My Day with Animal Artistry

Artist, physicist, mad scientist, chemist, engineer, biologist, perfectionist, defender of traditional English craftsmanship. PLUS she’s one of the most modest, genuine and lovely people you’re likely to meet.

Those of you who have had the pleasure of meeting her will probably already recognise who I’m talking about – our very own Donna Chaney.

A long-time fan of her work, I made the decision to sell most of my artist resins to fund my passion for her Animal Artistry creations. I had made her a rather long list, so she suggested I’d better come and choose some colours! Of course I jumped at the chance and promised to bring my camera.

The middle of nowhere exists…and it’s beautiful and magical

Having made the journey deeper and deeper into the countryside I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I had found them – the ponies peeking out of the windows gave the game away!

I was introduced to Charles, Donna’s lovely partner, who was on with the maintenance tasks. Closely followed by a rather vocal pair of Andalusian beauties – Bambi and Chaos. Every time they saw Donna they’d call to her, it was so lovely to see they obviously adore her as much as she adores them. They had a lovely set up where they could wander in and out of each other’s stables and into the yard. Seeing them both in one stable together where they’d take turns lying down was just incredibly sweet. Having these girls outside the Alchemy Barn I can see would be so inspiring for Donna’s work.

We then went on a little tour, Donna apologising for the chaos (one person’s chaos is another person’s paradise!)

Besides, when you’re creating there’s going to be some mess! And in this case, it’s a beautiful, inspiring, artistic “mess.” I love it!

I met Joanna, who was busy painting some earthenware ponies, and Lorraine who was working on giving colour a beautiful fine bone china circus horse.

Downstairs, I met Mark (Mouldy) who was busy working on several pieces at different stages of the moulding process.

When Production isn’t production

Now if you think casting ponies is like pouring some gloop into a mould, painting it and sticking it in a hot oven, you’d be SO wrong.

Such specialised production isn’t really “production.” Production to me implies a system which can be reliably replicated to produce the same result many times over. I don’t think this gives what the team do justice at all. Each individual piece is created by a skilled team of specialists in their fields, which has taken decades of experience and knowledge to reach – this really is a team effort. Even then, the nature of ceramics can cause mishaps no matter how carefully things are prepared and calculated. There is always an element of luck.

I was surprised to learn that each piece needs more than just one mould. There could be many moulds for a piece including a tail, legs, even an ear! Then they need to be assembled, propped correctly to allow for any shrinking when fired, and that’s before any finish work and further firing can even begin to take place! It’s an incredibly labour-intensive process, and each stage must be done with the upmost care, otherwise it’s back to the start again! The amount of work that goes into every piece – no matter how big or small – is just mind-boggling.

The business of creativity

Meanwhile, surrounded by books on anatomy, art and movement, sit a few of Donna’s work in progress pieces. I ache for her to get the chance to work on them, but when you run a business I know how hard it can be to find the time to work on your own creative things when there’s always something else that needs to take priority, and you have to make sure everything is running smoothly – even the boring paperwork and accounting! What I do know, is that we will all be in for a treat when they are finished!

It was a great pleasure to see Donna’s also a collector! She proudly showed me her bargain dinosaurs she’d recently picked up, and I noticed some Schleichs and Breyers amongst her shelves, because she likes them.

Back in the house I was treated to a wonderful bacon buttie where we chatted and watched the amazing wildlife from the kitchen window, and listened to Persia – chief rat catcher letting us know she’d quite like some of the bacon.

Thank you and goodnight

Having had a wonderful day, it was soon time to go home, back to reality. But in every Animal Artistry I see, I know that there is a piece of the magic from Herefordshire in them, and it always makes me smile.