Danika Ostrowski on Horizons by Western Gallery

This month I’m talking to Danika Ostrowski, painter of mostly US National Park landscapes. 

Danika discovered her talent at a young age and has been building her career and fan-base since college. Wisely having left Bryan/College Station, TX for Austin (hook ‘em horns), Danika has found a community of artists and a bright voice that resonates throughout the West. 

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See her work online: look her up on Instagram (@danika_ostrowski_art), or on the web at www.danikaostrowski.com

0:00:59     Path to Becoming a Painter
0:06:00     Career Evolution
0:07:04     Art vs. Business
0:10:00     Tiny Paintings, Accessible Originals
0:11:49      Process
0:17:44     Work/Life Balance
0:19:39     Art Scene in Austin, TX
0:22:30     Art Festivals, Galleries, Museums
0:26:37     Influences
0:28:37     National Park Residencies
0:34:00     Painting Soundtrack
0:35:22     Goal Setting
0:38:38     Tools & Techniques
0:42:59     Website

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Interview with Danika Ostrowski, Acrylic Painter

WG: Can you talk about your path to becoming a painter?

DO: Yeah, sure. I’ve kind of painted my whole life. My parents are both architects. So, I’ve always been around art and they’ve encouraged me, which I feel really lucky to have had. I’ve always done art in school growing up. When I went to school at Texas A&M which is … Not most people associate it with fine art but …

WG: Yeah, actually when I was going to college a long time ago I remember looking at Texas A&M because that’s where most of my school friends went to school.

DO: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

WG: And they just had basically no art program.

DO: Yeah, yeah.

WG: So I was like well, I guess I’ll go to UT Austin.

DO: Oh, is that where you went to school?

WG: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

DO: Okay, very cool, because I’m in Austin now.

WG: Yeah.

DO: But yeah, they have a program there, it’s called visualization.

WG: Okay.

DO: And most people that go through it end up going into game design or computer animation. A lot of people I went to school with work out in California now, in the film industry. But they also have a graphic design track, so that was kind of where I went with my studies. I’m really sorry. I need to move my cat.

WG: Oh, that’s okay. I was gonna ask, is that a cat down there?

DO: That was my cat, Georgia O’Keeffe. She wanted to be part of it.

WG: Yeah, totally.

DO: So, I was studying graphic design through the visualization program. And just the foundational classes there, a lot of fine art, and all of my electives were fine arts. And when I graduated, I graduated earlier than I thought I was going to. And I really wanted to paint. I did a residency the summer before I graduated.

WG: Okay.

DO: And it was kind of like a test run for me of, is this something I really want to do as a career.

WG: That’s a really cool idea of a way to try it out I think, is to go do a residency somewhere.

DO: Yeah, for sure.

WG: And then I was gonna ask, I saw that you’ve done a couple of these. Which one was that one?

DO: That was … it was different than the other ones I’ve done recently. It was through the arts council that was in Bryan-College Station.

WG: Oh, okay.

DO: Which is where Texas A&M is. Basically it’s a program that kind of fosters people who are in school or an arts-related program. And so it basically does kind of what I was hoping to do. It kind of gives you the resources to start your career, start getting into that realm of being a professional artist. And it ended with a solo show, which was really awesome as well. So that was a great experience. And then when I graduated, I decided to kind of pursue that.

WG: Sure.

DO: Yeah, so it was kind of like I started painting …

WG: That’s really cool. I would not have thought about looking at like … and I think probably a lot of artists probably would not have thought about looking at civic resources as a way to further their career.

DO: Yeah, and there’s a lot of opportunities like that out there. You just kind of have to do some research and I think there’s a lot of opportunities for young artists especially that are kind of trying to put their toe in the water, test things out.

WG: Sure. So then you just decided to start painting after college and went for it?

DO: Yeah, yeah. I graduated and I moved to Austin and I rented a studio space and just went for it.

WG: Wow, cool.

DO: I don’t know, I’m very brave.

WG: Yeah.

DO: That’s all. I don’t know if I would do that again, but I did it. And it worked out fine.

WG: That’s great. So from there, you just started painting, and kept that point where you were thinking like, “This is gonna be what I do, I’m gonna make a living doing this”?

DO: Yeah, I mean that was the hope, right? That was my goal. I at the time was still kind of figuring out what my style and what my personality and what I was doing with my art, like what is my art, what is the purpose of it.

WG: Sure.

DO: And I took a lot of trips out to Big Bend in West Texas, which growing up my parents always took me into the national parks over in the west. I always loved it.

WG: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

DO: And I think everyone has probably some sort of natural environment that speaks to them. For me that’s the desert. I don’t know what it is about it, it just speaks to my soul.

DO: So I went out to Big Bend, started some paintings, and they were a lot more geometric than what I do now, but I just sort of started playing around with it. And it was more of an experiment rather than anything, which I think is probably the best way to start a new body of work. Just playing around with it, not having a deadline to meet or anything. At least in my experience that’s been the case.

DO: So yeah, I started working out with some paintings from Big Bend and then I just kind of evolved into what I do today, which is landscape work from all over the Southwest. Yeah.

WG: Gotcha. How long ago was that, that you started would you say?

DO: Four years.

WG: Four years ago. Okay, wow, that’s been pretty quick.

DO: Yes.

WG: So you started exploring and trying to find your voice and I think you’re pretty close to that now, at least you have a pretty clear voice I think. Or style or whatever you want to call it. But on the way there, how did you feel like it was gonna work, and/or was it a first sale or a project or commission or something like that? Is there some moment where you’re like, okay this is gonna work out?

DO: Like you mean as a profession, or …

WG: Right, yeah as a profession.

DO: That’s a good question. I think yeah, I mean I started selling work pretty quickly. And I had a lot of positive feedback on social media and I don’t know. I don’t know that there was ever like a turning point where I was like, “This is really gonna work.” It’s more just kind of been an evolution. It still is for me I guess.

WG: Yeah.

DO: I don’t know if any … I mean, I guess there’s some artists that get to a point where you’ve made it. I don’t know if anyone feels that way.

WG: I don’t know if anybody feels that way either, but.

DO: There’s always something else. It’s not … I don’t know, it’s an interesting way of life I suppose.

WG: Yeah, as long as you’ve got enough … feel like you’re successful enough to continue doing … to do the next painting, right?

DO: Right. Yeah, I mean I don’t know. I’ve been discussing a lot with artist friends lately about your business vs. your artistic endeavors. This weird line that you have to wobble along.

WG: Definitely.

DO: Am I making this work because it’s gonna sell, or am I making this work because I really want to do it and I’m trying to say something through it. And it’s sort of a line I’ve had to walk from the very beginning because at the end of the day you do have to make a living.

WG: Right.

DO: But I’ve always done what I feel is my inspiration and my creativity. And I think that that authenticity probably is part of what is an appealing part of my work, or any artist’s work so, maybe it’s that.

WG: I’d agree with that. So, sticking kind of along that business vs. fine art or art for art’s sake kind of topic, what was your first sale?

DO: Oh man.

WG: Do you sell like, was it in person or online or … ?

DO: Yes, my first sale was very different than what I do now. It was actually a figurative piece. It was before I had opened my show at the first residency that I did. The work that I had submitted in my application to be in the residency was published, and part of that was some figurative pieces, and someone sent me an email and said, “I saw this painting online and I would like to buy it please.”

WG: Wow.

DO: Yeah.

WG: That’s pretty wild.

DO: Yeah. I’m trying to think of what my first sale when I started really doing landscapes and kind of creating a brand out of that was, and I don’t know that I really remember it. But I had a show, a solo show that opened with a lot of my work, and I think it was probably during that show that my first painting sold.

WG: Okay. What was that solo show? Was that through a gallery or did you put that on yourself or, how did that work?

DO: Yeah, it was through a gallery, also in Bryan when I was still living there.

WG: Oh, right. Was this the one that associated with the first-

DO: It was separate. It was another show about a year later after that. It’s called the Seed Gallery in Bryan. A very successful show for me. I guess that would be, back to your other question, kind of what was a point where I felt like this was working. I had a lot of success at that show and it was well-received so, that was kind of at least for me a big hurdle of okay, I’ve shown my work, it was not terrible. It went well.

WG: And that gave you enough confidence to move to Austin.

DO: Yeah.

WG: And rent a studio space and start doing it.

DO: Yeah, for sure.

WG: Cool. I have a note about commercial art vs. fine art, which is kind of what we’re talking about I guess.

DO: Yeah.

WG: Do you have any thoughts … and I know you sell prints through your website. What are your thoughts about that way vs. doing solo exhibitions and selling originals?

DO: Yeah, I don’t have thoughts. I don’t know that I have like a feeling about what other people should be doing.

WG: Well yeah, and that’s-

DO: You know, I think you have to find what works for you as an artist. And like I said, I kind of walk a line there. I do sell reproduction prints. I recently started doing these little mini, tiny paintings.

WG: Yeah, like are those the postage-stamp ones?

DO: Yeah, they’re in the shape of a little postage stamp.

WG: What’s the dimensions of those?

DO: They’re one by two I think?

WG: So bigger than an actual postage stamp, but not a lot.

DO: It’s about the maximum. It’s like … think of when you get a giant wedding invitation and they have the giant stamp on it. It’s just a tiny bit bigger than that.

WG: That’s cool.

DO: So yeah. They’re little though. Which I usually work so large, it’s been a fun little experiment. But I don’t consider that … is it fine art or as more of a commercial item? I don’t know. I don’t know what the answer is to that.

WG: Yeah.

DO: But I don’t know, I have a lot of conflicting feelings about it would be my answer.

WG: Sure, yeah I think a lot of people do. That’s why I like to talk about it. Yeah, I mean there’s so many discussions about whether or not selling prints devalues your original paintings, or people who buy prints early on might buy originals later, and there’s like a whole realm of thoughts around that.

DO: Yeah, there are. I also … for me at least, I think it’s really important to have art that’s accessible to people. I don’t know, there’s something about having an affordable option for people who want to be able to appreciate and learn more about art, I think that’s really important. And not everyone can afford a thousand-dollar painting.

DO: So for me, part of my little originals that I’m working on is that someone can own something that is handmade. It’s one of a kind. But at the same time, I sell reproduction prints but they’re much smaller than the originals. And they’re on paper, I don’t do canvas prints because that sort of gets into that it does feel like-

WG: Yeah, that’s like … is it-

DO: They look so real these days. The imaging technology is so incredible that it’s almost hard to distinguish a print from an original if you’re not looking closely. So I don’t know that I’ve found an answer yet. I’m still kind of working that out I guess. I think.

WG: Question, so for your little postage-stamp paintings, those are actually pretty intricate. How long do they take you to make?

DO: Well, I’ve done about 25 of them now and the first few took me I think an hour to do one. I’ve gotten down to about 25 minutes I think.

WG: Oh, good.

DO: They’re really fun because they’re kind of a good exercise for my larger work, and this is partly because my style is not realistic, it’s very stylized and somewhat abstracted. But the little ones are kind of a fun little study on what is the most important and crucial information to get across the landscape or the image that I’m trying to create. So they’re kind of a fun exercise for me to do that. And yeah, they’re fairly intricate and small. It’s been different, yeah.

WG: Yeah, I mean that makes sense that they work both as like, an item that you can sell at an accessible price and then also work as kind of a thumbnail sketch for working out composition and color ideas.

DO: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. Definitely.

WG: How long do your larger paintings take you to paint?

DO: That really depends on a lot of things. My mood, the weather.

WG: How many times Georgia O’Keeffe comes in …

DO: How many times the cat comes in … Typically I would say I spend several sessions of four hours. I like to have a block of time. And I work pretty quickly, so I can sometimes get it done in six hours. I’ll whip out a 30 by 40, six hours, no trouble. Depending on how intricate and complex the composition is. But sometimes it takes me a couple weeks. So it just sort of depends on a lot of different things and how many times I get interrupted. Yeah.

WG: Yeah. How about instead of me asking you these specific questions, can you tell me a little bit about your process in creating a piece or a body of work, and then kind of what your painting schedule is like? I know you said blocks of four hours, but if you want to elaborate any more. And as part of your process, that would be cool.

DO: Yeah, sure. My process definitely starts with me visiting a location. I always work from my own photographs. I do work from photographs, with the exception of commissioned work. Always my photographs because a lot of what I’m doing is conveying my emotion and my memory and my feeling of the location.

DO: So I like to go visit all sorts of public land out in the west. And I photograph and when I can I like to do color studies, like small little plein air color studies. And I do sell those as final pieces of work, but not kind of in the traditional sense that you might think of as a plein air painter.

DO: For me it’s more about when I’m out in the new location, every place to me has a very specific color palette, and there’s certain colors and color combinations that kind of define a place. So what I like to do is really capture the pretty realistic colors while I’m out there. And then when I bring that back, it’s not necessarily the same image that I’ve painted that I’m doing large scale, but I use the references as sort of my color … I use it as my color palette. And then I of course abstract the color a lot, which I’m sure you’ve noticed in my paintings.

WG: Right, painting.

DO: And basically look for that most vibrant color that is present in a rock and I-

WG: Exaggerate, yeah. That comes across, that’s one of the things that drew me to your work was just how bright they are. They just have a vibrance, right?

DO: Yeah, and a little more into my process of actual painting. I always start with a really really vibrant background base, under painting.

WG: Like a solid color or do you do-

DO: I usually do a solid color. It’s usually either a really really vibrant magenta or bright orange, kind of depending on which way I’m going with the colors.

WG: And you always work in acrylic right now, right?

DO: I do. I occasionally work in oils, but for the most part I’m working in acrylics.

WG: I just wanted to point that out, because that makes a difference I think in what kind of background …

DO: Totally. Yeah, thank you for saying that. I should’ve mentioned that. So I usually roll out one solid color on the canvas, because with acrylics, the layering, that color is always sort of gonna have a presence there. And I tone down the painting obviously. I’ll usually do an underpainting of kind of big blocks of color, to sort of set my values, and then I tone down basically whatever major color is in the background as I’m working, and then I allow that color to shine through. A lot of people, when you see my work in person, it sort of has a glow to it sometimes, people say. And that’s partly because of that background color, which is not a unique thing to me. It’s something a lot of artists utilize. And then I can kind of readjust values and colors and bring back those little pops of color that really make the vibrancy stand out.

WG: Cool. So when you’re painting beyond the big blocks of color and getting values set, do you work dark to light colors, or light to dark colors or do you kind of do sections of the painting? Or do you just continue overlapping and like re-

DO: No, no, yeah. Totally get it. I generally will put in all my darkest darks first, and then I’ll put in highlights and do mid-tones, is kind of my process. I’m not gonna say I do that every time. And then I generally work background to foreground, and that’s sort in passes. So I’ll get shadows and highlights at the back and then the midground, and then the foreground. And then I’ll go back with my mid-tones sort of in that same pattern and repetition. And then sort of at the end I’ll just adjust what I need to to make the composition kind of work as a whole.

