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Drawn to pubs

How one graphic designer manages to cram in as much work as she does is anybody’s guess. Alastair Gilmour finds out between brushstrokes.

It doesn’t take long for graphic artist Yvette Earl to scroll through samples of her work before it becomes abundantly apparent that she’s in love with pubs. Pubs are her creative fixation through their architectural qualities and their social significance – plus the fact that she’s rather brilliant at interpreting them only emphasises her passion.

“I adore the frontages of old pubs and, being a graphic designer, I’m obviously a big fan of typography,” says Carlisle-based Yvette. “I’m just really drawn to them, I like exploring the human connection with buildings – pubs are perfect for that. And I love a pint.”

Surprisingly, given her impressive freelance illustrative output, Yvette is a full-time graphic designer with HLM Architects which has offices in Glasgow, Sheffield, Belfast, Cardiff and London, working across the whole business designing brochures, event flyers and digital graphics, while creating illustrations for bids and presentations alongside running the company’s Instagram account – planning and creating the content. 


Yvette Earl at work on a skateboard

She says: “It can get very busy and hectic, so I just ensure I manage my time well. I never take on more freelance work than I can do and set myself deadlines to get stuff done. I’m lucky that I get to work from home in my full-time job, and I have a nice set-up at home to work in.”

And if that and pubs – the vast majority of them around Newcastle – isn’t enough, Yvette also illustrates a cityscape of libraries, cinemas, restaurants, breweries, landscapes and virtually everything that doesn’t move around her native Cumbria.

“I absolutely love the old architecture in Newcastle,” she says. “I’m always just wandering around admiring it and taking lots of pictures, especially the pubs, they have so much character.

“It was from sitting in these places enjoying a few beers that sparked my idea to draw them, and I started wondering what I could bring to them in my style.”

That style has developed slowly over the years from traditional pencil sketching to computer technology at its most advanced. 

Yvette says: “I used to draw everything by hand, scan it in and colour it in Photoshop, but now I work on my iPad in Procreate (a powerful digital illustration app). It’s great for me and speeded up the process a lot and just really developed my skills.

“It’s taken a massive amount of practice – hours and hours of drawing and pushing myself to develop my style and building confidence in myself.  

“I’ve started exploring painting recently, though, and I’m really loving it, using acrylics then working back into it in pen. It’s nice to just switch off from screens and sit and paint for a few hours.”

Her step-by-step Facebook guide to painting a skateboard had me transfixed. And this from a guy who has never felt the thrill of such a thing under his feet, yet she has me intrigued enough to want to paint one, then ride it (I’ve never worn a baseball cap either, or been to Nando’s or Wagamama, but this is the effect Yvette Earl has on people – inspiration pure and simple).

But photo-realism isn’t what she is after – Yvette is of the opinion that if you just drew a carbon copy of a building you might as well take a photograph and be done. 

“I like to make lines wobbly, to play with colour and light,” she says. “On some bits I’ll go into loads of detail or often I’ll make up those details with scribble.”

She confesses she likes to personalise her work by placing familiar (to her) images within the bigger picture. “I usually put me and my partner in them or family members and I’ve added my cats into a few of them. I also hide my favourite bands in them by dressing everyone in band tees. I’ve bought band tees since I was in my teens and have a lot of them, so I like getting these in.

“The bigger more detailed pieces take me 15-20 hours to draw, so it's not a quick process – with the full-time job I'm squeezing them in where I can. Time-wise it totally varies depending on the level of detail I’m after. I’m getting quicker the more I draw. My recent Central Bar illustration took about 20 hours, I think. 

“The mural I did of the Bigg Market in Newcastle was about 100 hours work, so it just depends on the size.”

Inevitably, Yvette is constantly bombarded with requests to depict people’s favourite pubs. This is an extension of their appeal ­– a celebration of these buildings and the communities within them.

“I love when it evokes memories for them and good times spent in these buildings,” she says. “I think because they’re super colourful they tend to catch the eye. I’ve got lots of ideas buzzing round in my head. I think I soak in a lot of the world around me. I notice patterns in the world and colours in everything.  

“There is so much I want to draw, but I have time constraints with working full-time too. I really want to do a series on Japan which I’m trying to get to, but I also need to draw some more pubs from around the UK; I have lots of images saved on my Pinterest of pubs I want to draw.

“It’s a dream job being paid to draw. You’re full of self-doubt, you’re your own worst critic, but seeing your work getting positive attention is a big boost. I do lot of work for myself so I can sell the prints, but I’m lucky I get commissioned too. 

“My Etsy account is always ticking over, I feel privileged that people buy my work for their homes. Social media has been great for me, but I’ll be exhibiting at Nowt Special at Anarchy Brew Co in Newcastle this month where I’m planning a digital illustration of The Bridge Hotel (Newcastle) and a painting of the Tyne Bridge.”

Who knows? Yvette might even find the time between commissions to join me in Wagamama to discuss skateboards – after all, there’s a first for everything. Definitely no baseball cap, though. 


