Just as there are layers in life, there are layers in Dayna Collins’ art, making some elements obvious and others the almost-hidden gem worth digging for. Dayna never met a color (or discarded treasure) she didn’t like, and she mixes, blends, applies and removes layers to tell a story that will be different for each viewer.
How did you get started making art? Why do you do it?
I’ve always been a creative person with an inquisitive nature, but my art story begins 21 years ago when I entered residential treatment for my alcoholism. I was so changed by the experience of recovery that I went back to school and became a drug and alcohol counselor.
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About five years into my recovery, I took a 12-week course on The Artist’s Way, a book on creative recovery written by Julia Cameron. What a life changing course this turned out to be. I had owned the book for several years, but could never stick with the various tasks involved with reading the book. So I signed up for the class, drove an hour to and from Portland each week and, under the tutelage of Gretchin Lair, gathered with a small group of women. I religiously and enthusiastically did all of the work, but in addition to discussing what we had done each week, Gretchin had us do an art project.
I was introduced to blind contour drawing, collage, oil pastels, clay . . . . each week was a surprise that excited me in way I had never experienced. After the 12 weeks concluded, I started taking any and all art classes and workshops I could find. And with Gretchin’s blessing, I began offering my own version of The Artist’s Way creative workshops in Salem to help others find their own creativity.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
My dad came from a large family of theatrical, charismatic evangelical preachers. He was also a union man who printed on cans for a living and had a wonderfully creative and playful mind. He improved the printing process at work, built a beach house, played Barbie’s with my sister and me. And he loved to antagonize us by violating our play rules, all traits I inherited.
I expressed my creativity in my play with friends and in high school through the drama department, and later in my early family life through home decorating, cooking, and raising our three children.
The process of The Artist’s Way solidified my identity as an artist. As I began taking classes, and somewhat narrowing down the mediums I wanted to explore in depth, it became clear that this is what I was called to do.
What inspires you to create?
My outlook on art and creativity is eclectic by nature.
I can look at water running beside the hull of a boat and see a painting; I pick up rusted bits of metal, bottle caps and other ephemera from the ground or dumpsters (yes, dumpsters) and visualize their use in collage or assemblage pieces.
Old photos of unknown ordinary people excite me for their potential at a new life in my collages. And I see old worn out marked up books as a means to resurrect them from the landfill. Old cans, odd pieces of machinery, old metal toys, all are elements to be cut, bent and reassembled into something new.
Expansive and unlimited possibilities inspire me along with the knowledge that there are no mistakes, only problems to solve and solutions to discover. I use art as a personal expression of emotions through the materials I use.
I love the freedom of abstracting what I see, to give something my interpretation, whether it is through color, composition, found materials, or marks.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I’m very much a planner and organizer . . . until I get started, then all hell breaks loose. Before starting on a project, I get myself ready: tidy my studio, buy whatever supplies I anticipate needing, gather images, jot down ideas. (Sometimes this becomes an exercise in procrastination, which is the downside of so much preparation.)
But once I start, I work fast, and ask myself “What if I do this?” and remind myself if I mess it up, “It’s just a layer.” Working in this way propels me forward.
What different creative media do you use in your work? Does something tell you which medium will best express your voice at a given time? What triggers the evolution to new media/kinds of work/ways of working?
I have boiled down my work to three types of media: abstract painting, collage, and assemblage/found object art.
My basement houses all of the collage and assemblage materials. They are in organized shelves and drawers, with work tables for laying out pieces for audition and composition. With my washer and dryer in the basement, I often get sidetracked working on a collage or assemblage piece while throwing in a load of laundry.
My painting studio is a vaulted, airy 12×21 foot room on the second floor of our 1924 Central Salem home. It’s across the hall from our bedroom, so I have quick easy access to paint when painting calls me.
There are times when I am particularly active in all areas at once. But I find generally that my best work comes when I calm down my eclectic impulses and focus on one form of art at a time.
I miss creating if I get too busy in my other life, so inactivity in art breeds a call to work. Having a deadline, such as my latest show, spurs me into action as well. Sometimes a topic such as memories of family, nature, political events, will ignite ideas for a new series.
Scheduling, protecting, and following through on daily art exercises lead me to new insights, new discoveries of colors, composition and methods, and energize me to create fresh pieces. The discipline of creating some art, of whatever kind, each day has proven to be a consistent motivator for me, as difficult as it is to sustain the discipline of doing something each day.
Are there recurring themes in your work? Do you do series work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
I definitely work in a series, exploring a topic or a process. Some themes are ongoing, especially the sense of history and being on a continual archaeological dig.
I consistently work in layers, one layer informing the next, excavating through sanding or scraping, revealing bits of an earlier layer, never knowing exactly what to expect. This theme is especially apparent in my paintings, where my process involves prepping a cradled wood panel with acrylic paint, applying a layer of plaster, sanding it just a bit, sealing the plaster with acrylic, and then adding layers of oil paint mixed with cold wax.
The other recurrent series is in my collage work, which I have dubbed Salvage Collage. I create these collages using the bits and pieces from discarded and disintegrating old books. I rip them apart and salvage the book boards, linen covers, pages, glued bindings, and whatever random scraps that can be gleaned. These pieces are then reassembled into collages on book boards.
I also collect discarded black and white photos of strangers; images from these photos often find their way into my Salvage Collages. These pieces reflect the passage of time, repurposing the scraps that are worn and weathered, transforming the aged and tattered pieces into something unexpected and beautiful, celebrating their fragile decay.
Tell us about a challenging project. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
A recent challenge was making a pitch to my gallery in Astoria, Oregon, for a solo show in 2021. I talked to the gallery owner in the fall; the only month she had available (due to an artist needing to cancel) was January. That only gave me about three months to do multiple pieces for an entire show. I swallowed hard, thought about it for about five minutes, and seized the opportunity.
The timing of the show gave me the theme, “Emotional Alignments,” an emotional response to the tumultuous events of 2020: the pandemic, political turmoil, wildfires, and multiple family traumas.
How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work?
I have a mental checklist I go through when I feel a piece is nearing completion. Is there enough contrast in values, are my corners different and interesting, have I created interest with colors that pop? And probably the most important question is “Does this piece cause my breath to catch or to startle me”. If the answer to this question is no, then the piece is definitely not finished.
Tell us about your studios. How does their organization contribute to your work process?
About every 9-12 months I reorganize my studio. I eliminate things that get in the way or make it feel cluttered.
For example, I had a bookcase full of books which I infrequently used, but which occupied valuable wall space. By removing it, I began a complete clean out of my studio, creating wall space to hang works in progress. I removed a door that swung inside. Then I had my husband build me a portable wall, and installed a simple hanging system on the walls.
I felt liberated with room to move and the ability to look at many pieces at the same time. My studio sessions increased because I had the luxury of more room. I released myself to examine everything in the studio. Then I could eliminate items that once were decorative or essential, but were no longer useful.
What are the indispensable tools and material in your studios? How do they improve your work?
In painting, I use putty knives, palette knives, ice picks, awls, sandpaper, and steel wool to apply and remove paint. (I rarely use brushes). These tools apply and reveal texture, expose underlying layers and create depth and dynamic movement in the piece.
The tools of collage and assemblage are completely different. They consist of found objects, rusty metal, reclaimed wood, disintegrating books, scavenged ephemera, discarded photographs, old screws, nails, screw drivers, hammers, drills, punches and the ever present and always useful E 6000 adhesive.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for studio use?
Hardware stores are my art store! I use putty knives, sheet rock tools, trowels, paint guides, sanding blocks, and joint compound regularly in my paintings. I never used to go to hardware stores with my husband, but now I’m in the car before he is.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I usually have three journals going at a time.
I have a work journal where I write down intentions for my day in the studio and record ideas, titles for pieces, color palettes, quotes, and brilliant ideas. It’s a jumbled and chaotic chronological history of what I’m thinking and working on.
I also keep a vintage journal in my collage area where I experiment with collage ideas; I use everything from book scraps, to paper scraps, color swaths, handmade collage papers, ephemera, and black and white photographs.
My third journal is a paint journal, which I use sporadically to make little abstract paintings; this little gem allows me to explore color palettes or composition ideas.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
If I’m doing scut work, i.e., priming boards, or sanding edges, I watch shows on my iPad. When I’m working on collage, I work in silence. If I’m painting, I turn up the music and listen to Alternative Dance Music on Pandora.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I am currently taking a long, perhaps permanent, sabbatical from teaching. I have taught at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology (on the Oregon coast) for several years and have given classes as far away as San Diego.
For the time being, I’m focusing on making art rather than teaching it.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people? Or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I believe anyone can tap into creativity, especially if a sense of play is cultivated.
Play takes the fear and preciousness out of it. It may seem like creativity comes more naturally to some people, but I feel we can all learn skills and create art, whether we have a goal to be in a gallery, or just for the pure pleasure of creating.
What advice would you give to emerging artists?
Jump in and give it everything without second guessing yourself. Add paint, glue collage, experiment, be bold, and work quickly so the inner critic can’t be heard. If you don’t like something, realize it is just a layer on your way to another layer and something even better. There will always be a sense of history of the earlier layer, making your work all the more interesting and rich.
What do you have coming up in 2021?
My current show, Emotional Alignments, will be on view at RiverSea Gallery in Astoria, Oregon through February 9, 2021, and on line through the gallery. I have a solo show coming up in May at Salem on the Edge, title unknown at this time.
Tell us about your blog and website. Where else can people see your work?
My website and blog can be found at: http://www.daynacollins.com/
FB: Dayna J. Collins/Alley Art Studio
Pinterest: Dayna Loves Art
Interview posted January 2021
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