Dana Swasko: A ballet dancer to a portrait artist
Creative from an early age, Dana’s creativity was expressed through dance until an injury during her freshman year of high school prevented that from being a possibility any longer. Needing an outlet for her creative energies, she picked up charcoals and began drawing. She was hooked!
While she started out in charcoal, Dana Swasko is up to experimenting with various media and subject matter. From commissioned charcoal drawings of people and pets to painted still life and landscapes, she is up to the task and continues to work diligently to hone her skill. Dana Swasko holds an Associate of Fine Arts degree from the college of Dupage, but knows her art education and training are far from over.
** Dana Swasko is available on commission to create custom-made artwork. **
Some of my favorite artists are not charcoal artists at all, but instead individuals from the past that looked at the world and time period around them that they were born into, and reflected their experience through art.
By creating portraits, be it a person or a home, I feel I am freezing moments in time around me, as though I am capturing the character of my time period in my own way.
At what age did you know you wanted to be an artist?
From the age of 3 years old all the way into High School, I was a dancer. I mostly did ballet among other forms of dance. The art of dance was all I ever knew, and thought I absolutely loved performing as a way to express myself, it was also often a rigorous and strictly scheduled practice. I got injured in high school, and had found I had so much extra free time I had never had in the past. Long story- now let’s get to the pointe! I began copying pictures of celebrities and musicians in charcoal, as I found that black and white was an easy place to start. I soon fell in love with the medium, and continued to replicate celebrities, but soon moved on to capturing people around me.
What is the earliest artwork you did that you can remember?
My first charcoal portrait was made from a photo of writer and poet Walt Whitman. I had no idea what to expect, but the more I progressed the more shocked I was with myself. I remember starting it at school, and bringing it home. Instead of homework, I spilled over the paper and continued on it like I was in another world. I remember sitting back and looking at the finished product, as I wondered how there was some other form of talent besides ballet that had just came out of nowhere, as if it were laying dormant. Looking back at it now, it really wasn’t very good! But, I was elated at the possible start of a new path for myself!
Which classical or contemporary artists have inspired you?
When I entered College, I had to take many Art History classes to receive my AFA. I had no past experience with the subject, and I completely fell in love with it. I actually looked forward to the many research papers I had to write. It was fun for me! Some of my favorite artists are not charcoal artists at all, but instead individuals from the past that looked at the world and time period around them that they were born into, and reflected their experience through art. Michelangelo from the Renaissance, architects who built churches and monuments that fueled and inspired their time period, Jan Steen who inspires the importance of composition and the impressionists who broke all rules. By creating portraits, be it a person or a home, I feel I am freezing moments in time around me, as though I am capturing the character of my time period in my own way. The stories of my customer’s of their subject, and the reasons why they want to have their moment captured also inspires me to put pencil to paper every time.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I try to achieve as much realism as possible in my work, always getting closer and closer to hyperrealism. I play with the contrast of black and white as much as possible, as I feel it gives my work a nostalgic and sometimes mysterious quality. Color is interesting, but with black and white you fill in the blanks with your imagination. I aim to capture as much character as possible, for example bringing out a dog’s personality through their eyes.
When did you first sell an artwork? How did you feel?
My first sale was for a Metal Finishing company’s 75th anniversary. Up until this point, I had really only done art for myself. The client was a coworker of my father, and he had seen some of my work online. It was a few portraits of different angles of the building, I remember going to the anniversary party and feeling so taken back that so many people stopped to look at it. I was hooked on sharing my work from there on out!
What's your workstyle? Do you work on one piece at a time or work simultaneously on multiple pieces?
When I am working on a piece, I try to work consecutively for as many hours as possible. I like to really focus on the progress all at once. If I have more than one piece with a deadline, I switch from one to another, usually in the same day, but make sure I switch my focus as to what I am trying to achieve with each portrait. I think the discipline of ballet has stuck when it comes to perfection and obsession with detail!.
How do you get the inspiration for a new piece?
When a customer sends me a photo, it’s usually a story or reason for having the artwork done that inspires me the most. A gift to another family member of their beloved pet, for example, inspires me to capture the character of the animal as best as I can in order to bring it’s personality out. Recently, one of the families I had done a realty comission for contacted me to do their old house in Chicago, as that is where their son grew up. Having both homes hanging side by side was inspiring for me.
Tell us a bit about your personal life ...
If i’m not drawing or keeping up my business’s social media, (Like and follow me!), I’m most likely thinking or dreaming about travel. I had the amazing opportunity to go to Europe after college with a tour group. I got to enjoy the pages of my old Art History book come alive, (and the Swiss mountaintop and gondola rides weren’t bad either!) I intend to go as many places as I can! I also love learning about wine, and I am an avid photographer of my two little dogs.
A few pieces from Dana Swasko’s gallery
Andrew and Jen
Kristi and Spencer
Why they love Dana Swasko’s art
Jen and Andrew, Boston
“Dana Swasko provided us with a beautiful wedding portrait! We were shocked by how wonderfully it turned out. We look like ourselves, which is always a concern when purchasing something like this. Highly recommend her one of a kind portraits.”
“She did an amazing job! When I told her I wanted a charcoal drawing of my friends who were getting married she told me, “When can I start?” She gave an exceptional price. I was able to get an amazing quality photo quickly. It looked like it was a photograph… it’s that good! She was able to provide exactly what I had wanted. Thanks, Dana!”