do lots of other kind of work for your own enjoyment. You’ve got to have something which is identifiably you, your signature, something that can be repeated to some degree to apply to galleries and connect to a specific customer base.

I guess, as Mika says, go and get some actual, specific experience, especially if you’ve done a fine art degree as it’s just so broad ranging, wide and potentially a bit wooly. I advise you to go down one route where you can start learning the skills that make you really good at something, rather than just having some ideas and tinkering. It took me a long time to do it; I was doing various part time jobs to free up studio time to make – I’d paint a portrait one week, then get frustrated and think that the new future of me was going to be landscapes and then decide it was printing and then something else… I spent years floundering around like that with nothing much to show for it. It’s only in the last four or five years, especially through working here, that I’ve narrowed everything to one or two things and tried becoming more professional on those. My advice would be to get to that stage, quicker than I did!

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I’d tell them to expect to have to flounder around for a bit. Perhaps now in the age of the internet. 15 years ago, when we graduated, it was a different world or it looked like a different world; it looked less easy to penetrate. Whereas now, I think people have social media and they have their own websites much more quickly;  I think that can lead to people wanting to shortcut it; but the floundering bit is character making, humbling, exposing you to failure and doubt, working out how to fit yourself into the world rather than just steadfastly standing there saying “I’ve graduated, I’ve got a website, world come at me/world fit around me”.

You’ve got to find your way into the world a little and I think it’s that, that is the source of a lot of discontent as some graduates are unprepared for the reality and competitiveness of the world.  You’ve got to expect it and understand that the world is indifferent to you at first, even if you’ve got a website and a first-class degree in Fine Art. The reality is you’re still going to have to work at it really hard; if you’re not prepared and hungry for it, it’s going to be even harder. I’m sure that we’ve all experienced difficulties in trying to find a route into the arts, with our own personal practice or professionally; but I think more than ever people are unprepared for the difficulty and it’s more competitive than ever! So you’ve got to go into an artist career with your eyes open or it can be quite damaging – the world can be quite hostile.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – I do a lot of work with young people and I’m starting to see less young people choosing to go into creative industries because they are viewed as a whole mass together and that there aren’t the opportunities….if you’re looking to go into a visual arts career, then yes it’s very competitive. But if you want to go into graphic design, app development, animation, outdoor event producing, tech  – well there are LOADS of opportunities….

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I feel like it’s irresponsible to send so many kids off to vague creative degrees and fine art degrees; many are left at the end high and dry when they finish. I had this experience in my final year of my BA, literally a couple of weeks before the end of it, we had a seminar about the outside world and how to write a letter to a gallery and it was like a one hour thing…..

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: After a four year degree, I did not know how to apply for a commission or how to write an Arts Council grant. It’s unforgivable that you can get through that amount of degree and not know those things.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Some artists have no awareness of the landscape in which they’re meant to be a professional in or they are meant to be qualified and don’t know materials, don’t know the processes, don’t know what opportunities there might be or how you apply for them. It happens all the time.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: It’s the same with outdoor light installation work – many aspiring outdoor sculptors/light installation makers out of University have brilliant conceptual ideas but no knowledge of the technical aspects of what it takes to make a sculpture durable outdoors and the technical aspects to deliver on a light installation….

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  It happens. Soon after graduating, I had this bronze commission for a school in Jarrow, a big bronze snail, I had no idea how to secure it to the ground and in about half an hour, having welded a couple of bowls, I just filled it with as much cement as I could and tried to wedge some holes into the ground. If that hadn’t worked and it actually needed to be on a stone base or welded, then I’d have been stuck. I had just had no idea at all!

