It was Helen Hannah’s interest in life-casting 13 years ago, which pulled her into the passion she is doing today. First, casting her children, and then practicing on family and friends children.
Helen initially studied 3D art at school and college and was keen to spend life as an artist. However, her parents were unsupported of her artistic life and with this Helen shifted into becoming a tax consultant. Although she worked for various well know accountancy firms, she spent a lot of her formative years studying 3D art at night school while working full-time; only for fun.
In 2000, Helen became a mother and gave up work as a tax consultant for good to look after her daughter. It was when her daughter started going to nursery, she had more time to herself. She began drawing back to her true purpose of being an artist and began to sculpt life-castings. When she first found life-casting, she had to learn how to create and finish casts. It was expensive to buy the materials, so Helen started by casting family and friends – children complimentary – until she received some results, which suited her. She found it challenging to source quality frames for her work, so she started to make her own frames. This means she is able to repeat a frame for a mum when baby number two or three comes along. It also improved control of lead times.
Word of mouth spread and Helen’s business finally generated revenue and began to take off.
Dinkie Dannies was founded in 2004, which is based at Helen’s home in Sway, Hampshire in the heart of the New Forest. The name comes from both her and her husband’s parents’ tendency to ask them to “go wash your dannies” before mealtimes.
Helen had a friend who knew about writing websites, and was able to help her set up a website. Following this Helen was able to add a Facebook account, which is a page now, as well as Instagram and Twitter account. She is at all times developing and reinventing her website to cater to her customers’ needs.
Life-casting is a process whereby one moulds a living thing, such as a body or tree or animal and turned it into a piece of art, without causing a change of any kind to the original model. Helen works in stone, plaster, resin bronze, solid bronze, 35% lead crystal, nickel plate, and silver. All her work starts with a mould of the body part, which is to become the focus of the finished piece. She takes a mould, usually in alginate, which is made from seaweed, non-toxic and hypoallergenic. The moulds set in around two minutes from initial mixing. She then takes the moulds back to her home studio, where they are filled with stone plaster. The stone is then left to dry for a few weeks before she starts work on it.
The stone originally needs a little cleaning up, in order to make a nice flat base for it to sit on. From there, a silicon mould is made from which to make a resin bronze or a wax copy for the solid bronze and lead crystal. In the case of a stone-finished piece it is the original, which gets painted, waxed and sealed before framing in a finished form. Helen makes all the resin bronze work in her studio and the solid bronze and lead crystal involves sending a wax copy to a local foundry which pours and finishes the piece for her. A piece takes approximately six weeks to complete, and this is mainly due to drying times. At some times of the year, for example, in the run up to Christmas, it may take longer to finish a piece as the work builds up. When painting and waxing work, Helen uses paint and wax she mixes herself. All her paints and waxes contain real metal powder in fairly high quantities and are applied thin enough to allow the details of the skin tone to show through on the casts, while offering an even coverage and colour.
Helen has completed many cast over the last 12 years. From making castings for new mothers, a simple hand or foot cast of a newborn, to a full bottom cast of an adult and a head and shoulders of a professional wrestler, which was used as a mannequin for his mask. Helen welcomes ideas from new customers and clients and happy to visit the customer in order to make a casting, bringing samples of her work in order to make unique pieces for her clients. She offers home visits in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Surrey and parts of London. Helen adores her work and she aims to show passion through both the workmanship and the level of customer service she offers.
Following the stillbirth of her second child, Christopher, she learned more about her craft while grieving for his passing which enabled her to work with families who are facing the same emotional passing of their child through late miscarriage or stillbirth. She also works with parents whose children have passed away unexpectedly for a variety of reasons as well as adults who are dealing with a terminal medical condition or recently passed away. This is a small part of the work she does and among the most rewarding as she is able to be empathetic to them while creating a piece of artwork to honour their loved one for years to come.
What is the best part of the job? “Returning to the customer with the finished piece,” said Helen. “At all times, I hand deliver the framed piece. It might be nerve-racking watching the customer look at the finished piece for the first time, yet it’s worth it when their face’s light up, they recognise the hand or foot as belonging to their baby and are delighted with the finished result.”
She is at all times open to creating something different which suits the family, their home, personal taste and budget. To touch base with Helen click here
Helen is active on social media where she is contactable as well:
How might art help individuals through life changes?