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Many thanks to OB Hazel Oakes!

01 Feb 2021
OB Hazel Oakes (Nocciola The Drawer) with her beautiful mural

OB Hazel Oakes recently returned to Barney to decorate one of the communal areas in Longfield House with a powerful and stunning piece of art.

Hazel, who is also known as ‘Nocciola The Drawer’, was a member of Longfield House during her time at Barney, and, in her final year, was Head of Longfield.

It was great to welcome her back, which brought back many fond memories for Hazel, and we can’t wait until all the Longfield ladies return to Barney, so they too can enjoy the mural properly.

Since leaving Barney in 2008, Hazel has enjoyed a successful career in art and design, ‘spreading her joy of life one splash of colour at a time’!

We had the opportunity to catch up with Hazel after the completion of the mural, discussing her time at Barney, the mural and its meaning, among other interesting topics.  

Read the full, wide-ranging and inspiring interview below:

What was your inspiration for the mural? What is its meaning, in your own words?

My inspiration for the mural is to show the importance of female friendship and the bond and support you can offer to each other. Together we are stronger and incredible things can happen by supporting and cheering for each other. I have always found community and support from women wherever I am in the world; by building strong relationships with other women you see the amazing things they can achieve.

The women in this mural represent the seasons: friendship is for every season, the good and the bad, and support is a constant all year round. The four women are my three best friends and me, who I met at Barney. Our friendship and bond has become stronger with each year of the 19 years we have been friends. I know that no matter where I am in the world, they are always there for me, cheering me on and vice versa. Spring is Chelsea McMillan, Summer is me, Autumn is Samantha Legg and Winter is Keedy Noble.

The mural is bright, bold and colourful, which is my style, as colour has a direct effect on our mood. Bright warm colours like orange, yellow, pink and red are happy colours, blue makes you feel safe and relaxed. The aim is to lift the girl’s mood and spirits with the mural, as it is in the house they live in and a place that they pass everyday when leaving and entering the boarding house. The design is set in nature, using the sun and sea, as I love the outdoors and nature gives you a new energy.

However, I like people to interpret the work as whatever they need it to be – that is the beauty of art.

How long did it take to complete?

The installation on the wall took five days over the Christmas holidays, but there is obviously design time before that. A mural has to work with the space, as it is a tall thin wall, by breaking up the design into the sea, the women and the lettering of ‘Empowered Women’.  It works with the space from both the top of the stairs and the bottom. One thing with installing murals is you cannot be afraid of heights and you need good balance, it is a workout going up and down ladders, especially when you have so many different colours, you need a lot of paintbrushes.

It was handy to have the space when nobody was in the boarding house, although it did feel a little bit strange as the last time I was in the boarding house there was 52 girls around and I was still at school. The reason why I love painting murals is the interaction with people. I am a people person, so if you are installing a mural in a public place you always have unexpected interactions and comments from all different kinds of people. I was painting a mural in Southsea and a nun came up to me and said thank you so much for bringing joy to everyone with my work. Another day it was a little Chinese girl who could not speak English but her Dad said she loved to watch me paint or a local artist originally from Argentina who wanted to show me his work that he had just picked up from the framers. By painting in public, it breaks down the barriers and makes people want to connect, just like when you travel people seem more open to get to know new people.

Describe your time at Barney.

Full of experiences.

I embraced the opportunities at Barney getting involved in as many things as I could and learning as much as I could. I knew how privileged I was to have so many things available right in front of me and I am so glad that I was part of Longfield house. The memories that are the strongest and funniest are of course in the boarding house, tea and toast in the kitchen after prep time, house Halloween parties (our year loved dressing up and I still do now!) and winning House Singing in my final year made me a very proud Head of Longfield. I was always enthusiastic to get involved and to get others in the house involved in as much as possible too.

Enthusiasm and trying everything was definitely my style and I would say that has continued into my life after Barney. I spent a lot of time in the art department, running around the muddy fields and I spent a lot of time in military uniform as part of the CCF. Art, running and community leadership are the things that are still important to me today.

How did your Barney experience shape your career?

Mrs Cuthbertson shaped who I am as an artist; I had her as a teacher from when I started at Barney. I had always drawn, designed and created before Barney but she let me experiment and try all my ideas. My work was definitely not loved by people, it was not the typical pretty picture, but I experimented with size, 3D and as many medias as possible and got the art prize, so I knew I was doing something right. I actually wanted to be a Fashion designer, as I didn’t think artist was an actual career, fashion was a way to have a creative career, I hoped would involve travel and was based around the female figure and of course as a teenager I was obsessed with clothes.

At Barney, I got stuck into everything and didn’t worry about what other people thought. I think at Northumbria University I was the only Fashion Student in the Officer Training Corps, the irons in the sewing room were perfect for ironing my uniform! Two things that you might not think go together. Community, teamwork and leadership are the skills that I learnt from Officer Training and that you can do hard things with practice, dedication and support of others. I loved being part of the CCF at school, as head of the CCF I was the only one that went on Summer Camp in my final year! I also loved art and spent as much time as I could in the art department and I also loved cross country running being cold and covered in mud and I loved my girls in the house and getting to be head of house in my final year.

I almost took RE for GCSE instead of Art as I thought I would get a better grade, but Mrs Cuthbertson told my parents I should take Art at the Parents’ Evening. I am so thankful that I did, as Art has been a constant for me and a lesson in the importance of following passion.

