Inspired by wildlife
Kate Chapman meets Lincolnshire creative Hannah Dale, whose popular Wrendale Design artworks are sold worldwide.
It’s 10 years since Hannah Dale tentatively began selling her wildlife artwork and in that time her distinctive designs have grown in popularity to adorn greetings cards, homewares and gifts sold all over the world.
Hannah, who grew up in Scawby, near Brigg, says Lincolnshire’s countryside and wildlife are among her biggest inspirations and British wildlife, including hares, foxes and owls often feature on her Wrendale Designs products.
Last year her work came to the attention of even more people when a watercolour Hannah painted following Queen Elizabeth II’s death – showing the late monarch sitting on a bench, reunited with Prince Philip and one of her corgis – received such a response that commemorative prints were sold in aid of charity.
“I’m passionate about two things: I’ve always loved art and wildlife, so it started from there, painting some of the wildlife local to us, particularly the hares,” says Hannah.
“In the early days, I lacked a bit of confidence and I found it quite hard asking people to buy my work. But greetings cards felt an easier ask, they seemed to tick every box. I think if anybody had told me, when I was out nervously knocking on doors to find stockists in those first days, where we would be 10 years later, I wouldn’t believe it.”
Launching the business
Hannah has always lived in Lincolnshire, apart from her time away studying zoology at Cambridge University and a period working in London.
“I did art up to A-level but always thought it would be a hobby. I’ve always loved animals and nature, and my degree involved lots of field work, researching animal behaviour. It could often involve long stints outside, so I used to take a sketchbook and that’s where it all started, drawing and sketching animals from life. Drawing them dynamically helped me hone my technique and capture their character, life and movement.”
After her degree, Hannah was still unsure about what she wanted to do and took a finance job in London.
She spent five years in the capital, but missed her family and country life. Following the 2008 financial crash, she was made redundant and moved back to Lincolnshire shortly before marrying her husband, Jack.
Hannah was expecting their first child and had just received the devastating news that her mum was terminally ill when she decided to launch her artwork business, to fit in around her busy life. It was a local shopkeeper who suggested she turn her paintings into greetings cards and that’s when things took off.
Her watercolour designs proved popular, with many stockists reordering and approaches from sales agents followed. Now her range includes stationery, giftware, homewares and clothing which sell online and in shops worldwide.
Colours and character
“I initially chose watercolours partly for convenience,” says Hannah, who is mum to Amelia, Lara and Oliver.
“When I started painting, I was snatching half an hour here and there, between looking after the children and Mum. Other mediums like oils and acrylics wouldn’t have given me that flexibility. It was convenient, but they’re lovely and so versatile too, they suit my style and give a softness that you can’t get with other types of paint.
“I love painting hares, but foxes are my absolute favourites. I love their colours and character, they’re just such beautiful animals.”
Inspiration comes in many forms and Hannah enjoys spending time outdoors, immersing herself in nature, taking photos and sketching.
“It’s crucial to keep things fresh and keep that inspiration coming in – sometimes something as simple as lichen or young blossom can trigger a thought and lead to a painting. Being outside in nature is revitalising and always gives me inspiration,” she adds.
Hannah admits inspiration can strike her at any time and it was following the Queen’s death last year that she was compelled to paint her own personal tribute.
“I have never done anything like that before. The nation was in mourning. For most of us, the Queen had been such a constant through all our lives. She was a great age, and it wasn’t unexpected, but it was still a shock and I felt that. I just wanted to create something personal as a mark of respect.
“It wasn’t pre-planned, I stayed up really late that night painting and when the picture was shared on our social media, the response was phenomenal.
“We never intended to make it available for sale, but we had so many requests to buy a print that we decided we would and chose the Dogs Trust to donate the profits to.
“We’re all dog lovers at Wrendale, the charity does such amazing work and was one of the Queen’s favourite charities, so it seemed fitting.”
Hannah was delighted her work inspired another young royal too. On Christmas Day 2022, Kensington Palace shared a painting of a stag with festive baubles hanging from its antlers painted by Prince George, inspired by one of her own designs – and the royal connections have continued.
Earlier this year, Wrendale released a limited-edition commemorative Coronation print of King Charles III, featuring the monarch enjoying time with one of his dogs. It sold out very quickly.
Hannah said: “When the team asked me to come up with something, it took me a while. I didn’t want to go down the route of Union Jacks, Buckingham Palace and the usual iconography like everyone else. I didn’t feel that was Wrendale. I like to try to make things special and unique.
“I thought about the things that are important to the King – his love of wildlife, his garden and the Jack Russell terriers he’s adopted from Battersea, and I tried to capture that little private moment between a person and their dog, something lots of us can identify with, rather than with the crown and gowns.”
Wrendale Designs’ 70-strong team works out of its Brigg headquarters, and is gearing up for its next launches, which include additions to the soft toy range and a growing baby line. Hannah is also working on a new book, featuring more of her stunning artwork.
“I’m really enjoying writing and illustrating this book and would love to do more of that in the future. I’m really grateful for the opportunities to do things like that, I don’t ever take it for granted.
“Jack came on board soon after the business started, and I love the fact that we’ve built Wrendale together. It’s not just me, it’s a team effort.
“I’m just so grateful to the people who have supported us and have liked my artwork over the past 10 years.”
To find out more about Wrendale Designs, visit wrendaledesigns.co.uk
Photographs: courtesy of Wrendale Designs