Inspired Profile: Dani Schafer
Dani Schafer is an abstract painter based in northern Wisconsin. Her work captures movement and color that evokes a natural wonderland for me. We met a couple of years ago via Instagram, and soon started a collaboration in which I send her fabric, she paints on it, and returns it to me to be made into one of a kind clothing. Our creative dialogue has been a highlight in my life, since Dani is so thoughtful and expressive. On her own work she says,
I am interested in how we see color and light - how it reaches our eyes and how the brain interprets it. With this in mind, I draw on my own vision and spend time in nature, taking in my surroundings and pulling colors and forms from my environment.
Jill: What woman living today do you find to be the most inspirational?
Dani: I feel like I’m inspired by so many women, but if I have to narrow it down to one, I’ll name an artist, Tara Donovan. I first came across her work over a decade ago when I was in college, and I’ve been drawn to her work since then. Ironically, she herself doesn’t believe in inspiration, she says it’s a joke, and that it’s really just about sitting down and getting to work. And that holds true for me as well. Her work is very process based and she works with a team, assembling her pieces. I think has probably helped in her success, being able to delegate. So often I want complete control, but sometimes it takes help to get things done. Also, she’s a mother, and it’s always good to see women artists thriving after becoming parents. Overall, it’s her persistence and attitude towards her work that is actually the most inspiring. It’s a good reminder to really dig in and stick to whatever it is you need to do.
Jill: What were the roots to your creative career?
Dani: My mother likes to tell a story of me as a toddler, covering the bottom two feet of my bedroom walls in crayon. I feel like I spent most of my unscheduled time as a child painting, drawing or reading, which, for the most part, still holds true today.
My focus in college was painting, and then sculpture, because I discovered installation and really fell in love with making large-scale, site-specific works. After college, I thought the only way to make work and support myself was to get an MFA and teach. My first year out of college, I worked while preparing my portfolio and applying to graduate programs. I interviewed, at Yale for sculpture. I wasn’t accepted, but I got to meet Jessica Stockholder, whose work I really admired at the time.
After that, I kept making work, while working full time. Ideas often lived in my mind for a while before I was able to get them out. It became a struggle and extremely frustrating, to lack the space and time to make what I wanted. After five years of this, while my husband and I were in Chicago, I became determined to find ways to make more work, sometimes sneaking away on my lunch break, and working into the night and morning hours alongside my husband in his graduate studio. He supported me and helped me get back into my work — I really needed a push at that point. I hardly slept and it was exhausting, but I started to feel like myself again.
The turning point for me, ironically, was acceptance into a graduate program, which I turned down. After working for three different colleges in three different cities for so many years, I needed a break from that environment. I wanted unrestricted time to focus on my work. Shortly after turning down my place in an MFA program at SAIC, I gave notice at my job. It required some careful planning — my husband was just finishing grad school at SAIC at the time, and we had to wait a few months for things to line up, so we could leave Chicago and move back to northern Wisconsin. We had to shuffle around a bit, until everything really came together, but that was almost four years ago now, and having the time and space to dedicate to my work has incredible.
Jill: Can you describe your creative process in a couple of steps?
Dani: I'm always gathering ideas for color, texture and movement, and when I paint, I reference them loosely. Most of my work's development happens as I paint, and afterwards, when I step back and look at my progress. I'm constantly thinking about what I want to see, what areas are working well. So much of abstract painting, for me, is about intuition, and it can be somewhat unpredictable. I love the experimental aspect of it, but I’m always thinking about composition and process. Often, I’ll sketch out rough thumbnails, as a way of working out what I’m looking for, what balance I’m seeking. In past years, I focused a lot on exploring color, limiting my palette for months at a time. Currently, I’m investigating the balance between sparse, minimal forms and busier, more repetitive brushstrokes.
Jill: What is your dream project?
Dani: I feel like every painting is my dream project to some extent, but I've been working on some really large canvases, and I'd love to do more of that. Working on a larger scale brings a freedom of movement and helps me investigate gesture and mark-making. It can be difficult to explore those things fully when the surface is smaller and my body is more restricted, so working on more large scale pieces would be amazing.
Jill: Tell us about how you style our collaborative Blouse when wearing it
Dani: Lately I've been wearing it with a pair of soft, pale green linen pants. I love that it’s lightweight and easy to layer. On colder days, I'll throw an oversized cardigan over it.