The Culture Vulture: And just a final thing, I am really interesting in this “positivity” ethos at the moment on social, manifesting success and an extreme push towards “only do what makes you happy” across our whole lives – on one hand that’s brilliant but I think we’re gradually conditioning some people to forget that life is hard, that to get to where you want to be it is tough and sometimes you have to wade through a whole lot of difficult and challenging stuff…..and that’s normal and ok.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: It’s really unrealistic.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Yeah, and also you might not even get there, no matter how hard you work; there’s this idea, this myth, that if you work really hard, you’ll get what you deserve.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  Well we’ve all said this but our generation feels like we were told by our parents’ generation that you can naturally – unlike them, who just got a job and had to work hard at it for fifty years, that you can be anything you want to be as long as you set your mind to it but actually to become a very successful commercial artist is not attainable for most people and even if you’re trying, you’re not necessarily geared up for how much work there is involved. I’m sure there’s a lot of people of our generation, that are very frustrated that the false promise didn’t come off.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I think people take it on as a personal failing; whereas it is really a structural failing in a broader societal sense and also there aren’t enough opportunities for all the graduates coming out of Art School. And you know, like Sam said about his experience, you don’t really know what path it is that you’re taking and then you look back and you’ve arrived somewhere.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  You just find yourself in unusual places in your life, take what comes your way and carve out your own opportunity.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: In retrospect, it looks like there was a plan because it led you somewhere that turns out to be decent but actually it’s just a series of coincidences, circumstances, situations and chances; you find your way through it and I think people are perhaps less aware that is the reality of how it is, now more than ever. More people have bigger expectations and are fed this idea of the clear route to something; it’s pretty dubious to set people up like that.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

Wow – what interesting curator chat! You can check out The Biscuit Factor online gallery here to see the artists and art works they have on their books. The Biscuit Factory underpins the livelihood of over 50 staff, supports the careers of thousands of artists and attracts over 100k visitors a year into the local economy. They do not receive public funding, arts council financial support or rely on any grants to carry out work, so for the first time in their 17 year history, they are asking for support and donations. You make a donation or purchase something like a card, or lunch from their café HERE.

That’s all for now Culture Vultures. xx

Interview with queer feminist artist Louise Brown a.k.a. goodstrangevibes; smashing the patriarchy, learning to love your body & running a lush creative business.

I’ve always had a love hate/relationship with my mind, body and soul. I’ve loved being different and seeing the world from my own perspective – but I never really liked myself, not deep down. I grew up during an era of glossy mags that distinctly lacked any diversity, lack of representation in the media, a push towards conforming and the era of the waif (you might argue it’s like that now – but honestly, it was even worse!). I didn’t value myself, I am and always will be my worst critic, I didn’t look after my body….in fact I’ve lived at 10000miles an hour distinctly doing the reverse to self-care. I’ve proudly burnt the candle at both ends, I’ve fought world war three in my head for decades and my mental health rollercoaster is a consistent part of my life.

As a teen, there was no social media – my social sphere was who I engaged with in the immediacy. No online movements, no creative projects focusing on body positivity, mental health issues were not discussed (I didn’t even know what the word anorexia meant – despite having it for years), artists creating social work could not reach me – it was a different landscape to now. My only sense of understanding about mental health and body positivity was through poetry and reading – reading about mental illness, feeling like your body belonged to someone else and wanting the world to stop for a moment and feeling a sense of “gosh – I hear ya!”

In my 30s – I gradually sought out nourishment for my mind, body and soul; I even started to like myself (a bit). I’ve spoken about this before – but a place, I most often seek out content nourishment is via Instagram – a wonderful platform that has democratised (to an extent) art and enabled artists to reach audiences without institutional gatekeepers that often create more barriers than they enable (that’s another conversation entirely!). I spend hours stumbling upon artists and online communities that are creating not just amazing work, running amazing projects, leading positivity movements for thousands or millions of people, people living their purpose, proud of their differences, being the different they want to see in the world and championing diversity.

Body Appreciation

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

It makes me smile. And this is why creatives really matter – all the time – especially NOW. These creatives instigating these online movements are creating meaningful work to enrich lives, empower others, add colour, connect, increase representation, create community, reduce isolation (real and perceived) and to reach out with open arms – to the likes of a teenage me who would have massively benefitted. Social media audiences respond in their millions – with their interest and engagement. This is why these movements have such a great following – they are SO needed and tapping into something; they are also often the first defence during a mental health dip. I know they are with me – Instagram is my quickie version of picking up a self-help book.

