Community Matters: In Conversation with Danielle Rhoda, Illustrator, Animator, Designer

Originally from Poland, Danielle Rhoda moved to Manchester via Nottingham to study Illustration and Animation and has considered the city a home away from home ever since.

An extremely talented artist and illustrator, Danielle has worked with some of the city’s most exiting emerging creatives and agencies from Fuse Manchester and Yolk to cultural institutions including the People’s History Museum. Alongside creating her own prints and greeting cards, Danielle also runs The Big Drink and Draw, an online meeting place for creatives to connect with one another during lockdown.

We caught up with Danielle to talk about her love of the north, what it’s like for young creatives entering the workplace and the projects she’s proudest of.

Can I start by asking you to tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m originally from Poland where I lived until the age of 13 at which point I moved with my family to Nottingham. I came to Manchester to study Illustration and Animation and stayed here since. I like to think of myself as a northerner at heart which you can tell by the way I love chips with gravy!

Did you know you always wanted to be an illustrator and artist?

Like many, I’ve had a strong interest in art and drawing since a young age. I’ve always loved making things, whether it was a painting or creating 3D shapes out of paper or clay. I’ve always had a thing for recreating things I saw around me. 

Although since I can remember I fancied the idea of one day creating illustrated books it wasn’t until coming onto a foundation course that I was guided towards illustration.

When approached or commissioned for a piece of work, where do you start, what does your creative process look like?

Much to my surprise I have found a new passion for research! While I do begin drawing and noting down ideas as one of the first steps I cannot progress without finding all that I can about the subject. Having developed my practice around observation I need a good set of visual prompts which ground my style. My favourite way to do so is to go outside and draw from life. Even on the day to day (before lockdown) when out and about I would often have my phone at the ready so that I could capture interesting characters. They could then evolve and merge into illustrations. That and really trying to memorise people’s quirks and funky outfits. 

Looking at your career to date, what have been some of your favourite projects that you have worked on?

To date it would have to be working with the People’s History Museum to create a visual language for this year’s set of exhibitions all around the theme of Migration. Having only been freelancing for a short time up to that point it was the first ‘proper’ brief I worked on. Such a great experience working on a topic that is so close to my heart. The team gave me pretty much total freedom and trust so I could really get playful with my style. It was also the first time seeing my characters play out in a live situation like this and on a range of scales. Of course, unfortunately, due to the lockdown, the museum has shut its doors and many events have been postponed so it won’t be until later in the year we’ll really get to delve into their exciting programme. 

You currently live in Manchester, where else have you lived and work and what impact did these locations have on you and your creative output?

Before moving to Manchester in 2015 I lived in Nottingham where I did an Art & Design Foundation course. During that time, my first ever job was working as a GA at the Nottingham Contemporary. For several years the gallery felt like my second home. I became a member of their youth program at the age of 15 and it was one of the best things I could have done. It gave me a real insight into the world of art. The team was very welcoming and I got to see many of the backstage processes to putting up exhibitions and creative events. That was a big influence for me at the time and spurred me onto pursing art. 

What are some of the challenges of your profession, or more generally in the creative industries?

Not enough information. Very soon after graduating I realised how little of the business side we got to see or understand at university. Although it seems to be slowly getting better, the industry often doesn’t seem all that welcoming to graduates with many opportunities still happening in closed circles and behind closed doors. It’s incredible to see more and more people realising this and speaking out but more needs to be done in order to make the creative industries more inclusive and less privileged.

There are so many brilliant new creatives trying their way in every year and I strongly disagree with the mindset of ‘they need to learn the hard way because we did’. Of course when first starting there are lessons to be learned but I think we all should feel a collective responsibility to make the learning as easily accessible as possible. Sharing tips, discussing experiences, introducing people, shouting out about new talent, getting real about finance (!)  and all in all feel a bit less protective of our knowledge and instead passing it on. That’s where the real progress can start, right? 

Have there ever been any barriers for you as a woman in the industry? Or generally speaking do you think the industry is diverse enough?

The workplace in general, within and beyond the creative industry is not diverse enough. I cannot believe that in 2020 one might not be able to get into a certain role because of their gender and or background. However, it does feel like right now we’re in a very important moment where this is becoming part of daily conversation. I remember sitting in a lecture where the speaker explained how the majority of creative positions are taken by white men and I being neither white or male was prepping myself for a much tougher journey than many in this field. Saying that, I’m a strong believer in marching on no matter what and having the work speak for itself. I might be mixed-raced but beyond that and more importantly ABOVE that, I am just an artist. 

What do you like about Manchester and its creative network?

The main reason for why I came to Manchester in the first place was because I’ve heard so much about its creative community. It is such an exciting place to be in right now, there’s a real sense of togetherness which is totally in line with the vibe of the city overall. I love the fact that we’re not as big as London; it really does feel like after a short while you start to recognise many faces.

