Djana’s Drawings & Artwork

Influences and Inspirations

I was introduced to the fairy tales of Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, the Thousand and One Nights, and the myths of the ancient Greeks and Romans when I was quite young. Fortunately my mum had the sense to give me classic editions that weren’t bowdlerized and over-sugared and I absolutely adored these as soon as I began reading them. These stories took me into my worlds – more than anything I wanted to live inside the landscapes where they took place.

One of the most marvelous aspects regarding the old fairy and folk tales is their layers of meaning. The stories convey certain things to one as a child, then as an adolescent and as an adult they come to reveal other facets and possible deeper interpretations for their superficially simple plots. I never lost my fascination with these stories, re-reading them as I got older, and from high school age I began researching their symbolism and origins, and reading the different versions told by storytellers from China to India, Italy, Peru, Poland, Russia, Scotland, Wales, and everywhere in between.

As I grew beyond childhood efforts at drawing and making up stories and poems, and began seriously studying and creating art and working with words in college, I found the well-springs of my inspiration lay in the natural world, in the old, beloved fairy tales, and in folk art. My fantasy landscapes, many still lifes, and my textile art are greatly influenced by folk art – its naïve vision is the fresh, instinctive one of childhood which views the world as a magical place of rainbow colors and pleasing shapes while being remarkably sensitive to the specific forms and details of individual flowers, trees, creatures and birds.

On studying art in college and beginning to refine my own form of expression, I realized that besides my natural pull toward an ingenuous, folk art style, some of the drawings and paintings I produced were developing into a style astonishingly similar to that used in a small painting I loved as a child, and saw on every visit to the Berkeley apartment of Mae Dora, my favorite grandmother. This picture was painted by a great-uncle and after my beloved grandmother died, this painting was given to me by my mother. Later, from an inheritance passed to my mother by her father’s second wife, I inherited another family painting in a style quite close to the one I had. Both these pictures are highly detailed watercolors and were painted sometime around 1860s-1870s by my grandmother Mae Dora’s great uncle and his nephew who lived in Steamboat Springs, Colorado – they are amongst my most treasured possessions.


Watercolor painting by my three times great-uncle Stephen Covell

I call the style used by my great uncles for their watercolors a type of Naturalistic Realism. In the period they lived, it’s quite likely they would have seen paintings by artists who worked in the Hudson River School of romantic realism. This American artistic style took its inspiration from the so-called Barbizon School in France – a group of painters who produced looser, more naturalistic canvases rather than the glossy, highly finished products approved by the French Academy of Painting; they often worked outdoors near the village of Barbizon in the Forest of Fontainebleau and were a major influence on the following generation of artists that became famous as the Impressionists. The style adopted by my great-uncles is close in many ways to the one I evolved to depict the mountains, hills, forests, waters and skies of the Northwest and Europe. In my take on this Naturalist-Impressionist style, however, I’ve further modified it by adding a pronounced dash of Pointillist technique.

Here I’d like to emphasize that while a picture of what I wish to depict is clear in my mind as I begin, and I’ve usually made a small sketch, various elements change and others are rearranged as work progresses, even in the more ‘realistic’ drawings and still lifes. Every one of my drawings is a journey of discovery, unanticipated aspects revealing themselves as I go along, and I continually strive to uncover the ‘truth’ of the worlds I postulate. Over time, I’ve learned it is essential to listen for what I’ve come to call the voice of the drawing – it tells me when some motif or perspective is false and requires alteration. If I don’t pay attention to this inner voice, farther along serious corrections will have to be made, or the drawing even ruined beyond fixing.