I was recently invited by East Street Arts to create visuals for their Art Hostel crowd funding video. The aim was to raise both money and awareness for Leeds’ first ever social enterprise Art Hostel. I illustrated some hand-drawn lettering for the video, as well as designing a selection of props to be used on set.
One thing I really love about working with East Street Arts is they truly understand creatives and our need to have artistic licence over our work. I immediately saw this project as a great opportunity to flex my creative muscle and have some artistic freedom. East Street Arts are great at working with artists because they highlight an objective or goal, then let artists take whatever route we wish to realise that goal.
Another reason I was excited to get involved, was the announcement of the videos director, John Slemensek. I’ve worked on films with John in the past and when agreeing to work with him, you know he will require a lot of your time and energy. However, John’s excitement and enthusiasm are both incredibly infectious, which really enables him to get the best out of people creatively. More importantly, you’re always guaranteed to cry with laughter at least once during the process.
John sent me a very loose initial script, describing some of the scenes in the film. To most people, these notes may have appeared the scrawling of a mad man, but because I know how John works I realised the potential of his ideas. He also emailed me a list of the words and phrases I needed to illustrate, a hand drawn lettering order if you will. The script was the dining customer, John the waiter bringing me the order and I myself the digital illustration chef preparing the order for the waiter to take out to the customer.
Once we had gone over the script and identified a list of props that I needed to produce, Lorna Johnson (Marketing Manager) and I took a trip to Hobbycraft to indulge in an afternoon of art material shopping. After spending an hour or two deciding which shade of pink would work best for a brain (then deciding to buy them all) we left with a bag full of acrylic paints, a set of brushes and what seemed like Hobbycraft’s entire stash of A2 mount-board under our arms.
I set to work on the prop design that same day. East Street Arts had very kindly provided me with a studio space in Patrick Studios where I could produce the work. John and I had created a list of importance for the props, so I started on the ones that would feature most in the video.
My main source of inspiration for this project was a book titled ‘Tactile – High Touch Visuals’. I bought the book around 5 years ago and since I first opened it I’ve wanted to translate my illustration style into objects. All creatives have lists of ideas they try and systematically work through and this was an item on my list. I’ve been waiting for the perfect project to come along to explore this idea and the Art Hostel video was that.
Time was of the essence. We had deadlines to meet and as any creative knows, deadlines are a package deal with late nights in the studio included. I systematically worked on the prop design, sketching shapes, filling the shapes with paint, outlining with a marker and then cutting them out. John sat beside me finalising the script, stopping once in a while to crop pieces of mount-board and crack the whip. Occasionally we stopped to dunk a chocky hob-nob into our lukewarm tea, but that was a rarity.
Anyone who’s worked with me in the past knows I like to listen to music while I work. I had recently discovered Aeon: Peace to the Puzzle, a new album by UK Hip-Hop artist Scorzayzee. This album quickly became the soundtrack to working on the Art Hostel video. Interestingly I later found out the album itself was produced using crowd funding backing, making it a very fitting soundtrack for our work. We must have listened to it up to twenty times during the process (I’m listening to it now as I write this article). Excuse me while I continue my story so this doesn’t turn into an accidental album review…
Members of the East Street Arts team would occasionally check on us to see how things were progressing. One evening, Nicola Greenan (External Relations Director) was so pleased with our work that she offered to take us for dinner at The Reliance. This is a perfect example of the notion of hospitality that is synonymous with how East Street Arts work with people. John and I had been working solidly for a couple of days and were developing a serious case of studio fever. The salvation of some human interaction outside of our paint covered sanctuary seemed a great idea. Not to mention a couple of glasses of wine and a delicious meal that didn’t have the word ‘deal’ attached to it…
In total I think we spent around 3 full days in the studio. When I say full days, I mean an artists full days. Typically arriving no later than 8am and leaving again at around 2am on average. There was also an extremely late night salt and pepper chicken wings incident, in which the takeaway bag exploded spilling food all over the table. Resulting in John and I laughing for around half an hour. That’s when we decided to call it a night to rest up for the big day of shooting.
The location of the shoot was at one of East Street Arts’ temporary spaces in Leeds. I would say we arrived on set early but before we set foot on it, we first had to physically construct it. We set to work rolling out the lino flooring, strategically laying wooden panelling, positioning props and generally making the space look graphically interesting.
Once the set was in place, we began filming. The crew was made up of myself (Lead Role aka Leonardo Dicaprio), John Slemensek (Director) and Blessing Oyebanji (Camera). The tempo started a little slow, but after a while everyone settled into their roles and things started picking up. John’s style of direction allows a lot of room for interpretation and improvisation, which makes him great fun to work with. Similar in the way East Street Arts work with artists, John gave me loose ideas of what he wanted to capture and then let me express it how I wished. That is the luxury of working with people with whom you share a mutual trust.
It was a long strenuous day of repetition, holding poses and faking concentration faces to suppress my laughter. However, as expected it was a fun and hilarious experience. I think every one of us had to take a break at least once just to cry with laughter and compose ourselves for the next shot. (As proven by my howler monkey portrait below)
Once the last scenes were shot and the lettering illustrated, the project was out of my hands. I knew that now it was up to John and Blessing to edit the footage and create a narrative using the visuals I had created, which would both inspire and encourage an audience to support East Street Arts’ amazing Art Hostel project.
Turns out it worked. The crowd funding campaign finished this week and we exceeded our £5000 goal by £164! Thanks to everyone who watched, shared and talked about our video and to anyone who backed the Art Hostel.
If you haven’t seen the video already, we hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it: