Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Groundwork ... South Carolina, USA

Artist: Danna Ray
Business: Groundwork
Web site:
Location: South Carolina

What do you create?
Paintings, drawings, and children's illustrations.

Where and when do you do your creative work?
I work at home in my studio, where I keep somewhat erratic hours. I often get inspired late in the evening and work straight into the morning. I like the quiet and the focus of working at night. I also don't like to take breaks while painting. I prefer to start a new project and just keep working until its finished.

Do you have another "day job"?
I work part-time as an rock climbing instructor for a junior climbing team.

Where and what did you study?
I received my BFA in Communication Arts and Design from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.

Where do you find inspiration?
I grew up in a log cabin in the woods of rural South Carolina. I spent nearly all of my childhood playing in those woods. I didn't care for dolls, but I was fascinated with animals, and plants, and rocks, and water, and changing seasons. This was really the basis for everything that I know and love. Additionally, I draw inspiration from energetic people, idealistic people, and artistic people. I like searching for a balance between the tedious and the transcendental.

What motivates you?
The act of creation. I think that's why I don't like to take breaks while painting. I'm just so excited to see ideas come to life.

When did you start doing this?
I have been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. I opened up my Etsy shop about a month ago.

Do you remember getting into art as a kid?
Absolutely. My mom likes to tell the story about a Thanksgiving turkey collage I made in preschool. The class was given worksheets printed with a line drawing of a turkey, and instructed to cut feathers out of construction paper and paste them to the turkey. Mom laughs about seeing the collages when she came to pick me up. Apparently all of the kids had cut and attached five or six big lumpy feathers, except for me. My page was covered with dozens of the tiniest feathers I could cut out. Sure, it was partly because I had seen turkeys in the woods and I knew they had more feathers than I could count... but mostly it was because I was obsessive. You know moms like to tell stories that both brag about you and make fun of you at the same time. This obsession with tedious detail is still very much present in my work.

When and why did you decide to start your own business?
I decided in high school that I wanted to write and illustrate children's books. So, I chose to attend VCU for their illustration program. After college, I spent the next four years traveling, working as a horticulturist, renovating a house, getting married, and rock climbing. Finally, I am back to drawing and painting! I've missed it terribly. I hope to never take a break from being an artist again.

How did you choose the name for your business?
I thought of the word groundwork as two words: ground and seemed fitting for my naturally inspired artwork. A thesaurus can be a great resource when trying to think of names.

What do you love most about creating your work?
I really enjoy the unexpected surprises and fortunate mistakes. No matter how much planning and sketching I do, I'll never know precisely how a piece is going to look in the end. Many times I get to a point in the middle of a painting where I think its just not going to come together. When I was younger this was quite discouraging. But, then I realized that project after project, I was always able to pull it off in the end. Now, I've come to embrace this part of the process. I feel like many of my best ideas and best paintings have been a result of working through that very frustration. By incorporating or fixing these unplanned elements, I become more creative and versatile as an artist.

What's the most fascinating place you've been?
I've been lucky enough to take trips to Italy, Switzerland, and Jamaica, as well as a climbing trip to the Palisades all in the last year! (Amazingly, I had never even been on a plane until 2004.) This is a tough question, but I think I have to choose the Palisades. The Palisades are a group of peaks in the central part of the Sierra Nevada range in California. Here you can find the southernmost glaciers in North America. The landscape there is astounding. My husband and I climbed our first 14,000ft peaks!

A book you love:
For children or adults: Everybody Needs A Rock by Byrd Baylor. I love the pictures by Peter Parnall.

What is the most interesting thing about you?
I have far more hobbies than time. The more interesting of these would probably be rock climbing. I've been climbing regularly with my husband for about two years now. Climbing can be quite freeing. As you focus intently on your movements, any small nagging thoughts from everyday life tend to slip away. Then, by the end of a trip, it feels good to get back to those everyday thoughts with a fresh perspective.

What achievement are you most proud of?
I bought and renovated our home with no experience, on a shoestring budget. I was inspired by my father, who built the log cabin my sister and I grew up in when he was only 26 years old. He cut and notched all of the logs by hand. My father passed away in 2004. I bought our house in 2005, figuring that if my dad could build an entire house at age 26, surely I could manage to renovate one at age 23. It was a process of constant challenge, and I often wished for my dad's advice. Now, two years later, this is a pretty nice little house. There are still some unfinished projects here and there, but they can wait. I have paintings to make.

What advice would you give women starting their own business?
When I was at VCU I talked to a woman named Libby Meggs who had just had her first children's book published. She told me that she had a Winston Churchill quote taped up beside her desk that read “Never, never, never, never give up.” I've often thought of that. I have a large magnetic dry erase board over my desk where I hang various pieces of inspiration. I used to have this quote written there: "People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing- that's why we recommend it daily." Sometimes knowing that you aren't motivated or inspired can be very depressing. That quote helped me remember that I need to motivate my self each day, even if the day before wasn't as productive as I had hoped.

What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
I enjoy working in more than one style as well as a variety of media. This is not usually a good thing for an artist. Clients and customers like to know what to expect. Thus, I have to keep my children's illustrations separate from my Etsy/gallery work and those separate from any graphic design work I've done. Even in those separate categories I have to monitor whether my work is looking consistent enough. Ugh.

What do you love to do in your free time?
Gardening, rock climbing, kayaking, cycling, cooking, dancing, tea drinking, chocolate eating.

What are you working on right now?
A series of abstract landscapes inspired by dream fragments.7

What do you hope to achieve next?
I've written a children's book that I need to finish illustrating. Then, I'll send it off in hopes of getting published. Also my husband and I are eying new 14,000ft peaks to climb.


  1. WOW, what an amazing feature, and such beautiful artwork. I love it!

  2. The art you choose to feature is really neat. I like your taste :D
    Love that squirrel one and the artist who paints the birds.

    I'm Recycled Ideas on etsy

    Thanks for responding to my forum post :D

    You're welcome to feature me anytime; I'd be honored!

  3. Georgous work! I had to heart her on Etsy. : )

  4. soooo beautiful! thank you for featuring this artist.