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Celebrating Street Art in Cumbria - An Interview with Ian From Beardy

Across Cumbria, collaborative art project ‘Beardy’ has been turning boring walls and spaces into stunning street art murals that leave you scrambling for your phone to get a picture (us included).

So, in the midst of our admiration for these stunning murals, we decided to dig a little deeper and reach out to Beardy to have a craic with them about the behind the scenes of their impressive street art.

We got the chance to catch up with Ian, who makes up half of the ‘Beardy’ duo. The project is based in West Cumbria and is responsible for some of the most recognisable street art in our county.

You may have already spotted Beardy’s work, with some of the most iconic pieces being their Whitehaven ‘Be the Solution, Not the Pollution’ mural, their Moor Row ‘Hope’ mural, and, if you’re over 18 and familiar with Club 135, then you might have spotted some of their work there too.

We talked everything from Beardy’s future plans, to their inspiration, favourite mural and more…

Tell us about your journey with graffiti and what led to you becoming a spray paint artist. What first inspired you to get into graffiti/spray paint art and how long have you been writing and painting graffiti?

I’ve been spray painting now for around 4-5yrs. I first got into street art/spray painting through my work as a youth worker oddly enough. We had planned a trip to Manchester’s northern quarter for a group of young people, they were a bit underwhelmed, but after seeing all the incredible artwork something just clicked and I knew I wanted to learn more and give this a try. We then setup and delivered a street art project, which allowed me to teach young people but also grow my own skills at the same time.

I’ve always dabbled in all kinds of different art over the years, but it wasn’t until I started spraying that it felt like I’d found a medium that really worked for me personally. Then managed to draw Adam in, who is an incredible creative force, into trying out spray painting and we’ve been flinging paint at walls together ever since.

Something about street art just resonates with me I think, it’s very in your face and you can’t ignore it, I love that aspect of it, which is odd given how I’m quite an introvert, so it’s almost a dichotomy with my own personality.

Who or what inspires and influences you?

The cool part about Beardy being a collaborative project is that we can both bounce ideas around and push each other creatively, for me personally that inspires me a lot to keep upping my game and working harder to create more elaborate or complex designs.

Influences for beardy artwork usually comes from comics, films, tattoos, graffiti art, anime, even album artwork! We assimilate everything and anything we can that’s creative and then put our own slant on it.

Is there a story behind your name and tag ‘Beardy’?

Yeah, it’s not very deep or anything, we both have beards so it just kinda made sense to be called Beardy! Sometimes simplicity works best.

How would you describe your style?

I don’t think we have a set style to be honest, we can turn our hand to just about anything, we’re quite utilitarian in that respect. Though the things we most often paint (or at least enjoy) are bold colourful images that are designed to attract lots of attention.

Hands are starting to become a bit of a theme for us, really enjoying using the imagery of hands to get across emotions/ideas, hands are super expressive and will be a big part of our aesthetic/style going forward.

What has been your favourite mural to create so far and why?

The hope mural that we created in Moor Row, which has been our biggest piece to date. The mural itself was painted to mark World Suicide Prevention Day 2020 and was a very emotive piece to work on. We had to ensure we created a design that encompassed the key aspect of hope, helped raise awareness and was also accepted by the local community.

I guess the thing I’m most proud of about that piece was the way the community worked together to make it happen; materials were donated, scaffolding was put up (free of charge), volunteers prepped the wall, the building owner gave us the space to paint. And the conversations we had on the day with those passing by were so powerful, people were so willing to share their own experiences of how suicide had touched their lives.

We loved working on it and can’t quite put into words how proud we are of that piece.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start creating spray paint art/graffiti?

Best advice I could give would be to not be afraid of just having a go. It’s easy to paint over your mistakes with spray paint, it’s quite a forgiving medium to work in, so just get a big board a few cans, and just paint.

Also, go easy on yourself, learning anything takes time and practice. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not creating amazing work right away, just persevere!

Oh! And wear a respirator! I cannot stress that enough, your lungs will thank you, trust me!

We understand that sometimes murals are damaged or drawn/painted on, have you ever had this happen with your work? If so, has it ever left you feeling disheartened and how do you deal with this?

As far as I know none of our street murals have ever been defaced or painted over,

We have had a corporate piece painted over; this was due to a rebrand of the premises in which it was located. We were a little disheartened, but there was very little we could do.

But ultimately, we accept that it may happen. Street art is ephemeral, it’s not meant to last forever, and I think that’s what makes it so interesting. If what we have painted brings a bit of joy even for a few seconds, then it’s totally been worth it.

Could you tell us about your digital art and your mini painting?

Digital art is something I’m fairly new to, but I find it’s been a great way of designing murals for spraying. It’s a chance to just draw without the need of setting up loads of extra art stuff if that makes sense, I don’t have to faff around setting up easels or mixing paints and I can just pick up the iPad and just get creative really quickly.

My mini painting, yeah so this is kinda nerdy, been painting miniatures for board/tabletop games now for about 20+ yrs (yes, I am very old) this is my hobby when I can’t get out and spray paint really. It’s something creative I’ve always done and really enjoy it, it’s a nice contrast to painting big murals, having to paint something that’s no bigger than my thumb. I’m planning on merging my love of mini painting with street art at some point, and try to create little micro murals, I think that’d be quite fun.

"Something about street art just resonates with me I think, it’s very in your face and you can’t ignore it, I love that aspect of it."

What plans and goals do you have for the future?

The long-term plans for Beardy is to turn it into a small social enterprise, which can generate income through corporate mural painting work and then offer subsidised access to graffiti art workshops for youth groups, which then in turn gets more people locally inspired to start graffiti/street art.

I’m also on a bit of a mission at the moment to get more hope murals painted around the county, engaging with local artists and communities to take on the concept and run with it. So, fingers crossed we should be seeing more springing up in the coming months… 🤞

You can follow Beardy here.

All images used belong to @beardysynergy.

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