As it is back to school time and I wanted to ask Danelle about her experiences in school, after and what she hopes the future holds in store for her. Danelle has an upcoming workshop in March at the Deckle Edge for anyone who would like to start learning how to paint with watercolours. >> Book Now

1. What type of artist are you and what is your preferred medium to use?

I am a multi disciplinary artist, but at the moment I am very into watercolour, ink and from time to time pencils and gouache or poster paint. I like to not be tied down by a single descriptor, since my creative vision, energy and focus will continue to evolve throughout my life. Having range is good!

2. What was your favourite subject in school and why?

I was a bit of an outcast at school, but I really got the chance to shine and feel competent and confident in English first language HG, Design and Art. I enjoyed all of those quite a lot. It helps that I had good teachers.

3. Was there any particular teacher that inspired you to pursue art?

I had the privilege of being taught high school art both by Barbara Wildenboer as well as Alex Emsley, both of which are successful and prolific artists. In fact, Barbara Wildenboer was also my first year photography lecturer at Michaelis a few years after I matriculated. She’s awesome!

4. Where and what did you study after school?

After some soul searching, a few years learning reflexology and meridian therapy, until eventually realising I can’t keep running from art forever. I went to study fine art at Michaelis in 2007 and graduated with my BaFA in 2010.

5. What tips can you give other students to help them be more successful in their creative studies?

Do what is required of you but don’t be afraid to experiment. Discuss project ideas with your teacher and classmates. Practice is excellent for skill building, and no time spent making art is wasted, even if you are not satisfied with the final product. That still counts as developing your skills. Don’t be afraid to be a little ridiculous either.

6. How did these studies help you in pursuing your career and what tips can you give students that could help them once their studies are over.

I think it is important to note that even if you take up a different career for more financial security, you can still make art, and it still makes you an artist.

Once you have the short term goal out of the way of passing your high school art class, you can really dive into what makes your work unique. High school art is more about learning basic techniques and honing your eye.

I’m going to tell you something important I feel that all school kids should know: Art teachers who tell you that manga, cartoons or video game art isn’t “real art”, are wrong. These are all highly specialised fields of art and each requires many years of dedicated, hard work to make it.

The thing you need to ask yourself is, “what do I want to be able to do?” and then find ways to learn how to do the work to reach that goal. For example, if you want to work in animation, find and follow animators on social media, learn from their work, and listen to them when they talk about the industry and what it involves. Follow diverse creators, not just the most popular ones. Watch videos, learn the relevant software and make animations, even if they are crappy.

If you want to become any specific kind of artist, the best you can do is to look up and research people who are already in the industry and learn from the things they say and do. If you just want to be a generalist artist, follow your heart, and chase after challenges that will teach you new things, new skillsets, new ways of looking at the world, etc. Draw what you enjoy drawing, paint what you enjoy painting, even if it is incredibly weird. ESPECIALLY if it is incredibly weird! Your niche audience is out there, desperately wishing someone would make the very specific kind of weird work that you are making.

One thing I feel that I have to mention is around the debate that pops up from time to time regarding art school. You DO NOT need to go to art school to be a successful artist. There are a LOT of resources both paid and free available online to help you learn and develop your skills. HOWEVER: Going to art school puts you in a kind of distilled learning environment. You have studio mates, lecturers and tutors, all of which are valuable sources of critique, education and more, and a studio space in which to work. You need to understand that by the time you get to a tertiary art school, they will not teach you how to paint, draw or sculpt. They expect that you know these things already. They will most likely be able to teach you about new materials, like how to make a plaster cast, or how to use photoshop, or how to do resin casts. But all of this will be built on the assumption that you are already able to “make” art. Don’t go to art school to learn to draw and paint, you will most likely be disappointed. What art school teaches you is how to observe, how to analyse, how to communicate complex concepts both visually and in words, and how to be more aware both of the world around you and your potential role in it. I credit art school with really opening my mind to the world and to really *look* and to be critical in a healthy way. It may not be the ideal fit for you, but I found it very valuable in terms of learning more about myself, more about art as a discipline, and about the social responsibility that artists bear to hold up a mirror to the world. And remember, the peers who study with you are often your most valuable contacts in the art community.

If you do decide that you want to go to art school, before choosing, research the curriculum and the lecturers. I think it’s important that whoever is going to be teaching you has experience in working as an artist in the specific field you want to enter. I really appreciated being able to learn from people who have been in the trenches, so to speak. It’s also worth looking at what former students are up to now. Are many of them practicing the things you want to do? Did art school adequately prepare them for the working world?

A final tip: don’t scoff at drawing from life, because that teaches you a lot more about observation than copying a photo. 

Good luck!

7. You have hosted numerous successful watercolour workshops at the Deckle Edge, what was the journey from student to teacher?

Honestly, for the type of classes that I do, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought. I am actually quite shy to talk in front of people and so being in the spotlight and being observed and listened to was a bit terrifying at first, but I have realised that I am so passionate about watercolour, and showing people all the amazing things it can do, that I forget that people are watching me sometimes and I just speak from the heart. The most important thing to me about my classes is that people have fun and get excited about what is happening on the paper in front of them. 9 times out of 10, they do, and it’s wonderful! I feel very fulfilled when I manage to get someone as excited about the medium as I am. I actually saw my final year painting lecturer in Deckle Edge one time when doing a class. I told her I was there teaching and she simply said, “It’s fun, right?” And I replied, “SO much fun!” >>See events page for upcoming workshops.

8. What inspires you and what are your plans for the future?

What inspires me most is nature, animals, and humour. Often I will make silly, irreverent work simply to delight myself or someone I am close to, and it’s wonderful! I love creating pictures of organic things, specifically animals, plants, weather, and other things from nature. I am not really into drawing or painting humans that much.

As for my plans for the future: The past few years, I have had to slow down my creative output a lot due to neural issues which affect my neck and hand. This is one of the reasons why I returned to watercolour, because you can work with quite a light hand and still get beautiful results.

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, I would love to learn how to work with porcelain. I want to learn how to do sculpting and slip casting in this tricky medium, which I find just as beautiful and ranged as watercolour. I just need to find the right teacher. We shall see! 🙂

We hope you liked this interview. Leave a comment below if you would like more content like this or if there is another topic you would like us to talk about.

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