Art for their Sake: The charity work of George Nicholas
Published by Herne on March 1, 2015
In March 2015 Herne interviewed the fantastic George Nicholas (Cernunnos Rising), who is the brains behind the fantastic charity project, Art for their Sake as well as Impact Murals. George, along with his team of artists and creatives undertake huge painting projects all in the name of making places nicer for children and adults alike. This interview first appeared in Wyldspirit issue 5 (March 2015 edition of the Wyldwood Radio e-zine) which was our only ever print edition!
Herne: In 1978, Art for Their Sake undertook the mission of painting the mural at Alder Hey Hospital. What drew you to creating these fantastic murals in the beginning?
George: The reason I wanted to paint the murals in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital was simply as a small child I was scared of the place! It was old, draconian, huge. Its corridors went on and on forever, and sounded like a huge cave echoing the tiny footsteps of children and parents consolations as they entered another world.
I’ve actually painted alder hey about 4 times over and over, the first time as a continuous single piece of artwork featuring my then popular local cartoon character Scouse Mouse who was soon to be featured in the Liverpool Echo newspaper as a syndicated cartoon strip. I used this exposure of Scouse Mouse to attract sponsorship towards the hospital C.A.T. scanner appeal that urgently needed to raise 1 million pounds to purchase this equipment. It wasn’t long before we had everybody out there looking at this huge hospital art project and various sponsorship started to roll in. It eventually attracted celebrities, sports personalities, radio and TV companies like Granada who regularly ran project updates and larger and wider exposure provided by the BBC attracting actual programmes like ‘Hospital watch’ etc and Roy Castle, and children’s national TV show Number 73′. Visits and meetings with various Royalty like Lady Di, and The Duchess of Kent etc also kept the public and sponsors interested for a long time. Eventually like termites with brushes, we chewed up 34,000 sq. ft. of bland wall space and earned ourselves a place in the Guinness Book of Records!
This was all superb news as in the beginning I was knocked back by alder hey administration saying they didn’t want them. I was so glad I ignored that news and went in one night and just painted yards and yards of murals anyway just to show them how it would look- the public loved them and the hospital quietly accepted them…Happy days!
Herne: When you embark on these murals, are you given a theme that’s required, or do you have complete artistic freedom?
George: I usually suggest what would be a good theme or scenario for my clients unless they are specific in what they want, As for Alder Hey Hospital, they just let me carry on regardless for 30 plus years except one particular year when they decided to pay us and wanted to have an input as to what they could have. On many, many occasions, hospitals and other children’s institutions from Scotland to London and Jersey would agree to let my imagination run free on their walls. It is great to have the freedom to create environments that can educate and stimulate, particularly when I create 3D murals and sensory scenarios that have fibre optic lights built into the artwork like realistic stars and side glow flowing waterfalls and textured realistic trees. The kids love these type of murals and I really get my teeth into creating these works of art that stimulates and excites the imaginations of the viewer.
Herne: You also came up with the idea of the WereBears in 1983. Tell us about how this came about and the ideas behind it – and whether they will ever return!
George: The WEREBEARS! Yes I’m going to re-launch them. This is a difficult world of business and you have to be very business minded and not just creative, you have to embrace the expensive world of the ‘intellectual property rights’ lawyer who can hit on you for the ridiculous fee of £500 an hour! You have to also obtain the so-called protection of trademarks of which there are so many categories, so many territories, you will need to be aware of. Then you have all the stuff pertaining to patents etc etc; then if you have the mind or energy remaining you can try to continue being creative! It’s many years now since the WERE BEARS took the toy industry by storm and I licensed the concept to Hornby Toys who at that time moved into trying to make plush toys. Again, I had to battle hard to get a good deal and was offered stupid petty amounts from the onset until I walked out. Then eventually a reasonable royalty rate was secured.
To help propagate the Werebears at that time and get them known, I produced and created The Werebears 32 Page Comic. Again, I couldn’t get help or anyone interested to publish it so I did it on my own! As soon as we got the sales to 100,000 per issue, the big would-be comic corporations came back and wanted to get in on the action. I took great pleasure in telling them in strange old c language to go away and multiply yonder. I was very proud of the fact I and one or two mates had taken on my little dream, made it happen, and took on the big boys and won! I also presented the Werebears concept and synopsis to Universal Studios, Disney, and Warner. Universal studios invited me over right away!
After several weeks of legal and big business conferences and promises, I had a deal on the table. A huge royalty percentage was on offer, I couldn’t believe it! After researching and deep digging, I stumbled on the sober fact that my royalties would be based on ‘net’. Basically, 30% of whatever they tell you they have left after recoupment and distribution and hotdogs and stuff! I challenged this completely and saw peoples friendly sickly smiley masks drop off and shatter on their marble floor. I asked for a lot less! I actually asked for only 5% but it had to be on the ‘gross’….THIS changed every thing! They called me a fool, I insisted I didn’t care and I’m happy with just that because I knew as they made money so did I and not wait for years to be told “Sorry George but you have earned 30% of what’s left”. And the sad news is there is nothing left! I was pursued for a month after but didn’t want it any other way but their’s and really, really didn’t want to pay me ANY amount on the gross ..I closed down my communications with them and moved on. So, I still own the bears and I will get them back out there one day
I originally created the SCARE BEARS, they consisted of Frankie bear, Tutank bear, Count Ted, Bone bear, Quasi bear And WEREBEAR! Again, I encountered more corporate American silliness. This time, it was the company behind the concept CARE BEARS. They set their lawyers onto me saying my spooky, scary, if not ugly ‘Scarebears’ were a direct infringement and passing off of their CARE BEARS!? One ridiculous comment was that I added the letter S to the word CARE to make SCARE! That really annoyed them, and anyway they already owned a little bear that was feeble minded and got lost all the time by the name of…wait for it… WHERE BEAR. So you see, this is the kind of ridiculous greed and precious thinking that exists in this I.P. character, toy, film ,publishing world.
As it was, I decided to put WEREBEARS out as a separate concept and it worked big time! What pleasure I had seeing my Werebears flying off the shelves into customer’s arms in toy stores waving goodbye to the lonely pastel shaded Care Bears. Maybe that company knew already I was onto a winner!
To be perfectly honest, I am a creative person, I hate with a passion having to defend and protect legally all of my concepts and ideas but it’s just a sad fact that this has to be done. But it seriously takes away your energy. You start off with such a full tank of fuel for the journey ahead and within no time at all you end up running on fumes! It can really jaundice your creativity. I am finding this same kind of manipulative predator smiley mentality exists in the Music Industry, just as prolific if not more juicy carrots to throw at you. I am handling some of my talented singer songwriter Daughter’s affairs at the moment and find the wolves and Orcs are in abundance with even bigger appetites.
Herne: Which came first: the charity Art For Their Sake or Impact Murals?
George: I think the charity came first, always done that sort of free work for one place or another. Alder Hey was the first focused big, big project I did, but it was just done as a voluntary thing. AFTS wasn’t set up as a registered charity until further down the line.
Impact Murals was set up to cater for some of the bigger contracts offered by companies around the U.K.
Herne: How can people support the charity?
George: Support for the charity can be easily given by going onto our website and sponsoring direct through the PayPal button option or by cheque to our accountants office;-
Art for their sake, c/o Guild Appleton Accountants,
19 Old Hall street,
We constantly need money for paint and materials and in the case of specialised projects, fibre-optic light illuminations, M.D.F. boards, various woods and fuel costs, as some of the projects are in far flung areas and not always local to us.
Herne: We see the results of your fantastic work through the murals and community work. Do you ever get the children or disabled people involved in the painting of the projects?
George: A lot of my community work and projects are working with disabled people, terminally ill, special needs, and people at risk of offending of all ages but mostly the young. There are many ways in which I can include people of all abilities. As long as the end result is something that all people, including the public, can enjoy and not just the people working on the project. The charities aims and objectives are simple;-
- We provide tuition and guidance, inspiration and interaction within our projects.
- We provide an enjoyable project scheme and create environments that educate, stimulate, and excite.
- We always strive to create an atmosphere of productive enjoyment and propagate an appreciation of art.
- We provide small or large scale 3 dimensional interactive fibre optic illuminated and textured tactile murals and art within the host institution, hospital, school, or hospice etc.
We strive to include as many children of all abilities to take part as we can. I will give you an example of one particularly popular scenario we create having a fantastic dynamic result. The Undersea Mural: I will paint the dolphins, seals, or baby killer whales with an ‘airbrush’ and spray light striations cutting through the water as if sunlight abounds. As we go down to the deeper section of the sea we have everybody doing shoals of fish of various shapes sizes and species across the middle section of the mural, this also helps create a feeling of motion and movement. As we move down to the bottom section we create a cut out 3 dimensional looking MDF rocky pelmet that fixes to the wall. This section also becomes a very rustic and natural rocky-looking portion of the mural and also accommodates the multi coloured coral reef lower segment. The children can go wild with paint creating colour and texture all along the whole mural, it doesn’t matter how rough and ready this is as I add additional light and shade to pull it back into the feel of the overall mural. Elk horn coral, star fish, shells and other items can be added if needed.
The volunteers and children really love working alongside professionals and have a great sense of ownership when completed, and the end result of the mural with its pristine airbrushed marine mammals in contrast to the lower rocky and rustic coral reef with its multi-coloured sea creatures and tropical fish and textured finish is a winning combination!
Herne: Is there a way that people can get involved with your projects?
George: Anybody wishing to be involved or help can just get in touch through the website or contact me direct, or even through Wyldwood Radio. Experienced muralists and artists with an altruistic nature are always much sought after, so please check out our work and videos on our website and you can see the scale and speed at which we work.
Many thanks for taking the time to find out about us and hope you enjoy our artistic contribution to the greater community.
You can find out more about George Nicholas and his work through Art For Their Sake here: Art for Their Sake
You can find out about Impact Murals here: Impact Murals
You can find out more about George Nicholas’ musical work in Cernunnos Rising here: Cernunnos Rising
You can see images of the murals and projects over the next few pages by Art for their Sake. All images of the murals, paintings, etc are © George Nicholas.