WG: Do you do a drawing on your canvas before you get into it? Or do you just paint directly?

DO: Very roughly, yeah. Generally speaking it’ll be like, the mountains are going here and the plant is going here.

WG: Gotcha.

DO: Sometimes I will work out a sketch before, depending on how complex the composition is though just to kind of figure out my value tones. Or I’ll do a little quick painting, about five by five inches. But most of the time I just kind of go for it.

WG: Cool.

DO: Yeah.

WG: So do you … I mean, this is like your full-time job, right?

DO: Yeah, I mean … well …

WG: Kind of?

DO: Good question, like everything. My mom and I had a store.

WG: Oh, cool.

DO: So I do that part-time too. But this is really what I consider my profession, is doing this.

WG: Yeah, I was just asking that because I know most artists have other work that they do as well in addition to kind of your specific painting process, I was curious how you manage your work life balance and make sure you have time to do your work.

DO: Oh yeah, well I’m not great at it, if I’m being honest.

WG: Do you paint like every day or … ?

DO: I’m still figuring that out, so if you have any advice …

DO: I’d like to paint every day. I think it’s a good practice to do that. I’m not gonna say I do it. Yeah, gosh time management is a hard thing, isn’t it?

WG: It is.

DO: No matter what your profession is, anyone that’s creative especially and has another job of any sort, it’s hard balancing your work and your other job and your family and taking care of yourself and I like to get up and if I can I like to paint in the morning.

WG: Oh, cool.

DO: But that doesn’t always happen. I’ve found that my mind is fresher, and I can take that time in the morning to paint, regardless of whatever else is coming my way during the day.

WG: That’s good, you can kind of get it going before it gets … too many other things start happening.

DO: Yes, yeah. Exactly. And I think it’s probably, if I really sat down and made myself a schedule, I would not check my emails until later in the day, or not get on my computer. That is usually the best kind of workflow for me. It’s just get up, paint, don’t worry about anything else.

WG: Before you get totally derailed … Yeah, I hear that. Sorry, I’m trying to have a thought that I had a second ago. I think I lost it. Out the window. All right, well I have a couple more questions that are not necessarily super related to what we’ve been talking about, but you’re based in Austin, Texas. Can you talk a little bit about the Austin arts scene in general?

DO: Yeah, sure.

WG: And there’s a couple other points that I’d like you to include, I guess. One being, what do you see the market for landscape art being like in Austin, and then if you could talk a little bit about your creative community. I know you were showing recently with kind of a collective.

DO: Yeah, well I think if you’re talking about the art scene in Austin, you have to talk about big medium. There’s an arts organization here that puts on probably the most notably the East Austin Studio Tour, which is a self-guided tour of artists’ studios, galleries, anywhere that has ever shown art is probably open during that time. It’s actually going on right now. It’s two weekends, and I think there’s over 500 different stops on it this year.

WG: Wow, it’s getting big.

DO: It’s huge, yeah. And definitely the East side is where all the arts happenings are going on. It’s a great community. I’ve found that it’s super welcoming. It’s not competitive. Yeah, if you want to talk about my community here, I’m showing currently during the studio tour with a group called ATX Gals. It’s kind of a collective of women artists, young women artists. And they sort of have a network of people that they do popup shows with. And they do a really great job.

DO: When you talk about community, something I’ve really found is helpful is not just finding a community of painters, or landscape painters, or Western artists. I like to connect with interior designers and photographers, and people who work in the film industry. I think just being around a diverse group of creatives has been really helpful and it kind of gives you perspectives and things outside of your own little bubble of painters. Which of course, I think you should find a community that is in the same medium as you. But I’ve found that there’s a lot of people doing a lot of creative things in arts. Austin, Texas is, it’s the weird place in Texas, right?

WG: Right.

DO: So, as far as the market goes, I’m gonna say for me personally, connecting with people who have a love for the national parks, who have a love for the landscape in the West is … there’s sort of this weird connection, people will see a painting of mine and say, “Oh my gosh, I’ve been there. I took a picture right standing here.”

WG: Right.

DO: Which is one of the coolest feelings ever for me as an artist. And so showing my work as much as possible and meeting other people who have a love for those places is sort of my network of people that I sell to and then I connect with.

WG: Yeah, that’s great. Yeah, the East Austin Studio Tour I went on a few some years ago. I lived in Austin for a long time, you know I went to school there and then I stuck around. And it was just starting out at some point and I went on it. And now the size of it is astonishing.

DO: Yeah, now it really is. And because it started out, it was really just a few art studios and then it’s really incredible now. They expanded it to two weekends because you still can’t see everything, but one weekend isn’t even enough to see most of it.

WG: Yeah, that’s a cool show. Do you do other art shows?

DO: I do a lot of art festivals.

WG: Art festivals.

DO: I show around Austin whenever I can. I’ll do popups and group shows around here. But I’ve started doing a lot of festivals, traveling around, which is working for me right now. I really like it. I really like connecting with my collectors. I think that’s a really important relationship and I’ve been lucky to have some really really great collectors who have supported me over the last two years, and who get my love for the public places that I’m painting and who care about the preservation about those places as well. And I don’t know, there’s just kind of a nice connection that I have with those people. So I really like doing festivals and connecting directly with collectors. And I’ve gone out to Forth Worth and did some.

WG: Did you do the Main Street Festival there?

DO: Yeah, I’ve done that one two years in a row. I mean I kind of go all over the place, I’d like to start going outside of state a little bit.

DO: And then I have a lot of online following too, which has been good. I guess you have to do it all these days. You have to have media presence, then you have to do shows. It’s a good thing though, there’s a lot of opportunities I think for people to connect with artists and the internet has definitely changed things I think. It’s made it easier I think to connect with people who are interested in your work.

WG: Yeah, it would seem so. I mean, it’s made it really easy for me to connect with a lot of artists that I admire, and really quickly over the past year I just kind of have been renewing my interest in visual art I guess, and starting up this Western Gallery project and seeing where it’s going, and it’s been really fun. And all because of … I guess all through really mostly Instagram.

DO: Yeah.

WG: For the most part.

DO: Yeah, I mean I love your feed. I’m just drooling over all the photos whenever I scroll through it. It’s great, so you’re doing a great job.

WG: Oh, thanks.

DO: But yeah I mean like you said, it’s made it so easy for you to find people and accounts like yours help the artists connect with people who are doing smaller work, which I think is really cool.

WG: Yeah, it’s kind of like an example I guess of like attracting like. It’s new. Let’s see, what were we talking about? Oh, art shows. Do you have any favorites that you’ve done? Are they all, the ones you were talking about traveling to, have they all been in Texas, or around?

DO: Yeah, it’s always been in Texas. Main Street, I mean it’s notoriously one of the best in the country. I’ve done the Fiesta show in San Antonio, that’s a fun show, partly just because it’s during Fiesta, and San Antonio and a lot of fun people. And it’s not far from Austin, so it’s kind of an easy one to do for me.

DO: Yeah, if anyone is interested, if any artists are interested and doing it, it’s kind of an undertaking. You’ve gotta have the right display and you gotta get there and travel with all your work. And it is a lot of work, and I don’t know how long I’ll sustain doing it. But I kind of love it. I kind of love being on the road and hauling my art around and showing all sorts of different people and seeing the differences between cities and the people of the cities and what they’re attracted to and what they’re not. I think it’s really interesting.

WG: That’s cool. So kind of along those same lines I guess, we’re talking about favorite festivals. Do you have any favorite galleries that you like to visit in Texas or elsewhere, and/or do you have … let’s do galleries next, any favorite galleries?

DO: Oh, favorite gallery. Well, I’m from Houston originally and I love going back there … that’s not a gallery … well, the Menil Collection would probably be my favorite place to go see art, but that’s not really …

WG: I was gonna say museums next.

DO: Okay, okay, well there we go. The Menil Collection is incredible. I love pretty much all of the arts museums down in Houston. Obviously here in Austin the Blanton is an incredible place. And the Contemporary out at Laguna Gloria is, if you’re ever in Austin and you just want to go somewhere really cool, go out there.

DO: I don’t know how to answer the gallery question. I think my answer would be, my favorite thing to do is when I’m traveling to new places is to just check out the local galleries, no matter how small of a town it is. Most towns have at least one and I think it’s really fun to see, they’re usually showing local artists there. And I think it’s really cool to see the local artists in different places. Yes.

WG: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Awesome. I guess real quickly off the top of your head, can you name three influences on your work?

DO: Okay, just three.

WG: Yeah, yeah.

DO: Especially right now, one of the biggest influences is all of the vintage posters that were created as part of the Works Progress administration.

WG: I can see that, yeah.

DO: Especially with my background in graphic design, I studied those a lot and did a lot of projects with kind of an inspiration off of those in school. And my work is very graphical and somewhat geometric. And I approach, when I’m putting together flat planes of color, a lot of times I approach it very much like I would if I was getting a screen ready for a screen print. So that’s a huge inspiration for me, and then I basically take a more painterly approach.

DO: And then I say I’m incredibly influenced by Maynard Dixon. Who isn’t? His plein air work is incredible. And I would love to keep working on my plein air craft, because I’m very new to it, and it’s so difficult. But his work and the color in his work is unbelievable.

DO: And then when I go to museums, the somewhat bigger museums and stuff, I’m always attracted to the fauvists. Their use of color is almost jarring in a way. And I love it, I’m attracted to just the brightness and the color they use. I don’t know, I have a weird connection to color. When I see certain color, I just have … it’s almost like a physical reaction of I just feel somehow attracted to it. I don’t know how to put it.

WG: I don’t know if that’s weird.

DO: Okay. I say that to some people and they look at me like I’m crazy.

WG: Well yeah, I think there are people who are artists and there are people who are drawn to the arts and then there are people who can appreciate sort of the arts, and then there are people who don’t understand what they’re for.

DO: Right, right.

WG: So some people will get that and other people won’t. Well cool, that’s a nice like-

DO: That’s a really wide variety of inspiration I guess.

WG: Yeah, but all those points kind of come together to make sense with your work.

WG: Oh, I wanted you to talk about your national park residencies, and how you figured out how to do that and your experiences with … have you just done the Badlands and the-

DO: Petrified Forest.

WG: The Petrified Forest?

DO: Yeah, those are the two I’ve done.

WG: Well that’s more than most artist have done, so cool.

DO: Yeah, I did them both this year too which was kind of a lot, but it was awesome. For anyone who doesn’t know, a lot of the national parks and a few of the national monuments as well have an artist-in-residence program. It varies pretty greatly from one park to another. But they bring in artists of all disciplines to come in and work in the park and be inspired by the landscape. And there’s a long history you can go read on the national park website about artists working with parks to create awareness about the landscapes throughout the years.

DO: So yeah, I feel incredibly fortunate to have done two of them this year. In March I was up in the Badlands National Park in South Dakota, which is a little bit different landscape than what I’m used to working with, but it was a nice challenge. It was also very cold. I’m from Texas.

WG: That was kind of like the tail end of winter there, huh?

DO: Yeah, it’s very snowy. And so that was a new experience as well. It was awesome, I was up there for about four weeks.

WG: Wow that’s a long time.

DO: Yeah, it’s a long time, but it’s incredible to spend that much time in the park and get to see it from dawn til dusk every day, and see how the light changed over time, and the colors changed over time, and really getting to spend time seeing every part of the park. A lot of times I think people travel and they will spend a day or two and I’ve found that some of the most interesting parts of the parks are kind of the off the beaten path areas. So that was really awesome. That one also had an educational component where I was teaching at local schools, which was really cool. I think arts education is super important, and a lot of the rural communities out there have minimal arts programs. So that was fun to get to interact with kids and kind of teach them about art and art can be fun and you can be inspired by this beautiful place that you live near.

WG: Yeah, what age range were you working with?

DO: I did some workshops with pre-K through first which was fun and messy. And then I did a couple up through middle school. So yeah, it was fun. And then I recently in September was in Petrified Forest out in Arizona for two weeks, which was incredible. I mean, that park, it has so much there. There’s really so much there. And I think the thing I really enjoyed is, not just from an artistic perspective, is learning about all of the scientific and historical and archeological points and importance of those places. And then of course just being in the environment that you’re working with and you’re painting, there’s nothing like it. Being immersed in the place that you’re painting, there’s really nothing to compare it to. It was-

WG: Direct inspiration.

DO: Yeah, so I’d love to do more in the future. You have to kind of plan out a year in advance, so it can be a little bit difficult timing-wise. But it was truly incredible experiences, both of them.

WG: Wow, that’s really cool. And it was fun to kind of see your posts and updates about where you were hiking to or what you were seeing, and some of the paintings you were working on, or studies I guess at the time. Kind of see it all happening on your Instagram feed, which was cool.

DO: Yeah, that was my connection to the real world, was all my Instagram updates.

WG: Right.

DO: No TV or internet really, so I was using my data on my Instagram. But yeah, that was awesome. It was awesome to basically just take a break from my normal life and do something different for two weeks. An interesting experience.

WG: Do you see … and maybe I don’t remember, but do you see a body of work coming out from these different residencies?

DO: Yeah, definitely. And something I’m working on for next year, or at least I’m starting to goal set for 2019. I’d really like to work with a single location for a few months at a time. Which that’s something in the past I have. I’ve worked really solidly with Big Bend, and I was working with the same colors, and then I would work with Zion and kind of do a different collection of work. And then this year I feel like I’ve just kind of been all over the place. So, next year I’d really like to create a body of work from the Badlands, and really work with the landscape there. I just think when you’re working with the same location over and over again, altogether it kind of helps … each painting kind of influences the next one.

WG: Right.

DO: So yeah, I’d like to do Badlands and Petrified Forest, and then the Sedona area, kind of release collections of work at a time. That’s kind of where I’m heading, at least in the near future.

WG: Yeah, I mean I could see you doing that and then having a solo exhibit for each collection.

DO: Yeah, that’s sort of the ideal goal that I’m working towards, yeah.

WG: Well, very cool. Switching from handwritten notes to computer notes. Yeah. That I closed while I was restarting. Here we go.

WG: So would you consider yourself … I mean I guess you have your training in graphic design, but as far as painting is concerned, do you have any formal training with any painting or are you more just exploring and figuring it out?

DO: Yeah, some combination of the two. I was able to take some painting courses in school, but I didn’t complete a full bachelor of arts in painting or anything. So a lot of my work is just exploratory. I’m partially self-taught, so some sort of combination of some technical training and then just working in my own studio and figuring things out on my own.

WG: Gotcha. Next random question, do you listen to any music while you paint usually?

DO: I do. I used to listen to podcasts, but then I would just find myself getting way too enthralled in whatever the podcast was talking about. And it was like, what am I even painting right now? So I listen to music now. Let’s see, I listen to all sorts. I listen to a wide variety of stuff. Right now I’m listening to a lot of Christmas music because I’m one of those crazy people. And I’m also getting ready for some Christmas shows so I’m just trying to get pumped up for it.

WG: Yeah.

