Nick Deakin: Sheffield Children’s Hospital

Nick Deakin: Sheffield Children’s Hospital

Deaks, aka, Nick Deakin is an independent designer, illustrator & lecturer from ‘the north’ who we last featured four years ago. He has recently produced some brilliant installations for Sheffield Children’s Hospital, so I caught up with him and Cat Powell, manager at Artfelt, The Children’s Hospital Charity (responsible for commissioning the work) to find out more…

Nick, since we last featured you way back in 2011 you’ve been a very busy chap! (accumulating Instagram followers at an alarming rate, working in different cities, taking up teaching, and broadening your work into more design & typography) Update us..?

ND: I’ve been working hard – head down!

Through various projects I’ve been able to broaden my output, working a lot more with type and simple graphics, rather than analogue illustration, something which I’ve really enjoyed. Exploring new language is always fun and I will always be somebody who will try new things.

I have recently started lecturing in Graphic Design at Huddersfield University, this has been great for me, and the contact with students has really engaged and re-energised me with my practice as well as informing theirs.

As for instagram I love it. When I began using it I think it only had 500,000 users world wide, and all I’d do was take close up shots of corners of the train I was commuting on. Now it’s become so huge, and for me this passive document of my life, as well as being able to keep tabs on other folk’s business.

Cat, for those of our readers who don’t know about you or what you do, or what Artfelt is, fill us in…

CP: Artfelt is the arts programme at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, entirely funded by The Children’s Hospital Charity. We transform the hospital’s walls and spaces with bright art, helping children recover in an environment tailored to them. The programme also runs creative workshops for youngsters to provide distraction during anxious moments – such as before an operation, and to break up long stays on the wards.

Artfelt is such a brilliant idea, are there any plans to franchise or expand the model? Does it happen in other hospitals? How can our community get involved or support?

CP: We’d love to expand and offer our expertise to other hospitals, however we’re pretty busy with the one we’ve got at the moment! The hospital is undergoing a major expansion, which means Artfelt is undertaking some pretty large commissions, this is great as it means art has been considered right from the beginning and allows us the opportunity to make a big impact.

Artfelt is lucky to have the support of both The Children’s Hospital Charity and the hospital, who really understand the value of what we do. There are similar programmes across the country, but we all operate slightly differently so you may not always notice their presence. We certainly couldn’t exist without our funding, so we’re always grateful to everyone who wishes to donate or get involved. You can find out more at www.artfelt.org.uk.

How did you guys come to collaborate on this project? Whats the history?

CP: I approached Nick about a project about five years ago to create artwork for the hospital’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service at The Becton Centre. I’d seen his work around Sheffield and really liked his style. Like so many artists we work with, he was really warm and enthusiastic about working with us – which I’m always grateful for!

Nick really got what Artfelt was about and took time to understand the type of approach that would appeal to the young people who use the service.

Was there a brief set, or did you approach the hospital with a fixed idea in mind of what you’d like to do? 

ND: Yeah Cat came to me with the project and after a couple of discussions I decided I wanted to create something modular to a certain extent. Due to the nature of the spaces I had to work in, mainly six orthoptic rooms all with unique and fairly intricate areas, I felt it was better to create lots of elements based on various themes and then bring them together in those spaces. Initially the theme was a family, and each room would be led by a character from that family, and the objects and ephemera that pertained to them would be illustrated.

We realised we couldn’t be as culturally broad as we’d like with one family so we decided to move to a group of friends as characters, and the places they may visit.

Nick, what was it like working for a much younger audience? Obviously there’s less swearing involved – but did you have to tailor your style or methods for this work?

ND: Stylistically my work always has been fairly simplistic and naive in form, so in that sense it wasn’t too difficult to move to a young audience. I think Cat came to me because she wanted something bold and schematic. The more challenging element here was meeting the expectations of the orthoptic department staff, a team of 20+  with a wide age range, who I had to engage with my ideas. The only thing I had very little say in was that there had to be a ‘Fairytale’ themed room!

CP: Nick did a great job of working with the team and really took on board how they used the space to undertake their work. The graphic nature of Nick’s work really suits the eye test process and he worked with them on ensuring items were placed where they could be used as part of the assessment dialogue.

Any favourite pieces or aspects you’re most proud of?

ND: I really like the way it all works together, and as it was designed, it can also be pulled apart and used separately.

Cat and I are in the process of developing how we can expand beyond the physical installation at Sheffield Children’s Hospital. We can unfold this project further into print and really communicate with it. We have plans to develop this into merchandise that celebrates the collaboration, but also raises some money for Artfelt. Watch this space!

 Do you have plans to collaborate again in the future?

ND: I’d take any opportunity to work with Cat in the future, she always has fantastic projects going on.

CP: Definitely!

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Photography by India Hobson

Luke Tonge

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