So if the movements are needed, the movements are hugely popular due to their positive enabling, the creative visualisations and representations the creatives make are connecting and speaking with people in a way that other things aren’t able to do, then the creatives behind the movements and making the creative visuals must therefore be super important too. You can see where I’m going with this….

I’m spending time on this intro to reiterate how important art can be in relation to well-being and how important artists are in these movements. We are walking blindly into a mental health crisis. We have less mental health resources available than ever before. Our system is not pre-emptively set up. The impact of artists creating an online safe space community, increasing representation, positivity movements and feed into improved well-being is repeatedly understated…… I believe art and artists could play a much bigger role if they were supported and funded appropriately. I believe this is just one of many reasons that we need to reconsider investment in the arts and its wider impact. I’m always blown away with the thought- if THIS is the impact of arts and artists without anywhere near the levels of appropriate funding, imagine if we actually funded and invested into them…..

Giving No Fucks

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

An Instagram account that nourishes me and many others, I discovered a year or so ago was Louise Brown’s @goodstrangevibes – Louise was one of the first local NE accounts that I saw pop up during the beginning of the I Weigh movement. Her work focuses on body positivity, increasing diverse representation and is always a rainbow of colour – she is doing a lot of the above, with authenticity putting her own personal experience at the core; Louise’s account consequently is one that I often revisit on my doom days.

Louise a proud feminist, instrumental (imo) to the local movement claiming back the word “feminist” positively and in her early 20s. She gives me such a bubble of hope in my tummy – if I have folks like Louise coming up behind me pushing forward the next generation of creatives, then it makes me sleep better at night. The world is not shot to shit with wonderful younger folks like Louise in it. And she’s an account that I refer many young people, I work with to look at, especially if they are struggling in some way with themselves.

Louise’s work was censored by Newcastle University Library (not the University as a whole) for depicting naked women/bodies and the fear of it being sexual and offensive. That caught my attention and immediately made me shout BORE OFF when I read it in the Chronicle and how far we still need to go with womxn’s bodies. As Vulture, I proudly got behind the campaign to make the point that a boob or naked body illustration in day light is not a threat to society. (“A boob is not a threat to society” – could be my new 2020 tag line!)

No matter what you ate yesterday, you deserve to eat today

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

She recently attended my recent event (Pre-COVID and the project is unfortunately on hold at the moment) – Newcastle Herstory – Womxn’s Rights as an unfinished fight! Nearly 100 people attended the event to discuss Newcastle feminist histories and womxn’s rights past, present and to plot/reflect on the next chapter. Louise was such a lush addition to the event and I decided there and then, I wanted to interview her so you could find out about her, understand the positive impact her work is having and I’m dead excited to see her creative journey unfold – I’m here for it and along for the ride to support as Vulture.

So here you go – here is Louise Brown.

So hello, for my Culture Vultures – please introduce yourself!

Hello! I’m Lou; a queer feminist artist and final year student at Newcastle uni studying Politics, Psychology and Sociology. I set up and run goodstrangevibes; a small arts business which aims to promote body positivity and mental health awareness through my illustrations.

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goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

Tell me about your journey into the creative industries so far…..how long have you been an artist? When did you start drawing/illustrating/writing?

Hmmm, there’s a big difference from when I started producing art to when I felt entitled to call myself an artist. I think only since introducing goodstrangevibes have I started to say I am an artist, I’m not sure why – thinking back I could have said it earlier… my grandpa wrote this about me when I was just five years old ‘she is the most unusual creature who wants to be ‘Somethink’ rather than ‘Nothink’ but as she keeps disappearing under the table to draw pictures we can’t really say …’. So I guess I’ve always been an arty human but only self-identified as an artist as of the last couple of years.

That’s is the best answer to that question, I’ve ever had…. I used to spend a lot of time under a table as a mini in a creative haze – only I was writing. So tell us about your work– it covers a wider breadth of themes – what inspires it?

I do illustrations of nude humans with the aim of promoting body positivity and mental health awareness. I often use captions and text in my artwork to help convey the messages further. I aim to draw all sorts of bodies so that people can see my work and find an illustration that looks a bit like them in some shape or form.