The city is constantly evolving, especially in recent years, and more and more stripped back, real-talk events are taking place and I can’t wait to see what’s more to come. A little shoutout here to people, teams that made me feel more part of the community: Fuse, Yolk and of course NRTH LASS!

Do you think it is possible to have a fulfilling career in the north?

I think it is definitely possible to have a fulfilling career in the north, there are many creatives who already do and have done so for a while. We are beginning to see a real shift of focus which is coming with talks about diversity and mental health. It is no longer imperative one has to move to London in order to have a great creative career. Technology is playing a big part in this but also the general want of representing more than one voice.

With this in mind, I still believe it is harder to get yourself going outside of London or the south in general but good things don’t always come easy do they! What’s interesting is seeing how other cities in the north are rising up to the challenge and the connections we’re all starting to build. There is real creative power here and the more people realise it the better it will get. (You wouldn’t be able to tell I’m not from here, freaking love the north).

What do you love about the north?

We could be here all day! I love the people, such a warm, friendly bunch. Chips with gravy, but I think I already mentioned that. I love finding out stories about the rich heritage of the north. Especially being based in Manchester, there is so much that’s been forgotten about and is coming to light again.

I’m a real sucker for the architecture as well; layers upon layers of different styles, giving the cities a gritty but beautiful texture and acting as physical time stamps. Also have you been to a northern city in sunshine? No one has the same appreciation for sunlight as a warmth-starved northerner, the whole place comes to life.

Where are some of your favourite creative places to work and socialise in Manchester? 

Before the lockdown it was the endless list of all the beautiful cafes, like Foundation Coffee House, my fave being the one on Whitworth St, Ezra & Gill and TAAK to name a few as well as hidden bars such as Double Down and the downstairs bar in Sandinista! I’ve always been a foodie. Socialising for me means eating so I’m very much looking forward to eating out again and hope Manchester’s food scene will thrive once again. 

Outside of work, what are some of your passions and hobbies?

A trick question for any creative! Outside of work I still love drawing and art in various media be it film or music. As mentioned above I LOVE food, but in addition to eating I really enjoy cooking, it’s a great way to relax. 

Have you pursued any new pastimes during lockdown?

I’ve taken up a bit of gardening, feeling a bit wiser than my age of 24. I’ve also gone back to some forgotten, abandoned hobbies of playing the guitar and piano and have been trying to read more. A book I’m currently reading is Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice what would it be?

To worry less and say yes more. 

Are there any new projects or pieces of work that you would like to give a shout-out?

Currently, I’m tugging away on a collection of greetings cards I have officially become gold foil obsessed. On top of that I’m working on some very exciting collaborations and will be sharing them soon on my ig! 

To see more of Danielle’s work and check out some of her latest projects head to her website or Instagram.

Danielle will be speaking at the next PechaKucha Night Manchester, Vol. 31 on the topic of ‘Migration’ on the 9th July, speaking about her work with the People’s History Museum and their programme on Migration.

Interview: Jenna Campbell

Images: Courtesy of Danielle Rhoda


Getting to Know DJ Paulette: Music Artist and Presenter

As one of only two women to hold a residency at Manchester’s Haçienda, a venue, which at its peak was one of the most famous venues in the world, Paulette Constable, or DJ Paulette as she is better known, definitely knows a fair bit about club culture and the evolution of the 1990s rave scene and growth of acid house. From her residency at Flesh, Haçienda’s legendary queer night in 1992 to residencies across London, Paris and Ibiza, the DJ turned broadcaster and now youth mentor and activist, has never forgotten her roots in the north. In these lockdown times we had the pleasure of catching up with her to discuss her impressive career, women in the music business and her most memorable sets. 

Can I start by asking you to briefly tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are and what you do?

My name is Paulette – known in the industry as DJ Paulette (I am THE ORIGINAL AND REAL DJ PAULETTE – not the shady Italian namesake). I have been DJ’ing since 1992 and working in the music industry on and off since I was 18. DJ’ing is my main occupation, but I also work as a consultant, a radio and TV presenter, I do voice overs, modelling and I also work as a public speaking coach and workshop facilitator.

What are some of your earliest memories from growing up in the north?

I was born in North Manchester General Hospital – and am one of a pair of identical twins. My mum says we were the best Christmas present she was given that year, but I think that’s largely because she is only 4 foot 11 and we both weighed over 7lbs. It’s a lot of extra weight to carry around at Christmas. I was brought up in Prestwich, North Manchester where I have strong memories of Bowker Vale train station, of losing the tickets at the cinema on Cheetham Hill Road, of playing in the children’s playground, in the paddling pool, on the boating lake and always loved the masses of cherry blossom and rhododendrons in Heaton Park. I used to love sitting on the lions outside Heaton Hall and getting ice creams in the café.

