CREATIVE COMMUNITY PROVES AN INSPIRATION FOR ARTISTS ANNIE AND SHARRON

Textile graduates from Cleveland College of Art and Design (CCAD) have been inspired to succeed thanks to the development and support of the thriving creative business community in the north east.

Artists Annie Walker, Sharron Bates and Alexandra Batty all graduated from the university-level campus in Hartlepool in 2016 with a BA (Hons) Textile and Surface Design degree and are now developing their businesses with help from creative hubs such as No.42 in Bishop Auckland and Greenfield Arts in Newton Aycliffe.

Annie Walker in her home studio

22-year-old designer Annie from Darlington turned her spare bedroom into a studio and set up textile business Mac and Morris during her final year studies. As part of a project called ‘What Makes Us Human?’, which strongly focussed on her family, Annie combined both her grandparents’ surnames – McIntyre and Morrison – and Mac and Morris was born.

Annie’s embroidered artwork for Mac and Morris

Specialising in embroidery and embellishment to design contemporary interior products and gifts from her home studio, Annie is now successfully growing her business, utilising retail and gallery space at No.42.

The site, in the centre of Bishop Auckland, was launched by regional charity, Auckland Castle Trust to provide a platform for fledgling creative businesses to display and sell their work. Upstairs it boasts special incubator studios, collectively known as Pod, where emerging, companies can develop their products and be part of a collaborative community.

Managed by CCAD alumnus Kate Gorman, Pod currently has six residents, including Self Made Studios, a social enterprise offering textile sampling and manufacturing, where fellow CCAD graduate Alexandra Batty works in surface pattern design.

A range of Annie’s designs

Annie said: “I started to sell my work through No.42 almost immediately after graduating and it’s been brilliant, helping me get my work noticed by a different customer base. I think the North East really benefits from places like this.

“It has been a massive challenge so far, with quiet periods and then large numbers of orders overnight, but I love what I’m doing. Being able to wake up and know you are working on something you love overrules any challenges for me.”

Pod Manager Kate Gorman said: “At Pod and No.42 our aim is to provide specific tailored support for artists and designers as they launch their creative business.

“Through networking events such as Pod picnics we are also able to share this support with a wider audience and help forge a collaborative creative community where artists can flourish together.”

Annie has produced a number of private commissions based on her existing designs in bespoke colours and sizes for clients. She is developing her online business from art retailer Etsy to customers as far afield as the USA and Australia, as well as attending design markets both regionally and nationally.

Her work has also been selected for a somewhat unusual exhibition ‘100 Years of OUI’ at Kimberly Clark, a dispenser gallery in an undisclosed UK public toilet where the artwork is dispensed on low quality paper towels to unexpected users to drive art into people’s everyday lives.

Sharron Bates at this year’s Festival of Illustration in Hartlepool with her own ‘Where’s Brian’ illustrations

First-class honours graduate Sharron Bates, 46 from Newton Aycliffe, has already experienced commercial success after receiving a commission to design wallpaper for an international textile studio in Belgium before she had even finished her degree, and hopes to work with them again in the future.

A red farmhouse collage from Sharron

During her studies, Sharron began selling her prints and cards at No.42 which she continues to do, and is also exhibiting selected pieces of her original artwork for purchase as part of the gallery’s exhibition.

After leaving CCAD in July last year, Sharron has been extremely busy building up her illustration and workshop business and has benefitted from the networking and creative opportunities on offer to entrepreneurial artists like herself, which she is keen to be part of.

Having recently established a Creative Forum at Greenfield Arts, an arts and community centre in Newton Aycliffe, Sharron said: “I was finding that I missed being around creative people after graduation. The Forum provides an opportunity for creative people to meet up, bring their work along to inspire and help each other and network with others or even just sit quietly and work in the same space. It’s a flexible ‘drop in when you can’ group which is quickly becoming well established.

“I also run workshops with both children and adults, promoting and organising some workshops myself and some through Greenfield Arts and Green Bee Creatives, a collaboration of creative professions providing artist-led events, projects and activities to local communities across the north east.

Collage workshop Greenfield Arts with Sharron

Artwork featuring a stag commissioned from Sharron

“Arts enterprises like No. 42 and Greenfield Arts are extremely important as they provide a venue to sell work and also to meet creatives in my local area.”

Sharron is currently exhibiting her work for sale at the Bob Abley Art Gallery within Spennymoor Town Hall, which also hosts a large, permanent collection of work by mining artist Norman Cornish, and will be working at the forthcoming Festival of Thrift in Redcar.

Sophie Lewis, Arts and Community Centre Coordinator at Greenfield Arts, said “We thrive due to the passion and commitment we receive from artists like Sharron. Our arts offer is very responsive to the needs of our developing artist community, of which Sharron has been a prominent figure, and we pride ourselves on the work we do with local artists, especially as it enables us to inspire younger generations.”