My experience of low body image led me to create these illustrations. I had been in recovery (from an Eating Disorder) for a while and was being supported by professionals but I still was in the habit of staring at my body in the mirror each night and picking out parts I wanted to change. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to break this habit completely, so instead I decided to draw my reflection in the mirror as a sort of distraction from the negative thoughts as I was now focusing on drawing.

I drew my body every evening during the time I would have spent critiquing it. In appreciating the artwork I produced, I began to see my body as art and worthy of appreciation. From that, I started drawing a diversity of different bodies and posting them on my art Instagram (@goodstrangevibes). I received positive feedback from people who said I helped them feel better about their bodies and this really inspired me to keep creating and posting my work. Goodstrangevibes has really helped with my own mental health and provided me with a lot more self-confidence and happiness.

Other artists have also definitely inspired my practice such as Polly Nor, Alice Skinner, Frances Cannon, Pink_Bits… the list goes on!

Thinking about life

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

Well you’ve helped mine too ❤ – not just in appreciating my own body but the diversity of the human body in general. Your drawing style is pretty distinctive,  I can recognise a “Louise Brown” anywhere – how did that develop over time?

I think once I let go and stopped trying to create a ‘good’ proportional drawing, I began to see myself drawing my playful long-limbed flexible humans. I love drawing without the pressure of things being ‘perfect’, very much in the same way I began to embrace my body and stopped striving to affirm society’s conception of a ‘perfect’ body. It’s very freeing to just draw and accept what appears on the page. I very rarely use pencils or rubbers.

I have to ask this question…..how is/has COVID-19 effecting your work, life and practice?

Emotionally it’s been tough, but I am coming to terms with it all as best I can. For one I moved back in with my parents in London and had to leave Newcastle. I am incredibly sad about leaving, but I am very excited to come back up as soon as I can, I feel very at home in Newcastle. At first, I struggled with motivation which has been hard, but I’m taking my time and being kind to myself which definitely helps things!

It’s hard feeling unhelpful sitting at home when so many people are really suffering. I’ve been trying to use my art to hopefully comfort people who are struggling with their mental health and recently contributed to a free downloadable self-care colouring book which will be released soon.

We Will Get Through This Together

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

Ohh keep me in the loop about the colouring book as will be all over that! So you’re a feminist artist; what does being a feminist mean to you in the present day? Why is being a feminist important to you?

Being a feminist to me means believing in gender equality and actively calling out injustices, trying to change the status quo and fight the patriarchy! I feel very strongly about it because of all the inequalities that are still prevalent worldwide that need to be acknowledged, confronted and overthrown.

A feminist concern that I feel equipped to influence the fight against is body image issues. Having experienced an eating disorder when I was younger, I feel strongly about the importance of promoting positive body image in girls and young womxn. Body image is a feminist issue since body image concerns affect womxn disproportionately to men. This is not surprising considering the pervasiveness of the patriarchal idea that womxn should be judged by their bodies, and men by their minds. It angers me so much all the time and energy that is taken from womxn due to the pressures to conform to a single conception of beauty which is unattainable for the majority of womxn to attain anyway! It’s a capitalist patriarchal trap!

Jump

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

You depict REAL bodies in such a positive way – I personally find it, even as a 34yrs old woman, extremely inspiring. What do you want people who view your work who are struggling with their bodies, to take away from it?

Thank you, that’s super lovely to hear! To those struggling with their bodies who view my work, the aim would be to help them spark a shift in their mind, perhaps that it doesn’t have to be that you need to change your body to be worthy or that it is possible to accept how you look and not let that hold you back. Or I’d want them to see a body like theirs being presented in a positive light in my work, and I would hope that could comfort someone going through a tough time with their relationship to their body.

I’m so much happier now I have stopped battling with my relationship with food and I hope people can maybe take hope in the fact that it is possible to rekindle your relationship with yourself. Although I am also very conscious that this is much easier for a naturally slim white woman like myself to do this, as I do not experience fatphobia or other kinds of discrimination from society because of the way I look.

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goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

You identify as queer – how much does your queer experience influence your work?