How important a role did music play in your life growing up?

Music is the lifeblood in my family. My mum was a well-known Jazz and Cabaret singer in the UK and she came from a well-known musical family in Jamaica. My grandfather played double bass in his own band, my mum, my aunts and uncles all sang – sometimes on the radio. All my family sing, dance, were taught to play musical instruments and are avid record buyers and music collectors. 

We are all passionate about music and remain actively enthusiastic about everything from bar sets to club nights, live gigs to festivals and radio, documentaries and live streams. My brother Robert was a DJ and I remember him having a sick carrying box for his 7” singles. I have always loved music and find that I lose track of time when I am listening to or working with music. It’s a good sign.

How did you first get involved in music?

When I was little I was always doing shows, dreaming that I was a famous singer and doing ridiculous dance routines. It was always something I gravitated towards, but the path evaded me. Then I got a job working for Piccadilly Radio as a Junior Reporter on a music / lifestyle kids’ show called Saturday Express for two years – I did all the listings, gig reviews and some pop star interviews. Then I sang in bands for years after I left college, wrote songs, did backing vocals and session singing in studios – Spirit in Stockport, SARM and SARM West in London. When dj’ing came into the picture it became more of a reality. Then I moved to London and it became my life.

How have your own music tastes evolved and changed over time?

I remember the first single I ever played on repeat was a Frankie Lymon tune called ‘Up Jumps A Rabbit’ – me and my twin Paula created a dance routine to it, jumping up and down on the furniture so I think it’s pretty safe to say that my music tastes have become broader and more refined.

As the youngest of eight siblings, I pestered my brothers and sisters to sit with them whilst they listened to their music and I absorbed everything then bought bits I liked with my pocket money and paper round pay. I bought everything from disco to pop to glam rock and inherited albums like T Rex, Roxy Music, David Bowie. 

Then when I was 13 I dived into electronic music and punk and bought Kraftwerk, Sparks, Yello, Gary Numan, John Foxx, ABC, Haircut 100, the original Human League, PiL, Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Velvet Underground, DAF, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Echo & The Bunneymen, The Associates, Visage, Depeche Mode, Thomas Dolby, Southern Death Cult, The Cramps, Psychedelic Furs, Soft Cell, Sisters of Mercy – I also bought the The Face, New Sounds New Styles, the NME, Melody Maker and Smash Hits.

I listened to the radio a lot and watched programmes like The Tube, The Oxford Roadshow and The Old Grey Whistle Test and went to lots of gigs so found myself loving Gil Scott Heron, Trouble Funk, The Beastie Boys, Run DMC, U2, Prince, The Smiths and Madonna equally.

When I started work I went through an acoustic/ folk phase and I bought up tons of Joni Mitchell, Suzanne Vega, Kate Bush, Leonard Cohen, Everything But The Girl, Fairground Attraction, Prefab Sprout, Tears For Fears, Deacon Blue. I also loved listening to the Jazz Show on Radio Two on a Sunday (after clubs) so I got into Peggy Lee, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, Rosemary Clooney, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minelli. At the same time my sisters were going to All Dayers, All Nighters, Southport Weekenders and I got into funk, jazz, jazz funk, soul and electro through them and Mike Shaft and Greg Wilson’s radio shows which my twin religiously taped and I secretly listened to.

I was trained to play the piano and violin (can’t play now) but still love a bit of classical – Chopin, Bach, Beethoven. I discovered Prince, Earth Wind and Fire, Teena Marie and Michael Jackson from my sister Elizabeth. I got mad into Donna Summer, Aretha Franklin, Ashford and Simpson and Diana Ross. I bought Q Magazine and Mojo. Then the 90s brought Acid Jazz and house music – I loved Me’Shell Ndegeocello and Mariah Carey and became a mad Frankie Knuckles and David Morales fiend. 

DJ’ing certainly expanded my tastes further – bringing in the works of Mood II Swing, Pepe Braddock, Daft Punk, Larry Heard, Cassius, Leftfield, Orbital, 808 State, Robert Owens, Junior Vasquez, Mood II Swing, Basement Boys, Roy Davis Jnr, Masters At Work, Underground Resistance, Danny Tenaglia all have their place and it just keeps going, I listen to and buy everything from Yazmin Lacey and Kamasi Washington to Green Velvet, Blake Baxter and Abe Duque. I don’t just buy the music I need to work, I still buy music for the pleasure of listening to and learning new things and I sometimes work random bits into a set if the spirit takes me.

The last albums I bought online were Lonnie Liston Smith Expansions, Paul McCartney, Wings Greatest Hits, Yazmin Lacey, Billie Eilish, some August Darnell and old Earth Wind and Fire early releases and a lot of Donny Hathaway. I fell out of love with vinyl for a while after a lot of my collection got stolen as I left France.

