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Meet the artists of Nucleus Arts in Chatham - from a graphic designer who's worked on Harry Potter to a painter who uses colour blindness to his advantage

A graphic designer who's worked on the Harry Potter films and a textiles grad who makes housing insulation from fungi are just two of the artists with studios hidden in Chatham's unique creative den.

Set back from the tired shop fronts of the high street, Nucleus Arts is an oasis of calm, creativity and community spirit.

The entrance to Nucleus Arts in Chatham High Street
The entrance to Nucleus Arts in Chatham High Street

Palm trees and other green-leaved exotic plants line the path which leads up to the hotchpotch of buildings, opened in 2002 by the Halpern Charitable Foundation as somewhere for local artists to develop and display their work.

The studios and exhibition space has since grown into an award-winning arts and community base.

There are now four sites in Medway - in Chatham High Street, Military Road, Pentagon shopping centre and Rochester High Street - where workshops run alongside full-time working artists, with more than 35 affordable studios, as well as display galleries and cafes.

From painters and sculptors to graphic designers and jewellers - the range of artists based at the centre is vast.

Valentina Dipietro

Valentina Dipietro likes to combine art and science
Valentina Dipietro likes to combine art and science

With the ever-looming threat of environmental turmoil, one young woman has combined art and science to produce unique textiles products.

Valentina Dipietro makes algae-based plastic, cellulose leather and fungi insulation in her little studio-cum-lab at Nucleus Arts.

Bio-degradable plastic - made by boiling algae - can be used as a substitute for anything from sandwich bags and straws to table-top wood varnish.

The 25-year-old has also created a unique styrofoam-like substance which can be used for packaging and insulation. She has named the product Mychrome.

Made from mycelium - the vegetative part of mushrooms - it is grown in an incubator, with wood chippings added part way through the process to give it more substance.

The curious Mychrome is made from fungi grown in an incubator
The curious Mychrome is made from fungi grown in an incubator

Mychrome is totally compostable, fire retardant and good at absorbing sound.

Valentina, who has a masters in textiles from the Royal College of Art, said: "People are sometimes surprised I did this on a textiles course but really, textiles is anything with a surface. I wanted to create something that was both functional and creative."

She hopes architects and interior designers will see Mychrome as a renewable alternative to material like styrofoam.

She added: "At the moment, a lot of architects don't want to work with mycelium because they don't really know anything about it.

"The industry is currently quite small-scale but there are big companies in Italy trying to test this kind of thing right now."

Valentina, who lives in Rainham, has sent samples of Mychrome to several construction companies, some of which are already offering it to customers.

She has exhibited her work at Architect@Work and the London Design Fair.

Johnathan Ash

Johnathan Ash with one of his paintings
Johnathan Ash with one of his paintings

What put Johnathan Ash off art when he was a child is ironically now the very thing which sets him apart from others.

Johnathan has red-green colour blindness which, in very simply terms, means he can see less colours in the spectrum than someone with normal vision.

The 49-year-old said: "I gave up on art at 14 because I had a rubbish teacher and being colour blind made me scared of colour but I later realised you don't have to be in the box - it's actually better to be outside it."

After suffering a mental breakdown three years ago, Johnathan needed something to focus on and so enrolled on a level 1 NVQ art course.

He said: "The first lesson was about the colour wheel which terrified me but I had an amazing teacher who was very supportive and made me realise it doesn't matter that I am colour blind."

Johnathan looks locally for inspiration - here's he illustrates the three tower blocks in Bryant Street, Chatham
Johnathan looks locally for inspiration - here's he illustrates the three tower blocks in Bryant Street, Chatham

Johnathan, from Rainham, soon began drawing for about 10 hours a day, mainly sketching faces in pencil.

He added: "My first drawings were awful but I gradually developed my own style and began working with paint."

Now a full-time artist, Johnathan's studio is filled with huge, striking portraits and landscape pieces in vibrant, illuminous colours.

Johnathan's use of colour is quite striking
Johnathan's use of colour is quite striking

Johnathan works with shades instead of colours, which means faces and buildings are a mix of pinks, greens and oranges, giving them an almost psychedelic look.

Having recently finished an exhibition exploring colour blindness, where visitors wore tinted glasses to help them understand the condition, Johnathan is now working on a series of paintings and posters for a local songwriter, Groovy Uncle's, 10th anniversary album.

Johnathan sells original prints of his work on t-shirts, tea towels and mugs, all produced at his Nucleus Arts studio.

Sian Bostwick

Sian Bostwick in her den of design tools
Sian Bostwick in her den of design tools

Sian Bostwick's studio is filled with intriguing machinery and tools, stood alongside glass cabinets containing the most delicate, beautiful handmade jewellery.

The 33-year-old designer studied at UCA Rochester and liked Medway so much she decided to stick around.

Her intricate earrings, rings and necklaces are mostly made from silver and titanium, adorned with tiny flowers, butterflies or anything which takes Sian's fancy.

Some have a spectacular shimmery peacock effect which, at first glance, looks like a coating. But Sian explained it's actually achieved by passing an electrical current through metal while it's submerged in acid - a process known as anodising.

One of Sian's current collections is inspired by literature - including glossy red hearts for the Alice in Wonderland pieces and bold art deco forms for 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, with hidden portholes and rope detailing.

