I can’t quite remember how I first discovered Katie Daniels. It could have been while I was perusing Instagram, but that seems a bit too lucky. However it happened, the result was me, taking a dive deep into a rabbit role of pure awe as my fingers scrolled through the colorful brush strokes. This went on until I stopped on a piece filled with bright and unique color choices to represent the trunks and leaves of the trees. It was magic – and since then, I’ve always thought of Daniels’ work whenever I view a landscape painting.
It was a natural choice to include Daniels in our first issue when our team decided to cover sustainability. She captures the elements of the Earth in a way that’s unforgettable. And as our society faces environmental crisis on a global spectrum, it takes work like hers to remind us of the need to continue to fight for it until we see change.
We have been following you and your work for some time, but for those who may not know you, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I’m a landscape painter and I predominantly work with oil paint. I majored in Creative Arts at university, but I actually learned how to paint in oil paints by taking after-school still life classes during my preteens and teens. I’m originally from the Illawarra in New South Wales but I moved to Melbourne 11 years ago. I live with my fiancé and our two dogs in the outer suburbs.
What ultimately made you decide to study art?
I’ve always been drawing and painting ever since I was very young. Being preoccupied with making art is my one enduring habit, the one pastime I always loved (aside from reading). As I got older I began to conceptualise an intention to become an artist but even when I was studying at university I don’t know that I had any solid frame work about what that would look like.
Take us through your journey to becoming a landscape painter.
I had wanted to paint landscapes for some time before making my first attempts. Initially I didn’t have the conviction that I would be very good at it, in the sense that I wasn’t sure I would have a stylistic approach that would be interesting visually, or that I would have the technical skill to realize the images I had in my head. It also took me some time to discover the tropes or subjects within landscape that most appealed to me. Linear depiction is less of an interest to me than moving the viewer through the landscape for example. I think envisioning landscape as doorways was initially what hooked me in – what’s down the path, what’s round the bend, where does the river go, etc. And after my first few more abstract forays I was able to move from figurative work to landscape with growing enthusiasm and confidence.
“I’m most PROUD that I didn’t give up on MY DREAM of being a professional ARTIST when I didn’t have AN AUDIENCE, or when I didn’t really have A SUBJECT, but I would just DREAM of the WORK I wanted to be MAKING.”
When you put yourself into your “creative place”, what does that look like for you? What’s your process, what is the space like, how long does it take?
Occasionally I paint still life paintings of flowers or a self My studio is in my living room. In essence it is makeshift and has a semi collapsable quality, but this has become something I’m especially grateful for! Having a studio at home meant I could continue working all the way through the pandemic and multiple lockdowns here in Melbourne. When I come to paint I have a long meandering playlist of music that I will pop on, and usually I skip through songs until I find the ‘right’ tone for the mood I’m feeling, or rather that I’m trying to activate in the work. Music is a really delightful access point for me creatively. Initially there can be a lot of false starts whilst I flip through photos of source imagery trying to find the one that wants to work for me at that time. Initial attempts are usually ruthlessly scrubbed back, even if I like a small part of what I’ve made I can’t keep it to sacrifice the whole painting. So if I feel ambivalent about anything I get rid of it and start again. Being in flow is a wonderful feeling but it takes a while to achieve, but once I’m in it I can be working for several hours at a time.
Outside of landscapes, what else do you enjoy painting?
Occasionally I paint still life paintings of flowers or a self portrait, but really I think I am consistently engaged with landscape in a way that it always feels new and fresh to me. Outside of painting I’ve recently returned to making drawings which was my first medium and first artistic love.
We first fell in love with your work because of your unique color palettes. How do you decide on colors and how important are those decisions when it comes to creating a Katie Daniels piece?
I love color! Color is always a central concern for me in my work, because of its ability to convey mood, and the effect that color has on us visually, how different colors interplay and speak with each other. There are colors in my work now that I have been obsessed with and have used consistently in strong ways for over 10 years, such as Magenta, Prussian and Ultramarine Blue. I usually find a certain color obsession will feed from my art into my life and then back again. Sometimes I intend a certain color palette for a painting only to have it not work, and something else intuitively develop instead, which is wonderful and I enjoy being surprised by new combinations and variations.
