96 Dana Hawk

Dana Hawk is a phenomenal painter of portraits with a surreal quality. She grew up in Missouri where she got her BS in biology, and then earned an MS in physical therapy at the University of Colorado. She then moved to New York where she practiced physical therapy for over a decade. I'm not sure yet if she still practices while painting on the side, or if she's made painting her full-time profession, but I do know she's one of the greatest painters I've ever seen, and she's mostly self-taught. Dana Hawk has won awards for her work, and has been published in Metropolitan Magazine, The Artist's Magazine, and others.


It's common advice in art school that color isn't that important - the main concern for beginning artists is to see and plan value scales (light to dark). 'Color is just window dressing you throw on top.' Dana Hawk shows this isn't true; the color palettes she chooses are otherworldly - to call them realistic does her work an injustice. Reality never looked this beautiful.

Dana enjoys painting dogs, saying in Metropolitan, "Getting the feel for a subject's personality adds depth to any portrait and dogs keep their personalities right out front, so it's a gratifying experience and usually pretty humorous." In the same article we learn that she begins each work with a photo session to capture the perfect pose and expression of each dog, and then she learns what color schemes the clients prefer.


Dana Hawk was kind enough to answer some questions for me, just for this blog! So I'm going to copy the transcript here:

1. I read that you were an art student in college but quickly switched to molecular biology. I’m curious as to why? So far, it’s been a common theme for artists on my list that they were pressured to study something other than art.

'I paid for college myself, so there certainly was no outside pressure to study something else, but I knew that my future was going to be either art or science.  I went to a state university, and in the 90's, the art dept was not fond of realism or teaching actual techniques.  I would have more success studying illustration or just attending ateliers/workshops.  After a year of confusing anti-realism teachings, which made me question if I was an artist in the first place, I decided to ditch art and switch to science.'


2. Are you still practicing physical therapy or have you become a full-time portrait painter?

'I no longer practice PT, although I still have my license, so thankfully all of my time is towards painting.'

3. You paint such incredible portraits of pets and other animals. Do you have any pets of your own? Also, why no cat portraits?

'I do have a pet, a female pit mix named Clinker.  She's a fantastic dog and spends a lot of time snoozing in my studio.  I do paint cats!  Not many, but I'll attach a pic of a recent commission.  I don't have it on my website because in my haste of Christmas commissions I forgot to photograph it!  The attached photo I took with my iphone.  I also have an upcoming commission of 2 Maine Coons, as soon as NYC opens up and I can get down there to photograph them.'


4. I read you were mostly self-taught. When did you start showing talent in drawing and painting?

'I am self taught, although I have taken some great workshops.  I started showing some promise in elementary school, or at least my teachers told me so.'

'Neala with Houndstooth'

5. They say eyes are the window to your soul. In your work, you always paint the most amazing eyes. What’s your secret?

'Most of everything that I do that comes out well is the result of a bunch of layers (I never get anything right the first time). However, if you paint from photos, lightening the image slightly will bring out more reflections that are sometimes hidden in darker images.'


6. What do you worry about when planning a composition? Do you get any warnings in the back of your head, while you work?

'I've recently been worrying about too much of an "all-overness" treatment of my compositions, but honestly, I just go with what feels right.'


7. What tips or pointers do you hear from previous teachers while you paint? What’s the best advice you got, so far as art making?

'If you work from photos, sometimes an edge can look hard, such as the profile of a nose, and of course it's a rounded edge and requires a soft edge.  I took a class from Adam Miller and I hear him telling me to keep going back into the light areas (sometimes my work can get a bit muddy).'


8. What advice do you have for young art students?

'I don't have a great opinion of universities but sometimes they are necessary (such as my PT degree).  But that's not the case with art.  I would say if you have the money for these expensive institutions, fine, but if you don't, attending ateliers and workshops are not only affordable, you'll be learning from some of the greatest artists of our time.'


9. What do you say to someone who thinks art doesn’t matter?

'I would say everyone has a right to their opinion.  I think art is important but I've also had extensive experience in a field that is not only important, it's vital.  So while I fully admit that someone is not going to die without a painting, as opposed to a surgery, art does bring tremendous joy and is very important for movements and the transfer of ideas.'


'Rioux Dogs (Thelma, CoCo, Thor, & Bella)'

'Steady As She Goes'


'Lake Dress'

'French Girl II'

'Life is Good'

'Matthew & Chance'

'Fox in the Forest'

'New Outlook'


'The Dog's Bed'