Wylam Brewery, Newcastle

In May 2016, Wylam Brewery moved its Northumberland-based production to the iconic Palace of Arts pavilion in Exhibition Park, Newcastle, installing a 30-barrel brewhouse and a ‘pub in the park’ inside the sole surviving structure from the 1929 North East Coast Exhibition – when the region was desperate to show the world what it had to offer in arts, crafts and industry. Its conversion from storage space to brewery (with tap) and events centre wasn’t without controversy or fierce local objection, but here it is and here it is absolutely flourishing. 

Wylam simply rocks and Yvette Earl’s version of it captures its essence brilliantly.


The Central Bar, Gateshead

“I’m really chuffed with how this one came out, I wanted to develop my colours, sky and lighting more, plying around with the idea of full colour only being revealed where artificial light hits it.”

The Central is the sort of Grade II-listed curiosity that defines towns and cities and formed the backdrop for a seminal scene in the 1968 film Women In Love where Gudrun Brangwen (played by Glenda Jackson) is propositioned by a drunk, but is scared off by Oliver Reed’s character Gerald Crich.   

The 1856-era pub glows in a town that is light on architectural gems but loaded with cultural activity. It’s a four-storey, wedge-shaped, sandstone, mid-Victorian structure with its pointed end – which forms the snug – aimed at the legendary Tyne Bridge. 


The Tyne Bar, Ouseburn, Newcastle

“I was honoured when the Tyne Bar asked me to design their stained glass windows; they were so lovely to work with – a dream commission seeing my work come to life like this. The stained glass was made from my design by Philip Crook at Northumberland-based Vitrail Studios and what a job he’s done. I really wanted it to be super colourful to reflect the fantastic Tyne Bar and the Ouseburn. I think the windows are stunning. I liked that I could get my colour palette in and a moon and stars.”


Crown Posada, Quayside, Newcastle

“I love Newcastle architecture – and I just love pubs. They have such beautiful typography and signage… Victorian pubs are my favourites; their windows and architecture are stunning. The Crown Posada bought the rights to the print I made to use in their official branding which is obviously amazing. My work is a mix of psychedelic colours and surreal patterns with strong textures – a very graphic style; exaggerated colour.”


The Bridge Tavern, Quayside, Newcastle

“You’ll usually find me in the Bridge Tavern; for some reason I really like bridges too, so a beautiful old pub with a bridge going over it is perfect for me. I think it’s stunning.”

First-time visitors to Newcastle Quayside would be forgiven for thinking one of its pubs has two names. A swinging sign announces The Bridge Tavern, while the words Newcastle Arms project proud and prominent on the building’s sandstone fascia. This previously neglected pub and nightspot was gutted and restyled in 2013, but the relief lettering was retained as it would have been ‘architectural vandalism’ to hack it off. Such sensitivity in pub refurbishment is exceptional but it’s an appropriate introduction to what lies inside – areas of brickwork, joists, joints and cast concrete representing utilitarian beauty.  

The pub hunkers so neatly under the stanchions of the celebrated Tyne Bridge that the roof terrace beyond the upstairs bar is sheltered from all but the worst of the North East climate by its green bare belly. 


The Free Trade Inn, Ouseburn, Newcastle

The Free Trade has basked as an independent spirit for nigh-on four decades, which is a huge part of its appeal. It does what it says on the fascia. The deliberately ‘basic’ pub – some would say ‘shabby-chic’ – attracts a wide ranging clientele, from musicians and craftspeople grafting in neighbouring collectives, to office workers who relish the escape from Newcastle’s ‘party city’ reputation. 

It’s open to question whether it was the inspiration for a catchy Tyneside song by the late uber-socialist Alex Glasgow, but one thing’s for sure, the chorus paints an accurate picture. 

‘Oh the sunsets bonny lad/Oh the sunsets bonny lad/There’s a bobby dazzlin’ sunset every day.’ 

The upstream view of the River Tyne from the pub includes much that Newcastle and Gateshead have to be proud of – its iconic bridges, Baltic Centre For Contemporary Art and the Sage centre for music and when the sun drops down behind this grouping, it is indeed a bobby dazzlin’ sight. 

The Cumberland Arms, Ouseburn, Newcastle

“Who else is absolutely gasping to be sat outside a pub with a beer on a summer’s evening?”

The Cumberland Arms first secured a licence to sell beer in 1862, one of a number of pubs that opened around the Ouseburn to cater for the influx of working-class families in search of employment.

The tidy front courtyard overlooks the Ouseburn Valley and far over the other side of the Tyne. The basic two-roomed interior has stripped wooden floorboards, bench seating, timbered panelling and a large active fireplace­. The bar and gantry from the former Haymarket Hotel in Newcastle have been installed in the upstairs function room.
‘The Cumby’ is a traditional music venue, but also expect indie, rock, jazz, comedy and contemporary poetry. Best of all, it’s the prime outlet for Northern Alchemy brewery and events space which operates out of The Old Coal Yard, a mere 100 metres distant.

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