Then I lost 2,500 pieces of my prime personal collection to flood damage in Ibiza but happily this lockdown has given what is left of my vinyl collection a new lease of life. I’m not sure if my tastes have matured (as in slowed down a bit) . I still love a good rave up or a silly sing along into my invisible mic. I’m not a snob over vinyl and digital – either will do for me (even though I do get why people are snobs and there ARE some records I want that are only available on vinyl). To me it’s either ‘great music’ or ‘not-for-me music’. It’s all just a matter of personal taste.

You’ll be familiar with the narrative that surrounds The Hacienda years and how the role of women in this era has been typically underplayed, why do you think this is the case? 

We live in a patriarchal society. Women’s roles are criminally underplayed in practically every discipline from teaching to training, from politics to psychiatry, from rocket science to domestic science, from acting to art, from maths to music production, sound engineering, events organisation – all creative industries art, music and media. It’s sadly the norm and not specific or unusual to nightclubs. As the grand tenet of second wave feminism cites: ‘The personal is political’.

Which women do you think were fundamental to this period and more generally the music scene in Manchester?

Lucy Scher (RIP) – A Bit Ginger Productions (together with Paul Cons – the team who created and produced ‘Flesh’); Ange Matthews – Haçienda Sue Langford – Boardwalk; Carol Ainscough (RIP) – Manto’s / Paradise Factory; and Kath Mc Dermott (Flesh, Homoelectric).

I think what strikes me about you, is that you completely own your success, you are aware of how much you have contributed to the 90s rave scene and that confidence and acknowledgement  of your own contribution is very inspiring, if you could say one thing to women about having pride in what you do, what would it be?

I say the same thing to women as I say to everybody. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. No one is born knowing how to do whatever they choose to do as a career – no career or job is gendered – if you want to do something, go ahead and learn how to do it. Then make it your own. Be prepared to and keep learning for the rest of your career, be confident in doing your own thing, don’t take no for an answer and be ready to bang your own drum if no one else will bang it for you. And when people do say no (because 99% of working in the creative industry is taking the blow of ‘no’ and carrying on regardless) remember Anthony H Pike’s advice, ‘you can’t be everybody’s cup of tea’. It reminds me not to take things too personally and always keeps me going.

United We Stream has just launched, how did you get involved and what do you hope people will get from it?

When the service was launched, Sacha Lord (Manchester’s Night time Tsar) posted a tweet asking which artists people would like to hear on the UNITED WE STREAM platform. One of my followers, Stephanie Fox sent Sacha a beautiful tweet saying they should book me because I was ‘the Queen and the best female DJ in Manchester’. I will never know whether it was coincidental or if Steph’s tweet was the catalyst but Sacha DM’ed me himself, explained the project and asked if I would like to take part within seconds of her tweet landing. Thanks Stephanie – that was serendipity indeed.

I hope that people will adopt United We Stream as their ‘go-to’ isolation party streaming platform for as long as the lockdown lasts and for as long as it runs. If it continues past the lockdown then I hope people will work it into their social calendar as an addition and an alternative to live gigs and clubs. More importantly, I hope that people will donate as much as they can afford and continue to give once the lockdown is lifted, since the platform has been created as a fundraising vehicle to support the people in the night time whose livelihoods were incinerated when the night time economy ground to a halt. It also benefits the cultural venues that have been closed and will require aid to get up and running again and the local charities that desperately need our help in order to continue supporting the vulnerable in our community.

Outside of music, you are also busy with youth work, activism and mentoring, why is it important for you to give back and what do you get from these experiences?

I do it because I care and because it comes from personal experience. Even though I was academic and always did well at school and college, I was also one of those teenagers that could have achieved much more with a sharp mentor who cared enough, gave me the right encouragement and who asked about and understood my situation.  This lack of support I received through school has had a huge impact on my work personality and working life. I’ve travelled and learned a lot and if I can help someone to realise their potential through a project or by creating something unique and if they can somehow benefit from and be inspired by that experience then that’s a beautiful result. It’s a wonderful shared moment when the lightbulb switches on in someone’s head and the ideas start to flow.

I suspect you may have been asked this a fair few times, but for you, what makes Manchester so great? 

My roots. Love. My family. The history. The people. The possibilities. The music. The sport. The accent. The politics. The humour. The water. The past. The present. The future. The weather…Oh, and we don’t take any shit from anybody.

This question may be slightly trickier under lockdown, but how do you like to spend your free time?

