FROM PLASTICINE TO PIXELS – interview with Tyneside artist/animator/educator Sheila Graber


During the ’90s I was making films on tape editing machines in Stanhope Complex, South Shields. It could take hours to build a couple of minutes sequence of video, audio, narration and music – a process that takes a lot less time today. Those editing machines I used have a link to Sheila Graber….

Around 1985 I was asked by David Lumb, Chief Adviser at South Tyneside Education Authority would I like the post of Art/Media Advisor?

I agreed to a part time post as I was heavily involved in animation jobs at the time. It involved helping schools from Nursery to Secondary with any problems.

One large problem at the time – still is – is that some teenagers do no take to reading and writing that well and become bored and disruptive at school.

Knowing how my own students at King George school had responded to working with video in the 1970’s I secured a government grant to hire a a room in Chuter Ede Education Centre, South Shields with a budget for video equipment and staff to run the project. Here schools could send young people to learn video skills and apply them to their lessons.

It was very well attended for a few years  but a change of Government pulled the funding. Then  along came Community Worker Phil Charlton (RIP) who took the gear down to Stanhope Community Complex, it was like passing the baton on. Then YOU used them Gary and now, happily, here we are ! ’.

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Me working on video tape machines at Stanhope Complex, South Shields. Notice the Panasonic edit controller, MX10 and edit machines. There was one play and one record machine with the controller and visual effects board in between.

Looking back to your younger days can you point to any moments which led you to where you are now ? 

I had two life changing events in 1960. My Dad, Capt. George Graber, was Pilot Master on the Tyne from 1947, and in 1960 we finally moved into the Pilot Office House on the Lawe Top.

I was lucky enough to have a small room to use as a studio. The views of the river were stunning.

Also that year I went to Birmingham School for Training Art Teachers. On the first day the tutor asked us ’Why are you here’. Somebody spoke up ’To get our Art Teacher’s Diploma’. She quickly replied ’So what is Art’.

During the rest of the course, we discovered the answer for ourselves’…I found that “Everyone is an artist in their own way.” 

It wasn’t a skill passed down from your family or something that only one or two people could do, everybody, if encouraged, could make something to express themselves and feel worthwhile whether it’s painting, knitting, cooking, writing or video making. I’ve tried to follow that all my life’.


Painting 1960. The view of the river Tyne looking over to North Shields outside Sheila’s window.

Sheila returned to Tyneside teaching Art in schools and also worked on her own projects….

‘I started teaching Art in Stanhope Road Secondary School in 1961. Then onto The Girl’s High School and finally King George Comprehensive. Divorced in 1970 I had extra time in my life.

I bought a super 8 camera for holiday films and found I could bring plasticine letters to life for titles by filming then one frame at a time. Three week later when the film came back I saw them move by themselves MAGIC!

I took the camera into school and the children’s interest was enormous. Their reaction really turned me around. Pupils who had little interest in learning suddenly came alive. Animation is a very good tool for education because everyone can learn and have fun at the same time.

Animation can also be used to show how things work. Like the short I was invited to make by BBC Inside Look North on how their program was put together in 1977. Featuring the late great Mike Neville’. (Check Inside Look North 1977 and over 100 others on “Sheila Graber YouTube” channel).

animating 1993

‘In 1974 my animation Boy and The Cat won the 10 Best film competition run by Movie Maker Magazine. So, it was screened at the National Film Theatre in London.

Later my work was spotted by Nicole Jouve an agent for World TV. She phoned me up and wanted to distribute some of the shorts I’d made.

At first, I thought it was a friend kidding around. But she went ahead and distributed the short 16mm films I’d made, from Mondrian to Evolution, worldwide.

Then Nicole (who was also the agent for The Magic Roundabout) commissioned me to Animate 10 of Rudyard Kipling’s  Just So Stories – she had gained the contract in direct competition with Disney Studios.

In 1980 I gave up my job as a full-time art teacher as the series had to be completed in one year.

Looking back, I have met people who have asked me ‘can you do this for us ? …and I’ve just jumped in and said ‘yes I’ll do that’. You’ve done that too Gary, just gone for it and most times it works out and leads onto other projects’.

What are you working on now ?

‘I still teach animation at University of Sunderland and have some of my prints, cards and DVD’s on sale in Sunderland Museum and at The Word in South Shields.

Currently I am producing more books and fun interactive animated apps. Just finished one on Van Gogh, you can play with it now online on my website. Animation is a magic process but sadly under used. Disney called it the Art of the Future. He was right.

I hope today’s computer games evolve from killing to caring and that iPads and smart phones are used to create images and animation as well as text to help folks of all ages to enjoy learning and creating their view of the world.

I’ll be featuring these ideas, work of people I’ve influenced and in turn work by folks THEY have influenced in my forthcoming exhibition at South Shields Ocean Road Museum & Customs House in 2020 – Life Begins at 80. Look forward to seeing some of YOUR video productions there Gary’. 

Contact Sheila at:

 Interview by Gary Alikivi    June 2018.


David G. Wilkinson: Waves upon Waves 3rd June 2018.

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