By Leslie Fandrich // Themes: Nostalgia, Perseverance // Category: Creative People
You may be familiar with the website The Jealous Curator. For three years it was penned anonymously and has collected some of the most interesting contemporary art being made today. In January 2012, at the Altitude Design Summit, the author of the site was revealed to be Danielle Krysa. I met Danielle then and was instantly charmed by her. I felt like we had a similar history, both growing up in Canada, studying art, working as designers for 10 years and taking 5 years off to raise sons that were the same age.
I attended her Girl Crush workshop in Philadelphia and it was there that I got a glimpse at the depth of Danielle’s creative soul. She is far more than just a curator. She is also a graphic designer, a creative director, a teacher, a creativity coach and an artist in her own right. She is writing two books due out next year, curating art shows, working as a creative director at She & He, a branding and design company she runs with her husband, and showing her art again after a seventeen-year hiatus.
Danielle was always known as “the art kid” in her family and at school. Her mother was an artist and she grew up being surrounded by creativity, so it was natural for her to pursue a BFA from the University of Victoria in Visual Arts. She majored in painting and printmaking, but she never felt like she fit into “the art kid” group. That alienation challenged her view of herself as an artist and when her main painting instructor crushed her in a critique five weeks before graduating, she wasn’t sure she wanted to pursue a career as an artist.
“So, a few days before this dreaded crit, my prof had seen my latest paintings, and told me that I was "doing fantastic work - creating a new niche he'd never seen before!" YAY! He also announced in that class that a visiting artist from NYC, an artist that I had studied in Art History, was going to be in our studio and there was time for three people to share their work. I volunteered, what with my whole "new niche" thing going on. So, the day came, I hung my work, and in front of my entire class AND the visiting artist, my prof told me that I had "no talent" and should "put my brushes down and stop painting". Huh?! He apologized (after the visiting artist tore a strip off him and left enraged). I found out later, through another teacher, that I had basically been in the middle of a three-ring circus as he "showed off" to the visiting artist who he apparently idolized. Too late. Damage was done. I tried to paint, and just couldn't. I second guessed every stroke. It took years to get over, but I'm happy to report it's finally behind me... thank goodness!”
After that devastating critique, she returned to her parent’s home and painted for a year, trying to recover her footing. She showed a couple of times, but it just wasn’t right. After applying to a few design schools, she backpacked for a summer in Europe with a friend. While in Portugal she learned she was accepted into an intensive post-graduate Interactive Design program at Sheridan College. It was the perfect fit for her. She redirected her creative energy into becoming a graphic designer, worked successfully in that field for ten years and eventually became a creative director.
She didn't ever really stop making art, but it had become a private outlet. She wasn’t showing or selling her work. Her design career demanded much of her creative energy and she was happy in her work. When Danielle’s son was born in 2006, she decided to take five years off to hang out with him. Released from the creative demands of her design career, when Charlie was two, she got serious about making art again and worked through the exercises in the book The Artist’s Way. She also started her website The Jealous Curator.
Writing about the art that others were making helped her turn negative jealousy into positive admiration. She was able to purge the toxic energy and to refine her own vision. She began to understand what kind of art she really wanted to make and she could see what trends and cliches she had to push past to get there.
Now, five years later, she is reluctantly calling herself an artist again, showing her work in galleries and doing commissioned pieces. It’s been a long journey back around to her original passion, but the wisdom and perspective she has gained in the last seventeen years greatly informs her work and gives her a confidence and a grounded point of view that cannot be gained any other way.
Danielle is a mixed media artist, using found images, embroidery thread and pops of bright paint here and there. Lately she has been working on watercolor paper, but many of her pieces were done on pages from old cookbooks she bought at thrift stores and primed with gesso.
“When I did my BFA, I majored in painting. I used to only paint on pre-stretched canvas, but that always felt very stressful to me. They are just so white and perfect... that kinda freaks me out! I have a studio FULL of clean, square, perfect white canvases that are just, well, too perfect. I switched to working on pages from vintage cookbooks, and suddenly felt free to just go for it! If i made a mistake (whatever that means) I could just toss it and rip a new page out of my 50cent cookbook without my weird artist guilt kicking in. Now I still use vintage paper for some pieces, but I've really been loving watercolor paper lately. White and perfect, but somehow less scary than canvas.”
Her work usually has a story behind it and often they are very personal, using imagery and situations from her childhood and teenage years. One of my favorite series is called Blush and blends sexual imagery from Playboy magazines with rainbows, rock make-up and scratch n' sniff stickers. She says she found a stash of magazines and became aware of her own sexuality when she was a little younger than she should have been. The work takes me right back to the time in my own life when I was still a child, but seeing the grown up, sexy, world all around me.
“I did a series last year called "Alleglory : Stories from my glory days". I used images from when I was really little (they're on yellow backgrounds), and images from my teen years (on grey backgrounds). One of my faves is called "Michelle Nielsen got a tiara, flowers, and the title of Blossom Princess. I got fourth place." True story. It's pretty hilarious because she's still one of my best friends and I happen to know that she's slightly horrified that I used this image!”
Danielle says that when she is done making a piece, she’ll feel relieved or maybe a little sad. “It’s like finishing a book, sometimes you wish there was one more chapter.” Often, she will keep working on a piece until she feels like it’s something that The Jealous Curator would write about. I find that to be an interesting technique to judge your own work. Step outside yourself and try to see it with fresh eyes. Judge it objectively, not emotionally.
She isn’t happy with her work for very long, but she’s really been enjoying her latest endeavor, custom house portraits. Clients send in a picture and she will illustrate it for them, with or without embroidery.
“I used to draw houses just because I love drawing houses. I'd bike around my neighborhood photographing little bungalows, and then I'd race home to draw them. I started actually taking on commissions this past Spring, and it's soooo satisfying! It's very cool to create a piece of art for someone, with a subject that means so much to them. Maybe it was their childhood home, their grandparents home, the first home they ever bought, that ugly rental that they kinda hate but it's where they first fell in love etc etc. I've done quite a few of them and I'm actually really happy with all of them - strange to hear that coming out of me! : )”
To make her art, Danielle needs coffee and a little music. Favorites are the soundtrack from Amélie or some hip-hop, depending on the piece. She likes to plan out her work and she’ll do a lot of experimenting to figure out a technique or a composition. Often, her experiments become a finished piece.
Since she moved back to her hometown a year ago with her husband and son, her studio is now in her home for the first time ever. She is thrilled to have a room just for her and her art. She says everything has its place (like the ceramic swan she keeps her paints in!) so it’s easy to tidy up but it does get pretty messy in there. As any good studio should.
“I absolutely love my studio - surrounded by supplies, old photos, weird little knick-knacks and a wall full of old thrift store landscapes.”
One of her greatest challenges is dealing with creative blocks. It’s one of the unfortunate side effects of making art. The self-doubt, insecurities, inner-critics and blocks that so many creative people endure is what led Danielle to start the Girl Crush workshops. In them, she uses techniques from The Artist's Way to lead the group in supportive discussions and exercises to unearth and focus on the positive aspects of our creative lives.
“It's insanely frustrating when you have an idea in your head, and your hands just won't cooperate. It exhausts me. That's when it's time to go for a run or do some gardening.”
Creative Block also happens to be the title of Danielle's new book coming out in the new year! It was just announced yesterday. I'm so excited to read this book. She has interviewed 50 different artists and "mines their golden insights on how to conquer self-doubt, stay motivated, and get new ideas to flow. Each artist offers a tried-and-true exercise that will kick-start the creative process." I'll be pre-ordering it soon. You should too.
I think it's easy to forget that even successful artists that we admire deal with the same mind-numbing, difficult crap that we do. It's the same struggle and the same challenges for all artists, we just have to learn to push through the difficult moments, the uninspired stuff and keep making art.
Danielle makes art for the joy of it. She tries not to worry about the selling or the showing or anything other than that feeling you had as a kid when you had to make something, anything, just because. As adults, I think the more we can hold onto that childlike feeling, the better the art-making will be. Or at least, the more fun we will have doing it.
Her art has whimsy and wisdom. It is clever and considered and both subtle and bold. She hopes that viewers will place their own stories on her pieces and maybe think of something they had forgotten from their own childhood. (I know I do.)
“I like making work that has a bit of a *wink* to it, so if people come away smiling, or even laughing, I'm thrilled!”
Danielle is one inspiring, creative lady and I'm so thrilled to share her work, her process and her journey. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. To learn more about her, check out the following links:
- My Custom House Portrait by Emily Henderson
- Danielle's The Art of Balance interview series on Move Lifestyle
- Interview on Clementine Daily
- Get your own custom house portrait by Danielle
- The Jealous Curator posts daily about contemporary art
- Interview on Inward Facing Girl
- Danielle's personal work
- Her new series Growth on the Artful Desperado
- More about her Blush series on Buy Some Damn Art
- Her Alleglory show at Assemble Shop and Studio