Artist James brings his donkeys to popular Bears of Sheffield art trail
Donkeys have joined forces with the Bears of Sheffield this year to raise money for Sheffield Children’s Hospital.
City artist James Green, who works as a printmaker, has created one of the 60 large Bears of Sheffield that have formed a sculpture trail around the city. Artists have been commissioned to decorate the bear sculptures by the charity that raises money for Sheffield Children’s Hospital.
The Children’s Hospital Charity is raising £2.75 million to pay for a new cancer and leukaemia ward at the hospital and the Bears of Sheffield are a major part of that appeal. All the artists’ bears are sponsored and will be sold off after the trail ends on September 29.
In addition, 100 little bears have been given to schools and children’s organisations, who each have to raise £750 for their bears, which they are allowed to keep afterwards.
There’s also a Bearathon challenge, where people are sponsored to run, walk, swim or cycle 2.75km a day throughout the summer.
James’s work is famous for its iconic little donkeys, who wander around dream-like landscapes in some of his prints, so naturally he included the donkeys in his design.
We’ve had to wait a year to see the Bears of Sheffield trail, which was disrupted by the pandemic, so all the bears have been kept in storage for a year.
James said: “I did mine last June. It was a great experience, the same as when I did the Herd of Sheffield elephant.
“I don’t do any 3D art normally, it takes you out of your comfort zone. I felt like I was at art college but I knew what I was doing a bit more. It was nice to be asked to do it – it is a great cause and a really fun project.
“I know some of the other artists and it was fun to talk about what we were doing.”
James said that the artists don’t just get let loose on the bears, they have to submit an idea of what they want to create to the Children’s Hospital Charity first and get their designs approved.
"When you give your proposal to the Children’s Hospital team it’s very much 2D what you have to propose. You do drawings of the front, back and sides,” said James.
"When it actually comes to it, you have to alter your plans a little bit. There are other sides and shapes to deal with and you’re having to make decisions there and then.
"I’ve looked at some of the other people’s work and I’ve no idea how they’ve managed to do these things, either neatly or detailed. It’s crazy.”
He said: “The design is very much based on the designs I do as part of my print-making, so I didn’t feel I was completely out of my comfort zone.”
James said he spent about a week altogether, mapping out his design on the bear, then applying the colours and finishing it off.
"The trickiest bit was drawing it on, making sure it all looked like the idea you’ve started with. I found it quite difficult to make any changes.”
He said that preparation is key to his lino cuts and screen prints, so that stood him in good stead.
“When I do my prints I’m always making sure I’ve planned everything in advance and had everything in place before I start cutting away at the lino.”
He was relieved to be able to do most of the painting standing up, unlike his elephant, a lot of which had to be done while lying down.
It came with its own challenges, though: “The armpits were tricky to paint. I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to get a paintbrush inside a bear’s armpit!
“It was easier to do than the elephant because I knew what paints work and I knew a bit about how the paints would go on.
“I kept banging my head on his paws trying to get up.”
James was really pleased to learn that his bear would be on display outside Weston Park Museum. “My elephant was in a similar position. It’s lovely at Weston Park – I couldn’t really ask for a better location.
"It’s right near the Children’s Hospital as well and was also sponsored by the University of Sheffield. It’s nice that it’s somewhere lots of people can see it.”
James explained the idea behind his piece, which is called Donkeys in Bear Land: “A lot of my work revolves around this crazy world which only donkeys inhabit. It’s difficult to explain – partly celebrating donkeys, which are appealing creatures.
“It has grown into this other place where donkeys exist and are having these strange adventures.”
James has been taking his donkeys on their adventures for around 12 years now and what began as a one-off idea has just grown and developed as he explored it. He says that his work is both abstract and not abstract.
A donkey that is on the front of the bear is standing on an object that also crops up in his prints a lot – it turns out to be based on a human hand.
One of his first donkey prints was called Red Donkey Regrets the Adventure and people kept asking how it was going to get down from the mountain it was standing on, so occasionally the hand will appear to help them out of tight spots.
James, who first came to Sheffield from Birmingham in 1992 to study fine art at the old Sheffield city Polytechnic (now Hallam University), couldn’t find work as an artist after he graduated, so he did a series of office jobs he said he “vaguely enjoyed”.
"In 2005 somebody lent me some printmaking tools. I’d never done printmaking before – I absolutely loved it. I couldn’t stop, I was making more and more stuff.”
In 2009 he finally quit his job to try and become a full-time artist, a decision he admits now was crazy but paid off. He now works from a studio in his garden in Meersbrook and is currently having a new print studio built.
His new projects include creating a fabric in collaboration with The Stitch Society, based at Saltaire, which has been made into artist’s smocks and aprons, for sale on his Folksy website page, folksy.com/shops/jamesgreenprintworks.
He’s also looking forward to getting out and meeting people as art fairs and markets get going again.
Cheryl Davidson, project manager for the Bears of Sheffield, said: “We would like to say a huge thank you to James, who has been a pleasure to work with.
"His eye-catching design, Donkeys in Bear Land, is providing lots of joy to the public, particularly patients, families and staff at Sheffield Children’s.
"The sculpture is keeping watch at Weston Park Museum, in its location as the closest Bear of Sheffield to the hospital.
“As well as supporting the trail this summer, James also very kindly painted a Herd of Sheffield elephant, which raised a fantastic £6,000 for The Children’s Hospital Charity at auction in 2016.
"We’re hoping for a similarly great total at this year’s auction as every penny raised will support Sheffield Children’s where it is needed most, including by building a new cancer and leukaemia ward. Thank you so much, James.”
To find out more about the Bears of Sheffield and the hospital appeal, head to bearsofsheffield.com