Danielle Daniel, a mixed media artist and writer based in northern Ontario, portrays the spirit of her Métis background and story telling through her art. Her representational and whimsical paintings have appeared in various group and solo exhibits, and in magazines like Somerset Sew, Somerset Apprentice, Artful Blogging and Simplified Living.
Danielle is currently writing a collection of personal essays: 100 little losses. This week she is re-opening her Etsy shop, where she sells art dolls, stitched art and original paintings. I wanted to find out more about the woman behind the art.
You used to be a teacher, how long ago did you leave teaching?
I officially left full-time teaching in 2005, however I taught several English classes at our local College and art therapy at Huntington University since then. I haven’t been in a classroom for over a year now, but I believe I still teach – just not in a conventional sense.
I had a hard time letting go of my identity as a teacher. It was such an ‘acceptable’ way to make a living. I also felt lost without a community. It took me a while to tell people I met that ‘I was an artist.’ I think it’s because I was still trying to believe it myself.
I have since grown into my new self as a multi-media artist and writer. I am finally comfortable with it and believe, without a doubt, that I am supposed to do this work. What I have learned in the last few years is that being an artist is a very lonely profession and you are lucky if you can work and live among your tribe. Also, sometimes this way of life chooses you and it becomes too painful not to do it—it is a calling and after 35 years, I have completely surrendered to it.
Can you tell me about your First Nation heritage, and how it influences your art?
I’m Métis: French + Algonkin. I’m probably the first generation in my family in almost 400 years who not only admits this, but celebrates this identity. I’m raising my son Owen to honour this part of him as well.
I always felt a connection to the Aboriginal culture growing up, but it wasn’t until I saw the proof on paper that I was finally able to wholeheartedly embrace this part of me. This genealogical trail has opened up a whole new world for me.
Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out what being Métis means for me, as a Canadian woman. Because the truth is, it’s complicated. Painting is a way for me to ask questions about this identity and start a dialogue. When I paint these feminine faces, I feel a connection to the past and all of the women before me. I believe that art can help bridge the gap between the past and the present and the divide between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.
How would you describe your style, and how has it evolved?
My style is always evolving. It develops much faster on the inside than on the canvas. I feel like I’m always trying to get caught up and paint what I see in my dreams, or the images that befriend me as I awake in the night or in the morning. In the beginning, I painted what was on the surface. I now go deeper within the layers of storytelling. I would describe my style as representational mixed-media. What has remained constant is the perpetual interpretation of the feminine.
Who inspires you?
I’m inspired by people who share their stories; those who tell the truth, those who take chances and show their vulnerability. Real people who are engaged with the world and stand up for what they believe in. People who express equal amounts of strength and grace.
What is your studio like?
My studio is my oasis. Light aqua blue walls flooded by beautiful morning light. Art purchased from friends covers most of the walls. I have a really hard time living with my own art. I think it’s because I’m always growing. It’s like looking at your high school picture as you paint… hello painful! Art books, art magazines, and old library books purchased for 10 cents apiece stock my shelves. My numerous art supplies are in plain sight on my tables. I love seeing them—they beckon me.
I’m a very messy worker. I do the same thing in the kitchen, taking out every pot as I cook. It drives my husband nuts but what can I say, it’s my process. Once I’m out of the zone, I take some time to tidy up the studio again and line my tables with clean white paper. And then, I go again.
How much, or how little, do you feel your art is influenced by the environment you live and work in?
I was born and raised in Sudbury and left for fourteen years. After my husband suffered a serious accident we decided to move back to the North to be closer to family. Northern Ontario is a challenging place to make a living as a painter and it’s extremely isolating as a creative. However, this mining town beats within my heart whether I like it or not. I do believe there are stories here that only I can tell. The rock, the water, and the people are very much part of my core and I have no doubt that this environment is the very thing that helps to make my work different.
What type of things do you write?
Right now I am working on a collection of personal essays that tell the truth about what military life is really like for Canadian families today. I’m writing a collection of twelve stories that deal with loss. It’s our story; the one where my husband comes home from Afghanistan, his fourth deployment overseas without a scratch only to become paraplegic on home turf. It’s about what happens before, during and after. It’s about 100 little losses. It’s about the truth— the ugly broken beauty of it all.
How much of your focus is on writing vs. painting?
2012 has been focused primarily on my painting. I had commitments to fulfill for two solo art shows. But the rest of 2012 and 2013 will be mostly about my writing. I am committed to finishing this book and setting it free. Art will now come second.
Does your art influence your writing, or vice versa?
Maybe. My art is more like the light within my heart. It’s the good stuff. My writing is the darkness. It’s where I try to make sense of the messy bits. Right now I still need both art forms in my life. That may change in the future. Or it might not.
You are just re-launching your Etsy shop, what kind of things will people find there?
Yes. After a four-month hiatus I’m re-opening the doors! There you will find new art dolls made with clay, free-motion-stitched faces and art quilts, original paintings and prints. I guarantee my heart lies within each piece.
What is your favourite thing about being a full time artist?
Can I share more than one? Being home when my son Owen gets off the bus, listening to CBC all day while I work, taking afternoon walks in the woods, not having to deal with gossip in the workplace and creating work that is filled with story and purpose.
Sounds pretty great to me. Thanks, Danielle, it was a pleasure to get to know a little more about you!
All images courtesy of Danielle Daniel.