Interview with Workie Ticket Theatre & Dr Alice Cree; Magnolia Walls, military lives and theatre as a means to amplify voices and demand change. #BeAWorkieTicket

Working with and celebrating unashamedly bold, brave and brilliant folks is one the reasons I set up The Culture Vulture and it’s what gets me out of bed in the morning with a spring in my step. Strong empowered women, empower women and my favourite empowered women are ones that use their power to enable, platform and amplify unheard voices. For me, it’s all about building that type of community – ecosystem over egosystem every day of the week.

One of the theatre companies that I connected with early on in my Culture Vulture journey is Workie Ticket Theatre. They caught my eye for the name Workie Ticket – being a workie ticket in the North-East means you misbehave, but progressively it’s been a really positive term that alludes to the fact you disrupt the norm, challenge convention and not afraid to speak your mind; absolutely all about that. Workie Ticket Theatre are just that – an extremely talented bunch of workie tickets, enabling stories of unheard women and their (often) everyday forms of social activism to be heard. And they continued to do just that across the pandemic, through a project Womxn Up! (more on that later!).

Ahead of Workie Ticket Theatre’s new show – Magnolia Walls at Northern Stage 24th – 25th June, I thought it was time for another Culture Vulture interview – as you all need to know about this theatre company, their ethos and amazing work – especially the Artistic Director JoJo; she’s not only a brilliantly talented human, she’s also grown into a gorgeous friend of mine.

Magnolia Walls shines a light on the impact of war and military life, based on research by Newcastle University. Set in Northumberland, this play follows the tumultuous lives of Roxie and Pen, two military wives who form an unlikely ‘Thelma and Louise’ style friendship. Drawing on interviews, focus groups, and a series of theatre-based workshops with a group of 35 military partners, ex-partners, and widows from across the country, the research sheds a light on the long-term consequences of war and military service on personal relationships between armed forces personnel and their spouses and families.

As you’d expect, the play tackles important topics such as domestic abuse, trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), suicide, and racism. It also exposes the isolation and lack of community support experienced by many military spouses and partners, most of whom are women. But it does this in a very real human way, there is light within that darkness.

‘Magnolia Walls’ is based on research by Newcastle University’s Dr Alice Cree and Dr Hannah West, in collaboration with Workie Ticket Theatre CIC and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

It is hoped ‘Magnolia Walls’ will help start a conversation about what it really means to be a military spouse in 2022. And that is what really interested with this project – the idea that academic research, can be used to underpin a theatre show that shares the real-life experiences of military wives. Theatre becomes the creative tool to communicate and bring to life real academic research, making it meaningful, more accessible and a powerful vehicle for social change.

I can’t wait to see Magnolia Wallsthere are limited tickets left ; get them HERE – read on to hear more from Team Magnolia Walls – Artistic Director JoJo Kirtley and Dr Alice Cree from Newcastle University……

Workie Ticket Theatre Artistic Director JoJo Kirtley and Dr Alice Cree from Newcastle University

Hi both, first up – can you introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures….

JoJo- I’m JoJo Kirtley, the artistic director of Workie Ticket Theatre. I write and produce plays, facilitate workshops and I’m a mam to three little workie tickets! Workie Ticket is a female-led, Tyneside-based theatre company. We provide a platform for women to have their say through drama and amplifies unheard voices and stories. My own work has been performed at big venues such as The Lowry but you can’t beat working in community centres and putting on plays above pubs.

Alice– I’m Alice Cree, I’m a researcher at Newcastle University based in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology. My work focuses on gender and the military, particularly the use of creative methods in military research. I’m the research lead for the Conflict & Intimacy project which our play Magnolia Walls is part of.

Artistic Director JoJo Kirtley and Dr Alice Cree from Newcastle University //
photography credit: Denise Kidger

What does being a “workie ticket” mean in 2022?

JoJo – Being a ‘Workie Ticket’ in 2022 is very different to what it was when I first set up Workie Ticket in 2017. Lots has happened and the World has changed. My World has changed too; I was a mam of boys then and now I have a little girl too. I guess seeing the #MeToo movement unfold in different industries, the pandemic’s impact on women, Reclaim the Streets etc… changes everything. Seeing all that has made me want to push harder, not give up and definitely not shut up. My Grandad Joe used to call me a ‘Workie Ticket’ so I adopted this as the name to reflect the fact that I wanted to shake things up a bit; but now…. I want to shake things up A LOT.

I loved your project Womxn Up – it was such an important project and you all can access the audio plays and recordings now HERE! For those that don’t know – What was Womxn Up? and how did it come about?

JoJo – Womxn Up? was such an immense project and I am so proud of it and grateful that we got to create during the pandemic. Womxn Up? was our response to pandemic, it highlighted North-East women’s stories through a series of audio plays and real-life interviews. We also made a film called ‘Her Primal Scream’ – you can watch that HERE.

For this project, we explored the impact the pandemic has had on women at home, work, in the community, on our mental health and on our bodies. Our Womxn Up? Project consisted of three, brand-new audio response plays all inspired by our research which were written, performed, directed and produced by women from the North-East. My play was about my Nana. I wanted to explore how it must have felt for our elderly watching the World fall apart but also questioning what was going on too.

What did you learn through the Womxn Up? project and listening to the experience of all those women?

JoJo – I learned how broken we all have become because of the pandemic. Me included. I don’t think it will ever be the same again.

Although (and sadly) I expected the bullshit misogyny and the massive impact it had on women; the Handmaid’s Tale horror stories but I underestimated how tough and rough it would be for so many. That kind of broke me…

I remember interviewing these sex workers in South Shields with Lauren (Workie Ticket producer and Womxn Up? editor) and we both came out shaking our heads in disgust; these women had been treated terribly and taken advantage of by men during the pandemic.

Whilst there were many terribly sad and tragic stories that came out of our research but there were actually some lovely positives; like socially-isolated, lonely women finding connections with others online and real community champions who worked tirelessly to support others. One story, I loved, was a couple who fell in love with each other again because they got a chance to spend time together and re-engage with each other.

Well that makes my heart sing – Womxn Up? has been submitted into a museum archive – you’ve enabled these stories to have a life and place forever….

JoJo – This is going to happen this Autumn with the Feminist Archive in London which is at the Bishopgate Library. It’s exciting. I love how they don’t just want to archive our transcripts or recordings; they’re also after notebooks, photos, workshop sessions and a branded T’shirt!

A little team of Workie Tickets will be heading down South to accession the project and all that we have learned about the pandemic and its impact on women in the North-East. This will be preserved so in hundreds of years’ time…our ancestors will learn about the pandemic through our stories, Herstories.

In your opinion, how do you think the pandemic impacted womxn?

JoJo – Globally, an increase in domestic violence and sexual exploitation occurred during the pandemic …women were denied access to maternity appointments, labouring on their own, some being forced to wear masks whilst doing so. Women were being forced to miscarry on their own…just horrible situations. Family courts were taking place in homes via Zoom.  I don’t know what genius thought this was acceptable when survivors of abuse were having to zoom their abusers into their own living rooms with their children next door, most likely listening but it happened and shouldn’t have.

We heard stories from women denied contraception and sexual health appointments…they were juggling parenting, home-schooling, adapting to working from home without support in the form of childcare. Health including mental health was sacrificed while prioritising their children and family needs, loss of income, employment, wages, prospects and increased extra caring responsibilities…

It was a big step backwards for women and I think it’s only the beginning of what is to come.

The world is a difficult shit show for women’s rights at the moment – you have a little girl – what do you hope for her future?

JoJo – I hope Luna turns out to be a ‘workie ticket’ just like her Mam and gets to be who she wants to be. Most importantly, I want Luna and her friends to be able to do what they want with their bodies, without being dictated to; that would be my ideal future for them all.

Workie Ticket Luna

Tell me about Magnolia Walls – what is the piece of theatre/story?

Alice‘Magnolia Walls’ is based on 2 years’ worth of research by myself and Hannah West at Newcastle University as part of the ‘Conflict & Intimacy’ project, with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council. What we’ve been trying to do is look at the military home as a site of military violence. Exploring the question: ‘how does war impact home life and intimate relationships?’ So, what are some of the unseen, positive but also maybe not-so-positive impacts of military service on their families? What does it really mean to be the partner of someone in the forces today?

‘Magnolia Walls’ is a way of telling some of those stories and asking us to rethink some of our assumptions about military family life.

JoJo ‘Magnolia Walls’ challenges the stereotypes of the military partner and explores how home life and personal relationships are impacted by war. We wanted to set the play in the North-East so it’s set in different areas such as Blyth beach. We also wanted to create characters that represented our real military partners and came up with Roxie and Pen who form a ‘Thelma and Louise’ style friendship.

Roxie is this rocker, a self-proclaimed ‘Geordie’ Stevie Nicks and she instantly bonds with Pen the wanna-be writer, veteran and naval officer’s wife. Both have supported their husbands in their careers and choices, but now it’s time for them to shine…or rebel! We love a female rebellion!

Professional actors – Alex Tahnee and Rachel Brownstein //
photography credit: Denise Kidger

Why military partners? What is it about their voices and experience you want to explore and share?

Alice – People have always been interested in war stories, but we don’t often hear from the perspective of their military families. And when we do, those stories are very heavily politicised and geared around narratives of heroism and sacrifice. We wanted to shed a light on the kinds of experiences that we don’t usually hear about, ones that perhaps challenge or complicate our understanding of life in a military family.

I think something that is often not recognised is that militaries absolutely rely on the unpaid labour of military spouses. So that’s stuff like childcare, looking after the house and the home, but also the emotional labour of providing love and support during difficult periods of deployment.

And, because of the make-up of the armed forces, that labour is mostly undertaken by women (although of course, not exclusively!) Plus, spouses are at the very ‘front line’ when it comes to providing support for mental health problems experienced by a lot of veterans and serving members of the armed forces. Without all of that work, the military wouldn’t be able to do what they do. Effectively you’ve got this massive, complex institution that is all about state power and security, but at the root of it all, holding it all together are the (mostly) women who do it because they love their partners. Which is really interesting.

Something that I hope will come through when watching Magnolia Walls, is the diversity of experiences that our participants have had. This ranges from struggling with the expectations of being a ‘military wife’ when they have chronic health problems or disabilities, to navigating the constant presence of the military in their homes, their sex lives, their relationships with their children.

They are an amazing group of people and I really hope we have done them justice!

What do you want the audience to take away?

JoJo – I generally think they’re going to take away a lot of warmth and love from this play. But the audience will also be shocked at some of the themes we are exploring. I think you’ll all genuinely fall in love with the women who we have worked with. Essentially Magnolia Walls is a sort of love letter to them, thanking them for being so courageous when sharing their stories with us.

How are you feeling about staging the play, the first for several years due to the pandemic?

JoJo – Lucky to have the opportunity. Nervous. Fingers crossed for me.

Can you tell me about the research element of the project?

Alice – This has been a big piece of research involving nearly 40 participants who we have worked with quite intensively since the project officially started in August 2020. Hannah and I conducted 1:1 interviews with everyone, and then we had a series of about 20 theatre-based, discussion-based, and writing-based workshops that were facilitated by Workie Ticket Theatre Company.

By the end of the process, we had a HUGE amount of material; we will probably spend the next ten years publishing! The biggest piece of learning that came out of the research was that the military often has a controlling and even violent presence in the lives of military spouses – and in ways you might not immediately expect.

But you’ll have to see the play to hear more!

What is it like being a military partner in 2022 – what resources and services are available for support?

Alice – In many ways, it is the same as it has always been; very few institutions change as slowly as the military! Much of the support for partners and families is provided by charities. There is still a lot of work to be done in making sure folks can get the kind of support they really need.

JoJo – The problem is, where the funding is going and if the right organisations are receiving it. That has to be addressed too.

Tell me about the characters Roxie and Pen and their relationship? How did those characters develop?

JoJo – I was really interested in exploring female friendships as a whole and also what it was like to have friendships, that you had to give up suddenly because your family was being posted somewhere else. I remember when Alice and I had our first writing meeting and I said…we need two characters that embody the women we’ve been working with; one of them needs to kick-arse and the other one learns how to kick-arse like Thelma and Louise, so we created Roxie and Pen.

Team Magnolia Walls // photography credit: Denise Kidger

Tell me about the chorus element of the show?

JoJo – The chorus are a pre-recorded element of Magnolia Walls and are made up of our real military wives (and a husband!). Originally, the idea was for them to perform on stage but the pandemic stopped that, so we decided to fuse film and theatre together. They’re very excited to be part of the show and have spent some time rehearsing and learning performance skills. They’ve been amazing and I am so proud of them.

Alice – They are people who have been involved in the project since the beginning; people who have been so honest and brave in sharing their experiences with us. So, it’s been really amazing to see them use their own voices to tell those stories. It is very powerful.

Team Magnolia Walls & chorus // photography credit: Denise Kidger

Tell me about the creative team behind Magnolia Walls?

JoJo – We have a lush creative team and I am so proud of them.  We did the usual auditioning and recruitment.

When we appointed Corinne as Director, I was so happy. I’ve worked with her a few times before and she is one of the best directors in the North-East. There is no BS with Corinne, she cracks on and gets things done. Just the way I like it.

I also had to take on extra producers to assist me -Ashlea Sanderson and Lauren Sanderson who have been ace. We have a consultant Helen-Marie who is a real military wife too. We have Simon Cole designing our lights and film-wise we’ve been working with the Young Women’s Film Academy.

Our professional actors are Alex Tahnee and Rachel Brownstein who came to an audition we held in April. There was a spark between them, so I knew they had to be our Pen and Rox. We are also really excited to be working with The Set Guise who are creating our ‘magnolia wall’.

Team Magnolia Walls // photography credit: Denise Kidger

What do you hope happens as a result of the show? What do you want the legacy of this work to be?

JoJo – I want the women to feel empowered and listened to. I hope we can turn this into a film and maybe tour the play. We’ve also talked about a festival…

Alice – We also ultimately want people in positions of power and influence to sit up and listen. Military partners and spouses put up with a lot of shit, and they are not getting the support that they need. I hope that the play will help move that conversation forward.

Team Magnolia Walls // photography credit: Denise Kidger

This piece digs into military home lives and the impact of war and being in the military has on the day to day. Across the pandemic and lockdowns, we can all relate to feeling that work and the impact of pandemic stress, impacted our homelives – like a pressure cooker. That’s how I imagine, it must feel all the time for military partners – rollercoaster of emotions, trying to do your fucking best and hold the shit together, feeling isolated but stuck together at moments of stress and so much more. This makes this piece relatable and relevant to all.

Alice – I think that’s absolutely right. Our participants also said a few times that the pandemic forced people to get comfortable with plans being changed or cancelled at the last minute – something that military spouses are very familiar with! What’s also really interesting is that in the pandemic, we’ve seen the ‘front line’ take a different shape, and suddenly it became doctors, nurses, paramedics, hospital cleaners and so on who were the ones risking their lives to keep us safe. And I think our research and the play both potentially raise really interesting questions about what the long-term impacts of that might be for NHS workers and their families. Our participants talked not only about how their partners changed after traumatic military experiences, but also their own lingering kind of ‘PTSD’ attached to difficult periods of deployment or their spouses going off to war. Is that going to be the same for the families of doctors and nurses?

Time will tell, I suppose.

You hinted at an upcoming project you got a small pot of funding for – can you tell us more?

JoJo – We have two new projects. One of them is an extension of the Womxn Up? project. It’s called #AllMenCan and aims to engage boys and men to fight against VAWG.

And the other is our ‘Drama for Wellbeing’ programme which I started in 2019; pre-pandemic and delivered a lovely session to a group of female veterans. It’s a fusion of a programme I delivered years ago for Manchester Adult Education, a self -care course and drama activities. Our launch is in my hairdressers- All That Sass. Bringing drama to people in unexpected places. I want to show how you can use drama to support better mental health and self-care.

Then what’s next for you and Workie Ticket – do you have another project on the horizon?

JoJo – Always! We hope to maybe look at the female veteran project again and we’re working on another bid to explore what it means to be a ‘Geordie’ woman in 2022.

Anything else you want to tell me about?

JoJo – I am really proud of Magnolia Walls and the work we have done to make it happen. It’s been an immensely tough year for me personally and to get to this point is very overwhelming. I promised myself during the pandemic that I’d never take this job for granted so I’m happy at whatever outcome. I’m lucky to have had this opportunity and can’t thank Alice enough for being so encouraging and supportive throughout this process.

Thank you JoJo and Alice – fascinating interview and I can’t wait to see it. There are still some limited tickets for Magnolia Walls at Northern Stage – you can nab them via: https://northernstage.co.uk/whats-on/magnolia-walls/ Friday 24th June, Newcastle University welcomes the audience to a Q & A after the performance. Friday show is live captioned and Saturday show has BSL interpreter.

