Debra Wenlock: Bangor-based artist ‘honoured’ to play key role in Game of Thrones trail

Bangor-based artist Debra Wenlock and Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, at the unveiling of the first Glass of Thrones panel in Belfast city centreBangor-based artist Debra Wenlock and Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, at the unveiling of the first Glass of Thrones panel in Belfast city centre
Bangor-based artist Debra Wenlock and Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, at the unveiling of the first Glass of Thrones panel in Belfast city centre
Debra Wenlock seems an unlikely choice to complete Northern Ireland’s latest Game of Thrones visitor attractions, given that she has never even seen an episode of the hit TV fantasy drama.

But the Bangor-based artist says she now plans to borrow the DVDs from a friend and catch up on the first seven series after being commissioned to work on the new ‘Glass of Thrones’ campaign.

Six large stained-glass-style panels depicting characters and key events from Game of Thrones – much of which was filmed in Northern Ireland – are being unveiled at locations around Belfast – one a week to coincide with the airing of each episode of the eighth and final season of the award-winning HBO show.

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The first one depicting the heroes and heroines of House Stark was unveiled at Donegall Place last Monday, with the second – a House Lannister-inspired piece – going on public display outside the Waterfront Hall on Easter Tuesday.

Others will be erected at key visitor sites such as the SSE Arena and Titanic Belfast over the coming weeks.

By the end of series eight, the stained glass panels will form a new Game of Thrones trail, leading fans across the city to the final window at the Titanic Studios, where much of the show has been produced over the past decade.

Debra, whose artistic skills were recommended to Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland for their joint venture, said it is “an honour” to have been commissioned to complete the public artworks, which will be seen and photographed by visitors from around the world.

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She explained how each week a lead printed glass panel is delivered to her home studio, and she then uses special resins to colour the ‘window’.

“The glass comes to me with the lead line in it and then I use coloured resin to bring it to life,” she said.

“A design company do the illustration and digitalise the design and then another company prints the leadwork onto the glass and then the glass gets brought to me and I do the colour.

“The designers send me a guide and then I can use a bit of artistic licence, but there are certain elements from the series that have to be the right colour.

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“Within reason I can adapt it a bit and add texture. What I am trying to do is recreate the feel of stained glass windows by giving it more dimension.”

Debra, who is originally from Rugby in Warwickshire, moved to Northern Ireland in 1993.

A graduate of Loughborough College of Art, she previously worked as a freelance textile designer and has been a professional artist for the past 16 years.

Describing herself as a “colour-passionate artist of joyful art” who produces “happy, uplifting paintings”, Debra says she has mostly been focussed on landscapes and gardens recently, but stresses she has painted a wide variety of subject matter over the years.

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Admitting the themes depicted on the ‘Glass of Thrones’ pieces – sword-wielding warriors and fire-breathing dragons – are something she’s not that familiar with, she said: “The subject matter is very different. But working with colour is right up my street.

“For me it is a joy because it is something different and I love to experiment with new materials.”

Asked if she is a fan of the show, Debra laughs: “Not yet. But I will watch it now because I have seen all these characters coming to life and it has sparked my interest.

“I am going to borrow the DVDs from a friend. When the windows are complete I am going to watch it because if I start trying to catch up while I am trying to paint the windows that would be a disaster. Each one takes a full seven days – it is a very intense workload.”

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Game of Thrones has been a global TV phenomenon watched by millions of people around the world. The show’s incredible success has brought huge economic benefits to the local economy, with hundreds of thousands of visitors coming here each year to see the locations used in the show.

Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland are hopeful that ‘Glass of Thrones’ and other visitor attractions will attract even more GOT fans to Northern Ireland in years to come.

• TV show has led to huge tourism boom

Glass of Thrones is a joint campaign by Tourism Ireland and Tourism NI designed to showcase and celebrate Northern Ireland as ‘Game of Thrones Territory’ to millions of fans worldwide.

John McGrillen, CEO of Tourism NI, said Game of Thrones tourism is currently worth about £50 million annually to the local economy. And he is convinced initiatives such as Glass of Thrones, and the opening of other new visitor attractions over the next year or so, will help continue the GOT-fuelled tourism boom for years to come.

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“HBO are certainly of a view that they have only scratched the tip of the iceberg in terms of audiences across the globe, so we believe this will be good for us over the next decade,” he said.

Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said the new artworks are a “fun and innovative way to bring the destination to the attention of Game of Thrones fans around the world.”