What has been the most challenging part about being an artist today?
There’s so many ways to answer this question, so for ease I’ll frame it in terms of my experience of committing to my own creativity. In my experience it takes a lot of dogged determination to pursue being an artist, and an unwillingness to give up. I know now to expect doubt as a natural part of the process, but when I was younger and when I was making work I wasn’t happy with, or that wasn’t working as I wanted it to, it did eat away at my self confidence. For myself, I’ve found it has been important to avoid comparison of my work with that of others, and my success with that of others, as much as possible. I’ve also grown to respect my periods of non-production as part of the rhythm of being a creative person. All things in their time.
“I create my paintings and artworks with the intention that they will be received as personal mementos and gestures of appreciation and honor for the landscape and our environment.”
What are your greatest sources of inspiration?
There are certain landscapes that I come back to a lot in my work because they were environments of great emotional resonance and hold significant importance to me personally. For example; one tiny corner of the Pappinbarra River in New South Wales, the stretch of Merri Creek that I lived near to for a few years. Several hiking and walking trails in Tasmania that I was incredibly moved by… Being in nature is very restorative and inspiring even if no source imagery comes out of the experience.
What are you most proud of thus far?
On a personal level I find I’m most proud that I didn’t give up on my dream of being a professional artist when I didn’t have an audience, or when I didn’t really have a subject, but I would just dream of the work I wanted to be making. I didn’t go straight from university to being a professional working artist, it was actually several years before I really was able to finally feel confident, and to dedicate myself to my truth that there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do with my time. So even through periods when I didn’t necessarily believe in myself I kept sticking with the idea that all the hours I had put into making work, and of holding on to the dream must mean something. I was simply seeking the right way through. In terms of outward success, when I was made a finalist in the Wynne Prize in 2018, it anchored something in me that everything, all of my wrestling with uncertainty and self doubt, had been worthwhile. It was hugely emotional for me and an honor to be included. Ultimately it was so encouraging for my continued progress and it made a huge difference to my outlook of what it might be possible for me to achieve as an artist.
Where is your favorite place to travel?
There are lots of patches of wilderness around Melbourne that I love to go on day trips when possible, and recently – in between lock downs – my fiancé and I visited the Blue Mountains in NSW for the first time which was wonderful. I’ve been lucky enough to go to Paris and different regions of France a few times and I truly loved it so much. Also Italy is just extraordinarily beautiful.
What about your paintings make them distinctively yours?
I honestly don’t know how to answer this question. Visually I think the colours that I choose to use in my works do have a consistency to them, so there is the palette of my works for sure. I also think when I look at a successfully resolved painting that I have made I feel there’s a real sense of joy or an emotional quality to them. So maybe it’s that feeling that is my strongest intention for my work. My intention is to create beautiful visual records of nature and emotional experience; they’re my offerings of appreciation for the natural world.
What do you consider your purpose to be as a creator?
I feel it can be easy sometimes to consider ‘what is the point of making art?’ Especially in light of world events, climate change, the pandemic, etc. There is so much to respond to and take in… Where does art fit within, and how can it help or what does it add? For myself within my own practice I do tend to continually come back to the idea that offering joy is no small feat, and making something for myself and others that has the potential to provide space for contemplation, emotional response and joy is a worthwhile pursuit. In my work I aim to transmute personal inarticulate and/or complicated feelings across a threshold and create something of beauty and appreciation. I am concerned with conveying (those mostly fleeting) feelings of joy, hope, harmony, and gratitude; of providing respite to the viewer and of making visual record of what I see, and what I feel in the presence of nature. All of my pieces share the thread of delighting in the wonder of being here and a desire to share that delight with others. I create my paintings and artworks with the intention that they will be received as personal mementos and gestures of appreciation and honor for the landscape and our environment. I trust that collectively these are feelings we all share.