DO: But I listen to some country music.

WG: Like pop country?

DO: No, like George Strait.

WG: Okay. Gotcha okay. Good country.

DO: The good stuff. Yeah sometimes I’ll just go on, like I’ll listen to George Strait all day.

WG: Awesome.

DO: And then I’ll be tired of that and I’ll listen to I don’t know, Michael Buble. Very different things.

WG: Okay. So whatever mood you’re in?

DO: Yeah. Sometimes I wonder if it influences what I’m working on.

WG: That was what I was gonna ask too, is if you’ve noticed if it-

DO: I think it does. If I’m listening to something pretty mellow, my painting is pretty mellow. I’m working on. But I don’t know if I’m listening to something really upbeat and fun, I don’t know. I feel like it probably does influence it.

WG: That’s interesting. Figure that out over the coming years and you can just use it as a tool.

DO: Yeah.

WG: That might ruin it though. All right, jumping backwards. You mentioned you were setting goals for 2019, I guess that’s the year we’re about to be in. Do you set longer-term goals too, or do you just kind of think “what’s next year gonna be?”

DO: I usually do have longer-term goals. I’m sort of at a point where I set a bunch of goals at the beginning of starting out and I’ve kind of gotten to the end of those. And so I’m at a place-

WG: Congratulations!

DO: Yes, well I guess yeah. So I’m kind of at a place where I’m trying to decide where I’m going long-term. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, actually now that you mention it. And I don’t know, I’m still trying to figure out kind of going back to that how commercial am I getting with my work? What is my long term goal? The other day I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, am I gonna be painting Western landscapes when I’m like, 60? Am I gonna be doing this forever and ever?” And I think so. I think that’s what I want to do, but I’m not gonna be painting … it’s gonna be different. So I’ve been recently thinking about what does that look like, how does that progression go. I don’t know.

WG: That’s interesting to think about and try and really sort of define how you hope to … or how you will evolve your style.

DO: Yeah, and I’m sure it will be completely different from whatever I plan.

WG: Sure but I think thinking about it and figuring out how to give yourself space to do that is really smart.

DO: Yeah. I suppose.

WG: Because I think a lot of people that probably just happens naturally, like they get more detailed, or they start to abstract things more, or pick out pieces of what they’re doing that they like the most and kind of emphasize that. And the progression can happen naturally, but if you say, give yourself some time to just completely explore, then maybe you find something you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

DO: Totally, yeah. Well, that is a good point because I feel like my work has changed a lot over the past four years. It happened very naturally. I have a much more painterly style. I used to have some really geometric, flat plane work. And that has happened very naturally, and I think because of that, I’m having that realization and that’s sort of where I’m sitting down and saying, “Where am I going from here?” And make it a little bit more of a conscious effort instead of quite so natural. I don’t wanna kind of go off on a tangent anywhere, but yeah, creating blocks of time to just kind of create and do something fun.

DO: When I was in Petrified Forest actually, I was able to have that. I was able to take a day and say, “I’m gonna go do something different. I’m gonna use my weird and not at all what I normally do.” And I did these weird little gouache illustrations that were nothing like my other work but they were really fun, and they’re very geometric, kind of like my older work. And I don’t know, I think that somewhere in the way that’s gonna kind of come back into my more serious, well “serious” in quotations, work.

DO: So yeah, I don’t know. I think artists are constantly having to come up with ways to re-inject that creativity and kind of that childlike playfulness of just having fun with it instead of getting bogged down with deadlines and upcoming shows.

WG: Yeah, I think that’s so important to keep an element of playfulness in it and for art to not be too serious.

DO: And continue, and I think there’s totally a place for super serious art and it’s really important culturally, but I think you always have to not … I don’t know, I think it’s really important not to take yourself too seriously.

WG: Right. Yeah, back to your process and how you work. Do you have any … I’ve been asking people, do they have any favorite brushes or like a secret weapon you use?

DO: I buy all my brushes at Michael’s.

WG: That’s cool.

DO: And I feel like that’s not a normal place to go buy my fine art brushes, but I love them.

WG: Actually I was looking at … I saw them …

DO: Yeah, the green ones back there.

WG: And I was like, “oh yeah, the green Michael’s brushes.”

DO: Yeah, yeah. I like them, they’re real stiff and I don’t know, it’s great. I definitely have a specific color palette that I work with and it’s really limited. I usually only work with five colors, and that’s helped me because color’s such an important part of my work.

WG: Does that include neutrals?

DO: So I work with a white, a titanium white, a pretty warm red, and a cooler red, a pretty medium yellow, and a blue. And then depending on a piece, I’ll add in some greens, which is mostly just so that I’m not constantly mixing. But I do a lot of color mixing. I try to work with the same colors every time because I have found that I really understand my palette that way. Does that make sense?

WG: Yeah, and how they work together …

DO: How they work together. That’s probably the most unique thing that I have. I don’t have like a secret weapon or anything. Nothing cool that I have hidden.

WG: It sounds like maybe it’s your palette.

DO: Maybe.

WG: Maybe your palette and then maybe your super bright underpainting. Here’s a really detailed question. When you’re mixing your acrylic from your limited palette, how much paint do you mix up?

