Sunday, April 6, 2014

No Wrenches - An Interview With Dana Irving

Dana Irving is a Vancouver-based artist/singer/songwriter, whose works can be found on her Web site or at the Ian Tan Gallery. Ian Tan describes her art in a way that would make the most seasoned art collector perk up:

Her style; a marriage of Emily Carr, Lawren Harris and
Dr. Seuss [Editor’s note: italics and bold are mine],
is a visual testament to the force of the
sublime natural landscape in the
Pacific Northwest.

As I write this, I’m listening to snippets of Dana Irving’s Smilin’ CD (one minute teasers available on Dana’s site).  I’m tapping my feet and feeling better by the minute, half of my brain trying to decide if this is blues or country or both when a song titled “No Wrenches” begins and I am knocked off my feet. I haven’t heard vocals like this since Joan Armatrading sang Down to Zero and broke my high school heart.

Let’s chat.


Q1.  What is your first memory of art?

A1.  I grew up in a small town in northern BC [Interviewer's note for Americans who think Iowa and Idaho are the same state - "BC" stands for British Columbia], Canada.  I hate to say it, but when I was young, the place was pretty artless.  A logging town full of practical people doing practical things.  My mother knew I needed something ... so at four years old she took me to ballet classes at the home of this lovely, eccentric Norwegian lady. She was passionate about dance and she was a great teacher.  I remember being dazzled by her and her house full of paintings and antique furniture.  Everything about her was inspiring
Q2.  What is the first work of art you created?

A2.  When I was 8, I drew a squirrel at school that really looked like a squirrel and there was quite a fuss made about it.  It stuck with me - like - "Oh, maybe I'm going to be good at this."

Q3.  Was there a point in your life when you decided to try art, or were you always an artist?

A3.  Well, firstly - I am certain that all of us begin an artist.  I dare you to find me a 5 year old who thinks he/she can't paint.  It's just human nature to be creative.  This is why we pick this music and not that, and these pillows and not those, but I will not digress just now.

I guess I made the conscious choice to study art when I was 16.  Until then I was a very academic student, into Math and English Lit.  I spent the summer between grades 11 and 12 working in a National Park here in BC, hiking and adventuring in the wilderness.  I met kids from all over the country [Interviewer's note: By "country", Dana means "Canada"] there. (A couple of them are still my good friends.)  They were artsy and into music and they influenced the way I saw the world.  That summer is still the best summer I have ever had!  When I went back to finish high school that fall, I changed all my courses to arts and applied design.  I really started becoming a musician and songwriter then as well.

Q4.  Are there specific triggers that cause you to race to a blank canvas or do you impose a certain discipline on yourself?

A4. I spent many years waitressing and then painting houses.  Making art for a living now is such a joy and privilege!   I cannot wait to get out to my studio.  I do treat it like a job though, putting in anywhere from 6 to 10 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week. 

I hike and take photos quite a lot.  I spend 1 or 2 days per month drawing from those photos and then I paint from the drawings.
Q5.  As a singer/songwriter, do you find art and music overlap?

A5.  Yes, they do, but in a subtle way.  I don't make images of songs or songs about my images, but for sure the day is broken up with both painting and music.  I make my living as a painter and painting gets the lion's share of my time, but I play at least an hour a day.  These days it's a little more as I am in the recording studio again.  I hope to have 4 new songs available on iTunes before autumn.  To me, making music with other people is the ultimate team sport. 

Q6.  When you are working on a piece, is there a point at which you realize you have a masterpiece taking shape on the canvas?

A6.  Well thank you for implying that I am capable of a 
I find the pieces that I most often feel the proudest of just spill out fantastically, right from the start.  That's where the magic is.  Then the skills you've honed have to bring it home. 

Q7.  Would you tell us about “Famous Painters Ltd.”?

A7. In the early 90s, I started a business with a professional house painter.  We did decorative, textured paint finishes on walls and ceilings of high end homes.  We took our portfolio around to architects and interior designers and that developed into a unique and specialized marketplace ... one with lots of money to pay for laborious, beautiful paint finishes.  

It was a popular look at the time to imitate an old world patina or marble surface.  That eventually led to mural painting and trompe l'oeil, also very popular at the time.  Because of my skills in realism, this quite quickly became the bulk of our work and continued as such for another 12 years.  I have murals in lavish private residences, restaurants, airports and on the sides of buildings.  You can see a few examples in my "archive" at  So the title "Famous Painters" covered all the aspects of our operation.

Q8.  Are there any artists you find particularly inspiring? 

A8.  Well, as I mentioned, Lawren Harris was my first big love.  Then later, all of the GGroup of Seven.  You can't live in BC and not know Emily Carr as well, so she got in there, too.  No one I have seen has better graphic design skills than Dr. SeussTamara de Lempika is a fave as well as Thomas Hart Benton.  I am pretty much enamored with the era of painting between 1920 and 1950.  There is a lot of stylizing going on.  It just sits well with me.  Abstract has never been my thing.

Q9.  Are there any non-artists you find particularly inspiring?

A9.  I could write a book about my Mom.  It's a really special thing for parents to have the vision and confidence to encourage a child to live a creative life.  It takes some guts, I think.  I am lucky and grateful. [Interviewer's note: I love this woman]
Q10.  Please answer a question I didn’t ask.

A10.  Oh, I can now digress ...

Being more in touch with your own creativity makes everyone a little happier.

Too much emphasis is put on "talent."  Talent is a great thing, but not everything, and not much at all without practice.  I have heard so many times, "I wish I could draw."  You can.
Q11.  Where can we see (and purchase) your work?

A11.  I have work at the Ian Tan Gallery in Vancouver, Canada, and also at Steffich Fine Art on Salt Spring Island. (I met Matt Steffich way back in that fantastic summer I mentioned.)  My Web site is a good source for what's new and of course, social media:

danairvingart on Twitter

Facebook and Instagram are coming soon.

Songs will be available on iTunes later this year.

[Interviewer's note:  More articles to check out:]


Thanks for stopping by, Dana.  There’s always a beagle to pet and a cup of hot tea at the ready in Lakewood.  Don’t be a stranger.


  1. Very nice article! I like the music/ painting coexistence, like there doesn't need to be a distinction. Beautiful paintings! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for reading, Jen. And that's exactly how I think about art, music, poetry, writing, sports, chemists, mathematicians, cartographers - it''s all art. Just have to let go of the natural instinct to categorize and suddenly, you find beauty everywhere. --C

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