I have always enjoyed gardening and the lockdown has me enjoying every aspect – weeding included – as a source of ultimate zen. Even the grotty jobs are a blessing now. I have a selection of plants in pots at my front door and am blessed with a tiny jewel of a garden at the back both of which I am enjoying giving my full attention to. I also have a lot of houseplants that are enjoying being fully nurtured again. I cook every day, I listen to lots of music, watch bits of TV (I have to be really gripped by something to watch TV, films and documentaries – TV’s not my favourite pastime). I meditate, do a little yoga and make sure I get around 2 hours exercise (inside – yoga, light workouts or outside – skipping (ten minutes is enough), walking, dog walking) per day. I also write poetry, lyrics, songs and occasional columns – look out for something from me in the relaunched Faith Fanzine. I talk to family and friends – A LOT.

Kris Humphreys Photography

We talk a lot about how location or stereotype should not hinder women’s potential, what is your advice for Northern women who are currently pursuing careers in music?

Embrace who you are, how you are and always take pride in where you come from. Love how you look, sound, feel – your accent, sexuality and all. Never make excuses for it or play small to the disappointing stereotypes or low expectations you will encounter. Be you, do you, make yourself a beautiful and brave focal point and be your own unique selling point.

 Finally, what is your favourite thing about the north?

Blood. Water. Fire. Earth. Air. Spirit. It has all the best elements.

Paulette’s most memorable club nights, residencies and festivals over the years:

London 1995 – I drove back from my residency at The Zap Club in Brighton for my debut at the Ministry of Sound. I was playing in the bar area when the dj booth was upstairs where the VIP is now. The decks were suspended on chains that swung backwards and forwards as you played and you had a view from the front to the back of the bar area. I still have a very blurred picture of that in a photo album somewhere. Great night.

Solidays Paris 2005 – it was the first outdoor party I had ever played in Paris and I was on the bill sandwiched in between Etienne De Crecy and Bob Sinclar. I was given a police escort through the streets of Paris to the start of the street parade and the attendance was around 30,000 people. I will never forget the moment when I played the white label of Mason’s ‘Exceeder’ just as we turned up the Pont Neuf and there was just a sea of people jumping and screaming to my set. Unforgettable.

One Night With Paulette – every Friday at Mix Club, Paris 2005 – 2009. Four of the most important years in my dj career were spent as a resident at the biggest club in Paris. I played weekly on Fridays, once a month on Saturdays and special events throughout the year with guests. My party unleashed underground bubblers and superstars like Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso on the Parisian public (they played at my 40th birthday party), Laidback Luke, John Dahlback, Noir, Afrojack. There was always a queue around Montparnasse Station which had to have steel barricades and people were crazy – I topped and tailed the party and had to take pictures  and sign autographs with people for an hour each night. Once a month I played the whole session from 10pm till 5am – that was always a lock in.

Technoparade – every September in Paris there was a street party called Technoparade where the best djs in city (and then around 2009/10 the best djs in the world including David Guetta, Afrojack, Laidback Luke, Benny Benassi joined the roster) played in an all day street parade that rolled through the key streets of Paris. I played every year from 2007 to 2012. The route took in the key landmarks of Paris. There are still a few clips of my performances online on Youtube and DailyMotion I believe.

Cocoon, Frankfurt – 2009/2010 – this was concept clubbing par excellence. Conceived, designed and run by Sven Vath, Cocoon had two restaurants (Silk – which was Michelin-starred and Micro exceptional comfort food and both beautifully designed), multiple rooms, a main room built in the round with a DJ booth like a pulpit in the middle. Pods built into the walls surrounding the main room where small groups could sit privately and adjust the volume of the music. DJ booth with a tech spec of dreams, plus a private toilet and a vip seating area of its own. I really miss this club.

Pacha & Space Ibiza – playing for the Ministry of Sound 2000, 2001. In the days when Pacha had a Global and a Funky Room and Space terrace was on the ground floor. So many memories. Just about …

Miami – Nervous Records Denny’s Diner and Armani Exchange street parties – 2000 / 2001. Legendary sessions playing with people like Terry Hunter, Kenny Dope, Louie Vega …

Montreal – Black and Blue Festival – headlining this pivotal event in the LGBT calendar two consecutive years 2009/2010 – in the Stade Olympique in front of 28,000 people and both times nearly getting thrown out by security for dancing on the stage in front of my decks because they thought I was a randomer without authorisation to be there. The last year I was body painted by Zilon Laser (the Canadian equivalent to Keith Haring) which was surreal. I couldn’t get the paint off because the lights had baked it on. I bought out Pharmaprix in order to clean it off.

Homebird Exhibition, The Lowry Art Gallery 2018 – creating and curating an exhibition of my roots, life and career in Gallery B (the permanent LS Lowry collection occupies Gallery A) was an amazing pinnacle. It has been captured for posterity online in a section of my DJ Paulette website – where you can browse all 15 walls at your leisure and for free.

Janelle Monae – Castlefield Bowl, MIF 2019 – opening for Janelle Monae in front of a capacity, sold out crowd of 8000 people was a mega buzz. House of Ghetto tore it up with the vogueing on stage, I kept the crowd dancing and meeting Janelle at the end was a rare treat. It’s a gig that I still keep getting stopped in the street about.

Bluedot Festival, Jodrell bank 2019 – opening for Derrick Carter in the La Discotheque tent and smashing it. I was worried that I would have an empty tent as my slot coincided with New Order headlining on the main stage. I had no one to start with but I just kept my head down and played- after 20 minutes I looked up and the tent was rocking. Derrick gave me the biggest hug when he arrived. Good times.

United We Stream, which broadcasts Greater Manchester’s unique, world-leading culture to homes around the region and the world continues this weekend.

On Saturday, Manchester’s legendary Haçienda nightclub will come alive again, albeit digitally, for a second instalment of its virtual party initiative. The event follows the club’s stay at home rave that took place on April 11. DJ Paulette will join an A-star line-up of former Haçienda residents including Graeme Park, Jon Dasilva, Allister Whitehead, Peter Hook.

Words: Jenna Campbell

Imagery: Glitterbox shots – Printworks – London 07/03/2020: Kris Humphrys

Community Matters: In Conversation with Rachel Cook, Graphic Designer

Originally hailing from Manchester, Graphic Designer and Lettering Artist Rachel Cook was raised not far from London, but moved back up north for university and has made the region her home ever since.

Proud of her Northern roots, Cook has firmly established herself in Manchester’s burgeoning creative community, joining forces with likeminded designers to create platforms such as Design Recovery to raise awareness around mental health through creative outlets and conversation.

Last year she bravely put her own mental health experience front and centre during her time as Design Lead at Yolk to create Two Minds, a collaborative print exhibition, which raised funds for Mind Charity. Here she talks to us about finding her passion, the role that design has played in her own recovery journey and why Manchester’s creative community is so special.

Rachel Cook speaking at the inaugural Design Recovery event

Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a Graphic Designer living in Manchester. I was born here but when I was two years old we moved down south. However, six years ago I headed back to Manchester to study Graphic Design at Manchester Metropolitan University and have stayed here ever since. I now work for a design agency called Persona Tile, co-run an event called Design Recovery and am also on the PechaKucha Manchester event team. 

How did you get into Graphic Design?

I first fell in love with Graphic Design back in secondary school, at my school we all had to do one of the Design Tech options at GCSE level and I chose to do Graphics. That course covered a lot more than just the design of a product, such as manufacturing methods and materials, but the part that interested me and piqued my interest was the design element. 

Despite being creative growing up, I wasn’t really that into art, I just messed around in lessons and was politely told I probably shouldn’t take it at GCSE, but with Graphics there was something about the whole process of identifying the target audience, creating moodboards, and solving a problem creatively that got me hooked, and it was rare that something had me that engaged in a lesson at school (I was a chatterbox and didn’t care much for authority) so I knew it was something that I had to follow, and it all just developed from there!

Rachel Cook and Charlie Brown at the Two Minds event – © ON LOVE AND PHOTOGRAPHY 2019

Tell us a bit about your involvement in Design Wellness and the sister event series Design Recovery?

Myself, my partner Jordan and our close friends who run a company called Design Wellness go to lots of design events in Manchester and we started to realise that there wasn’t much of a focus on mental health. With the creative industry having such a high level of mental health issues, we knew there was an opportunity to create a safe, welcoming space for people to open up (if they wish) and to ultimately try and help broaden the conversation surrounding mental health. We’ve done two Design Recovery events in Manchester and they’ve gone even better than we imagined,  which is encouraging.

I have a personal interest  in helping support mental health awareness as I have experienced my own own problems with mental health in the past. My recovery from Anorexia taught me so much and since then I had been wanting to do something positive with my experience but I had struggled to figure out a way to do so that felt right. Art and Design can be such a positive way of expressing ourselves and I did a lot of that, but I wanted to do something that could reach more people. So starting the Design Recovery event series  just felt like the perfect fit!  The creative community in Manchester is already so close and supportive, so we hoped this would be a great addition and hopefully encourage the community to be more open when it comes to mental health.

The Two Minds Exhibition – Foundation Coffee Shop – © ON LOVE AND PHOTOGRAPHY 2019

In your experience, how do design and mental health relate to one another?

They both require patience and perseverance. The former is not my strongest quality as a person, that’s for sure, but you can’t get better overnight. You have to give yourself the time and space to grow and heal. Since working on my mental health I can see how impatient I used to be with design. I’d get so down if I wasn’t nailing every new skill straight away or producing ground-breaking work whilst I was still in university. But the simple fact is, all that pressure was having such a bad impact on my confidence so no matter how much I tried, I was never going to be happy with what I created. 

Now, I really enjoy seeing my progress and developing my skills in my own time. All of that really just came with time and experience so if I could go back I’d tell myself to slow down and focus on where I’m at now rather than speeding ahead, just like I had to do with my mental health. 

As a designer, how have you sought to illustrate your own experiences?

I do a lot of hand-drawn typography that allows me to visually represent a quote or phrase that means something personal or encouraging to me. I think it helps me to reflect on the experiences I’ve had with mental health, and reflecting means I can see how far I’ve come, view the experiences in a less negative light, and therefore continue to grow from them. 

It also has an impact on the type of work I enjoy creating the most. I love working with positive companies and individuals doing good things for wellbeing, I recently I designed the brand identity for a therapist, and I regularly create typography social posts for Design Wellness so I get a lot out of those kinds of projects.

Poster for the second Design Recovery event series on resilience

How does Design Recovery help others channel their passion for design into something beneficial for themselves and those who come to listen to their talks?

Design Recovery gives people a space to share whatever they are comfortable sharing, in whichever way they want to do so with absolutely no judgement. Going forward, we hope that the more we speak about mental health, the more normal it will seem to talk about the struggles we are facing and we will see more and more people speaking up and getting help sooner. 

It can also be a really reflective experience much like a personal creative project can be. For me, sharing what I went through has helped me avoid falling back into negative behaviours because it helped me see how far I’ve come and encouraged me to continue on the path I’m on now rather than going backwards. So whether it’s through an event, or creating a piece of artwork like I do with my typography, that ability to reflect on what you’ve been through and physically confront it through something positive you’re doing can be really beneficial.

How has moving to Manchester shaped and influenced you as a designer?

Developing my confidence is one of the key things that has helped me develop as a designer and I’d say Manchester played a pretty big role in that. I started attending a number of design events, which were available across the city and started to get to know the community in Manchester properly when I was in my third year of university and in that year my confidence skyrocketed from more or less nothing, to making me the designer I am today. But I think within the creative industry, wherever you live can influence the work you produce because you draw inspiration, sometimes without even knowing it, from your surroundings and what you take in everyday. Manchester as a whole is an incredibly creative city though.

Design by Rachel Cook

What do you love about Manchester’s creative community and how does being a part of it help your mental wellbeing?

It goes without saying that the creative community in Manchester is incredible. It constantly makes me feel like I belong which has done wonders to my mental wellbeing. It’s also just really helpful to have people to speak to about the highs and lows of being a designer because there are so many people around that completely understand. We can all relate to one another based on our career, which is really nice and everyone is so willing to share their advice and help each other out which has been so valuable to me, especially when just I was  starting out. 

What challenges have you faced personally and in your career to date?

As a Graphic Designer it can be a pretty tough industry. It’s so saturated with incredibly talented artists and designers so to stand out is pretty difficult and can be a lot of pressure, especially with platforms like Instagram where there is so much design work online, making it a pretty competitive market. 

However, that can also be motivating because it builds a drive inside you to keep developing your skills and create better work, despite the fact that it can still be quite challenging at times. I guess the important part is how you manage that pressure and let it encourage you rather than letting it get on top of you, but defining that balance can be pretty challenging. 

Design by Rachel Cook

What do you love about the North of England?

I absolutely love how proud everyone is to be Northern, it’s definitely one of my favourite things. There’s just such a sense of solidarity between everyone that I haven’t seen anywhere else and it brings people together. Even though I didn’t grow up here for the most part, I still find that I’m proud to say I’m originally from the north. (Plus I was two years old so technically I was moved down south against my will, I’m just saying.) 

Looking forward, how do you think design can help others work through their own mental health battles?

I think we are already starting to see how fantastic design can be for wellbeing during the current lockdown situation. I have seen tons of creative solutions that people are coming up with to help others in a time of need. From colouring in sheets created by illustrators, to big projects like Play Playhouse that Playground Design Studio, Ben Clark and Barney Ibbotson have been working on. These are all to help support the wellbeing of each other and keep people entertained when stuck inside all day which is brilliant to see!

But I think in general, we should all do what we can to share our experiences through our own skill sets and passions. If the conversation is more open around mental health we will start to see more art and design that stems from people expressing themselves and their experiences with mental health.

Rachel Cook and her partner Jordan Yates at the Two Minds event – © ON LOVE AND PHOTOGRAPHY 2019

To see more of Rachel’s work visit her Instagram page here.

For updates on Design Wellness and its sister events programme Design Recovery visit here.

Feature image courtesy of: © ON LOVE AND PHOTOGRAPHY 2019

Getting to Know Megan Price: Founder of SWALK Creative

Creating eco-friendly, alternative and tongue-in-cheek greeting cards and gifts, there’s something about SWALK Creative that feels uniquely Mancunian.