DO: Oh, that’s a good question. So-

WG: Because sometimes, you get a certain color and then you have to end up coming back to match it, or-

DO: Right, especially with acrylics.

WG: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

DO: And it’s really hard to match an acrylic after it’s really dry because it’s a lot darker than when you first put it on. So, it depends. A lot of times I buy these little plastic to-go cups at a restaurant supply company.

WG: Oh that’s smart. Yeah.

DO: They’re like those small, dip … I don’t know, they’re about like five inches across, and I’ll pretty much fill that with a color.

WG: Okay.

DO: Especially if I’m doing like a sky color, or a big … if there’s a huge amount of color on the ground, on the foreground of a painting, I want to make sure I can always come back to that color. So I like to have certain ones that are mixed up and I know I’m not gonna run out throughout the end of the painting.

WG: So do you put a cap on there?

DO: Yeah, I put a cap on it and you’d be surprised. I know everyone hates acrylics because they dry so fast. But if you keep them covered, if you keep them sealed up, they will last at least a week. Sometimes longer. And I like my paint kind of gooey, so it doesn’t bother me if it gets a little gooier over time.

WG: Gotcha.

DO: But for the most part, I just mix a little bit at a time. If I’m working with oils, it’s a different story, obviously. But because I work mostly with acrylics, I’m not gonna pretend that I know what I’m doing on the oil side of things.

WG: Okay. So do you feel like less … or do you just feel more competent with acrylic? Or is it just like a choice on how the medium works?

DO: Yeah, it’s a combination of both. I definitely feel more confident with acrylics, but I think that’s just because I’ve used them more. I don’t like working with oils. I feel inhibited when I’m working with them because of the drying time. I really like working as fast as I do. And I don’t know, I have a preference for acrylics and I know that’s fairly unusual. Most artist who switch over to oils never go back. And I’m not saying I will never work predominantly with oils at some point. But I really like the process of working with acrylics a lot better. And I think I’ve found ways to overcome some of the negative sides of acrylics, such as figuring out a way to save a certain color of paint. Yep, it’s more just a personal preference I guess.

WG: Cool. All right, well we may have touched on this a little bit when we were talking about goals or whatever, but what’s next for you?

DO: Well yeah, we kind of touched on it. Yeah, I guess for me I’m really hoping at the end of the year I’m gonna sit down and kind of really think through what my longer-term goals are. I think that’s gonna help direct what I’m doing next. And next year I really do hope to have more of a release of a collection at a time from the same location. And I’d like to be producing more work than I am, which is again, a time management thing. To touch back to that.

WG: Yes.

DO: But I also really like the little paintings that I’m doing. I really like these little mini … and I just started doing them. Like a month ago, and I’d like to explore that some more. I don’t know. I feel like I have several avenues that I’ve kind of started getting comfortable with and I’d like to just pursue all of them and kind of see where they take me.

WG: Cool. Well, sounds good. Another question just popped into my head that’s completely unrelated to the last one, but … so what service do you use to power your website?

DO: I use Wix.

WG: You use Wix? Wow.

DO: Yes.

WG: For the shop part and everything?

DO: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

WG: Interesting.

DO: And I have been told that that is not a smart thing to do, but I love it because I’m a visual designer, it’s basically like working in Illustrator, Adobe Illustrator.

WG: That’s great.

DO: And I like to make a website look exactly like I want it to, and I’ve had great experience with processing orders online.

WG: Awesome.

DO: And I used to run on WordPress, and since I switched, this is … sorry, I’m not trying to plug Wix or anything but-

WG: No, it’s okay I do web design and development, so …

DO: Yeah, once I switched to Wix I have had so much more traffic on my site.

WG: Really?

DO: Which is … I’ve been told is not normal, so I don’t know why that’s the case. But that has been my personal experience, maybe I’m just really terrible at using WordPress.

WG: When was that that you switched.

DO: Last year, about a year ago.

WG: Huh. Interesting.

DO: Yeah.

WG: Did you do anything else? Did you start writing your blog-ish thing then or?

DO: No, I actually had to copy over all my blog posts, which was not the most endurable process.

WG: Right.

DO: I won’t ever do that again. I was posting probably more on my blog when I was using WordPress.

WG: I wonder if you WordPress just had like bad SEO or something.

DO: It probably did. It probably did because I’d had it for a long time and hadn’t probably updated it from that side of things in awhile. I don’t know.

WG: Very interesting. All right. Well, Danika think you so much for chatting today.

DO: Yeah, thanks so much.

WG: I won’t keep you here all day. It’s been really fun, really interesting to talk to you and to learn about your process and all that. And I wish you the best.

DO: Well thank you so much, I’m looking forward to hearing what all the other artists you’re interviewing have to say.

WG: Well, great yeah. I’m looking forward to publishing that. And I’ll let you know when yours is coming up.

DO: Okay, awesome.

WG: All right.

DO: Thank you.

WG: Thank you, talk to you later.

DO: Yeah, keep in touch.

WG: All right. Bye bye.

DO: Bye.

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