Career History

I would class my career as creative exploring. Experimenting with what I can do in life and trying as many things as possible. We only have one life; you have to live it. As Steve Jobs said, you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. It might have seemed like I was going on a strange route (I like to call it the scenic route) but it all added together into what I am doing now, being an entrepreneur, collaborating with brands, designing and sharing my bright optimistic work on walls. Art, female empowerment and travel are my main passions and purpose. 

I studied fashion design at Northumbria University and then worked with companies like Element Skateboards in France and Myla lingerie in London. I studied a Master’s Degree

in Fashion at Kingston University while working as a Bridal Consultant. While at Kingston I discovered an Enterprise programme which taught me business skills and inspired me to forge my own path. I left Kingston with a Distinction in Fashion, an understanding of multi-discipline design, a contemporary lingerie brand that I founded with the aim to empower women and collaborated with other designers, funding from investors and a prize in Enterprise.

You may think that I was set up, this covered a lot of what I wanted to work on and achieve, my own creative business and empowering women. However, so much time inside, scrutinizing over stitch lines and fabrics made me crave a more outdoorsy life full of adventure. Travel has always been a big part of my life, I love long term travel and living in different countries and this wasn’t possible with how I had set up the business.

I decided I needed to make a drastic change, leave the fashion industry and moved to Australia, as someone who was always a planner, there was no plan here. I just wanted more time outdoors and less time worrying about where stitch lines should go on garments. This led me to working in lots of different fields and with lots of different brands, working at arts festivals, for wedding photographers and painting Christmas baubles. I learnt that I could sell anything and there are lots of opportunities to travel and work and learn from different businesses.

That led me to living in Canada and having the longest most snowy winter of my life and using my skiing skills I learnt at Barney and then to living in Italy and working in the travel industry as a Trip Manager for the company Contiki. Working in the travel industry made me realise that my purpose was to inspire people, I have a never-ending amount of positivity and can find the smallest thing very exciting and it turns out not everyone has that view on life, even when they are on holiday!

Italy was magic for me, it’s beautiful changing landscape, the sound of the language and it is home to some of the most amazing and important painters, sculptures and architects. I guess seeing the Sistine chapel more times than I can count and hearing that it was Michelangelo’s first time painting a ceiling really got into my head. Living in Florence, a city rich in art history but also finding street art on the Tuscan streets (Clet, Blub and LeDiesis) made me finally realise there is a thread to what I am always searching for when travelling, community and street art.

Being a graffiti and street art fan forever and seeing street art, contemporary art and old Master’s art in different places form the Uffizi in Florence, to Guggenheim in Bilbao to the streets of Belgrade has kept me learning about art in all forms and it has influenced how I work today. When travelling took priority over art, my love and curiosity never faded it was all adding up to what I create now. David Hockney, Matisse and Anthony Gormley were an inspiration for me from being at Barney and I can see how that has influenced my style now, but it’s the adding up of my experiences with other people, in other countries and as a female that have built my brand, work and individual style as it is now. I didn’t think muralist was a career when I was younger and now while you are at school, thanks to technology there will be so many more careers that you don’t even know of yet or even exist yet.

Some brief Career Highlights:

Being part of European sales meeting in San Sebastian with Element Europe. Designing an exclusive lace mask for Harrods with Myla Lingerie. Being part of Fashion week at Somerset House with Ann Louise Roswald. Shooting my lingerie brand campaign on the streets of Notting Hill. Painting my Longfield girls on the walls of the boarding house at Barney. Seeing photos of women, men and children in front of my mural in Southsea, you don’t have to be present for your artwork to have an effect on people and even the local MP took his photo with it! Making the most of every opportunity that came my way. Making my own unique path and sharing my artwork with the world. And the even bigger and better things that are to come, the collaborations and communities I will work with. My Longfield girls being proud of me!  

I am trying to spread my joy of life one splash of colour at a time.

What advice do you have to aspiring artists currently studying at Barney?

My top ten tips:

  1. Always be curious, use your time at Barney to experiment when you have so many facilities at your fingertips.
  2. Don’t worry about what other people think of your artwork if you are learning, dedicated to it and it fills you with passion it will all work out.
  3. Always be open to new ideas and find inspiration in everything. There are so many opportunities out there if you look, especially since we have the world at our fingertips with the internet. (During lockdown my work has been projected on a building in Brazil – we can’t travel but our artwork can!)
  4. Believe in yourself and if you know what you want to do follow it, even if you are not sure how you will make it happen, each step trying gets you closer.
  5. Share your artwork, don’t keep it to yourself. It doesn’t have to be perfect to have an impact on other people.
  6. Don’t compare your work to others, as everyone has their different styles and own interests, you will find the other people that appreciate yours. Remember everyone is at different stages and comparison is the thief of joy. (This applies to everything in life not just art)
  7. Always ask, if you don’t ask you don’t get. The number of times I would have missed out on opportunities if I didn’t ask or put myself forward, even if maybe I wasn’t as qualified as others. The worst people can say is no.
  8. You have to have the resilience to keep putting yourself out there no matter the outcome. It will be worth it.
  9. It will help if you learn business skills; it will make your life a little bit easier.
  10. Be patient and practise. Most importantly, enjoy it!!!

Whatever your art form, music, film, painting or writing, do it with enthusiasm and passion because your enthusiasm will spread to others and they might discover what they love through your dedication and passion of your art form, plus connecting with others will open up new opportunities.