We had the good fortune of connecting with Sheila Dunn and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sheila, how do you think about risk?
Taking the giant leap into being a full time artist was undoubtedly one of the biggest risks of my life. While any career leap feels risky, a leap into a creative career is also laden with so many societal notions around being a “starving artist” & unsolicited advice to “keep your day job too”. All of those thoughts were a constant in my head when I graduated from art school at Colorado State University. But the one thing louder than those thoughts was my unrelenting desire to build a life and career around painting. I was determined to keep painting, no matter what. And so, for the first years after college, this meant working various day jobs and painting late into the evening. I gradually began to work fewer & fewer hours at my day job, relying more & more on my painting income to pay the bills. Until eventually, on one winter day 4.5 years ago, I quit my steady, part-time job and leapt into full time artist-hood. Nothing has ever been so intimidating and nothing has ever been so worth it. A risk that has paid off in innumerable ways.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I paint the people & wild places I love, with a recent emphasis on using my art as a vehicle for activism. In 2020 I began my Conservation and Resistance Series in which a portion of all print sales goes to various conservation and social justice organizations, including the Conservation Alliance and ACLU. I was feeling despair about so many wild places & human rights being threatened and decided to transmute some of that sadness & worry into action. My most recent painting was of a White Stork, the national bird of Ukraine. I was able to donate half of the painting & print sales to the International Rescue Committee that does on the ground work helping refugees in Ukraine and throughout the globe. This social & environmental justice aspect of my work is what I’m most proud of & excited about. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless with all the suffering in our world – but I truly believe we have more power as individuals than we sometimes realize.
I arrived at this particular point in my career where I’m able to both make a living and give back a bit through a shit ton of work & discipline. I think there is a common, romanticized misconception that being a full time artist is akin to Bob Ross painting “happy trees” all day. Haha. And although there are for sure magic moments of creating where I feel completely happy & in the zone & not wanting to be anywhere else in the world, these moments are definitely outnumbered by the day-to-day work & grind & effort of any other job. I remember one of my painting professors at CSU telling our class, “I’m not a painter because I wake up feeling like painting everyday…I’m a painter because I arrive in front of my easel day-to-day regardless.” There is so much truth in that statement in my experience.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My dad, a fifth generation Coloradoan, was everyone’s biggest cheerleader. He lived for hearing about each person’s life and dreams and aspirations. His ability to truly listen was unparalleled. I just happened to be lucky enough to be born Steve Dunn’s daughter! His belief and support in my art career was always steadfast. Even when I didn’t have a dollar to my name, he would enthusiastically chat with his friends about my latest painting or show. Sadly, he passed away three years ago – something I’m still & will always be processing. But I’m so grateful he was able to see my career begin to blossom and become a profession. A path he helped shape and make possible in so many ways.
Facebook: Sheila Dunn Art