I think being queer, and openly so, makes me feel more capable of covering whatever I want in my art – like a sort of byproduct of being open with who I am means I feel more comfortable also then being open with my art. If that makes sense!

I personally don’t think there are enough lesbian icons/visibility in mainstream society – what do you think?

I completely agree with this. I feel I grew up and am still growing up with a lack of representation of LGBTQ+ people in general. There’s still so much I feel like I’m slowly discovering bit by bit. Much of the lesbian visibility in mainstream society seems so fetishised and aimed at a male audience.

Any advice for folks struggling with their identity or sexuality during this period?

I’m not sure I qualify for giving advice, but I guess to be kind to yourself, take your time to listen to what feels right in your head and body. It’s okay if you’re not sure instantly or if you are discovering or coming out later on in your life. I can imagine for folks quarantined with people who are unaccepting of LGBTQ+ it must be really hard. Maybe try to find online LGBTQ+ groups so you can still express your identity somewhere and feel free to directly message me on Instagram if I can offer a listening ear (though I can’t promise I’ll say the right thing, but I’ll listen!).

Surfer Babe Colours

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

How can folks buy or engage with your work?

You can follow my page on Facebook and Instagram @goodstrangevibes where I post my art, or have a cheeky browse at my website www.goodstrangevibes.com where I have an about the artist page, some of my writing, example commissions (email me if you’re interested goodstrangevibes@gmail.com) etc. I also have my online shop on my website which is currently in ‘pre-orders’ as I can’t access a post office – but people can order anything and it will be reserved for them until I can post! I’m planning on releasing vouchers too that can be given as presents to be spent on the online shop or saved until I’m at markets again.

Solidarity

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

What would be success for Louise this year?

Ooh tricky question. It’s very hard to say in this confusing climate what’s going to be possible! I’d like to give my all to goodstrangevibes once my degree is done post June and see what happens. I’m applying for a foundership programme at Newcastle uni next year which would be amazing business-wise as it provides loads of support, but it’s highly competitive, so unlikely. But in general, success would be to get my art in more places and hopefully make viewer’s feel comforted or better about their bodies or minds because of it. I’d like to paint large scale on walls in people’s homes as a new part of commissions I could offer. An exhibition would be super exciting …

In non-business terms, success would be to feel more free, to skinny dip lots, surf, pole dance, do the things that make me happy with people I love. Travelling could bag me some happiness with meeting strangers from around the world and sharing experiences and discovering, but perhaps that will have to wait for a while now!

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goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

I’ve reflected a lot about the question I just asked you – my wants for this year are more personal than professional. I certainly want to travel and adventure. Do you have any projects that you’d like to share and talk about?

I’ve just launched a new project ‘revolutionising sex education’ where I am illustrating people’s sexual experiences and including three words they felt during and three words they felt after in an attempt to portray the diversity of sexual experiences possible and the different emotions that comes with that. How sex can be fun, romantic, boring, scary, exciting, awkward, embarrassing, confusing, upsetting, silly and many many more things!

I want to represent a diversity of sexual experiences, especially LGBTQ+ and others that aren’t explored in mainstream media and sex education at schools. I define ‘sex’ as  e.g. masturbation/foreplay/intercourse – basically anything that one considers part of their sex life. If

anyone is interested in submitting a story entry – email goodstrangevibes@gmail.com or direct message me to show your interest and I will tell you what the next steps are! I’m hoping to display all the illustrations in a book, zine or online resource – I’m not sure exactly what yet. It would be super cool to get a publisher in the future and make it into a proper book!!

I’ve also been investing in environmental business practices and have now launched my upcycled screen printed eco top range on my website if anyone wants to grab one! They are one-off tops that I bought from charity shops in an attempt to combat fast fashion. My designs were screen printed on with the help of Newcastle based Nick Christie at Incubate Printmaking.

Free From Confines

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

I want to be involved in all Louise’s projects and ideas, especially the sexual experiences one; society’s view and treatments toward a womxn who enjoys sex needs a lot of work. such an exciting human to watch creatively flourish! Check out Louise’s website and @goodstrangevibes insta for a dose of creative LUSHNESS.

 

That’s all for now Culture Vultures. xx