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!

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

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 Badmind – we chat music, live streaming, Kanye West and keeping creative collaborators close…..

I’m working on a gorgeous project at the moment with Polestar Music Studios in Newcastle, spreading the word about their fantastic studio, facilities for musicians and bands to practice, develop, record and perform (in person and digitally) their music… it’s an amazing privilege to work on and I have the pleasure of chatting to and discovering new music from the hottest, upcoming talent in the region.

It’s lush because I tend to get in a total music rut – listen to the same stuff and genres, and I just don’t have the time to seek out new music. So it’s a joy to step into a project, that gets me listening to new music! One such musician is Badmind….I discovered them through Polestar Studio’s Polestar Live Sessions – a programme of live music gigs, streamed directly from their studios to Polestar Facebook page.

Upcoming Polestar Live Sessions.

Badmind is an urban duo from Newcastle, made up of singer / songwriter Dayna Leadbitter and producer / drummer Jaimie Johnson; they’ve been setting the regional music scene alight with their soulful pop sounds over the last 18months.

Last year, they released their first single out into the pandemic, making waves with their polished pop; fast forward to now and everyone wants a piece of them and the whole North East music scene is buzzing about them. And it’s not hard to see why – they’ve racked up more than 230,000+ streams, been added to Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist, named in BBC introducing’s top tips for 2021 and representing the North East at Radio 1’s Big Weekend. Their new song, Flaws & Phases marks a new chapter for Badmind and I am so along for the ride! 

Badmind are performing tonight (12th August) at 7.30pm, so feel free to check in and watch with me, but, if you miss it – the live stream gig will be pinned to the top of the Facebook page for a week, so if you’re reading this just after the 12th, you’re in luck! But before, I rush off to watch their live streamed gig, which is going to be a corker, I thought I’d share this little Culture Vulture interview I did with them so you can get a flavour of what they are all about, why you need to check them out and so much more.

So over to you Dayna…..

Right, hiyer! Let’s go…. introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures?

Hi, I’m Dayna and I go by the name ‘Badmind’. I write songs and sing them live when the world isn’t locked down haha!

Tell me about your adventure into music and how did you meet your producer and drummer Jaimie?

My Dad has been singing and playing guitar to me since I was young, so I knew from an early age that I wanted to sing and do music. I started off wanting to do musical theatre but as I got older, I realised I wanted to be an artist and write my own songs. I met Jaimie when I was 18 and we’ve been writing together since then.

Dayna and Jaimie

How would you describe your music?

I describe my music as somewhere between Lo-fi, R&B and Pop but tend not to be too worried about genres; I just make music I’d like to listen to.

That’s a good way to think about it! You say you take a DIY approach to your music, but what does that actually mean?

Basically, everything is made in house; I work with a small team (myself, Jaimie, Stu & Jimmy) and together we do everything from writing, production, videos, imagery, branding and live performances. I like to keep a small circle of people I trust.

Dayna in studio

I really love that and that way you keep ownership and autonomy too! Can you tell me about the 7 releases across 2020? That must have been an epic under-taking!

I had all of the singles pretty much finished before I launched Badmind. I knew 2020 was going to be a development year and a way to introduce people to what Badmind is and to carry that on into 2021. BBC Introducing (Nick Roberts & Lee Hawthorn) have been a very important part of building the project and have helped with so many important opportunities for me.

It’s a great achievement to be recognised by Nick & Lee, so quickly – you clearly have proper talent and it’s a joy to watch you perform, so I can totally see why they fell in love with Badmind. What was it like to feature as part of BBC Introducing?

It was such a surprise, Nick Roberts called me over zoom and gave me the news. It was crazy especially with it being so early into my career.

Dayna – BBC Music Introducing

Aww that’s lush! Your music is such a blend of different genres and sounds – where do you get your inspo from?

There are far too many artists to list but I think my favourite would be Kehlani, it would make my life to do a track with her.

I love Kehlani – I’m an avid unashamed Halsey fan and that’s how I got into Kehlani.  Have you done much live streaming?

I’ve done a few bits here and there during lockdown, it is great fun and looking forward to the Polestar Live Session #4. I also looking forward to playing to audiences live again.

Dayna – Badmind

What can people expect from your Polestar Live Session?

I’m going to be playing pretty much all of the songs we released in 2020 including my new single ‘Flaws & Phases’ and I’m going to give a couple of unreleased songs a test run, so it’s a bit like a world premiere for that and first chance to listen to them.

What’s the live stream vibe going to be like?

Positive and fun vibes always; I love playing with the band it’s always a vibe!

Why should folx tune in?

What can be better on a Thursday evening?? Haha.

Dayna – Badmind

Oh absolutely – Thursdays are the new Fridays! Tell us what you are listening to right now?

I’ve been going back over old Kanye West albums recently they’re soooo good. Also been enjoying Jacob Collier’s work too.

Oh Kanye – I agree, I didn’t really appreciate them like I do now, when they first came out – they kind of passed me by a little. But love them! Can you tell us about any North East musicians you recommend checking out?

To be honest I’m so out of what’s going on locally I’m not too sure what’s been going on locally. Looking to change that over the next few months with gigs starting to come back.

Dayna in studio

Thanks for your honesty! Before working with Polestar Studios, I’d fallen out the loop so I hear you! Let’s chat the future….what’s next for you folx? what you working on?

I’ve got a new single coming very soon which will be followed by a run of singles till the end of the year. I’m hoping to get 4-5 singles out by the year’s end.

Wow – woman on a music mission – love it! Do you have a vision of a moment that you’d sit and think- “wow we’ve made it!”?

When I can pay the rent / mortgage with money earned from my music.

Dayna – Badmind

Very pragmatic answer! I’ve got my eye on a Dan Cimmermann painting that is £10K + – when I can afford that, then I will know I’ve made it! (haha!) So, highlight of 2021 so far?

I’d say getting the Radio 1 Big Weekend slot; that was crazy and hope I get to play more festivals.

Miss festivals and I hope you play more too – would love to see you play a festival….Anything else you want to tell us about?

Head over to Spotify to listen to my music and give me a follow on my socials to keep up to date with what’s coming up!

BOOM – thanks Dayna! All social links below and remember, Badmind are performing tonight (12th August) at 7.30pm, so feel free to check in and watch with me, but, if you miss it – the live stream gig will be pinned to the top of their Facebook page for a week, so if you’re reading this just after the 12th, you’re in luck and you can still experience their live performance!

Connect with Badmind:

Insta: @badmindmusic

Facebook: @badmindmusicuk

Twitter: @badmindmusic

Tik Tok: @badmindmusic

SoundCloud

Spotify

Interview with North East upcoming musician Lizzie Esau; live streaming, song writing as therapy & indie pop.

I’m buzzing to currently be working with much -loved corner stone of the regional music industry, Polestar Studios on their run of live streamed Polestar Live Sessions; celebrating and showcasing North East musicians and bands and their pandemic resilience.

Polestar Studios has been supporting the North East music scene to make great music since the early 90s. Nestled on the edge of the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle, this rehearsal and recording studio in Byker, was established in 1990 by Pauline Murray; singer of iconic punk band Penetration. Thousands of bands and musicians have used the facility in its long history.

I’m supporting Polestar Studios on their run of Polestar Live sessions, high production quality live streamed gig featuring the hottest grassroots’ North East music. I have the benefit of getting to know and interview all the brilliant musical talent, who are making waves regionally, Nationally and many Internationally in their niche too.

Tonight’s live stream gig is the turn of North East singer-song writer Lizzie Esau and her band, who are set to serve an alt-pop set with beautifully honest lyrics. Lizzie’s music has demanded the attention of not just regional music lovers, but also record labels, producers, DJs, festivals and BBC Introducing. Her latest single ‘What If I Just Kept Driving’ got me through the most Monday of Mondays this week and came to Lizzie in a matter of minutes. With its’ Lo-Fi Bedroom pop vibe and major chords, the song juxtaposes the highs of the music with the lows of the lyrics.

Polestar Live Session – Lizzie Esau

Lizzie’s live stream will be centre “stage” at 7.30pm tonight (Thursday 15 July) on Polestar Studios Facebook page and I can’t wait. It’s free to tune in but you do have the option to donate – all donations go directly to the artist, who is of course being appropriately paid, but a donation to a musician after the year they’ve had, really means the world and supports them get back out there.

So, in my quest to champion Northern talent and brilliance, I thought I’d nab Lizzie for a little Culture Vulture interview and find out more about her career so far, ambition and her music writing inspo! Let’s get to it, here is Lizzie Esau!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Hi Lizzie, right let’s get to it – can you introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures? Who are you?

I’m Lizzie Esau, a singer songwriter from the North East.

Can you tell us about your journey so far into the music industry?

I’ve always written little tunes and melodies ever since I can remember, probably from the age of around five or six. It’s something I have always had as a part of my life which for many years fell into the background but across the last three years something changed, and I decided to prioritise what I love and take music seriously.

Through connecting with my manager a few years ago I have now been able to make some great contacts in the industry and had the chance to work with other artists as well as releasing my own music in the last year, which has been so fulfilling.

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t listened to it before?

My music is a fusion of everything I love and that interests me. If I had to describe the sound, I’d say it’s a hip-hop alternative/ indie pop with honest lyrics and real instrumentation.

Where do you seek inspiration? What’s your music writing process like?

I’m mostly inspired by everyday life and the stresses and joy that it can bring. My writing is very reflective and as cheesy as it sounds, I often use it as a way of therapy which I’m sure is something other creatives can relate to.

The writing process normally consists of a random idea floating around in my head for a while which comes together as a song after sitting at my piano and on logic for a while working out new melodies and parts to the track. After my demo is created the song will then be sent off to the producer I’m working with right now, Steve Grainger, who elevates the track, and then after a bit of backwards and forwards discussion, the track is ready to go out!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Who is in your band? How did you pull them together/meet them?

The drummer Alex and I got in touch via social media quite a few years ago and he became part of a band that unfortunately faded out. After connecting with my manager and doing some solo gigs to throw myself into performing, I then reached out again just before the pandemic to create a new band around the music. As soon as we were able to, we started rehearsals again around the new tracks and Alex brought along the bass player Joe who fitted into the band so well being a great friend of his. We have had a few people stand in as guitarist during the time we have been playing together, who have all been such great musicians, and hopefully one day a permanent position will be filled. I feel so lucky to be able to have such professional and dedicated musicians as part of this project and we just can’t wait to get out and play live now!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

I love your new single, ‘What If I Just Kept Driving’ ; tell us a bit about it? (It’s available to listen to now on all streaming platforms)

The new single is an indie pop track about escaping from the stresses of life through the act of performing mindless activities. The idea for the track came about when I was driving (hahaha!) and all came together very quickly; form the writing process to the production.

The music is lively and upbeat which I think is a nice contrast to the honest and more downbeat lyrics describing how I was feeling at the time. The choruses are a little more positive and talk about getting help for these life stresses, putting more of an optimistic spin on things.

I love the video – where did the concept come from?