Perhaps it is because its founder, Megan Price, has always lived and worked in the city, even basing the business within the walls of the iconic Afflecks. Her seriously strong green credentials and ‘support local’ ethics make SWALK a force to be reckoned with. Couple that with her unique and personal approach to creating her collections, she shows us that there really is an art to mastering the sentiment and humour behind a greeting card.

Earlier in March we had the pleasure of speaking to Megan about starting her business, how she overcomes creative block and why her latest creations are based around gratitude.

Interview: Jenna Campbell

Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself, where you are from and what you do?

I’m from Sale and I launched SWALK Creative in September 2014. I started online and doing all the local markets and opened the Afflecks store in May 2015.

Did you always set out to work in the creative industries?

Prior to that I had a pretty corporate job. I had always been creative in my spare time, but the job took up most of my time and I felt my creative outlet was stifled during those years. When I did leave I was able to take a couple of months off, I experimented with lots of things and got back into drawing and eventually decided to make a go of it!

What inspires you and how do you come up with your designs?

I love puns, and I was initially drawn to making cards because at the time I felt there weren’t enough LGBT+ and non gendered cards available on the mainstream market. So that’s always in my mind when I am working on an idea.

Sometimes they come to me in a flash and I have to quickly make a note of them. But if I’m working on a bulk of designs or new collection sometimes it’s more difficult. I’m generally sat listening to Christmas music in August, playing with lyrics and seeing how I can put a silly spin on them!

“I love puns, and I was initially drawn to making cards because at the time I felt there weren’t enough LGBT+ and non gendered cards available on the mainstream market.”

Do you ever experience creative block and if so, how do you overcome it?

I often struggle with creative block, but I do think it’s crucial not to force it. I find it helps to remove myself completely from what I should be doing. If I stare at a blank page willing an idea to come, it very rarely will. But if I get out the house, read a good book or listen to music it’s when my mind isn’t on the work at all that I can come up with ideas in a more natural way.

A lot of your work is created on eco-friendly materials, why is this so important to you?

When I started SWALK I knew I couldn’t put more paper and card into the world without doing so in a responsible way. I put a lot of research into eco-friendly suppliers and packaging so I could make the business as green as possible. It’s a work in progress, we can always do more but I’m always happy to share my suppliers with other makers to encourage them to make more responsible choices too.

What have you been working on lately?

I’m working on some new products right now, based around gratitude. I think it’s important to stop and take check of how lucky we are sometimes so I’ve got some new things in the works that will hopefully encourage people to consider all the things we have to be grateful for.

‘I’m also bringing back a range I first started in 2017 called ‘Quotes From Your Therapist’ which is art postcards featuring illustrated quotes of real snippets from my own therapist. These were really popular first time round as the advice is universal and a little postcard is a perfect way to remind yourself to look after your mental health.

What has been your proudest moment professionally?

This May we’ll celebrate the fifth birthday of our Afflecks shop. Since opening we’ve expanded four times and I’ve had so many incredible milestones it’s hard to pick my proudest moment, but I think being able to grow and sustain the shop just makes me feel lucky every day. 

“Where possible I’d get outside, even in your garden, nature never fails to inspire me. I also love how many people have embraced snail mail and picked up their pens to write to loved ones during this time.”

Do you have any tips for how people can keep creative at home?

There’s so many incredible creatives who are offering free and discounted printables for colouring in or decorating at home, I would definitely recommend people take advantage of that at the moment.

We have nothing but time on our hands so now is the time to look around you and pick up a craft project or hobby you’ve not been able to get in to. A pack of paper and some origami tutorials is a cheap way to explore your creativity.

Where possible I’d get outside, even in your garden, nature never fails to inspire me. I also love how many people have embraced snail mail and picked up their pens to write to loved ones during this time. 

How have you been adapting to the current situation?

Once the Afflecks store closed we inevitably had to trade exclusively online. There are 11 Manchester artists in our Afflecks shop so raising the online profile of each is really important to me so people know they’re still trading. And whilst we’re all stuck indoors, adorning your walls with gorgeous artwork is a super way to liven up your living space and stop staring at empty walls! It’s a difficult time to be in business and I’m trying to find new ways to adapt. Just letting people know we’re still here and posting out is half the battle.

What do you love about up living and working up north?

I’ve lived in Manchester my whole life and since starting SWALK made a conscious effort to immerse myself in the creative community. I went to meet-ups and collaborated with others and built up an incredible network of people.

The creative community here is so supportive, we recently had an open call for artists and the response was absolutely overwhelming. Even when we had to close our doors recently, people rallied to help us in any way they can.

I love that there’s no pretence, people in Manchester aren’t precious about sharing their contacts or techniques etc because it really is a community, there’s room for us all so no need for competition. On the whole, people in Manchester really see the value of independent businesses and supporting local, without them we wouldn’t have seen the success we have.

To find out more about Megan and SWALK visit her site here.