Today we’d like to introduce you to Dena Robertson.
Dena, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I spent my childhood in rural Indiana. Surrounded by natural resources, I was always digging clay out of the creek and molding it into little sculptures, building forts out of dried grass, and drawing leaves from my extensive collection that I had pressed throughout most of the books in our house. My creative interests led me to study art at the Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore, MD.
While in college, I studied painting and began building installations that focused on the urban environment. Coming from a small rural town, I was naïve to many aspects of the city and yet I loved the energy and the resources it offered. After college, I continued my artwork and started a bookbinding business, Cypress Albums, creating handmade photo albums for professional photographers in the US and Europe.
I started the business after I got married and wanted an elegant handmade album. As an artist, you’re quick to just make anything you need. Shortly after, I relocated to Los Angeles with my husband and shared the album with a few photographers I had met, and the business took off. At the peak, Cypress employed 14 employees, and we made hundreds of albums, attracting a sophisticated clientele including many celebrities.
I also maintained a separate art studio in the bindery and showed my work in group shows in LA. At the end of 2017, I decided to focus on my artwork full-time and closed the bindery after 20 years. Although I loved working at the bindery, my focus had shifted to the business, and I needed to get back to working with my hands and creating more artwork.
I had so many ideas for paintings that I wanted to paint. I wanted my hands and clothes to be covered in paint day and night. I had (and still have) so much information about the environment that I want to express through my work. This past February I had my first solo exhibition in Los Angeles at the Keystone Gallery. It’s been an exciting year!
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I don’t think any business has a smooth road. There are always bumps, and you just have to figure it out. When I started Cypress, it was tough. It takes long hours, investment and there are many risks. One of the biggest struggles I had was learning that I needed to charge more or the business would never survive.
When I raised my prices, I lost a lot of clients, but eventually, I gained a new clientele that valued our albums and understood the high cost. Now, I am building a new business again. Getting my name out there, and getting my work seen is the biggest struggle. It goes back to what I mentioned earlier; long hours, investment, and risk.
The reward is great though. Doing work that you’re connected to, selling the work, and seeing it out of your studio being collected by others makes it all worth it.
We’d love to hear more about what you do.
My artwork is influenced by living in both urban and rural landscapes. I’m interested in examining human beings relationships with nature in these settings. For instance, in the countryside there are an abundance of trees and wildlife and in the city we have more concrete and buildings that cover up our natural environment. Culture, space and politics also shape these environments and the people inhabiting them. It’s the connection and the disconnection in this relationship with nature that inspires my work.
My paintings are abstract, void of any physical people, filled with abstract landforms disappearing, fading and reappearing similar to the flow of precious natural resources. On the canvas, I build my paintings with many thin layers of paint, sanding between each layer, allowing the colors to blend and the surfaces to become smooth and mysterious.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Being passionate about my work. I love painting and creating work, and it’s a part of who I am. When you have this strong desire, you figure out how to make it work for you.
- Address: 651 Clover Street, Los Angeles 90031
- Website: www.dena-robertson.com
- Phone: 323-806-0351
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: denarobertson_
- Facebook: Dena Robertson