The video concept came from the director, Sel Mclean, who took into consideration so well who I was as an artist and the style of things that would work best for the track. I loved his idea to have skateboarders there and to have it by the beach at sunrise, I think the whole thing came together so well and everything for the releases seemed to really work together. The whole team were so amazing and made my first ever professional video shoot experience so enjoyable and memorable.

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

The song really speaks to me about the noise of modern life and using driving as a means to escape, self-care and freedom; this is such an important thing in the current context of the pandemic. How have you found the pandemic as a creative?

Just before the pandemic is when I really started to be proactive and get myself out playing solo shows and writing more, so when the pandemic hit it was very disheartening, as I’m sure it was for all creatives especially ones just starting off. But through this time I have connected with my wonderful band and started collaborating with many artists as well as writing more than I ever have before, so in many ways it allowed me the time to put everything into music which I really loved.

However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that this pandemic has been so hard on everyone and that no one is alone in feeling like they have had low points, but I’m glad to see us coming out of it all now! (fingers crossed Haha!).

How did tonight’s live stream gig with Polestar Studios come about?

This gig came about due to the bass player, Joe, being in contact with them and therefore when an opportunity came about to play there, we were all really keen to get involved and get the songs out there for more people to hear!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

What can people expect from your Polestar Live Session tonight at 7.30pm via Polestar Facebook page and why should people tune in?

You can expect to hear lots of new unreleased music, perhaps even a sneak peek at upcoming singles as well as a cover, which I never tend to do but I couldn’t resist with this one! I will be with a full band on the night so expect big sounding tracks and lots of energy! We can’t wait for it!

Why are organisations like Polestar Studios important to the North East music scene?

I think they’re so important! They give up and coming artists a platform to share their music to a wider audience, especially since they stream the gigs via social media which enables anyone to be able to discover new music. It’s great to have such supportive organisations that enjoy promoting artists and love to watch them succeed; without this so many people would go undiscovered!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

How do you feel about live streaming gigs? Why are they important?

I think it’s so important to adapt and carry on regardless in any way that we can, so to see so many live stream events and socially distanced performances is so reassuring that music can still be shared no matter what. I think especially in the times we have had, music is so vital to keep everyone’s spirits high and keep optimistic.

How does it feel to be getting featured by BBC Introducing? (It has been ace to hear you on the radio waves!)

It feels so amazing! The support I’ve had from BBC introducing ever since putting out my first demo onto Soundcloud in 2018 has been so wonderful and everything I’ve uploaded has been shown so much love by them! I really loved doing a session for BBC introducing in the North East around my debut official release ‘Young Mind Run Blind’, this was something I have always wanted to do and to do it around my first proper release was really amazing! From then on, every single was so amazingly promoted by them with my third and most recent release being played on radio 1 introducing as Gemma Bradley’s tip of the week meaning all the local radios around the country played it also which was so crazy to hear!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

What do you think of the North East music scene?

I think the North East music scene is such a supportive space and everyone loves to see one another do well and get to where they want to be. There is so much amazing talent around right now and so many people getting National radio plays which is so amazing to see! Just looking forward to getting out and seeing all of these band and artists I have discovered in lockdown live now!

Who on the scene do you admire/should I check out?

I’m really loving so many artists form the North East right now I think everyone is really thriving! Off the top of my head I’m loving Nadedja, Jodie Nicholson, Martha Hill, Georgia May, Luke Royalty, Future Humans and so many more!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Good selection of people there! Can you share any advice for aspiring folx wanting to get into the music industry?

I think my biggest piece of advice is to connect with as many people as you can and to be good at networking, or like I did find a wonderful manager who is great at it, hahaha! I think as soon as I started reaching out to people to collaborate and venues to play at is when things started happening, so just remember to always be proactive and keep writing as much as you can!

Highlight of 2021 so far?

My 2021 highlight so far has to be hearing my new single ‘What If I Just Kept Driving’ on radio 1! It was so surreal as I always have I on in my car so to hear my own music getting played on my favourite radio station was just the best feeling and has already led to some exciting conversations and interest from new listeners!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Do you have a moment in mind/visual moment, when you think – “I’ve made it!”?

I’ve always dreamed of headlining Glastonbury or playing on the main stage, I’d definitely know I’ve made it then! But to be honest just playing anywhere at Glastonbury would be such a great feeling for me, and I think the day I see a load of people I don’t know in a crowd singing my lyrics back to me will be so surreal and I’ll know I’ve made an impact on them for sure!

So, what’s next for you?

I have so many new tracks, ideas and possible collaborations happening which makes me so excited for what’s coming in my career! I think the next thing you’ll hear from me will be a bit of a surprise so keep an eye out! I’m also playing live lots and I really hope to continue that and grow the amount of people listening to my music as we move out of the pandemic!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Anything else you want to tell my readers about?

Yes! Lots of gigs happening soon! I am particularly excited for the Cluny on the 23rd of July which is an event with Urban Kingdom and Generation W where I’ll be playing alongside three other amazing female artists. I’ve also got lots of gigs lined up in September including my debut headline show on the 18th at Head of Steam in Newcastle with the band which we are so excited for! As well as this, I’ll be playing a few exciting support slots so make sure to check out my socials to find out about it all!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Well thank you Lizzie and if you can, make sure you check out her live stream tonight at 7.30pm from Polestar Studios Facebook page!

You can also connect with Lizzie via:

Instagram: @lizzieesau

Facebook: @lizzieesau.music

Tik Tok: @lizzieesau

SoundCloud

YouTube

Spotify

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

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

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone

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

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

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

Let Us Eat Cake exhibition poster

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

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

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone

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

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

How would you describe your practice and what you do?

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

Were you creative as a mini?

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

Tell us about your journey into the creative industries?

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

How would you describe your art style?  

