Art from the heart

By Posted on Jul 08 2015 | By

Casanova artist driven by passion not marketplace

Dana Lee Thompson picked up a paint brush at the age of 12. She hasn’t put it down since. Not that the urge to create was always smooth.

“My mother gave me watercolor classes with I was 12. But I got kicked out of class. I was always playing with the brushes and slinging water on my friends,” Thompson said laughing.

Hmmm…one wonders how many of her former classmates are professional artists today? Maybe a little slinging goes a long way.

Her creative urged prevailed before and after her unfortunate first art classes. She drew and painted as a child driven simply by her imagination. “I use to copy cartoons and draw the same pointer dog over and over.”

Dana Lee ThompsonHer love of animals never left her and today she is a highly respected artist and a signature member of The Society of Animal Artists, a renowned organization comprised of members who produce the best animal art in the world.

“”I’m very, very proud of my acceptance into the Society. When I first started painting, I would look at their catalogs and just dream that maybe I too could be in those catalogs,” Thompson recalls.

It is well-founded pride because Thompson is largely self-taught. When viewing her art, it’s hard to comprehend she was not classically trained.

Her talent and perseverance has scored numerous awards over the years and her work is highly sought after.

Dual career
As a young woman Thompson attended college and pursued a career as a dental technologist. Art was her passion but life demanded that bills be paid. A steady income trumps fervor.

Nonetheless, her choice of careers underscored her creative urge. Dental technologists work from prescriptions to construct custom-made restorative and dental appliances. One doesn’t typically associate prosthesis and dentures with art but artistic talent lies at heart of both professions.

While her career was advancing she continued to paint. She also fell in love with all things fox hunting and rode with the Casanova Hunt for several years. Hounds and horses began to dominate her art.

After two decades of dental work, Thompson decided to pursue a full-time art career. “I worked in Reston and couldn’t take the commute anymore. I decided to quit and go full-time,” Thompson said.

But after five years, the economy began to sputter, bills began to mount and she returned to the dental lab. Today she paints after work and on the weekends.

It’s frustrating for her because the required creativity of her dental work can sap the creative energy necessary for her art. Today, such conflict has diminished given her experience, but she still renders only two to four paintings a month.

She also is moving away from predominately horse and hound art to painting feathered friends. “I love birds. They challenge me. I’d Like to get more confident in painting birds so I’ve been painting a lot them lately.”

She has travelled to Africa three times with one of her sisters because the bird life there is so abundant. She will return again next year. She also visits another sister in Florida to capture its unique bird life including egrets, herons, pelicans and more.

Not surprisingly, she is also a professional photographer and creates digitally exotic birds that will often blossom in oil upon return to her studio.

The future
As her career as dental technologist winds down, Thompson is looking forward to painting full-time in a few years.Dana Lee Thompson

She will continue to pursue art based on what attracts her not necessarily what the market requests. “Marketing is tough in the art world. Some are better at it than others. I tend to paint what interests me and if it happens to sell, that’s a plus,” Thompson said.

At any give time Thompson has seven or eight paintings for sale. When asked if she ever keeps certain pieces for herself, she responds with sound industry advice, “They say it’s not a good idea to keep your work. If you can sell it, it helps build an artist’s reputation.”

The cost of her art ranges from $400 for miniatures to $3,000 for full-size paintings.

                                                 The artist’s palette 

                                     Technique drives performance  

Dana Lee Thompson works strictly in oils. She does not paint thickly but employs a technique called alla prima, or wet-on-wet, using multiple thin layers.

The method is predominately used with oil in which layers of wet paint are applied to previous wet paint. It requires working fast because second layers must be applied before the first ones dry. It is also referred to as direct painting.

Her art does not find a home on canvas but rather an artist’s wooden board made of birch, oak, chestnut or cherry woods. The surface of the wood is much harder than canvas and enables her to rendered scenes more graphically.

“I don’t get the bounce I would get on canvas with its little holes,” Thompson said. “I am more confident painting on board than on canvas.”

She first sketches out her subject on the wood and then quickly begins painting. Many artists paint in layers over time. Thompson paints everything at once.

A large painting typically requires two eight-hour days to complete. “Some artists just keep picking at their work and it ends up getting overworked. I work on it for a couple of days and then ask advice from other artist friends,” Thompson said.

Another feedback technique is to hold the finished painting in front of a mirror and see what flaws jump out. “If something is really bothersome you can see it in reverse. I use those techniques as well but most of the time when I’m finished painting, it’s done.”

Since much of her art is rendered from photographs she has taken of the subject, comparing the final art to the original photo will also highlight what might be bothering the artist.

Her advice for struggling artists? “If you are interested in painting, the biggest thing to do is paint a lot. I don’t think you can’t get a lot accomplished if you just paint here and there,” said Thompson

Ahh, so practice does make perfect.


Thompson’s work is available for sale at the Berkley Gallery in Warrenton and her oeuvre is displayed on her website http://www.danaleethompson.com/.

Published in the Summer 2015 edition of inFauquier magazine.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES