"I have always loved dogs, ever since growing up along side 'Tolly', a gorgeous Labrador cross Irish Setter. We had him when I was two, and I was eighteen when he died, he seemed more like a brother than a dog. I see a lot of him in the dogs that I make, along with my Mums Labrador cross Springer Spaniel, Polly. She's big pawed, big eared, very springy, and ever so slightly neurotic. The perfect artists muse. I have my own dog, Vegas, a gorgeous Parson Russell. He gives me ideas for poses, whilst he relaxes in the studio. Usually under the kiln, where it's warm.
I started making dogs from plasticine from an early age and I guess I've just never grown up. A dog's face is so expressive. I love the way that repositioning an ear or eyebrow can change the whole look of a dog.
My dogs start their lives as hollow extruded tubes, which I then cut and form. I start by making the body, which I pack with newspaper to maintain its shape and leave until its leather hard. I then start to construct the rest of the dog, bracing its limbs with props and clay until they are dry enough to support themselves. Where the clay is joined I leave a torn or cut edge, which I hope, shows that I am using clay and how it's put together. I tend to let the clay and the extruder direct what the end dog will look like. For example, the clay tube may curl as I extrude it, which I will then use for the neck of a sitting dog, which is looking down. Once dried, I fire the dogs in an electric kiln to 1180c. They are then smoke-fired in a small, lidded brick built pit. Which is packed with torn newspaper, colour supplements and sawdust and left to burn down for a few hours.
The spotty and patchy dogs that I produce are the result of masking areas, where I don't want the smoke to go, with clay and silver foil." Virginia Dowe