If you have been to see DonTy, you’ll have noticed the level of detail involved in his design, with many iconic landmarks around North East incorporated. DonTy was created by the multi talented Jane Headford, and we sat down with Jane to have a chat about her background and where her inspiration came from when she created Dog on the Tyne.
Where did you train to become an artist?
“I undertook a two year foundation course in Solihull with A levels and after that completed a degree in Theatre Design at Wimbledon School of Art London University.”
What made you decide to become an artist?
“As a result of being born in Shakespeare’s county, Warwickshire, I was introduced to the theatre from a young age. Seeing the power a play, opera or ballet has to connect, move and educate entire audiences was simply amazing. I was also fascinated by the imagination, creativity, scale and spectacle of the arts which can come together to create a whole world which transcends normality. Anything is possible in art and I wanted to join the people who were involved in this mentality.”
Who are your favourite artists?
“This is hard as there are so many! Renaissance artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci for his all-encompassing visionary drawings and beautiful paintings, Michaelangelo for his audacious sculpture and Pontormo for his frescos and colours.
“I also am a huge fan of Tiepolo for his brilliant compositions on ceilings, Sergeant for his painterly portrait and clever brushwork and Chagall’s ability to tell a fantastic story.
“Kandinsky is another favourite artist for his abstracts and fantastic use of colour and of course Picasso – he did so much for art.
“As you can see I am a huge fan of so many talented artists. Looking at contemporary artists, Goldsworthy, Gormley and Jaume Plensa particularly stand out for me as I am drawn to the spectacular, large scale art.”
What is your favourite method of creating art?
Paint! I am never happier than when I’m covered in the stuff. Give me a huge back drop for a ballet or opera where the designer is enhancing the music, dance or play or a public art commission and my big brushes and I am enjoying the best job in the world.”
Why did you decide to get involved with the Snowdogs?
“There are so many deserving charities but I found this one for St Oswald’s Hospice particularly moving.
“The link between the original Snowman and the Snowdog and the Children’s Hospice is inspirational. Hopefully the art works will really draw attention to the great job St Oswalds does and the joint effort will bring in a lot of much needed money.”
Where did your inspiration come from?
“My two sons were huge fans of Raymond Briggs’ original Snowman when they were growing up, so my inspiration for DonTy starts way back at the beginning with the original story, with its beautiful illustrations and memorable haunting music which captured children’s imagination world-wide.
“Before sitting down to create my Snowdog design submission, I watched the Snowman and the Snowdog animation for inspiration and was struck by the poignancy and the spirit of hope and fun that imagination can deliver for children going through tough times.”
How many hours did the Snowdog take you to complete?
“I initially spent a full day working out the original design. It didn’t take long as I had a strong idea that I wanted to bring a Snowdog to the North. Painting him probably took about 40 hours in total, which I really enjoyed! Then once the painting was complete I spent another couple of hours varnishing him.”
Talk us through the process of painting the Snowdog
“I treat 3D sculptures as a blank canvas, but I really try to bring them to life like a character. By the time our Snowdog left the studio he had to be “real “. For me, this isn’t just about painting a pretty picture – it’s about telling a story and providing education. I hope little children will find things I’ve painted just for them low down and families will be curious to wonder what is depicted and why.
“I use my scenic artist skills to rough out in 3D what’s designed in 2D and then build up the design ensuring tones and colours work and flow from one area to another. Finally, I added the detail and I hope that the public think the sculpture works as a whole with lots of interest all around.”
If you could describe your Snowdog in three words what would they be?
“DonTy is friendly, fun and fascinating – just like the North and the people of Newcastle and Sunderland.”
Are you a dog owner yourself?
“Not yet…Hoping it’s not going to be too long though!”
What’s your favourite breed of dog?
“I went to Crufts this year for the first time and I don’t envy the judges as all the dogs are gorgeous.
“It’s got to be a Border Collie – a rescue one would be lovely. My sons will both be jealous as they drove us nuts begging for a dog when they were young.
“A snow dog would be perfect wouldn’t it?”
What has been your favourite art project to date and why?
“Too many to choose from to be honest! I loved working at the National Theatre and painting operas and ballets for ROH but I have to say working on Labyrinth for Jim Henson with David Bowie was one of the highlights. The creativity that went into that film was incredible and the talent, vision and team spirit was fantastic. The film itself has a good lesson too and was brilliant to work on.”
If you could design one thing what would it be?
“I have been very lucky as I have designed shows, videos, pantos, films, puppets, animatronics, costumes, and fabric. I’ve even painted costumes for Shakespeare in Love and Harry Potter which was a brilliant experience.
“Therefore for something different, it would be great to explore the world of home interiors. I would love to design a sofa or even a chair for a living room or office.”
Outside of the studio, what are your hobbies and pastimes?
“Art is a career and a lifestyle which is really time consuming so I don’t have much time for hobbies!
“When I do get free time, spending time with family and friends, travelling as much as possible and visiting as many art galleries as I can possibly fit in. I am also in the process of designing and renovating our cottage in France which is a new challenge that I am enjoying tremendously!”
The Great North Snowdogs’ trail will run until the 29th November, so there’s still time for you to come and see DonTy at the Angel of the North. To stay updated, make sure you follow him on Twitter, where he provides his audience with regular updates about the trail.