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

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

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

Let Us Eat Cake Exhibition

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

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

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

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

@mrbabies does amazing surreal collages

@vonnart does beautiful fantasy illustrations

@dariahlazatova does amazing folks surrealist illustrations and portraits

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

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

Paige Livingstone’s work

What other projects or things have you got going on?

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

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

Let Us Eat Cake Exhibition

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

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

Interview with artist Josie Brookes – bringing a lot of joy and colour into the world one glorious illustration at a time.

As we move closer to the end of 2020 and the start of 2021, I thought i’d round out the year, with an artist interview with a creative that has brought me a lot of joy and colour across 2020, an artist that has been responsible for spreading a lot of joy into folx lives across a year like no other and worked on some joy filled creative projects.

Josie Brookes’ work is just pure joy! I first met Josie Brookes in my role at Gateshead Council on the Culture Team. Josie’s illustrations are the sort that just make you smile – full of colour, personality and something rather comforting with a hint of nostalgia. She makes the type of work, that you brings light into a room and if you hung it on your wall, you couldn’t ever imagine feeling sad in that room ever again.

Artist Josie Brookes

She’s is a freelance Illustrator, animator and art facilitator based in Newcastle upon Tyne, North East England. Her illustration work showcases illustration in its broadest context – illustration can be so much more than drawing, especially when you throw collage and bold patterns into the mix.

I’ve wanted to interview Josie for Vulture, for years – but seeing her resilience across 2020, the wonderful creative and community projects she’s been involved in and contributed to – well it spurred me on to make it happen!

You can check out Josie’s work to purchase HERE and read about her projects HERE.

Josie Brookes

So over to you Josie….

Well hello, can you introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures?

Hello! I’m Josie, a North East Creative, an Illustrator/visual maker and creative facilitator living in my home city of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Tell me a bit about your journey into the creative industries – where did it all begin?

When I returned home from doing my BA in Graphic Design at Brighton University, I worked part-time at The Newcastle Arts Centre and then a-n – The Artists Information Company, whilst building up my work as a freelance Illustrator and facilitator, working on commissions and projects, largely with a community focus, around the region. In the earlier days, I also ran a business called ‘Prod’ with my husband Tom Madge selling patterned screen-printed belts and jewellery, but eventually my illustration and project work sort of took over and I was lucky enough to be able to invest in my freelance practice full time.

Thinking back, my first paid job as an illustrator was doing the horoscope Illustrations for The Crack magazine (after a stint of work experience whilst at Uni). I’ve always found the North East to be a very supportive place to work in, with a great sense of camaraderie in the creative community here.

Josie Brookes – Moonface

You are the true definition of a multi-disciplinary artist – illustrator, animator, collage, maker – but most well-known (IMO) for your illustration, how did you develop your illustration style?

I think my illustration style has evolved with me. At the core, my work focuses on character and colour. Most of the time I represent things from my own perspective rather than in a realistic way. I like to experiment with processes. The way it’s made – be it using pen, collage, print or digital techniques – can vary, and overlap, but always has those common themes.

Josie Brookes – Kindness

We were reunited on Art Crush (without ever meeting or talking – very 2020 of us!) working on the project! I was thrilled to see your name and the illustrations are of the “art personalities” are just perfect! Can you tell me in your words what Art Crush is?

Art Crush is a fun app designed to explore the Arts Council Collection (the UK’s most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art, with more than 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists), in a less conventional way, and to learn a little bit about your artistic persuasions! Developed using a similar interface to apps such as Tinder, Art Crush enables folks to quickly and easily swipe through artworks to discover what art they like, create their own collection and discover their ‘art personality’.

Josie Brookes – Art Crush illustrations (App created by BLOOM)

What was your involvement in Art Crush and how did you come up with the concept of the visuals?

Sunderland Culture approached me to come up with the visuals for the Art Crush Art personalities, because they were looking for someone who they thought could have fun experimenting with these slightly abstract concepts and I had recently done an online talk about my work and showed some Horoscope illustrations I had made, which they likened the challenge to.

I got a description of each of the art personalities and started working up ideas and draft characters to feedback on. It was a lovely working process with them and luckily, there wasn’t much tweaking to do. My concept was that each character was ‘encased’ by their personality, around their head, with patterns, colour choices and little details providing an extra nod to their traits.

Josie Brookes – The Dreamer – Art Crush

Why should people download Art Crush and have a go?

It’s such a fun app and a great concept. It’s like Tinder but for Art. So, if you’ve been married as long as I have, you might never have used something like this (Tinder – the dating app) before! You swipe right and get to see lots of art from the Arts Council Collection, then once you have 15 matches you get to discover your Art Personality.

Now time for the big question – what was your Arts Personality?

Mine was Truth Seeker. I was secretly hoping for Boundary Breaker, but there you go! Although, you can do it as many times as you like, and it may change depending on your mood. I’ve done it a few times now and keep getting Truth Seeker, so feel like that’s my destiny!

Now onto a project I’ve watched from a far and loved……can you tell us about Monkfish Productions’ A Little Bit of Good in the World project? What is it? How’d you get involved?

I saw the project call out on the Tyne and Wear Cultural Freelancers facebook feed and immediately loved the concept of the idea. After such a prolonged period of turmoil for everyone in the creative industry (and everyone in general) a project which focused on bringing a little bit of good in world was headily appealing. I went through the interview process and thankfully was asked to be involved. The project is about exploring ‘how lots of small creative bits of good can be connected to facilitate something bigger’. Monkfish have been working with Projects4Change so it has included workshops with their young people and I have gotten to work with fellow artist Melanie Kyles, who has been making a beautiful embroidery piece for the project too.

Josie Brookes – A Little Bit of Good in The World

Can you share a project highlight so far? How can folx get involved with the remainder of the project?

