Hi friends! Today I bring you an inspiring interview with visual artist and my friend, Dawline-Jane Oni-Eseleh. I first met Dawline two years ago at a Creative Live taping of Lisa Congdon’s "Become a Working Artist” class. I am a huge fan of Dawline’s work especially her printmaking and portraiture. This lady is super prolific in many mediums but her sensitive brush and ink line work is immediate recognizable. If you live in the Bay Area, you may have seen her work at Oxtail Studios and Art Attack, SF. I love Dawline’s spirit, drive to work hard, and commitment to creating art daily. Oh, and she’s super smart and funny. Read on to learn more about what inspires Dawline, her ideas on authentic and consistent self promotion, and her feelings about sweatpants.
DG: HI DAWLINE. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR JOURNEY FROM A CONVENTIONAL WORK-A-DAY LIFE TO FOLLOWING YOUR FREELANCE AMBITIONS.
DO: I moved to the Bay Area almost 10 years ago from New York. I've spent most of my work life in management of some sort, with the past 6 years managing a large art supply store in the area. I would say overall, in the almost 20 years that I've spent working my aim has been to work in as many diverse environments as possible - everything from teaching art in a Ukrainian Catholic school in the East Village to a coordinating catering events in an Orthodox Kosher restaurant. I think its really important to get to know as many different people as possible, and there is no faster way to get to know people than working side by side with them. I very recently decided to focus on my art career full time because it was simply time. In the past 3 years I've been showing my work with a fair amount of regularity and there are projects in my head that I felt I needed to make real.
DG: SINCE LEAVING YOUR 9-5, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN GETTING YOUR ART CAREER UP AND RUNNING?
DO: My biggest challenge since leaving my 9-5 has been developing a daily work flow. At my previous day job my work day had an arc - come in, have a big gulp of coffee, check in with my assistant, make a plan for the day, read through email and other correspondence and so on. At home it's different. I think I blame sweatpants. In all seriousness, I have started to develop a routine but as there is no commute to signal beginning and end I have tended to work or think about work now all the time. I've had dreams about Instagram and woken up at 4 am to jot notes down in my phone.
DG: CAN YOU SHARE SOME OF YOUR SUCCESSES WITH US?
DO: I was asked to lead a watercolor workshop at a conference in San Francisco soon after I left my 9-5 in October for people who were looking to transition out of their day jobs into work that was more in tune to their creative passions. It felt really great to use my very recent experience to help others explore their dormant creativity. My other success has honestly just been taking some time out to identify what I need from my life and finding my voice as an artist. It sounds like such a small thing but it's really valuable. When I was younger I would have said just having an art show was a success - last year I had a show a month. At least 3 of them where solos but I honestly don't remember because it was such a blur. Working 45 hours a week and putting in 5 hours a day in the studio was tough and made me reevaluate what success would might mean to me moving forward. I'm still trying to sort it out.
DG: SUPER EXCITING THAT YOU WERE SO BUSY SHOWING YOUR WORK IN GALLERIES. AND I LOVE THAT YOU DEFINE AN ELEMENT OF SUCCESS AS TAKING TIME OUT FOR SELF CARE. IT'S SO IMPORTANT.
DG: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT “WORKING FOR YOURSELF” AND WHY?
DO: My favorite part about working for myself is determining the tone and mission of my work. When you work for someone else you are always speaking in their voice, to a certain extent. It's the "company culture" that dictates how you answer the phone, deal with the public, interact with clients. Sometimes it aligns, sometimes it doesn't. I really value the ability to speak in my own voice.
DG: I LOVE THAT: "SPEAKING IN YOUR OWN VOICE." IT'S VERY EMPOWERING. AND WHAT INSPIRES YOU, AS A FREELANCER, TO SPEAK IN YOUR OWN VOICE?
DO: My mind is always on which is great and terrible - I'm inspired by everything. I've gotten to the age where I've learned to adapt to my own way of thinking and figure out ways of filtering and organizing my thoughts to bank for those rare "inspiration dry spells". I take walks around my neighborhood, always with a camera, and jot down notes in my phone. It's a great reference guide for me and it's better than a notebook for me because I don't have to try and read a hastily scribbled note (though sometimes I look through them and laugh... what exactly was I referring to when I wrote down the word "Nostrajamas"?!)
