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  • Writer's pictureDonna Newman

The bear-ginnings of a serial sculpture painter

Updated: May 8, 2021

Throwback Thursday

Yesterday it popped up on my phone that four years ago I was busily painting bears in my studio.

I first worked on a painted scutpure in 2016 when the school I was working with asked me to help them decorate a bookbench for 'The Big Read' - an educational art trail around Birmingham. I had seen painted sculptures on public art trails before but had never applied to take part myself (I didn't even realise that I could!)

Wild about Art

One of the leading organisers of public art trails is Wild in Art and I love everything that they do and stand for. They connect businesses, artists and communities through the power of creativity, and have enabled more than £15 million to be raised for charitable causes. Their public art events allow millions of people of all ages to experience art in non-traditional settings and give a platform for amatuer and professional artists to showcase their work.

I just had to get involved!

Creative Designs

When I discovered that another big art trail was coming to Birmingham, I was determined to get involved. The Big Sleuth was to see 100 giant decorated bear sculptures dotted around the city in the summer of 2017 but the whole process begins much earlier with designs requiring submission in January. I put my thinking cap on over the Christmas break trying to think of creative designs worthy of selection.

These are my hand-painted entries, both of which were selected.


The sun bear's veracious appetite for honey inspired this design. My husband was a beekeeper and I was fascinated by the internal workings of a hive. My design saught to educate on the importance of bees to our environment and draw parallels between the sun bear and the honey bee as vulnerable species. This is one of my favourites. It was on display in Sutton coldfield, the town where I live so I would drive past it most days on the school run.


A good pun is often key to a successful sculpture! I thought it would be funny to turn an animal sculpture into a human, and the bear's form leant itself perfectly to period clothing. It wasn't easy painting the face but I think I successfully pulled it off and it has now become one of my signature designs styles to transform various animal sculptures into historical human figures.

The Boldmere Bear

I was also chosen to create a bear for Boldmere. Funded by the local community, the bear would remain in the area as a legacy after the trail. My design 'Sunny Days and Stary Nights' captures the vibrancy and community spirit in Boldmere with it's depiction of green parks, local bars and restaurants, street festivals, community groups and family culture. I love that my bear is still proudly displayed there where I can regularly visit.

Bradley's Bear

This was a very special little bear that I had the privilege to paint. It was designed by Bradley Simpson, lead singer of The Vamps, following a visit to Birminghams Children's hospital. Taking inspiration from the kids' drawings he used his artistic flair and love of music as inspiration for the rock bear design. I was asked to bring Bradleys bear to life on a half size bear which later sold for over £5000 at auction raising vital funds for the Hospital.


I loved the whole experience of The Big Sleuth so much and have now become somewhat of a serial sculpture paintier taking part in numerous art trails. It brought such a buzz to the city and seeing evryone taking selfies with my creations was amazing. I've now had over 40 designs featured which have contributed over £150,000 to various charities accross the country. Keep your eyes peeled for a few more later this year...

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