There’s so many! Getting to do some ‘in real life’ workshops with the Projects4Change youth group, my first and only ones, since March. Also the online ‘Drink and Draw’ evening we had on Zoom, and getting to produce some self-initiated artwork… so basically the whole lot!

There are a series of online creative activities on the Monkfish Productions’ blog that I helped to create with Amy Lord; it would be great for people to get involved with those.

You sell lots of cards, prints and are available for commissions..where do you seek inspiration for that work? Do you create work with the intention of selling it, or do you have fun making/illustrating something and then think.oh I might add a print of that to my shop? How can folx purchase from you?

I’m more in the having fun then thinking oh that would make a nice print camp. At the start of Lockdown, in a moment of organisation (panic) I got a lot of prints made up and set up my online shop properly. There’s nothing like a pandemic to get you to do those things you’re always meaning to but normally never get round to. People can shop for my prints/originals and greetings cards on my online shop.

Josie Brookes

You did the illustration for Culture Vulture favourite, stand-up comedian Kate Fox and their tour Where There’s Muck, There’s Bras”, a show celebrating Northern women and their contributions, commissioned for Great Exhibition of the North 2018. I just loved the show branding can you tell me about your involvement in the project and what you thought of the show? What was it like being a lush creative woman, working on a project about celebrating and championing women!?

Thank you. I love Kate and it is always a pleasure to create work for her. We worked on a project together around 6 years ago with Helix Arts and YHNE and have stayed in touch since. The branding for her ‘WTMTB’ show, and then tour, was a dream. I learned so much from drawing up all the Strong Northern women that feature in the show. It was really emotional watching the show and realising just how much these women and their achievements have been written out of or glossed over in history. I feel privileged to have been a tiny part of the process of highlighting their Awesomeness. It was also empowering to work on a on an all-Northern all-woman led project. I am very proud of where I come from, so always appreciate opportunities to champion people from the North.

Josie Brookes – Where There’s Muck There’s Bras

Can you tell me a bit about your involvement with the band Warm Digits?

Myself and my husband Tom, were asked to make the lead single video ‘View from Nowhere’ for Warm Digits new album (released in February this year) and we decided to make it using stop motion animation. We visited Emma pollock the guest vocalist on the track up in Glasgow to record her performance. It was an intense and massively fun project to do together, and we are really happy with the result. Unfortunately, Lockdown 1 put the launch gig at The Cluny, Newcastle on hold, but it’s something to look forward to in 2021.

Josie Brookes – Warm Digits

And your link with Newcastle based Chalk; an organization that creates cultural, immersive experiences for the whole family?

I’m honoured to be an associate artist for Chalk. I really appreciate, all the hard work they do to provide fun and interesting family-focused events in the region (which I have enjoyed as a parent with my kids), so I was thrilled when they first asked me if I would be involved with their events. I have live animated through two of their gigs, for bands Archipelago and Stealing Sheep, and also run children’s animation workshop. I also recently did an online Chalk workshop as part of the Summer Streets Festival exploring ‘What does Music look like?’ and I really look forward to being involved in more exciting events in the near future. Chalk are always coming up with something different.

Josie Brookes – Live animating Stealing Sheep

You were the artist and residence at Northern Festival of Illustrationwhat was that like? Tell me about your residency?

This was such a great experience for me as an Illustrator; there aren’t that many Illustration specific residency opportunities out there and The Pop Up studio residency was a fantastic way to break from my usual routine of projects and invest some time in pure self-initiated experimenting. I had the chance to connect with the creative scene in Teesside through the Northern School of Art and Empty Shop. I met new people and had the chance to share the space with fellow resident artist Laura Fitton. I ran group workshops, put on a fun Drink and Draw and enjoyed the chance to explore the Teesside area more.

Josie Brookes – The Pop Up Studio Residency

Whats your 2020 highlight been?

I’d have to say my creative highlight this year would be releasing the Warm Digits music video. It was such a nice way to combine these different facets of my practice in one – using print, collage, mark making and animation, all together. It was also a happy time getting to collaborate with my husband Tom.

Josie Brookes – Warm Digits

Can you share something new youre working on/coming up?

I am currently working on a collection of new print and collage-based work inspired by the Warm Digit’s project, that was going to be exhibited at Northern Print in September this year; it has had to be postponed until next year. I’m also working with Monkfish on one of their other great projects ‘Going the Social Distance’ which is based online and working with young people around creativity and well-being.

I’m also really excited to start working on Claire Newton’s (Creatively Conscious) new project ‘Creativity Island’ with her and writer Danielle Slade. It is all about connection, creativity and well-being in motherhood, which are subjects that I am very passionate about!

Josie Brookes – Squidgy Heart

Any artists/creative folx that are inspiring you right now, that you suggest I should check out?

I have been really enjoying Instagram. It feels like a great platform for spotting people that you I love the work of. I’d recommend checking out the feeds of Lisa Congdon, Jayde Perkin, Elisoa Henderson-Figueroa, Peopleiveloved, thejoyeclectic, Sarah Bagshaw designs, moragmyerscough, local illustrator pal Laura Sheldon and my friends at Flea Circus who always give me shopping urges and helping me to ‘shop small’ as much as possible.

How can folx keep in touch with you?

Instagram, Facebook or send me a message on my website www.josiebrookes.com

Josie Brookes – Chalk – Stealing Sheep

Well thank you Josie – wonderful to catch up with an artist that has smashed 2020 out the park whilst bringing joy to so many folx too. Please check out Josie’s online shop, keep an eye out for her future projects into 2021 and check out those Instagram suggestions – they are goodies!

All my love Culture Vultures – more interviews on the way!

Interview with 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.

SMFM9243

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