DG: I KNOW WHAT IT WAS. YOU MEANT TO REMEMBER TO ILLUSTRATE NOSTRADAMUS WEARING HIS JAMMIES.
DG: HOW DO YOU KEEP BALANCE IN YOUR LIFE WHEN EARNING A % OF INCOME FROM YOUR ART AND ALSO KEEPING SOME CREATIVE TIME FOR YOURSELF?
DO: I'll be honest - I haven't quite gotten into the flow of making a decent income from my art - it's an everyday hustle between my web shop and teaching classes. Right my daily workflow is devoted to research, finding and building my audience, creating a body of work and administrative work like maintaining websites, social media and email.
DG: THANK YOU FOR YOUR CANDIDNESS. I KNOW THE EVERYDAY HUSTLE WELL. IT'S SO IMPORTANT TO BALANCE "GOTTA PAY THE BILLS" MAKE SOME MONEY WORK WITH YOUR ONGOING PURSUITS OF DEVELOPING YOUR BUSINESS.
PART OF DEVELOPING YOUR ART BUSINESS IS HAVING A STUDIO PRACTICE. IN OTHER WORDS, "MAKING ART EVERY DAY." CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURS?
DO: I used to have an outside studio, which I miss, but lately I've been working from home. I usually start the day with some warm up drawing, and then some more later in the evening. I would say I spend at least three hours a day on studio work now. Ideally it would be 5.
DG: I LOVE SKETCHBOOKS. CAN YOU SHARE A PEEK INTO YOURS?
DO: It's taken me a while to get into sketch booking. Until very recently I either painted on substrates like canvas, wood panel or paper with out planning or preliminary sketching, or made relief prints. Now I take my sketch book with me on the train or at other times when I feel there will be down time. It helps me organize my thoughts and be present with my environment.
DG: WHAT IS YOUR DREAM JOB? DREAM CLIENT? DREAM GIG?
DO: Eeek! I would love to do editorial illustration. I like making work that's graphic or narrative. I'd love to go back in time and create posters during the Art Nouveau period. Lately I've been fantasizing about illustrating a picture book for Chronicle Books.
DG: YOU CAN DO IT! I CAN DEFINITELY SEE YOUR WORK TRANSLATING TO THIS GENRE. HOW WILL YOU GET THERE? ANY ADVICE FOR SELF PROMOTION?
DO: Right now I spend a good deal of time devoted to marketing. I'm trying to launch my business and find an audience which takes a lot of work. I actually really enjoy it which is funny I'm actually a little shy. My advice is to be authentic and consistent but don't hit people over the head shouting "me me me" constantly. Find and take a genuine interest in things going on around you and in other people's work. The arts community is a small one that thrives on collaboration. On the other hand, don't let a fear of seeming pushy stop you from showing the world your work and what you are up to. There's a myth that someone will "discover" your art work and make you famous but I don't think that's realistic. You have to send out a beacon.
DG: WHO OR WHAT HAS INFLUENCED YOUR WORK THE MOST?
DO: I think my work has been influenced by pop culture, mid century graphic design and advertising. I'm not afraid to admit that I love TV and I think it has to have in some way crept into the framing of my paintings. I also actually started out taking photographs (35mm and large format film) before I started painting with any serious regularity, which informs the way that I place objects in the picture plane and decides what I choose to focus on or filter out.
DG: DO YOU HAVE ANY WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE REINVENTING THEIR CAREER MID STREAM?
DO: Recently the old question "How do you eat an elephant?" popped into my head. Rather than thinking of tackling this huge thing the idea is to take it one bite at a time. I would never condone eating elephants, but you get the idea!
DG: AND LAST, BUT NOT LEAST, WHAT IS YOUR SECRET SUPERPOWER?
DO: I'm a dog whisperer. I can also guess babies ages.
Thanks to dear Dawline for sharing her story. You can learn more about here:
And check out her Waterfront Sketch Workshop this weekend with Verlocal: