Issue 350
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If Line of Duty has taught us anything it's that being on any sort of 'list' tends to be bad news. Bucking that trend is Birmingham Design Festival founders Daniel Alcorn and Luke Tonge (below). Not content with simply putting Brum's arty creatives on the map courtesy of their annual celebration of all things pretty and clever, they have now set up a database of West Mids design freelancers. That doesn't just mean graphic designers, it encompasses all skills and trades that come hand-in-hand when a company is looking for design work. Are you a freelancer skilled in brand identity, editorial, art direction, typography, infographics, advertising, story-boarding, packaging, user interface, user experience, web development, (*deep breath*), email marketing, animation, illustration, murals or photography? Get on this list. Are you a company looking to commission design-related locals? Explore that list. Just fancy being inspired by your talented fellow Brummies? It's a great rabbit hole to fall down. I had a natter with Dan and Luke about what they're doing, and why, and started by asking, because I'm a miserable old cynic, what the hell's in it for them!
"Sleepless nights," says Luke laughing. "There's no monetary value in this for us. Dan and I are connected to designers and freelancers across the world but there's something important in celebrating regionality and locality. The food and drink scene during the pandemic has shown exactly that — takeaways and DIY kits have been ordered from our favourite local places en masse.

"The two of us often say we work in the design community, as opposed to the design industry because, well, it's that mindset that will benefit everybody. The freelancer, the client, the city as a whole."   
"Neither of us are from Birmingham, originally" agrees Dan, "but as incomers we found community here. The power of attending events, the power of conversation and that conversation — when allowed — taking place in person. That's key. Exciting things happen when people meet and the design community is no different. Zoom is all well and good, but most clients want to be able to meet the person they are working with and I bet you that freelancer wants to meet the client — get a feel for them, what they are about and what they are looking for. That's not so easy when Brum companies are looking to London for the delivery of their design work." 

"Historically our region has been too modest," says Luke. "It's been to backwards at going forwards. There are so many very talented people in the West Midlands design community and yet it has so little reputation for that. Part of the problem comes down to a lack of confidence, and part of it comes down to lack of support. Hopefully this database will provide some of that support and what we are doing, as a whole, will lend a degree of confidence. We're showcasing those who, perhaps, are reluctant to showcase themselves or, simply, don't have the time to be pushing their portfolio between jobs. The Birmingham restaurant scene has shown how opinions can be changed — as has our culture and theatre scenes — and, now, it's design's turn." 

"On a more basic level," continues Dan, "limiting our database to Brum and the surrounding West Midlands feels like a better user experience than listing literally thousands of names across the country. If you want an animator and 300 options appear in front of you it can be overwhelming. What our database does is show you, maybe, 12, with easily visible examples of their work, two or three of which might immediately chime with the person whose project needs doing. At the click of a button 90% of your whittling down is done."  

"Ultimately you want where you live to feel like a thriving, well respected place," he says. "We've chosen to live and work in Birmingham and we want it to the the best version of Birmingham it can possibly be. And, our remit is design, so hopefully we're doing our bit on exactly that."

"Lastly," says Luke "I think everyone can be guilty, from time-to-time, of mentioning three of your mates when asked for recommendations in whatever line of work you have knowledge of. Not just design — we all get asked for recommendations, don't we? I think Dan and I are aware that we are two white, bearded men in a very white, bearded industry and to be able to point people to a database that is home to everybody's work helps, in a small way I hope, to level that playing field a little."
SIX ON THE LIST: Here's just half a dozen of the freelancers already on the database... 
"We'd not seen Jen's work until she submitted it to Find A Freelancer. You can lose hours looking through her beautiful designs and we had no idea that she was Birmingham based. It's the hidden gem nature of someone in Brum being this talented and right under our noses, and us not knowing until we launched the database. Her style is perfect for editorial. Just perfect." More 
"Fraser's a master of animation and animation can really bring a brand to life. It doesn't have to be a full animated video, it can be a small amount of movement [see the I Choose Birmingham 'B' at the top of today's email] that can bring a logo to life. It can draw the eye to something that an audience is so used to seeing it becomes blind to, or it can breathe energy into social media posts where everyone is vying for attention in an increasingly image-led world. Fraser is super-versatile. It's not just 2D or 3D, there's hyper-real, there's pixel art, there's illustrated stuff." More 
"Tina is a fantastic freelance designer who specialises in branding, having spent most of her career developing her extensive skillset in various agency roles – most recently as Head of Design at branding agency Noir in Manchester. The Midlands has rightly reclaimed her since she made the leap to go freelance (to be more in control of her career) in early 2020. Her work is clean, smart and sophisticated – and she brings empathy and strength in equal measure to the table – making smart work like the above, for Jags Connect." More 
"Abbie is full of life and I think that really comes through in her work. Her illustrations have this wonderful quality of feeling warm, retro and familiar and yet really fresh, maybe thanks to the abstraction and surrealism that comes through. It's a hell of a skill. It's worth seeing her website just for the mesmerising kaleidoscopic theme that, actually, harks back to the power of animation mentioned earlier. What's also really interesting is to see how her work has evolved, by checking out Abbie's Instagram. It's like overnight it went from black and white to bathed in colour — and yet it's so good it looks like a style that she's honed for years." 
"User experience, more or less, means embodying a company in whatever avenue your asked to embody it, but usually within the context of design it means through a user-friendly website. It's a balancing act of aesthetics and ease of use. Check out what Ryan did with as part of his ongoing work for Mental Health UK – bringing to life a serious subject by creating a really engaging and stress-free experience. It looks good, it works well, it's optimised — Ryan does it all" 
"Aesha caught our eye with her stunning photos of Brum at night time, buzzing in neon pinks and blues. They reminded us of Liam Wong’s photos of Tokyo, giving the city a Blade Runner vibe. We were delighted to find out that Aesha is now taking commissions, and as well as being a top-notch urban and landscape photographer, she takes rather lovely portraits. She has an Instagram set up for each at aesar.nisar and portraitsbyaesha – you can also book her for your wedding!" 
Upload your work to Find A Freelancer here and complete Birmingham Design Festival's annual survey to help the community know what it is and where it's going. If anyone needs a copywriter, I'm on the database dressed as Ernest Hemingway.


The ongoing fun train that is the Digbeth Express continues to chug-chug through Happyville with smile-making momentum, this time with a full-on, super professional, all-singing-all-dancing funfair rolling into town. The people trusted with Ice Skate Birmingham and the big wheel that grace Centenary Square every winter are steering this project, that'll sit in that big gap between Charles Henry Street, Moseley Street and Rea Street, April 12 onwards. There's the usual sort of jovial attractions like dodgems and that ferris wheel, and then there's the stuff of nightmares, like the Star Flyer, ghost train, waltzer and whatnot. There's all the usual old school hoopla tomfoolery and harrowing rollercoastery plus, refreshingly for Digbo these days, no booze on site. Organisers are going big on security so if, like me, you find funfairs a little, ummm, edgy in your old age, this'll be a nice little antidote to that. There's no charge to get in (buy tokens on arrival) and, rather charmingly, the lights will be visible from the Bullring steps. Just follow them! (Or head here). Open every day from 4pm. More


In a supergroup-style selection that would send the Traveling Wilburys into first degree imposter syndrome, beer festival Beer Central has revealed the food offering for their July 2 and 3 Digbeth do. In a fancy chain, meets fine-dining, meets street food fab foursome, Dishoom will sit alongside Chef Andrew Sheridan and street food stalwarts Baked in Brick and Andy Low ‘n’ Slow. Add that to a mix of some of our city's best beers (Attic, Burning Soul, Glasshouse), a few fairly sensational ones from the rest of the world, and live music. One winner can take three friends to the event (at The Mill) on a day of their choosing with all of your beers, (or ciders) provided for all of you, plus one main dish each from any of the four traders. Head to Instagram to win this absolute gem. Tickets from £45.


Langley's No.8 is a delicious gin but their refusal to put the word 'Birmingham' on the bottle (despite being distilled at Langley Green) has always bothered me. Take a bow, then, Birmingham Brewing Co who have launched a gin called The Brummie. Made from their Pale Brummie mash from the Stirchley-based brewery, then distilled in Northampton, it's got six botanicals: Oris root, orange peel, coriander, juniper, lemon peel and cassia. Nope, I've not heard of two of them either. Their perfect serve is yuzu tonic (Fentimans) and, get this, half a birdseye chilli. Available at the brewery click and collect style, Friday to Sunday between 2pm and 6.30pm (£38 for 70cl), or available from their webshop, they also have cans of their perfect yuzu serve at £5 a pop. Buy it and/or win a bottle over on Twitter.  


Being as we've all been sat on sofas for the last year there's a good chance one of us dropped £1.5million down the back of it. Have a shufty because a dream John Madin mansion in Lapworth has just gone on the market and the asking price is just that. Madin, of course, was most famous for being an American Football coach and the face of EA Sports' most successful gaming franchise. Wait. No. That's not right at all, that's John Madden. John Madin was the Moseleyite architect famed for The Central Library, Birmingham Conservatoire, Pebble Mill and a host of other gone, partially gone or listed Brum build jobs. Five bedrooms and three bathrooms, Johnboy built Juniper Hill between 1957 and 1959, set within 2.75 acres of land which, presumably, is a lot but I don't have a point or reference. This grade II listed Modernist masterpiece even comes with the original designs from the man himself. Shame leafy Lapworth is a bit dodgy otherwise I'd put an offer in. And yes, it does look like the house from OzarkMore
Edgbaston's The H Suite is where gruesome conflab, The Psychology of Serial Killers, will take place, July 15. Tickets £21.15. Why do you wanna go to that? Hell's wrong with you?

Portuguese photographer Edgar Martins has captured more than 100 images for his project on incarceration and confinement at HMP Birmingham. Exhibition runs until 18 April at Herbert Art Gallery & Museum (online) in Coventry. Macabre start to AOB today!

A library, but instead of books you borrow, y'know, stuff. Maybe a carpet cleaner, extra crockery, a ladder. The Borrow Shop would save us all a load of dosh and play a part in reducing MASS OVER-CONSUMPTION. Crowdfunding for a spot in the JQ, now.

Brummie gins. They're like buses, aren't they?    

Independent sandwich house Gup Shup opened, on Monday, where Colmore Row meets The Great Western Arcade, thus David-ing its neighbouring sarnie Goliath, Pret. Japanese shokupan bread sangers are deep-filled with all sorts of lunchable lovelies and hot pepper chicken is the early doors top seller. Menu and more

Fat B*stard Hot Sauce is made in West Heath. Available online only but with a view to being in shops and whatnot. One of them is made out of blueberries, Verruca Salt. More

"I’ll stick with gin.
Champagne is just ginger ale that knows somebody."

Hawkeye, M*A*S*H (1973)

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WORDS: Tom Cullen
PICTURES: Illustration by Jen Leem-Bruggen - Woman and Home /

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