Sian produces these delicate, intricate pieces all by hand
Sian produces these delicate, intricate pieces all by hand

Sian said: "I really love working on the intricate detailing the most - I like just completely focussing on something."

Having made bespoke wedding rings for quite a while now, Sian, who lives in Rochester, has started running couple's ring-making workshops, so soon-to-weds can create their own unique rings to mark their love for one another.

Sian's work has featured in Australian and Japanese magazines and she sells her product online, at local fairs and exhibitions. Pieces go for anything from £40 to £300.

Sarah Parker

Sarah in her favourite hat
Sarah in her favourite hat

Sarah Parker's career as a milliner all started when she was invited to a wedding and couldn't find a hat she liked.

The 44-year-old said: "I couldn't find the perfect hat so I bought one and added bits to it.

"It's not just about the bride on the day, it's about the mum of the bride and other family members - they don't want to be wearing the same hat as somebody else."

After realising this could be a potential business venture, Sarah began watching hat-making tutorial videos on Youtube before embarking on one-to-one sessions with award-winning milliner, Caroline Morris.

Sarah also did some training under another prestigious hat-maker, Katherine Elizabeth. Before this, Sarah worked as an accountant for 10 years and then ran a holistic beauty therapy business for another decade.

Some of Sarah's handmade pieces
Some of Sarah's handmade pieces

A dusty pink, wide-brimmed piece made of sinamay, which was the very first hat Sarah completed, still stands proudly on her desk.

The Gravesend mum uses lots of felt and sinamay - a material from the banana plant - for the headwear and, although this has only been her trade for two years, she has quickly learnt a range of styles from a simple trilby to ornate, feathered fascinators.

She said: "My favourite type of hat changes with the season. In the autumn and winter, I love fedoras and trilbys because they suit everyone, whereas summer and spring are more about the bespoke hats."

Sarah's favourite hat she's made is a black and pink trilby she wore to London Hat Week.

Her dream would be having a hat recognised at Royal Ascot.

She added: "I've already had a few pieces go to Ascot already but having a hat recognised would be amazing."

Nick Ashton

Nick Ashton has had a colourful career
Nick Ashton has had a colourful career

Working on some of the biggest blockbusters in history including Harry Potter and the Hobbit, Nick Ashton has had an incredible career - and still has so much more planned.

Full of energy, the 38-year-old graphic designer seems to always be going at 100mph. He said: "I've got about 20 projects on the go at one time.

"At the moment, I'm working on a children's book, my own graphic novel, some illustrations for Poka Stars, graphic images for weddings as well as redesigning the Nucleus Arts website - and that's just the half of it."

Nick has spent most of his career in London, where he worked in the film industry for 15 years, focussing on illustration and advertisement. After becoming an art director, Nick said he missed drawing all the time.

Nick has been commissioned by some of the biggest film and gaming companies to produce his highly-refined illustrations
Nick has been commissioned by some of the biggest film and gaming companies to produce his highly-refined illustrations

He said: "I got fed up of just telling people what to do instead of actually being creative myself, and I was also getting sick of the long commute to London."

So Nick took a leap of faith into the freelance world and now does a mix of commission-based work and uses the rest of his time to complete his own, personal projects.

"I basically buy time - I spend a couple of months in London for a commission then can spend time doing my own thing," he said.

Over the years, Nick's clients have included Disney, Dreamworks and Netflix, for whom he has worked on film trailers, storyboards, posters and social media campaigns.

Nick, who lives in Chatham, has been drawing on computers for most of his life, after "falling in love" with Photoshop at 18, but is now embarking on his first hand-painted project in years - and will be working on super-zoomed-in images of insects.

He said: "I'm always trying to push myself out of my comfort zone. I used to love drawing and painting when I was younger so I thought, now I have more time on my hands, I would try it out again."

Alongside running workshops for kids at Nucleus Arts, Nick has also set up KIN - Kent Illustration Network. With about 15 members, the group meet up to share ideas and hold various exhibitions around the county.

Maggie Osborn

Maggie in her studio
Maggie in her studio

With an infectious laugh and open-minded attitude to how art should be approached, Maggie Osborn is a well-respected and loved member of the Nucleus Arts family.

Upon entering her studio, it could be assumed this is a space shared by several artists due to the wide range of styles. From bold acrylic paintings to messy charcoal life drawing sketches and clay sculptures, there isn't much Maggie won't give a try.

The 64 year old who lives in Greenhithe said: "I don't have a particular style and I don't want to. I just do whatever takes my fancy.

"Other people think differently - but this can bring on a certain amount of angst and can kill the soul. I do understand it can be more lucrative to have a distinct style though."

Maggie's works of art
Maggie's works of art

Maggie is particularly fond of life drawing.

She said: "I love the challenge of it - trying to capture every muscle and bend in the body. I think it's also good to see things with fresh eyes. I like doing a mixture of quick and slightly longer sketches.

"With life drawing you need something to arrest the eye on the body - somebody in Vogue won't quite fit the bill."

Maggie got her first Nucleus Arts studio in 2002 - the same year it was founded. She has been painting, drawing and sculpting ever since, renting studios on and off over the years.

Read more: All the latest news from Medway

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