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Pets in stitches
3:32pm Monday 18th February 2013 in Shops & Fashion
A textile designer is going animal crackers after her work was given the celebrity lick of approval, says Andrea Jones
POSH pooch portraits and couture cats are offering owners a novel new way to cuddle up to their pampered pets. A bespoke range of animal art is being created by Hartlepool designer Diane Watson – and they have already proved a big hit with one of TV’s most famous fashionistas.
Worldwide demand for Diane’s work has gone through the roof after celebrity stylist Gok Wan tweeted his appreciation of her pet portrait of his French Bulldog Dolly Albertine Dishcloth to his 1.5 million followers around the globe.
“I was absolutely amazed when Gok tweeted ‘Wow’ about his cushion,” recalls Diane, 44, a tutor at Cleveland College of Art and Design.
“Now I’ve got people wanting pictures of their own dogs, cats, horses, even pigeons on cushions – I’ve also had one commissioned for the TV presenter Paul O’Grady of his dog Olga.”
For Diane, the success of her products is the culmination of a series of unplanned events that led to the start of her burgeoning business Naughty Dog. “I never thought anything like this would happen to me,” says Diane. “Art was always my favourite subject at school – well that and geography as you got to colour in the maps – so I suppose it was always inevitable that I’d go on and do something creative.”
The first person in her family to go to university, Diane graduated from Loughborough University with a degree in ceramics. “I was a potter from the Potteries,” she laughs. “I don’t think I aspired to go to university as a child, certainly my parents never put any pressure on me to go, but listening to them complain about their jobs, day in and out, I knew that whatever I did I wanted to enjoy it.”
Diane’s first unplanned event occurred after graduation when, following her heart, she took the decision to move up North. “I’d met a boy at university from Hartlepool and, as you do, being in love, I came back with him to the North-East. I was 21, I didn’t know anyone in Hartlepool apart from him, but I’d always fancied moving to the coast.”
Living opposite the town’s old sixth form centre, Diane watched the students each day working in the college’s pottery studio. “I still wanted to pursue a career in ceramics so I went over the road and offered to do a day of teaching a week if I could use the studio to do my own work,” she says.
A career break followed as Diane extended her family with children, but she still kept her artistic hand in at small local community workshops.
“By this time I’d started drawing as well, but leaving the sixth form centre I had nowhere to do my ceramics,” she explains. “I was exhibiting my work across the region when a friend, who worked at Cleveland College of Art and Design, suggested that I should take a night class at the college. I went to see what was on offer and decided to do a part-time textile degree, one night a week over five years, which fitted in perfectly with looking after two small children.” After graduating, Diane was offered a job at the college teaching textiles.
Her second unplanned event involved her brother Stephen’s lurcher-cross rescue dog Ollie.
“Stephen was really close to his dog and when Ollie passed away, I thought it would be a nice gesture to make something to remind him of Ollie,” says Diane. “A friend then saw it and wanted one, and it sort of snowballed into a small business.
The name, Naughty Dog, also came from one of Stephen’s dogs, his Saluki Dillon, who ate my new pyjamas while I was staying with him.”
After building up a small following, Diane was encouraged to start selling her cushions through the online handmade craft marketplace Etsy. “I was making about two cushions a month and also selling them through smaller galleries,” she says. “It wasn’t a great moneyspinner but it was regular work on top of my teaching.”
In October last year, as orders gradually began to build, Diane took her designs to the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair in Manchester along with some stuffed cloth dogs, canvases and drawings.
“I sold enough that day to pay for my stall, my hotel and for dinner but, more importantly, I made some fantastic connections,” she says. “I was approached by two ladies from the designer craft website What I Always Wanted.
They arranged to do some publicity for me and asked if I would make a cushion with Gok’s dog Dolly on it so they could send it to him. After his incredible tweet, I’ve gone from making two cushions a month to making at least one a day and orders are already piling in for this year.
“I’ve now got customers from the US, Australia, New Zealand and Italy. I sent one with two cats on to a swanky Manhattan apartment last week. In fact, my cushions now travel to better places than I do.”
- To see more of Diane’s work log on to: facebook.com/pages/Naughty- Dog/473831289301918
- For more information on CCAD courses contact 01642-288888.